Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Dec 18, 2005 04:48 PM

Traditional French winter meal and a holy symbol in my creme fraiche! (long)

  • c

I'll get to the holy symbol a bit later, but first some relevant background: My MIL is an absolute Francophile. She is ethnically Chinese, grew up in Hanoi, went to French Catholic school. She speaks French fluently (among several other languages) and belongs to several French clubs. She only reads French novels. She named her 3 sons w/ very traditional French names.

Whenever I cook for just my in laws I know that classic French food laden w/ a good dose of cream and butter is sure to please. In fact, the first time I met them, we went to a French restaurant where my MIL got the rich prix fixe meal and was flattened the next day by all the cream and butter. She didn't seem to mind though...

Since they are getting older (as am I), I didn't want to make the meal too crazy rich, but I did want it to have an old world authenticity. The wintry, rainy weather also got me into the spirit and called for such a hearty meal where the stove/oven is going for hours. This also was the perfect occasion for me to finally pull out Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (both volumes), which I recently bought used. I didn't use it for every dish, but here was my menu:

*Baked miyagi oysters w/ topping of breadcrumb, butter, parsley, shallot, garlic, and lemon juice (made up my own recipe)

*Cream of cauliflower and upland cress soup (upland cress is similar to watercress but the leaves are bigger and flavor is full, spicy, and sorta fruity; used the recipe in Vol. II but reduced butter and omitted cream)

*Boeuf bourguignon w/ buttered egg noodles (used recipe in Vol. I w/ minor modifications)

*Tarte tatin w/ mock creme fraiche (used recipe from Chateau Cuisine by Anne Willan w/ minor modifications; mock creme was made by mixing full fat sour cream w/ a little superfine sugar)

Used a 2003 Chateau Grimard Bourdeaux in the stew and drank a voluptuous 2003 Plan Pegau red table wine w/ the meal. Champagne would have been great to start, but our group can't drink that much.

Overall, the meal was a big success and I was generally happy w/ how each course turned out. In laws were very pleased too! What I love about these more rigid "theme" meals is that everything naturally fits together...tradition has done some of the work for you.

My favorites were the baked oysters and boeuf. I typically prefer raw oysters that taste of the sea, but my inlaws prefer cooked. I baked them for just a few min. and then finished them under the broiler to brown the topping. The flavors melded beautifully and the topping didn't overpower the wonderfully sweet flavor of the bivalve. Texture was still soft and juicy, but the raw, briney edge was mellowed. We scarfed these down in delight and could've eaten more...

The boeuf bourgignon turned out great. I used rump roast as suggested in the recipe. After browning, I started cooking it in the oven per the instructions but decided that I'd prefer to simmer gently on stove top instead and that worked fine. I didn't like the fussy steps w/ the mushrooms and onions at the end, so just sauteed them together in a little butter and then finished simmering them in the stew for the last 30 min. At the end, I removed the meat to reduce the sauce to thicken a bit. It also needed more salt. I might try chuck roast next time. Does that have more fat/marbling than rump?

To critique Julia's books, I must say that I don't love them based on this experience. I don't really care for the format of the recipes, and the wording and organization seem convoluted and not that clear at times. Some of the steps also seem like they could be further streamlined w/ no detriment to the result. And there's too much butter and cream even for moi, so I just reduced amounts. I think the technique discussions are more useful than the actual recipes for me, but I'm glad I have these for reference.

I didn't use Julia's tarte tatin recipe b/c it's just layered upside down and baked, not actually started on the stove top. While Anne's recipe was tasty enough, it didn't have the sticky caramel and jammy quality I've had before and the crust wasn't flaky enough. I'll try the recipe from Julia's The Way to Cook next time. Any other tarte tatin suggestions?

Photos of my meal can be viewed at the link below. This finally gets me to that holy symbol. I always chuckle at those stories like of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich and I'm not particularly religious, but my first thought when I saw the picture of the tarte tatin w/ mock creme fraiche was that it looked like a hooded woman praying in the creme. I didn't drink that much wine, so I'll take it as a good sign (culinary and otherwise) for the holiday season and new year. Holiday wishes and good eating/cooking to all!

Any feedback on refinement of these dishes is appreciated, and I'll be happy to answer any questions about specific dishes.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I have a similar problem with Julia Child's cookbooks. Yes, the recipes work well, but by the time I'm done reading them, and working out in my head all the things I have to do, I'm usually too tired to go out and do it. A bout with Julia usually has me running to my mom's 1956 Betty Crocker. I may be inordinately fond of recipes that are less than a page long.

    Your menu sounds fantastic! You must be a model DIL.

    Now for a little Christmas present--a thank you for sharing your posts, and organizing delectable lunches--the link below will lead you to what may be the best, most authentic recipe for Tarte Tatin. I've made it many times, always to rave reviews. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we have.

    (Oh, yes, I'm linking you to the original French recipe, as I suspect you have enough French, or your MIL can translate. But if you want a HOWL, get the Google translation of the page. You may find the French one easier to understand!)


    14 Replies
    1. re: Pia

      'You must be a model DIL.'


      Well, let's not romanticize things that far! Let's just say that cooking is one way to keep everyone happy in the moment. :-)

      Thanks for the recipe link! You know it's authentic when it's written in the native language...will get husband and MIL to help me translate.

      1. re: Carb Lover

        Oh, forgot to ask a key question: what apples do you use for tatin? I went w/ golden delicious since most recipes seem to call for that, but I just don't care for GD that much (even the good ones from my farmer's market). Would smallish granny smiths or pippins work ok? I like to eat braeburns too and have been enjoying mutsus...

        1. re: Carb Lover

          old school pastry chef i trained under used nothing but red del's. Thats what i grab first also....

          1. re: dano

            Hey Dano...tell me more please. I've never read anything regarding the use of Red Delicious except for eating and I hate them for eating. What is their texture like after cooked???

          2. re: Carb Lover

            I love the tartness of granny smiths. Plus, they keep their shape well too. But I usually use a few different kinds at the same time for all tarts and pies: golden delicious, winesap and granny smith is my favorite apple tail for pies and tarts... Never used either braeburn or pippins, but assume they'd probably work well.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              I like some tartness, and hate mealy apples, so I go with small, very firm Granny Smiths. There's another variety that I tried only once, and liked even better, but they're hard to find: I got them from a fruit stand on Hwy 128. They were basically red, but with a brownish area around the stem. Really good apples. . . Fujis and goldens are at bit too bland for me.

              Re choice of pastry for this recipe, I'd use puff pastry if I wanted more visual appeal, but I actually like the "French Picnic" pie crusts better for texture and taste. They were somewhere between puff pastry and a short crust. Pate sucree may be a bit too rich and dense for this.

              1. re: Pia

                And one more thing: don't wait too long to invert the tarte. So much butter and sugar in cool weather will cause the apples to stick to the pan. I wait until the pastry is cool enough to minimize the chance of sogginess, but the apples are still very warm. If the tarte gets cold in the dish, I'd heat it over a low-medium flame just long enough to get everything warm and loose enough.

                1. re: Pia

                  Thanks...I like granny smiths for baking. I think they will hold their shape and texture better than the GDs and their tartness will offset the sweetness of the caramel. Agree that pate sucree was too dense and rich.

                  Was the red apple a Northern Spy? I don't know if they're sold here on the west coast, but from the linked reference, it matches your description.


                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    I'm sorry, I can't remember the name, but I think it may have been Jonathan or Sierra Beauty. The Northern Spy is grown grown in California by the Philo Apple Farm. (I found this out while looking for the name of the apple stand from which I purchased the apples: Gowan's Oak Tree. I don't know if Gowan's has Northern Spies, too.)

            2. re: Pia

              The website has an English portal, and the link is below.
              But it would seem to me that the variety of apple is the key, yet is not specified in the recipe.


              1. re: Joel Teller

                I'm debating whether to make this tarte for a Christmas dinner at a friend's house.

                Is this tarte best straight out of the oven, or can it be made earlier in the day? Puff pastry has a tendency to get soggy after it sits in contact with moist things. Would the short pastry hold up better?


                1. re: paulj

                  I hope my repeating this is not wearing thin, but this is what I do when making the tarte ahead of time or for traveling. When it is done, invert on a plate. Line the pan with foil - spray with Pam or something if you like, or also put a round of parchment paper in - put the pan back on top of the tarte and reinvert. This way, the crust stays on top and does not get soggy. You can then reheat if you like, and invert for serving. The recipe I use is a pate brisee or something of the like, not puff pastry.

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I'm confused, do you line pan w/ foil so that the apples won't be in direct contact w/ cast iron due to the acid content?

                    My tarte got done a few hours before we ate so I just let it cool in the pan. Right before eating, I heated it up over moderate heat just to warm and loosen the juices/caramel again. Ran a knife around the edge and inverted it w/ ease. No soggy crust...mine was a pate sucree I think is what it's called (w/ sugar and some egg yolk).

                    I would use a brisee or sucree crust since I don't like a puff pastry crust for tarte tatin. While others might disagree, I would feel comfortable leaving this in my cast iron skillet for up to 5 hrs. (arbitrary as that may be) before serving. If you don't or if you need to make way in advance, then MMRuth's method sounds good. I would wait at least 30 min. before inverting though.

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      I just didn't want to have worry about the tarte sticking when I went to invert it later on - that's the only reason.

            3. g
              Great River Road

              Thank you for taking the time to write about your wonderful French meal...
              There are oodles of things I could spend time reading on various websites, however, I feel very fortunate to have chosen your memory of a delicious meal prepared with much care. It was just the thing to read to take me into this busy week before Christmas.
              Your description was also just the right thing to read this cold winter night !

              About that vision in the creme...
              Well, from one angle it does look a bit like the Virgin Mary, but at first glance I also saw a slight resemblance to Kermit the Frog. :-)

              1 Reply
              1. re: Great River Road

                Glad you enjoyed the post. Now that you mention it, I do see Kermit w/ a smirk. Fun abstractions w/ food...

              2. The Way to Cook recipe for Tarte Tatin is what I always use - mentioned this before, but I'd use a couple of extra apples (I've always used Golden Delicious) than the number called for in the recipe. I find Way to Cook much easier to follow than Mastering the Art ... and I think in the intro Julia herself says something along the lines that she's made things clearer and more efficient in TWC. We're having Tarte Tatin for Christmas! Happy Holidays ...

                1 Reply
                1. re: MMRuth

                  I remember you recommending this recipe before and linked it below for others. Interesting how it calls for a good amount of lemon juice and zest. Suppose that's why it needs all that sugar (1.5 cups) to offset. I like the sugar to butter ratio though...I think Willan's recipe that I used had too much butter to sugar (1:2 ratio) or maybe I didn't let it caramelize enough. I also like that it's baked at a higher temp. so that the crust can set more quickly...mine was at 375F. After baking, my apples were a bit softer than I like too, but I wonder if this is how it's supposed to be...


                2. you know.... you really need to forgo the mock creme fraiche and make some for real... its so easy! Plus, you can use it in the place of sour cream from then on. It lasts as long.

                  However, I can't attest to what images would have appeared had you used homemade creme fraiche. Maybe you would have gotten the whole nativity? :)

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: adamclyde

                    A whole nativity scene would have been wild! By homemade creme fraiche, do you mean mixing a little buttermilk into heavy cream, heating a little, and letting sit out for a day? I've done this before and it tasted great, but I don't know if it was much better from full fat sour cream that's been whipped w/ little superfine sugar. I will try it again though when I can get my act together to make things in advance. BTW, the boeuf bourguignon tasted better the next day (as others have attested to), so I'll try to make that ahead of time too.

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      yeah. that is what I mean. When I've made it just by sitting out, it's been ok. Two things that make it superb... first, heat it up first as you suggest (I used to just let it sit out... was good, but not as thick as when I heated to 95 degrees before sitting out overnight). Second, and most important, use high-quality pastuerized (not ultra) cream.

                      When I've made it, it's been different and definately better than souped up sour cream.

                      Also, then you can make that lemon creme fraiche ice cream. mmm...

                      1. re: adamclyde

                        Please share your lemon creme fraiche ice cream recipe!

                        I made homemade creme fraiche before, heating up good pasteurized (non ultra) creame before letting it sit out. How long did you leave it before it got good and thick? I didn't let mine sit long enough to be as thick as store bought sour cream. Does it get there eventually? I was squeamish about leaving dairy out for so many days (2? I can't remember)

                        1. re: nooodles

                          Linked adamclyde's report and recipe below. Hope to make it soon!

                          About homemade creme fraiche, I remember just leaving it out for 24 hrs. or so. Tried to keep it in a warm place in the kitchen. It never got as thick as commercial sour cream, but it had thickened up nicely and even more so after refrigeration. Good stuff!


                          1. re: nooodles

                            I make my by adding 1 tbsp of buttermilk [which I don't often have on-hand and have found that plain Greek yogurt works fine] to 1 cup of heavy cream. Mix well, cover, and leave at room temp for 24 hours. Refrigerate for up to a week. It'll thicken over the course of the week, but it (thankfully, imo) never gets as thick as commercial sour cream.


                            1. re: nooodles

                              sorry... was late to the game. Thanks Carb Lover for linking to the recipe. To answer your question - yes, it does indeed get thick like Sour Cream. Just be patient. I find all the recipes underestimate how long it takes. After heating it up, I left mine out for at least 24 hours. When it gets as thick as sour cream, put it in the fridge. Once fully cold, it will be quite a bit thicker than sour cream. And man, it is good...

                      2. And I thought I made a great dinner last night! Not even close - although I am posting about it later today.

                        Btw, it looked to me as if the Virgin Mary was worrying about all those calories and hiding her head in her hands.

                        But hey, I was raised a Theosophist, so what do I know.