PHOTO: Chronicle Books; Madeleines à la crème au citron from  The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
Laura Brehaut/Postmedia News
Originally published on May 8, 2013;
The Windsor Star: May 29, 2013; page C3
Ottawa Citizen: May 23, 2013; page D4
The Vancouver Sun: May 22, 2013; page D3
Montreal Gazette: May 15, 2013; page B4
Paris-based food creative Rachel Khoo is all for more picnics. So much so, she devotes an entire chapter to dining al fresco in her cookbook The Little Paris Kitchen (Chronicle Books, 2013). She writes that “food is the star of the show” at Parisian picnics, and shares some of her personal favourites: French classics such as Quiche Lorraine, Cake au saucisson sec avec pistaches et prunes (Cured Sausage, Pistachio and Prune Cake, recipe below), and sweet and savoury Clafoutis.
Khoo’s favourite picnic spot is the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. “You’ve got as much space as you like, and everybody brings something to eat, and it’s so social, it’s relaxed,” she says in a telephone interview. “You don’t need to have a huge amount of money, the parks are free, you just pick up a nice baguette and some cheese from the market, and that’s it. It’s so simple and it’s such a fun way of celebrating summer and seeing your friends.”
Smitten by French pâtisserie, Khoo moved to Paris from London and earned her pastry degree at Le Cordon Bleu. She was initially struck by the beautiful presentation of French pastries, but it was the technique and history that inspired her to specialize. “There’s a story to so many different cakes and French pâtisserie. There’s the Paris–Brest, one of my favourites, which is a choux pastry ring sprinkled with almonds and filled with a praline cream,” she says. “It’s a ring because a pâtisserie chef in Brest wanted to do a pastry to mark the bicycle race from Paris to Brest – not good for the cyclists but good for the spectators,” she adds with a laugh.
Khoo had published two cookbooks previously, both in French: Barres à céréales, Granola et Muesli faites maison and Pâtes à tartiner published by Marabout. She employed a somewhat unconventional method of recipe testing for The Little Paris Kitchen – she opened a two-seat restaurant in her small Paris apartment. The restaurant was open for just under a year, and Khoo estimates she served 200 people during that time. “I hate wasting food, and I could also meet people from around the world,” she says. “I had Brazilians, English, French, Australians, South Africans and Italians… and I was lucky, everybody who came, they really wanted to share a meal and have a conversation. That’s what I enjoy most about food, is the sharing part of it. I think that’s what most people enjoy, the social aspect.”
The Little Paris Kitchen features 120 “simple but classic French recipes,” which are organized into Everyday Cooking, Snack Time, Summer Picnics, Aperitifs, Dinner with Friends and Family, Sweet Treats, and French Basics (stocks, sauces and pastry cream). Khoo set out to include recipes for French food that she wants to eat and share with friends. She explains that she goes to a lot of bistros and restaurants in Paris where young chefs have infused their food with experiences gained from travel abroad. “[I’ve taken] a leaf out of their book. But mainly it’s because I’m cooking food that I want to eat. I prefer a lighter – but not necessarily lighter because I do like my butter – but a fresher approach to French food. Not necessarily with a lot of heavy sauces,” she says.
Some examples of this fresh approach are her recipes for Brochettes au coq au vin, which uses skewers for the chicken and a red wine dipping sauce, and Nids de tartiflette (Cheese and potato nests), “Tartiflette is typically cheese, potatoes, bacon – hard-core skiing food. But I did little nest versions, which if you serve with a green salad, you can get away with serving it in the summer.”
Khoo sees the cookbook as the backbone of her BBC Two television series of the same name, which was inspired by the book and is being broadcast outside of her native England in countries such as Canada, Sweden and Brazil. Running a restaurant and shooting a TV series in her diminutive kitchen demanded that Khoo use the space to her best advantage. “The second thing I learned at the Cordon Bleu, after how to say ‘Oui chef,’ is that you have to be tidy,” she says. “If you clean as you go, it means that everything is put in its place and you don’t have clutter, and you don’t get all in a muddle.” In terms of tools, Khoo recommends basics such as a good chef’s knife, a heat-resistant spatula, a microplane grater (great for zesting and grating finely), and a speed peeler. “[Speed peelers] are pretty nifty,” she says. “Not just for peeling potatoes but you can do ribbons with courgettes and carrots and cucumbers. It’s a nice way to make a salad look a bit different.”
With a Malay-Chinese father and an Austrian mother, Khoo had a diverse food upbringing. She recalls watching her Austrian grandmother make strudel pastry and visiting her relatives in Malaysia. “When you meet a Malaysian for the first time, they will ask you not how you are; they will ask you ‘Have you eaten yet?’ So food was and still is such a big part of my life,” she says. In terms of its effect on the way she cooks now, Khoo says she tries to think outside of typical French ingredients, and employ flavours or techniques from other culinary traditions that she’s familiar with – whether Austrian, British or Asian, or anywhere she has visited that has left its mark.
“Sorry, I’ve got something in the oven,” Khoo says with a laugh, taking a moment as a timer goes off. “I just had to check quickly that it wasn’t burning. I’m trying to make Kouign Amann, which is a butter cake from Brittany.” Khoo is currently at work on the follow-up to The Little Paris Kitchen, which she expects to be released this autumn in the U.K. The project has her travelling around France, discovering regional food secrets such as the Breton butter cake. She emphasizes that hard work has gotten her where she is; travelling and writing about the food she loves. “I want to be taken seriously; I’ve worked hard. I trained at the Cordon Bleu. I’ve done many freelance consulting projects, and run a pâtisserie kitchen. It hasn’t been served on a plate,” she says. “I still pinch myself when I think, ‘Oh, wow. This is my job!’”
Recipes excerpted from The Little Paris Kitchen (Chronicle Books, February 2013) by Rachel Khoo.
for the Mornay (cheese) sauce:
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp milk, lukewarm
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup grated Gruyère or mature Comté cheese (or a strong hard cheese like Parmesan or mature Cheddar)
salt and pepper
for the muffins:
6 large slices of white bread, no crusts
3 tbsp butter, melted
2½ oz ham, cut into cubes or thin strips
6 small eggs
1. To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and beat hard until you have a smooth paste. Take off the heat and leave to cool for 2 minutes, then gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Place the pan back over a medium heat, add the mustard and nutmeg, and simmer gently for 10 minutes, whisking frequently to stop the sauce burning on the bottom of the pan. Once the sauce thickens and has the consistency of a thick tomato sauce, take it off the heat.
2. Add the cheese (keep a little for the garnish) and taste for seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk. If it’s lumpy, pass it through a sieve.
3. To assemble, preheat the oven to 350°F. Flatten the slices of bread with a rolling pin, then brush each slice on both sides with melted butter. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with the slices of bread, pressing them in with the bottom of a small glass. Divide the ham between the muffin cups followed by the eggs (if the egg seems too big, pour a little of the white away before using). Put 2 tablespoons cheese sauce on top of each egg, then sprinkle with a little cheese and pepper. Bake for 15–20 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs. Serve immediately.
makes 6
for the lemon curd:
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
a pinch of salt
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp butter
2 egg yolks
for the madeleines:
3 eggs
2⁄3 cup sugar
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1½ tbsp honey
¼ cup milk
¾ cup plus 1 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1-pt basket of raspberries
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
1. Make the lemon curd: Put the lemon zest and juice, salt, sugar, and butter into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar and butter have melted. Remove from the heat. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl, then add to the pan and whisk vigorously. Return the pan to a low heat and whisk constantly as the curd starts to thicken. Don’t stop whisking or the eggs will curdle (if the curd starts to boil, take off the heat). Once the curd thickens and releases a bubble or two, remove from the heat, and pass the curd through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap in direct contact with the curd and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
2. Beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and frothy. Measure the flour and baking powder into a separate bowl and add the lemon zest. Mix the honey and milk with the cool butter, then add to the eggs. In two batches, fold in the flour. Cover and leave to rest in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 12-shell madeleine tin. Put the lemon curd into a piping bag fitted with a small, pointed nozzle and place in the fridge.
3. Put a heaped tablespoon of batter into each madeleine shell and press a raspberry deep into the batter. Bake for 5 minutes, turn the oven off for 1 minute (the madeleines will get their signature peaks), then turn the oven on to 325°F and bake for another 5 minutes. Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, wash and dry the tin, then repeat the baking as for the first batch. While the second batch is baking, pop the piping nozzle into the mound in each baked madeleine and squirt in a teaspoon’s worth of lemon curd. Repeat with the second batch, then dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve straightaway.
makes 20–24
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
5 oz cured French sausage or salami, finely chopped
¾ cup pistachios, roughly chopped
2⁄3 cup prunes, roughly chopped
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2⁄3 cup olive oil
1/4 plain yogurt
1 tsp salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 1 lb loaf pan with parchment paper. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, sausage, pistachios and prunes. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until thick and pale in color. Gradually whisk in the milk, oil and yogurt, then add the salt, season with pepper, and fold in the flour mixture bit by bit. Try not to overbeat (it’s better to undermix).*
2. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30–40 minutes or until a metal skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan.
serves 4-6
* Pourquoi?
The more the batter is beaten when the flour is added, the more the gluten gets developed. For cakes and pastries too much gluten is not desirable (unlike for bread) as it makes the end result tough. To prevent overbeating when adding the flour, you may find it easier to use a rubber spatula rather than a whisk
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