Autumn Still Life (Nature morte d’automne)
Recipe from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons: The Story of a Modern Classic by Raymond Blanc.
This is one of my early classics. It illustrates my occasionally childlike approach to life and cooking. Glance at the plate and you will see my love of nature encapsulated in the big, fat ceps, which are almost fairy-tale in size. Yes, it is inspired by the forest floor and its bounty of wild mushrooms for which I used to hunt.
The chestnut parfait, by the way, is a delightful dessert in its own right and is conveniently prepared a day ahead.
|For the meringue stalks|
|4 (120g)||Free-range medium egg whites|
|2 drops||Lemon juice|
|20g||Pistachio nuts (crushed & finely chopped)|
|For the chestnut parfait|
|4 (80g)||Free-range medium egg yolks|
|100g||Sweetened chesnut purée|
|100g||Unsweetened chesnut purée|
|80g||Marrons glacés, broken|
|Icing sugar and/or cocoa powder, to finish|
|For the leaves|
|55g||Unsalted butter (at room temperature)|
|55g||Icing sugar (sifted)|
|3 (90g)||Free-range medium egg whites (at room temperature)|
|55g||Plain flour (sifted)|
|15g||Cocoa powder (sifted)|
|Caster sugar, to finish|
|For the croustade|
|1 (35g)||Free-range medium egg white|
|A pinch||Sea salt|
|1 (20g)||Free-range medium egg yolk|
|130ml||Hot water (from the kettle)|
|For the coffee crème anglaise|
|50g||Coffee beans (roasted for 10 minutes at 160°C/Gas 3 & crushed)|
|10 (200g)||Free-range medium egg yolks|
|Sugared pistachio nuts|
For the meringue stalks
Preheat the oven to 110°C/Gas ¼. Using an electric mixer on maximum speed, whisk the egg whites with the lemon juice for 1 minute, to soft peaks.
Now gradually whisk in the caster sugar. When it is fully incorporated, whisk at full speed for a further 3 minutes; the peaks will now be shiny, smooth and stiff.
Remove the bowl from the machine then, little by little, sift and fold in the icing sugar, using a spatula. Finally, fold in the chopped pistachios.
Spoon the meringue into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and secure the paper to the tray with a little dot of meringue at each corner.
Pipe 12 meringue mounds onto the tray, finishing each with a small peak. (The pointed peaks will hold the mushroom cups.) To achieve this, release pressure on the piping bag as you lift it up. Then pipe 12 smaller mounds using the same technique. (If you have too much, pipe some extra fingers of meringue.)
Place the baking tray in the oven for 1½–2 hours, until the meringues have dried out completely inside. These will be the ‘stalks’ of the frozen mushrooms. Leave them to cool.
Note You can prepare these ahead and keep them in the freezer until you are ready to serve.
For the chestnut parfait
Using an electric mixer on maximum speed, whisk the egg yolks and 40ml of the water together for 6–7 minutes until quadrupled in volume, to form a light sabayon.
At the same time, make the syrup. Dissolve the sugar in the remaining 60ml water in a heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat. Bring to the boil and cook until the syrup registers 120°C on a sugar thermometer.
When the sabayon is ready, lower the speed and pour in the hot syrup, between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Whisk at medium speed until the sabayon has cooled.
In a bowl, mix the chestnut purées and rum together until evenly combined. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then whisk it into the chestnut purée. Carefully fold this mix into the sabayon, using a spatula. Scatter the broken marrons glacés over the mixture and fold in.
Put the parfait mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm nozzle and pipe into 10 silicone dome moulds, so they are three-quarters full (each containing about 45g).Pipe the remaining parfait into 10 smaller dome moulds, to fill to the top. Smooth the tops with a palette knife.
Sink the points of the meringue feet about one-third into the respective sized parfait domes. Carefully place them in the freezer and leave to set overnight. Turn out and dust with sifted icing sugar and/or cocoa powder.
For the leaves
In a large bowl, cream the butter and icing sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in a third of the egg whites, then add half of the flour and mix until smooth. Repeat with the remaining egg whites and flour. Finally mix in the cocoa.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Line a baking tray with a silicone mat and place a leaf stencil on it. Spread a little of the mixture in the stencil to a 2mm thickness. Shape a couple more leaves in the same way. Bake for 4 minutes until they start to turn a darker brown. Remove from the oven and, using a palette knife, drape the warm leaves over a rolling pin (to curve them slightly as they cool).Repeat to make 12 leaves (more than needed, to allow for possible breakage). Before serving, dust with sugar.
For the croustade
In a large bowl, whisk the egg white, salt and 1 tsp of the sugar together to a light foam. Add the egg yolk and hot water and continue to whisk for 1 minute.
Using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine this mixture with the flour on a low speed. Continue to mix until it forms a dough that comes away from the side of the bowl, about 5–7 minutes. Gradually add the oil, mixing until it is fully absorbed, about 5–6 minutes.
Using a scraper, gather the soft, wet dough and wrap it in cling film. Rest in the fridge overnight.
The next day, rest the wrapped dough in a warm place for 4 hours; it will become more pliable.
Cover your work surface with a large cloth. Now you need a friend, to help stretch the dough. Facing each other across the table, gradually stretch the dough over the back of your hands, handling it extremely carefully. Dust your hands with a little flour as you work so the dough does not catch. Gently pull the dough until it becomes so fine it is transparent; it will reach about 70cm long by 35cm wide. Rest the dough on the work surface.
With a wide soft pastry brush, lightly apply a thin coat of clarified butter over the dough and sprinkle evenly with the remaining sugar. Cut 10 equal squares and allow to dry for about 10 minutes, then crumple into small mounds by gently scrunching the centre. Leave to dry for 6–8 hours.
Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas 7. Cook the crumpled croustade pieces for 2–3 minutes until golden brown
For the coffee crème anglaise
Put the milk, roasted coffee beans and espresso coffee into a large heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, cream the egg yolks and sugar together until pale. Strain the infused milk through a fine sieve onto the creamed mixture, whisking as you do so. Pour into a clean pan and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring; the crème anglaise will thicken slightly. Pour into a bowl and cover the surface with cling film to stop a skin forming.
Dissolve the sugar in the water in a small saucepan over a medium heat, then cook to a golden caramel. Dip the nuts into the caramel to coat, then place on a tray lined with baking parchment and allow to set.
Drizzle coffee crème anglaise decoratively across the plates and carefully position the dusted mushrooms, one big and one small, on top. Arrange the croustade and leaf garnish on the plates and finish with the caramel nuts, sugared pistachios and marrons glacés. Serve at once.
Recipe from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons: The Story of a Modern Classic by Raymond Blanc, published by Bloomsbury.
Recipe © Raymond Blanc 2016.
Photograph © Chris Terry 2016.