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Pudding Lane Book Club - Rick Stein's Secret France

12 January 2020

Hello and happy new year! 2020 is here and I'm so excited to introduce a new series for Pudding Lane... say hello to the Pudding Lane Book Club! As those of you who follow me over on Instagram will know, I've spent a lot of time over the last couple months thinking about how I want this little space to grow and evolve.

I buy and read SO many cookbooks, and so this year, I'm really excited to be launching a dedicated series to recommend the books I'm reading, cooking from or - as tends to be the case - furiously folding down corners (I know, sorry, my Dad hates that I do this). In the past few years, I've cut down on clothes shopping and mindless coffees on the go, but cookbooks remain a consistent indulgence in my life. Yes, you can find infinite recipes online, but to me these books are so much more than a list of recipes. They are inspiration, escapism, and an education - and I read them in bed as often as I read them in the kitchen.

And so every month (and oh gosh, I really will try my best to stick to this), I'll be recommending a book from the pile on the floor by my bed, the stack on the side in our kitchen, or from our poor shelves which are audibly groaning under the weight of my growing collection. Some will be new releases, others age old classics. I'll share my thoughts on the book, and also a favourite recipe from its pages.

I'd LOVE to hear from you on what you think of the series, and also what you'd like to hear more of - of course there will be baking books, but it will also cover other cuisines and disciplines because, believe it or not, I do sometimes cook savoury food too!

And so, for the first post in this series, I've been reading Rick Stein's latest book, Rick Stein's Secret France, published by BBC Books. The book comes two decades after the renowned Rick Stein's French Odyssey (a book I'd wager is on most keen home cooks' bookshelves), and focuses on simple, authentic and rustic French cookery - sometime I love so so much. The person single-handedly responsible for my obsession with writing and reading about food - Anthony Boudain - wrote extensively about classical French cookery (and it's not all complimentary, incidentally, but the knowledge and respect is certainly there), so returning to these topics was comforting and welcome. Thanks to Elizabeth David and countless others, French technique has been covered extensively, but the crowded canon shouldn't put you off this book - it is simple and approachable where others sometimes aren't.

The book travels through numerous regions, focusing on traditional family recipes from Normandy, sleepy Provence and beyond. There's plenty of fish - obviously - but also a wealth of vegetarian recipes, and desserts - classic and simple in equal measure. It's not reinventing the wheel, but thanks to a sprinkling of anecdotes of most loved dishes eaten during Rick's 50-year love affair with French cookery, there is heart and story in this book - driving through fields of artichokes in Le Conquet near Brest, a breezy April day in a fishing village, rich with the smell of seaweed and the eating of the first plateau de fruits de mer of the year, a celebration of icy oysters, mussels and cockles.

The book is a joyful, celebratory and well-explained read which will make you want to pack up the car and whizz down the motorway to Dover to get your hands on some salty Brittany butter.

This recipe for Rick's fig and frangipane tarts originates from the sorter down of Uzés, and feels so quintessentially French in its spirit. This recipe makes six 10-12cm tartlets.
170g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1–2 tbsp ice-cold water
100g butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar 
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp almond extract 
100g ground almonds 
9 figs, quartered
1 tbsp flaked almonds
To serve
1 tsp icing sugar
6 tbsp crème fraiche

For the pastry, put the flour, butter and salt in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Transfer to a bowl and add the egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of cold water to make a smooth but not sticky dough. Add the extra water if required.

Put the dough on a floured work surface, roll it out and line 6 loose-bottomed 10–12cm tartlet tins. Chill for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C.

Line each tin with a circle of baking parchment or foil, add baking beans and bake blind for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and paper, then put the tins back in the oven for a further 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 190°C/Fan 170°C.

While the pastry cases are cooking make the frangipane. Beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until you have a smooth paste. Gradually whisk in the eggs and almond extract, then stir in the ground almonds and mix well. Divide the mixture between the pastry cases and arrange 6 fig wedges on top of each tart. Scatter with some of the flaked almonds and bake for 20–25 minutes until golden. 

Dust with a little icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with some crème fraiche.

I was kindly gifted my copy of this book, but all views are - as always - my own. You can buy the book on Amazon and at all good book shops. 

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  1. Hi Lucy, I love this idea! I too love cookbooks and read them in the same way others read novels. I'm always looking for new books to add to my collection, and having them reviewed first is a help. I don't just want to collect cookbooks, I want to learn something from them. I want good recipes for sure, but more importantly I want to learn about a place, people, their stories, the history of a particular food, etc. I'm looking forward to this series!



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