Recipe: Courtesan au Chocolat



I love a culinary challenge. Macarons? Tick. Chocolate honeycomb? Tick. Rhubarb and vanilla jam? Tick. But patisserie? Tricky.

I attempted choux buns once. Let's just say that the end result didn't make the blog. But if anyone can persuade me to give it another go it's Wes Anderson (I think he could persuade me to anything).

If you've seen The Grand Budapest Hotel you'll know that an extraordinary cake features heavily: the Courtesan au Chocolat. Created by fictional bakery, Mendl's, the Courtesan au Chocolat is modelled heavily on the Religeuse, a classic French pastry. And for the curious bakers in the audience, Wes Anderson made the short instructional film below:



A few weeks back I made a batch of Courtesans - partly to see if I could do it, and partly because it's about as close as I'll get to the Republic of Zubrowka and that big old beautiful hotel on the side of a snowy mountain.

Courtesan au Chocolat

For the choux buns:
1 cup plain flour
1 cup water
1/4 lb butter
4 eggs, beaten
A pinch of salt
A larger pinch of sugar

Bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to the boil. Remove from the heat and mix in the sifted flour. Return to the heat for a few minutes, quickly stirring and cook until the dough forms a single lump.
Allow to cool enough to keep the eggs from cooking, and stir them in gradually using a strong wooden spoon.
Transfer the dough to a piping bag and pipe into dollops, in three sizes - tablespoon, teaspoon, hazelnut - a dozen of each.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 25-35 minutes (the smaller buns will cook more quickly so check).
Remove from the oven, make a small piercing in the bottom of each bun to allow steam to escape.

For the chocolate creme patissiere:
1.5 cups milk
Several large pieces dark chocolate (I used about 100g)
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 spoons cocoa powder
1tbsp flour
Cornstarch, to thicken

Heat the milk and add the chocolate, stir to melt.
Whisk the egg yolks, flour, sugar, cocoa and cornstarch to a smooth mixture.
Add half the hot chocolate to the bowl, a bit at a time, stirring all the time.
Add this back to the rest of the hot milk, stirring over a gentle heat for a few minutes until thickened to a custard.
Remove from heat and chill.
Once cooled, spoon into a pastry bag and pipe into the centre of the large and medium pastry balls.

To decorate:
Icing sugar
A dash of vanilla
Milk, to thin
White chocolate, melted
Pale blue icing, to use as glue
Cocoa beans, to decorate

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, adding the vanilla and milk until you reach the desired consistency.
Separate into three small bowls, and add food colouring: lavender (large buns), pale green (medium buns), and pink (small buns).
Dip each pastry into the icing to its midline. Place on a tray and leave to dry.
Decorate with filigree of white chocolate.
Place a dollop of pale blue icing atop the large ball, place the medium on top and press to stick in place.
Repeat with the small ball.
Make a small buttercream star on top and place a single cocoa bean onto the star as a garnish.

................

As you can see, it's not a recipe for the fainthearted. But the end result? Not bad. The choux buns were light and crisp; the chocolate creme patissiere, dense and dark; and the sweet icing may have been teeth-hurty but these are not your everyday snack, after all. Just be careful when you bite in - as dainty as they are, you may struggle to look quite so chic as they collapse, conveniently, into your mouth.

16/52




A: My beautiful boy; feel like this was a rare moment captured
T: New best friend, Kermit (or is that Constantine?)

It's Easter weekend, and I'm properly ready for a couple of days of baking, fun and chocolate. Yesterday didn't even require washing and dressing; instead, we kicked about in the garden. The kids were dressed as super heroes all day, we listened to music, danced, messed about, and ate tea in the treehouse.

Oh, for days like this.

Have a glorious long weekend, lovely people.

(PS Enjoy those Eastering skies.)


Joining in with Jodi's 52 project


Spring loves



Spring is well and truly in my heart this year; just a few small things are all it takes to shift my mood at the moment.

1 & 2. Days at the park: high winds, kite flying, cold wine drinking

3. Lovely stationery sent to the kids by Sticker Stack

4. New (and newly framed) prints, including Deedee Cheriel (above), You Sentimental Idiot, and this (rude words!) one from Society6

5. A box of delights: Birchbox sent me this month's lovely collection of make up


And more:
My new perfume

Not one but two cover gifts with the new issue of Mollie Makes

Lovely jewellery

The annual planting of my favourites, the sweet peas (a few from last year's harvest)

A sunny playlist

Pondering new summer shoes

And I just can't get enough of beautiful Stevie Nicks backstage singing a demo of Wild Heart in 1981. Swoon!


A day with the farm bloggers









Blogging is a funny old game. Real life friends don't necessarily understand what it's all about, so when the chance to spend a day with ten bloggers comes round it's an opportunity to grasp with both hands.

The week before last, I headed south to join my new friends - the farm bloggers - at Walnuts Farm in Sussex. Breaking the journey overnight, I stayed with Kat and the two of us headed off in the car at break of dawn on Friday morning.

Picture the scene: rustic, beautiful farmhouse set in the rambling English countryside, brought to life with uproarious laughter and the friendliest bunch of bloggers you could ever hope to meet.

Together, we explored the farm and its livestock, the unbelievably gorgeous interiors, and the lovely gardens. Fuelled by tea and coffee, cakes and scones, salads and Kat's awesome picnic bread, we each pottered about doing our own thing; whether that be photographing our own makes and bakes, helping each other out, focusing on the location, or just snapping each other photographing our wares (I love how pop will eat itself that sounds).

Those farm bloggers:

From left to right - top row: Kat (Housewife Confidential), Yvonne (Yvestown), Bridgee (Little Star Blog), me, Tina (colour living)
Bottom row: Geraldine (Little Big Bell), Emily (The Startup Wife), Igor (Happy Interior Blog), Heather (Growing Spaces), and Catherine (Borrowed Light)

And we missed Will Taylor (Bright.Bazaar) and Louisa (West Egg Interiors) who had to drop out at the last minute. Next time, lovely people!

15/52



A: Fascinated
T: Distracted; requires feeding, even now

I've been trying to catch up with the 52 project but I'm going to admit defeat and accept it's not going to happen.

Instead, onwards and upwards. There are so many things brewing at the moment, so very many bits and bobs on the horizon. Forwards is the only way.
Joining in with Jodi's 52 project

Bristol 06 / Gravitas Feast


A while back, I wrote about The Raven and The Writing Desk, and Jack Rabbit's Derby, both amazing events created by the Food and Theatre Company.

Well, they're at it again. The Gravitas Feast invites art and theatre-lovers to dine amid powerful paintings by Abigail Reed and life-sized fabric sculptures by Dorcas Casey. For three nights only, innovative performance, fine dining, fine art and foodie fun meet in the nomadic, harbourside Antlers Gallery (while we're here, go see the Antlers kickstarter campaign that launched today).

The Gravitas Feast will laud the nature of the beasts represented in the gallery behind them, exploring the continual and complex relationship between humans and animals. Anna and Orla, founders of the Food and Theatre Company, are known for their droll style and interactive shows so this one is bound to be fab.

The three-course menu, developed by chef John Watson (ex Michelin-starred Casa Mia restaurant), looks adventurous: diners are invited to dress for dinner, as they explore a dream world colliding with the here and now while enjoying experimental dishes such as Crispy Pigs Ears with Apple Roast Ox Heart.

The Gravitas Feast takes place over three evenings this weekend: 11, 12 and 13 April 2014, 7-10pm, at Antlers Gallery, Purifier House, Lime Kiln Road, Bristol BS1 5AD.
Full price tickets cost £40 (groups of 6 or more cost £35), available from the Food and Theatre Company.

Bristol, you are so very good at this stuff.

13/52



A: Made me this sweet book for Mother's Day
T: Dinner defiance, once again

My feet have not touched the ground this week, hence I'm over a week late with these portraits (and a whole bottleneck of blog posts, too). That's the way it goes sometimes, I guess. Frustrating but real life needs to do its thing.

Will take my head out of the clouds and pull up my socks this week, promise.
Joining in with Jodi's 52 project

Five reads for April

Decorate with Flowers by Holly Becker and Leslie Shewring


1. Decorate with Flowers: Creative ideas for flowers and containers around the home

Spring has well and truly sprung, and everywhere I look I see blossoms and blooms. Decorate with Flowers couldn't have come at a better time; it's packed with ideas for making flowers look their best, whether hand picked from the garden or a shop-bought bunch. Properly lovely stuff.

2. Essays In Love

More than a little obsessed with the intellect of Alain de Botton, this is his one and only novel and I'm desperate to read it. It's on my shortlist for my next book group pick, but I fear I may end up reading it before then.

3. Kinfolk Volume 11

It's Kinfolk time again; volume 11 is the Home issue so it's bound to be a goodie.

4. Brilliant Biscuits: Fun-to-decorate biscuits for all occasions

How cute are these beautifully decorated biscuits? I'm particularly enamoured with the forest foxes, toadstools and little squirrels. Brilliant, indeed.

5. The Simple Things - April issue

My second piece for The Simple Things is out now, in issue 22 (the April issue), featuring three easy Easter makes.

What are you planning to read this month?

A coat of paint



New York City, 1998

I found these pictures last week while rummaging in an album for something quite different. In the Easter holiday before our finals, we skipped town, boarded a plane bound for NYC and took off on a proper adventure. Me, my boyfriend, and three of the coolest women I know roamed Manhattan for five days.

We ate pretzels on the Staten Island Ferry, breakfast at Tiffany's, and Chinese takeout in those little cardboard boxes at the top of the Empire State Building. We went on the Ricki Lake Show as audience members and we drank cocktails in the coolest bar we'd ever seen. We hung out with a man and his cat in Strawberry Fields, Central Park, and with another man and his vintage clothing store, listening to his band (which turned out to be pretty cool, in retrospect, as the other half of his band is one of Echo and the Bunnymen).

We were young and carefree and, I think, pretty photogenic.

I also found a quotation I've been thinking about for a while now. It's from 'A Life's Work' by Rachel Cusk:

When I look at old photographs of myself they seem to resemble the casts of Pompeii, little deaths frozen in time. I haunt the ruin of my body, a mournful, restless spirit, and I feel exposed, open to the air, the weather, and to the scrutiny of others. I know that there must be some physical future for me, but it is bogged down in planning problems, in administrative backlog. I hold out no great hopes for it in any case... I'll be lucky if I ever find the time to make the long journey back to myself, to the old ruin, and hurl a coat of paint over it before the winter of middle age sets in.

I've been thinking about why I don't post many photographs of myself here. It's not just that I'm often the one behind the camera - more so now than any other time in my life - but it's also because the pictures I see now don't match the pictures I remember. I don't know that there is time for one last coat of paint on this ruin; I barely have time for a coat of nail varnish.

When I look back on this record of my life and my family in later years, will it seem odd that there are no images of me? Will I remain simultaneously present yet invisible, like these women? Or, a decade on, will I have the same thoughts about the few photos of myself now as I do about these New York memories? That they are precious, and that the nostalgia outweighs the criticism.

12/52




A: New smile; another tooth gone
T: New hair; the baby is gone

Growing up fast, these two. Sigh.....

Another weekend, another Saturday morning full of promise and sunshine and cleaning and country music. Feeling such a sense of optimism as winter loosens its grip. The garden is looking less forlorn (although the lawn is a mess) and the buds on the plum tree have quietly blossomed, meaning we will have plums again this year - a very happy surprise.

Have a splendid couple of days x


Joining in with Jodi's 52 project

Colour and magic

There are days that wash by with nothing of note to distinguish them. And then there are the days that sing, the days with magic in the air.

Wednesday was one such day (augmented by the realisation my job has many, many lovely benefits). Alice - my dear friend and uber-talented photographer - and I went to the press preview of the Kaffe Fassett exhibition at the American Museum in Britain. Kaffe is a genius knitwear designer - king of colour - and the show was as bold, beautiful and clash-tastic as these photographs testify. Best of all, Kaffe himself was there, as was Suzy Menkes. In such colourful company, I felt drab and dull (and I'd had no time to put a face on - the horror!).

After we'd seen the exhibition, made our notes and snapped frame after frame of pompoms hanging from trees, extraordinary quilts, and beautiful people, we took the kids on an adventure around the Museum's grounds. Down a mystery path and through a hedgerow, we found ourselves in a clearing with a tipi and an avenue of trees. The babes played, rolled down the hill, and we watched on. That magic was palpable.

The exhibition opens tomorrow (22 March) and is on until 2 November 2014.

More magic herehere and here.

All images by Alice Hendy

New (old) wheels

There's a new lady in my life: say hello to Clementine!

A sixties French bike, Clementine is a fold-up Peugeot I found on eBay. She came covered in rust, missing various bits and bobs, and single speed. Naively, I thought I could work out how to restore her (ha!), but she sat in the garden for months, looking increasingly sorry for herself.

Last week, I spotted a flyer at the gym for Black Beard Bicycles that promised full restoration and servicing of vintage bikes. In an unusual fit of proactivity, I called them the same day and took my poor old bike in to see Stefan. Five days later and here she is, back on the road, polished up and looking lovely; they did a totally amazing job with her. (When I first thought about restoration, I wanted to spray the frame red. But now that I see how pretty she looks, I'm going to stick with the orange.)

So, I think it's time to go shopping for biking accessories. I've ordered myself a helmet, but I think that's just the tip of the iceberg. I need a basket, a bell, and I definitely, definitely need a heart-shaped spoke reflector or two. Plus, there's a whole world of outfits to fashion that work on a bike. I'm thinking full skirts and plimsolls, or jeans and boots, maybe a mini-skirt and cape combo.

But most of all, I'm looking forward to family bike rides, trips to the park, picnics by the river. 

Got any tips for me? Let me know your top cycling secrets. Meanwhile, I've started a Pinterest board to fuel my new obsession.








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11/52




A: Running
T: Dancing

The light this morning is something else.

The boys and I have spent the past couple of hours breakfasting, playing, and listening to soul, and now we're heading out to the park to make the most of the sunshine.

This day is ours for the taking.
Joining in with Jodi's 52 project

Precious things: Esperluette


It's been a while since I wrote about the precious things in my world, the objects that matter to me. This red enamel symbol is a vintage sign from France, found long ago by my parents and added to their collection of ampersands that surrounded my brother and I as we lived and grew in that beautiful home, long since committed to memory.

'Esperluette' is the French word for ampersand - quelle beauté - and I love reading about how French ampersands are rendered differently to English ones, fashioned to express the letters 'et' (hence: and).

John Lewis Insurance is running a competition at the moment called What Matters Most. Photograph the possession that matters most to you, write about it in a six-word caption, and you could win £500 of John Lewis vouchers. Have a little look at this amazing animation for inspiration:



Enter the competition now, then tweet using the hashtag #whatmattersmost before 25 March to be in with a chance of winning £500 of John Lewis vouchers. And good luck!

This is a sponsored post, but all words are my own

Winchester wandering








On Sunday, I headed down south to Winchester to meet fellow bloggers Heather, Karen, Rebecca and Kat. It's always ace fun meeting up with online friends in the flesh. We wandered, chatted, ate and drank, and basked in the sunshine.

My favourite find of the day was The Hambledon, my new favourite shop. Perfectly curated and styled, The Hambledon is like a collision of the best of Pinterest, a stylish friend's home, and the sort of place I dream of owning.

Kat 'hosted' the day, as she lives nearby, and knew exactly where to take us and what sights to see. She's one of those amazingly driven people, and talk inevitably turned to one of her amazing ventures: Blogtacular. If you haven't heard of it, Blogtacular is a blogging event taking place on 9 and 10 May 2014 in London. Kat and best pal, Kat Goldin, have designed Blogtacular to celebrate creativity, quality content and beautiful design in the online community, the first event of its kind in the UK. Tickets are selling fast (obvs), so if you fancy it you'd better get a wriggle on.

See you there!


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