In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. – Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg
Spring has finally arrived in Chinon. Wild winds, grey skies, spattering rain are interspersed with flashes of bright sunlight filtering through hazy skies and lighting up the courtyard, brushing against the windows and warming the breakfast room. Jean-Pierre has been busy in the garden most every day, morning and afternoon, hanging his collection, his massive collection of birdhouses on every available space. “I want this to be a bird’s garden! I want birds to flock to the hotel, inhabit these houses, and live here with us!” We already hear them singing every morning and spy them hopping across the terrace, digging in the dirt, carrying bibs and bobs of treasures and pushing them through the tiny holes of those wooden houses, their new homes.
The vines, trimmed much too close last summer in our opinion, are, nonetheless, beginning to unfurl their green and the bird’s houses will soon be nestled in halos of leaves. The magnificent magnolia tree has lost most of her blossoms, the path to the front door now strewn with pink petals as if awaiting a bride, but the courtyard is dusted with yellows, pinks, whites, plants bursting with color and springtime is so much more than just that feeling in the air. It is here.
Spring is the time of plans and projects. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
High season kicked off with the BD en Chinonais event mid-March with the arrival of close to 2 dozen illustrators staying at the hotel. Since then, we’ve hosted artists in town for gallery openings, musicians in town for concerts, passionate groups of men and women in town for the wine festivities leading up to and including Les Vignerons dans la Ville, Wine Makers in the City, where close to 4,000 glasses of local reds, rosés, and whites will be poured, distributed, tasted, where the interested will be able to meet the wine producers and chat with them, asking questions, getting to know their wines, the light and fruity, the deep and tannic, the cabernet francs and the chenin blancs of our perfect little appellation Chinon.
Jean-Pierre continues his work fighting against the projet de la Breche and working to create and organize a new collection of associations. The future of our city is as important as is the preserving of the history of our city.
And I am nearing the signature of my contract for my first cookbook and so have been researching, developing, testing, and writing recipes non-stop, with an enthusiastic group of friends who have been testing each recipe as I go. I worked on a recipe, which will be published in the late summer issue of Fine Cooking magazine (like my pot-au-feu was) as I carve out time from my hotel responsibilities. My work table is once again piled high with cookbooks, papers strewn across every surface and spilling onto the floor. I must clean and reorganize once again. And again.
But as the days lead up to Passover and I share my recipes for Lemon Almond Sponge Cake, Cocoa Espresso Almond Sponge Cake, and Individual Berry Mascarpone Cheesecakes, not only Passover-friendly but gluten-free, I recall that I promised you the recipe for these delicious Chocolate Palets Bretons, tender, crumbly, butter cookies from Brittany. For your afternoon tea or coffee break.
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon (140 grams) flour
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking power
- 1 tablespoons (8 grams) cocoa powder, optional
- Pinch (about ⅛ tsp) salt or fleur de sel
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2/5 cup (80 grams) sugar
- 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (80 grams) salted butter (beurre demi-sel), softened
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract, optional (or replace with orange extract or orange flower water)
- Stir the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder together in a bowl.
- Beat the egg yolks and the sugar together until thick and pale, scraping down the bowl a couple of times.
- Beat in the butter and vanilla until blended and thick.
- Beat in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions.
- Scrape down the bowl and beat it briefly to make sure it is well blended and the dough should pull together.
- Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap; lightly pat and shape the dough into a log, giving it the desired diameter depending on how wide you want your biscuits – I roll mine into either a 7 - 8 or a 10 - 12 inch long log, for fatter or thinner. Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap, make sure the log is even and smooth and refrigerate to firm for about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C).
- Carefully unroll the cookie dough and slice; the dough may still be soft and pliable so try and keep the dough in the log shape. Cut into ½ inch slices; gently reshape the discs into rounds and place on a baking sheet or in muffin tin cups or small metal circles (so they are less likely to spread and will better keep their disc shape.)
- Bake for about 10 minutes or until set and just firm in the center.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before lifting them to a cooling rack to cool completely before devouring.