(Not) Mastering the Art of French Cooking

I have never professed to being a good cook (email Steve if you would like confirmation of that fact), and I must admit that cooking is not one of my favorite things to do (send Steve another email, if you’d like).  But baking is another arena.   Over the years I have worked on my pizza dough recipe, savoring the opportunity to knead the dough with the little “beasties” inside and thus alleviating the pent-up frustrations of my day.  Banana bread, scones, cookies, muffins, french bread – all items I do enjoy making.  So when I decided to make my first attempt at baking in France, I decided to try one of our favorites, bran muffins – we are over 50 so this helps us in a number of ways.

Levure chimique

We looked  for a few cooking items at Ikea the last time we were there.  With all the boulangeries and patisseries that abound here, I guess the French see no reason to do much of their own baking, and so we’ve found bakeware options to be few and far between.  Finally, we found the only option for a muffin pan that they had in the entire Ikea store and bought it.  The muffin wells are deeper and narrower than what we have in the U.S, but seem to be about the same volume.

I had bought a box of Kellogg’s All Bran here, but the recipe that I usually find on the box at home for muffins was absent. Searching online I found the Original All-Bran © Muffin recipe.  As I looked over the ingredients list, I mentally checked off what I had. Flour, sugar, oil, eggs.  Then I came to baking powder.  I didn’t have any here, but I could visualize the Rumford brand red, white and black can in my pantry.  The baking areas in the marchés that I frequent are woefully small.  I didn’t remember seeing anything named baking powder or baking soda on the shelves.  Resorting to my friend, the Internet, I discovered that in France baking powder is called levure chimique and baking soda is bicarbonate alimentaire. In the store I searched for a while and found a box of baking powder with 6 individual packets of 9,5g (about 1 tablespoon) each.  Perfect for my recipe!  Returning home I mixed up the ingredients and spooned the mix into the muffin cups.  Then I was struck with the fact that I had not yet unlocked the mysteries of the four (oven) that we have in our apartment.

Boutons du four

As with many of the other appliances with which I have been confronted, I found I was once again without a manual, and I had no idea of how to use the oven.  In addition, we date this oven at circa 1975 – does the color “avocado” bring back memories?  It is the G5 model by Pyrolytic and has the aforementioned colored knobs.  This appliance has both gas and electric burners – 2 of each.  The oven is pretty small  by American standards.  I figured out which was the oven temperature dial by process of elimination.  I was prepared to have to convert the temperature needed to bake the muffins from Farenheit to Celcius;  400° F was about 200° C.  What I was not prepared for was the fact that the dial went from 0 to 10, then had some other types of funky symbols and ended with “CLEAN”.  400° is a fairly hot temperature in F.  I didn’t think that 200° C could be “2”.  I guessed that on a scale of 1 to 10, 400° is probably about an “8”.  So that’s what I went for.  The recipe called for 20 minutes, but I kept my eye on the tin through the oven window.  In about 18 min. the muffins were getting fairly brown, so I decided to take them out to be safe.  I let them cool a little, and then I just had to try one.  It was delicious.  Another success story!

While at Ikea we also bought a pizza pan, and Steve found a wrapped “combo” package that contained both a pie pan AND a springform pan!  Of course, it’s not of the quality of the one he cherishes from the Southern Season store, but  I am looking forward to one of his  cheesecakes when we have the courage to go foraging for the ingredients.  I’m not sure cream cheese is considered REAL cheese in this land of fromage, but it must exist somewhere.  I just have to sift through the hundreds of cheeses available in the supermarchés’ dairy case.  At a real fromagerie, they would definitely know I am an American if I asked, “Avez-vous Philadelphie fromage à tartiner?

Click on the pictures for a better view.

beasties: my affectionate term for yeast, rather than single-celled fungi (yuck!)

Muffins with ingredients and tin

four: oven

Boutons du four: oven knobs

Avez-vous Philadelphie fromage à tartiner?: Do you have Philadelphia brand cream cheese?

P.S. I finally found the baking soda shelved with the olive oil, not with the baking ingredients!

* Note the All-Bran box commands you to “Libérez-vous!”: Free yourself.  Not so subtle, eh? ;>)


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Char
    Oct 14, 2010 @ 21:33:05

    LOL-ing through this whole story! 😀


  2. Lori Millette
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 21:48:13

    I remember Steve’s cheesecake! Yum!
    My daughter is getting married New Year’s Eve and has asked me to make cheesecakes. I am willingly taking on the project and will be practicing up to the day.


  3. Jenny
    Oct 21, 2010 @ 00:17:54

    Well, Julia Child started some place, didn’t she???? Very cute. Muffins look delightfully liberating.


    • steveandmo
      Oct 21, 2010 @ 08:54:33

      I made some banana muffins yesterday. Okay, but not great. I usually use bananas that most people would throw out. That’s when they’re at their peak of flavor. I’ll keep on trying. Might try some different flour next time.


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