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This is a recipe from Alain Coumont’s cookbook. He is the founder of the cafe Le Pain Quotidien, and his book is dotted about the tables in a civilized and welcoming (ok, manipulative) way for you to peruse. I’ve worked out that if I go there once a week for the next 6 months, I’ve got every recipe. It’s Belgian, he’s Belgian, and the whole enterprise is as civilized as you can get – in my opinion – in LA. The chairs and tables are made of wood, the walls of brick. Just like humans are made of flesh and blood, he decided that the basics shouldn’t really be messed with, and I agree. I’m a great fan of being able to hear the person sitting opposite me, and not the screeching sound of metal chairs slicing open my cerebral cortex. I also like books and reading and taking my time, which if you leave books lying around is the implicit message; I’m less likely to leave when I’m halfway through the history of sourdough, so I simply order another cup of Brussels breakfast tea, and stare out of the door for a few seconds, thinking about the pleasures of yeast.

It amazes me that something so simple is so hard to get right. All I want is somewhere to go that is unpretentious, that serves well-made, thoughtfully produced food, without millions of other possibilities, all of them involving soy. I also don’t want the server to get so far into my psyche that we have to arrange a separate meeting just to unpack it all. And all the recipes, by the way, are in grams. No conversion chart, no nothing. This man has balls. Also, given his success at creating a chain, I was expecting a businessman in a pinny, but reading his book, he’s clever and genuine about food, with quite messy hair.

This recipe is so simple and soothing, it’s almost convalescent food. It also reminded me of toffee apples. Cool and fudgy and very ‘appley’ – it’s lovely for breakfast or as a lazy pudding. Apples are in season here, especially the crisp and aromatic California Gravensteins from Sonoma, which are peaking as we speak. Feel free to experiment with spices and sweetness, but my feeling with apples is always the tarter the better. I want even my pulped apple to have some bite. The overall blondeness of cashews is pleasing, but if you don’t mind dark brown pudding, I imagine it would also work with almonds.

Apple mousse with cashew butter*

Adapted from Alain Coumont’s Communal Table

Fills 4 small bowls or glasses

400g apple compote

150g cashew nut butter

4 tbsp acacia honey

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 cinnamon stick or a sprinkle of ground cinnamon

For the garnish: 75g dried apples and verbena or basil flowers

For the compote, core and peel 5-6 small apples, and then slice them finely. Add them to a solid pan with 3 tablespoons of water and the cinnamon, and put a tightly fitting lid on. Cook over a gentle heat for about 15 minutes until they have softened and become fluffy. Fork them up a bit, remove the cinnamon stick, and process/blend the apples along with the cashew butter, honey and lemon juice. Much depends on the sweetness of your apples, so taste as you go. Divide out into the bowls or glasses and refrigerate for 6 hours. Serve with a dried apple ring and a verbena flower, if you can remember.

*(1st Sept) I initially thought Coumont had withheld amounts in this recipe; in fact, I got distracted while people watching at LPQ and forgot to write them down. I now include his very sensible measurements. My apologies.

Dried apples for the garnish

Adapted from Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book

If you want to dry the apples yourself, it’s fun to do and not difficult at all, though easy to forget about; you open the oven door a week later to find some wizened ears. Prepare the apples (you choose the number) as you would for the compote, and cut into rings. The point is to slowly remove all moisture from the fruit, without cooking it. A low and steady source of heat is what is needed. The plate-warming part of the oven is good, a warm airing cupboard, or keep the apple rings in the oven on a cake rack at the lowest possible temperature, with the door slightly ajar. The temperature should be between 50 to 60C (120 to 150F). You’ll know they’re done because they’ll be leathery, and will not give up any juice when you cut into them. Cool the fruit before packing away in a paper bag – anything totally airtight will encourage moisture and mould. Store in a cool, dry place. The flavour is quite different to fresh and it’s worth doing if you have a glut.

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