Monday, April 24, 2017

The Culinary Joys of Burgundy in Winter: Guest Post by Susan Shea

Susan Shea spent more than two decades as a non-profit executive before beginning her critically praised mystery series featuring a professional fundraiser for a fictional museum. The first in her French village seriesLove & Death in Burgundy (St. Martin’s Minotaur Books) debuts next month. She’s a regular on 7 Criminal Minds blog, is secretary of the national Sisters in Crime board, on the board of the Northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime and is a member of Mystery Writers of America. She lives in Marin County, California.

Susan Shea:
The Culinary Joys of Burgundy in Winter 

So many authors write well about France and the French – Cara Black, Martin Walker, Fred Vargas - well, she’s French, so she should - and more. But no one else that I know of is writing about the pastoral areas of Burgundy where wheat and rapeseed are as common as wine grapes (thanks, I have been told, to a nasty epidemic of phylloxera some time ago) and where white cattle decorate green fields and red poppies dot the sides of the road in season.

Burgundy has long, cold winters and I have a hunch that’s when some of the region’s signature dishes were developed. After all, if it’s just above freezing, rainy, and the clouds are too low to see the ramparts of the nearest chateau over the soft, rolling hills, what else is there to do but bake gougeres, set a pot of wine-enriched boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin to simmer on the back burner, and roll out a crust and slice apples for a tarte tat in?

I spent eight wet days in a small town in Burgundy last December, researching seasonal foods and activities for the second in my French village mysteries. I know you roll your eyes and say, “Poor you, eight days in France,” but I was cold all the time and the constant rain didn’t support sightseeing. I learned so much that was useful, however: The people in small towns do nothing like our gaudy Christmas decorations and retail promotions. Chocolate and marzipan are the celebratory holiday treats. The churches are dark and silent, their ancient stone walls radiating cold. A few red-cheeked farmers maintain outdoor stalls with cabbages, celery root, potatoes, and fat, white carrots. The biggest market display I saw included imported oranges (Morocco), kiwi (Spain, my notes say), and lettuce that came, perhaps, from hothouses.

As always, cheeses are king. A vendor I remember from summer visits greeted me like a as he raised the side panel of his truck to display what must have been 100 varieties of cow, goat, and sheep cheese, from pretty to downright dangerous looking.

Near the square in Avallon where he’s parked this morning is a small store that advertises “only local cheese” and there I discover a new one to me: little gray mold cheeses in the shapes of pyramids from Vezelay – delicious if you like your cheese with lots of flavor.

Desserts everywhere in France are the most beautiful, the most tempting, the most elegantly conceived treats, but you knew that. I can close my eyes and point and I know I’ll love whatever it turns out to be.

In the spirit of Janet’s chocolate worship, I am enclosing a recipe for a bittersweet chocolate tart that I got from the web site of a chef in Burgundy. Funny thing: He’s an American!

Bon appetit, mes amis!

Recipe from, and the American, French-trained chef Bob Chambers 

Makes a 23 cm (9 inch) tart

• 1 plump vanilla bean
• 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
• 60 gm ( 1/2 cup) icing sugar, sifted
• 2 Tbsp whole blanched almonds
• 100 gm (3/4 cup) plain flour, sifted
• Pinch of salt
• 70 gm (5 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature

• 3/4 cup double cream
• a third of a cup of milk
• 200 gm (7oz.) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• 50 gm (5 Tbsp) chopped orange peel, optional
• 1/2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder for sifting 


Flatten the vanilla bean and cut it in half lengthwise. With a small spoon, scrape the seeds into a small bowl. Add the egg yolks and stir to blend. In a food processor, combine the sugar and almonds and process until the nuts are finely ground. Add the flour and salt and process to blend. Add the butter and process just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolks and pulse until the dough just about begins to hold together; do not over process – the dough should not form a ball. Gently pat the dough into a disc, handling it as little as possible. Wrap dough in wax paper and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hr or overnight.

Butter the bottom and side of a 23 cm (9in) fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 28 cm (11in) round. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and gently press the dough against the side, allowing about 1 cm (½ in) to hang over the rim. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork. 
Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hr.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for about 5 mins, just until the pastry begins to firm up. Remove from the oven and, with a sharp knife, carefully cut off and discard the overhanging pastry to make a smooth, even rim. Return the shell to the oven and bake for about 15- 20 mins longer until the pastry is well browned all over.

Transfer to a rack and let cool completely before filling. Leave the oven on.


In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and milk to a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until melted. Let cool to lukewarm, then whisk in the egg until thoroughly blended. Stir in the candid orange peel.

Pour the custard into the pastry shell and bake in the middle of the oven for 12 to 15 mins, or until the filling is almost set but still trembling in the center. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Sift the cocoa powder over the tart and serve warm or at room temperature. It is also delicious served chilled.


Susan Bernhardt said...

Interesting, enjoyable post. One summer, many years ago, my husband and I and our two sons vacationed in the Burgundy region of France. I remember well the many cheese shops.

Camille Minichino said...

Interesting comment on Christmas, Susan. Churches are dark during Advent, I assume? Few people in the US realize that the 12 days of Christmas BEGIN on Christmas day. Until then, it's purple!

I'm passing on that million-step recipe but wouldn't mind a sample!

Priscilla said...

Just your blog left me hungry, Susan. I am reaching for your book!

Susan C Shea said...

Susan, There are so many French cheeses, and from many small makers. I think the Burgundians I met walk off the effects of all those calories!

Camille, not really about Advent in most cases. The French have a complicated relationship with the Catholic Church. The State long ago seized the Church properties, gave control over them to the communes (in Burgundy that might mean two small towns with a shared mayor and sheriff) and the communes do or don't maintain the church buildings. The Church can have use of them and in some cases, maintains them. But the arrangement can be a bit raggedy!

Priscilla, walking into a charcuterie or a patisserie in the smallest town makes me hungry. The French know food, bien sur!