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    “La pièce montée”, more commonly known as croquenbouche, literally translates as ‘the assembled piece’. This eye-catching cake usually takes centre stage at French weddings as well as other family events such as baptisms and communions. Very different from a British traditional three-tier cake, it does not feature fondant icing or marzipan. Instead, it is made up of “choux à la crème” ( cream puff pastries ) that are arranged in a cone shape and bound by threads of caramel. This iconic cake first appeared in Paris during the era of Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800s. It was created by one of France’s first celebrity chefs, Alain Carême, The traditional “pièce montée” comprised mainly of vanilla “choux à la crème”, however a range of flavours (chocolate, praline, pistachio etc.) are more common in the modern version. I can clearly remember watching my cousin (who was a baker) building the “pièce montée” for my communion. I was in awe; fascinated by his ability to work with b

Croque monsieur

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  Well worth the extra effort for a delicious meal. Serve French onion soup as a starter for a truly Parisian supper! Serves 2 Preparation time: 30 minutes maximum Cooking time: 25 minutes   Ingredients For the béchamel sauce 200 ml warm milk 20 g plain flour  20 g butter 1 tbsp. Dijon  mustard  Salt and pepper 1/2 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg (or use ground)          For the croque monsieur 4 slices bread 4 slices of ham 100 g of Emmental cheese  or Gruyere (or a mixture of both) + 50 g for topping Method Melt the butter in a pan and then add the flour before cooking over a gentle heat until it smells biscuity. Gradually whisk in the warm milk and bring to a gentle boil, stirring regularly. When thickened add the Dijon mustard, a little grating of fresh nutmeg and seasoning. It should be a lovely thick creamy sauce. Set aside to cool slightly. Place the bread on a baking tray and toast one side under the grill until golden. Preheat the oven to 200C Fan. On the non-toas

Pear Almondine

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This recipe is from one of my favourite chefs, Raymond Blanc, and was demonstrated live last Saturday on his ITV programme  "Simply Raymond". "Tarte aux poires et aux amandes" translates into English as "Pear Frangipane tart or Pear Almondine".   Frangipane,  an almond-flavoured sweet pastry cream, is widely used in France in various desserts, pastries and cakes. Serves 6 to 8 people Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 20 to 25 minutes + 10 minutes cooling time. Ingredients 100 g unsalted butter, room temperature 100 g caster sugar 100 g ground almonds 1 teaspoon cornflour 1 egg, medium, organic/free-range 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 8 pear halves, tinned or from a jar 80 g melted butter to brush the inside of the tart ring or use spray oil To serve A handful flaked almonds (for extra flavour, first toast them in a dry pan) Icing sugar, for dusting Method Preheat the oven to 160°C. Place a tart ring, about 18cm x 2cm, on a lined baking tray

Moules marinières

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A great alternative for supper: a steaming bowl of fragrant mussels! Serves 4 Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time:   15 minutes Ingredients 50 g butter 4 shallots – chopped 1 celery stalk – chopped 2 garlic cloves - crushed ½ bunch of flat-leaf parsley – finaly chopped 400 ml dry white wine 2 kg live mussels, scrubbed and beards removed (discard any that stay open when sharply tapped) 150 ml double cream Sea salt and freshly ground pepper Method Melt the butter in a large saucepan and cook the shallots, celery, garlic and half of the parsley over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened but not brown. Add the wine to the pan and bring to the boil for 2 minutes Tip in the mussels, cover the pan tightly and simmer over a low heat for 2-3 minutes shaking the pan occasionally. With a slotted spoon, remove the cooked mussels and transfer them to a warm dish. Discard any mussels that did not open. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve
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  These airy cheese puffs make a perfect bite size appetiser. The recipe requires a bit of a “workout” but well worth the effort!   Preparation time: about 20 minutes Cooking time: 45 to 50 minutes Makes approximately 30 Gougères Ingredients 250 ml water 80 g unsalted butter 1 tsp sea salt 100 g plain flour, sifted 4 eggs 150 g grated Gruyère 1 tsp grated nutmeg ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional) Method Preheat the oven to 200C Boil together the water, butter and salt in a large saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour in all the flour in one go Whisk together until fully blended (keep persevering) and the mixture almost coming away from the sides of the pan in a ball. Leave the mixture to cool for 3-4 minutes. Add the first egg and whisk thoroughly. Add the remaining three eggs one by one, repeating the same process. Add the cheese, nutmeg and pepper. Once more, whisk to blend. The cheese may not fully become smooth but do not worry as it won’t affect the end-result. Line a

Tarte au citron traditionnelle

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  A crisp, buttery crust with smooth, tangy lemon custard sum up this beautiful “tarte au citron traditionnelle” (classic French lemon tart ). Unlike the Lemon Meringue Pie, this tart does not traditionally feature a meringue top.   Serves 8 Preparation time: 45 minutes Cooking time: about 40 minutes Ingredients One standard pack of ready-made short crust pastry 250 ml of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6-7 lemons) Zest of 2 lemons (organic if possible) 150 g caster sugar 170 g butter (cubed) 4 large eggs + 4 large egg yolks Method Pastry Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Roll out the pastry to a circle approximately 12 inch in diameter.  Transfer the pastry to a greased 9 inch tart tin.  Trim the sides and prick the base with a fork.  Cover with baking parchment and a layer of baking beans (you can use any dried bean, rice or even pennies if you don’t have baking beans). Bake for 20 minutes .  Carefully remove the beans and parchment and bake for a further 10 minute
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  This is one of the simplest recipes in French cuisine.  No cream, butter or sugar required! It is perfect for whenever you feel like a treat. Smooth, light and delicious, who needs a special occasion? In French - the word for mousse is a synonym for the word for foam, probably because of its light and airy texture.       Preparation time: 15 minutes      No cooking      Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours      Serves 6  Ingredients: 6 large eggs at room temperature 200gr dark chocolate (60% cocoa)   Method Gently melt the chocolate in a bain-marie (A bowl above a pan of gently boiling water - make sure that the bowl does not touch the boiling water) Using two bowls, separate the egg yolks from the whites (use a larger bowl for the egg whites)  Off the heat, combine the egg yolk with the melted chocolate Beat the egg whites to a soft peak – make sure that you do not over whip them, as it will be difficult to fold them in if they are too thick. Gently and gradually, fo