As soon as summer comes to an end, there is no shortage of events and art exhibits to keep us entertained during the fall. Most of the interesting events take place in Paris though, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the town I live in host a Food Truck Festival a few weeks ago. The event was the first and largest of its kind in France, and perhaps even in all of Europe (so says this article). Nearly 50 food trucks from all over Europe, including a craft beer truck that made the trek all the way from Italy. The food trucks served everything from traditional French fare, American classics, Brazilian desserts, North African specialties, Balinese dishes, and even Vietnamese favorites.
Though food truck foods were a staple in my diet while living in Austin, TX, I have never eaten anything from food trucks here in France. When I first moved here, food trucks were still a novelty. As a matter of fact, only one existed at the time and it was opened by a Californian who received her professional culinary training from the prestigious Ferrandi culinary school in Paris. She had to jump through a bunch of administrative hoops to get her truck up and running, but her success paved the way for other aspiring food truckers. Since then, the food truck scene has burgeoned in Paris and the rest of France.
It wasn’t the food trucks that drew me to this event though. It was the chance to meet Philippe Urraca, who is a master artisan pastry chef. He is among an elite group of pastry chefs who have earned the prestigious title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), which translates to best artisan craftsman of France. He is also president of the MOF pastry committee. This honor is bestowed upon the winner among those who participate in a two-year long competition that has been held every 3-4 years since 1924. The competition is held not only for pastries, but also for a variety of other professional trades, such as chocolate making, floral arrangement, making clocks, etc. The competition is intensely fierce, so those who are brave enough to seek this esteemed distinction consecrate years preparing for it.
Philippe Urraca came to the event to sign copies and promote his latest opus on classic French pastries, and I was more than excited to finally meet him! My town is about 5 miles from Paris, which I think deterred many Parisians from venturing outside of their city limits to go to this event. So, when I arrived, it was relatively empty. Or, maybe because it was after the lunch hour and everyone had gone home for a nap. Either way, I got to be the first person to meet him, and because there were so few people there, we chatted for quite some time about pastries and snapped photos together. He was extremely generous with his pastry making advice and left a sweet, personalized message in my copy of his book.
I recently made his madeleine recipe, which was a cinch to follow. I added my own personal touch by making a few simple changes such as upping the quantity of sugar from 180 to 200 grams, adding a pinch of salt, replacing inverted sugar syrup with honey, and adding minced ginger and freshly ground cloves. Given that this was a MOF-based recipe, I wasn’t too surprised by how perfectly they turned out. Each cake had a distinctly rounded and uniform dome, and they were incredibly moist, even a few days later!
Ginger & Clove Madeleines
Makes 3 dozen
150 ml milk
2 vanilla beans
200 g white sugar
60 g honey
330 g flour
12 g of baking powder
a pinch of salt
150 g butter, melted (≅20° C)
2 tbsp ginger, minced
½ cloves, freshly ground
Preparing the batter
Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat until hot, but not boiling. Infuse the split and scraped vanilla beans in the heated milk.
Beat the eggs with the sugar and honey on medium speed. In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder, ground cloves and salt. Then, add the sifted dry ingredients to the egg and sugar mix and continue to mix on medium speed until the mixture is homogenous. Slowly add the infused milk and minced ginger to the mixture while continuing to mix. Finally, add the melted butter and mix until the batter has a shiny, ribbon-like texture. Pour the batter into a pastry bag and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. According to the chef, leaving the batter in the fridge overnight yields an even more homogenous mix.
Preheat the oven to 210°C with a flat, rimless baking sheet inside. Butter the surface of a metal madeleine plan. Then flour the surface and tap the pan against the counter to remove the excess flour.* Pipe the batter into the madeleine pan, filling each well two-thirds full. Place the pan over the heated baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove the madeleines from the pan while still hot and cool on a rack. Once cool, the remaining madeleines that you have managed to resist eating can be stored in an airtight container.
*For the second batch, I didn’t bother flouring the pan, and they turned out cleaner looking.
Bon dégustation & thanks for reading!