No mistaking where I was – Bordeaux airport has grape vines planted close to Arrivals with a red rose at the end of each row to encourage bees to help with pollination. Even thought Bordeaux is all about wine, that wasn’t the primary purpose of our trip. We had been invited to the wedding of the granddaughter of Andre Lourton, the patriarch of one of the most famous wine families in Bordeaux. The young bride and groom looked radiant, the sun shone, the wine flowed, the food was delicious, lots of oysters, crepinettes, foie gras, duck in every possible way, exquisite cheese in sublime condition and molten chocolate pudding with pistachio ice cream.
Fireworks lit up the starlit sky over the vineyards and chateau, guests from all over the world danced till the early hours.
It’s an ill wind that doesn’t benefit someone – the Aer Lingus strike meant we had to leave a day early so we had an unexpected mini break. The countryside was so beautiful, lush and green, and well wooded in areas not suitable for vines. The names of some of the most famous wines in the world leap off the road signs, wild flowers grow in the hedges, poppies here and there, frequent war memorials a poignant reminder of the devastation in this area during the first and second world war.
There are markets virtually in every town Lilbourne was recently voted the best in France, an appealing melange of beautiful fresh vegetables, fruit and Summer truffles, farmhouse cheeses, Agen prunes, oysters, kitchen utensils, plants, live poultry, espadrilles and some of the best charcuterie I’ve ever seen in France .
We stayed in the most charming bed and breakfast called the Forge owned by Carol de Montrichard, a beautifully restored French farmhouse in the middle of almost a hectare of gardens, wild flower meadow and fruit orchards. The house was packed with antiques and chic finds, comfy chintsy sofas, French tapestry chairs, a baby grand piano and rows and rows of interesting books and old New Yorker magazines to browse through. The bed sheets were old French linen and bliss to sleep in and the breakfast table was laden with pretty china and silver and a bowl of freshly picked cherries still warm from the tree. Carol who has an art and culture background also does week long culinary cooking tours for small groups of 6-8 friends. There’s hands-on cooking in private houses with talented young chefs, trips to local markets, vineyards and artisan producers with lots of little surprises thrown in. Her bed and breakfast can also be let to a family for a week or more and sleeps up to 11. The garden is a haven for all the song birds as well as hoopoe, storks, eagles, frogs and crickets. Guests can help themselves to ripe cherries from the trees et al.
A real find close to Branne and St Emillion, with its cobbled streets and myriad of wine shops, don’t miss the canelles and macaroons for which the area is so famous. Lots of gardens open to the public including Etamines a rambling garden with fish ponds and avaries and the Jardin des Legumes in Oublies www.ohlegumesoublies.com , we had a particularly delicious lunch at La Poudette in Puzoles. Langoustine bisque with savoury Chantilly with Espelette pepper, carpaccio of duck breast with roasted peanuts, parsley, shallot and extra virgin olive oil with a quail egg on top and some wild rocket leaves. The chef was Frederick Jombart, his partner Sophie Bantous was the maître d. Their son Martin played the clarinet for us as we drank our coffee – utterly charming.
A dish made from the black pig of the area was also delicious and I loved the cherries with pistachio ice cream and with a filo cigarette sitting on top.
La Caffe Cuisine in Branne was also highly recommended but we didn’t make it. www.cuisinecafe.
Morello Cherry Pie
The pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
8 ozs (225g/2 sticks) butter
2 ozs (50g/1/3 cup) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
12 ozs (300g/2 1/2 cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
2lbs (900g) fresh cherries
1 – 2 tablespoons Kirsch (optional)
5 ozs (150g/2/3 cup) sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 tablespoon ground almonds
egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk
castor sugar for sprinkling
softly whipped cream
1 x round tin, 9 inches (23cm) by 1 inch (2.5cm deep)
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.
To make the tart
Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about a little more than half of it to line the tin. Destalk the cherries and fill the tart tin. Sprinkle with Kirsch if using. Then cover with a mixture of sugar, ground almonds and cornflour. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with cherry shapes and pastry leaves. Egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the cherries are tender – 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream.
Agen Prune and Armagnac Tart
We love this delicious version which comes from The River Café Cook Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
225g (8ozs/generous 1 cup) flour
25g (1oz/1/8 cup) castor sugar
110g (4ozs/1 stick) unsalted butter
400 g (14oz) Agen prunes
425ml (15fl oz/scant 2 cups) strong breakfast tea, leaves strained
4 tablespoons (60ml/2 1/2fl oz/generous 1/4 cup) Armagnac
300g (11oz/scant 3 sticks) unsalted butter
300g (11oz/scant 1 1/2 cups) caster sugar
300g (11oz) peeled, blanched whole almonds, ground to a sandy consistency in a food processor
3 large eggs, free range if possible
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of flour (optional)
1 x 30.5cm (12 inch) tart tin with ‘pop-up base
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Remove the stones from the prunes and soak in strong breakfast tea for 30 minutes. Remove the prunes from the tea and drizzle with 4 tablespoons of Armagnac.
Next make the pastry.
Sieve the flour and sugar into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and then rub in with your fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt, the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.
Whisk the egg. Using a fork to stir, add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, shorter crust.
Flatten into a round, cover the pastry with clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.
Line the flan ring and bake blind for 20-25 minutes. Blind bake the pastry for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
Reduce the temperature to 160°C/315°F/Gas mark 2 1/2.
Meanwhile make the almond filling.
Cream the butter and sugar until pale and light. Add the almonds and combine. Stir in the eggs one by one, carefully stir in the flour. Arrange the prunes on the base of pastry shell. Pour any juices from the prunes into the almond mixture then spoon the filling on top of the prunes. Lift the prunes up out through the frangipane a little so they peep out. Bake in a preheated at 160°C/315°F/Gas Mark 2 1/2 oven for about 40 minutes – 1 hour. Serve with a dollop crème fraîche.
Pat Browne’s Almond Macaroons
We’ve got lots of macaroon recipes, but this one given to us by one of our tutors Pat Browne, is the most foolproof of all. They can be flavoured or coloured as you wish, a few drops of rosewater or orange blossom water, a little crème de menthe…… They are not exactly the same as the St Emilion macaroons but are very close, easy and utterly delicious.
Makes 74 approx of petit four size
4 free range organic egg whites, depending on size
25g (1oz) caster sugar
225g (8oz) icing sugar
115g (4¼oz) ground almonds
Baking tray or trays
No 9 plain piping nozzle
Preheat the oven to 140°C/275°F/Gas Mark 1
Cover the baking tray with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.
Whisk the egg whites and castor sugar until stiff.
Sieve the icing sugar twice into a bowl. Add the ground almonds to the icing sugar.
Mix half the dry ingredients into the egg whites and then fold in the remainder.
Pipe into approx. 2.5cm (1 inch) rounds onto a baking tray. Rest for 30 minutes, then bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes until pale golden. Continue to cook the remainder.
The macaroons are cooked when they lift easily off the paper.
Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight tin.
If you want an extra treat, sandwich together with chocolate, lemon or coffee butter cream.
Prawn or Lobster Bisque with Chantilly Cream and Espelette Pepper
We can’t bear to waste any scrap of the shellfish. Use leftover prawn or lobster shells to make this delicious bisque – then you get double value from the shellfish. It’s rich so serve it in small bowls.
12 heads and claws of fresh prawn or the cracked claws and body shells of 2-3 lobsters 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots (finely chopped)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
300ml (1/2 pint) fish stock (see recipe)
450g (1lb) fresh tomatoes or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes
2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) brandy
175ml (6fl oz/3/4 cup) cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
110g (4oz) whipped cream
Grated rind of ½ lemon
fresh flat parsley or chervil leaves
Use a hammer to crush the prawns and lobster shells into small pieces. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the shallots and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the bits of prawns and lobster shells and also the fish stock (see recipe). Stir and cook 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, parsley and brandy and cook for 5-10 minutes (the bisque should be just simmering).
Take the bisque of the heat, strain off the big bits, and liquidise. Then strain through a sieve. Return to the saucepan. Stir in the cream, season and taste. The bisque should be light and smooth in texture.
Fold the lemon rind into the softly whipped cream and add a pinch of salt. Top each bowl with a blob of savoury Chantilly, sprinkled with Espelette pepper.
Serve in warm bowls and garnish with a few flat parsley leaves.
More excitement in Stoneybatter – The lovely Michelle Darmody of the Cake Café has opened a new place called Slice. As with the Cake Café they use local Irish produce to create good quality home style cooking. The salad leaves and most vegetables are sourced from Mc Nallys farm in North County Dublin, all of the milk in organic. Sally Barnes smokes the fish and all of the meat and cheese are from small Irish producers and of courses there are lots of cakes as you would image. Ray O’ Neill is a Ballymaloe Cookery School past student is her Manager in chief. www.asliceofcake.ie
Date for your diary.
A Long Table Dinner at Ballymaloe Cookery School – Tickets have gone on sale for this year’s Long Table Dinner hosted by Darina Allen in the greenhouse in the midst of the tomatoes and scarlet runner beans on Tuesday, 22nd July (it’s been a sell out for the past few years). Rory O’Connell will create the menu – a celebration of the produce of the organic farm and gardens and local area with fish and shellfish from nearby Ballycotton. Dinner is €120 per person Advanced booking essential – proceeds go to East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. Telephone: (021) 4646 785/www.cookingisfun.ie