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Lifestyle Blog

Entertaining. cooking, nutrition, beauty and more

Two Recipes from The Art of French Baking

What is it about baking that perennially enchants and inspires, even among people with little enthusiasm for cooking?  While I find both equally rewarding (in that way most men enjoy performing specialized tasks with tools), I know a surprising amount of people who will take making dessert over dinner any day of the week.

Some of these people have suggested to me that the simple answer is that baking is something people choose to do, it’s a luxury, where cooking is tied to necessity. Food is a need, and that food needs to be prepared, every day.  Cake is not a requirement, but it certainly brings no small amount of joy – to my life, anyway.

Few nations have a better reputation for fine desserts than France, land of the pâtisserie, crème brûlée and soufflés, so bakers everywhere should celebrate the recent arrival of The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot.  Mathiot, author of what’s considered the French cooking bible I Know How to Cook, is an icon in her native land whose works have only recently started appearing in English translation.  With over 300 recipes divided into categories like small cakes, pudding, icings and tarts, The Art of French Baking is sure to give you the necessary tools to create treats to delight family and friends.   Check out two recipes from the book below.

Alsace Tart
Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus chilling timealsace tart resize
Cooking time: 30 - 40 minutes
Serves 6

1 quantity Basic Pie Dough (*see below)
1 pound 2 ounces apricots or apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 eggs
½ cup superfine sugar
Scant ½ cup crème fraîche  

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease an 8-inch tart pan. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch and use it to line the tart pan. Trim the edges of the dough. Arrange the fruit on the pastry. In a bowl, beat the flour, eggs, sugar, and crème fraîche until just smooth. Pour over the fruit and bake for 30 - 40 minutes.  

Note: To make a Rhubarb Tart, replace the apricots or apples with 1 pounds 2 ounces rhubarb cut into 1 ¼ inch slices. Coat with the custard mixture and bake. Sprinkle with extra sugar to taste.

Pâte Brisée (Basic Pie Dough)
Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus chilling time
Cooking time: 20-25 minutes, if baking blind
Enough for a 9-inch pie shell

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon flavorless oil, such as sunflower or canola
½ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced, plus extra for greasing
1-2 tablespoons ice-cold water

Put the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the oil, salt, and butter. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until it resembles bread crumbs. Moisten with water to bring the dough together. Briefly knead the dough by hand; the more quickly this is done, the better the pastry will be. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for between 30 minutes and 24 hours. Bring it back to room temperature before rolling out. On a lightly floured counter, roll it out to a circle ¼ inch thick and use to line a greased 9-inch tart pan, preferably one with a removable bottom. The pastry may also be used to line small round or boat-shape molds (barquettes). 

To bake the pastry shell, preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line the pastry shell with parchment paper and fill the pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes, then gently remove the paper and weight and return the pastry shell to the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes, until it is light golden brown and cooked throughout.

Note: Keep the ingredients and utensils as cool as possible. This will help the pastry to retain a short, crumbly texture. Any leftover pastry can be frozen. Basic pie dough can be used for pastries, such as Saint-Honoré (p.148) or Alsace Tart (p.184).

Crème Prise en Pots (Small custard pots)
Preparation time: 15 minutescustard pots resize
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves 6 

2 ¼ cups whole milk
2/3 cup superfine sugar
Vanilla extract, coffee extract, liqueur, or other flavoring, to taste
4 eggs, lightly beaten 


Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the milk, sugar, and chosen flavoring in a pan. Bring to a boil over low heat. Remove from the heat and add the eggs, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens. Pour the custard into 6 individual ramekins. Place the dishes in a roasting pan filled halfway with hot water and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Be careful that the water does not boil. 

Recipes, images and video courtesy of Phaidon Press.



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