A special occasion seems all the more special when accompanied by authentic French cuisine, n'est-ce pas?
That is surely the raison d'etre behind Jacques Pepin Celebrates! (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, $40), a compilation of 200 recipes by the one-time personal chef to Charles de Gaulle and TV cooking show host. Chef Pepin knows his way around haute cuisine.
Fans will recognize these recipes from his public television series of the same name (although many first appeared in his previous two-volume book, The Art of Cooking), but they've never been more beautifully packaged. Celebrates is the coffee table of cookbooks -- weighty, shiny and filled with luscious photographs of finished dishes and preparation tips.
It's hard to find fault with such mouthwatering treats as Onion Soup Gratinee Lyonnaise, Chateaubriands with Madeira-Truffle Sauce or Orange Souffle Surprise. They just sound good, don't they? Pepin even strays beyond his native cuisine with Rib Roast With Yorkshire Pudding, English Christmas Pudding and Ham Georgia With Peach Garnish.
Pepin's recipes are certain to please -- your dinner guests, that is. The novice cook may not enjoy the experience quite as much.
Imagine the surprise you might feel if you developed a taste for Chicken Galantine and then discovered you'd have to chase down caul fat (the membrane surrounding a pig's stomach) to wrap your galantine. You'd also discover you'll be poaching it in a stock made from chicken bones (2 1/2 -hour investment in simmering just to create that stock).
And that doesn't even count the fact that Pepin will call upon you to skin and bone a chicken and grind the meat to the consistency of hamburger.
No doubt the results are worth it -- and experienced chefs won't get all flustered by a few days of effort. But it does demonstrate why the best way to celebrate a holiday in the manner of the French is to find a good French restaurant. C'est la vie.
Nevertheless, there are a few Pepin recipes here that even the timid can tackle. Summer Cornets Susie is a wonderful yet simple dessert treat, a crisp cookie shell filled with sweet cream and berries. For those who don't happen to own a set of cornet molds, a sheet of aluminum foil crushed into the shape of an ice-cream cone will do the trick. Or skip the fancy shape entirely and just mold on a small, inverted cup or glass -- it will hold more filling anyway.
Summer Cornets Susie
Makes 8 cornets
3 ounces unsalted butter
8 tablespoons sugar, divided use
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup mixed fruit per cornet: pitted cherries, red currants, blackberries, raspberries, loganberries, strawberries and blueberries
1 cup heavy cream
mint leaves and confectioners' sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with a reusable nonstick cooking mat. Melt butter in a saucepan, and while it is still warm, add 6 tablespoons sugar and whisk. Add vanilla and egg white and whisk, then add flour and whisk until smooth. The mixture will still be a bit liquid.
Spoon heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared cookie sheet, making only four cookies at a time.
Using the bowl of a teaspoon, spread the cookies in a circular motion (like spreading sauce on a pizza) until each cookie is 5 inches in diameter.
Bake for about 10 minutes until browned. Remove from oven and let settle for 90 seconds before molding.
To mold, roll each warm cookie around a cone-shaped metal cornet, removing the cookies when cool.
For the filling, whip the cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff. Transfer to a pastry bag with a star tip and partially fill each cornet.
To serve, arrange the cornets on a plate, pipe a little more cream on the plate and arrange fruit as if coming out of cornet.
A few mint leaves and a dusting of confectioners' sugar can garnish.