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Tarts and pies

Tis the season…autumn meets winter, the appearance of parsnips to confound French people, it’s that period of in-between-the-Thanksgiving(s) plus the Halloween call for pumpkin head carving that will create a lot of pumpkin gut spilling. What to do with it?

pumpkin pie

Pie! This is a weeks worth of breakfast right there so that alone will make it worth your while.

Pumpkin Pie, nothing revolutionary for some people but I had never made one. No idea what it actually tasted like either.  Minor details. I somehow unintentionally avoided it up to now.  Turns out it’s an acquired taste, a good one, a great breakfast food and it begs to made in savoury form (as most of these pies do). Unsweetened canned pumpkin puree is mostly used for this kind of recipe but canned was not to be found and secretly I didn’t want to go down that road. (The slippery slope of canned goods and all…) Smaller pumpkins or the natural “slices” of the large ones made good candidates for the filling. Carve it up into hunks and roast it for about an hour with a little olive oil until you can put it in the food processor.

A little spice in the filling adds a necessary bit of flavour and the nuts on top give a little toasted crunch to an otherwise rather mushy affair…

Happy Halloween!


- about 3 good chunks of a large pumpkin (the big slices) chopped and slowly roasted until you can puree it and set it aside to cool (maybe do it in advance)
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 150gr brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

- one pate brisée – make a pastry of short choice and prepare your crust in a wide pie tin
Use half wholemeal flour if you feel like it – this is not a delicate dessert so the crust can take a sturdier flour.
- 1/2 cup finely crushed hazelnuts (the other half you can sprinkle on top)
- 1 tablespoon of maple syrup

Optional (but so important!)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon of freshly grated cloves

- 1 inch of fresh ginger (grated)


You can roast the pumpkin flesh well in advance. An issue may be that the pumpkin puree becomes a little too liquid. The cornstarch will offset that so it’s not a problem. Even if it seems a little “wet” once out of the oven, time in the fridge or time to cool will sort that.

Make the crust in advance, prick the base with a fork and brush the edges with the maple syrup. Instead of baking blind, scatter a layer of the nuts over the base in order to prevent the pumpkin filling from making it soggy. You could experiment here – crushed biscuits, toasted almonds…this will help to create a barrier between the filling and the base. Adds a little something to the taste too. The rest of these crushed nuts or cookies can be your topping.

Once the pumpkin flesh is blended and cooled beat in the eggs, the vanilla extract and the sugar along with any spices you want to add for flavour.  Pour the filling into the base and sprinkle with the rest of the hazelnuts creating a topping.
Bake for about 50 minutes at 190°C.

Serve chilled or a room temp with vanilla ice cream or fresh cream.

What to do with a kilo of cherries?

A spicy cherry compote is one thing you could do (and I did)  but that’s for another day. As it is picnicking and cherry season, a little love for a traditional French grandmother cake is in order. Clafoutis is an old-school cake which comes from the Limousin region. It’s also very easy to put together.  I dare not play around with such things and so this recipe is straight (well, not exactly but…) from the latest edition of the ever trustworthy Cuisine et Vin magazine. The debate about whether or not to leave the pips in the cherries seemingly rages on in certain parts of France, probably where they haven’t much else to do. I left the pips in. Who has time to take them out unless it is truly called for?
Those in the know (and at the centre of the aforementioned debate) say leaving them in gives a better flavour. Who would I be to argue with this? However, you really need to watch your teeth. And that’s coming from a pip swallower…

Note: This recipe could be taken apart and its crepe-like batter used to make all kinds of sweet and/or savoury treats. Think broccoli, tomato, peach, smoked duck, ricotta, bacon, feta, roasted vegetables…

Also – did you know? When in the Auvergne region of France, the clafoutis is known as a Milliard and is often made with other kinds of fruit.



100gr sugar + 20gr for the pan

4 eggs

about 500gr dark coloured cherries (enough for a layer along the bottom of your pan)

Leave the nuts in. It’s tradition. Just warn your eaters first…

350ml (or 35 cl) milk

150 ml (or 15cl) pouring cream

75gr flour

(A little kirsch liquer is usually added too)

icing sugar for dusting afterwards


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, grease a baking tin. Don’t worry too much about the size or depth.

Beat the eggs into the sugar and add the flour little by little. Add the milk and cream and mix well.

Layer the cherries (leaving them whole if you wish) onto the tin and sprinkle the bottom of the pan with the leftover sugar. Pour the batter over the cherries gently hopefully leaving them in position. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until just golden on top. When done sprinkle with icing sugar and serve warm. Also good when chilled.

Pears, cheese and nuts are a classic combination, something that for me is purely Tuscan. Just add honey. The cheese is usually a pecorino or a taleggio and the nuts walnuts. I admit that some rather ripe leftover Brie was what I had to hand, as were the pears and the pistachios which I really wanted to put into something for a recent supper. I figured it could be good. This tart is surprising, the melty brie is nice and strong with the sweet pears and the crunchy nuts. Easy supper with some rocket salad and even better cold the next day which is really why I like to make tarts. They taste so good the next day.

The recipe for the pastry comes from a fabulous book, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, published by Phaidon which is one of the gorgeous side effects of The Rose Bakery to be found in the 9th arrondissement in Paris, a well known bakery and coffee shop that I have yet to actually go to. But never mind, I live vicariously through Rose’s book….despite the fact that it would take me only about 20 minutes to walk there.

3 pears
80 gr fresh unsalted and shelled pistachios
half a generous slab of ripe brie
salt and pepper
3 eggs
1 pot greek yogurt

For the pastry – shortcrust pastry recipe is from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea.

250 gr flour
125 gr unsalted butter
1 egg
1 cup water

half teaspoon of salt

Break the butter into small pieces and start to mix it in with the flour either by hand or in a food processor. When the mixture is crumbly and well combined make a well in the center and add the egg. Fold the mixture together and add a little water to start bringing the dough together. Keep working the dough until it forms a rough dough adding water as necessary until it’s not too wet nor too dry.
Chill for 30 minutes in some cling wrap.
Preheat oven to about 180° and bake the tart case blind. Take it out after about 20 minutes and set aside to cool while you make the filling.

For the filling
Whisk eggs, and then mix in the yogurt. Use a knife or your fingers, rip the brie into rough slices and pieces, not too chunky and avoid the skin. Then slice the pears, keeping the skins on and toss them in a hot dry pan with a teaspoonful of brown sugar.
Lower the heat and keep tossing them until they soften in their own juices and start to smell sweet and are soft to the touch. Take them off the heat. Pour the egg mixture over the tart base and place the caramelized pear slices evenly over the surface of the tart base in the egg mixture. Distribute the brie pieces evenly over the pear pieces ensuring some brie for each pear piece. Sprinkle liberally with the pistachios and season with black pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes.

Remove and let cool before serving. Serve sprinkled liberally with the black sesame seeds.

Grown-up chocolate tart with a serious lack of calories and you don’t even care

Chocolate tofu pie

I don’t know really at all if that’s true. Calorie counting was never my strong point but as chocolate tarts go this has to be relatively guilt free. Anyway, as the title says, you don’t even care. Perhaps the real star of this show is the base. The base made of crumbled speculoos. That biscuit I knew and loved but had no idea what it’s real name was. Speculoos. Yes I know it sounds like a less then pleasant gynecological instrument but rest assured, the names refers to a divine Belgian biscuit. Often found on the side of your your coffee cup in nice establishments, the humble speculoos biscuit is discreetly spicy and crunchy.

This recipe is a response to a recent post on 101cookbooks, always inspiring and always original.
These cookies replace what would be a graham cracker crust but I live in a world sadly devoid of such luxuries (perhaps Bon Marché?) but I don’t mind. I’ve never really had the opportunity to come to appreciate the graham cracker. Although it’s also a flour and this is intriguing. More perhaps to come later…These particular speculoos are made with spelt, I found them in the local health food shop.


50 gr. unsalted butter
2 cups very high quality chocolate chips, or 200gr chocolate for cooking
approx. 250gr speculoos or another good quality cookie (one packet should do it)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
200 gr silken or soft tofu
100 gr Greek yogurt
150 gr ricotta
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence


1 inch fresh lemon grass finely sliced
1 inch fresh ginger finely sliced
1 teaspoon sugar


For the base:
Start by making the base. Grease a 9 inch pan or tart case with a little butter or oil. Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees.
Crush the biscuits in a ziploc bag or give them a go in a food processor until completely crumbled. Then melt the butter. Once melted, mix the butter and the maple syrup in a bowl with the crumbled cookies. Mix well and then press the biscuit mixture into your tin. Set aside.
Using the still warm pan from melting the butter add the lemon grass, ginger and sugar and heat over a low heat until it begins to caramelize. Set aside.

For the filling:
Mix the tofu, Greek yogurt, ricotta, vanilla essence and the egg in a large bowl. if you choose to melt the chocolate do it gently in a bowl over hot water on the stove gently stirring all the time until velvety. No microwaves please! Otherwise, leave the chocolate in fine crumbled chips or flakes and add to the rest of the mixture. At this point add the caramelized ginger and lemon grass.
When the mixture is smooth and silky with no lumps except for possibly your chocolate chips, pour it evenly over the cookie base. Bake for about 20-25 minutes.
Leave to cool then chill for at least a few hours. Preferably overnight. Then eat it for breakfast.
If you didn’t melt the chocolate the pie will look swirly brown and white and you will end up with little lumps of chilled chocolate splodges where the chocolate melted into the mixture in the oven. This is heaven. Amazing.
If you melted the chocolate you pie will be dark smooth uniform which can also be classed as divine.
You choose. Personally I don’t melt it – I love to find surprise chocolate pieces to crunch on. Contrasts nicely with the texture of the smooth creamy pie…..

Tofu chocolate pie