Archive | October, 2010

Pipe Dreams

30 Oct

The French love them some coffee. Though not necessarily in a delicious mug, steaming and tasting of exotic locales, because actually the little strong cups you get in the cafés aren’t the most delicious, cute as they may look.

But that’s not the point. Coffee-they love the flavoring in éclairs, cakes, cookies…everything. So in honor of such a traditional flavor, we pulled out the coffee essence, instant coffee grains and just plain old coffee to flavor every layer of our Moka cake.

Starts out with a coffee flavored cake…

…cut into 3 layers and soaked with a simple syrup, coffee flavored of course…

….and layered with buttercream – surprisingly, coffee flavored…

… and then completely covered, twice, in the same buttercream.

This is where things get fancy. A small ring of chocolate nibs line the bottom of the cake and 6 rings are outlined on the top of the cake.

With a cornet, you pipe a cross-hatch in each little ring. Not only do you have to have stable hands to make straight lines, you have to have even spacing to make the cross-hatch look right. Not two of my known specialties, so it took me a…few, yeah, we’ll go with few…tries. Yoga deep breathing was key. Here’s my final attempt, along with the flames piped along the rings. And please ignore the bad starfish looking thing in the middle and the shadows. Yoga only goes so far.

On the upside, I took a lovely trip to a pastry supply shop following this and am the proud new owner of piping tips.

Cakes that can go the distance – literally.

30 Oct

Really, France? Gateaux de voyages? Cakes meant for travelling well, technically. I guess this could be considered a “loaf cake” or some sort of weird sub-genre like that, but basically its as I have said before -a cake is a cake…and I like cake, so I’ll go with you for now on this one, France. But its getting a little nuts with these numerous names.

Anyway, since these recipes are fairly simple and straightforward, any 2 month veteran of pastry school should be able to make these easily and therefore the 9 of us drew numbers and started in on the 13 recipes. I was deemed the Le Week-end baker. Fittingly, I might say. It was a Friday, I like week-ends and it’s a French word I can spell and pronounce! This cake and I started out strong.

Weighed out the day before and waiting for me when I walked into class, my ingredients were simple. Eggs, flour, sugar with lemon zest, butter and a couple of items for glazes. I got started and the batter was ready after a manner of minutes. Into the oven and out came…

Yeah, I wasn’t impressed. Chef was also confounded. We looked at the recipe, cut this guy open and saw a weird dense interior that can only be described as blob like. After looking at the other pastry class’s, I realized this was the intended outcome. This is a cake that could be wrapped in a hate note and thrown through a window. Not at all what I expected from a French pastry.

Luckily Chef had his own recipe (our recipe book was developed by the other class’s chef) and I gave this one a try, with a few tweaks of my own because this was certainly something that was open to interpretation and innovation.

Much better. It was fluffy, soft, smell faintly of lemon and I was much happier. I cut the top off and proceeded to icing this little sucker. I, of course, ate the two tops I cut off in class as not to waste.

The glaze soaks in and protects the loaf. Not the prettiest thing I’ve ever make, but it was delicious.

Here’s what the rest of my class made:

There’s marble cake, Dundee, brownies, raspberry cake, fruitcake, lemon cake…and lots more. And they certainly travelled well. They take a beating and still look the same. Granted, hard to really push around a dense loaf cake…

I’m official!

24 Oct

I have had a very busy week. Amongst the usual of baking new treats, learning new tricks, attempting French, eating…well, everything, walking everywhere and in general, loving life in Paris, I had a few new activities that I had to share about.

First of all, on Tuesday, I went to my medical exam for my French visa and was approved! Aside from how weird the entire process was (I and everyone else had to get a chest x-ray, give more copies of my lease and another picture, and wait in MANY lines, all just to talk to a doctor about how he wanted me to make him a cake…very odd), I’m healthy and can now spend my year in Paris without fear of being rejected when I return after Christmas. Which means I continue to get to look at this whenever I want.

Secondly, I had my first paid chef-ing gig! I worked with a woman named Rachel Khoo, who is a British lady who has spent the past 5 years in Paris, catering and writing cookbooks. She’s the best and I had a great time, learning a lot about the process of catering. We were working a gallery opening, where for 12 hours I made 250 black sesame seed crackers, helped with the alpine herb infused crème fraiche, and then formed approximately 7 million bite-sized black sesame seed paste dumplings, that were served with raspberry sauce. Exhausting in the best way possible!

More pictures to come in a separate post about the specifics, but a just a quick view of the chaos mid-cheese making:

This brings me to Thursday, where I was a chef again outside of the classroom, making a mushroom risotto for some of my new friends in Paris. Not the most gourmet, but a much needed home cooked meal for all of us, not to mention a lovely chance for all of us to get out of our apartments, where we live by ourselves, and dance to Billy Joel. Necessary.

So, in conclusion, I’m an official expat with my stamped visa, a paid pastry chef, and I attend dinner parties in Paris. Can’t believe what a year changes!

The Making of a Classic

24 Oct

So, France… Pastry… Classic Parisian treat…

MACARONS!

Indeed, we had a macaron kind of couple of days. As you can tell, I love these delectable treats (I can say truthfully that after what we’ve been together, macarons and myself, that I can truly appreciate them now too; we really have bonded). It’s an italienne meringue almond shell, sandwiching a layer of a smooth knock-down, full and interestingly flavored creams. We had 12 recipes among my group of 10, so we drew names to see who would be doing what.

I drew pink! Well, technically I was to make rose framboise, but they were the prettiest little pink delicate shells, and since we had no corresponding purple flavor combination option that day, I was excited with pink.

Making macarons isn’t super difficult, but its not making box brownies either. You have to know a few tricks and it’s a lot of trial and error before you figure out how it all goes down. I had a few issues along the way…

My first batch came out brown and over-cooked due to our oven people not knowing how they were supposed to look when baked. Second batch, the eggs weren’t whipped enough, so the batter fell. Third batch, the eggs were over beaten and the batter was too liquidy. By the last batch, macarons and I were fighting. They weren’t cooperating, I was losing patience and I had a desperate need to prove to myself that I could do this.

Luckily, I proved it. They came out a lovely soft pink, with the legs (the puffy bottom part) rising up perfectly. At this point though, honestly, I didn’t much care for macarons anymore. They were annoying, temperamental, picky and anything but that wonderful and delicious flavor I remember from my first bite of their brightly colored tempting shells. But I was going to see this through as it was previously something I loved eating and it was a classic Paris pastry, one of the big things I wanted to learn when I went to school.

And I’m stubborn.

I had made the interior cream already, a really interesting blend of white chocolate, raspberry puree, rose essence and red peppercorn. Every time my chef came by me while I making the cream, he grabbed a spoon and took a taste, then swooned. There truly is no other word for the action. I must admit, it was good due to its combination of flavors. It was me purely wanting to eat this cream that I kept up the macaron making.

Well, they came together lovely. The hard parts of making the macarons were clearly done, so piping the cream into the center was relaxing and calming. I was forgiving the macarons for being slightly obnoxious and they were forgiving me for not giving them enough credit from the start. We had completed made up by the time my chef told me to apply swoops on them with a bronzey-rose dust. Yup, I put make-up on my macarons. We suddenly were a match made in heaven.

While I was having my tumultuous relationship with these little guys ride out, my fellow pastry rockstars were getting their various treats made. We were quite the busy little workshop.

We had olive oil and vanilla, apricot and saffron, café, chocolat, citron, green tea, mint, orange, and pistachio. So delicious! Hard to choose just one that I loved the most, but citron and mint were high up there, simply for my love of those flavors.

All ended up well in the macaron world though, as I took two boxes of them with me to a dinner party later that night and everyone declared them delicious. I’m ignoring that they had already had a glass a wine when the praises started.

Now entering – the Entremets

11 Oct

Little known fact. The following items are not cakes. They are entremets.

I didn’t know. I thought there was cake and not cake. Nope, in France there are cakes, gateau, entremets, petit gateaux, petit fours, cakes meant to travel well…really, the genres and names of these cakes are endless. English covers all the bases by naming them all cake and has officially not helped me in France. But they are delicious, so I don’t really care what they call them as long as I get a bite.

Your history lesson for the day: Entremets were supposedly first thought up in the Middle Ages, when their only entertainment during dinner was in the form of some mush with honey. Seriously, that was their special dessert. Bad oatmeal. Anyway, the ideal evolved thankfully, into huge and elaborate dramatic desserts, some of which were so ridiculous that they weren’t even eaten and just for show – this wasn’t the cake that dear Marie Antoinette was suggesting people eat instead of bread, but you get the point. From these two ends of the spectrum, French pastry chefs have settled on this middle ground of the meaning of entremets as layered biscuits that involve mousse and, on occasion, some crazy coloring or other dramatic flair.

So, cake.

Enough of explanations to help people with random trivial at a bar and let me make you jealous you don’t get to eat them right now.

This little guy right here is a Feuille d’Automne, or Autumn Leaves. Two layers of French meringue yield an inner layer of chocolate mousse, covered in chocolate strips and topped with ribboned chocolate. Yup, I did that. I loved working with chocolate finally, though! And eventually there will be enough bleach to bring my apron back to white.

Next up, we have Foret Noire, or the French version of a Black Forest Cake. We have a German girl in class, so the official word is this isn’t a Black Forest. It doesn’t matter, though, right? We’re entremet-ing, therefore it’s all about drama to end a meal, not necessarily to be exactly correct in terminology. To make a “dramatic” Foret Noire, you need 3 layers of chocolate genoise (sponge cake), with a layer of lighter chocolate mousse covered with booze-soaked cherries, and a layer of chantilly cream. Did I mention all three genoise are soaked in a simple syrup and Kirsch? Told you it was dramatic.

Moving along, we come to a lovely Giverny. While classically this can be any combination of raspberry, strawberry, pistachio, chocolate, vanilla, or coffee, we made ours with pistachio bavaroise and raspberry mousse. The outside and 2 layers inside are a type of soft lady fingers. It’s our girly-est cake to date. If only it could have been purple…

This delicious little morsel is called a Succes. Two layers of almond meringue sandwich a praline buttercream center, topped by another layer of praline buttercream and finished with chocolate cigarettes. Let me just say, that buttercream stuff is dangerously good. At one point, my genius partner decided to spread a bit on a freshly made croissant. Aside from its clear health benefits, it was insanely good.

Last up for last week was the classic entremet, the Opera Cake. This pretty little thing is made up of, from the bottom up, a thin chocolate base, a jaconde sponge cake soaked in Cointreau and simple syrup, chocolate ganache, another soaked jaconde, a layer of coffee buttercream, more soaked jaconde, more coffee buttercream and then topped with a hard chocolate shell. It is assembled as a huge sheet cake basically, but then cut up into 8 normal sized cakes, or smaller into single servings (plated dessert in a restaurant) or into a petit four size for just a touch of this insanely rich and decadent treat. The truly impressive part of this cake was that I sort of remembered how to write cursive and attempted to do so in chocolate. I forgot how hard an “r” is… I did keep this one simple though and negated adding gold leaf.

To truly get a sense of the layers though and make you wish you had a fork in Paris, seeing as there is one of these in my house right now:

Two more weeks to follow of Entremets. Maybe it is a good thing I have 6 flights of stairs to walk up every day to my apartment…

*Please forgive the lack of appropriate accent marks on the names. I’m far too lazy to check the correct spelling and then insert the right letters. Also, if for some reason you feel like attempting to make one of these for your next Tuesday night dinner, just let me know and I’ll share the recipe. Until then, I’ll be eating my Opera.