‘The Pretender’ features a fictional French monarchy, the actual monarchy having been abolished in 1792 after the French Revolution. Their demise being immortalized by the famous story of Marie Antoinette. However, this novel is told as if the monarchy had never met such a tragic end and imagines if there was still today a royal family in France.
For that reason, the royal family featured in ‘The Pretender’ are direct descendants of the Bourbon family who were the last to rule France. They resided at the Palace of Fontainebleau, which is also home to the characters in the book.
Fontainebleau is around an hour outside of Paris but also has a strong regional cuisine. So, as part of The Pretender’s blog tour, French food writer, Nadege aka The Skinny French Chick has provided some typical recipes you could expect to see in Fontainebleu as well as a little history on each recipe. So, you are able to get an idea of the food that might be served on the Royal table as well as being able to easily recreate them in your own home. Enjoy!
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Intro - Highly appreciated by food lovers, quail is at the same time rustic and sophisticated. Many chefs have their own way of cooking it and the variety of side dishes you can serve quails with is endless, but the popular grape-based Fontainebleau quail is my favorite.
The Chasselas doré de Fontainebleau is a very sweet dessert grape with a green and golden skin, but if you can’t find this particular grape for your recipe another variety of white grape will do. The sweeter and firmer, the better.
In my recipe I use Sichuan pepper and ajwain (also known as ajowan caraway or carom - see the photo below). I love their subtle taste. If you can’t find those condiments don’t hesitate and make the recipe your own by using your favorite herbs and peppers.
Ingredients (for 2 servings):
- 2 quails
- 300g Chasselas doré de Fontainebleau
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp Cognac
- 1 tsp salt/Sichuan pepper/Ajwain
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
1/ Melt the butter and mix with the Cognac, honey, salt, pepper and ajwain.
2/ Preheat oven to 210C. Wash and dry the grapes.
3/ Stuff the quails with as many grapes as possible and coat the birds with the butter mixture.
4/ Mix the remaining grapes with what’s left of the butter mixture.
5/ Place the quails and the grapes in an oven dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cover with tin foil. You can refrigerate over night if you intend to cook the following day.
6/ Cook for 25 minutes, then remove the tin foil, and cook for another 25 minutes, basting regularly.
7/ Place the quails on the plates and serve immediately.
Intro - Named for the town in which it was invented in the 1930s, Coulommiers is a cow’s milk cheese with the same buttery texture as Brie or Camembert. Originally served uncooked as part of a platter, a new generation of French food lovers, inspired by Spanish cuisine, has given it a new twist.
Once baked it is shared as tapas with crackers, bread or vegetable sticks. This is commonly eaten over drinks with friends. You can also serve individual portions with salad as a starter.
I use pine nuts and rosemary, but don’t hesitate to adapt the recipe to your taste, or to whatever you have in your pantry. Walnuts, chives, cream… be creative when it comes to the toppings. Also, if you can’t find a Coulommiers in your local store, a Camembert will be a good substitute.
Ingredients (for 4 people):
- 1 Coulommiers (usually 500g)
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 small onion
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tbsp white wine
- 1 tbsp butter
- salt and pepper
1/ Peel and chop the onion, peel and crush the garlic and remove the top skin of the Coulommiers with a knife.
2/ Preheat oven to 200C. Melt the butter in a saucepan and in it cook the onion. When it takes on a golden color add the crushed garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary and honey. Stir well. When the honey is melted add the wine. Stir until there’s no more liquid left at the bottom of the pan.
3/ Place the Coulommiers in the middle of a sheet of tin foil or in a small oven dish. Top it with the butter-and-onion mixture and sprinkle with pine nuts.
4/ Fold the tin foil tightly over the cheese and bake for 30 minutes.
5/ Serve immediately. Mind the steam when you open the tin foil.
Intro - Reputedly created by mistake by August Escoffier’s assistant at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo in 1895, the Crêpes Suzette were served for the first time to Edward VII. The future king of England suggested they be named after the French actress Suzanne Reichenberg, one of his guests that day.
Initially Crêpes Suzette weren’t flambéed and curaçao was used instead of Grand-Marnier.
The orange-flavored Cognac-based liquor was created by the Marnier-Lapostolle family in 1880. Originally from Paris, the family moved the distillery to the Cognac region to be closer to the source of their main ingredient.
A prime example of the French turning a simple dish into something special, Crêpes Suzette became a celebrated delicacy of the pre-war years.
Ingredient (for 4 servings):
- 4 crêpes
- The juice and zest of 1 orange
- 3 tbsp caster sugar + 1 tbsp for sprinkling
- 1 tbsp butter
- 20cl Grand-Marnier
1/ Preheat the oven to 120C.
2/ Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the orange juice, zest, sugar and half the Grand-Marnier.
3/ Fold the crêpes and place them in an oven dish. Pour the butter mixture on the crêpes.
4/ Cover with tin foil and place in the oven for 15 minutes.
5/ Place the crêpes on their serving plates, sprinkle with sugar.
6/ Present the plates to your guests, pour the rest of the Grand-Marnier on the crêpes and set them on fire immediately! (The crêpes, not your guests!)
Paris-Brest in a forest of Caramel
Intro - Made of choux pastry and praline cream, the Paris-Brest was created in 1910 by Louis Durand, a pastry chef in the Parisian suburb of Maison Laffite.
Inspired by the annual cycling race between Paris and Brest, Durand shaped his dessert after the bicycles wheels.
Initially a large cake that Durand sold by slice, the Paris-Brest is now more often sold in individual portions.
The Paris-Brest is one of my favorite desserts. I usually serve it in a forest of caramel that gives this soft and creamy treat a contrasting crunchy texture.
Ingredients for the choux pastry (for 4 individual portions):
- 4 eggs
- 25cl water
- 75g butter
- 150g plain flour
- 40g flaked almond or crushed hazelnut
- 1tbs caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- Icing sugar for topping
Ingredients for the praline cream:
- 25cl milk
- the yolk of 3 eggs
- 80g praline paste*
- 150g butter
- 75g caster sugar
- 25g plain flour
Ingredients for the caramel:
- 5 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp water
1/ Make the choux pastry. In a saucepan, melt the butter, sugar and salt in the water. Remove the pan from the heat when the mixture starts to boil and add the flour. Mix energetically and bring the pan back on a medium heat until you obtain a dry paste. Remove again from the heat, let it cool for a couple of minutes and add the eggs one after the other. Mix well in between.
2/ Preheat the oven to 200C. Fill a piping bag with the pastry and form 8 circles on a baking tray. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds or crushed hazelnut and bake for 25 minutes.
3/ Make the praline cream. In a saucepan bring the milk to the boil with the praline paste. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with the sugar. Add in the flour, mix well. Add the egg-sugar-flour mixture to the hot milk, stir well and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat, let the cream cool for a couple of minutes then add the butter and mix well.
4/ When the choux pastry is cooked and has cooled down, cut them in half lengthways. Spread the praline cream on the bottom halves with a piping bag or spoon. Cover the cream with the top halves of the choux. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Place the desserts on their serving plates.
5/ Make the caramel. Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and mix on high heat. Keep stirring until the melted sugar takes on a golden color. Let the caramel cool until it forms ribbons when you pull the wooden spoon out of it. Drip the caramel in strings and drops on a baking sheet. Let the caramel cool and once hardened use it to decorate your serving plates.
*Praline paste: I can find praline paste in the supermarket in France but don’t worry if you can’t find it anywhere. It’s actually really easy to make and it can become a must-have item in your pantry as it is an amazing spread. All you need is 250g of mixed almonds and hazelnuts, 160g caster sugar and 5cl water. Mix the water and sugar in a saucepan. When the sugar is melted add in the nuts. Stir well. The sugar will give the nuts a solid white coating. Keep on stirring until they take on a nice golden color. Remove from the heat and spread the caramelized nuts on a baking tray. Let them cool then mix them in a blender until smooth. It can take a few minutes depending on the power of your blender.