French Baking For The American Football Crowd

19 10 2010

Come fall, many Americans living abroad miss the excitement, camaraderie, and all-around fun of watching NFL football.  Nick and I are no exception.  But this year we’ve joined forces with a group of friends to get a pass which allows us to watch all the games we want over the internet.  We’ve been getting together every Sunday night to watch the day games live.  People take turns hosting the gathering, and everyone brings beer and snacks to share.  It’s a convivial atmosphere and a fun group – I dare say I’d have fun even if I didn’t enjoy football.  (But since I do, go Niners!)

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sablés

Nick and I missed the first couple of weeks of the season, but we’ve been going for the last three weeks, and I’ve baked something every time.  The first week we went, I brought these rhubarb crumble bars – I didn’t have any quince jam, so I just doubled the amount of rhubarb filling.  They were devoured.  Then following week, I made the ever-popular bacon-onion dip, but I felt that a sweet of some sort was expected of me, too.  (That’s what happens when you make pastries for a living.)  So I took the opportunity to try one of the many, many recipes I have flagged in Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat.

Ideal vs. actual

Looking at those squiggles and imagining the crisp butteriness that surely accompanies each bite, my thoughts somehow turned to peanut butter.  I figured I could swap out half the butter for peanut butter and the cookies would be that much more delicious (and more American football-watching appropriate).  Well, as you can see in the above picture, it didn’t exactly go according to plan.  It turns out that peanut butter is a lot drier than butter, and as a result my dough was way too stiff to be piped out into dainty swirls.  That’s what I get for trying to bake something fancy for a football party.  Still, the familiar rounds with the classic fork design let my friends know that these were indeed peanut butter cookies, despite their chocolatey appearance.  Rolling subsequent batches in sparkly sugar felt even more American.  The only thing that belies the French origin of these cookies is the crumbly texture typical of French sablé cookies – “sablé” being French for “sandy.”  And if you wanted to serve these at your next football get-together, I don’t think anyone would complain.

A French-American alliance

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sablés

The refined tea cookie gets a homespun twist with the classic flavor combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

4.6 oz. / 130 g all-purpose flour
4.6 oz. / 130 g cake flour
1 oz. / 30 g cocoa powder
4.4 oz. / 125 g butter, softened
4.4 oz. / 125 g peanut butter (smooth or crunchy is up to you)
3.5 oz. / 100 g powdered sugar
A pinch of fine sea salt
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
granulated and/or turbinado sugar for rolling (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 355 F / 180 C. Sift the flours and cocoa powder together and set aside.
  2. Whisk the butter and peanut butter until soft and creamy. Sift in the powdered sugar and add the salt. Continue whisking until evenly combined. Measure out 4 tablespoons of the egg whites and whisk them in.
  3. Add the sifted flours and cocoa powder to the bowl with the butters. Stir gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough comes together. It may help to incorporate half the flour at a time.
  4. Form the dough into 1” / 2.5 cm balls. Roll in sugar, if desired, and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten the cookies by making a crosshatch pattern with the tines of a fork.
  5. Bake about 10 minutes, until cookies are firm with a slight give when poked with a finger. Repeat shaping and baking until all the dough is used up. Cookies will keep for about 3 days in an airtight container.

Makes about 60 cookies.

On this day in 2009: Le Cumin et Les Noix de Pecan

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Cooking Colonial in Paris (Project Food Blog Challenge #2)

26 09 2010

There’s a downside to cooking a lot and experimenting with all types of international cooking: when Foodbuzz challenges you to make a classic dish from a cuisine with which you’re unfamiliar, the pickings can be slim.  French is out, for obvious reasons (e.g. I live there).  As is American (e.g. I am one).  Mexican, Chinese, and Indian all get a fair share of play on my table.  I have been known to cook Japanese, Russian, and Italian.  And I’ve cooked Bulgarian, English, Thai, North African, Vietnamese, and German, too.

I thought about cooking feijoada, the Portuguese/Brazilian bean and meat stew.  I even asked one of the Portuguese women at work for her recipe.  But somehow it wasn’t wacky enough.  (I mean, I’ve done pig’s ears and feet before.)  I asked my sister-in-law, who is Filipina, if she had any classic family recipes.  She sent me a very tasty-sounding recipe for chicken adobo.  The same day, Nick came home from work with a recipe from one of his colleagues.  A Frenchman who used to live in West Africa, notably Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, had given him a recipe for mafé, a type of groundnut stew.  It varies widely from country to country, but is popular throughout the region.  At its heart it is a basic braised chicken (or lamb, or beef, but never pork) dish, but the spicy tomato and peanut-based sauce combines familiar-to-me ingredients in a very unfamiliar way.  The recipe also came with specific instructions as to an appropriate beverage – jus de bissap, a chilled, sweetened tea made from hibiscus flowers.  I was seduced.

1. Athithane, 2. Sweet potatoes & Manioc, 3. Bissap bags, 4. “Produits Exotiques”

Living in France can have its disadvantages, too, especially when it comes to cooking something not French.  (The challenge is reduced somewhat if the country in question is a former colony of France, which Senegal was until 1960.)  Fortunately, I live in a very diverse neighborhood in Paris, and there are a handful of “exotic product” shops selling products from places as far apart as Africa, India, and China.  I found this tiny one on my way to the bank Saturday morning, and they had everything I was looking for: sweet potatoes, bissap (the aforementioned hibiscus flowers), and ginger.  I love poking around in the foreign food stores here, because I never know what I’m going to find.  In this case, I succeeded in keeping focused, so after picking up the necessities, and a quick stop at the butcher for a chicken, I headed home to get cooking.

1. Boning Knife, 2. Scissors, 3. Cleaver

Aside from being in French, all the recipes I found for mafé called for whole chickens, cut up.  In the spirit of authenticity, I channeled my inner butcher and cut the bird into ten pieces – two legs, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts, halved.  I saved the backbone to make stock at a later date.  The vegetable components in the recipes varied wildly, but onions, carrots and sweet potatoes featured in several, so I figured they would make a fairly classic stew.  Like any good French-trained cook, I got all my mise en place together before starting to cook.

Read the rest of this entry »

Baking Extravaganza, Act I

10 03 2008

For Nick’s birthday last week, he asked me to bake him some cookies.  Since I have yet to see a decent cookie in France (other than fancy little petits fours secs), I figured I had my work cut out for me.  The lack of brown sugar and/or molasses here is probably a major culprit, so I set out to divine a substitute.  (Note: I did actually see a bottle of molasses in a rare food shop after the cookies were made – it cost 12 euros for a pint!  Outrageous.)  I wrote an email to Michael Chu of Cooking for Engineers, asking if I could substitute a mixture of sugar and honey for brown sugar, and also if he knew anything about my recently acquired poudre à lever.  He was kind enough to respond in a timely manner, saying that the levure chimique was, in fact, more akin to baking powder than baking soda (I’m going to have to give those pancakesanother shot).  He also told me that while a honey-sugar combination would give me softer cookies as brown sugar would, they may have a honey flavor.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re making peanut butter cookies, as I was planning to do.  But because I love the flavor of brown sugar, and because I don’t really like the idea of beet sugar, I picked up some cassonade sugar (like turbinado but with smaller crystals).  It took me forever to find the sugar in the grocery store.  Just when I was beginning to learn where everything was, they closed for a week to redo the floor and moved everything around in the process.  I eventually found it next to the water and UHT milk, nowhere near the flour (next to the chocolate) or the baking supplies (next to the Kosher foods).  Anyway, it ended up being a good thing that I had to scour the store because I stumbled across a box of “bicarbonate alimentaire” in the health food aisle.  A thorough examination of the box revealed that this was the baking soda I had been searching for.  Looks like I’m all set.

Peanut Butter cookies, step 1

Basing my recipe off the one on Cooking for Engineers, I started with butter, peanut butter, sugar, cassonade, and honey.  I also like to add the salt at this point, to ensure even distribution in the final dough.  I creamed these ingredients (by hand) until the mixture was homogeneous and lighter in color.

Peanut Butter Cookies, step 2

Next I beat in an egg and some vanilla until smooth, followed by the dry ingredients (flour and baking soda, previously stirred together).  Now I had my cookie dough, and if you think I didn’t taste it several times to make sure it was ok, you don’t know me very well.

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough

Michael Chu recommends letting the dough chill before baking, but I couldn’t wait.  I pinched off a few pieces of dough and rolled them into balls.  I then coated these in a combination of cassonade and white sugar and impressed the traditional pattern with a fork.  Of course I had been preheating my toaster oven this whole time, so when my makeshift cookie sheet (tinfoil on the back of a metal cake pan) was ready, I popped it in.  Nine agonizing minutes later, I was assured that my efforts would not be for naught.

Peanut Butter Cookies - First Batch

A little darker than I wanted them, but crisp and buttery with good peanut flavor (I think this African peanut butter we have here is better than the partially-hydrogenated stuff we get in the States: it contains peanuts and salt, and that’s it).  Subsequent batches, after I managed to let the dough chill a bit, came out wonderfully.  I ended up with a plate full of cookies for Nick to take to work the next day.

Peanut Butter Cookies

The recipe has been requested, so now I have to figure out how to convert it all into metric.  (I’m lucky enough to have some American measuring cups and spoons – thanks, Bill!)  But I’m glad they were a hit, and this success has given me confidence in the baking-in-a-tiny-French-kitchen arena.

To be continued…

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