Paris, March 2012
So this post isn’t actually about a time I had lunch in Paris (like we were about to in the picture above!), but about the book Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard. I mentioned my sister-in-law Ariel and I have started our own book club, and for our first book we chose this “love story with recipes.”
Ariel and I decided to try out some of the recipes in the book to eat way too much of nibble on while we discussed the reading questions, so I chose to make the yogurt cake (recipe after post). I stuck with the recipe’s directions and used apricots, but Bard also suggests using other seasonal fruit, like raspberries or blueberries mixed with a little brown sugar (and to possibly add a streusel topping!).
I thought the cake turned out quite well–it was sweet without being overwhelmingly so. I mentioned to Ariel that the cake’s flavor reminded me of Japanese sweets. American sweets tend to have intense bursts of flavor all at once, while Japanese sweets have a subtle sweetness that makes you feel as if there is a secret you want to take bites of to discover more. Ariel and I talked a lot about similarities between France and Japan, and how meals in Japan & France contrast with those in America–specifically how Americans tend to favor convenience, speed and overindulgence over the preparation and enjoyment of each meal (meals which in France and Japan–also contrary to the typical American meals–tend to last over an hour or more).
Ariel made delicious Coconut Macaroons
Ariel and I both feel like we generally try to combat that stereotypical “speed and convenience” attitude when it comes to food–that we try to recognize that when we make a meal, we are working to produce something that is shared together in an intimate, familiar place. Sitting together at the table allows us to focus on each other while connecting over good food and possibly sharing symbols of our family “culture” or our culture at large.
This wasn’t a competition, but I would say the macaroons won! 😉
One passage that really struck a chord with me in Lunch in Paris was toward the end of the book, where Bard wishes there were an “in-between” place in which she could experience the things she loves about each of her cultures, leaving the not-so-good stuff behind. I could completely relate to that feeling: I want ramen and tonkatsu, but I also love a good roast or having turkey on Thanksgiving. I love all of the kawaii stuff everywhere in Japan, but I also love the convenient, cheap toiletries, makeup, lotion, art supplies, etc. here! I love crazy Japanese fashion, but I also enjoy the practical styles (that I can fit into!) in America. I want the Japanese transportation system, but sometimes nothing is better than going for a car ride with the windows rolled down. I love the focus on presentation and tradition in Japan, but sometimes it’s better to break rules if they don’t make sense and to live a little out of bounds. I’m forever homesick for one place or the other.
We had a lot of fun with our first book, and have decided that we’d like to try recipes out with future books, too! You can look forward to more recipes in the future, but for now, see the recipes we tried below. You can also find the reading guide we used here.
Gâteau au Yaourt
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup sugar
A large pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Zest of 1 lemon
One 16-ounce can apricots, drained and quartered
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 10-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, salt, and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Add the eggs one by one, whisking to incorporate after each addition.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; add to the yogurt mixture; whisk lightly to combine. Stir in the lemon zest.
Transfer the batter to your cake pan; top with the chopped apricots. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and slightly risen. A toothpick in the center should come out clean.
Lift the cake by the parchment paper onto a wire rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. This cake actually gets moister with age, so it tastes great the next day. Simply cover the fully cooled cake with aluminum foil; an airtight container or plastic bag will make it soggy.
Yield: Makes on 10-inch cake
*I adapted the recipe slightly by flipping the cake over after it cooled to make a little dome shape, and by dusting powdered sugar on top. I think the presentation would be even prettier with a couple of fresh apricot slices placed in the middle!
*Recipe originally posted here.
AUNT JOYCE’S COCONUT MACAROONS
2 2/3 cups grated coconut (the fluffier the better!)
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Extra grated coconut to finish
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
In a medium mixing bowl, gently combine 2 2/3 cups of the coconut, the condensed milk and the extracts. Using 2 teaspoons (or even better, a melon baller), form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Work gently, as you would making meatballs; you don’t want your macaroons to be too dense.
Bake in a slow oven for 15 minutes. Depending on the absorbancy of your coconut, the macaroons may ooze a bit; pat them gently back into shape and roll them in additional grated coconut.
Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. These are more like candy than cookies, so serve them sparingly, with good strong coffee.
Yield: Makes 20 macaroons
*Ariel said her macaroons oozed a bit as the recipe predicted they might, but they turned out fabulous. We sampled our desserts with peppermint tea.
*Recipe from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard (pg 314 of our edition).
Have you read any good books lately that you’d like to suggest? What recipes have you tried lately?