Cooking Through The Nature of the Feast: A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

I love manor mystery novels—you know the kind—where a group of guests stays at a secluded manor and one of them is murdered. That’s the concept behind Louise Penny’s excellent fourth installment of the Inspector Gamache series, A Rule Against Murder.

Inspector Armand Gamache is at the historic Manoir Bellechasse for his wedding anniversary with the delightful Reine-Marie, and the only other guests are three generations of a family of Quebec Anglos resplendent in their old money, pride, and simmering resentments. Imagine his and Reine-Marie’s surprise when two beloved faces from nearby Three Pines appear as part of this brood and their horror when one of the family is bizarrely murdered. Reine-Marie is sequestered away in Three Pines while Inspector Gamache must unearth painful family secrets—of the victim’s and, compellingly, of his own—in his quest to bring a murderer to justice.

Mystery-wise, this has definitely been my favorite of the series so far. It’s a little light on Three Pines action, and necessarily so given the setting, but it still has enough of the village’s flavor to satisfy ardent fans like myself. Inspector Gamache’s team is also smaller this time around, and I was surprised by how much I missed Yvette Nichol. I’m sure she would be perfectly horrid to be around in person, but I did enjoy watching her continuing struggle under Inspector Gamache’s tutelage.

As to the recipes that accompany this book, there were three, and I chose the two easier ones (as the Meshoui sounds delicious but daunting!) First off, we have a homemade lemonade.

Pro tip: roll your lemons on a hard surface before squeezing, as that will help easily extract all the juice and pulp.
 

Homemade Lemonade

*Makes 5 to 6 tall glasses lemonade

Ingredients

½ cup (101 g) granulated sugar 

½ cup (120 ml) water 

6 ripe, juice lemons, or as needed 

Still water, club soda or sparkling water as needed (about ½ cup/125 ml) per serving 

Instructions

1. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring, over low heat. Remove from the heat and continue stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the simple syrup into a heatproof jar with a lid (a canning jar works well). Cool to room temperature. 

2. Meanwhile, squeeze the lemons; there should be about 1 cup juice. Squeeze 1 or 2 more if you think the juice isn’t tart enough or if you like lemonade with a little kick. When the simple syrup is cool, pour in the lemon juice and refrigerate until well chilled, for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days. 

3. To serve: Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour in about ¹⁄³ cup (75 ml) of the lemon juice mix. Top up the glass with about ½ cup still or sparkling water. Serve very cold.


 

This was the best lemonade I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. I wound up only squeezing out five lemons to obtain over a cup of juice, and used the other to garnish, but oh my, what a gorgeously tart, sweet, summery drink! I can see why Inspector Gamache craves this lemonade when he’s away from the Manoir. It’s simple and elegant, and a perfect treat for summer parties.

Next up, I tried my hand at the pear-chocolate tart:
 

Tarte Poire Hélène 

*Makes one 11-inch (28-cm) tart; 8 to 10 servings

For the pastry:

2¼ cups (281 g) all-purpose flour 

¼ cup (31 g) slivered almonds 

2 tablespoons granulated sugar 

½ teaspoon salt 

8 tablespoons (4 oz/113 g) unsalted butter, well chilled and cut into 1-tablespoon pieces 

7 to 9 tablespoons ice water 

For the filling

One 15-ounce (425-g) can pear halves in natural juice 

8 tablespoons (4 oz/113 g) unsalted butter 

1¼ cups (254 g) granulated sugar 

¼ cup (31 g) all-purpose flour 

¹⁄³ cup (45 g) unsweetened cocoa powder 

2 large eggs 

¼ cup (62 ml) heavy cream 

¼ cup (60 ml) reserved liquid from pears 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

Instructions

1. Make the pastry: Put the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Process until the almonds are finely ground. Add the cold butter and pulse just until the pieces of butter are the size of small peas (10 to 12 pulses—more or less depending on your food processor). Sprinkle 7 tablespoons of the ice water over the flour mixture and pulse 3 or 4 times. If the dough doesn’t stick together when you pinch a little bit of it, add 1 to 2 tablespoons more of water and pulse a few times. The finished pastry should be slightly crumbly in appearance, but stick together when you form a small amount of the pastry into a little ball. Scrape the pastry onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form it into a rough disk, wrap it well, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. 

2. Bake the pastry shell: On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 13-inch (33-cm) circle. Fold the pastry circle in half and lay it into an 11-inch (28-cm) tart pan (preferably one with a removable bottom). Unfold the pastry and move it gently to center it over the pan. Gently, press the pastry into the corners of the pan and along the sides. Trim any overhanging pastry by simply pressing it against the top edge of the pan. Use these scraps to patch any parts of the pastry shell that don’t reach all the way up the sides, or any cracks or tears that may have happened while fitting the dough into the pan. Refrigerate the pastry shell, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours. 

3. Preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C). Put the tart pan onto a baking sheet large enough to hold it comfortably. Poke the bottom of the pastry shell about 20 times with a fork. Line the shell with aluminum foil, pressing the foil gently into the corners and around the sides. Spread 1 pound of dried beans or pie weights in an even layer over the bottom of the foil-lined tart pan. Bake until light golden brown around the very edges of the top, about 25 minutes. Very carefully remove the foil and beans, return the shell, still on the baking sheet, to the oven and bake until the bottom is a light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool the shell completely. 

4. Make the filling: Drain the pears and reserve ¼ cup of the liquid. Blot the pears dry with paper towels and cut them lengthwise into ½-inch (1.25-cm) slices. Lay the pear slices out on paper towels to drain them further. 

5. Cream the butter and sugar with a hand-held mixer on high speed until very well blended. Beat in the flour and cocoa powder at low speed until no trace of flour remains. On medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the heavy cream, reserved pear liquid, and vanilla. 

6. Scrape the chocolate filling into the cooled tart shell and smooth out the top. Arrange the pear slices in an attractive manner over the filling. (Try using the shorter slices in a pinwheel pattern in the center of the filling, then use the larger slices to make one or two more pinwheel patterns closer to the edges of the pan.) 

7. Bake the tart until set in the center and the edges of the crust are a rich golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. The pear slices will sink a little into the filling, but will still be visible after the tart is baked. Cool the tart at room temperature for at least 2 hours (for a fudgy texture), or up to 6 hours for a firmer texture. Either way, the tart is best served at room temperature and without refrigerating.


 

Having a little pear juice left over, I stirred some into my glass of lemonade, which made for a wonderful continuum of flavor between the drink and the dessert. However, I don’t think the dessert stood up as well as the lemonade did. There definitely wasn’t enough pear, and I was not a fan of the pastry (and thought it somewhat ironic that this recipe calls for weighting the crust when the one for the “Sugar Pie” prior laughed at such.)

The chocolate filling was delicious, but overall, this was not a tart I’ll be trying again any time soon, as opposed to the truly exceptional homemade lemonade. It’s the kind of drink that’s just as memorable as the story it accompanies, both of which I’ll think of fondly (though in all honesty, I’m more likely to revisit the lemonade recipe than the book, as there is only so much reading time in the world, alas!)

Next week: I try out both recipes that accompany A Brutal Telling, a strawberry shortcake and a pain doré. Tell me how you’re doing as you cook along with me from The Nature of The Feast, Louise Penny’s free cookbook accompaniment to her bestselling Inspector Gamache series.

 

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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