World Chefs: French childhoods re-created in adult kitchens

NEW YORK Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:56am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ethel Brennan and Sara Remington had never met as children, but as adults they found they shared many childhood experiences that they brought together in a new book, "Paris to Provence: Childhood Memories of Food and France."

The combination travel memoir and cookbook is interspersed with photographs, not just of the recipes included, but of daily French life.

Both Brennan and Remington had spent their childhood summers in France with their parents, traveling the country and experiencing the delights of onion tarts, grilled sardines and truffled eggs.

Brennan spoke to Reuters about delving into her childhood memories of food and places and re-creating those experiences in the book.

Q: How does a person's individual experience of a place change their experience of the food or cuisine of a place?

A: Food and place are very tied together, as are all of our memories when it comes to childhood. And things just take you back or keep you there or remind you because food is so linked to all of our senses.

Q: How did going back to those memories as an adult change or affect your experience of them?

A: There were certain things I felt sad about when I discovered they actually are products of the past. For example, it used to be you would go to the beaches and all along the Mediterranean people would sell baskets of fresh-made cream-filled donuts and beignets. That doesn't exist anymore.

Occasionally somebody will be coming along selling the beignets, but they're not homemade. They're very industrial or they're commercially made. It's just not something that you see as I remember it from childhood. I think that is a danger when you start going back into your childhood. Things change, they have to change."

Q: How do you want people to experience France through this book?

A: We very specifically approached the food from a simple standpoint. The recipes are very traditional, and regionally traditional ... Most of the ingredients people can find here and if they don't have them on sale they can be ordered online. We did not want to alienate anyone with the complexity of the cooking. We would hope that someone who was curious about France and maybe wasn't traveling there felt that they could make something really simple that would re-create our sense (of being there)."

Q: Do you have a favorite recipe?

A: I would say the beignets are a favorite, but I will say that my absolute favorite in the book is strawberries in red wine syrup. Fresh strawberries, red wine and sugar, and they macerate and then you can add mint and that's it. It's really good, and we used to have it when we were kids, and I just couldn't believe they'd serve it to you. You'd finish the strawberries and you'd have a quarter cup of really sweet red wine at the bottom of your glass.

Q: How did you choose which recipes to put in?

A: The way we structured the book was in the format of a road trip - starting in Paris, then the farmers' markets and then picnics and lakes, then the family dinners and being at the beaches and cafes and bistros. Each one of those chapter titles lent themselves to certain recipes ... We didn't go the traditional route of having a dessert section or a salad section or an appetizer section, and that actually gave us quite a bit of freedom to put in one or two things, and maybe not necessarily have a dessert in every (section).

Beignets

1 cup warm whole milk (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4-ounce package dry yeast

1 egg, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon orange flower water

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 to 6 cups canola oil

1/4 cup powdered sugar

Pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Mix in 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let stand until the yeast begins to bubble, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the egg, butter, salt, vanilla, the remaining sugar, and the orange flower water into the milk. Add 2 cups of flour and work into the wet ingredients using a wooden spoon. Add another cup of flour and gather the dough into a ball. It will be sticky. Knead the dough and add the remaining flour, a quarter cup at a time, until it forms a smooth yet soft ball; stop adding flour at this point. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 and a half hours.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and roll out to a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Cut the dough lengthwise into 4 pieces, then cut it crosswise into 6 pieces, creating 24 small beignets. Cover the dough with a clean, dry dish towel and let rise for 1 hour.

In a large deep skillet over high heat, warm the oil until it reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a candy thermometer to check the temperature. Fry the beignets in small batches of 2 to 3 in the hot oil, turning them every 30 seconds or so with tongs, until they are puffed and golden brown all over. They cook quickly and will start to burn if left too long in the oil. Remove the beignets from the oil and drain on paper towels. Put the powdered sugar into a fine-mesh strainer and dust the warm beignets generously with the powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

(Reporting by Luciana Lopez, editing by Patricia Reaney)