Friday, May 1, 2015

Amande – The almond, the nut. Almonds in French cuisine.

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Almonds in the French kitchen.
Almonds are an indispensable part of French cuisine; they will be in French recipes from the hors d’œuvre to the dessert and are, of course, essential for many pastries. Almonds are also the indispensable ingredient, in France’s famed massepain, marzipan. Almond adapt to all flavors,  add their own when required, and add a very unique texture. Go to France and enjoy almonds in many different forms.
Marzipan is the sweet almond based candy, that is also often used for decoration.  Marzipan is made with almond paste along with plenty of sugar and egg whites.  The shops that sell marzipan do so in an enormous variety of shapes including animals, fruits, and vegetables, etc.,    Marzipan was quite likely a Roman, or even an earlier invention where honey was used instead of sugar.  However, whether a Roman creation or not France’s chefs produce some of the finest marzipan in the world.

A Winnie the Pooh marzipan cake.
Photograph courtesy of  Anderson Vaz
 In the French kitchen, three nuts reign paramount. The noix, the walnut, the amande, the almond, and the noisette, the hazelnut.   While the walnut may be the most expensive nut.  The almond is, without any doubt, the most important in the chef’s recipe book.
Almonds on French menus:

Dattes Farcies à la Pâte d'Amande – Dates stuffed with almond paste.

Fromages Blanc au Miel et Amandes Fresh white cheese served with honey and almonds.

Sole Façon Belle Meunière aux Amandes – Sole meunière, made in the manner of a beautiful miller’s wife; served with almonds.

Sole Amandine.
Photograph courtesy of Dana McMahan
Almonds in pastries and cakes.
You may make a quick check on the almond’s popularity by looking at a display of pastries in any medium-sized French café; a cafe that offers at least seven or eight choices of pastries or cakes.  Without a doubt, two or three or more pastries will have almonds in their recipes. In the rare cases where almonds are in less than thirty per cent of the recipes their place will have been taken by the walnut or hazelnut.
The almond tree comes to France.
Of course, we again must blame the Romans for bringing the almond tree to France along with apricots trees, cherry trees, plum trees and many others. Already 2,000 years ago, almonds were part of the Roman diet and culture. The Romans traditionally showered newlyweds with almonds as a fertility charm. That ancient tradition, with a twist, still continues in France, and in many other cultures.  At weddings, births, baptisms, in fact, on any happy occasion in France the guests will often receive dragées amande, sugared almonds, as gifts.

Sugared almonds.
Photograph courtesy of   Gian Luigi Perrella
Almond candies, sweets.

 Look in the window of a traditional chocolatier, a traditional French chocolate shop, or a traditional confiserie, a traditional confectioner. Then go to a modern candy store, a sweet shop, and, of course, a supermarket.  All will offer an endless choice of candies, sweets, that include almonds.

A traditional confiserie.
Photograph courtesy of Thomas PLESSIS.

Lait d'Amande – Almond milk.
 Almond milk is another recipe introduced by the Romans; it is made by soaking almonds for two or three days and then peeling and blending them. However, I have no idea how the Romans made almond milk absent blenders?  In sauces and dessert recipes, almond milk adds its unique flavor without the texture of the nut. French chefs have improved on the original Roman recipes and add other flavors.  As almond milk has no connection to real milk, it is also enjoyed by vegans and those with milk allergies.  My first vegan cappuccino introduced me to almond milk when it did an outstanding job replacing cow’s milk.

Almond milk.
Photograph courtesy of Andrew Brusnahan

Almond milk on French menus:

Dos de Cabillaud au Chou-Fleur, Parfumé au Lait d’Amande – A cut from the meatiest portion of cod. the fish; served with cauliflower flavored with almond milk.
Glace au Lait d’Amande Ice cream made with almond milk.

Almonds from the sea.

Amandes is both the plural for the almond, the nut and a short form for the amande de mer, the sea almond.

Amande de Mer (l')  - The sea almond; a smooth-shelled clam. 

Assiette d'Amandes Sauce Échalote A plate of sea almonds served with a shallot sauce.

The Amande de Mer  The sea almond or dog cockle.
Photograph courtesy of gigile
Almond desserts and history.

Amandes Aboukir – Whole almonds covered in almond paste or marzipan and dipped in caramelized sugar. These are served as a petit four, occasionally as a dessert. This dish is named by the French after the Bay of Aboukir off the coast of Egypt. That bay is famous in French history as the site of Napoleon I’s victorious land-based battle with the Ottoman Turkish army. Here, began the slow end to Turkish rule over Egypt and historically was the battle that paved the way for the construction of the Suez Canal and eventually Egyptian independence.

However, the British remember the Bay of Aboukir differently. For them, it was the setting for the “Battle of the Nile.”  Here, on 1 August 1798, Admiral Nelson destroyed or captured 15 of Napoleon’s 17 ships of the line. It was that disaster that marooned Napoleon in North Africa and the Middle East for four out of his five months stay.  To enjoy your meal in France; there is absolutely no need to remind your French Maître D’ about Nelson’s “Battle of the Nile!”

The Battle of the Nile.  The way the British remember it.
Photograph courtesy of  Black Country Museums

Amandine –  Used as part of the name for many dishes where almonds play a prominent part.

Tarte Amandine – A tart made with almonds mixed with apples or other fruits.

Tarte Amandine and ice cream
Photograph courtesy  of  David Smith

Amaretto - An almond flavored liqueur.

While Amaretto was created in Italy, today, it is made all over the world. French companies such as Marie Brizard of Bordeaux, famous for their Anisette, make their own version of Amaretto.

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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