Cooking with Raymond Blanc is a once in a lifetime experience – and something approached with slight trepidation by this very bad cook. But it turns out I needn’t have worried, as Raymond and his team were very patient, making me feel as if I could easily whip up these delicious dishes at home myself. So confident was I walking out, I’ve agreed to make the showstopper tart for dessert this Christmas…let’s see how that goes!
The chef, 70, continues to cook at the highest level, and has an unrivalled passion for food. A longterm supporter of fighting food waste, high quality food production, and eating well, Raymond is positive about the future of food and the planet.
He said: “We are now reconnecting food to waste, reconnecting food with local values. We are reconnecting foods with all the major issues – and we have treated food so badly – but it is never too late, there are many ways to respond to that. There has been a leadership now, and one or two people have expressed certain views which have changed people’s lives, for example David Attenborough.
“Luxury, which has been the biggest polluter of all, is going to become responsible. Food is much more legislated – and we are learning how to eat well. Eating well is…we are reconnecting with food. One step at a time, as long as we do one step, and sometimes a bigger one, it’s crucial. So me, my little business here, we have always practiced these values.”
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For the modern diner, there is another type of pollution to worry about – that of the mobile phone, held above a plate of food for the perfect social media shot in restaurants around the world.
But Raymond is generous to a fault about this new trend, and is not bothered by it in the way many of his contemporaries are.
He said: “Take a picture! I don’t mind. I would never judge – my job is to give the guest the very best moment of their life. I use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – and I think they are a fantastic medium to communicate, pass on views, exchange ideas with likeminded people. They are fantastic, as long as you don’t let them overtake your life.”
Inspiration is not something Raymond is short of, and his travels around the world have always informed his cooking.
He is currently most excited by the food scenes in Japan and south-east Asia, revealing that “I love their food – you have different climates, different colours, flavours, textures…definitely they have influenced me greatly.”
But it is of course France that has informed his recipes, and none more so than the delicious dinner party recipes below. If you are planning to entertain over Christmas, family and friends will be suitably impressed, and they really are simple to do – trust me, if I could make these dishes, anyone can.
Canapés – Saint Agur crème, oat biscuit and honey, makes 50
For the biscuit: 65g wholemeal flour, 90g butter, unsalted, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 30g caster sugar, 1 pinch sea salt, 60g jumbo oats, 1 medium egg yolk, beaten
For the topping: 325g Saint Agur blue cheese crème, whipped to stiff peaks with an electric whisk, 25g clear honey, 50g finely chopped Kalamata olives, dried at 100°C for one hour
For the biscuit: Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, butter, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and salt. With your fingertips, crumble the ingredients together to create a breadcrumb texture. Add the oats and egg yolk and mix together well. Roll the biscuit mixture between two sheets of parchment paper to a thickness of 5mm, then place the rolled biscuit dough in the fridge for 1 hour to allow the dough to firm up.
After one hour, remove the dough from the fridge and cut into squares approximately 3cm x 3cm in size. At this point you may freeze the dough squares and cook straight from frozen when you are ready. Or to cook straight away, place these squares onto a large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake in the pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove the biscuits from the oven and place on a wire cake rack until cool. Store in an airtight container until required (for up to three days).
For the topping: Place the biscuits on a flat tray and pipe approximately 6g of the whipped Saint Agur crème in the centre of each biscuit in a neat teardrop shape. If you do not have a piping bag, you can use a spoon instead. Drizzle the clear honey over each canapé in a zig-zag fashion and sprinkle a small amount of the dried olives over the top then serve.
Main course – Raymond Blanc’s Hot smoked salmon and beetroot
For the beetroot salad: 480g mixed small beetroots, cooked, peeled and cut into small pieces, 1/2 shallot, peeled and finely chopped, 2 tsp balsamic vinegar (aged at least 8 years), 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp water, 2 pinches sea salt, 2 pinches black pepper, freshly ground
For the dressing: 100g Saint Agur blue cheese, crumbled, 100ml crème fraîche, 1 pinch cayenne pepper, 1 squeeze lemon juice, 2 tbsp water
To serve: 120g hot-smoked salmon, 1/4 bunch dill sprigs, peppery salad leaves such as watercress, rocket or mustard (optional)
For the beetroot salad: In a large bowl, mix the cooked, peeled beetroots with the remaining beetroot salad ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
For the Saint Agur blue cheese dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk all the dressing ingredients together until evenly combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Divide the beetroot salad amongst four individual bowls or plates. Break the salmon into generous flakes and scatter over each salad. Spoon the Saint Agur dressing over and around the salads and garnish with dill. You can also add the peppery salad leaves to finish.
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Dessert – Pear, almond and Saint Agur tart
For the pastry: 200g plain flour, 100g butter, unsalted, diced, at room temperature, 1 pinch sea salt, 1 egg, medium, organic/free-range, beaten, 1 tbsp water
For the filling: 50g butter, unsalted, room temperature, 50g caster sugar, 50g almonds, ground, 1 egg, medium, organic/free-range, six pear halves, tinned, drained, cores removed, 30g pecans, chopped
To serve: 50g Saint Agur blue cheese, crumbled icing sugar to dust (optional), 6-8 tbsp crème fraîche (optional)
For the pastry: Place the flour, butter and salt in a large bowl and rub together delicately using your fingertips until the mixture reaches a sandy texture. It is very important the butter is at room temperature in order to get an even distribution of butter within the mixture which helps give the pastry its flakiness.
Create a well in the centre of the mixture and add the egg and water. With your fingertips, in little concentric circles, work the liquid ingredients into the flour and butter mixture. Then, at the last moment when the egg has been absorbed, bring the dough together and press to form a ball.
Turn the ball onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently with the palms of your hands for 10 seconds until you have a homogeneous dough (do not overwork it). Break off 20-30g of dough, wrap separately in cling film and place this small ball in the fridge to chill. Wrap the remaining dough in cling film and flatten it to about a 2cm thickness. Leave to rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
Once rested, unwrap the large piece of dough and place in the middle of a large sheet of cling film, about 40cm square. Cover with another sheet of cling film, of similar dimensions. Roll out the dough to a circle 2–3mm thick. Place the tart ring on a wooden peel or flat baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.
Lift off the top layer of cling film from the dough and discard, then lift the dough by the lower cling film and invert it into the tart ring, removing the cling film. Press the dough onto the base and the inside of the ring with the small ball of dough from the fridge, ensuring that the pastry is neatly moulded to the shape of the ring.
Trim the edge of the pastry by rolling a rolling pin over the top of the ring. Now, push the pastry gently up by pressing between your index finger and thumb all around the edge of the tart ring, to raise the edge 2mm above the ring. With a fork, prick the bottom of the pastry case. Reserve to one side.
For the filling: To create the almond cream, in a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, almonds and egg, and mix until well blended. Place the mixture directly into the lined tart case. Arrange the pear halves on top of the almond cream and scatter the chopped pecans over top. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least one hour before baking.
To bake the tart: Pre-heat the oven to 175°C. Place the tart on a pre-heated baking tray or a baking stone in the middle of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden in colour. Note – A common problem with tarts is an undercooked soggy base – the result of insufficient bottom heat. Using a bottomless tart ring and a baking stone overcomes this, as there is an instant transfer of heat from the hot baking stone to the pastry base.
To serve: Remove the tart from the oven and scatter the crumbled Saint Agur over top to allow the residual heat to partially melt the cheese. Leave to cool for 30 minutes. Once cooled, remove the tart ring and sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar. Portion into six or eight pieces and serve with a generous helping of crème fraîche.
Raymond Blanc’s latest book, The Lost Orchard, is out now
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