Monday, 20 September 2010

Cobbled Streets, Cider and Butter

Having recently returned from an enjoyable stay in Brittany, I was still ignited with enthusiasm for the local cuisine and wanted to create something at home. Aside from the ubiquitous moules frites, crêpes and galettes, Brittany has so much more to offer on the food front.

While I was cooking, I was taken back to the steep cobbled streets of Dinan or the rugged shores of Île-de-Bréhat...

Poulet au Cidre Breton

Brittany produces some very fine cider, everything from a good country style not unlike our Somerset or Herefordshire ciders to the more refined ‘Champagne’ varieties. Brittany, although in France is not a wine producing region and so it invests it’s time in using apples to make a pleasing array of brews.
This dish is fragrant with apples as the cider infuses the chicken making it tender and fall-off-the-bone succulent. The chicken is best cooked on the bone to give a robustness of flavour. After I removed the breasts and legs from the whole bird, I used the rest to make stock, picking off any remaining meat after it had cooked.
Although not the most photogenic of dishes, my husband did his photographic best to make it look appetising, but I can assure you it tastes very good, even if I do say so myself.
Sauté potatoes and french beans go very well with it, I think.

1 chicken, jointed, use the legs and breasts
2 apples, preferably Golden Delicious, cored and cut into 1cm dice
3 large onions, sliced
50g butter
500ml dry cider
4 tblsp crème fraîche
a good grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

In large heavy saucepan, melt half the butter and add the onions and apples and fry gently for about 5-7 minutes until golden.
Melt remaining butter in large frying pan and brown the chicken breasts on all sides for about 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to the onion and apple mixture and stir well to combine.
Pour in the cider, add nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer and cover with a lid.
Allow to simmer for approximately 30-40 minutes.
When the chicken is cooked and tender remove from the cooking liquid and set aside, keep warm in a low oven.
Skim any excess fat from the liquid and reduce the liquid by half, cooking on a medium heat to allow it to evaporate.
Stir the crème fraîche into the cider sauce and allow to cook for a further few minutes until the sauce thickens.
Serve the chicken in bowls with the sauce spooned over.

Gateau Breton

This cake is wickedly rich and celebrates one of Brittany’s finest products, butter. Part way between a dense sponge and shortbread it has an irresistible flavour and texture.
I decided to add the extra filling of prunes after being inspired by one I bought in Brittany last year. The cake is often plain without the stripe of sticky fruit, but I love the extra dimension that the prunes give – it’s like the most decadent fig roll you’ll ever eat.
The cake is supposed to have diamond shapes scored into the top, but I don’t know what happened to mine – they filled in on cooking, however, that didn’t affect the taste.

250g soft ready to eat prunes
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
200g lightly salted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
250g plain flour
half teasoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3.
Chopped the prunes, very finely and put into a bowl and mix in the vanilla extract.
Beat the egg yolks together in a bowl, then reserve a little of the egg in a small bowl to use as a the glaze.
Add the softened butter to the egg yolks and beat until soft and well blended.
Add the sugar and flour and work into a slightly sticky dough.
Lightly butter a 22.5cm/9inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces.
Press one half of the dough into the tin, using your fingers. It does get very sticky to work with, so put a sheet of cling film over the top to stop your fingers getting too messy.
Spread over the prune mixture evenly over the dough.
Press on the second half of the dough, smoothing the top with a palette knife.
Using a knife,score into diamonds across the top, then brush with the reserved egg yolk.
Baked for 50 mins.
Cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack

(or what to do with the 
left-over egg whites)

I did think about freezing the egg whites, but knowing my track record of remembering what’s in the freezer, I thought they would be exiled to a frozen doom and be wasted, so meringues were the answer.
Inspired by the stacks seen in patisserie windows (like the one in the quaint medieval town of Moncontour, pictured below) I set about making big crunchy-on-the-outside and chewy-in-the-middle confections. Not wanting anything plain to look at, I got arty with some food colouring.
The texture is achieved by folding in a little cornflour and vanilla extract is added for a more interesting flavour.

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Now for a little favour…
If you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own home in France, this could be the perfect location for you. (I should know, I've stayed in it and it's lovely)
This 4 bedroomed very detached house, set in grounds covering almost an acre is located in the small town of Lanvollon in the heart of rural Brittany.
Picturesque, peaceful, quiet and in an area of natural beauty Lanvollon is within easy reach of both airports and ports.
See www.buyfrenchhouse.co.uk for more details


Jessi said...

That town looks amazingly cute and untouched by time.

And those meringues look so good.

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