Trying new things: Sweet and Savoury Fondants

Recently I have decided that it’s time to expand my cooking repertoire, try some new dishes and learn some new techniques. After flicking through my cookery books and magazines I decided to start with fondants.

Initially I just planned to have a go at the sweet chocolaty versions, but then I thought, what the heck, if I’m trying new things I might as well make a day of it and have a go at the savoury potato type as well and so an extremely calorific meal plan was born.

I started with the savoury fondant, which is essentially a piece of nicely shaped piece of potato poached in butter (and a little stock). I suppose you could really use any shape of potato provided it would cook evenly, but on the TV the chefs always seem to cut perfect cylinders from a large potato and so I thought I’d try that. After a little bit of searching in various supermarkets I eventually managed to locate two sufficiently large firm potatoes to cut my cylinders from .

Cutting out the cylinde

Cutting out the cylinders

This proved to be a lot harder than it looks on the TV. I don’t know if I’m just weak, or if they have sharper cutters than me, but it took an awful lot of huffing and puffing to get through the potato.   Once I did finally manage to cut them out I just lopped of the top and bottom to give it flat ends and then trimmed the edges slightly to make them pretty.

Starting cooking

Starting cooking

For my two 100g pieces I melted 100g of butter in a saucepan and then added my potatoes. Once they had fried on one side for 5 minutes I flipped them over, added the stock, some thyme and some garlic then turned down the heat and popped the lid on the pan. 25 minutes later a lot of my butter/stock mix was gone (I’m not sure if it evaporated or was absorbed by the potato?) and my fondants were cooked.

Finished cooking

Finished cooking

I served these with some roast chicken, peas and gravy. While there were soft, buttery and rich, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. The flavour was very similar to the inside of a good roast potato, but without lovely the crispy outer shell. I can see how these look much more elegant on a plate than a roast potato, but I think at home, where no one is judging my presentation, I would prefer a plain old crunchy roasty!

Potato Fondants

Potato Fondants

I then plunged on with the chocolate fondants. Having watched umpteen series of Masterchef over the years I’ve seen a lot of failed fondants and so I was feeling a little nervous about these. Would they stand up once out of the moulds? Would they have a lovely gooey centre? In the end these turned out to be quite straight forward to make and the answer to both questions was yes!

Chocolate Fondants

Chocolate Fondant

After reading several recipes I was a bit confused as to whether I should chill my fondants or not prior to cooking. In the end, since my recipe made two, I decided to try both methods. While they both worked, the chilled fondant rose a bit less which made it easier to stand up on the plate, so I think this works the best if you have the time.

ready to turn out

Ready to turn out

Unlike the potato fondants, the chocolate ones were not disappointing at all. Instead they were divine – rich and gooey and lovely. As I say, I was surprised how easy it was to make these and I’m definitely going to be whipping up some more in the coming weeks!

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Fondue Alternatives: Aligot and Baked Mont D’Or

When it comes to sharing dishes based on melted cheese dishes, the one that everyone knows is a fondue.  I, personally, am rather partial to a fondue and since moving out to the French/Swiss border I have eaten rather a lot of them (I ate them back when I lived in Cardiff as well, but not quite so often).  While my love of fondue is not waning, I thought that maybe it was time for me to try out some new melted cheese meal options.  The two I opted for were Aligot and a Baked Mont D’Or.

Aligot de L’Aveyron

Aligot is hearty dish made from a mixture of potatoes, garlic and cheese.  It originated in the L’Aubrac region in the Pyrenees.  While this dish has humble origins (it was originally made by monks to feed weary pilgrims) it has since become a dish for celebrations and gatherings.

The communal preparation of the dish at such celebrations, combined with its extremely stringy texture when finished, have earned it the nickname “ruban de l’amitié” (ribbon of friendship).

Aligot de L’Aveyron in the pan

Aligot de L’Aveyron in the pan – my best attempt at a “ribbon”

While visually this dish looks pretty similar to a fondue, it’s actually much closer to mashed potato so you don’t want to be dipping any bread into it.  It’s usually served as a side dish with either roast pork or sausage.

Aligot de L’Aveyron with sausage and garlic green beans

Aligot de L’Aveyron with sausage and garlic green beans

I was a bit lazy and bought my Aligot pre-prepared then reheated it at home. But it’s actually a pretty straight forward dish to make.

Aligot de L’Aveyron

My packet of Aligot de L’Aveyron

For four persons you need 1kg of potatoes (traditionally Bintje), 2 cloves of garlic, 400g of fresh Tomme cheese (or Cantal or a mild Cheddar, you don’t want anything too strong) and 200g of crème fraiche.

Peel the garlic and the potatoes and cut the potatoes into large chunks.  Boil the potatoes and the garlic till the potatoes are soft. Drain, remove the garlic and mash the potatoes.  Add the crème fraiche. Grate the cheese and then slowly incorporate into the creamy mash, stirring all the time while it melts.  It’s ready when it forms a “ribbon” when lifted with the spoon i.e. when it’s nice and stringy!

Making this for four, the stirring needs a bit of effort, but is not too difficult.  However when you see the size of the pots they make at celebrations you can understand why they might need a few friends to help out!

Baked Mont D’Or

Having been produced for around 200 years in the Jura region of both countries, Mont D’Or is a cheese claimed by the French and the Swiss (it’s called Vacherin Mont D’Or in Switzerland and is made with pasteurized milk as opposed to the unpasteurized French version).

It’s completely seasonal, only being produced and available for sale in the “winter” (you can buy the French one from September to May) when the cows produce less milk with a different fat profile compared to the summer milk. The summer milk from the same cows is used to make Comté (or Gruyere on the Swiss side).

I like to think of Mont D’or as the original baked camembert and a cheat’s fondue – no grating required and it comes in its own box ready to be cooked and enjoyed!

Mont D'Or in packet

A Mont D’Or in its packet

A washed rind cheese, it’s shaped by a spruce hoop that also adds to the “outdoorsy” flavour of the cheese.  When ripe, it’s often already runny and delicious inside even at room temperature.  Baking with white wine and garlic just enhances the loveliness that lies within and warms things up a bit.  I would say that overall the taste is a bit stronger and more pungent than a fondue, it’s also an extremely rich cheese, but if you’re a cheese lover like me it’s a real treat.

Mont D'Or ready for the oven

The Mont D’Or ready for the oven

For a small Mont D’Or (which serves 2 apparently, although I can eat a whole one myself!) you just need 1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic (sliced) and 50mls of white wine.  Cut a few slits in the top of the cheese and push the garlic into them.  Pour over the white wine and then bake everything in the oven for about 30 minutes at 200C (or longer if your cheese has been in the fridge). Et voila, beautiful, gooey, tasty, hot cheese ready to be dipped into!

Mont D'Or baked with the accompaniments

Mont D’Or baked, with some accompaniments

Dipping my bread into the Mont D'Or

Dipping my bread into the Mont D’Or

As well as bread, I like to serve mine with gherkins and meats.  I find that the smokiness of some saucisson goes particularly well!

Mont D'Or - Demolished!

A Mont D’Or – Demolished!