Chestnut Honey Squares {Review of The French Kitchen Cookbook}

Patricia Wells is one of my favorite cookbook authors. Her book, Salad as a Meal, is one of my very favorites. Patricia teaches cooking classes where she lives in France. She divides her time between Paris and Provence, and has the most amazing garden. Doesn’t that sound dreamy? The French Kitchen Cookbook, is Patricia’s newest book and also the newest one in my collection. I jumped at the chance to review it!

Over the years, I’ve purchased a few French cookbooks here and there and we’ve experimented at home cooking simple, yet sophisticated French meals. And that is precisely how I would describe The French Kitchen Cookbook. It is simple, elegant and sophisticated, but approachable and doable. I love those kinds of recipes!

True to my¬† nature, I opened it up and started at the back with desserts. There’s an entire section on sorbet. (It’s like she was writing this book just for me!) The book is filled with delectable recipes for appetizers, rustic stews, pasta dishes, salads and soups, casseroles, and beautiful desserts. I dare you to look at it and not drool all over the pages! I’ve moved it to the coveted spot in my kitchen, far away from the other cookbooks on my bookshelf, where I have it at my fingertips as I’m trying to decide what to make for dinner.

Every attention has been paid to the details. There is a focus on flavor and using the best ingredients you can find. There are plenty of traditional French and Mediterranean recipes, but I really love the spin-offs using Asian and Middle Eastern ingredients and spices. I really gives you the sense that when you’re in Patricia Wells’ French kitchen you’re taken on a bit of a world tour. And that’s a tour I want to be on.

One recipe that caught my eye is Patricia’s recipe for Chestnut Honey Squares. Before I say anymore, I have to preface this by saying that it caught my eye because I thought it looked too ordinary or plain. I was, um, kind of wrong. Don’t let the name fool you – there isn’t even one chestnut in these bars, though I think it would be really good to play around with that idea. Rather they call for chestnut honey.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any in nearby stores to use in these bars. Instead I used a special spiced buckwheat honey I already had in my cupboard. You should also know that though I make a ton of sweets every week, I hardly ever eat more than one or two. I literally could not stop eating these. My husband and I are always thinking and talking about our favorite, or best recipe of the year, and I think this one gets the title for 2013. They are that good.

The buttery crust is made with flour and almonds. I used gluten-free flour and it worked very well. (My husband couldn’t tell the difference!) I will emphasize that it’s important to use really good ingredients for the best tasting result. I used really good vanilla. I used homemade candied orange peel (recipe coming). And I used the best honey I could find. I really believe that makes a difference.


I made a few very slight changes to the recipe. I made the recipe as is, except that I used a gluten-free flour mix, I didn’t need the cold water (the egg yolk provided enough liquid for the dough to come together), I used slivered almonds instead of sliced almonds, and I used spiced buckwheat honey because that was what I had on hand. I can’t wait to try these again.

Chestnut Honey Squares

from The French Kitchen Cookbook by Patricia Wells
These rich honey squares satisfy with just a single bite. And they are so pretty once they come from the oven that you will proudly announce, “I made these!”
Equipment needed: a 9 1/2- by 9 1/2- inch (24cm by 24cm) baking pan; baking parchment; a food processor.
MAKES 32 SQUARES

Ingredients:

For pastry:

3/4 cup (120 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (45 g) almond meal
3 tablespoons (35 g) unrefined cane sugar, preferably organic, vanilla scented (see Notes)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk, preferably organic and free range
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
cold water

For topping:

4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (80 g) sliced almonds
1/3 cup (30 g) candied orange or lemon peel, preferably organic, cut into tiny cubes
1/3 cup (65 g) unrefined cane sugar, preferably organic
2 tablespoons intensely flavored honey, such as chestnut
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions:

1. Center a rack in the oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
2. Line the baking pan with baking parchment, letting the parchement hang over the sides. (This will make it easier to remove the dessert once it’s baked.)
3. Prepare the pastry: In the food processor, combine the flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt. Pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of water. Pulse to incorporate. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water, tablespoon by tablespoon, through the feed tube, pulsing until just before the pastry forms a ball. You may not need all of the water.
4 Turn the dough out into the prepared baking pan. Press the dough evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Place in the oven and bake until the pastry begins to brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes.
5. While the pastry is baking, prepare the topping: In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the almonds, candied peel, sugar, honey, and vanilla extract. Heat just until teh ingredients are incorporated.
6. Remove the pan from the oven and spread the almond-honey mixture evenly over the pastry. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the topping is a deep gold, 12 to 15 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven. Transfer to a rack to cool in the pan. Once it has cooled, remove from the pan and cut into 32 squares. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Notes:

-Almond meal (sometimes called almond flour) is made from whole, unblanched (skin-on) almonds. For this recipe, whole, unblanched almonds can be finely ground in a food processor. Do not over-process or you may end up with almond butter.
-To make vanilla-scented sugar: Flatten 1 or several moist vanilla beans. Cut them in half lengthwise. With a small spoon, scrape out the seeds and place them in a small jar; reserve the seeds for another use. Fully dry the vanilla bean halves at room temperature. Place the dry halves in a large jar with a lid, and cover with sugar. Tighten the lid and store for several weeks to scent and flavor the sugar. Use in place of regular sugar when preparing desserts.

Variation: Substitute dried black currants for the candied citrus.
Recipe reprinted with permission from William Morrow. The French Kitchen Cookbook, Copyright 2013

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The French Kitchen Cookbook to review. The opinions expressed are 100% my own. p.s. I really do love this book. I only review and recommend products that I have tried and love.

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