Dried Fruit Roasted Apple with Calisson Ice Cream

Pomme Rôtie aux Fruits Secs, Quenelle de Glace au Calisson

My mother and I wanted to end our Christmas eve dinner with a dessert simple to prepare yet festive, and satisfying yet (more or less) light. This is what we came up with.

The store Picard Surgelés sells excellent ice-cream created by François Théron. They come in a variety of flavors, all of which quite unusual and incredibly tempting, like marron glacé (chestnut ice-cream with candied chestnut pieces), mendiant (vanilla ice-cream with dried fruits and nuts), or calisson (almond ice-cream with bits of calisson).

A delicious combination of warm apple, sweet caramel and fresh ice cream.

A calisson is an almond shaped specialty from Aix-en-Provence (South of France), made with pâte d’amande (almond paste) and crystallized melons, with a layer of feuille d’hostie (the thin wafer the catholic host is made of) underneath, and a crispy sugar coating on top. In my family, we are all big fans of marzipan in general, calissons in particular, and my parents happened to have a box of fresh calissons they had recently received as a gift.

This was a delicious combination of warm apple, sweet caramel and fresh ice cream. I am more and more into serving desserts with a little handheld accessory to nibble on, and here the scrumptious little calisson was a real treat. We all went for seconds, to stock up on energy before we tackled the gift giving session!

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Scalloped Foie Gras Mi-Cuit, Poached Pear, Toasted Rustic Bread

Escalope de Foie Gras Mi-Cuit, Poire Pochée, Toast de Campagne

[Scalloped Foie Gras Mi-Cuit, Poached Pear, Toasted Rustic Bread]

Christmas eve this year was spent just the four of us : my parents, my sister and myself. A week before, having come to my parents’ on a weeknight, my mother and I had brainstormed over an after-dinner cup of tea, and we had come up with the Christmas menus. My mom having taken care of the grocery shopping, the afternoon of the 24th found us preparing the dinner together, in between miscellaneous tree decorating and last minute gift wrapping activities.

I enjoy cooking with my mother very much. Probably because I have watched her cook so often and also because she has taught me a lot of what I know, we just seem to move around the kitchen in unison, picking up where the other has left off, handing out the right tool at the right time without being asked, the different tasks dispatched seamlessly, chatting all the while.

On the special request of my father, the dinner menu started out with slices of smoked salmon. My mother had bought two kinds : Norwegian farm-raised smoked salmon and a pricier wild smoked salmon. While both were very high-quality, the latter, of a lighter pink shade, proved particularly succulent. Sprinkled with lemon juice, served with oven-warmed blinis and crème fraîche, this was a delicious first course. Smoked salmon seems a more and more common fare, but I’m wondering if one shouldn’t hold off eating it unless presented with the real thing.

We then prepared and served the main dish : scalloped foie gras mi-cuit with poached pears and toasts of rustic bread. Mi-cuit (“half-cooked”) is a way to prepare foie gras, in which the raw liver is cooked in a terrine, slowly and at a very low temperature, allowing the natural flavors and textures to develop in very subtle ways. The resulting product has a very short shelf-life, whereas regular canned foie gras can be kept at room temperature for up to four years. Foie gras mi-cuit can be bought whole, or in slices (“escalopes”) as was the case for us.

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Chocolate Truffles

In addition to the French Chocolate Mendiants, I also made French Chocolate Truffles to give to my family for Christmas this year.

Chocolate truffles are among the easiest chocolate bites you can possibly make, yet they are always received like a super special, super chic gift. Indeed, who can resist that amazing rich chocolate flavor and smooth texture?

The recipe involves making ganache, a basic technique you’ll be so proud to master, and the rolling of the truffles is a very fun process, too, in which kids will be thrilled to take part.

I like to roll my truffles in different coatings to make up a pretty assortment: cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, almond flour, maple sugar, etc.

I’m not a fan of alcohol in my truffles so I leave it out, but I’ve included the option in the recipe below: you could use Champagne (festive for sure!) or something stronger such as Grand Marnier, Armagnac, dark rum, or any artisanal liqueur you like.

Join the conversation!

Do you love chocolate truffles? What kind is your favorite? Have you ever made your own, or do you prefer to buy them?

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French Chocolate Mendiants

I have always loved the idea of giving out food gifts. As with any handmade present, it seems a very personal way to show you care, and that you love the person enough to spend a few hours making something nice for them.

Last year, I didn’t plan for it early enough to make it happen: Christmas is always a busy period, and we had just moved into our apartment a month before. But this year, I thought about it well in advance, took care of the necessary planning and shopping and set out to make French chocolate mendiants to give out to my family on Christmas day.

Chocolate mendiants are part of the French Christmas tradition

Chocolate mendiants are small disks of chocolate garnished with assorted toppings. This is in reference to the Christmas tradition in Provence, where people end the celebratory dinner with Les 13 Desserts de Noël. However decadent this sounds, it is actually a pretty ascetic assortment of thirteen (as in Jesus plus his twelve apostles) simple desserts: black and white nougat, olive oil bread, various nuts, and dried or fresh fruit.

Among these are the four mendiants, or beggars, symbolizing four mendicant monastic orders and the color of their robes : raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnuts for the Augustins, dried figs for the Franciscans, and almonds for the Carmelites.

Mini Cookbook of French Tarts

This is the origin of the food term “mendiant”, more generally given to food preparations that involve dried fruits and nuts: cakes, ice cream or here, chocolate mendiants.

Each of them, pretty and delicious, offers a new combination of sweetness and crunch. They’re also easy and fun to make, if you enjoy working with small intricate colorful things like I do.

And don’t miss the other kind of chocolate bite I made also: French chocolate truffles!

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Chocolate Vanilla Petit Pot, Caramel Petit Beurre Ribbon

Petit Pot Chocolat Vanille, Ruban de Caramel au Petit Beurre

[Chocolate Vanilla Petit Pot, Caramel Petit Beurre Ribbon]

This is the dessert I served to end Saturday night’s dinner. The idea came to me during the same bus ride through Paris that brought us the goat cheese mousse. I don’t know what was in the air that day, but ideas just kept bubbling up, a swarm of dishes taking shape and morphing in my mind, which I kept writing down furiously. Stepping out of the bus, I even had to sit down on a bench to finish writing what I had in mind. Euphoria is the closest word I can find to describe the feeling.

And this is the brainchild of such a bout. A small, transparent glass. On the bottom, a layer of chocolate cookie crumbs. Then a thick layer of crème à la vanille. On top, a layer of ganache, studded with toasted pecan fragments. On the side, a strip of shiny caramel, encrusted with bits of crispy butter cookies.

I used our Duralex glasses which I like so much, bought at the Madeleine Résonances store. Duralex is the name of a heavy duty unbreakable glass material, but their particular charm stems from the fact that they are the typical glass you get at school cafeterias in France. They also happen to be a very important vector of social structure among kids : each glass has a number engraved at the bottom, and the one you get leads to endless interpretations and conclusions. Whoever has the smallest/largest number has to give away his dessert, or has to go fill the water jug (and during this absence anything can happen to your food and/or your popularity), or maybe this number is the age at which you’ll get married, or the number of millions you’ll make, the number of kids you’ll have, or even the age at which you’ll die. Wasn’t school just sheer fun?

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