With their vibrant colors and lacy frills, dainty, crisp-crusted French macarons are the perfect Valentine's Day baking project. But these lovely little delicacies are temperamental enough to stump even the most accomplished chefs. Even if you follow a detailed recipe down to the letter, a batch of macarons can go very wrong very quickly. Thanks to humidity, an unreliable oven temperature gauge, or an overly enthusiastic stirring hand, you may find yourself facing macaron-ageddon rather than baking bliss. But before you throw in the tea towel, we've assembled a few tips to solve your sugary conundrums.
I'd hardly turn my nose up at a box of luxe chocolates, a bottle of bubbly, or a bouquet of flowers, but what I'm really after this Valentine's Day is something simultaneously comforting and exciting; an ethereal ham and cheese soufflé certainly fits the bill. Full of classic French flavors (think ham and cheese croissant), these individual soufflés would make for a perfect light first course for any meal, but would be particularly at home as part of a Valentine's Day dinner to remember.
To address the elephant in the room, making a soufflé isn't exactly a slap-dash affair, but it's not terribly difficult either, provided you keep in mind a few simple rules. So what are you waiting for? Wow your sweetheart with these delightfully decadent treats.
Who doesn't dream of owning a cute little pied-à-terre in Paris, combing the markets for fresh French food and cooking it in a tiny European kitchen? Until that becomes a reality, we'll have to resort to watching Rachel Khoo's Little Paris Kitchen on the Cooking Channel. The show is everything the name implies; it follows a charming British cook as she creates glorious French cuisine in the tiniest of kitchens.
Recently, I watched an episode where Rachel makes a lavender roasted chicken, and the video stuck with me for weeks before I finally did some serious digging to retrieve the recipe. That is, until the publishers sent us her latest cookbook, which is as quaint and enticing as the cooking show.
When the sizzling, caramelized pieces of chicken come out of the oven, Rachel recommends taking a bit of crusty bread and dipping it into the pan juices to sample the flavors. My oh my, this chicken will make you fall in love with lavender, if you haven't already. It hits all the right sweet and savory notes, providing just enough floral flavor and herbaceousness to perk you up on a cold Winter night. The recipe is halved on purpose, because the lavender chicken has all the right potential for a dreamy date night like Valentine's Day.
Ever heard of the five French mother sauces? Originally classified by Antonin Carême in the 19th century and later updated by Auguste Escoffier in the 20th century, the sauces include béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato. Most other sauces find their origins in these five types, hence the term "mother." Here's a brief rundown on the ingredients of each sauce, plus common pairings:
- Béchamel. This classic milk-based white sauce was named after Louis de Béchamel, chief steward to Louis XIV. It's composed of three main ingredients: flour, butter, and milk. The thickness of this cream sauce depends on the ratio of flour and butter to milk: the more milk, the thinner the sauce. It's usually served with eggs, fish, steamed veggies or poultry, or pastas, like macaroni and cheese.
- Velouté. This sauce is made just like béchamel, only milk is swapped for stock. Whether it's made from chicken, veal, or fish stock, velouté is typically not flavored with extra seasonings, and it's regularly used on veal, eggs, fish, steamed vegetables, poultry, or pastas.
- Espagnole. A brown stock-based sauce that may sound Spanish but is actually French in origin. Espagnole includes rich meat stock, browned vegetables, browned roux (a butter and flour mix), plus herbs and tomato paste. Unlike velouté, though, it's served mainly with roasted meats.
- Hollandaise. Egg yolks and fat, usually butter, are the basic ingredients for this yellow emulsified sauce. Like mayonnaise, this rich, creamy sauce tends to top eggs, vegetables, light poultry, or fish.
- Tomato. Whether it's made with raw, stewed tomatoes or a tomato paste, tomato-based sauce is generally used on pasta, fish, vegetables, veal, poultry, breads, and dumplings.
This list is still up for contention today, as still others believe that different sauces (like allemande, the egg-enriched velouté sauce, and vinaigrette) belong in the category of "mother sauce." How many of these have you made at home or sampled at a French restaurant?
If you've ever tasted a gougère — essentially savory cheese-flecked cousins of cream puffs and eclairs — then little needs to be said in order to convince you to head to the kitchen to whip up a batch of these luxurious appetizers. If not, I'll keep it simple: airy and light, with just enough nutty cheese to keep things lively, these pâte-à-choux party favorites will go fast if included in a party spread.
Put off by the slightly strange method of cookery that's outlined in the recipe below? Don't be. It may be a slight step outside of your baking repertoire if you've yet to try your hand at any treats in the choux-pastry family, but their assembly is actually quite simple and intuitive and can be made in large party-friendly quantities in precious few minutes. Keep reading for the easy yet impressive recipe.
If legendary television chef and author Julia Child were still standing, she'd be turning 100 years old today. Should you find yourself craving one of the culinary matron's masterpieces, flip on some reruns of The French Chef or In Julia's Kitchen With Master Chefs, then make yourself an authentic French recipe from scratch, courtesy of JC. Here are a few of our favorite ideas.
Source: Getty, Nicole Perry
Any American can finagle a batch of pancakes in the morning, but crepes, the French equivalent of pancakes, are regarded highly because making them requires good technique and a lot of practice. However, don't be discouraged. You too can produce paper-thin, lacy, semicrisp crepes, and Julia Child's recipe for dessert crepes is a great way to become acclimated to crepe-making.
Julia Child's batter for dessert crepes is shockingly easy — just measure out the ingredients and whirl them around in a blender. The tricky part is the actual cooking. Luckily there is a video of Julia cooking crepes for the faint of heart. Notice the crepes should be spotted brown with a smooth consistency.
If your pan is too hot, the crepes will bubble as they cook and become craterlike, as pictured on the left. They are still edible (and delicious!), but lower the heat slightly so the rest of the crepes will be smooth, as pictured on the right.
Crêpes suzette is one of Julia's most notable preparations of dessert crepes, but the sauce is pretty heavy and the dessert crepes themselves are already saturated in butter. For a lighter, fresher topping to complement the buttery crepes, try marinating strawberries (or another fruit) in orange liqueur and granulated sugar. The orange liqueur adds an indescribable depth and richness to the berries without weighing down their fruity, ripe flavor. It's about time you swallow any trepidation, pull out that nonstick pan, and start making Julia's crepes now.
Believe it or not, tomorrow marks what would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday, a momentous date to be sure. Of course, it only seems fitting to celebrate Julia's centennial with a sliver of cake from her recipe archives.
While the grand dame of French cookery mostly stuck to classic French sponge cakes in her iconic tomes, it was still a challenge to narrow down the variety of options. I was tempted left and right by promises of cakes perfumed with orange zest, studded with glacéed fruit, and topped with glossy apricot glaze, but ultimately, only one cake was deemed fitting for the task. Named for the Queen of Sheba, the reine de Saba is quite literally a cake fit for a queen, and while we may have expressed occasional (the slightest of slight!) misgivings about some of Julia's fussier recipes (and this one surely qualifies), there's no denying that Julia was, and is, a queen in our hearts, and ought to be celebrated as such.
In honor of Julia Child's birthday — la grande dame turns 100 tomorrow! — we're cooking up a bunch of the recipes with which she staked her claim to fame.
Perhaps one of the recipes Julia's best known for is her moules à la marinière, but flipping through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I spotted another mussels recipe that deserves equal acknowledgement: JC's moules à la Provençal.
The first step to making this recipe is to split open the mussels: one can shuck them raw, but I prefer to steam them gently, then save the broth to add a saline flavor to my next seafood dish.
From there, the bivalves are stuffed with butter, breadcrumbs, butter, garlic, onions, and more butter, then put under the broiler. Mere minutes later, they emerge rust-brown and bubbling on the half shell, ready to be consumed immediately.
glass mussel to Julia when you make this gratinéed mussels recipe.
My mother and I are always bickering about the best way to prepare roast chicken, and when she's decided she's grown tired of fighting, she'll simply say, "But this is how Julia does it." Those swift words silence me, and, ultimately, whatever Julia's method is, it always wins. It made me think, what is it about Julia Child's recipes that reign supreme?
It may sound blasphemous, but we YumSugar editors have agreed that at times, Julia's recipes can be confusing, difficult to follow, and emotional. The pressure is majorly on to successfully replicate each of her recipes — and do them justice. One missed step or accidental mishap sends a flood of panicky hormones into my bloodstream. And then, I take a deep breath and remember that Julia took risks, made mistakes, and definitely dropped things, but she persevered.
Julia's recipes reign supreme because they are about learning through experience and, most importantly, maintaining the integrity of traditional French cuisine. So I go through the motions (and emotions) while attempting Julia's roast chicken. Thanks be to Julia, I use my "courage of conviction" to persevere.
Julia's method involves flipping the chicken, so it cooks on its sides. This browns more surface area of the chicken, but the true caramelization occurs by continuously basting the chicken in an oil and butter mixture. The end result is an charming, crisp chicken that looks like it's been pulled off of a rotisserie.
My mother admits, the slippery, hot chicken can be difficult to handle and the perfectly caramelized skin is easily ripped. To avoid this, use a large spatula to lift the chicken from the pan very carefully, then ease the chicken onto its side with a pair of tongs.
Rips, slips, and mini setbacks aside, the finished bird is breathtaking. "While it does not require years of training to produce a juicy, brown, buttery, crisp-skinned, heavenly bird, it does entail such a greed for perfection that one is under compulsion to hover over the bird, listen to it, above all see that it is continually basted, and that it is done just to the proper turn," Julia writes in the original recipe intro. Indeed, above all else, set an alarm for every 10 minutes and baste that bird devotedly. Learn how to make roast chicken.