Posted 20 hours ago

One More Croissant for the Road: Felicity Cloake

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Needless to say, this – and the raw fish that followed – blew my tiny mind, just as the accompanying wasabi blew my sinuses. A green bike drunkenly weaves its way up a cratered hill in the late-morning sun, the gears grinding painfully, like a pepper mill running on empty.

Her “ How to cook the perfect…” column for the Guardian hits just the right practical, experimental note and her sense of humour makes for fun reading even when it’s not a recipe I’m likely to ever make. Cloake imbues [ One More Croissant] with such personality and wit that it makes you wonder if the rest of us have forgotten that writing about food should be fun. Her aim was to sample the best versions of her 21 favourite French foods, while keeping to a fairly tight schedule. In the summer, we would go over on the ferry and eat the same thing at the source, to a Johnny Hallyday soundtrack.Having enjoyed Brown Sauce Red Sauce, Felicity Cloake’s account of bicycling around Britain sampling different breakfasts, I decided to read her previous book. Fortunately for my further education, though, I am not the only one with a renewed appetite for French flavours: Olive magazine tipped new-wave French as a trend to watch in 2019, a prediction borne out by restaurant openings including Flamboree! Each of the 21 `stages’ concludes with Felicity putting this new found knowledge to good use in a fresh and definitive recipe for each dish – the culmination of her rigorous and thorough investigative work on behalf of all of our taste buds. I also learned more about the Chaplain of the United States Senate (and apparently, House of Representatives).

The author comes across as your friend, your ideal travel companion and breathes fresh air into the usual travelogue and guides.

This at least means I’ll be able to discuss murder weapons with confidence on my journey, if required. Long before Elizabeth David shook up domestic cuisine with French Country Cooking in 1951, 19th-century cookbooks were peppered with recipes “in the French fashion”, while the continental restaurants of Soho and Fitzrovia in London were a magnet for Victorian artists and bohemians. Grease a deep roasting dish about 25 x 20cm (10in x 8in) wide with butter and sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

A green bike drunkenly weaves its way up a cratered hill in the late-morning sun, the gears grinding painfully, like a pepper mill running on empty.

No doubt her descriptions of the different styles of boeuf bourguignon in different cities will thrill those readers who share her enthusiasm. A boulangerie croissant has been my weekly treat on a Sunday morning for many years and I too enjoy indulging daily while on a bike tour, but once again Felicity takes it further, scoring her croissants out of ten – why have I never considered this? But those six weeks pedalling around l’Hexagone made it clear that I wasn’t that familiar with French cuisine after all. This is one long journey and I can only imagine how tough it was at times and the perseverance needed to see it through. Every special occasion in the early 90s was celebrated with a trip to the same Soho brasserie in London for onion soup and steak frites, always culminating in the same pièce de résistance, a little pot of custard with an eminently smashable sugar top.

Felicity is both meticulous and generous in crediting her sources, weaving the tips and hints of others into her own exacting recipes, making them all more practical and trustworthy. This short came out a couple of months ago, but since I'm revisiting stuff for National Bike Month, I thought I'd share it here. Hotels with no reception staff, restaurants stuck in 1930, and strong populist opinions about cheese and champagne. A battered van appears behind her, the customary cigarette dangling from its driver's-side window… as he passes, she casually reaches down for some water, smiling broadly in the manner of someone having almost too much fun. A land of glorious landscapes, and even more glorious food, France is a place built for cycling and for eating, too – a country large enough to give any journey an epic quality, but with a bakery on every corner.

For all its carefully cultivated mystique, the world’s most famous omelette is surprisingly easy to reproduce – it just takes a bit of elbow grease (or an electric whisk). There’s recipes, talks about food, good tips of places to visit, things to see, tips for cyclists and just a general love of travel and France across each and every page. A battered van appears behind her, the customary cigarette dangling from its driver’s-side window… as he passes, she casually reaches down for some water, smiling broadly in the manner of someone having almost too much fun. Pour the mixture into the pan and leave to set until it begins to come away from the side of the pan, then gently loosen the edges with a spatula and slide the butter underneath, shaking to distribute it evenly beneath the omelette.

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