Gifts sometimes present themselves in interesting little stories. My family is in the process of a big move. We have found an amazing spot that is just perfect for us. When we visited the house a few months ago, everything felt “right.”
Well, except for the hideously small oven, but I was not about to let the small oven keep my family from this spot, plus I took the small oven to be a challenge to my culinary skills.
Recently we were walking through the home with the owner’s son-in-law. The family is in the process of clearing out a lifetime of family fun, history, and ‘projects’ that never were quite finished. We were discussing book shelves; did we want to keep them or would we like to have the shelves removed? I liked the shelves, and if the owner was willing to let us have them, well, good for us! As I was standing in the office, which was still filled with the love of books on nature, cooking, birds, and history, I noticed a large blue book that I had longed to find one day at a used book store or garage sale. On the shelf was a copy of “Larousse Gastronomique.”
“Larousse Gastronomique” is the granddaddy of an encyclopedia of French cuisine. First published in 1938, the text is rich with culinary history, terminology, techniques and, of course, recipes. My heart was skipping a few beats when I asked what the plans for all the books were, since the majority of the home’s contents were being donated. The son-in-law said that his wife was going to go through the books, but most would be donated. I hated to ask, because I did not want to appear like a vulture, but felt this was my time to strike. I asked if she did not want this book, and, pointing to the blue bound text, if I may purchase it? He called his wife and asked what she was going to do with the cookbooks. She said, “Donate them.” He then told her I was interested in one of the books. She instantly asked if it was “Larousse Gastronomique.”
There is a family history with the book, and it was shared with me that the grandfather of this family worked as a French chef during the depression, her father, the original owner of the home, was sent to school with amazing culinary delights that were left over from the restaurant. Thus infusing a love for French food with this family. I loved the tale and was smitten when the son-in-law handed me the heavy blue book and said, “A housewarming gift, it belongs to you now.” I felt so warm and honored to be the third owner of this treasured book. As I was flipping through the pages I came up with a fun idea. I would make something form “Larousse Gastronomique” from each letter of the alphabet, working from A to Z.
So beginning with A, I decided on something sweet, simple, and perfect for the holidays. Allumettes. Allumettes (French for “matchsticks”) are lovely delicate “cakes” made out of puff pastry. What is not to love about the simplicity of buttery, flaky puff pastry? Allumettes are one of my favorite uses of puff pastry, and I suspect they may become one of yours as well.
Remember, puff pastry treats are only good the day they are baked, so do not hesitate to enjoy them all!
You can purchase good quality puff pastry from several local stores in the frozen food section. Look at the ingredients, and only buy a product that uses 100% butter for the best result.
If you are interested in the technique of making your own puff pastry, I will be making a video as soon as I get moved into my new home. It is actually a fun process that should not be feared!
Instructions if using purchased frozen puff pastry:
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Whisk until blended. Set aside.
Roll out the puff pastry to about 1/8 inch thick. Return to the freezer.
Spread the royal icing thinly over the frozen puff pastry. Return to the freezer until the icing sets.
Using a pizza cutter, cut desired shape. I like to make the traditional “sticks.”
Bake at 350 degrees until the buttery aroma overtakes you! Take a peek, make sure the allumettes are a lovely golden color.
Cool and enjoy!
Andrea Charroin was a trained baker and pastry chef in San Francisco before she and her family moved to Redding 11 years ago. After falling in love with Redding’s downtown, Andrea and husband Westley opened a little pastry shop, Rene-Joule Patisserie, across from the Cascade Theatre. For the three years Rene-Joule was in business, it was renowned for making everything from scratch, using the best ingredients and keeping with a seasonal menu. To this day, Andrea is asked about her Marathon Bars, Orange Twists and sourdough bread.
Copyright 2010 Andrea R. Charroin. Visit her blog at bakerslove.typepad.com
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