By: Kayla & Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Of all the foods in France, I knew she would choose the tiny desserts for these pages. We traveled to France this fall, an entirely epicurean adventure, and I asked Kayla to select her favorite dish as an inspiration for our Christmas recipes this year.
She had so many options. The boulevards of Paris are lined with an endless array of food shops: bakeries, butchers, fishmongers, cheese mongers, produce vendors, patisseries, chocolatiers, wine shops, and more. Many shops specialize even further: only charcuterie, only foie gras, only roquefort.
In Lyon, we shopped at Les Halles de Lyon–Paul Bocuse, surely the best food market in the world. This market showcases fifty of the finest masters in France selling directly to the public. It is like shopping in a dream. It is food heaven. Kayla, of course, lingered longest over the tiny sweets—dessert perfection.
What makes these tiny desserts so spectacular is that the flavor is so big. The joy in these desserts is not measured in volume, but in essence.
We drove from Lyon to Lake Annecy in the French Alps. We hiked from a glorious medieval mountain cathedral all the way down to the lake. We sat under an oak tree and ate a picnic of olives, sardines, various cheeses, baguette, apricots, and crisp white wine.
Then we strolled along the lake holding hands. The sky was blue and the sun hot. We could see the rocks at the bottom of the crystal-clear lake down to twenty-five feet. We disrobed, as much as appropriate in France, and dove into the cold water. It was so cold.
We got out and laid on the planks of the pier to dry with our eyes closed. The sun was hot. An old, bent Frenchman with a hat walked his little dog on a leash. Children were playing and yelling at each other in French; it sounded like music.
That moment on the pier was like a tiny French dessert. It was the distilled essence of several flavors creating a new, more perfect flavor. Take away the cold water; or the hot sun; or the Frenchman’s yapping dog; or the sing-song voices of the children, and it would not be the same moment.
The challenge for the home chef in making these lovely desserts from scratch is that they are tedious and time-consuming as heck. Who besides a French pastry chef has ten hours (during the Christmas shopping season!) to devote to tiny little pastry crusts?
Each of these recipes offers a high-quality substitute for the most complex and time-consuming elements. These shortcuts are so clever, it is difficult to tell the difference between the fast version here and the fully homemade in the patisserie.
We may go back to Paris one Christmas, just to eat. But for now, we will bring France home to us. These desserts are the essence of France. Every bite is Paris. Bon appetit!
Makes 8 tarts
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
1 8-count package pastry shells
(Rec. Texas Pie Company® brand)
1 jar (10-12 oz) lemon curd
(Rec. Wilkin & Sons LTD® brand)
1 pint blueberries
2 tbsp apricot preserves
Prepare pastry shells according to directions. Place prepared shells on a cooling rack and fill each 3/4 of the way to the top with lemon curd. Top each tart with blueberries (we found the tarts were best when packed with a generous amount of blueberries).
In a small bowl, mix apricot preserves with 1 tbsp water. Microwave mixture for 15-30 seconds. Brush each tart (blueberry topping and crust) with warmed preserves.
Mille-feuille with Blueberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries
Prep time: 30 minutes
Inactive prep time: 2 hours
Cook time: 20 minutes
2 cups half and half
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Dash of salt
1 vanilla bean, sliced open
with seeds scraped
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 (17.3 oz) package puff pastry sheets
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 pint strawberries, 1/2 pint blueberries, and 1/2 pint raspberries
Whisk half and half, sugar, salt, vanilla seeds and vanilla bean pod in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Stir regularly until milk is scalding hot, but not boiling.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine egg yolks and corn starch. Whisk egg yolk mixture until smooth.
Slowly pour 1 cup of the half and half into egg yolks, whisking continuously. Once combined, continue to slowly add remaining half and half and return the pan to the stove.
Whisk custard constantly over medium-low heat, until the mixture thickens. Transfer mixture to a heatproof bowl and cover the surface with wax paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll thawed pastry sheet to the size of your baking sheet (about 26”×18”). Place puff pastry on a baking sheet, cover with parchment paper, and place another baking sheet on top to prevent pastry from rising too much. Repeat with second sheet of puff pastry. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until each pastry is golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Beat whipping cream to medium peaks. Fold whipping cream into refrigerated custard until well combined. Assemble Napoleons by laying a layer of puff pastry on your serving platter, piping or spreading a layer of pastry cream on top, followed by a second layer of puff pastry, and a final layer of pastry cream.
Using a serrated knife, cut the napoleons into 12 equal pieces and top with berries of your choice. Garnish with sifted confectioner’s sugar and serve chilled.
Cook time: 20 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
1/2 lb milk chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 lb bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 oz raspberries
1/2 cup raspberry liqueur
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Silicone candy molds (half-spherical shape)
Place two-thirds of the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water, taking care to make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Melt the chocolate while stirring regularly until it reaches 105-110°F (do not exceed 120°F) on a candy thermometer. Remove the chocolate from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate, continuing to stir until it drops to 82°F. Place chocolate back over the simmering water and heat back up to 85-89°F. Remove from heat.
In a small saucepan, cook the raspberries, liqueur, and sugar over medium heat. Stir the mixture to break up the berries until it just begins to bubble.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Brush tempered chocolate onto each half sphere until they are covered in a thin, but completely opaque layer. Place in the freezer for 5-7 minutes to set. Release each half sphere from the mold onto clean parchment paper. Repeat these steps until you’ve used all but approximately ½ cup tempered chocolate to create half spheres.
Spoon one heaping tablespoon raspberry syrup into a half sphere. Dip the open diameter’s edge of a second half sphere in the remaining chocolate and use it to adhere the edge to raspberry-filled half sphere. Repeat until you have raspberry-filled chocolate spheres. Brush the chocolate spheres with edible gold glitter or paint and serve with the rest of your holiday desserts.
Variation note: These spheres can be filled with many other of your favorite confections, including but not limited to: caramel and pecans, coconut and almond paste, bite-sized brownies, cherries in syrup, reduced coffee-flavored liqueur or buttered rum sauce.