La neige étend son manteau blanc
Et les yeux levés vers le ciel
A genoux les petits enfants
Avant de fermer les paupières
Font une dernière prière
Petit Papa Noël
Quand tu descendras du ciel
Avec tes jouets par milliers
N'oublie pas mon petit soulier
- Raymond Vincy et Henri Martinet, 1946
We have been eating, drinking and making merry this holiday season. As soon as Scrooge left with the dreary weather and elves began scurrying around the house making plans, secreting away goodies wrapped in brightly colored paper and tied up in plump ribbons, the excitement set in and good moods were handed round. Recent good news on the homefront has added to the festive mood and the holiday cheer risks spilling over from Hanukkah into Christmas, doubling the jolliness and good will. We eat latkes and exchange gifts while the flames dance atop multi-colored candles in my old family Menorah and pretty paper is strewn across the floor; JP plays with the new gadget he received last night and Marty dashes from livingroom to kitchen and back again. Simon is now home, so the Astaire and Rogers and Marx Brothers films stack up next to the television set and plans are made to watch each and every one.
And the Christmas rituals begin! A trip to the market this morning found us pushing our way through the holiday crowds arriving to pick up orders, paper bags stuffed with foie gras, ducks and capons, wrapped up like presents; crates of oysters stacked up and boxes of glistening lobsters waiting to be collected; the butcher’s case laden with fowl of all sorts, bundled around luscious fillings of mushrooms and foie gras, chestnuts and dried fruits, pretty as a picture, edible gifts; gorgeous bûches de noël nestled together in glass cases vying for our attention with the colorful array of macarons and the gaily decorated verrines of chocolate, raspberry, vanilla and exotic fruits; the sights and sounds of a bustling marketplace on Christmas Eve morning, the chill and the music adding to the holiday excitement. JP and I stroll up and down the aisles, arm tucked snugly in arm, singing Winter Wonderland and White Christmas aloud, not caring who may hear. The French are nothing if not traditional and their holiday celebrations never waver from one year to the next: foie gras and oysters, smoked salmon and blinis, scallops and lobster, bûche and orangettes and the market reflects the joyful repetition of these customs. Nantes itself is rather dreary and triste this season, barely a decoration, sadness seems to have permeated the city, gray skies hover over the buildings, yellow in the watery sunlight, and the trees bare of color. But our home is warm and convivial, wonderful smells emanate from the kitchen and we sing and dance and laugh together, lighthearted and mirthful for the time, at least, of the holidays.
We’ve not been quite able to give the house a holiday cleaning and we arrive home to a happy mess. Laundry piled up in the corner of the livingroom while gifts from previous evenings’ exchanges are strewn around the sofa and coffee tables next to stacks of photo albums and shoe boxes of negatives and slides waiting to be rediscovered and brought to life. I juggle space and time in the kitchen with JP, I baking, he cooking, and it seems that our battle is futile as dishes, pots and pans, bottles and foodstuff seem to be winning the confrontation, taking over every available inch, threatening to completely confiscate the kitchen and push us out. The boys added to the brouhaha and confusion with offerings of Grappa and Prosecco, gorgeous Panettone and Bûche, bottles of homebrewed beer from a colleague in Italy and sachets of rich, dark chocolate truffles. The more the merrier when it comes to the festivities! But although we had to squeeze into a tinier and tinier space, bake and cook we did, for what are the holidays without special celebrations, dishes and treats? JP prepared a Christmas Eve dinner of côte de beouf – standing beef rib steak – and herbed mashed potatoes, leftovers which magically transformed into a wonderful, tasty Parmentier on Christmas Day. Champagne was popped, the bûche sliced and a merry evening of board games rounded off the festivities.
I dusted off an old recipe once given to me by a girlfriend, a wonderful sweet brioche-type dough elegantly laced up and wrapped around a luscious filling of apples spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom and a dusting of orange and lemon zests, winter flavors at their very best. Baked to a deep golden brown then drizzled with citrussy orange glaze, this Apple Lattice Coffee Cake is not only a thing of beauty but perfect for that celebratory breakfast or brunch during the holiday season. Guests will ooooh and ahhhh when they catch a glimpse of the artistry of this Lattice Apple Coffee Cake and mmmmmm’s will fill the air at the first bite, the glorious flavors melting on the tongue.
This wonderful Coffee Cake will be sent to the lovely Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting!
As the end of the year approaches, nostalgia whispers and tugs at the old heartstrings and I find myself all teary-eyed at the thought of all those wonderful friends this year has brought me, all the marvelous places that I have traveled to and the opportunities that have come my way. Don’t we all get a little mushy this time of year? But these sentiments will be reserved for another day, another post.
ORANGE GLAZED APPLE LATTICE COFFEE CAKE
2 Tbs warm water
1 pkg. (7 g) active dry yeast
1/2 cup milk
6 Tbs sugar
5 Tbs (75 g) unsalted butter, room temperature if possible
1 tsp salt
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp finely grated orange zest (about 1 large orange, reserving the orange for the juice)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 to 2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter
6 Tbs brown sugar
3 - 5 medium sized apples*, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
*use pie apples that will hold their shape even after cooking, slightly tangy, sweet tasty apples. I’ve used Jubilee as well as Golden for pies, and thought they hold their shape and are the perfect texture when baked, they are somewhat bland in flavor to me. I use Reines de Reinette in France which cook down the same as Goldens but have much more flavor, sweet and just tart enough.
* the original recipe calls for 3 apples, but I (as well as my family) found that it just wasn’t enough. We could barely tell that the apples were there. So now I use up to 5.
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 to 2 Tbs fresh-squeezed orange juice
Prepare the dough:
Place the warm water and yeast in a small cup and let stand until the yeast dissolves and is frothy, about 6 minutes.
Put the milk, sugar, butter and salt in a small saucepan and heat gently over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. The mixture should be just warm. Pour this into a large mixing bowl; cool to lukewarm if necessary. Whisk in the yeast mixture, egg yolks, orange zest and spices. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold in 2 cups of the flour until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently, adding extra flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the dough is smooth and silky.
Place the dough in a large clean lightly-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, placing it against the surface of the dough to keep it from forming a crust, then cover the bowl with a dish towel. Place in a warm, draft-free area and allow to rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.
Prepare the filling:
Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until you have a thick, grainy sauce, about 1 minute. Add the apple slices, tossing until all the slices are pretty much coated with the sugar-butter. Cook until the apples are tender and the sauce has been reduced to a glaze, about 7 minutes. Mix in the grated zests and the spices and toss until the apples are evenly coated. Cool the filling at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.
Assemble the cake:
Roll the dough out onto a well-floured surface into a 14 x 12-inch rectangle, the longer side perpendicular to your body. Carefully slide the rolled-out dough onto a large length of oven-safe parchment paper and then, if need be, make a quick size adjustment with the rolling pin. Arrange the apple mixture down the center of the dough, leaving an inch border at the top and bottom ends and about 3 or 4 inches on each side. With a sharp knife and starting about an inch from the apples, slice straight out to the edge of the dough at 1-inch intervals, making about 13 strips down each side (don’t panic, feel free to use your trusty tape measure). Starting at the top, fold the strips of dough over the filling, on a slight angle and alternating, overlapping the strips, to form a lattice down the center. Seal the open ends of the dough at the top and bottom by tucking up into and underneath the lattice strips and patting and pressing into shape.
Carefully slide or lift parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. (If you don’t have parchment paper, make sure your baking sheet is well greased) Cover loosely with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes, until a deep golden brown. Carefully slide a spatula underneath and lift up just to make sure that the underside is also golden brown.
Remove from the oven and slide the parchment with the cake onto a cooling rack/grill. If you didn’t use parchment, slide a spatula under the cake to make sure it is loosened and slide off of the baking sheet. Cool for 30 minutes.
For the glaze:
Mix the powdered sugar with 1 1/2 to 2 Tbs freshly squeezed orange juice. Stir until well blended and a thick glaze forms. Drizzle over the cake.