While always a mushroom lover, I didn’t realize the variety of mushrooms I would be exposed to when I moved to France. Sure there are always the traditional white button mushrooms or crimini but when the autumn kicks in with rainstorms, the black trumpets, girolles and cèpes begin to make their appearances at the markets.
But let’s talk cèpes, otherwise known as porcini mushrooms. Large, almost too large, they look like something out of Alice in Wonderland. I once read or heard that you can cut into one and insects will come crawling out. It all seemed a little too Halloween for me in my kitchen and given that Halloween hasn’t been a part of my life since living in France, I didn’t feel like bugs should be a part of my evening cooking routine and stuck to the more tame varieties.
But every autumn, there they are; popping up at the market stands, front and center, the star of the season. My local marché on rue Poncelet goes above and beyond, creating a magical forest arrangement with plastic animals, faux grass and tree trunks with moss to add to the “I just foraged a mushroom” effect. And every year, I would tell myself to buy a few and give it a go. Who cared if bugs crawled out? I coo every time I find a caterpillar in kale leaves, why be scared of a few bugs living in fungus? Yet three years in, I continued to stay away.
That was until I was recently sent a copy of Mimi Thorisson’s new book A Kitchen In France. Author of the beautiful and legit food blog, Manger, I was excited to take an even more intimate peak into her world of living in the Medoc with her troop of many dogs and children.
While I was reading the book at the tale-end of autumn, Mimi’s story of moving to Medoc in October and her excitement to forage cèpes stuck with me. She had a not so great first experience, trying hard to find the mystical mushroom, only to be let down. With a little advice and more practice, she too was bringing home and eating the freshest cèpes, just one of her life in the French countryside dreams coming true.
2014 was going to be the year where I finally bought and cooked with cèpes.
I was a little late and the cèpes were pretty much done for the season, but the plastic deer and squirrels were still out at the market, so I knew there was hope. Approaching my favorite potato and mushroom vendors at the Marché President Wilson, I spotted a few handfuls and bought them up. Mimi’s recipe for Cèpe Tartlettes was simple. I’d sautéed mushrooms a million times and this was no different. Plus the cèpes I bought were mostly already cut in half, avoiding any unwanted moments with critters. It was what I needed to put the cèpes on that proved to be the challenge of this meal. Or at least for me.
Puff pastry. Of course I needed puff pastry. I’d bought a store brand variety once before to make a tarte and was extremely turned off by the sour chemical smell that came out of the package and from that moment on opted to not have puff pastry in the house. the list of ingredients was too long to even read. I had the cèpes and I had Mimi’s recipe but I didn’t necessarily have the time and as my friend Jessie says, “To make puff pastry, you need to have a lot of time on your hands.” But it was now or never and the cèpes only deserved the best!
And while it did take a lot of time, it wasn’t unbearable. Minus the extraordinary amounts of butter you need to use, I rolled dough, folded, refrigerated, rolled, folded and refrigerated again.
The puff pastry was indeed the perfect buttery addition with the cèpes and I completed two new cooking firsts.
Puff Pastry (Pâte Feuilletée)
A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse
Makes 1 pound 5 ounces/600 grams
2 cups/240 grams all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup/120 ml of water (I ended up using more to get all of the dough into a ball)
10 ounces/2.5 sticks/300 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
1. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Cube 4 tablespoons/50 g of butter and add to the bowl, along with the water. Mix gently with your fingertips until the dough comes together in a ball. Slice a cross in the top of the ball, about 1/2 inch/2 cm deep. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Put the remaining 8 ounces/250 g of butter on a piece of plastic wrap, cover with a second sheet, and use a rolling pin to flatten the butter into a 5-6 inch/14-15 cm square. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough from the center out, following the lines of the cross, into a large square, 9-10 in/25-30 cm on each side.
4. Put the flattened butter in the center of the square of dough and bring the corners of the dough to the center to enclose the butter. Roll out, being careful not to squeeze out the butter, to a rectangular shape about 8-12 inches/20-30cm.
5. With the short side facing you, fold the dough in thirds, turn and fold in thirds again. Repeat the rolling and folding and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Repeat this step 4 more times.
Will last for 3-4 days in refrigerator or for a month frozen.
A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse
Makes 4 tartlettes
8 ounces/230 g puff pastry
4 tablespoons/60 g unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds, 600 grams fresh cèpes (porcini) mushrooms, sliced in half
Fine sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley, washed and finely chopped (even a few of the higher stems)
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/ 180 degrees C.
2. Prepare the pastry. Roll out and use a bowl with 4-5 in/11-12 cm diameter to create circles for the tartlettes. Arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with another piece of parchment paper.
3. Bake for 10 minutes. Chop mushrooms, shallots, garlic and parsley.
4. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper and continue to cook the pastry for another 5-7 minutes until golden.
4. While pastry is baking, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until soft. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly golden.
5. Serve the tartlettes on individual plates or on a large platter. Place the pastries on the dish and add the mushroom mixture. Top with fresh pepper and chopped parsley.
*Even if you aren’t in the mood for mushroom tartlettes, puff pastry can be used in a host of other holiday friendly recipes.