Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Angelina's Chocolat Africain

Come on....You know you want it. Even if you haven't spent the last hour shoveling the driveway. Even if you hid the leftover pumpkin pie and ate it secretly over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Because this isn't just any hot chocolate. This is Angelina's chocolat l'Africain.

  This is why they line up in Paris across the Louvre at the eponymous cafe on the rue di Rivoli.

 The chocolate comes in its own pitcher with a generous helping of whipped cream.

 The room is elegant, but it's not a stuffy atmosphere. Lots of folks - from ladies who lunch, to guys wearing hoodies and baseball caps - come in for the vast selection of goodies.

The big draw, of course, is the hot chocolate - and the chocolat africain is the signature drink.

 But fear not, there are pastries galore too.

 Including the Mont Blanc, made with puréed chestnuts - in both the traditional and the chocolate version.

 I have a weakness for Gateau St. Honoré however, named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. Can you see why? A circle of puff pastry provides the base for a generous serving of pastry cream. Small cream puffs covered in a crackly caramel sauce are affixed to the base and the whole concoction is decorated with whipped cream. Who could resist this?

Making gateau St. Honoré is a little advanced, but anyone can make the hot chocolate served at Angelina's - including you. 

Angelina's Chocolat L'Africain.

From the cookbook "Hot Chocolate" by Michael Turback.

printable recipe here

Combine 3/4 cup whole milk, 1/4 cup heavy cream and 1 t. confectioners'
sugar and heat over med-high till bubbles appear around edges. Remove
from heat and add 4 oz Omanhene (or any other good brand) bittersweet chocolate (72%) that's been
chopped. Stir till melted (you may need to return it to low heat). Serve
with whipped cream.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spiced Persimmon Cake

If you've never eaten a persimmon, they're in supermarkets for a short time only, so give them a try before the season is over. There are many varieties of persimmons, and they fall into either the "astringent" variety, like Hachiya persimmons, or the "non astringent" variety, like the Fuju. Persimmons taste sweet and delicious when perfectly ripe, but if you bite into one before it's nearly mushy, you're likely to get a chalky taste that will make your mouth pucker.

 Persimmon trees are commonly grown throughout Italy, and are very popular in Asian countries like China, Korea and Japan. Here in New Jersey, however, it's unusual to find someone growing a persimmon tree, and if you do, it's a good guess their ancestry is Italian, like my friends Eleanor and Anna. Each year they're kind enough to supply me with some persimmons from their tree. 

This year I thought I'd make a cake with them. 

I searched the internet and came across many recipes, but the one on the website "Andrea's Recipes," using dates and with a lemon glaze, looked particularly enticing. It proved to be every bit as delicious as I had hoped. If you decide to make it, let me warn you that my basket of persimmons did not ripen all at the same time. As each one ripened, I squished it down and put the pulp into a container and froze it. When I had enough of the pulp collected (it took about six persimmons to make two cups worth), I thawed out the pulp and proceeded with the recipe. It's worth the effort, believe me. 

Spiced Persimmon Cake With Dates and Lemon Glaze


(printable recipe here)

Makes 1 large Bundt cake.


2-quart bowl

medium mesh strainer

heavy spatula

stand mixer with paddle attachment

12-cup Bundt pan, greased and floured

fine mesh strainer

small bowl



1-1/2 to 2 pounds common persimmons, less if you use Hachiya or Fuyu persimmons (enough to make 2 cups of puree)


2 sticks (1/2 pound/227 g) unsalted butter

2 cups (350 g) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 cups (240 ml) persimmon puree

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups (360 g) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup (125 g) chopped dates or golden raisins (I used dates, but soaked them in 1/2 cup rum until they absorbed some of the liquid)

1 cup chopped pecans, optional


3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup (130 g) powdered sugar, sifted


1. Preheat the oven to 325° F/165° C. Set rack in the middle of the oven.

2. PERSIMMON PUREE: Rinse the persimmons and remove the brown or green calyx. Place the strainer over the 2-quart bowl. One at a time, place a persimmon in the strainer and press down hard with the spatula. Press and move the spatula around, forcing the pulp through the mesh. Remove the seeds and skin and continue with the remaining persimmons. (Note: This can take a while when using small persimmons, so plan for it.)

3. In the bowl of the stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until it it light and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well each time. Add the persimmon puree and vanilla extract, and mix well.

5. In the medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda. Add to the butter mixture and stir gently, tossing in the chopped dates. Do not overmix.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, checking every 5 minutes after 1 hour has passed. When a tester comes out dry with just a few crumbs clinging, remove the pan from the oven. If the tester has no crumbs the cake will be dry.

7. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

8. MAKE THE GLAZE: While the cake is cooling, whisk together the the powdered sugar and lemon juice until the glaze is smooth.

9. Pour the glaze over the cake while warm. Allow to cool completely, then slice and serve.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Tapenade in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Got your Thanksgiving menu all planned? How about throwing a little French curve ball before the meal and making a tapenade appetizer? It's a classic olive paste frequently served in Provence with toasted bread. It's also great as a condiment alongside fish or chicken. 

Although olives are the main ingredient, its name is derived from the Provençal word for capers, or tapenas, because capers are essential to the recipe.

I enjoyed this delicious appetizer just before lunch at a restaurant in the town of Châteauneuf du Pape,  as part of my visit to Provence with Bliss Travels.

 Châteauneuf du Pape literally translates to "the pope's new castle" because the town became the summer home of the popes following a schism when popes resided in Avignon rather than Rome. This fascinating period of papal history, from 1309 through 1376, became known as "the Babylon captivity" and you can read about it here. The actual papal abode in Châteauneuf du Pape is little more than ruins of the ancient castle.

Along the drive to town, don't be surprised to come across this other castle though, now a winery and hotel. 

Speaking of wine (and when aren't we speaking of wine when in France?), there are lots of wine producers to visit.

But lunch was on tap first, starting with the luscious tapanade and toasts.

Of course, we had our share of wines to accompany the meal.


First course was a delicious tart with vegetables and cheese.

Some of the group ordered this as a main course - stewed meat with pasta and vegetables.

I opted for fish served over polenta. No, that's not a pickle on the side, but a zucchini. 

More wines flowed throughout the meal, including this delectable dessert wine. Luckily, I found places here in the U.S. (and the U.K.) where I can buy it online, and you can find them here.

Of course, if you're drinking dessert wine, it's only natural that you need dessert to go with it, and the restaurant didn't let us down, serving a strawberry tiramisu.

Sitting outdoors on the patio, as the warmth from the Provençal sun beamed down, I could have stayed there all afternoon, sipping the muscat wine.

But the prospect of a walk through town (did someone say shopping?) and a winery tour beckoned, so I reluctantly pulled myself away.

Walking through the twisting streets, charm oozes from nearly every angle, every corner, every archway.

The colorful shutters and lace curtains reinforce the old-world atmosphere.

And then you arrive to the entrance of the tasting room, with its wine bottles pointing the way.

Before you know it, you're down in the ancient cellars amid the casks.

And the pouring (and tasting) begins:

About 95 percent of the wines here are reds, but we sampled some white wines also.

Grapes used in making Châteauneuf du Pape wines come from 13 varieties, with granache the most predominant.

The vines are grown on soil that's covered in rounded, smooth stones called galets (gah-lay). The stones aid in absorbing the warmth of the sun, helping the grapes to ripen. They also help in holding in the moisture so that the soil isn't parched by the hot Provençal sun.

Speaking of moisture, the skies were looking a little threatening, but we were ready to head back anyway. We took a different route going back, past the ancient city walls of Avignon.

If you like, set aside some time for a detour to visit the papal palace in Avignon. You'll need at least a couple of hours to do it justice though.


Au revoir Châteauneuf du Pape. À toute à l'heure.

Thanks to photographer Anthony Bianciella for the helpful photography tips (and use of his lens) throughout the day. 

As Thanksgiving approaches, I give thanks for so much goodness I have in my life, and hope that all those who are still suffering due to Hurricane Sandy will have some respite for a day. For those of you reading this post, I hope you'll be thinking of them too and offering support in whatever way you can. 

2 cups pitted olives, niçoise or Kalamata

2 T. capers

1 2 -ounce can anchovies (filets from a can - not the "fresh" white anchovies

2 cloves of garlic, minced

a sprig of rosemary or thyme (2 T. minced)

1 T. lemon juice

3 T. olive oil

Place everything except the oil into a food processor. Pulse until you get a rough paste, scraping down sides of bowl. Slowly add the olive oil and process until it has reached a coarse consistency. Serve with toasted bread.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tarte Tatin in Provence

It's hard not to fall in love with Provence. Spend some time there and you'll be enchanted by the picturesque villages, the delicious array of foods and wines and the magnificent scenery. I recently returned from a wine-tasting and photography trip through Provence, organized by Wendy Jaeger of Bliss Travels. Erase from your mind any thoughts of leaders waving small banners to corral a passel of tourists. This was a group of nine people who were free to participate in planned activities or go their own way.

 But as you'll see from the photos
below and on blog posts to come, the sights, sounds and tastes that
Wendy had planned were irresistible, starting from the views of stone
houses and lush grapevines as we approached our small village
in the Luberon.  

 We pulled up alongside a charming
family-owned hotel dripping with rust-colored vines. My room was the
one with the red shutter doors on the ground floor.

 We stayed in a village with
cobblestone paving and windy streets dotted with tiny shops here and
there and homes with colorful shutters.

The town was nestled between a
picture-postcard “new” 17th century church at
the base, while a medieval church stood sentinel at the summit.

 Central casting couldn't have planned
it better. In the late afternoon, a group of men would gather to play
boules, or petanque, a game similar to Italy's bocce.

Dinner the first evening was an
auspicious start to the rest of the week's meals. We began with a
freshly picked, tender leaf salad topped with warm goat cheese.

The main course followed: slices of succulent duck breast served in a creamy sauce, alongside roasted
potatoes and steamed carrots, green beans and turnips.

     And for the sweet ending to a
delicious meal – a tarte tatin.

Tarte tatin is a traditional French
dessert using apples, sugar and pastry that's baked on top, but then flipped over like an upside-down "pie." The apples are ideally cooked long and
slow to develop the caramel flavors. The large one below is a little
scorched near the center, but still was delicious.

If you've got small, heavy bottomed
pans, you can make it in individual size portions too, like this one
that's perfectly caramelized:

For those who were interested, the week
included photography lessons by professional
photographer Anthony Bianciella, and the sessions were among my
favorite parts of the trip. Anthony really helped those of us on the
photography track with plenty of advice on the mechanics of taking a
good photo, as well as tips on framing and improving composition. He
displayed a kindness and patience that was truly appreciated by those
of us who less than proficient with some of the technical aspects of

It was also a week of wine-tasting and
there were plenty of opportunities for imbibing, with both fuller
bodied red wines and the lighter, omnipresent rosé wines. In the past, I had always avoided rosé wines, but I came to
a new appreciation for them on this trip. They weren't the overly
sweet wines I remembered from my youth, but rather were refreshing
young wines redolent of fragrant fruit.  

I enjoyed this glass of wine one afternoon, at a small bar overlooking an enchanting view of the village. 

These two were also mesmerized by the landscape another morning, as clouds slowly gave way to the sun. Want to experience this yourself? Bliss Travels has similar trips planned for next summer, but if you're itching to get to France sooner, Wendy's taking a group to Paris for Christmas.  Find out about it by clicking here.

In the meantime, set a bit of Provence at your Thanksgiving table with this tarte tatin recipe.

Tarte Tatin

Pastry for a 9-inch tart

1 stick butter

1 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

pinch of salt

zest from one lemon

1 egg yolk

2-4 T. ice water

Slice the butter in 8 pieces. Put into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Pulse until it has the consistency of damp sand. Add the egg yolk and a couple of tablespoons of ice water. Pulse until it forms a ball, adding more water if needed. Press it out into a circle about 10 inches in diameter and set it aside in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Apple Filling

1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)

1 cup sugar

juice from half a lemon

6 - 8 apples (Golden Delicious, Granny Smith or similar variety that holds shape well in baking)

Melt the butter and sugar over low to medium head in a heavy, 9 inch saucepan and add the lemon juice. Peel and core the apples and cut in half. Place them in the saucepan and toss them around gently a little in the butter and sugar mixture. Pack them in tightly because they'll shrink as they cook. Cook the apples in the mixture about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times. Then arrange them neatly cut side up and cook another eight to ten minutes over low to medium heat. Turn up the heat if you see that the butter and sugar mixture isn't becoming thick and syrupy. When it does, place the dough on the top and cut a few slits in the dough to allow steam to excape. Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before flipping onto a serving plate.

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