Jane Webster is living the dream. Five years ago she and her husband Pete sold their home in Melbourne, bought a chateau in Normandy and began a lifestyle that saw them shuttling between Australia and France. The logistics were formidable with four children, their education and the needs of extended family members to be considered.
”As the years march on, we are becoming used to sharing our lives between France and Australia, and to making the choices that often face us,” she writes in her sumptuous book French Ties: Love, Life & Recipes (published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books, $A49.95).
“I love both places. Please don’t ask me where I would rather be, as I really could not choose – and I imagine this is how it will be for all the days of my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Chateau de Bosgouet was badly in need of renovation. For a start, the five-storey building of the Napoleon III era had a grand oak staircase painted sickly green, a cellar blocked up since the 1970s and a heating and plumbing system in need of a major overhaul.
Jane set about learning French, learning the recipes of the region, immersing herself in local life and becoming the domestic goddess of a very large home. After the chateau had been painstakingly restored to its former glory, she then set up a business called The French Table, and now brings small groups to Bosgouet to give them an authentic experience of life in a French chateau and the chance to explore the French countryside.
Guests visit the local produce markets, roll up their sleeves to make food in the kitchen, and then sit down to meals in the elegant dining room or on the chateau’s back terrace. Overcome by a sudden urge, I had to stop writing this post and go make Jane’s raspberry and coconut butter cake recipe, on page 284. It’s in the oven now. I’ll have to stop writing in a minute, because it will be time to take it out of the oven, dust with icing sugar and then put the kettle on. Would you like to stop by?
125 g butter, plus extra for greasing
275 g sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
125 ml milk
185 g self-raising wholemeal flour
70 g desiccated coconut
200 g fresh raspberries
icing sugar, to serve
clotted cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter and line a 23 cm springform cake tin.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and milk, then fold in the flour, coconut and raspberries. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 50–55 minutes. The centre of the cake should feel firm, not liquidy, to the touch; if it is not ready, replace in the oven until cooked.
Sprinkle with sifted icing sugar and serve at room temperature with clotted cream.