Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fleur De Sel Caramels

I've been on the caramel train lately. The Salt Caramel Molten Cake at Le Chalet des Iles started the locomotion. I then adapted it to a Salt Caramel Chocolate Molten Cake. Well, I came home from a very late night flight a few days ago and my son had made a caramel sauce while I was gone. He didn't mean for it to be a sauce. It didn't firm up, so we now had a creamy honey caramel sauce. Since he really wanted it to be soft and chewy caramel candy, I tried a different recipe. His recipe used honey and even though he got it to the required 248 degrees, my suspicion is that the honey somehow prevented it from hardening more. With the ingredients already on hand from his recipe, I thought I'd give it a try. I used a Fleur de Sel Caramel recipe from that had very positive comments. I love to read what other people say about their attempts at a recipe, sometimes it saves a lot of trouble. I made a few changes as I went along. The caramel turned out to be the perfect chewy consistency with a rich and creamy texture. We now have all of the caramel we need to indulge in more molten cakes, ice cream toppings, and afternoon snacking. I think it's time to stop at the station and get off of that caramel train now!

Fleur de Sel Caramels
(adapted from

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

You will also need parchment paper and candy thermometer.

Line bottom and sides of a loaf pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.

Bring cream, vanilla, butter, and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Add sugar, corn syrup, and water to a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel. Watch so it doesn't burn or get too brown.

Carefully and very slowly stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up)* and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F on thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust heat if needed. Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours.** Cut into 1-inch pieces and sprinkle each piece with a pinch (increase or decrease to taste) of fleur de sel. Then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, parchment or cellophane, twisting 2 ends to close.

*the mixture can bubble up violently while adding the cream mixture in, so take precautions.

**On humid days, the caramel may become sticky. If it does, refrigerate before cutting and wrapping.

Makes 36-1 inch pieces.

Written and photographed by Diane.

Fleur de Sel Caramel recipe (pdf)

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Salt Caramel Molten Chocolate Cake

Dinner last week at the magical Le Chalet des Iles, in Paris' Bois de Boulonge, inspired the molten cake lover in me. After a very filling meal I didn't order dessert, but my generous friends did. I saw the Salt Caramel Molten Cake with Caramel Ice Cream arrive at the table and discreetly readied my spoon. When offered a taste, I was ready and armed! It was warm and gooey and all about the caramel. It was fabulous on its own but, since my philosophy is that everything is better with chocolate, I knew I'd adapt it. The next day back at home, I made my favorite Chocolate Molten Cake and inserted a sea salt caramel. Oh my, was it good! I added a scoop of caramel swirl ice cream on the side. It had the perfect balance of the warmth of chocolate and caramel with the cold and creamy ice cream. This is special and since it is pure, quality ingredients are important. I used Scharffen Berger chocolate and premium sea salt caramels. Regular caramels may be substituted and the softer they are, the better. You could even make a well and use a good quality caramel sauce. Just be careful not to overcook them.

Bon Appetit!

Salt Caramel Molten Chocolate Cake

1/4 cup unsalted butter

12 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup all purpose flour
8-1 inch square good quality sea salt caramels*

*Plain caramels or caramel sauce
may be substituted.

8-4 ounce (or 6-6 ounce) custard cups, buttered
baking parchment paper

You can make these a few hours in advance. Be sure to refrigerate them until you are ready to bake and serve. Bake them only when you are ready to eat them, and serve immediately. Don't overcook as you will lose the pudding in the center.

Put a baking sheet in the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Fold a piece of parchment paper 4 times. Set a custard cup on it and trace the bottom. Cut out the 8 circles and butter them. Place them in the bottom of the cups.

Melt the chocolate and butter and let cool a bit. Add the sugar, eggs, salt and vanilla. Stir to combine and add the flour. Blend into a smooth batter.
Fill the cups half way and place the caramel on top. If using caramel sauce, make a well and put in 1 tablespoon of the caramel sauce.Then top off the batter evenly between the cups. Quickly place on the hot baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes (12 minutes if the batter is cold). After baking take out of oven, and if needed, run a knife around the edge to loosen. Tip them out onto individual serving plates, dust with powdered sugar and serve warm with ice cream.

Written and photographed by Diane.

Salt Caramel Molten Chocolate cake recipe (pdf).

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Magical Dinner At Le Chalet Des Iles

There is a list of restaurants I've wanted to try in Paris that I have been checking off over the years. I've just checked one off of my "been there" list and added it to my "go again" list. Le Chalet des Iles on a small island in the ancient forest and park, Bois de Boulonge, is sheer magic. Making our way to the island, my friends and I walked along paths that we shared with bunnies and singing birds. We felt a little like Hansel and Gretel, thinking we should leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find our way back. Adding to the confusion, there were forks in the path with no signs indicating which way to go. We happened along a group of men playing pétanque, who took a break in their game to give us directions to the island. You could say we took the scenic route! It's all about the journey, right? Coming out of the woods, our first view of the lake was a stunning view of row boats and a mirror reflection of the tall trees against the clear blue sky with white puffy clouds. We made our way around the lake as it was getting close to our planned time to meet other friends and our 8 PM reservation. A little dusty and very thirsty, we happily saw the small ferry boat with the restaurant in the background. The view of the tables with their starched white tablecloths being set with candles, menus, and wine glasses as our ferry arrived on the island, added to the anticipation. The mâitre d' ushered us to our table on the patio. To start off, we chose a slightly chilled Brouilly wine as the warm sun settled down through the aged trees and onto the calm lake. Looking up we noticed a peacock perched on top of the edge of the trellis watching over us and keeping an eye out for his friends that roamed alongside the tables. Our waiter brought crusty rolls as we pondered our dinner choices. The menu mainly offered traditional French fare, and I chose the Filet of Beef with a Béarnaise Sauce and Potatoes Dauphine. In France, beef must be prepared rare or it is considered ruined. So ordering it medium will mean that it is still pretty rare. There were ten of us and we practiced the American habit of sharing a taste of each others food. We had bypassed the appetizers so a few of us had room for dessert. Of course, we tasted each of those as well! There was a trio of sorbets, Rhubarb Tart with Strawberries and Molten Salt Caramel Cake with Caramel Ice Cream. Phew! Satisfied, wiping our mouths with the crisp napkins, we reluctantly thought about getting the check. At that very moment one of the giant peacocks flew up into the tall tree above us, and yelped something that sounded like this, "You owe, you owe!!". Jaws dropped and we looked at each other saying "We know, we know!!". As we counted out our euros, we eerily felt the peacocks looking down. Night had now fallen and since getting lost in the bois was not a bonne idée, we took a direct route back. Stopping at the Trocadero before heading back on the metro, we sat for a few minutes and took in the sight of the Eiffel Tower. As it sparkled before us, we were all thinking about the next time we'd be back to our magic kingdom.

Written and photographed by Diane.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Window Shopping And Provençale Mustard

I love mustard...not the harsh bright yellow supermarket variety, but creamy, speckled honey colored mustard from Dijon...mustard that will bring a tear to the eye and a pound to the heart. I put it on everything from omelets and chicken sandwiches to potatoes. It goes into vinaigrette and is a dip for my bread. In Paris, the Maille Shop is a mustard lovers panacea. They have it mixed with things only a Frenchman dreaming of his next meal can imagine. Some of the combinations are a little wild, like the latest Parisian fashions, and some open up a whole new world. You can buy mustard in the store in a refillable crock, that the stylish ladies fill to order right at the counter from a tapor from the shelves lined with all of the varieties. Pickles and cornichons sit beside the mustard, but they don't hold the same interest for me. Today I got a Provençale mustard that mixes roasted red peppers, garlic and herbs to create a versatile condiment that can go anywhere, unlike the haute couture of the day.Using the Provençale mustard as an inspiration, I created a similar mixture that is easy, delicious and as versatile as a sun drenched, South of France frock.

çale Mustard

3-4 large garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon fresh chives, snipped

1 teaspoon canola or other light oil
1 large roasted red pepper, peeled
1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Over medium low heat, lightly sauté the garlic, thyme and chives in the oil until just soft. In the bowl of a food processor, add the roasted red pepper,
garlic herb mixture, and Dijon mustard. Pulse until well blended. Store in a covered airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Makes 1/2 cup.

Written and photographed by Diane.

Provençale Mustard recipe (pdf)

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Grand Day In Paris

A group of us decided to go see the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris, and then have dinner at Le Grand would be a Grand day! The metro ride to the Champs-Elysee-Clemenceau stop was quick and upon exiting I wondered if going to the museum on such a beautiful day was the best thing to do. But...committed, as we entered the reflective entry, I was drawn in. I have never been a big Andy Warhol fan, but am interested in all art, and how the art evolved with the artist, current events of the time and history. I lived in NYC when Andy Warhol was a mainstay of the "Studio 54" disco crowd and saw his Pop Art portraits of the rich and famous continually turned out. Warhol once remarked that he wanted all his portraits to fit together and make one big painting called "Portraits of Society". Looking at them in this exhibit brings his vision to light. Most know Warhol from his Campbell Soup Can painting. The Pop Art movement had it's west coast debut with this exhibit, and he continued with this style in his portraits. The Marilyn Monroe

and Jackie Kennedy portraits
are probably the most notable. Portraits are a page in history and artists styles are a reflection of the mood of the time. In many ways his style was the Grand Daddy of Photoshop. Paris' Grand Palais added weight and grandeur to this exhibit. After absorbing it all, we descended the marble stairway to leave,
and the palatial windows framed the view as yet another work of art. Once back outside in the late afternoon sun, we shopped a little and then walked down the Rue de Rivoli to have a glass of wine at Cafe Marly, overlooking the Pyramids of the Louvre. It is an outdoor resting spot for many that is away from street traffic and has a view that changes with the light and the people of the world. We had a 7:30 reservation for dinner, which is early for Parisians, but perfect for us. The short walk to Le Grand Colbert, took us through the gardens of the Palais Royal with it's blooming roses and pruned tree lined path. Le Grand Colbert had a starring role in the movie, "Something's Gotta Give", with Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves. It is a classic French brasserie with a warm, romantic elegance and service that was friendly and very attentive, even as the restaurant filled up....and did I mention the cute waiters? Sorry, no pics, you'll have to imagine! After appetizers of smoked salmon with a delicate herb goat cheese, and frogs legs, we dined on gigot of lamb with potato dauphinois, roast duck and carpaccio of beef. All were delicious except the tasteless frogs legs...give those legs back to the frogs! The chef owes them an apology. I dipped my crusty roll into the best part....the remaining garlic flavored oil. All in all, hardly a crumb was left and feeling just a little too satisfied to order dessert, we decided to walk back and have gelato in the Latin Quarter. That brought us back past the Louvre as the late setting evening sun was coming through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and spotlighting the museum with light and shadow. Oh those French, the masters of know they planned it that way! Crossing the Seine to the Saturday night activities in the Latin Quarter, we ordered gelato at our regular spot. As the flower shaped creations started to drip in the warm evening air, we eagerly munched away before a picture was taken. Some things just can't wait. And yes, it was indeed a Grand Day in Paris.

Written and photographed by Diane.

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