How to make a perfect pie crust


Perfect pie crust is easy. It is fast, it is cheap and it is delicious. A homemade pie crust is the key to any good pie and will truly make a difference! Here’s how professional pastry chefs make it here in France (recipe from Alain Ducasse’s chef school); you don’t need to be experienced nor have any special equipment.

Piecrust tutorial 6 | Infinite belly

Whisk | Infinite belly

Pie crust tutorial | Infinite belly

Classic pie crust | For 2 pies (app. 25cm baking pans)

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A Love Suprême


Guineafowl 6 | Infinite bellySpilt wine | Infinite belly

I never thought I’d live in a stone house. In California, tradition (and earthquake codes) requires supple wood, whether it was used to build a Reconstruction era Victorian house in Haight-Ashbury, a rustic cabin in Big Sur, or a McMansion in Orange County. Many were built en masse, tract homes covering entire neighborhoods that over decades gained new wings, stories, and windows that today engulf the original. But here in rural France as I drive through any given road I pass by stone houses with crooked walls and slanted roofs.

Leaf | Infinite bellyRaw carrots & pears | Infinite bellyA Christmas meal | Infinite belly

A large red truck can be seen at the entrance of a barn, chickens and ducks roam freely and I have to slow the car down to a crawl. The earth is anything but flat; bumps and slopes abound, and yet human dwellings and farms are well adapted to this tumultuous landscape. Not all stone houses are equal, but it takes a while to tell them apart. Gradually, I develop a preference for stones of certain colors and sizes, old wooden blinds painted to match the front door, and a montée de grange or barn ramp that is so typical of houses in this part of Auvergne.

Village door | Infinite belly

Wooden spoon | Infinite bellyRaw pears for roasting | Infinite bellyStatue in Clermont-Ferrand | Infinite belly

In the Loire Valley further up north, the very light pierre calcaire reigns and paints the charming local hue. Conservationists scratch their heads to find ways to preserve the buildings as this material easily erodes and has become difficult to replace. Two weeks ago we saw something completely different and equally impressive when we drove to Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the Auvergne region, a city whose buildings were made using pitch-black volcanic stones. Clermont-Ferrand's cathedral | Infinite bellyClermont-Ferrand's cathedral & vintage carafe | Infinite belly

Caldron | Infinite belly

I will never forget parking in front of the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption cathedral and facing the stare of this imposing gothic building. Even more impressive is the inside: the dark stone produces a contrasted relationship with light, which in turn reflects ethereally on stained-glass windows, engulfed by silence. 

A Christmas feast 7 | Infinite bellyA Christmas feast 11 | Infinite bellyVintage silver & garlic | Infinite belly

In the area near our home, stones come in shades ranging from light beige to dark gray, with a reddish-brown type thrown in once in a while. Some of the older walls combine small and large stones to produce a heterogenous but sturdy whole. On our walks we notice how some houses were altered by tearing a wall down and replacing it with a large glass panel window, juxtaposing transparent and solid. Once in a while, usually in the higher altitude areas close to the ski lodges, a Swiss-style wooden chalet appears and surprises us.

Glass | Infinite bellyAuvergne village | Infinite bellyA Christmas feast 8 | Infinite belly

I spend so much time in these thick stone walls, safe from the cold air and in a way cut off from the rest of the world. I’m certainly not the first to say that food is intimately connected with memory, but the process of cooking is an excellent vehicle for mental time travel.
Boris the cat | Infinite bellyAndré at the feast & handmade bowl | Infinite belly
I first had a pintade (Guineafowl) for lunch at a brasserie on Rue du Bac, back when we were living in Paris. (This vein of the 7th arrondissement begins by the Bon Marché department store and flows down to the Seine, bringing with it the choicest of papeteries or stationary stores, conceptual pastry shops, boutiques full of delicate objects for the aesthetically sensitive and of good fortune).
Guineafowl & frost | infinite belly
Ribbon | Infinite belly
Vintage embroidered cloth & pears | Infinite belly
At the time we walked to work together almost every morning, weather permitting. We started by Hotel de Ville, passing through the lock-laden Pont des Arts where this symbol of love carried so much weight that it threatened to bring a centuries-old bridge down. Dropping off Adélaïde by her office in a publishing house I would then reach my final destination in the 8th arrondissement. I was certainly aware of how lucky we were; I made sure to walk as much as possible even though it took me about an hour, avoiding at all costs the convenient but crowded metro commute on Line 1, reeking of Chanel nº5 on the way to La Défense.
Roasted pears 3 | Infinite belly
Time permitting, I would hop across the Seine at lunchtime and meet up with Adélaïde on rue du Bac. While I was usually happy ordering a steak frites, the menu proposed a suprême de pintade with mustard and potatoes.
A Christmas feast 2 | Infinite belly
“Suprême” sounded intriguing, like some special sauce that is only rarely served because it is so good people don’t want to spoil it. It turns out that it just means the “upper” or superior part of the bird, that is, thigh and breast. But the guinea fowl was a succulent discovery, and I think any festive occasion is a good excuse to try something special like this, in a warm place with four walls, be it wood or stone.
Egg basket | Infinite belly
A Christmas feast 5 | Infinite belly

Festive roasted guineafowl + chestnuts, savory pears & glazed winter carrots
| Serves 4-6

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The poached peach preach


Poached peach & verbena tartlets 3 | Infinite belly

At first, I wanted to write about Henry David Thoreau. Having read — like almost anyone else who went to High School in the U.S. or uses social media — passages of Walden and Civil Disobedience, I thought I could make an analogy between his Walden Pond and our Lac de Devesset, places to ponder on life and explore nature. Thoreau is so quotable and his prose is so sure; “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! ” could have made a great title for this post.

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 10 | Infinite belly

But the genies of the Internet wanted it otherwise, for the first search I did to refresh my memory on this ragged American philosopher led to an article in The Atlantic that sought to cast some serious doubts on his positive reputation as a rather cool, abolitionist philosopher of nature and freedom of conscience, who beseeched us to “suck the marrow” out of life as those who have seen Dead Poets Society surely remember. As this debate spread from The Atlantic to The New Yorker to The New Republic, I’m still reeling from the cacophony and thinking about all the different angles from which you can look at one person. One thing that is undisputed, however, is that Thoreau was in love with the fauna and flora of Walden. His knowledge on plant species over his eight years spent there is still a reference today.

Lake reflections | Infinite bellyRibbon | Infinite bellyPoached peach & verbena tartlets | Infinite belly

While far from being plant taxonomists, we did find out about a particularly tasty plant that is typical of Auvergne and specifically our county, Haute-Loire. Verbena, or vervain.

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 8 | Infinite bellyBreton shortbread & plant | Infinite bellyHazelnuts & sky at dusk | Infinite belly

A large Art Deco building is easily noticeable by the road that cuts through the pilgrims’ town of Le Puy-en-Velay. At the top of its ornate tower, large letters read “Verveine du Velay”. I stared, confused at first sight by this seemingly converted office building next to a FNAC (the local book & music store) that must have been quite important when it was built. Verbena, Adélaïde explained, is a plant that is used to make a strong liqueur that is very popular here in Auvergne.Funnel | Infinite bellyWe found bottles of artisanal Verveine being sold at a farm products store in the town’s medieval center; I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised when I first tried this herbal liqueur. Drinking verbena is like taking an antique homeopathic medication that gives you the “green” and fresh taste of a wheatgrass shot, and a warm inner glow.

Frosted plant | Infinite belly

Another time, we experienced this aromatic plant in a completely different context. Looking at the menu at our friend’s restaurant, we were intrigued by a dish of chicken with ground hazelnuts and verbena. A mouthful made me realize the obvious. The herb itself is an excellent ingredient for cooking. It has a slight citrus taste and gives off an incredible aroma when combined with hazelnuts. The locals also love it as tea.

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 6 | Infinite bellyOrnament | Infinite belly
By a lake at dusk | Infinite belly

On our monthly visit to the local plant store, we had a clear mission. Find one or two plants that could be put in pots on the floor but would grow high enough with lots of foliage in order to partly cover our big living-room windows. But as is often the case in such a place, we get so lost looking at all of the varieties of orchids, hanging plants, quirky cactuses and succulents, that we always end up packing our car with newfound greens to fill a corner of our cottage. 
Lake at dusk | Infinite belly
Poached peach & verbena tartlets 5 | Infinite bellyEgg basket | Infinite bellyLake reflections 2 | Infinite belly

We found a beautiful verbena plant, thin branches going in all directions, sprouting avenues of tiny aromatic leaves crowding the sidewalks. It almost looks like a carefully crafted and delicate bonsai. Out of the many experiments done using this herb, my favorite has to be the poached peaches on Breton sablé and cream.

Poached peach & verbena tartlets 9 | Infinite belly

Poached peach + verbena & candied hazelnut Breton sablés | Serves 8

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