Last fall, a few friends of mine started a book club. It’s been great to discover a new book each month, as well as hanging out and discussing various subjects (usually related to the book…sometimes not…) with a wonderful group of ladies. But let’s be honest, reading is fun but I’m in it for the food! Although we clearly stated when we started that the host did not have to prepare a meal for everyone, the lovely Alejandra made such an amazing dinner on our first night that we had to follow her lead. She made a dish inspired by The Help and, a month later, Marcela made an Indian feast inspired by The Namesake.
January was my month and the book I picked for everyone was My Life in France by Julia Child. Of course, one can’t pick that book and serve chips. Mrs Child would have ghost-slapped me if I did. So I grabbed her masterpiece (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) and looked for inspiration. After much thinking, I decided to go with a coq-au-vin (chicken cooked in wine), a simple salad with Julia’s vinaigrette recipe, and a gâteau à l’orange (orange spongecake).
The salad vinaigrette was, by far, the easiest part of it all. You just mix olive oil and red-wine vinegar, dry mustard, salt and pepper. You only need to whisk it for a couple minutes and it’s ready. My dear friend Vari took charge of putting the salad together (mixed greens, tomatoes and cucumber) when she saw how over-my-head I was with the coq-au-vin.
The coq-au-vin took more time than I expected, even though I used Aimee Bourque’s simplified version of Julia’s recipe. My sauce turned out much more liquid than hers but it could have just been a lack of patience on my part. It did taste really good though! I also didn’t agree with throwing the vegetables away. Although I didn’t serve them with the dish, I did keep them and ate some for lunch today. Who would be wasteful enough to throw enough vegetables that were cooked in bacon fat AND wine?? Not me.
And finally, la pièce de résistance, the orange spongecake. Oh my. I am so glad I made it the night before the dinner party as it took me a lot more time than I expected. It felt like a lot of work but as soon as I took my first bite, it made all the work worth it. Wow. It was definitely one of the best cakes I’ve ever baked. Although the icing was super rich, the sponge cake balanced it perfectly.
Gâteau à l’orange (Orange spongecake)
(Source: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Simone Beck & Louisette Bertholle)
- 2/3 cup of granulated sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- Grated rind of 1 orange
- 1/3 cup of strained orange juice
- Pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup of cake flour, sifted
- 4 egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350˚degrees.
- Butter and flour a 9″ cake pan.
- Gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks and continue beating until the mixture thickens to form the ribbon. Add the grated orange peel, orange juice, and salt. Beat for a moment until the mixture is light and foamy. Then beat in the flour.
- In a separate bowl, beat (with an electric beater if possible) the egg whites and salt together until soft peaks are formed.
- Stir one fourth of the egg whites into the batter (the first mixture), then delicately fold in the rest.
- Immediately turn into your prepared cake pan and run the batter. Bake in the middle position of preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Cake is done when it has puffed and browned, and shows a faint line of shrinkage from the edge of the mold.
- Let cool for 6 to 8 minutes. Delicately take the cake out of the pan. You can either sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar or fill and ice the cake. (I picked the second option!)
- 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 1 2/3 cups of granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- The grated rind of 1 orange
- 1/4 cup of strained orange juice
- 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur (I didn’t have any so I skipped that part)
- Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and beat with a whip over low heat or not-quite-simmering water until mixture thickens like honey. When it is cooking properly, the bubbles that first appeared on its surface as it is heated will begin to subside, and if you look closely you will see a little whiff of steam rise; it will be too hot for your finger. You must heat it enough to thicken, but overheating will scramble the egg yolks.
- Set the saucepan in cold water and beat for 3-4 minutes, until filling is cool.
- Slice the cake in half, horizontally, and, using a spatula, spread 1/3 of the filling evenly.
For the icing:
- 2/3 of the filling you just made
- 1 stick of softened unsalted butter, or slightly more (2-3 tablespoons more) if necessary
- Put the filling in a mixing bowl and gradually beat in the butter. The mixture should be smooth and creamy. If it is too liquid, you can chill it until it is firm enough to spread.
- Spread evenly on top and on the sides of your cake.
I covered the top of mine with crushed (thanks to my food processor) almonds.
All in all, I believe that our book club meeting was, as usual, a good success. The food turned out great and the company was as lovely and lively as usual. After reading Julia’s My Life in France, and realizing how much time and effort was put into this book, I can only have a lot of respect for the queen of French cooking. Yes, most of her recipes are intimidating and are very time-consuming but it is definitely worth it. It might not be the best for quick weeknight cooking but it is definitely the perfect tool to cook a fabulous special meal.
P.S. I just received my foodie package and I CANNOT WAIT to share it with you all at the end of the month! Let’s just say that a happy dance was involved. That is all for now. 😉