Why not have an aristocratic feast for Christmas! – Coffee Table Book Review n° 4
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Christmas time is the perfect moment to launch into creative and rich cuisine. Why not challenge yourself and cook French aristocratic recipes from two mouth-watering books: “Decadent Desserts” and “100 Recipes from the time of Louis XIV”. Updated for today’s tastes these recipes are easy enough and will make you the royal chef of the day!
Louis XIV, the Sun King, enjoyed life to the fullest. This absolute monarch ruled France as he wished, had countless female conquests, was a tireless rider and hunter, loved dancing and had an incredible appetite. He was able to devour four full plates of different soups plus a whole pheasant plus a partridge plus a large plate of salad plus two big slices of ham plus some mutton plus a full dish pastry plus fruits, in just one meal! As an accomplished hunter he loved to eat venison but also adored capons, oysters, asparagus, hardboiled eggs, melons and all kinds of sweets…
“100 Recipes from the time of Louis XIV”
To fulfil all his expectations and even to go beyond them his entourage went into an endless quest for novelty. At that time Versailles Chateau that provided jobs to seven or eight thousands people, was a laboratory of entertainment and gastronomic research and experimentation. Mediocrity was not acceptable and everything had to be perfect! There were many recipe books written during his very long reign by famous chefs of the time who created the Nouvelle Cuisine of the 17th century. Many of these recipes have survived the centuries and have been adapted to today’s tastes.
“100 Recipes from the time of Louis XIV” allows us to rediscover dishes that were served at the Sun King’s table. These recipes have been carefully chosen so that you can enjoy prepare, serve and eat them. The authors, Anne de Bergh and Joyce Briand, have carefully tested each recipe replacing impossible-to-find ingredients by contemporary products and adapting proportions, cooking methods and times. From starter to dessert you will find tempting dishes and give your guests the royal treatment! Why not have the “Duck with prune wine”, the “Salmon steaks in white sauce”, the “Leg of mutton with oysters”, the “Chicken with Champagne and olives”, the “Mincemeat pie”, the “Pumpkin soup with butter”, the “ Baked stuffed apples”, the “Pistachio custard”, the “Eggs à l’anglaise” or the “ Melon marmalade pie”, just the way Louis XIV did? Not to mention the “Wine of the Gods”, a delicious drink made with Burgundy wine, apples and lemons that will quench your thirst all through the meal.
Unfortunately “100 Recipes from the time of Louis XIV” that was edited by Archives & Culture is not printed anymore, but you can still buy second-hand copies in on-line bookshops. So if you find one just grab it! (ISBN N° 978-2-911665-98-1)
Desserts are intimately linked to childhood and the irresistible aromas of a baking cake invading a kitchen inevitably bring back good memories. “Decadent Desserts” written by Countess Crisitna de Vogüé is a recipe book like no other. It’s not only a collection of mouth watering recipes it is also a lifetime sum of a gourmand’s memories. All the book’s recipes have been preciously collected through the years from her beloved Finnish nanny, from her mother-in-law and from dear friends, not to forget her own creations. When she got married to Count Patrice de Vogüé in 1967 she got the rare privilege to live in one of France’s most beautiful castles, Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte. This is where she was seized by a passion for cooking and became a skilled pastry chef to the delight of her children, family and friends.
When the chateau opened to the public in 1968 the Count and Countess de Vogüé soon realised that many passionate visitors spent a whole day wandering through the chateau and gardens and they created a restaurant in the outbuildings. The Countess herself did the cooking later helped by a commis-chef. This was a time when she created many new recipes including the famous “Bistro’ apple tart” that became a classic and which recipe is on page 101 of the book. Today the chateau has hundreds of thousands visitors each years and the small restaurant had to be replaced by a larger one run by professionals.
The book superbly illustrated with photographs taken in the amazing décor of the chateau by Thomas Dhellemmes, is divided into three different chapters: “Grandmother’s recipes”, “My recipes” and “My friends’ recipes”. The count’s grandmother and her two sisters were passionate and skilled cordon-bleu cooks constantly elaborating new recipes. Their best recipes were collected in six notebooks that are passed down from one generation to the next. You too can now bake these unique cakes, such as the “Chocolate Pavé”, the “Gateau de Crêpes” an amazing tower of crêpes, the “Strawberry brioche”…
In the following chapter we discover the Countess’ own recipes inspired by her Finnish nanny and by her endless sweet tooth imagination. Each page is a temptation and you will want to taste them all. The recipes are not complicated and you will be able to prepare the delightful chocolate birthday cake of her childhood, the “Apricot Zabaione”, the “Moscow Cake”, the “Chocolate Tiramisu”, the “Finnish Rice Pudding” or the “ Omelet from Paradise” among many others.
Very often people are very reluctant to pass their best recipes on, even to friends who have enjoyed eating them, as if they were state secrets! It’s just an irritating habit… Fortunately Countess de Vogüé’s friends don’t behave this way and willingly share their recipes with her and now with us. In the final chapter of the book you will discover the Comtesse Anne de Fayet’s “Floating island with pink pralines and green tea custard”, the “Hazelnut Mousseline” of Eric Naudin the decorator who worked in Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte for 18 years, the “Lady Cawdor’s Orange Soufflé” of famous couturier Philippe Venet, or the recipes of her daughters-in-law such as Charlotte’s “Spice Cake” or Ja’s “Indian Rice Pudding”…
“Decadent Desserts” by Countess Cristina de Vogüé is available in on-line bookshops and at the souvenirs-shop of Vaux-le-Vicomte castle. It is edited by Flammarion, ISBN N° 978-2-0803-0059-1.
If all these recipes can’t turn you into a kitchen superhero and into your friends’ best friend will it mean that you are a hopeless case? Of course not… But try again!
Text ©Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny