One of the many highlights of my trip to Menton was visiting markets. We went to Ventimiglia, just over the border into Italy during my first full day and Menton on Saturday. Ventimiglia’s market was a bustling hub of stall holders selling an enticing range of cheeses, meats, fruit and vegetables. One stall was groaning with boxes of Kumquats, some destined for my journey home. I was fortunate to have a guide in Jennifer who knew all the best stallholders and a range of shoe and handbag shops. I would have to write another post to do justice to the latte
Jennifer’s long standing friendships with stallholders in Menton enabled us to buy top quality local cheeses, greens, fruit and eggs. Mimosa was everywhere. Elsewhere in Menton we bought olive oil, bread, pastries and ice cream. In a shop selling preserves we watched jam making using hand blenders to purée the ingredients. A honey shop offered a tantalising choice of local honey. One honey from Castellar piqued my interest. A rich dark honey made from 200+ pollinators collected within a radius of 3km from the hives. When I got home I made a marmalade with Sevilles and Castellar honey keeping the flavour of the honey in harmony with the bitter/sweet oranges.
After a few days of teaching, it was my turn to learn from a professional. I always wanted to make croissants not least because they go so well with sweet preserves. I had the very best introduction, as Jennifer had been taught croissant at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. As with any enriched dough, it takes time to make croissant. We started late one afternoon and they were baked the next day.There were a number of stages, each with their own names.
Autolyse – The ingredients rest together and absorb liquid
Petrissage – Kneading
Detrempe – The name of the dough after the first rising.
Rebattre – Knocking the air out of the detrempe before adding the butter.
Tour simple, Tour double – Folding the dough to create layers of butter and dough.
Balayage- Using a brush to sweep away flour on the dough before folding the dough
We used a bread scraper to mark out even triangles, then cut them ready for shaping. The egg glaze had to be brushed evenly over the surface of the croissants. If I thought making certain marmalades a labour of love, making croissants required far more attention to detail. I have a new found respect for any baker who creates these melt in the mouth delicacies.
The lemons in Menton provided a rich source of ingredients for marmalade but I could not leave without making Lemon Curd. In one bakery in Menton we had seen a lemon filling in pâtisserie but the curd I wanted to make was new to Jennifer. The recipe and method I always use makes a bright, smooth and balanced flavoured curd. Personal preferences aside (I quite like a lemony curd) as a judge at competitions I look for a curd with a balanced flavour of eggs, butter, lemon and sugar. The bright colour comes from the eggs, so it helps to use fresh ones.
Curds are easily spoilt by over-cooking, so concentration and zero distractions are key. I think we found this quite hard as we hadn’t stopped talking since I had arrived! We were rewarded with a curd I was happy with and one which spent a brief time in Jennifer’s fridge as word got out about how good it was to eat. Here’s the recipe.
Makes about 1.25kg
300ml freshly squeezed lemon juice ( 5-9 lemons)
215g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
700g granulated sugar
300ml fresh eggs (5-6 eggs)
1.Wash the lemons and peel them very thinly with a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife before squeezing out and measuring their juice. Place the butter and sugar in an ovenproof bowl over a large saucepan of barely simmering hot water. Add the lemon juice and lemon rind, and leave until the fat has melted.
2. Lift the bowl off the pan and leave to cool slightly. Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl but do not whisk them. Gradually stir in the fat mixture, then strain the curd through a sieve ( leaving the peel behind) into a clean bowl and place it over a saucepan of barely simmering hot water.
3.Stir continuously until the mixture is slightly thickened, the curd is ready when it just coats the back of the spoon. This will take about 15-20 mins.
Do not over-cook or it will curdle. Turn off the heat and leave to stand for 5 mins, during which time the curd will thicken slightly.
4. Sieve the curd for a smoother texture. Pour into clean jars, taking care to fill them absolutely full. Press a waxed disc waxed side down on the surface of the curd and leave to cool. Cover the pots with a cellophane cover when cold. Store in the fridge and eat within 4- 6 weeks.