Sunday, September 9, 2007

Weekend Windup... And A Lemon Baking Frenzy

Our toaster had been on the fritz most of this past week, only producing burnt baguette slices or never even spitting out the bread and subsequently sending smoke swirling all around the apartment... (and as a result I don't know if I'll ever be able to get rid of that smoky smell -- even after airing out the rooms all day on Saturday!) So after doing my regular shopping at the market on Saturday afternoon (trying really, for once, to restrict myself to the things on my list, and perhaps a few extra pieces of fruit, because I had let far too much go to waste last weekend, or things had gone bad far too quickly -- and I really need to stick to a budget!) and picking up some necessities at the grocery store, I also broke down and got a new, but inexpensive, toaster as well.

Now, I know I probably should have tried to get a secondhand one or found out if someone I knew had an extra one on hand, but I will admit here, sheepishly, that I'm an extremely impatient person (have I mentioned that before?!), and I just didn't know if I could hold out for even a few days without my morning toast... So I studied the various boxes on the shelves and figured I didn't need any fancy extras, like plastic prongs to grab the toast -- "a guarantee against ever burning your fingers!" according to the packaging -- or a supposed shelf on top of the toaster for reheating croissants and other pastries... I just needed your basic toaster, albeit with fairly wide slots for baguette-style bread. I managed to find one that wasn't too pricey, but even as I brought it home I felt guilty about the extra expense. I keep thinking of Riana and her Slow Year and how I had hoped to join in as well (ah, good intentions...), and yet I'm struggling with my own nature, fighting with myself and trying to be more economical, knowing that one of these days my spending in the moment is going to catch up with me... I agree that since my move to France I've gradually acquired better eating habits, and I've realized that in fact I need less and less, and I'm trying to cut out extra unnecessary spending. Seeing gals like her accomplish so much and feeling so fulfilled as a result, being happy with what she has and how she can make better use of everything, is a real inspiration to me.

But again, I do tend to use a toaster pretty much every day, so this was how I justified the purchase to myself. I still haven't taken it out of the box, though, because I just want to be absolutely sure I didn't get it on a whim...

In the meantime, I spent the rest of the day baking, and it hit me while I was in the kitchen, totally out of the blue, that I really do prefer baking to cooking on the whole. I've enjoyed getting into cooking over the last two years, after letting someone else do the hard work for so long, but I think that it's baking that really does it for me. And I guess it has something to do with the calming effect kneading dough has on me, actually getting the consistency and the texture just right, feeling it between my fingers and knowing I've done this myself. I know a lot of food bloggers have written beautiful things about this concept, but I think it doesn't really sink in until you've experienced it yourself and sensed the full effect of baking -- that is, if you're anything like me! I know we all have different impressions about these sorts of things, but maybe deep down inside of me I've inherited this quirk from my mother as well. For years I denied the fact that I could even cook or bake, and convinced myself that it simply wasn't in my genes. But that probably had a lot to do with my lack of self-confidence and my simmering self-doubt. It may be the precision of the process (I am a perfectionist, after all), the measuring of the ingredients and getting the balance of ingredients just right that does it for me; or perhaps it's just that first taste, when the cookies or cake have come out of the oven and I realize that something magical has taken place...

And I've got a thing about lemon; who knows why?! I've baked a basic lemon pound cake (or more accurately a quatre-quarts au citron, as I'm following a French recipe and using a kitchen balance) at least a dozen times in the last year, varying it only slightly, adding poppy seeds from time to time or a dash more fresh lemon juice) but it was the discovery of lemon butter cookies that really got me -- the flakiness of the butter, the zing of those grated lemon zests, and the perfect punch of that fleur de sel. The day I started grating lemons for my recipes was like a huge revelation for me -- you mean you actually put the lemon's skin in there?! And how satisfying is it to grate away at the lemon zest? Seriously, what an eye-opener, I kid you not... [and although you may be laughing at me right now, chuckling over there in front of your computer screens, I was reassured to know that I was not alone in this department when I ran into a gal last night who asked me if I had actually used "fresh lemons" in the cake I had baked!]

After baking my lemon cake once again yesterday afternoon and pulling it out of the oven, I couldn't resist diving into Clotilde's lemon butter cookie recipe from her book; I've been wanting to bake these little beauties for months now, but I was always either lacking the motivation or the time. The recipe is a variation of the lemon butter cookie recipe on the Chocolate and Zucchini blog, and I got such a kick out of getting the ball of cookie dough just right between my fingers, kneading it and figuring out whether to add in a dash of cold water or a touch of flour. And when you actually taste the cookies?! Seriously, the perfect balance of chewiness, flakiness and crispiness (is that a word?) all rolled into one! The lemon, butter and salt just sing together. Plus, they're bite-size, so you don't feel as guilty when you eat several at a time. While I was on vacation in Noirmoutier I was seeking out the perfect sablé in the local shops but never came across just the right one. I knew I would be bringing back some fleur de sel, and if there's one thing I firmly believe should be in every kitchen, it's these crystal flakes (they're wonderful with chocolate as well). As a matter of fact, the next time I go home to the States, I've got to bring some home to my mother. I'll make a mental note of that...

Now, my cookies didn't end up looking nearly as perfect as the gorgeous photos of Clotilde's sablés in the book (mine were a bit oddly misshapen!), but what's great about these kinds of pastries is just how appealing the cookies are in their imperfect shape -- there's something rustic and unique about them that emphasizes their homemade, hand-baked simplicity.

And if there's one thing I can say for sure, it's that I will be enjoying Clotilde's book for months, if not years, to come... It took me some time to actually get around to using some of the recipes, but now that I've started, I think I'm going to have a hard time stopping any time soon! So far I've only tried out a few, but I can attest to the fact that her crumble aux courgettes, figues et mozzarella is perfectly marvelous, a taste combination that I never could have imagined on my own but that makes your tastebuds sing. And I'll be testing our her baked ratatouille recipe later on this week. Tonight it's her fail-proof poulet de Muriel, another weekend regular.

My baking saved me from myself this weekend; otherwise, I probably would have gotten caught up in my permanent state of introspection and reflection. I can only hope that the baking, as well as other interests and occupations, will continue to fulfill me and take my mind off heavier concerns in the months ahead.

24 comments:

Riana said...

Oh those cookies look good! I would have traded you our toaster for a batch of those! Next time around. You can always join in, you know, you don't have to be strict on yourself as I am with myself. I almost folded when I thought my coffee machine was broken. crisis averted.

Charlotte said...

Those lemon cookies look lovely. I also adore lemon and indulged in some lemon-themed baking today too - a lemon and poppy seed loaf cake, and fairy cakes for my children with lemon icing.

How about posting your lemon cookie recipe? I would love to try it out!

Betty C. said...

Lemon desserts are tops in my book.

You have inspired me to check out Clotilde's book...I tend to ignore her!

The Late Bloomer said...

I know, Riana -- maybe I should have posted a "toaster crisis" here on my blog and then I might have gotten some offers! Argh, curse my impatience.

Charlotte, I'd be happy to share the recipe -- I'll have to recopy it out from Clotilde's book. Like I mentioned, it's only a slight variation on the recipe linked on her blog. I think the one in the book only uses an egg yolk rather than the whole egg.

Betty, Clotilde has a great way of experimenting and putting together unexpected flavors. And her recipes are very clear, straightforward, easy to follow. Seriously, the roasted chicken recipe is tops! As a matter of fact, I don't know what I did differently last night, but the chicken was even better than usual... Maybe I was just lucky!

Wendz said...

There is something beautifully therapeutic about cooking. I am no baker myself, and don't even try anymore, so terrible have my baking disasters been, but I do love to get utterly lost in an afternoon of cooking various dishes....and anything lemon is always a winner.

sognatrice said...

These look fabulous. I get much more satisfaction from baking too, but my OH doesn't have a sweet tooth AT ALL and Italians aren't into the kind of things I'd like to bake, so I tend not to do it very often. Until I have cravings....

Don't beat yourself up about the toaster--like you said, it's something you use everyday and IMHO, if it's something that genuinely makes your life better on a daily basis, it's worth spending money on.

Now pass the cookies ;)

Aralena said...

Totally with you on the baking vs. cooking vibe, Alice. I think it's probably because baking yummy comfort goodies is not something I HAVE to do everyday, but more a little, delicious luxury when the mood strikes, you know?

Emily said...

Those looking amazing! My mouth is watering...

Destination Metz said...

oh they look so good! i envy you being able to bake and cook, I'm so pathetic!

The Late Bloomer said...

Yes, Wendy, lemon is heavenly -- I'm completely addicted, can you tell?! ;)

Sognatrice, thanks for the supportive words! Trust me, I'm not always in the mood to bake either, but my boy actually does happen to have a sweet tooth, so he doesn't complain! Then again, the lemony things aren't his favorites -- he prefers thinks like German linzer torte... But he'll eat anything sweet, really.

And Aralena, as usual, I think you've got it right on the mark: cooking meals is a daily task, and every once in a while I manage to make it feel special, but somehow baking really has that unique mood to it, and brings a comforting feeling, especially when you want to cheer yourself (and others!) up.

Wish I could share some with you, Emily! I took some to work to share with colleagues, and I'll probably make them again for a future work gathering.

Oh, D. Metz, I never USED to cook or bake, I swear! For years I steered clear of the kitchen, trust me. I didn't actually get the craving to dive in 'til after I was 30, believe it or not -- ironically enough, I always used to say that the day the desire came, I knew I would start cooking on my own. My mom pretty much taught herself to cook, and I know I still have a long ways to go, but I enjoy learning bits and pieces every day. I'm sure you can do the same too! Just want 'til the mood strikes...

Amy H said...

Those look SO GOOD. And I'm in such a cookie baking mood. Too bad I still have 3 kilos of baby-weight to lose. Going to save the recipe for when I fit back into me pre-pregnancy pants.

Loulou said...

how far away do you live? Could I just drive on over this afternoon and have a cookie? Or three? :)
They look gorgeous and I love lemon anything so I must have a look at Choc and Zuc and find the recipe.

I loved your responses to the meme!

jchevais said...

I am a firm believer that lemons taste like sunshine.

I can imagine that Clothilde's cookies taste like that warm buttery sunshine that seems to open up the atmosphere.

Julia said...

I was just looking at a recipe for lemon pound cake (quatre quatre, love it!). Please share it!

avec amy said...

I just ate dinner (and had dessert), but yet I WANT one of your cookies. They look so good. And I agree, I like the "rustic" shape of them. Funny about lemon zest, I make a tuna tampenade that calls for it and I'm always afraid that I'm going to grate my fingers too. Perhaps I don't have the right tools. Looks like I'm going to have to go shopping for new cooking utensils. So much for my budget (and living a slow year!)

Yansor said...

miam as we say here...
just droppin' in to say hi
:))

Linda said...

I'm going to have to find that book. I never was much of a fan of lemon recipes until recently. I just discovered how great chicken can taste with lemon, especially baked. Just looking at the photo of your cookies makes my mouth water.

The Late Bloomer said...

I don't have the books here with me at work today, but I'll have to post the recipe for the sablés (from Clotilde's book!) as well as the quatre-quarts au citron -- I promise to share, Julia! I found the cake in a very basic French cookbook, so there's really nothing special about it! It's just a very easy recipe to follow, nothing fancy.

Amy, I bet you don't have that much weight to lose! You look great in your recent photos. I'm planning on baking these cookies again next week for an event at work. Loulou, thanks for stopping by -- I guess I am pretty far from you, but one of these days you'll have to share some of your cooking tips with me; you really know your stuff! I've been reading some of the food/cooking posts that you've written, and you've got talent!

Jenn, warm and buttery, those are good words for these -- they are very buttery, and have a little salty zing that I love. But that's because I'm also a big fan of beurre salé!

Amy, you wouldn't need any fancy utensils for a recipe like this; I wish I had a fancy KitchenAid mixer, but I just use my hands to make this cookie dough. And the zests -- well, to be honest, I used to always just use a hand grater, which usually works pretty well, but I did eventually end up getting a "zester" for lemons and oranges -- but you can find one for super-cheap!

Tatiana, thanks for stopping by... I always look forward to reading both yours and Lauren's blogs for keeping up to speed on any and all cultural happenings, as well as great articles.

Linda, you can order Clotilde's book on amazon.fr, if you like!

Gillian Young said...

I think I just drooled onto my keyboard...

L said...

Thanks for all your comments! Your cookies look great too. I've been meaning to make some cookies while in the States because my oven in France is too small for a cookie sheet.

Penny said...

I've been meaning to stop by since you popped into my blog and I did the other day only to see those lovely cookies. They looked so great I clicked on the link to Muriel's chicken and have become hooked on Clotilde's cooking. I made the chicken last night and it was lovely, except instead of staying home and basting it as I should have, I took the kids to the park, so it didnt brown well - still tasted yummy!

I might have to try those cookies next. As for your toaster - enjoy it! We are a bit strapped for cash since our arrival here so I am making my toast in my sandwich press at present - its a bit flat but still tastes good :)

Poppy Fields said...

Your cookies look so good. I really want to get Clotilde"s book...

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