julie, julia & jules – lessons from mastering the art of french cooking [5 ingredients | simple baking]

chocolate clafoutis [5 ingredients | simple baking] chocolate clafoutis [5 ingredients | simple baking]

With a name like Jules (actually my real name is Julie but I really hate it – so don’t tell anyone), and a food blog, AND a passion for all things French, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t strongly identify with the story of Julie and Julia. What can I say, I LOVED the movie and since then I seem to have become a bit of a Julie and Julia stalker. Well in the literary arena at least.

This year I’ve managed to read Julie Powell’s story of her year of cooking (and blogging) dangerously, Julia Child’s autobiography that focuses on the years of her life that she lived in France – or La Belle F – as she called it. And most recently I’ve been wading through the enormous body of work that is Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Volume 1.

While it’s about as far from minimalist cooking as one can get, I’ve still loved Julia’s approach to food and cooking. It’s hard to resist her obvious passion. And so I thought I’d share with you a few of the pearls of wisdom I’ve learned from both Julie and Julia. And while we’re at it my new favourite, Julia-inspired dinner party dessert as well – chocolate clafoutis – so simple with only 5 ingredients and seriously good.

lessons from mastering the art of french cooking

you are never too old to learn to cook
Julia Child was 37 when she first enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and got serious about learning to cook. And while I know 37 isn’t that ancient, it’s pretty inspiring that she went on to have such an amazing career as a cookbook author and TV presenter.

there are 3 secrets to sauteeing
i. the fat or oil must be very hot
ii. the food must be dry – otherwise a layer of steam forms that prevents browning and searing
iii. the pan must not be crowded – again to avoid steaming

sour cream cannot be substituted for creme fraiche
According to Julia, creme fraiche has been naturally fermented to produce a nutty rather than sour product that doesn’t curdle when boiled.
To make your own creme fraiche, mix together 1 teaspoon buttermilk with 1 cup whipping cream. Keep between 15C – 30C (60F – 85F) for about 8 hours then refrigerate.

classical french cooking doesn’t use olive oil
Apparently the olive oil flavour is too strong, so neutral oils from peanuts or corn are favoured.

canned truffles can be improved
Apparently adding maderia, to half fill the can an hour before using the truffles improves their flavour. I’m yet to try this but I know from experience that many things are improved by the addition of fortified wine. Oh and if you happen to have an excess of said truffles, they can be frozen.

a food mill is better than a blender or food processor for pureeing soups
Apparently the food mill sieves any fibrous parts where as a processor doesn’t remove them.

diluted clam juice can be substituted for fish stock
Not that I know where to buy clam juice – but interesting none the less.

you can improve on canned (or tetra pack) chicken or beef stock
Just simmer 2 cups for 30 minutes with 2 tablespoons each of sliced onion, celery & carrot. I haven’t tried this either but will file it away for a stock emergency.

a splitting or curdling hollondaise sauce can be rescued
Just remove from the heat and whisk through a tablespoon cold water.

the secret to perfect poached eggs is FRESH eggs
Or if egg poaching scares you, substitute in soft boiled, peeled eggs. Simmer for 6 minutes (7 if straight from the fridge). Drain and cool under running water.

learning to make a good omelette is all about practice

a pinch of cream of tartar stabilises whisked egg whites
Also, whites at room temperature will increase in volume and hold more air significantly more than cold whites

the most important aspect of chicken cooking is procuring a good & flavoursome bird
Julia goes on to compare the flavour of a cheap chook to the taste of teddy bear stuffing – who knew?

stuffing warning (!)
Julia advises to avoid stuffing a chicken in advance as it can go sour – not really a new lesson but love that she calls it a ‘stuffing warning’.

french people eat hamburgers
although it’s more the beef patty served with a red wine reduction sauce and some vegegtables rather than on a burger bun.

the best way to cook kidneys
is to saute whole in butter then slice to serve. No plans to use this information any time soon – but never say never.

the french are interested in the flavour of vegetables rather than their nutritive content
which is why their veg tend to taste so good

do not keep cooked green vegetables warm for more than a moment

because otherwise they loose their colour

a well cooked green bean should be tender but retain the slightest suggestion of crunch

it’s OK to use frozen brussels sprouts and broccoli
to cook them, thaw just enough so they can be separated. For 10oz (250g), simmer in 1/2 cup water with a tablespoon butter for 6-8 minutes or until tender.

there are 3 different ways to cook buttered peas,

depending on how fresh and tender your peas are

frozen peas can be improved

just simmer them in a similar way to frozen brussels sprouts or broccoli (details above)

spinach picks up a metallic taste if cooked in iron or aluminium

lettuce and celery can be braised
and apparently they taste great if cooked slowly with stock and herbs

cucumbers can be baked

gratin dauphinois uses milk and cheese
And all this time I thought it was cream. Must try Julia’s version of this wonderful scalloped potato dish.

cream whips better when it is very cold

Julia recommends whipping by hand in a bowl that is sitting inside another bowl containing an ice slurry. Interesting.

you can cream butter and sugar by hand

Apparently if the butter is at room temperature and soft enough it’s easy to whisk until pale and creamy by hand.

metal moulds are better for caramel- lined desserts

Apparently the famous creme-caramel is easier to unmould and has move even caramel distribution if metal moulds are used. Given how frustrating it can be to have all your lovely caramel left behind in a ramekin, I’m keen to try this out.

the simplest chocolate icing is butter beaten into melted chocolate.

draining racks are evil

I’ve always hated how draining racks collect icky dishwater underneath them. Now that I’ve read about Julie Powell’s maggot incident, I heartily recommend either being very thorough with your cleaning. Or ditching the rack.

perseverance conquers all
I think the most important lesson from both Julia Child’s story and the Julie & Julia project is to never ever give up.

chocolate clafoutis [5 ingredients | simple baking]

[5 ingredients | simple baking]
chocolate clafoutis

serves 2

I love a recipe that can easily be multiplied or divided. You can even make this for 1 if you feel the need for something sweet but don’t want a heap of tempting leftovers hanging around.

Most clafoutis are fruit based, certainly all the ones in Julia’s book are. Julia notes that clafoutis are a simple peasant dessert that looks like a tart and is usually eaten hot or warm.

If chocolate isn’t your thing or you feel like something a little more virtuous feel free to play around with cherries, berries, apples, quince, even dates or prunes.

These make a great dinner party dessert because you can prepare the batter in the moulds ahead of time. Just pop them in the oven to cook while you’re eating your main course – too simple.

I did try making these with milk but found them less satisfyingly custardy than the cream version, but by all means substitute in light cream or half-and-half if you’d prefer a more waistline friendly dessert.

These are desserts just made to be served with vanilla ice cream but a simple sprinkling of icing (powdered) sugar would also be lovely.

40g (1 1/2oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
40g (1 1/2oz) brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup whipping cream (35% milk fat)
50g (1 3/4oz) dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70% cocoa solids)

Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

Grease 2 x 1 cup capacity ramekins or cups with butter or oil.

Combine sugar and flour in a mixing bowl. Add eggs and cream and whisk until combined. Pour batter into the prepared ramekins. Divide chocolate between ramekins.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until clafoutis are puffy and risen like a souffle and deep golden brown.

Serve hot or warm with vanilla icecream.

chocolate clafoutis [5 ingredients | simple baking]


I’ve recently discovered a new online book retailer that is doing great things, especially for people like me living in Australia. Their prices are very competitive AND they offer FREE SHIPPING anywhere in the world. But best of all, unlike some other book retailers, they are FAST – at least in my experience so far.

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  • clam juice is very canadian, it’s what we use instead of tomato juice in our bloody marys, then we call it a ceasar!

  • I loved the Julie and Julia movie very much, and after reading your list, I’m going to give the book a try. Thank you for the appetizer!

  • I had exactly 50 g of dark chocolate laying around after trying the chocolate affogato the other day, so I decided to give these a try today. Quickly whipped everything together and waited for the oven to heat up… Put the cups in, and… Well, the only ovenproof cupsized cups I own happens to be very unstable. Of course, one turned over and knocked the other one over as well, leaving me in tears and the oven filled with batter. On the bright side, this gave me a good reason to finally clean the oven, and about half/one third of the batter (and all the chocolate) actually survived.

    So, half an hour later (oven cleaner now than ever), I gave it another shot. As expected, it turned into quite an chocolate shock! Both of us needed more ice cream afterwards just to cancel out the chocolate :)

    However, it was still delicious, and I’m quite looking forward getting them right the next time! This guy and the ginger pudding is my new favorite deserts!

  • thanks wei wei

    oh I hate when things like that happen – although if all the chocolate survived then it’s not all bad. love that you could see the upside in cleaning the oven. do you think I should decrease the amount of chocolate? I quite liked it that you get intense chocolate bits at the bottom – but is it too much?

    I think they could be a little rubbery cold, but then that might not be a bad thing.

  • No no, the chocolate amount in the recipe is probaly just fine. The problem was that I didn’t have enough eggs or cream to make more batter, so I just went with the batter I had. So, I basically used two-three times the normal amount of chocolate, fully expecting the chocolate shock :)

  • Thanks so much for this, Jules. I have had clafoutis on the brain for weeks now. Got some apricots in my farm share this past week and decided that was the ticket. Apricot clafoutis for us! It was an horrible disaster. Something was horribly wrong with the apricots and the flavor of the finished dish was really sour…inedible unfortunately. So, chocolate it is for us next. Must redeem myself now. I’m sure this will be a hit and a nice consolation for my poor unsuspecting husband who took a bite of the awful apricot dish and made quite a face.

  • Hi Jules,

    great blog… love the handy tips.. by the way who is the online book store you are using would love to try them out….

    Smiles Rozzie

  • You could really run with the Julie, Julia & Jules thing! lol. I found both of the actresses voices very difficult to stand in the film sadly but I loved the story. It was inspiring that at 37 she managed to become cook. I have a vested interest in everyone believing that the late 30’s are still young ;D

    Your recipe looks sooo good. I’m going to have to try it next time I go for sweets.

    One thing I must question: cucumbers can be baked? Seriously? More info pls!

  • Bookdepository is not only fast and with free worldwide delivery, their book prices are steeply discounted. Since discovering them I am able for the first time in my life to afford to purchase books.

    Anyway, more to the point, thanks for all the tips you have extracted from Julia Child’s book. They are excellent.

  • Ok forgive me because I’m a little daft when it comes to cooking…. well and sewing… oh good Lord too many things to mention, but anyway, my question for you is about the whipping cream. Do you mean to use heavy whipping cream that has not been whipped and is in it’s liquid state or do I turn it into whipped cream and fold it in?

    Your photos have sparked a sincere desire to attempt this recipe. :)

    Another Julia but no Julia Child for sure. ;)

  • That is one great (and sometimes hilarious) list! Am so relieved I can rescue my tins and tins of truffles I have lying around ;-), the pinch of tartar for egg whites looks like a winner, I too love braised lettuce and have absolutely no desire to eat kidneys I don’t care how you cook them!!
    Trying desperately to keep away from puddings – end of winter = jeans feeling snugger than I’d like (and no, I know snugger probably isn’t exactly a word, but you know what I mean). However, I cannot see how I can stop myself from making this..

  • Have you tired http://www.booko.com.au? It searches a number of websites and gives you a comparison of prices around the world for the book you’re after. Bookdepositry is often the cheapest but not always – it’s worth a look.

  • Great list, I have been experimenting with Volume 1 too. The omlete instructions are hilarious. I agree packaged stock can be improved and regulary add carrot/celery/onion to tetra pack of stock before I use it. Even a smashed clove of garlic, small dash of water and ten mins simmering does the trick, (add an egg and a handful of frozen peas/some grated zuc for instant dinner).

  • Thanks for the link to The Book Depository, I just picked up a cookbook I’ve been wanting (How to Eat) for $10 less than the cheapest price in NZ! And free delivery, awesome. Just a note, the web address doesn’t have ‘the’ – that directs to a spammy-link type page.

  • Yum – glad someone else doesn’t think it is a heinous crime to put chocolate in a clafoutis! My grandmother used to make this but used Nutella and Milo. Not very grown up, but we loved it as kids.

    I made one this summer with dark chocolate and the tangy red currants from my garden. My French colleagues I had invited over were less than impressed (got the usual – clafoutis is fruit only – no french person would add chocolate!!!) At least mine was not a rubbery gooey omlette type thing that they have served up at their dinners! Ha!

    Please elaborate on baked cucumbers. I am intrigued.

  • thanks for the tip nita. glad you liked the book depositary

    yes the omelette is a bit out there. glad to hear from someone who has used the stock trick. thanks

    no I haven’t – thanks for the tip

    its bookdepository.co.uk

    julia – great name.
    yes I mean cream that is in its liquid state – unwhipped.

  • Really? No clam juice in Australia? In the northeastern US, you can’t make chowder without it!

    Prepared stocks and broths are better than they were in the days when Julia was writing the book, but still need a little tweaking sometimes. And some brands are MUCH better than others…

    Never thought of chocolate in a clafouti – sounds great, though! I make a savory one with veggies and cheese. Swap out the sugar for parmesan, use sauteed squash and onions instead of fruit(or chocolate). Crumble a little blue cheese on top before you bake. They reheat well for lunch the next day, too…

  • Hi there – I think I’m being dim and have missed an important instruction in this recipe – does the chocolate need to be chopped/broken up when it goes into the clafoutis. Otherwise I’m going to go all OCD and create perfectly formed 25g chunks for each cup…

  • JPG
    good point – if perfectly formed 25g chunks work for you by all means go ahead. Mine were broken in to rough chunks.

    wow savoury clafoutis sounds lovely – hadn’t even thought of it in that way

  • Coincidentally, back in June I decided to cook every recipe in your eBook – ala Julie and Julia – and blog about it. It’s called, not very originally, Jack and Jules. :) http://jacknjules.tumblr.com/. Hope you don’t mind.

    I’ve no idea how to cook, but this is helping a great deal, so thanks.

  • Loved Julie and Julia- such a fun movie and learnt a lot from it too.

    And I’m adding another vote to The Book Depository & the Booko search engine- I may never buy books at Australian retail prices again.

    P.S. Love your 5-ingredient recipes! Keep them coming.

  • jack
    I’m completely honoured that you decided to do a jack & jules project – how exciting.
    do let me know if you have any questions
    good luck!

    yeah – so excited about reasonably priced books – after living in the US it was very hard to go back to paying Oz prices.

  • I love how this blog brings so many cultures together, from all over the world! I have to admit that some of the differences crack me up….clam juice?? As an Aussie, I’m picturing some sort of brine squeezed out of a sea creature, and for some reason it’s Captain Jack Sparrow doing the squeezing :-P

    Hey Marie, or Jules, or anyone else…when the Americans say “sauteed squash” (as in the savoury clafoutis), are they talking about pumpkin? Or the little yellow/green things that are a bit like zucchini in a different shape? We need to revert to Latin biological names hehe.

  • Here’s a foody sciency question, inspired by you suggesting that milk didn’t substitute well for cream. Do you think that if you didn’t have cream, but you had milk and butter, you could somehow make something that had the creaminess covered? I don’t keep cream in the fridge, and only really buy it if I’m cooking for more than just me, but there is always milk and butter.

  • hey kylie
    yeah I know – love the global nature of blogging!
    and you’re right – I’m pretty sure they mean pumpkin. I think winter squash is pumpkin and summer squash are the yellow/green things like zucchini – although I could be wrong

    and good question. love a bit of food science. I think a combo of milk and butter would work – you’d just need to work out the fat contents. cream is about 35% milkfat so probably use 1/3 butter and 2/3 milk and you should be fine. I tend not to have cream around so will be interested to try it as well.

    thanks. the book is pretty full on but worth the struggle.

  • Oh gosh. It looks like I just missed you. :(

    Was wondering… you know how lazy American cooks can be. Any chance you have those flour and sugar measures by the cup or tablespoon?


  • I’m a big fan of Julia. I picked up Mastering the Art for a $1 years ago at a car boot sale. Her clafoutis recipe is my most made item from the book. I need to try replacing the milk with cream. This version sounds tasty. I also have never tried replacing fruit with chocolate…but it’s on the menu this weekend I think.

    I buy lots of my books from Book Dep UK. Their service is excellent.

  • Hi,

    I just wanted to say how much I love your blog/website with all the lovely inexpensive meal ideas. I’ve managed to find from searching and clicking on different sections and links two different $2 a day meal ideas, but wondered if there were any more that I’m missing?

    I also wanted to know where to find the other 5 ingredients meals/recipes that I keep reading about mentioned throughout the website, as I’m not sure that I’ve located all of them. I especially loved the broccoli soup idea, soup’s something I’ve never really known how to make so was grateful for that and the potato one I saw. Also the lentil stew looked very appetising, and I love the potato omelette, always yummy and wholesome.

    Well done on such a beautifully displayed and presented website, keep up the good work!


  • These look delicious! If you were to do it with fruit, say a cinnamon apple mixture, how much/ many apples would you use? Would you recommend using a standard dumpling or pie filling with that with apples, cinnamon, butter etc.?

    Thanks, can’t wait to try them!

  • Jo
    Yes I think a pie filling would be lovely.. best to cook the apples first though. At a guess I’d say 1 apple for 2 serves

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