These decadent French mashed potatoes are made with boiled potatoes, milk, cream, butter, and (optionally) garlic. This recipe is based on Julia Child’s purée de pommes de terre à l’ail.
Recently, I found myself with a bunch of extra potatoes.
What a problem, right?
Usually I’d freeze extra potatoes, but my freezer is packed with lots of summer produce.
After making gratin Dauphinois (scalloped potatoes) and then brainstorming lots of different recipe ideas, I decided to share more mashed potato ideas with you guys!
Are you cheering? I’m going to pretend that you are.
And now, I’m going to show you how Julia Child made French mashed potatoes.
This recipe is a (slightly simplified) version of Julia Child’s recipe for purée de pommes de terre à l’ail (garlic mashed potatoes) from her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.
The simplifications are based on tips from one of her other books, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom. So if you think I’m cheating to make it simpler, I am, but I’m just following her recommendations.
This recipe has two parts. I recommend reading through the recipe in full before making.
The first is a garlic purée, and it’s totally optional.
The second is the mashed potatoes. That part is not optional, ha!
If you’re looking for other classic French recipes, I also recommend checking out these recipes: fish meunière (fish in butter sauce), ratatouille, French onion soup, French crème brûlée, and French crêpes (or gluten-free crêpes or vegan crêpes).
French Mashed Potatoes Step One: The Garlic Purée
Start with two whole heads of garlic.
Yes, two whole heads.
To quote Julia,
“Two whole heads of garlic will seem like a horrifying amount if you have not made this type of recipe before.
But if less is used, you will regret it, for the long cooking of the garlic removes all of its harsh strength, leaving just a pleasant flavor.“Julia Child, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol I,” p. 520.
If you add the garlic, your potatoes will taste garlicky, yes.
But since we’re slow-cooking the garlic first, it’s a mellow, sweet garlic flavor, not a pungent garlic flavor.
How To Quickly Peel Garlic
In my opinion, this is quickest way to peel garlic.
Use a large chef’s knife and cut the papery top off the garlic.
Turn the garlic head on its side and smash it with the knife to separate the cloves.
Next, smash each garlic clove with the flat side of the knife. I usually smash a couple cloves at once.
The peel should slide right off, and if the cloves get smashed it’s totally fine. You’ll be puréeing them anyway.
How to Slow-Cook the Garlic
Add the garlic to a small saucepan with a tablespoon of butter.
Cook it over very low heat for 15 minutes.
Next, add a little cream to the saucepan, and gently simmer the garlic and cream for 10 minutes.
The cream will thicken and the garlic will soften.
Scoop the garlic out of the cream, and reserve the cream.
Add the garlic to a food processor, and use the purée setting to blend it until smooth.
You could also finely mince the garlic by hand, but it would be a little messy (because of the cream). If you’re shopping for a food processor, I love my KitchenAid 5-cup food processor.
At this point, you can store the garlic and cream in the fridge (if you’re making this ahead of time) or set it aside while you work on the mashed potatoes.
How to Make French Mashed Potatoes
Julia Child calls for Russet (or Idaho) potatoes for this recipe.
Russet potatoes will make these potatoes fluffy, not creamy. The potatoes in the photos are Russet.
That said, this recipe also works perfectly with Yukon gold potatoes. Your potatoes will be creamy if you use gold potatoes.
Start by peeling and quartering the potatoes. Boil them in salted water until they’re tender (but not falling apart).
Drain the water.
While the potatoes are still hot, use a potato masher or a potato ricer to mash the potatoes.
Next, place the pot of potatoes back on the stovetop.
Heat the potatoes for just a moment or two to evaporate any excess water.
If you used gold potatoes you can skip this step, because they absorb less water than Russet potatoes.
Add a few cubes of butter to the potatoes.
Add some salt and pepper.
Place some cream in a small saucepan and start warming it up. If you made the garlic purée, use the leftover cream for this step, along with a little extra cream if needed.
Begin slowly pouring the cream into the potatoes, beating the potatoes as you pour.
The potatoes will transform as you beat in the cream.
If you made the potatoes and garlic purée ahead of time, store them separately. Mix the garlic into the potatoes just before serving.
Why? The garlic will mellow as it sits with the potatoes, and since you worked so hard on the garlic, you want to be able to taste it.
French Mashed Potatoes
1 Day (See Recipe for Reheating Directions)
- food processor
- Potato Masher or Ricer
Garlic Purée (Optional):
- 2 heads garlic (20-24 garlic cloves)
- 1 TB butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
French Mashed Potatoes:
- 2 1/2 lbs Russet or Yukon gold potatoes
- 1/2 cup milk or cream, plus more if needed If making the garlic purée, you can use the leftover cream
- 4 TB butter
- 1 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Garlic Purée (Optional):
- Seperate the cloves from the garlic head by cutting off the top (the papery end), and then bang down on the garlic with the side of a heavy chef's knife to separate the cloves.Peel the garlic. (Use the side of a knife to smash each garlic clove, and the peel should slip off easily.)
- Add the garlic and butter to a small saucepan, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes. The garlic should be tender but not browned.Tip: You want to use very low heat for this step. If your stovetop has a small, less powerful burner, use that. If not, keep a close eye on the garlic to make sure it doesn't begin to brown.
- Add the cream and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the garlic is very tender.
- Scoop garlic out of the cream and add to a food processor. Purée until smooth. Reserve cream.The garlic purée can be made up to a day ahead of time.
French Mashed Potatoes:
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.Scrub, peel, and quarter the potatoes. Add the potatoes to the boiling water, and cook 10-15 minutes until tender (but not falling apart).Drain the potatoes. Add the potatoes back to the pot and immediately run through a potato masher or ricer.
- For Russet potatoes: Put the pot back on the stovetop, turn the heat to medium, and use a wooden spatula or spoon to beat the potatoes constantly for about 2 minutes. When the potatoes begin to form a film on the bottom of the pan, turn off the heat.If your potatoes are old they might already be dry, and a film will appear immediately on the bottom of the pan. If so, turn off the heat and move on to the next step.This step will remove extra moisture from the potatoes. If using Yukon gold potatoes you can skip this step since they absorb less moisture.
- Add the milk or cream to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.If you made the garlic purée, you can use the leftover cream for this step. You might need to add a little extra milk or cream until you have 1/2 cup total.Cut the butter into small cubes. Add butter cubes, salt, and pepper to the potatoes.
- Begin beating the hot milk or cream into the potatoes. Continue beating until the potatoes are smooth and creamy.If your potatoes were very dry, you might need to add extra milk. (Warm the milk before adding.)Taste and add more salt if desired.To keep warm (for up to an hour), place in a pan over lightly simmering water, and cover loosely. The mashed potatoes can be made up to a day ahead of time, and then reheated in the same manner (in a loosely covered pan over simmering water).
- Just before serving, beat the garlic (if using) into the hot mashed potatoes. Serve with gravy or extra butter if desired.