From my trip in Japan in Spring last year, I brought back quite a few things; and no, I’m not only referring to the cotton Hello Kitty emergency underwear I bought to make-do while waiting for the temporary lost suitcase. I also came back with 2 packs of matcha.
What the h*ll is matcha? It’s basically green tea powder. Instead of infusing tea leaves, just dissolve the very bright green powder into hot water. According to the legends, it has been drunk in Japan as part of the tea ceremony for almost 900 years, and is used by Buddhist monks to keep them alert, awake and focused during long days of meditation.
Reality is that, I was very curious but I never used it. It’s been decorating my “exotic product” kitchen shelf for months… With an expiry date approaching soon, I really needed to find a good use to this green gold, and I was pretty unlikely to hydrate myself the way bodybuilding.com recommends!!! (sight).
Granted that the butter and chocolate in those cookies probably outweigh the weight loss alleged benefit, however the “mind improving” power was clearly quite strong – or maybe it was just the amazing night with the girls in Paris… Perhaps. But try them, you’ll tell me.
I initially tried the Americano-Japanese soft backed cookies and while they were good, I found them a little bit “too much”. Also I could never quite reconcile in my head the quiet Japanese tea-room atmosphere with those gooey white choc naughty things!! I love the green tea / white chocolate combination though, and I thought I would come up with something a little bit more Japanese-lady like.
250gr all-purpose flour
50gr almond powder
50gr demeara sugar
50gr caster sugar
100gr soft butter
1 pinch salt
1 ts baking powder
couple of spoonfuls of milk
2 teaspoon matcha powder
sprinkle sugar or / crushed almonds or/ 75gr white chocolate
Start mixing the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and almond powder; throw a spoon of matcha powder and watch the mix becoming weirdly green.
Dig a little whole in the middle and break the egg in, and add the softened butter. Stir well. You will probably need to add about 3 spoonful of milk to get soft dough (depends on the size of your egg).
Shape the dough as a big sausage, wrap in plastic film and rest in the fridge for 20min.
Pre-heat the oven, 180 degrees.
Roll the dough on a flat surface and cut the shapes with a cookie cutter or a round glass. If you prefer the almond or sugar sprinkle version then roll the edges each biscuit into crushed almonds / sugar ahead of baking. Otherwise bake first and cover in white chocolate later.
Bake for ~15min at 180 degrees.
Cool on a rack while softening the white chocolate in a water bath. Once melted throughout, poor into a piping bag (or a freezer bag where you will cut a tiny corner) and start drawing on the biscuits. Let cool and dry. Enjoy!!
Next stop…red bean paste? Not sure if I can manage that!
OMG, I just got really excited. I love clever mapping, and I can’t remember what the world was like before Google maps!? I also love linking places to popular culture, and sitting in a cinema watching James Bond driving accross the Istanbul Gran Bazaar and thinking “oh I was there a month ago”, is almost as good as the trip itself (almost). So I got really excited when I found this post: those guys created a map including over 300 Oscar winners from the 1950s to the present day, the best actor/actress as well as 5 top box office hits from the last 30 years.
Just back from the Italian Dolomites Alps where snow was pretty scarce, but nevertheless 4 days of sun, good company and gorgeous food made up for it! Cortina D’Ampezzo is located in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, about a couple hours away from Venice and about 4h from Milan making it a resort of choice for Northern Italians looking to parade a fluffy fur. The village has that atmospheric old-fashioned chic to it, but it’s actually their fennel flavoured bread that I will dedicate this post to.
The “Puccia” bread is a brown, fennel and cumin seeds flavoured bread from Trentino Alto Adige (it seems there are also other versions of it in the south). In local dialect, “puccia” means that it “came badly”, i.e., it didn’t raise much, describing that flattish shape.
Ingredients for 2 loafs of 500gr each:
– 500gr rye flour
– 200gr refreshed white manitoba 50:50 leaven
– 300gr tepid water
– 2 spoons of malt sugar
– 8gr of salt
– 1-3 tbs of fennel seeds
– 1 tbs of cumin seeds
Take 200gr of refreshed starter leaven and stir it lightly with 100gr of tepid water. Put the rye flour in a large bowl, in a “volcano” shape and pour the diluted leaven, water and malt sugar little by little, while mixing at hand (or at slow speed in the bread mixer). Rest for 15min.
Add the salt and seeds and knead for another 5-10min and until well mixed. Let it rest in its covered bowl for another hour or couple of hours (depending on how active your leaven is, and the temperature of your room).
At this stage I actually retarded mine overnight in the fridge.
Shape in 2 round flat loafs and let rest another little bit while pre-heating the oven at maximum temperature; and when ready, turn down the temperature to 220 and bake for 25min, then turn it down again to 200 degrees and bake for another 25min.
It’s delicious with a soup, I tried the earthy mountain version of the Zuppa d’orzo (barley soup), yum!
other recipes in Italian, but I couldn’t find any using wild yeast:
We came back from Myanmar 2 weeks ago and stepping into a full blow Christmassy London right back from the beach slightly startled me! It’s only this weekend when we travelled to Alsace, the French border region with Germany, that the true Christmas spirit hit us. I came back home with lots of baking ideas, and in particular I was keen to improve my “pain d’épice” recipe. (scroll down for the ultimate recipe)
Alsace is a culturaly quite peculiar French region. First, it benefits from a central European position and Strasbourg, its capital, currently host the European parliament. But also because during centuries of history, Alsace has bounced back between several national allegiances; most recently in the 20th century, Alsace moved from French to German and back again a couple of times between the 3 main pan European wars. As a result maybe, the local culture is very strong, with French, German, Austrian, Swiss influences (but not only), that can be witnessed today in the architecture, literature, and the cuisine of course!
The Christmas markets (“Christkindelsmärik”) are traditional in the region and if big cities like Strasbourg offer large markets, we were expertly guided toward smaller but super cute villages. In particular, village of Riquewihr, nested in the vineyards, hosts a seasonal market where we sampled (very) large quantities of regional food in random order until we could not walk anymore. Ohhh you need to try some choucroute! oh and my dear you can’t leave without trying this kouglof, surely.. how about that Munster super smelly cheese? a piece of Flàmmeküeche maybe? oh and the smell of roasted chesnuts…
The “pain d’épice” is a cake that was introduced in Eastern France in 1596 according to the legend but I personally doubt that spices like cinnamon, ginger or vanilla could have been available at that time so I guess it was more like a strongly honey flavoured cake.
One obvious but important note is that up to 40% of the pain d’épice is made of honey, depending on the baker and the recipe. The quality of the input is crucial as it’s what gives most of the taste. So off I was to A.Gold, my favourite honey provider in London. Especially because those guys sell the postcode urban honey which is not only delicious but also helps our city’s green life. One day I’ll have my own hive I promise, but this will be for another post 😉
The base of any of those cakes should be made of flour (about 40-45%), a mix of honey and sugar (same, 40-45%) and the rest made of the “liquids” (milk or water and eggs). Butter is optional but adds softness. And then the complements, nuts, candied oranges, spices etc.
– 175gr honey (choose one with a strong taste you like)
– 250gr flour: mixed 50/50 white flour and wholemeal or rye
– 25gr full fat milk
– 2 eggs
– 50gr butter
– 75gr brown sugar
– 10gr baker’s yeast + 1 ts baking powder
– spices: 2 ts of cinnamon, 1 star anise, 1 ts ginger, a few cloves, cardamom, grated nutmeg, a vanilla pod (or vanilla extract)
– a grated orange peel
– 75gr candied orange / lemon peels and / or candied ginger
– pearl sugar for topping
Heat gently the milk, sugar, butter and spices, cast aside for a while. The longer it will infuse the stronger the spice taste will be (30min minimum recommended). Add the honey and stir on the hob at minimum heat (we’re not making caramel here!). Take off the star anis, cloves, cardamon seeds and vanilla pod if needed. Make sure it’s not too hot and stir the yeast in.
Pre-heat the oven at 180.
In a large pot, add the flour in a little well shape and pour the liquid and start mixing in. Incorporate the dried fruits and the eggs and mix well again.
Pour in a cake tin and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake for 1h at 175 degrees.
I wanted to complement my Christmas hampers so had to use individual paper cups (I recycled the individual panettone ones that I had never used). On the market a baker recommended to serve it slightly warm, with a scoop of home-made vanilla ice-cream….got us mouthwatering.
Note that for individual tins I had to reduce the cooking time to 40min.
Next year I will try to steal my friend’s Kouglof / Gugelhupf recipe and try this little beauty at home. It’s a sort of fruity brioche baked in a hollow ceramic mould…yuummm
The first time I travelled to Milan, I was in for a huge disappointment, and it was partly my fault: no, going mid-August is not a good idea, as for ferragosto the Milanese just shoot off to the lakes or the sea, leaving a drained, hot and dusty city behind them. Also I had in mind a great romantic impressive city….if that’s what you want go to Rome, to Florence, to Venice…you name it. But not to Milan.
So this year I decided I was going to start our relationship from scratch again, and spend a full week there, with the right kind of expectations.
Duomo by night
Italian Design beyond the crisis exhibition at the Triennale
St Lorenzo Columns
Ducks sunbathing on the naviglio
chit-chat from one balcony to the other…Corso Ticcinese
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Museo del Novecento
Milan is a social, fashionable city.
With a totalGDP of €114,784m, Milan produces 7.3% of the whole country wealth. Easily the wealthiest city in the country (€36,000 per capita), but far behind on tourists go-to lists. I think it is a great city to experience when one has “something to do” there. It is also a city that’s better appreciated with a few friends; it’s a busy social place.
Some of the MUST do things, pick and choose to make your dream combination:
* Sightseeing: it doesn’t take that long but you will at least want to see the magnificent Duomo and get to the rooftop if you can. Don’t forget there’s a strict no bare knee or shoulder policy in place.
* Culture, museums and exhibitions: plenty of choice there, the Museo del Novecento, Pinacoteca Brera (website is only in Italian: closed Mondays, open 8.30 to 19.15, longer on Fridays) and the Triennale, focused on Italian design. Booking to see the Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci, is a bit of an achievement in itself. It takes lots of advance planning, but I eventually made it, and it’s worth it.
* Take on some activity: learn Italian, take a cooking course, a fashion design course….they’re good way to meet people and experience the city rather than visit it.
* Shopping and wandering around: this seem to be the most praised activity in Milan. I was hugely frustrated as I went a week before the sales period would start and missed all the bargains!! For your records, Winter Sales Season in Milan usually starts the first Saturday of January until mid-February; and Summer Sales Season usually starts the first Saturday of July until August. In term of good neighbourhoods, try Brera and Porta Ticcinese, both lovely areas with lots of cafés and a good mix of chains and independent shops. For a more thorough list, check Alexi’s blog there
* have an Aperol Spritz aperitivo on the navigli and panzerotti (deep fried mozzarella) at Luinni’s (via Santa Radegonda).
* Indulge on a bigger-than-life ice-cream at Cioccolati Italiani. Their cones are outright impossible to eat without smudging your make up, but who cares? eat like no one’s looking. The other delicious alternative is Grom.
* going to the Scalla Opera to enjoy an opera or a ballet
* going out clubbing al fresco: Just Cavalli (Saturday night recommended) or the Byblos are good options. Or party like Bob Sinclar and Andy Warhol, wear your most glamorous outfit, be ready to wait and go to Plastic.
* having pizza for breakfast at Princion your way back when the sun rises, and in clubbing outfit.
However I would avoid…:
* going in August, it’s empty, suffocating and full of mosquitoes
* I’m a huge fan of going jogging to discover an area but really Milan isn’t the greatest place. I took part in the Milan half marathon this year and…disappointing, it doesn’t go through the centre as much as I would have liked it (starts from the Castillo and ends in the arena, via the peripheral ring road; nothing to fret about). And the jogging track is a mere 3.5k in the Parco Sempione, dogging tourists and old ladies’ dogs, not ideal.
– taking the overground tramway if you don’t have a “Man vs. Wild” type of sense of direction. It’s pretty and looks vintage, but you’ll need a local to get around – or at least I did. On the other hand, the tube is AC’ed and the easiest thing in the world!!
A Rich history and present
A recently sprayed graffiti depicting Milan’s rich history caught my attention. Not only because it’s a beautiful way to illustrate it, but also it was made on request of the parish of the very central Basilica St Lorenzo Maggiore. How unusual!? The piece is also highly interesting because the symbols it represents, understanding those few figures pretty much already gives the main keys to understand the city. The open-air story board starts at the time of the Romans, when Milan was called Mediolanum, for it was located in the middle of the plains. If the Roman heritage is great all over Italy, Milan has few obvious visible traces. I carries on with Sant’Ambrogio who worked for the city to become an episcopate; followed by the Attila the Hun and the barbarian invasions in the 5th century, the fall of the Black King in the 15th century, Ludovico Sforza or The Moor, youngest son of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan; Napoleon, Verdi, Alessandro Manzoni, Visconti and Sforza with the Snake and the Eagle….and many more, keep the history book at hand!
To read in the plane:
Milan is great scene of crime it seems, or at least that is what the litterary scene suggests!? Mani gialli or “yellow books” (crime novels) are set in Milan, I was particularly recommended this one:
Un Delitto Molto Milanese by Antonio Steffenoni. Beyond the criminal story, what I was really after was the description of the city, and the atmosphere … a catching thriller but not exactly a kind & warm description of the working environment in Milan!!
Other resources to prepare your trip:
I was given for my birthday a really handy guide: 101 things to do in Milan (101 cose da fare a Milano). It’s full of charming places and urban legends and describes another way to approach a city that doesnt have a fame for being especially welcoming. Marco translated most of them on his blog.
Line breaks: ac¦cent
NOUN Pronunciation: /ˈaks(ə)nt , -sɛnt/
A distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class: a strong American accent she never mastered the French accent
Accents are an utterly strange phenomenon. One is labelled by his accent as much as by his skin colour, and sometimes even more so than by his passport origins.
It could be a deal breaker on a date, it could get you hired or not, it could be the kick-starter of a conversation (or not), it could double your taxi bill or grant you a helpful nudge…. Continue reading About accents…→
The traditional French dessert with a crunchy and nutty Italian twist.
To celebrate my new (amazing) hand mixer I cooked some pretty tasty mousses last week. The word “mousse” is a French word that literally means “froth” or “foam.” This applies to the dessert’s light, airy texture.
Fun fact: if mousses became an easier option sincethe 1930’s when hand mixers made their way into more and more of our grandmas’ kitchens so they could fluff their egg whites easily; the dessert was made famous by chef Michel Fitoussi, based in NY, who in 1977 had a huge success with his innovative White Chocolate mousse.
And what about the Amaretto liquor? I find the Almond flavoured liquor even more delicious now tha I know it’s a love potion!!!
Legends of the Lazzaroni family of Saronno, says that the liquor was created by a widow who posed for Renaissance painter Bernardino Luini in 1525. The widow fell in love with the painter and made her Amaretto potion for him. Her original recipe has purportedly been handed down from generation to generation without change and is currently marketed as Disaronno Originale Liqueur.
Recipe for 6 cups
Heads up!! it needs to be in the fridge for a good 3h before serving, but avoid making it the day before as it may lose its oomph!
– 250gr dark chocolate – I normally buy some French Meunier one, by habit and because it does not need any added sugar and has great quality cocoa
– (optional 20gr of caster sugar)
– 6 eggs, at room temperature
– a pinch of salt / a pinch of cream of tartar
– a spoonful of Amaretto liquor (or two)
– 6 to 12 Amaretti biscuits
– 10cl full fat cream
– separate the egg whites from the egg yolks in 2 different bowls. You can either save 3 yolks or the full 6 ones, depends on how rich you like your mousse.
– melt your chocolate in a bain-marie; do not add water to the chocolate directly, if you need a spoonful of liquid to stir it, add orange juice or some milk.
– beat the egg yolks, optional sugar (depends on how bitter your chocolate is and how much you like the taste of chocolate, I personally don’t add anything), add a spoonful or 2 of Amaretto liquor and mix in well. Add to the melted chocolate, keeping the mixture quite liquid.
– whisk your eggs whites in a small deep bowl, with an electric mixer and a pinch of either salt or cream of tartar (some also use a dash of lemon juice) until obtaining a very firm mousse.
– whip the 10cl cream into a light fluffy mixture.
– fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture with a very soft hand, little by little. Finally add the cream.
– crunch some Amaretti biscuits at the bottom of your individual ramekins or martini glasses, then gently add the chocolate mousse and let sit in the fridge for a good 2 to 3 hours.
Even just a few days in Tokyo were enough to be dazzled
the 3 reasons why Tokyo is an easy city break destination and a quick wedding etiquette guide!
For the outstanding service: ease of transport, wifi freely accessible, clean and easily accessible convenience….The city seems designed for working busy people, it’s expensive but convenient.
it’s exotic, or at least different for Westerners. As high-tech’ and developed as Japan can be, it’s still surprising and gives you that exciting feeling of adventure – even if it just means asking your way and manage to take the tube in that big underground jungle of theirs.
it’s varied, and visually beautiful. Each neighbourhood is different, from the neon lit busiest in the world cross road of Shibuya, to the refreshing quiet of temples and the maze of narrow streets in the old neighbourhoods of Yanaka. There’s culture, fun and crazy things for all.
Meji Jingu temple
maze of old streets around Yanaka
prayers at the Meji Jingu temple
When to go?
April is probably the single best period to head of to Japan, we caught the beginning of the Sakura, and more than just a beautiful tourist attraction it really marks the change of season; it’s a time of renewal and Tokyoites visibly appreciate it. I loved how Ueno park was so busy with workers organising picnics after work.
Catching the coming of age ceremony in the winter (2nd Monday of January), and maybe coupling it with a trip to the mountain would probably be my next choice.
Avoid going in June / July as you would hit the rainy season.
Picnics in Ueno park
teenagers in Yoyogi Park
Yoyogi park at the beginning of the sakura season
Sakura around the Tokyo Palace
Harajuku and its crazy colours…
And as Tokyo is not exactly cheap nor next door, a simple city short break doesn’t really make sense. I really wish I’d had more time to go to the Mt Fuji, to Kyoto, to the mountains…
The reason why I skipped quite a bit of the main tourist attractions is that we were mainly there to attend our friends’ wedding. Other friends who could stay longer and had time to tick more of the “to-do” boxes and voted the the sumo fighting as their main highlight…I guess I’ll just have to go back!
If you thought getting married, anywhere in the world, was a complicated matter – let alone finding the right partner in the first place – then try Japan. The hair-splitting etiquette steps this game by a few extra notches! The beautiful and emotional ceremony that ensues makes it all worth it though.
a few fun facts that seriously surprised us Europeans…
– I’m a guest, what present do I bring? fresh money, i.e. brand-new, crisp, unused bank notes in a nice envelope that you will hand out to the hostess when signing the register.
– When is the wedding happening? on a lucky day of course. How is the lucky day determined I still haven’t fully grasped it but it seems to be a full time job description…
– I’m a non-Japanese guest, what do I wear? locals and relatives will wear the traditional kimono but really most just wear classy European-style outfits.
– Am I going to share a table with the old aunties? unlikely, as the seating plan is a rather serious affair:
The bride and groom’s respective bosses should be seated at a prime table opposite the couple and be in charge of the opening speech…not the best man or the parents!? Or at least not in the first place: following the opening speech, everyone gets the opportunity to say a kind word.
The seating plan then continues in layers, the friends first and finally the family, placed in a sort of umbrella literally and figuratively stepping back and overlooking their (grown-up) little ones starting their new life from the distance…which is surprising at first, however, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a healthy approach to family relationship.
– “Kagami-biraki” or Breaking-open the sake cask. In an utterly ethnocentric way, I compared this to the European cake-cutting tradition (yes, shame on me). The couple breaks open the lid of the Sake barrel and cheers with their guests, a way to bring good fortune and fertility we were told. And we got the most thoughtful tie-me-down present: our own name-engraved sake cups, in Japanese characters of course. Isn’t that the coolest Hikidemono ?
To Read and Watch before you go
*1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is the book I got recommended most and it was certainly a fair piece of advise! I had thus far postponed the reading of the best-seller by laziness and other petty excuses but didn’t regret plunging into the 3 volume heavy story.
Not only Murakami hooks you in like no other Japanese author, but also it’s fantastic to travel in the city via the 2 main characters. A fan even created the corresponding map!! Thanks
*Lost in Translation
a well made journalistic blog I still keep reading since I came back, always full of very interesting, detailed and almost daily cultural snippets
ok by now your friends have started worrying for you: last night you went out for drinks, and after 2hours 45min precisely you asked for the bill, promptly paid and mumbled something about urgently going home to take care of Pasquale. “Hun, you have a new boyfriend, how do I NOT know that?”…”nanah, he’s not my bf, Pasquale’s more like family”…”I see, so your relatives are visiting for Easter? but you told me you were going away…?” …. drop it…they’ll never understand you are bringing up an Italian leaven “a WHAT??”….right let’s go back to the kitchen…
make sure you have everything at hand before we start the day and avoid a million trip down to Tesco:
– about 500gr of Manitoba flour
– 180gr soft butter (not melted or hot)
– about 250gr suger
– 6 eggs
– clean dish towels
– a vanilla pod and / or vanilla fragrance
– 15gr honey
– couple of pinches of salt
– 200 to 300gr candied orange peels
– orange zest
– 30 gr hazelnuts (can be replaced by more almonds)
– 75gr almonds
– unpeeled almonds for decoration
– sugar nibs
– icing sugar
– 2 clean linen cloths
– your dove shaped paper tin, 750gr or 1kg
First dough…in the thick of it!!
some people are morning people, especially bakers. So if you can wake up presto and start the process with a bang, it’d be ideal honestly. If like me you start the morning at noon with a headache, you’ll have to adjust later (read the little compromises below)
First dough – what we need
– 135 gr sourdough
– 150 gr warm water
– 105 gr sugar
– 390 gr manitoba, strong Canadian flour
– 3 yolks (make sure you keep at least 2 of the egg whites in your fridge for later)
– 155 gr very soft butter
Melt the 105gr sugar in 150gr water and bathe 135gr of Pasquale into the solution. Dream of a lifetime, tepid water and sugar ….yummmmm
Throw the 3 egg yolks into the mix, one at a time and stir well; then add the flour a tablespoon at a time. And knead, knead a lot …. your shoulders are screaming, your elbows are aching but it doesn’t matter:
you’re a hard core baker and stubbornly refusing to use a kitchen aid, officially to combine baking and upper body work out, but secretly because it’s a socially acceptable way to stick your hands in food for a good 20min at a time, so go on.
Finally rub the butter in little by little, when the previous bit is well amalgamated.
Leave to rise 8 to 12 hours covered with a plastic bag on top in a warm place (on heating tubes, in warmed oven), the dough should triple.
Round 2 – we’re not done until we get there
After about 8-12h, Pasquale should be a strong teenager, well grown up now.
Second dough – what we need
– initial mix (close to 1kg)
– 30 gr warm water
– 30 gr sugar
– 3 yolks
– 85gr Manitoba, strong Canadian flour
– 15 gr honey
– 30 gr very soft butter
– 4gr salt
– vanilla flavour and / or a vanilla pod
Take our well swollen dough and add 30gr of water diluted with 30gr of sugar; slowly and one by one, add the 3 egg yolks, 85gr of Manitoba flour, 15 gr of honey and knead. Knead again. Knead more. Yes, until your shoulders are screaming, yes, again.
Rest for 20min (finally!!!) and let the mix autolyse in its pot.
Knead again and when the dough is a tough ball with well developed gluten, add the butter. It should be very soft but not melted or hot. Incorporate it in little by little, and finally add 4 gr. of salt and the vanilla fragrance or the seeds of a vanilla pod.
Then when is all mixed add candied oranges in 10 to 20gr of water (they just need to be moist to be sticky enough), little handfuls after another like on the photo. KNEAD more until you get a smooth mix (do I still need to say it?).
Let it rest in warm place covered for an hour. Use that time to massage your shoulders and cheer up….impatient, hungry and slightly frustrated, at this stage I normally start taking short-cuts, DO NOT. It’s a patience game, it’s the slow food by excellence.
So let’s get back to our dough and split tit in 2 pieces, one will be the body, and one for the wings (use your imagination!!). Arrange it in the tin and leave to rise just quite to the edges.
Little compromises: if like me you end up starting round 2 after the evening film at round midnight, you’ll have to find a little compromise with Pasquale and maybe leave him alone overnight, in a cooler place (up to 6/7hours).
If however you’ve started early in the morning, then you’ll want to accelerate round 2, by now you should know how Pasquale has been behaving and how fast he’s been growing. Leave the tin in a warm place, or a slightly heated oven (30 degrees) for a couple of hours until it reaches circa 1cm to the edge.
Round 3 – The pretty step
We’re almost there, this is the easiest step, don’t give up and watch out the cooking.
Sugar coating – what we need
– 1/2 egg whites + salt or cream of tartar if needed to beat them – 120 gr sugar – 30 gr. hazelnuts – 55 gr. blanched almonds – 20gr. unpeeled almods – 2 spoonfuls of bitter almond taste or amaretto – some sugar nibs and for sprinkling
Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees and during that time, beat your egg white to a smooth cream, ad the sugar in, still beating. Then I use my hand soup blender to roughly crunch the almonds / hazelnuts and gently incorporate them in the cream.
With a spoon, gently spread the white stuff onto our beautifully risen Pasquale, starting with the edges and avoiding to put too much weight in the middle.
Once ready, set your oven at 190 and put the Colomba in at half height. If your oven’s got more hot flashes than Samantha Jones, you may need to manually move it around once at mid-cooking.
Now just enjoy, be proud, and disregard weird looks and comments such as “daaaaarling, you spent 3 days baking a brioche? but I can cook one for you in only a couple of hours, you should have asked!?”
Right, let them eat baking soda, you and Pasquale know it’s not worth arguing….
What was all that about already?
If some say that a sweet bread has been eaten in Lombardia for Easter since the VIth century; reality is that the Colomba as we know it today was invented by Motta in the 1930’s to make use of the Panettone facilities outside of the Christmas period as the technique is similar. However, there’s still a number of legends around the origins of the cake and I always find those rather entertaining.
One of the legend I read about is the one of San Colombanus.
The Irish missionary arrived in Milan in 612, during the fasting period preceding Easter. He was warmly greeted by King Agilulf and Queen Theodelinda of the Lombards to the city and offered a heavy meal of meat and other too rich dishes, that he could only decline in that period of the year. Queen Theodolina, did not understand his refusal and asked him in audience, slightly outraged and dumbfounded to be turned down. San Colombanus to ease the upset Queen, offered to have the supper, but only after having blessed the food. This is when the miracle happened and a whole table worth of food turned into a simple white bread Colomba, or Dove, symbol of modesty and peace.
Last year the Italian Cultural Institute of London organised a conference on Milanese Christmas traditions, and in particular, the delicious Panettone, this extremely rich and yummy brioch-ey cake. Rita Monastero did a passionate speech about the importance of a naturally leavened dough…picked my curiosity and subsequently got most of my December free time VERY busy!! Panettone isn’t quite a simple brioche: It’s a full-on 4 days adventure. And when I say 4 days I assume you already have an active natural leaven, and all the necessary ingredients available in your pantry…. I was indeed way too eager with my initial version and got a flat rich cake, not quite the fabulous fluffy and sweet thing I was expecting. But a few more tries and I was almost there, but after Christmas, my Italian testers all went on (much needed) detox, when I voiced the idea of baking one last one for Epiphany, my boyfriend just frowned and gave me the warning look. Ok my cases will go back to the cupboard. But I couldn’t let Easter go without a tasty and fluffy Colomba.
The Colomba is that – allegedly- dove-shaped little sister of the Panettone. Traditional Easter dessert if any, it’s overall slightly easier than the Chrsitmas version so I’d probably recommend starting there. If you want your Colomba ready for next weekend, I would recommend starting refreshing your leaven this weekend, maybe take the opportunity to bake some bread to use up the quantities. Give your baby a name, mine’s usually called Robert, and he’s Franco-British, but for the Colomba, you’ll need to create his much stronger Italian cousin, we called him Pasquale and sent him to this 2/3 days boot camp first. I’ve adapted the timings for working home-bakers as most of what I found on the internet or the guide I got from Rita Monastero, are just not realistic. So I started creating Pasquale on a Thursday night and plan on baking the final product on the Saturday, if you’re doing it on the bank holiday weekend, even easier as it does take some time.
Fun facts: ALL Italian recipes call for the sacred “Manitoba flour from Molino”, and I jumped through a number of hoops to import / store 10kg of the d@mned thing in my kitchen…when I realised sheepishly that Manitoba was a Canadian province and all it actually was, is a strong flour (i.e. very high protein rates, in and around 15gr protein per 100gr of flour) coming from Canada. In other word, what our supermarkets here call “strong Canadian flour” easily found at Tesco, Waitrose and the likes! yay, one problem sorted.
Before we start:
you will need a leaven starter, Manitoba or strong Canadian flour, 00 or all purpose flour. In term of equipment I would recommend a set of glass transparent dishes (to monitor the leaven) , a simple soft scrapper, a couple of of proofing linen cloths.
Step 1 : Thursday evening – toughen up take 50gr of your usual leaven, steer it with 50gr tepid water and add 100gr of manitoba flour. Robert has left place to Pasquale, it’s starting to take an Italian accent, and it should feel much tougher, thicker, to the point where you can knead it a little bit. Do so for a minute or so.
Cover your pot with a linen, and go out for dinner, or indulge with a spritz and watch La Grande Belleza. You have 3/4 hours ahead of you (depends on the temperature, I personally leave it 3h in the very warm boiler room). In the end it should look smoother, and be 1.5x to twice bigger.
Step 2 : Thursday night– Pasquale rolls with the punches
take 100gr of your now tough Italian leaven and take it to the next stage: shred it in little pieces, add 50gr of lukewarm water and stir. Add 100gr of Manitoba flour and knead for one or 2 min. At this stage I also add a little drop of honey or liquid malt. If we’re sending Pasquale to a boot camp, he’s taking a sweet in his pocket!
now roll it very tight in a sturdy dry and clean cloth, slightly floured and tie it very tight for the night. I used a shoes lace but a present wrap that can be cut off may be a better option. Place it in a small pan or pot for the night, in a warm place. Good night Pasquale! you’re back to the boiler room for 8 hours in your pyjamas. Personally I didn’t understand the point of this step the first time, but then realised it was important as it strengthen the leaven and also is a good visual test. In the morning, Pasquale is well grown and trying to escape the bowl…
Step 3 – a touch of softness in a tough world
After such a night, Pasquale is rather tired, let’s give him a bit of love. Discard any dried bit and use the middle soft part to carry on. To 50gr of the sourdough, again shredded in small pieces add in 50gr tepid water and soak it for a few seconds. Then knead it with 100gr of 00 flour (i.e. all purpose flour).
Step 4 & 5 : flex your muscle!!
repeat step 3 twice, at at least 3h interval, either on Friday afternoon if you’re using Good Friday to nurse Pasquale, or on Friday evening for those who have a life!! Get a good night rest, there’s a day of kneading coming up!!
While you’re nursing Pasquale like a hen hatching her eggs, you can also make sure that you have all the required equipment for the next stage. I got most of what I was missing at Bakery Bits, in particular the cases, the pearl sugar and the candied orange, the delivery should take up to 3 days so plan it ahead.
for the next steps you will need:
– 475 gr. Manitoba flour (i.e. Canadian strong flour) – 185 gr. soft butter – 135 gr. cast sugar – 200 gr. tepid water – 6 egg yolk – 15gr honey – 4gr salt – 1 vanilla pod – 1 orange peel – 300gr of candied orange peel
Just landed in Tokyo and as my friends predicted, people do not speak so much English, but seem to understand basic indications and overall are unbelievably helpful.
There is a tangible sense of modesty, and people who don’t master English well enough and feel confident with it just wouldn’t dare speaking. At the difference of Paris where this translate into “I don’t understand therefore I couldn’t care less”, people seem to give it a try here!!
I mean, last night after a long trip, a lost suitcase, and surviving the underground maze, I wandered around the Shibuya neighbourhood trying to find the apartment when I found a policeman who walked around with me for a full 15min until I was safe at home. I just couldn’t believe it….where else in the whole world?
I’ll keep you updated on how it goes, but just wanted to post this hilarious video by a Japanese / American comic artist who was educated in Japan and made a mock Japanese 101 video. Magic. (For those who want more, his blog: http://kentanakalovesyou.blogspot.jp/)
Photos will come later, I’m busy fua-kin for now 🙂
How to recognise an Italian ski resort and differentiate it from its neighbours from France or Switzerland at first glance?
First things first, look at women’s blow-dry. If ladies look like they’re coming straight out of the hairdresser no matter how much snow and wind there is through out the day: no doubt, you’re in Italy.
Last summer when coming back from 2 weeks in Tuscany I was stunned by how pretty, and above all stylish, Italian grand mothers were (see the article “fashion lessons learnt from Italian grannies“). Guess what? it applies on the slopes more than ever.
Second clue? are people throwing their skis and poles on the floor nonchalantly, creating an ocean of eclectic boards, Prada shoes, Gucci goggles, gloves and so forth outside of bars and restaurants? if yes, you’re in Italy. (note: if they’re meticulously organised, you’re in Switzerland)
Extra clue: if people around you can telephone while skiing AND gesticulating….where else? Italian skills will never cease to amaze travellers….
As a touristy destination, Morocco almost has it all: sun pretty much all year round, surf, mountains, cultural cities, fantastic food, stable political background, cheap access from Europe and no jet lag, no need for a visa…..la douceur de vivre in a bloody disorganised Mediterranean atmosphere. Oh well…we love it.
Taghazout is a fishermen village nested on the Atlantic coast near Agadir, a good couple of hours by car from Marrakech where one can get easier flight connections. The drive from Agadir foretells a wide upcoming change in the area. Currently, it is touristy, but still at human scale, for how much longer? Mohammed VI & the government put in place a development plan in 2010 and decided to boost the country’s tourism capacity and infrastructures by 2020. The industry currently represents over 7% of the country’s GDP and is the 2nd biggest sector for job creations. Tourist flows are mostly coming from France and the rest of Europe. The little village of Taghazout, can only get busier.
The village is a large main dusty street fitted with small grocery shops and restaurants, vagabond cats, and goats eating off the rubbish. My hosts recommend going eating outside of town, driving to Agadir as we’ll find “nothing suitable here”. Well that wasn’t quite right. We we able to find welcoming quirky little places with fresh quality products, and in particular, Dar Josephine, on the main street, close the the pharmacy.
** And how about the surfing?
the winter swell is (really) big, it’s cheap and convenient to come from Europe and makes Anchor Point one of the most attractive winter spot in the region; together with its Spanish neighbour, 170km offshore, the Canaries Islands, roughly oriented the same way, exposed to the N-NW swells that churn the North Atlantic from October to March. But if the quality of surfing instruction in Lanzarote (when I say that I mean Surf School Lanzarote) was outstanding, however the standards are not quite the same in Morocco, and not better value either.
We had been warned, it’s big waves, for big independent guys, not improvers. We did find nice little schools run by Brits, but we struggled to find a real ISA recognised school. And indeed, the safety talk is mostly reduced to “Inch’Allah”, there are obviously no life guards in sight, and the coaching is rather limited to showing you a few pop-up on the sand….not exactly my definition of coaching!!
If you are just looking to have a blast and meet people, any of Surf Maroc or Surf Berbere camps will probably be exactly that; everyone is really chilled and laid back, in a very backpacking-y sort of atmosphere reminiscent of the hippy days of Tanghazout. Most schools will also offer day trips and after-surf yoga classes during the sunset hours (amazing….).
Yoga class with a view
Breakfast is just magical, freshly pressed local oranges, local honey and home made yoghurt…delicious
wrought iron gates and beautiful azulejos
Camels, donkey, goats, nothing distracts out group away from their cheery mood
** A good book for the plane….
I asked quite a few friends, what should I be reading in the plane? I love exchanging good books recommendations with friends, it’s normally a great way to scratch a little bit beyond the surface; as invariably, people start with food recommendations when they talk about their country). Those 2 are standing out:
– Partir (Leaving Tangier) – by Tahar Ben Jelloun, written in French
– For Bread alone – Mohamed Choukri, written in Arabic and translated to American English by Paul Bowles, and to French by Tahar Ben Jelloun.
** Travelling in my kitchen
2 dishes that I stole from Josephine, who’s been kind enough to show me her wonderful sauce and chit chat about flavours and smells. Lots of garlic, cumin and the fabulous local aromatic oil are some of their secret ingredients.
– 2 ts orange blossom water
– 2 ts orange juice
– press half a lemon (2ts)- 1/2 ts paprika
– 1/2 ts cumin seeds or ground
– 1/2 ts cinnamon
– a pinch of salt
dice the beetroot (after cooking and peeling if required) and peel and grate the carrots, macerate with the vinaigrette and serve fresh, maybe with a mint leaf or a couple of pomegranate seeds as a decoration.
The 2nd one will be the Kefta & egg tajine; but I have to confess here, I have been rather lazy. The dish itself should be soaked in water overnight before use and I keep procrastinating this bit.
I came back with an over-packed suitcase in which I managed to cram non only a berber tajine but also some of the missing items in my pamper-pantry, and in particular, some argan- enriched black soap and ghassoul.
Black soap comes in a sort of jelly mushy dark brown paste. This one is enriched with Argan oil so a little bit lighter. Ideally in a hot steam room (or in my case, after an essential oil enriched bath) spread it on your body, warning, the smell isn’t exactly pleasant but be reassured, it doesnt stay as after a few minute you’ll scrub
** Other Inspirations:
– Films: Laïla Marrakhi’s first and controversial film “Marok” is a fresh high school romance but not only. I can’t wait to watch her most recent one “Rock the Casbah” (I’m waiting until the dvd as I doubt we’ll get to see it at the cinema in London…)
my next time in Morocco? The more I read about it, the more I’m burning to discover Fes, the desert; I’d also like to spend a little bit more time in Marrakech and get to see Yves St Laurent’s gardens….and last but not least I”ll DEFINITELY carry more hand sanitiser in my hand bag.
What do you wish, hope and work toward in 2014?I just googled “top 10 2014 resolution” …erg, pretty appalling stuff: ranking at the top, the utterly depressing “loosing weight and living healthier” according to the great women you should know website, oh boy!
No. It’s rainy and cold out there, so let’s start 2014 with enjoyable perspectives at least. Here are a few notes and ideas I jotted down in my (random) preparation for this new cycle.
1. the UK travel hot list by the Guardian: going around Britain more is definitely on my to-do list for 2014 – even if I confess I may wait for a little bit more sunshine.
2. the 20 best travel book of all time, selected by the Telegraph. Reading is the cheapest way to travel, escape, learn. I set myself a soft-objective of 25 books this year; starting with “For Bread Alone”, the first part of Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri’s autobiography, translated to american by Paul Bowes. A tough journey.
3. the top 10 surf schools, by the National Geographic. Just back from Morocco for a short surfing break, I’m studying this religiously and hunting forums: the quality of surf coaching is clearly not the same all around the world, surfing and sport trips in general are the ones that require most preparation….
4. Clean up your Instagram! I was looking for some refreshed list of travel instagrams to follow, but didn’t find anything truly mind boggling so here is my own top 10:
JR: artist until he finds a real job. We hope he doesn’t.
José Lourenco [@joselourenco]: Portuguese photographer and “visual artist” and has a very witty original approach to instagram
Marygribouille: Normand graphic artist and illustrator, she posts daily lovely pieces or her life and fun illustrations
Nicole Warne’s blog feed, GaryPepperGirl: following models can sometimes be slightly over the top but she stays away from the main pitfalls of fashion bloggers and does travel a lot. Her boyfriend is also conveniently a fashion photographer, so thank lord we don’t get selfies in a mirror but beautiful coloured outfit in stunning locations.
Scott Schuman, the Sartorialist: Because he’s the reference street fashion photographer (ok, I can say that safely so long as Bill Cunningham doesn’t have an instagram account!)
Vogue International: the fashion forward reference
The National Geographic: for outstanding quality photos and comments
Murad Osmann globe trotting with his girlfriend and the model, Nataly Zakharova, in a very original “follow me” photography series
The Royal Opera House: A touch of beauty in a ruthless world. Not only this is one of the best operas in the world, but they do put some effort into their instagram feed and social media visibility in general, trying to make it appealing and endearing to the general public. It works, thanks!
The Russian ballet dancer, Maria Kochetkova. Her instagram feed is fun and sober, plus she does travel a lot with that cute hipster cool look
5. what’s the world like in 2014? The economist publishes their annual guide covering economy & politics, but not only. Check out the app or the paper magazine format. Well worth it. My n#1 source of information has also started releasing a “traveller’s briefing” app that I’m really excited about. Available only for a few countries for now (Brazil, Britain), but I’m sure they’ll keep adding to it.
Hello, My name is Paul Smith is currently at the Design Museum; Isabella Blow’s Fashion Galore at the Sommerset House; from February, the National Portrait Gallery will focus on the work of photographer David Bailey in Stardust, featuring more than 250 images; The Glamour of Italian Fashion will open at the V&A in April; and The fashion world of Jean-Paul Gaultierwill be the first major retrospective his past 35 year of creation at the Barbican starting in April amongst others.
I wish you a fantastic 2014, whether travelling around the world or in your kitchen but learning, discovering, talking, experiencing, venturing and adventuring, always.
Coming from a bakers family, the only food I was truly missing in London was great bread, available daily and conveniently. During the course of 2013, I started baking my own sourdough bread at home and I’m pretty proud of my regular no-knead loaf, super easy and hassle-free. (thanks loads to the guys from the E5 bakery for having set me up on the right direction!)
About a month ago I hosted my parents for a weekend at home and had baked Dan Lepard’s raisin and rye crown bread for breakfast; they liked it so much that mom set me on a mission to bake a good fruit loaf to toast her home made foie-gras on Christmas eve. I wanted something spicy and fruity that would keep a real sourdough bread texture and taste. Our foie gras being already layered with candied cranberry, I didn’t want to bake something overly sweet. Also, most recipes call in for the addition of nuts but mom though it would add a “crunchy” distraction and preferred a fruit-only loaf.
After having tested a few options at home, I crossed the channel with my (4kg) Dutch oven and 2 types of sourdough starters; and off I was, in for a good backing lesson on the field. For a start, I just could NOT find the same flour as in London easily available. Bread is made of almost only flour and water, and ingredients are absolutely essential to the taste and texture. If the internet is global and gives is the impression we can follow any recipe from any and all blogs across the planet, reality sometimes makes a humble check-in. Products are not only different, but also, the water tastes different, the bacteria present in the air is different, the humidity is different, and my parents’ big countryside house is much cooler than our central London apartment, messing up all proofing times.
I ended up abandoning the idea of a rye bread for I couldn’t find the right supply on time for Christmas; and remixed several inspirations I took from my go-to baking blogs. I started with a test-run and made the raisin loaf from you can do it at home blog. Tasty enough! (under the dog’s surveillance) so I braced myself up, and started scratching my head in search for a fig adaptation.
– Starter 135gr (100% hydration)
– White flour 85% – 216gr – the white flour I found at the supermarket did not contain enough gluten so I had to increase the whole wheat % to avoid ending up with an unmanageably wet dough. Any unbleached white flour should do, ideally with as close as you can get to 12-13% proteins.
– Whole wheat flour 15% – 38gr plus dusting
– Water 67% – 171gr
– Salt – 7gr
– Cinnamon – a teaspoon
– Mixed spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg mix)
– Chopped dried figs 33% – 85gr
Add the lukewarm water to the starter and dilute for a few seconds
Add both flours, mix well and knead until the gluten develops. you should now be handling a relatively wet ball of dough.
Let it autolyse for 15/30min.
Add the salt + figs and spices, and again knead until the fruit is well incorporated.
Let it rest for 1/2h in a greased bowl (adapt the timing depending on your temperature)
fold gently and let proof in the banetton overnight.
In the morning, slash it the way you like and pre-heat the oven at 225C or maximum temperature. Bake it for 40 minutes in a Dutch oven, take off the lid and bake it for another 10min at 200C.
I come from a French Normans family and this is where I traditionally spend Christmas. The whole period is a culinary feast and each family has their own tradition (or should I say obsessions?), mostly revolving around food; mine this year was a perfect fruit loaf quest that I will describe in another post.
I have been eagerly looking forward to the holiday for several weeks as usual, the bubbly Champagne, the roasted chestnuts, the smell of the decorated tree and the glitter in my grand-parents eyes. And I got just that, wonderful family-time 🌟💝
when we decided to book a trip to Morocco for New Year holidays, my first thought was “great, I’m getting an argan oil refill!” Last time I went there it was to Rabat for my friend’s wedding and we spent quite a lot of time taking care of ourselves, as good brides & bridesmaid should do ;)!! Local production of henna, lemon, olive & argan oil, avocado, rose water, cloves….and a secular tradition of hammams and sea salt scrubs make of Morocco a great destination for pampering.
I wanted to share here a couple of great natural tricks; I guess the products can be found almost anywhere, albeit at rather steeper prices!!!
Rose water is my absolute favourite, sprayed on a hot day or just in the morning applied on a cotton on my eyes…. it beats the smell of any beauty shop product and it’s naturally allergy-free. It’s said to naturally prevent against wrinkles – not sure if it does but it’s definitely pleasant to use.
Argan Oil. When I used it the first time, I wondered why I had ever been buying such expensive moisturising serum and hair masks. The trick is to use a very small amount on the tips of your hair overnight, tie it in a plait to avoid greasing everything and wash it with a gentle shampoo in the morning…silky and fabulous especially for long and dry hair or sun-damaged.
Another great use is to massage your feet with argan oil and sleep with cotton socks on….scrub them in the shower with a loofah mitt the next morning…and tadahhh, you’re party-heels ready! it’s also said to be good for your face skin but I find it doesn’t feel very nice, it’s oil after all.
Last trick a friend gave me recently is to use a 50/50 mix of lemon juice and argan oil on brittle nails, apparently it does marvels following too many shellac applications.
Rhassoul clay is another traditional and typically Moroccan natural remedy. It’s especially great for oily hair as it’s really quite hard to find a cure that cleanses without striping.
– rhassoul clay
– rose water
– 2 egg yolkes
mix until you get a not-too-liquid-not-too-thick mixture and apply on your hair roots. Once a month, apply more warm water and massage the paste on your scalp. Then rinse completely.
and last but not least: green tea! packed with anti-oxydant, preventing halzeimer, “flushing” excess calories…I read just about anything on green tea; only one thing is sure, in Morocco it’s THE social drink, any occasion is good enough, any time of the day. Sit back and enjoy.
I could carry on endlessly with black soap, other oils and clays, henna, honey & honey combs, vanilla, clove, eucalyptus etc etc…but I guess at this point, better just pay a visit to your local hammam, or a weekend in Marrakech
want to read more? sorry the good sources I found are mostly in French sorry
Tonight mulled wine is spreading a spiced scent around the house, raisin bread is baking in the oven and I’m wondering what size of tree to choose… Christmas approaching, marking the end of that depressing post summer autumn season very rightly named “fall” (mostly rain fall in London actually…). It’s the search for the perfect wooly hat, the guilt-free hot chocolate with marshmallows, the ginger-man baking and the feeling of excitement….love all of that!!!
One stunning thing you will note when travelling across Italy is the fashion sense of elder ladies. Not only in the Verona Opera arena, but in the streets, while grocery shopping or taking the train. What makes Italian grans so classy?
The answer lies in good old rules: timeless basics in neutral colours, statement pieces, and the “dress-up” touch, in particular earrings. I like padded jackets, for it gives a great shape, and a patch of colour, to catch the eye. Some do not hesistate a second pulling a trendy accessory: my train neighbour was wearing studded loafer on the way from Pisa to Florence, and rocking it!!