Friday, 16 July 2010

A revolutionary bouillon and a collapsing ancien regime croquembouche

Tom Baker the accordeon player

Home made baguettes, pain d'epi, walnut bread rising

I bought red and white check tablecloths for the occasion

Fleur de lys perfumed the air, radishes served with Maldon salt and Normandy salted butter

Alissia with a basket of home-made bread.

I was helped by Hattie Mauleverer from Top Hat Catering. She's cooked for all kinds of people including David Cameron. On the left is Ali who used to work for Hattie, she's soon going off to Uganda for a month. 

So proud I'm putting tons of pictures of my bread. I was amazed that some of it wasn't eaten, until I realised some of the front of house were going out, saying 'Anybody want some more?' then bringing it back in the kitchen before anybody could say yes!

I always cook in pearls don't you know?

The table outside on the balcony.

Suzanne from Mons delivered an amazing selection of French cheeses:
Langres; Cosme goat (made in the shape of the farmer's wife's breast, apparently he was going through a mid-life crisis at the time); Beaufort; an ash covered goat's cheese, bicaillloux from Limousin (made by two transplanted Parigos); Camembert, made with raw milk, 'moulé à la louche' (ladled by hand which does make a difference); a goat's cheese 'mistralou', with a hint of herbes de provence, wrapped in sweet chestnut leaves (originally chosen because cheaper to transport to market than cheese cloth/paper); a breakaway Roquefort, just outside the AOC, but just as good. 
These were accompanied by St.Johns sourdough, oat cakes and my home made fig compote (3 days in red wine in the Aga).

Affinage, Kilburn stylee!

Making 120 choux buns (ignore the slightly burnt ones at the back)

Constructing that mother...

Filled with creme patissiere with orange blossom flower essence and almond essence.

A simple clear bouillon. The original word 'restaurant' means a restorative soup. Restaurants as we know them today started after the French revolution. This meal was a mix of ancien regime (the piece montée, the croquembouche) and working class French menu fixe.

I also served crudités: carrottes rapées, celeriac remoulade with a home made mustard mayonnaise, radishes with butter, salt and home made baguettes.

Main course: roasted trout with almonds with a generous amount of butter sauce; a gratin dauphinois with lots of double cream

Alissia, Ali and Hattie in their vintage French aprons.

Ooh la la! Lenny from Coney & Barrow...

The cheese was matched with superb French wines from Ten Green Bottles, a small wine importers in Brighton. Simon went around the tables pouring wine, giving tastings, to an appreciative audience.

Here it is, covered in caramel and crystallised rose petals and glitter. 

The leaning tower of Kilburn: the back started to collapse!

Alissia starts on the absinthe after vintage coffee

Middle class crack: burning a sugar cube over the absinthe, la fée verte. One guest said to me "Be careful, the guests might smash up your furniture!"

Things I learnt on Bastille Day:
1. Don't attempt to make a croquembouche when it's raining. It will collapse.
2. Wear protective gloves when dipping profiteroles in liquid caramel. I'm sure there were some fingertips glued to the construction.
3. A mix of Pastis and red wine and absinthe renders you inactive for at least 24 hours.

4. Never do front of house. I don't have the temperament, especially towards the end of the evening.
Sample dialogue:
 "Would you like some coffee?"
"What sort of coffee?"
"Coffee coffee" (barked with impatience)
"Can I have an espresso?"
"It's a home restaurant. I don't have a 20 grand espresso machine."
"Can you make one on the stove top?"
"I can't be arsed. Especially after making you gluten-free bread."

I must say, I do feel sorry for coeliacs. I had to pipe the bread onto the tray as you can't knead it. It 's more like cake than bread.
Here is my recipe:
500g Dove's gluten free flour
350g water
10g yeast
tspn of sugar
10g salt
15g Xanthan gum
Some corn meal.

Mix all the ingredients together. Make foil moulds for the baguettes, dull side out. Spray it with oil and dust with cornmeal. Place the 'dough' in a mixing bag and pipe onto oiled foil. Leave to rise for 45 minutes, then 'slash' some cuts into the baguettes. Bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes approximately. Spray the oven with water to make steam which will give the bread a crust.


  1. That's interesting that you burnt the sugar, I've only seen the fleches used to hold a sugar cube that then has iced water dripped through to sweeten and cloud the absinthe below.

    There are some lovely designs of fleches and also brilliant fountains that were used to drip the water - they have little taps that can adjust the flow to a little drip drip..

  2. I agree Coeliacs are a pain but the best wheat/gluten free breads I have ever tasted were at the feal food festival earlier this year check them out here Ingrid Greenfield is the owner...

  3. The best ever wheat/gluten free breads I have ever taster were at the real food festival made by Ingrid Greenfield - check them out here
    Not worth making your own when she does such an amazing range.
    Sounded like a fun night though!

  4. oh look - I found you a picture..

  5. Can I say how much I admire you; unbelievable, wonderful cooking (by the looks of it) and organisation. Such hard work and you earn every penny you make - seriously. You may save money, but the work involved in turning your home into a restaurant is colossal; even before you've cooked a darn thing.

    So cool that the accordion player is timelord in disguise! And pearls so suit you (you're safe - I, oddly for a cockney, hate goimg amywhere near London - the Great When, Richard Adams called it. Sigh.

  6. Wow. I dont want to gush, but did everyone of those lovely guests know QUITE how lucky they were??That bread looked fabulous, the tables, the cheese, so much care and attention, and so much style, just lovely. The Croquembouche still looked amazing, and I bet it tasted great (I attempted one in about 95% humidity, it melted at about the same rate as my makeup, maybe you need a special temp controlled room to make the damn things?!)

  7. Your coffee is great! Demanding an espresso is really too much.

  8. Josordoni: I've seen absinthe glasses, they are beautiful. By 'fleches' what do you mean? And what do the fountains do ?
    Pappacod: I'm sure lots of people do gluten free bread far better than I do, but the point is I made the effort!
    Chumbles: thanks so much for your kind comments. Very heartening.
    Plum kitchen: I made several mistakes with the croquembouche: made the profiteroles too big, not even enough in size, overfilled them with the creme patisserie so that they were too heavy and made it in hot damp weather so that the caramel kept melting.
    I think some people appreciated the evening, some on the other hand, acted like it was a normal restaurant (the coffee lady).
    Fingers and toes: Yes I provide Douwe Egberts cafetiere coffee and many guests have said how much they like it. Douwe Egberts provide several different kinds and while it doesn't have the snob value of Square Mile, I really like it.

  9. The "fleche" is the perforated absinthe spoon - they are traditionally pointed and shaped like an arrow.

    The fountain is for dripping water slowly over your sugar cube, held in your pointy perforated spoon which is balanced over your glass. Did you see the picture of the fountain I found? It would be on the cafe table with little spigot taps on each side (some of them with 4 taps, one for each person on a 4 seater table). In the picture you can see one chap has sugar on his spoon under the fountain, the other just has his absinthe with a drop of water, no sugar lump.

    By dripping the water slowly, it would melt the sugar lump which then dripped into the absinthe. I think the pleasure in it all was as much the ritual as the drink itself, much like hookah smoking in Middle Eastern cafes.

  10. our first supperclub experience, and soooo fun! been telling anyone who will listen to get to one of your evenings.

    all - including the croquembouche & coffee was great. hopefully means something, as i am an antipodean coffee fiend.

    thanks ms marmite lover!

  11. Jo: thanks for the explanation. yes I saw the photo but it's quite hard to distinguish exactly what's going on, now I understand.
    So burning the sugar is not the usual way?

    Taraw: Thanks so much for coming and I'm so glad you loved it!

  12. Burning the sugar is a modern way with absinthe, the old Art Nouveau way was with water as in the picture. Some absinthe aficionados get quite up in arms about burning the sugar cubes, but really, if it tastes nice, who cares?

    Here's one who is VERY unhappy about burning sugar.. LOL

  13. I just love the fact that you always wear pearls when you cook.Brilliant. And those profiteroles look magnificent!

  14. mmmm.... absinthe. I once lost an entire afternoon on this most ethereal of spirits, during which I scythed a lawn, cleaned a house and had my tarot read. Allegedly. Although there was proof in that the lawn was most definately shorter when I arose from my fug later that evening. And the house was most certainly cleaner, if a little shambolic. Wouldn't have a clue what the tarot said, but I'm sure it must have mentioned a bad head and immovable limbs!!

    I'm old skool and prefer it the water way; burnt sugar just makes it more 'sour' imho. We have a couple of lovely fleches here at home. M once did a series on drinking for cable TV and did an entire episode on absinthe. We prefer the Spanish (read; I prefer...!!).
    C x

  15. Gastrogeek: and heels! ;)

    Green drawers: hmm so is it a bit like tequila: half drug/half drink?

    Must try the water technique!

  16. you said.. "hmm so is it a bit like tequila: half drug/half drink?"

    so true.. it was known to make you go blind and/or mad. Which explains a lot about Belle Epoque art and literature, don't you think?

  17. Oh how I laughed at your impatience! I'm excellent as front of house, I just fantasise these replies whilst smiling sweetly. I have a mixture of intolerance (no pun intended) and sympathy for gluten free brigade. It's just there is a certain militant/minority attitude that can make a caterer scream (back of house)!

    look forward to my visit in August.

  18. I am amazed at your energy! I feel sorry for celiacs as well. I love my bread and I don't think I would enjoy gluten free bread.

    Love the pictures. It looks like everyone had a great time. Congratulations on a job well done!

  19. soo adorable ms marmite...makes me miss london and cooking and prepping in the kitchen with you bella. The bread looks beautiful!! love it xx

  20. You, Madam, are a genius, and what you say about front of house goes for me, too. And the pearls.

  21. You, Madam, are a genius, and what you say about front of house goes for me, too. And the pearls.

  22. Thanks Jessie, Angie, and 365 tage: much appreciated.
    Angie! when are you coming back. So nice to get a comment from you!

  23. Sarah: glad it made you laugh!
    I get so tired by the end of the evening I just can't preserve that 'front of house' diplomacy facade any more!

  24. What is it with french stuff? I come to france and suddenly notice lots of french themed stuff everywhere - even here! Looks good though - good effort on the profiterole mountain!xxx

  25. divine. I wish I could be here to take part in this. Perhaps when back in London I will see if you are still inviting guests to experience this!
    Curious, what is the beta-carotene looking dish that is sitting next to the watering can in one of your outdoor photos? It looks like a carrot colored spaghetti squash of some sort.

  26. Hello Bella,
    It is carotene indeed... carrottes rapées, grated carrot salad. Very simple but one of my favourites with a lemony dressing.


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