Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Proustian Sunsets and a Crème au Chocolat

Once upon a time I imagined that I'd get around to reading Proust when I was old. A few years ago I was walking along the Promenade Marcel Proust on the Cabourg seafront in Normandy as the sun was going down and it occurred to me that I was old and so I'd better get on with it.  Cabourg was the inspiration for the Proustian Balbec and the sunsets are as notable in real life as they are in literature. (And you can still get a notable seafood dish or two along the Cabourg seafront too).
Cabourg Sunset
So wearing suitable clothing and with a lot of strong coffee to hand I read all seven volumes. It took a while, but I survived. Don't worry I'm not going to attempt any form of literary criticism - this is a food blog, I seem to remember - but there are two observations that I'd like to pass on. First, at some point during volume two I actually started to think that prodigiously long sentences were perfectly normal and had to give myself a serious talking to in short phrases. Second, there are more jokes in Proust than I was expecting (I wasn't really expecting any at all).
Cabourg Sunset
Think of Proust when you're hungry and you're likely to think of the famous madeleine. It's mentioned early in volume one of 'À la Recherche du Temps Perdu', so that's fair enough but a reproduction of some of Proust's notebooks was published recently and it appears that the madeleine was something of an afterthought. Initially Proust may have been inspired to begin writing his sizeable masterpiece by a slice of toast. But I digress – well, of course I do, I've been reading Proust.

Now you might expect an elaborate bit of haute cuisine to celebrate Proust but, while I was part of the way through my Proustathon, I read a blog post by Francis Tessandier of the fine literary restaurant Chez Francis in Brive-la-Gaillarde who had chosen a crème au chocolat to honour the inspiration of Proust. It's a little treat that clearly meant a lot to Proust and his family so I'm stealing that idea, although with a very different sort of recipe. Little chocolate crèmes are more often than not made by creating an enriched custard and adding chocolate before cooking in a bain-marie. As usual, though, I'm trying to make life as simple as possible and this recipe for crème au chocolat is ridiculously simple. There's no bain-marie, no additional sugar and, if you go to similar supermarkets to me and buy the items below, not even any measuring.

The result is perhaps not as light and fleeting as Françoise produced for the Proust household but it's silky and rich and should persuade anyone that you made a big effort to please them even though that's not quite the case. There's nothing surprising about the ingredients, it's the technique that's so different. It's based on the Joyce Molyneux method from her legendary time at the Carved Angel restaurant in Dartmouth from the 1970s to the 1990s. In my insignificant opinion she was a true giant of British cooking.
Crème au Chocolat
I used a raspberry liqueur to add additional flavour, but other liqueurs such as orange or hazelnut will work just fine if that's what you have. If you don't want to use alcohol, then try other flavourings such as orange extract, but don't add too much or it may mask the chocolate flavour.

200 g bar of dark chocolate (good quality, obviously)
300 ml tub of single cream
1 egg
2 tsp raspberry liqueur (or whatever flavouring you fancy)

Bash the wrapped chocolate bar on the worktop a few times to break it into small pieces. (You don't have to be too fussy about this, as long as the chocolate is in relatively small chunks). Unwrap and pour the chocolate into a food processor.

Pour the contents of the tub of single cream into a small saucepan and turn on the heat. As soon as the cream comes to the boil, pour it into the food processor and whiz until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. (This won't take long but you may need to scrape down the bowl of the processor once or twice).

Add the egg and the liqueur. Process again until the egg is thoroughly mixed in. Pour the mixture into espresso cups or small ramekins (you should get about 6 small but satisfying servings). Chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes or so before serving if you remember.


Just in case you were wondering what Proust might have to say on this subject, here's a short snippet. It's in the original French, which means that I'm not only annoying, I'm also deeply pretentious.

"Quand tout cela était fini, composée expressément pour nous, mais dédiée plus spécialement à mon père qui était amateur, une crème au chocolat, inspiration, attention personnelle de Françoise nous était offerte, fugitive et légère comme une œuvre de circonstance où elle avait mis tout son talent …… Même en laisser une seule goutte dans le plat eût témoigné de la même impolitesse que se lever avant la fin du morceau au nez du compositeur."


I'm submitting this recipe to the latest Novel Food event hosted by Simona Carini at briciole and hopefully she'll forgive me for having the effrontery to represent the monumental 'À la Recherche du Temps Perdu' by a recipe that may very well take less time to make than it takes to read one of Proust's longer sentences.


I've been a bad blogger and not entered anything into We Should Cocoa for more than a year so I'm also submitting this to the latest challenge over at Tin and Thyme.