When in France; A How-To on dinner and dessert
By Jessi Singson
Sundays in the South of France. Cannes to be more precise. The shops are closed, shutters drawn. The terriers and shihtzus that I seem to come across every few metres are nowhere to be found. Even the sun seems to be having a rest behind the clouds; “Go home! It’s a Sunday!” he almost says.
Back in our apartment, mom and I begin preparing lunch. In Manila, Sunday lunch for us typically means reserving a large table at a restaurant, ordering family style, and sharing all the plates, all at once. But here, with just the two of us, we like to take a different approach – appetiser, main course with salad and potatoes, and dessert. And a lot of bread and wine.
So, how to do it like the French do?
Escargots à la Bourguignonne – snails in parsley garlic butter
To start, a timeless combination of hot butter, garlic, parsley and snails. With the littlest fork you have, you sit at the table waiting for the special plate that holds the shells so neatly in place. You can smell one of the most alluring aromas wafting through the small kitchen, the butter and her best friends in the oven, mixing and melting. A crusty piece of baguette on the table waits patiently with you, ready to be used for something almost too good to be true.
Once in front of you, you’re eager and almost burn yourself. With your fork you manoeuvre the shell and pull the meat out. That hot butter luxury spills out into the dip in the plate, and you rip a piece of bread in anticipation. The snails are tender and quite light tasting. You take your bread, though, and sop up what’s left on your plate. To almost the last drop, you wipe off anything that remains of that sauce with your crusty, chewy bread. You debate internally if the dish should even be called escargots, momentarily forgetting eating them in favour of the bread and butter – the most important foods to ever exist in your mind right now. “Hot-garlicky-herbed-heaven a.k.a. Liquid Gold a.k.a. I’d-sell-my-terrier-for-this-kind-of-goodness”, you think it should be called.
Saumon au beurre citron avec pommes de terre frites et salade – salmon in lemon butter sauce with twice-fried potato wedges and salad
Next, the salmon. Your (new, bigger, non-escargot sized) fork almost glides into the fish, and it flakes beautifully. A rich and creamy lemon butter sauce coats it all, and you welcome the perfect match. You savour the light tanginess of the citrus that balances out the buttery body of the sauce. With a crunch, you bite into twice fried potatoes – crunchy and salty on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside.
Soufflé au chocolat et au rhum – chocolate rum soufflé
And finally, what would a meal be sans dessert? Fresh out of the oven, you can already see the lovely crack at the top of your soufflé. Risen up high, you wish you could dig in at this very second.
With a dusting of confectioners sugar, it is finally ready in all it’s powerful chocolate glory. Your spoon cuts into the delicate crust that’s formed at the top and sinks into the soufflé like a hot knife through butter (you still can’t stop thinking of all that delicious butter!). It is ooey and gooey and every other childlike synonym because your brain has now shut off due to the sensory overload of all that scrum-diddley-umptiousness. Yes, this is scientifically proven to happen. Especially with freshly baked soufflés. You taste the chocolate, you taste the rum, you taste the sweetness and feel the lightness, and you believe you can taste a little bit of fairy dust in there too.
So how can you actually physically experience all of this buttery, garlicky, crunchy, sweet, gooey goodness?
Step 1: Move to France.
Would you believe that almost all of that was made from all of this? Above is a photo of our grocery haul from that morning. I was so intrigued by the things on offer in the grocery three blocks away from us, that I wanted to see how well I could replicate a real home-cooked meal entirely with packaged goods!
The escargot was amazing, admittedly. The shells are very neatly stuffed with herbed garlic butter, and you just pop it all into the oven and voilà! The baguettes are half-baked, and you finish them off at home as well. We eat freshly baked bread every morning, and I feel little to no guilt in buying this product (as I usually stray far away from packaged pre-cooked/TV-dinner-esque products)! Of course the salmon was not as good as buying a fresh fillet and cooking it all yourself, but good effort on the variety of heat-up meals they had.
But for this how-to, I did ask my mom to teach me how to make soufflés. I’ve always been too afraid to attempt them, and I think this fear traces back to a baking class I took with some friends when I was 11, as well as the stereotype of the temperamental deflation of a soufflé. It had stuck with me that soufflés are inherently difficult to make, and more likely than not, it will deflate in your face and stick it’s tongue out to you, laughing at your failure.
I couldn’t be more wrong! This chocolate rum soufflé is so easy and drop-dead-delicious.
Unsalted butter and sugar, to line ramekins
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp milk
2 tsp dark rum
1/2 tsp instant coffee powder
1/4 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Cream of tartar, pinch
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, and using a pastry brush, grease ramekins with upward strokes from the bottom. This should help the soufflé rise. Refrigerate for 2-3 minutes, and repeat. Sprinkle the insides with sugar, coating the entire surface and tapping off any excess. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Melt chocolate chips with milk, rum, coffee powder, cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a double boiler over medium heat. Whisk until smooth, and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
Combine egg yolk and vanilla, then temper into the chocolate mixture.
Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 tablespoons of sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Make sure you don’t overbeat past this point!
With a spatula, add 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and gently fold in. Add the remaining egg whites and fold in until no streaks of white remain. Do not over mix; make sure to stop once it is just incorporated.
Pour the mixture into the ramekins carefully, making sure not to touch the buttered sides.
Put the ramekins on a baking sheet, and bake for 15-20 minutes. You want the soufflés to puff up, and rise about an inch above the rim. The soufflés should be just about ready when a crack forms at the top.
Dust with powdered sugar, and serve immediately. Bon appétit!