Many of us think of French cooking as complicated, time consuming and just plain intimidating. We assume it requires special ingredients we don’t usually have on hand and sophisticated equipment.
And to teach French cooking to kids? Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?
Toronto-based food and travel writer and educator Mardi Michels proves otherwise in her first cookbook, In the French Kitchen with Kids (Appetite/Random House, 2018).
A full-time French teacher to elementary school-aged boys and author of the popular eat. live. travel. write. blog, she runs after school cooking classes twice a week for 7-14-year-olds called Les Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics. They meet in the science lab to whip up such classic favorites as macarons, madeleines, pains au chocolat, and baguettes. They make short crust and choux pastry from scratch, and with proper knife skills, chop, slice and dice fruit and veggies to make berry galettes, ratatouille, steak frites, and beef and carrot stew.
So what makes this particular kids’ cookbook a standout among the zillions of others?
In short, you can tell an experienced instructor wrote it — a teacher who has worked extensively with kids in the kitchen and knows precisely how to present recipes in the clearest, most concise, fool-proof manner possible. The ingredients are listed in both metric and imperial measurements, and there are color photographs of every single recipe in the book (how often do you see that?)!
Let’s face it, being a good cook is one thing, but knowing how to teach others to cook is quite another. Kudos to Mardi!
You get a sense of a teacher’s organizational skills from the very beginning: tips for the adults working with kids, then lists of French pantry staples and kitchen equipment divided into categories (measuring, utensils, small appliances, bowls and dishes, baking equipment, pots and pans, cutting/chopping/grating equipment, even miscellaneous gadgets like timers and blowtorches). Of course there are cute spot illos for each item.
Then on to the recipes, which are titled in English and French, and divided into these categories:
- Breakfast (Le petit déjeuner)
- Lunch (Le déjeuner)
- After School Snacks (Le goûter)
- Dinner (Le dîner)
- Dessert (Le dessert)
- Special Occasions (Pour les grandes occasions)
- Basic Pastry Recipes (Recettes de base de pâtisserie)
Bonjour, petits beurre (butter cookies), gougères (cream puffs), poulet rôti (roast chicken), et tartelettes à la confiture (mini jam tarts)! How nice to have a little French language lesson as part of the feast :).
Mardi’s recipe headnotes are interesting too, chock full of tidbits about her time growing up in Australia, as an exchange student in Belgium, or living and teaching in Paris before she moved to Toronto. Throw in a little recipe history and sources, along with how and when the foods are eaten, and you’re even more anxious to get busy in the kitchen. I also love how there are sidebars with valuable tips sprinkled throughout the book.
In her Introduction, Mardi talks about the evolution of her after school cooking club, which began in 2010. It’s been quite a rewarding experience for everyone. Once they learned the basics, she was able to gradually introduce the boys to more complex recipes. She even started a guest program, bringing in local chefs and food enthusiasts to work with the boys in the lab or in their restaurant kitchens. She built on their youthful, innate self confidence, and in turn, their “can do” attitude gave her the courage to take more risks in her own cooking.
In the French Kitchen with Kids is a delightful family cookbook for Francophiles of all ages. The appealing, kid-friendly recipes are accessible and not at all fussy, making this a good introduction to everyday French cuisine. Besides the recipes I’m sharing today, there are many others I’m anxious to try, among them:
- Bacon, Cheese, and Onion Quiche
- Crunchy Fish Cakes
- Rustic Oven Baked Ratatouille
- Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
- Upside-Down Apple Tartlets
- Crème Brûlée + Crème Caramel
Yes, I’ve made some of these things before, but Mardi’s recipes sound so good that I want to give these a go! 🙂
Et maintenant, mangeons!
🇫🇷 TWO SCRUMPTIOUS AFTER-SCHOOL SNACKS 🇫🇷
Needless to say, after reading through this cookbook, Mr Cornelius and the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers were simply famished. They tried to lick the color photos and wanted to devour everything in sight. With so many palate-tempting recipes, how to decide on just one or two?
Of course we consulted Le Lapin Rotund, our resident French chef and sweet treat connoisseur. Just so happens Le Gôuter is Mme Lapin’s favorite meal of the day. As Mardi explains, the French school day is longer than we are used to in North America, so kids need a snack to tide them over until dinner, which is served late.
Gôuter is always a sweet treat, perhaps a small cake or cookie purchased at a boulangerie on the way home. Of the ten after school snacks included in the cookbook, Mme Lapin whiskered in on Financiers and Palmiers (I trust part of her decision was based on how much she loved pronouncing these two words).
Financiers are little tea cakes, yummy handheld bites of satisfying goodness made with almond meal. A little more substantial than madeleines, they are often baked in oval or rectangular shapes (perfect for tucking into pockets). Mardi suggests using mini muffin pans since many people already have them.
Here’s her backstory about financiers:
Why are these cakes called financiers? It’s said that they were originally baked in an oval shape by nuns of the Order of the Visitation and called visitandines. A clever baker in Paris working near the financial district in the 19th century, one Monsieur Lasne, saw how they could be easily eaten on the go, and thought this would appeal to his busy banker clientele. He shaped the cakes like gold bars and named them financiers as a nod to both his clientele and the surrounding district.
Mme Lapin enlisted the help of her friend Manon to bake the financiers. They used a mini muffin pan and were happily surprised to see they had exactly enough batter to make 24 cakes, just as the recipe specified. How often does this happen? A testament to Mardi’s care and precision with her recipe writing!
And oh, they were sooooooo good! We loved the crisp brown edges and touch of chewiness in this light and airy treat. We also added optional raspberries to half of them just for fun. Lots of flavor in such a small cake. LOVE.
- Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
- 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter
- 4 large egg whites
- 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (50 g) almond meal
- 1/3 cup (50 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Icing sugar, for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 400˚F (200˚C). If you are using a nonstick mini muffin pan you may not need to butter them, but otherwise generously butter the cups of the pan.
- Melt the butter either in a small pot on the stovetop over medium heat or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave for about 1 minute. Set aside to cool.
- Beat the egg whites until frothy with handheld electric beaters on high speed, 1 to 2 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, almond meal, flour and salt.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold them in gently with a rubber spatula until just combined.
- Add the cooled, melted butter to the batter and use a rubber spatula to gently mix until the butter is completely incorporated.
- Divide the batter between the cups of the muffin pan. You can do this with a 1-1/2-tablespoon cookie scoop or a small spoon. Fill each cup almost to the top.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the center is slightly puffed and the edges are golden and slightly crispy and coming away from the pan. There may be cracks in the tops. That’s totally okay!
- Remove the financiers from the muffin pan immediately and allow to cool on wire racks.
- Once they have cooled completely, sprinkle them with icing sugar to serve. These are best eaten the day they are made, although they can keep for a couple of days in an airtight container at room temperature.
* Option for raspberry financiers: just before you bake the financiers, cut 12 raspberries in half and place one half, cut side down, on top of each financier. Press down gently.
~ from In the French Kitchen with Kids, by Mardi Michels (Appetite/Random House, 2018), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
We must heartily applaud Mme Lapin’s other choice, for it was equally delicious. You’ve probably seen palmiers here and there, but if you’ve never tried to make your own, you probably don’t realize how simple it is! “Palmiers” are so named because they resemble palm leaves; they’re also called Elephant Ears. And they consist of only two ingredients: puff pastry and sugar. That’s it!
Nothing better than maximum satisfaction from minimum effort.
You can use store-bought puff pastry or make your own (recipe included in the book). It’s just a matter of rolling out the dough into a 10″ by 10″ square, brushing a little water on it, then sprinkling on some sugar. Then there’s some folding towards the middle a couple of times until you have a log. Chill for about 30 minutes, then slice and bake.
These are truly divine — buttery, flaky and crispy! And it doesn’t matter if your shapes don’t bake out perfectly because these cookies will taste good no matter what. Keep it simple with just sugar, or add some jam filling like Mardi did here. Total YUM.
- 1 sheet store-bought puff pastry (8 oz/250 g), thawed but chilled, or 1/2 recipe of Rough Puff Pastry (p. 171) rolled out to 10 x 10 inches, chilled
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
- granulated sugar, for baking
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside. Place a piece of parchment paper about 10 x 10 inches (25 x 25 cm) on a work surface.
- If using store-bought puff pastry, make sure it is 10 x 10 inches. If using homemade puff pastry, roll it out to 10 x 10 inches on parchment paper. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the water over the surface of the pastry.
- Sprinkle half of the sugar evenly over the surface of the pastry. Use a rolling pin to lightly press the sugar into the dough.
- Fold the left and right sides of the pastry inwards so they meet in the center. Sprinkle the remainder of the sugar over the pastry and use the rolling pin to lightly press this sugar into the dough.
- Fold the left and right side of the pastry inwards again, so they meet in the center again, and then fold the pastry in half lengthwise.
- Wrap this pastry log tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Remove the pastry log from the fridge and place it on a cutting board.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut the log into about 20 slices, each one 1/2 inch (1 cm) wide. Lay the slices flat on the baking tray about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on each cookie.
- Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, then flip them over and bake for a further 5 to 7 minutes, until they are golden and crispy. Keep an eye on them in the final minutes of baking as they can go from perfect to scorched in a matter of seconds.
~ from In the French Kitchen with Kids by Mardi Michels (Appetite/Random House, 2018), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
We thoroughly enjoyed making (and eating!) these gôuter snacks. It was a pleasure to follow Mardi’s recipes, as she seems to be gently but thoroughly guiding you through each step. Both treats turned out perfectly and we’ll be making them again and again and again . . . 🙂
IN THE FRENCH KITCHEN WITH KIDS
written by Mardi Michels
Cookbook for ages 9-12, 192 pp.
*Foreword by Dorie Greenspan, with blurbs by Jacques Pépin, David Lebovitz, Gail Simmons, Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh
♥️ Enjoy this video of Mardi talking about the book with one of her students on Breakfast Television Toronto:
This post is linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
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