Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be a tray of biscotti and a cup of espresso

I have a sad secret to reveal. For a year now I’ve lived opposite Brent, Jean and the Munsoneers with a shiny stainless steel espresso machine happily extruding life-giving liquids…. and for that entire year, I’ve never been able to offer them home made biscotti. Some days I have to cover my face as I slip out of the house with a thermos full of freshly steamed latté, hoping I will never see the reproach in their eyes.

Today that changed. The world is a happier crunchier place.

I found a recipe for Pistachio, Fig and Lemon Biscotti, and acted on it. It wasn’t quite as straight-forward as the recipe indicated: de-shelling and de-skinning pistachios took quite some time (nude pistachios being rather expensive in these parts). When I came to folding together the wet and dry ingredients I found that there wasn’t enough wet so I had to quickly whisk-up another egg-white at the last minute to make it work.

Biscotti loaf #1  Biscotti loaf, pre-toasting
When I spooned the very chunky mix into my pyrex loaf dish, I worried that I’d done something wrong as it seemed far too thick for anything good to come of it in the oven. Even when the baking time was done I was still rather skeptical: the resulting loaf still seemed extremely compact. It smelled goood but doubts remained.

Slicing away a thin section of the end made me feel much better: it looked perfect!

Preparing biscotti for toastingI cut it with a bread-knife – a little conservatively thickness-wise – into about 21 slices and laid those out on a baking tray, returning them to the oven for about 12 minutes more. The thinner slices browned through and the others just browned on the tray-side.

Trying out my handiwork with a freshly steamed Flat White, I must say that both slice thicknesses work well. The thinner ones are crisp and nutty, but the thick (~7mm) slices have a nougat-like chewiness that lets you keep all the embedded flavours in your mouth a little longer.

Finally, to make up for my sins of omission, I took some slices over with some coffee to the big house. Just in time to get some of Jean’s chocolate cookies as they came out of the oven. Funny how that timing works…
I told Ben this morning that I had worked out I was going to feed him for the first two nights of his visit, but didn’t have a clue what we’d do for the third and final dinner. I figured that after last night’s lamb, and with plenty of cheese and baguettes around that I could fill the gap with my other recent staple dish: cream of cauliflower soup.

Cream of cauliflower soup with accompanimentsWhen I first made this some weeks ago, I didn’t have any of the specified celery or caraway seeds on hand, so improvised with the addition of some lemon myrtle powder. That worked really well, and even one bowl makes for an extremely filling meal. 

After I finally found some caraway aka carvi in another town, I retried the recipe – with celery included. I found that the celery overpowered the cauliflower/potato/carrot base and the caraway contribution couldn’t be tasted at all, so I’ve reverted to my original Australianised adaptation.

Ben on tractor
While I was busy baking and souping, Ben had another wander around the farm. At some point he bumped into Brent out doing his farmerly duties, who gave him a tour off-piste through the paddocks and around the barns, once armagnac-filled, now given over to farm machinery.

The day wound down over comté cheese, bread, soup, the remaining bottles of wine and a long game of cards. Gustav and Ben introduced me to the card game Shithead, which is apparently popular with backpackers and comes from Scandinavian games like Vändtia and Paskahousu.


  1. Good job on the biscotti! It looks good enough to eat. As isolated as we are up north a good latte is sometimes the only thing that keeps you in touch with the world.

  2. That cauliflower-potato-carrot soup sound really good. I don't know what lemon myrtle is, though. Do I understand that it's Australian? I have some lemon pepper (grated lemon zest + black pepper). That might be good in such a soup too.

  3. I just made another batch of the cauliflower soup. After all the ingredients have boiled down, I run it through the blender and add cream, although you can always postpone the cream addition until serving.

    I've had days when I have a fridge shelf full of 2L jars of soup and ratatouille.

    Lemon Myrtle is indeed an Australian spice (not actually a myrtle - that's just one of those early naturalist naming mistakes). It has the highest known content of citron in any plant and like lemon is amazing versatile in cooking. I also have soaps and scent sprays which use its essential oil. I'd try to grow some of the trees here but nursing them through the first winters might be difficult.

  4. Rod (rginoz@hotmail.com)6:29 pm

    Hello Mike - I followed your recipe link and made some Biscotti. It was very straighforward and Biscotti really tastes great. As you found, it was a bit fiddly peeling the pistachios, but worth the trouble.

    I very much enjoy reading your blog about your life in France and your travels and adventures with Munson. You really put some effort into the blog, and it shows.

    Cheers, Rod

  5. Thanks Rod!

    I made another batch of biscotti yesterday. The pistachio skinning is indeed very tedious!