Archive | November, 2010

What Paris looks like at 4 am

28 Nov

It was cold. Rainy. Early. And ever so beautiful. The Christmas decorations helped!

We had an early week last week. 2 days of Boulangerie meant getting to school by 6:30 am, 2 days of Pastry starting at 8 am, and a field trip to Rungis Market, where we arrived at school at 4 am. It was a bit rough by Friday, but I made it through! I also slept for about 40 hours over the weekend, but that’s pretty normal for me. I love my sleep.

Anyway, a couple of the girls spent the night at my house the night before our field trip to Rungis Market so we could walk, since the metro doesn’t run at 3:45 am. Plus, it would ensure that we all made it. We also had a phone tree that morning, where my entire class all called each other to make sure we were up and ready to go. Never can be too certain, didn’t want to miss this.

Rungis Market is the largest wholesale market in the world, where Parisian restaurateurs go to get the freshest produce, meats, dairy, flowers…Everything. It was built when Les Halles was closed in the 1971, which was a major upset for the French. There had been a market in Les Halles since Paris had been created and the change was not taken lightly. But it was much needed – think of the buildup of eons of less than sanitary food shopping. Nasty.

So, here we were in the rain and cold morning hours, getting ready to go on a tour of the famous market. We had fancy white jackets and hairnets to keep things clean, but since it was so cold, we put them over our winter jackets. It was quite the look. Here are my friends trying to stay warm at 5 am…

First off, we went into the Fish market, a big warehouse-type place full of the freshest catch of the day. It usually opens at 10 pm and closes around 5:30 am, so we were there for the end of it. Pretty amazing things on sale though for those of you who enjoy fruits de la mer, like a huge swordfish, sea urchins, scallops, mussels, and all sorts of various fish…

Very interesting to see all the types of fishes. I prefer fish that are still swimming, but hey, that’s just me.

Next on the tour was a look at the butcher buildings. It was quite…interesting. There were 3 buildings, one for poultry, one for cows/pigs/lambs/etc, and one for all the inside stuff. We all had different reactions – mine was to walk quickly and mostly keep my eyes down. One of my colleagues immediately starting dreaming of BBQs.

Again, not really my cup of tea but glad I saw it.

After the meats were done, we headed off to the fruits and veggie halls. I was excited. This was much more up my alley. I went a bit wild and took a million pictures, it was all so lovely and fresh in there. The sellers in the hall were laughing at me by the end of the hall, telling me to take pictures of them as well as the fruits. Needless to say, I was a hit with this crowd. They could see my joy over not seeing any more dead animals I guess. And I am usually so subtle…

I was all but skipping at this point, I loved this place so much. I fully plan on putting some of these up in my kitchen, once I have a kitchen that is. The sink and microwave in my apartment doesn’t really count, I guess.

After this, I kept on a roll of all my favorite things by heading over to the cheese building. It, too, was lovely. Oh, how I love cheese.


At this point, we had toured all of the buildings we were going to and the sun was finally coming up. What better breakfast than boiled pork, French fries and wine? Very traditional for the nocturnal people that work the market…a bit odd for us. But who am I to say no to tradition? I ate a baguette and called it a very successful trip to Rungis!


Anyone ask for some bacon?

21 Nov

As with any good liberal pastry arts program, we take a variety of classes to fully round out our education. That involves our classic pastry lab (time in the kitchen to make all our fancy desserts), techno (class time discussing how flour is made and practicing skills like piping), art (ugh), French (should be more helpful than it has turned out to be), wine tasting (BEST.CLASS.EVER.), boulangerie (bread baking time), restaurant (every few weeks, we work in one of our school’s 2 restaurants) and catering.

Catering in school is not what I think of as catering. Catering in France is actually the savory side of pastry – usually found at a bakery as the take-out menu, like quiche and croque monsieur’s. Our class is taught by a chef who used to be a Charcuterie chef. Meaning his specialty was in all things ham, bacon, sausage and in general, meat. Yes, the humor was not lost me either, as the 12 year vegetarian that I am.

Ah, yum. But as I have said and proven, cooking with meat is fine by me as long as I don’t have to eat it.

Actually our chef was really nice and worked with me and a colleague of mine, also a vegetarian, as much as he could to create variations on what our class was making so that it was veg-friendly. So for 2 days, we were surrounded by ham but luckily didn’t have to do much with it. It was a good class regardless and we made some tasty savory treats, so here we go.

First up, we were making a Tatin de Chevre. This is a savory tart, layered with bacon (or zucchini slices if you are veggie),

thinly sliced potatoes,

a huge disk of goat cheese,

more potatoes, and an egg mixture,

and a puff pastry disk, baked and then served flipped upside down.

Must admit, these tatins were pretty delicious. A bit heavy on the goat cheese, but really hearty and a great option to a quiche.

Speaking of quiche…we were next making a Quiche Lorraine, the classic French quiche. But our chef was again very helpful and gathered up some carrots, celery root and leeks for me to use in mine. He might have been confused as to why I don’t eat bacon (as everyone in France is – why are they so obsessed with ham?!), but he went with it and I got a great breakfast for the next day out of it.

First, we blind baked our shells so that the crust wouldn’t get too soggy. Here’s my pre-baked little masterpiece. I must say, I’ve gotten fairly good at lining tart rings by now. Never knew that I could list that on a resume until now…

After its turned a light brown, we brushed the shell with a bit of an eggwash to maintain that crisp layer, then poured in our sautéed veggies. If you were to use bacon, you blanch it to remove excess salt.

With veggies (or bacon, or if you’re wild, both) in the bottom of the shell, then you pour on a layer of grated cheese. Have I mentioned I loved this quiche yet?

Then you pour a mix of eggs and cream over the cheese and pop it in the oven. PS – this is Very Low Fat. Clearly.

Our ovens weren’t the most evenly stacked and so my quiche was a bit browner on one side. I ate the evidence, don’t worry.

After that, we created a Feuillete au Jambon or Feuillete aux Legumes. This made the quiche look like a diet food. Anyway, you start out with a making the mornay sauce, made up of flour, butter, milk, grated gruyere cheese, egg yolks, salt and pepper. We then piped it out onto puff pastry, made with pounds of butter.

On top of the sauce, chef layered about 8 huge pieces of ham that he had cooked in class special. Me, I went the route of layering steamed eggplant, zucchini and yellow peppers. Then top it with more mornay sauce and some grated cheese.

We then placed another piece of puff pastry on top. Because we like to make pretty things in pastry, we egg-washed the top and carved flowers into the puff pastry, as directed to us by the chef. Flowers and ham. Ah, France! You never stop surprising… I went the subtle route of just drawing ivy.

After baked, the design is more obvious. A simple recipe, but rich and filling for sure. A little bit goes a long way.

I felt good at this point. I saw how everything was made with bacon and yet was able to make mine with veggies. Score one for vegetarians! Until…

…Bouchee a la Reine. These are made of puff pastry shells,

baked, then filled with a mixture of white sauce with chicken, ham, poultry quenelles (chicken pieces, pureed with flour, milk, eggs and butter, cooked and formed into a 3D oval), and mushrooms. There was no way around the meat in this one. Not a problem, I grabbed my chicken breasts and got to work as best as I could knowing I wouldn’t be eating my final product.

Looking at this, I was wondering who would be eating this even if chicken and ham were eaten, but it take all kinds. Apparently this can be made with fish instead – still a no-go for me. Anyway, I carved the lid out of my pastry shells, filled the suckers up and popped their top back on. And that’s it, a bouchee a la reine. Go for it, Queen, not my cup of tea.

Our next foodstuff was the perfect traiteur item to bring me back in. This sounded pretty delicious and seemed a bit lighter than the other fare, a savory cake with feta, basil and roasted tomatoes. Cake is the wrong word for this and is a bit off putting, to be honest. But its really a savory loaf, almost bread-like. And really good. First you chop up your ingredients you will be putting in your loaf, in our case, basil, feta and roasted tomatoes.

Then you just add some basic ingredients, like eggs, flour, milk, and a bit more cheese, in gruyere form this time…

…and pour into the loaf pan to bake. Out comes this little guy.

Not the most impressive to see, but truly something delicious. Perfect for a brunch or tea, served with a light green salad. I really liked it. Could have just been the comparison to creamed chicken though, that had me so sold on it…

With our left over time, we also whipped up a few classic traiteur items, like sausage rolls.

Or cheese logs; rolled puff pastry, filled with mornay sauce and dipped in grated emmental.

Another unique item – Parisian Gnocchi. Its pate a choux, poached in water, then mixed with mornay sauce and poured into a pastry shell, covered with cheese and then baked at home. It was…interesting.

And lastly, a croque monsieur. I cheated on this one and made a fancy grilled cheese, though traditionally you have ham inside. Interestingly, there are two ways to make the same sandwich. One, lay down bread, then béchamel sauce, then ham, the more béchamel sauce, then bread and then grated cheese and grill under the salamander. The other, is bread, then grated cheese mixed with crème fraiche, then ham, then more chese/crème mix, bread, melted butter and grated cheese. Both obviously make a nice little snack.

These are things I find interesting. Sorry guys.

That was my intro to savory at school. Think I’ll still with pastry, but always fun to try something new! Plus, there was cheese in everything. Sadly, there was ham in everything too. Tradeoffs, I guess…

Paris – its all so beautiful

16 Nov

Be warned, taking a break from my usual snarky behavior to appreciate some of what Paris offers today. Forgive me, will return to the usual cake making, misunderstanding French and ridiculous observations soon.

One weekend a couple of friends and myself met up to go one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris. Everything in Paris is a tourist attraction and they are all beautiful. But this one was different. We went to Pere Lachaise, a cemetery opened by Napoleon on the outskirts of Paris eons ago to aid in the over-crowding of the more centrally located cemeteries. He even moved famous people, like Abelard and Heloise, to this new location to attract the unsure of location. Morbid, possibly. But traipsing among the gravestones, I found one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I’ve ever been.

We went on a rainy Sunday in the fall, with the crisp, cool air lending a feeling of silence and decorum I rarely find this big city. Not much to say about this, besides that it was a Paris experience I truly loved. While the pictures speak for themselves, I still feel the need to bring you with me and therefore, you must deal with my observations, as did my companions. Or do as they did and ignore me and look at the amazing surroundings. So stunning.

The leaves changing colors and the soaking wet, dark tree trunks were stark against the grey stone and it was lovely.

This was one of the stones I saw in the first few minutes of arriving and it took me that, while the family has clearly died off or forgotten the ancestral site, the person who loved whoever was laid to rest here wanted them to forever have flowers on their grave. You can no longer read who it is, but they have their blooms. A lot of the cemetery was like this – more for the people left behind. Monuments to show how much the person lost was loved. This was certainly one of the lower-key ones, but the sentiment was overwhelming.

From the first time in Paris with my mom, I remember going to the old cemeteries and admiring the beauty. It hasn’t been lost on me after all these years.

Stopped by the most popular site in the entire cemetery – Jim Morrison. All sorts of mementos were left for him as an ode to his memory; lives he touched, in whatever odd or obscure way, he is remembered. Never been a huge Doors fan, seeing as I know the most about him from movies, but still interesting to see others reactions.

These are a few of the stunning sculptures. I loved them.

Searched high and low for Oscar Wilde. So worth it. The tradition is to kiss the tombstone, though there are many signs warning against defacing the monument. This has been going on for years though and many cleanings have happened over the years, without anyone stopping. Again, his impact is visually obvious.

And lastly, just some beautiful aspects of our walk.

Loved it. Truly a lovely day. We only made it about ¼ of the way through, before cold overtook us. I certainly plan on going back.

Ok, back to normal scheduled shows now. Random, yes. But I can’t bake and eat cake all day. Believe me, I tried. The sugar crash is hard.

A bite in your mouth

16 Nov

Since we’ve started our Christmas celebrations in class, no reason to ignore another popular time for pastry chefs. Yes, its Wedding Time. This past week, we were introduced to the traditional French wedding cake, known as a Croquembouche. Literally, this means a bite in your mouth. Ah, French weddings.

Croquembouche are made up many, many pate a choux or cream puffs, stacked up in a conical shape and held together with caramel. You take the cone and place it on a nougatine base, topped with a nougatine crown, and voila, you have a Croquembouche. This serves as the wedding’s centerpiece, and then each guest is served 3-5 choux, cut apart in various methods. Most dramatically with a sword, most efficiently with scissors. Me, I say go with the sword.

First off, we made 80 pate a choux. A simple recipe, made in a manner of minutes, but the tricky part is making sure that the batter you made will pipe out 80 choux…

…And they all have to be the same size. And shape. And have I mentioned you only get a max of 2 chances to pipe it out before it starts to get too difficult to pipe? And I’ve already addressed my piping skills. But I did it! 80 choux exactly.

So you pipe them out, put some butter on them to smooth out the edges and pop them in the oven. Pouf, these come out!

PS These are pretty delish just like this. I know because we ran late decorating our Croquembouche and missed lunch, meaning I ate my leftover choux. And I was totally ok with this scenario. Not sure if that’s a statement on my awesome choux making skills or how bad my caf is at serving lunch. Anyway, choux, check.

Next up, nougatine. I thought nougatine was like nougat in 3 musketeers until a few weeks ago. Nope, this is infinitely better. It’s caramel with almond pieces, molded while still hot and then set out to cool and hardened in the shape you desire.

This is dangerously good. Like burn your mouth because you aren’t waiting long enough for it to cool to eat good. Yum. Anyway, while its still burning hot (caramel=melted, almost burnt sugar. So, its HOT), we mold the nougatine into the shapes we need to create our masterpieces, such as the base. Here’s Chef putting in the mold, after rolling it out, which is super hard to do for multiple reasons. First, your mouth is burnt because you didn’t wait for it to cool to eat and that’s distracting. Plus, its almonds and you want the thickness to be thinner than the almonds. And it’s a cooling caramel, so its getting harder and harder the longer it takes to roll out. Needless to say, mine was a sturdy base.

Next up, you need to make the circle base, 4 crescent moons and small circle lid for the top of your Croquembouche. Again, rolling it out. We all had to toss ours by the oven for a couple of minutes to re-melt it a bit to make the rolling easier. (I guarantee there was a 4th moon…somewhere. Not that I used them. But I didn’t waste either – yum.)

Finally, some decorative touches, like the triangles to make a crown on the base and the topper. More rolling!

Ok, I just like that picture. Here’s what it all looks like:

I found my 4th moon! And a 5th! I ate the 5th… It really wasn’t the right thickness to do any good.

So, you take the topping pieces and make this little guy. Well, if you’re Chef.

And then you add the triangles to your base as well, to make it subtle.

Reminds me of Kermit. Jim Henson knows what I’m saying.

And that’s the Croquembouche!

Except for the assembly. Right, about that. Ok, so you take your choux and dip them in caramel, and plop them down on a silkmat caramel side down.

Then, after a minute or so, flip them up. This way the caramel won’t drip down the sides of the choux, but doesn’t form an exact disk (like our St Honore – another blog…I’m far behind, I know). Do this to all 80 or so choux…and don’t burn yourself.

Now its time to get serious. Each ring, which served as the base size for us, fits approximately 11-12 choux. So, to form the cone, you lay out all the layers, taking one less choux from each layer as you go up.

So pretty.

And then its time to start to build! Its sort of like being a kid again and building with blocks. But the blocks are round. And you keep them together with burning hot caramel. Luckily, my mom never let me do this as a kid.

You take one choux, dip two sides in caramel and then stick them together. Not the hardest thing. At least at the base level. Then you start building up.

You bring each level in about a millimeter or two and create smaller and smaller circles, going on up.

And up and up. And then up.

At this point, Chef let us go and make our towers while he decorated his. Next thing, I turned around and saw this.

Royal icing, Jordan almonds, silver balls, and pulled sugar. All while I was trying to just make sure my cone wasn’t leaning one direction (I had 2 layers with the same amount of choux….eek). I guess this will do.

But me being me, while this was pretty, it felt a bit dated. Its lovely and I would be proud to have made it. But I went in my very own Lauren direction and came up with this.

Aside from my Leaning Tower of Fatty just not going to do that, I just wasn’t into the classic design. I hate Jordan almonds. So, I made some poured sugar free forms, attached them, created some golden sugar threads and draped them around, and got rid of the ’80’s crown. I rather liked my first attempt at a Croquembouche. Chef, well, he’s a traditionalist. But my fellow colleagues really liked my interpretation and I got some creativity points. If nothing else, I’m creative. Right?

Here’s all of my class’s creations. They do look impressive in person, I must say. I got ooh’ed and aah’ed all over the place while I carried 4 of them down the stairs (who gave a platter of 4 towers, all 1.5 feet tall to the klutz?).

It’s a Porcupine! Or a wreath! Or a…what?

8 Nov

With the cold weather arrival here in Paris, we had a little touch of Christmas this past week in pastry class. We made one strange little cake to start to get us in the ever-festive spirit during this Most Wonderful Time of the Year. I’m learning that pastry chefs might be part-elf. Chef told us when he used to work in a patisserie, mid-November he started getting swamped with prep work to begin to prepare all the sweets that are ordered in December. Ever since, one of my friends in class has broken out into various Christmas carols randomly. I thought Christmas came early in the States!

Anyway, cake. Not to ruin the surprise, let me take you on the path I was on, until it finally dawned on me at the end its true intended representation.

Starts out pretty deliciously, with a chocolate genoise baked in a pretty little round.

Yum, people. Yum. So, we popped this little sucker out (it didn’t stick due to some intense buttering and flouring of said round – butter has suddenly lost its stigma to me, by the way. It can’t truly be unhealthy considering how much of it is commonly used for all purposes and in all ways in the kitchen here. Almost everything has butter in it. And not only that, I befriended a stick of it two weeks ago when I got a wicked burn. You just stick some butter on the burn and it takes the heat right out. I was amazed. Butter, truly an everyday need)…

… and cut it in two to soak with a Cointreau syrup. More boozy syrup! It wasn’t just a personal affection for the concoction, it had a very technical reason to be explained during the frosting section. Moral of the story – not my fault everything I make has butter and liquor in it, Chef told me to. Here he is, showing us the process.

Next up, we piped some supreme vanille between the two layers. This was a pastry cream, with Chantilly cream beat into it, and it was not messing around. I heard it was delicious, but due to its gelatin, I abstained from trying it. Boo gelatin.

It was then topped with more syrup and then covered in some basic chocolate mousse for good measure, to be further decorated with chocolate sticks.

*The chocolate mousse didn’t have gelatin, so I took a spoonful to “test the flavor”. Yum.

These sticks were quite the production to make. We have a fairly large kitchen, so we all usually have our own space to do our work. But when you have 10 people, only 1 of which who knows the next step, tempering chocolate (which means trying to get the chocolate to 55°C in a bain-marie, then cool it by pouring it on the countertop and pushing it around with a spatule until it gets down to 29°C, then back up to 31°C-32°C by placing it for approximately 1.47 minutes near-the-oven-but-not-too-near-the-oven-but-not-too-far-away-from-the-oven to get the perfect consistency of melted chocolate otherwise it won’t be shiny and you have to start back at the bain-marie), it gets messy and crowded. And then the worst thing happened – we all pretty much finished tempering our chocolate at the same time. We didn’t have enough tools to all make the sticks at the same time, so back to the drawing board for half of us.

I’m on tangents today. My apologies.

Chocolate sticks! So, you get your perfect chocolate temp and you pour it out on a plastic sheet that is stuck to wooden board with chocolate.

Then you take a long plastic board with teeth and pull it across the chocolate as soon as its been spread out to the right thickness at the right temp without lumps or God help you, you’re not going to make it.

Chef made it. Lucky for him. So you cover up your hard work with more plastic and another board and let it cool at room temp.

Once cooled, you cut the sticks into approximately the same length and begin to do this to the round that has at this point been covered in chocolate mousse twice:

Here’s where the boozy syrup secret comes in. You have to soak the top and outside with the syrup, because as you begin to stick the chocolate sticks into the cake, you need some give. If you haven’t soaked properly, then the sticks won’t go into the cake easily and then you have broken chocolate sticks you have to eat quickly so the chef won’t see what you’ve done. See, I told you had to soak the cake with Cointreau. Can you imagine the horror and travesty of broken chocolate strips? You’d never achieve the clean look of this cake.

So, you continue to stick these little guys into the cake all the way around, inside and outside, top and, well, just the top. The bottom would be tres difficile and not very stable. Anyways, you stick them into the cake until it begins to resemble this:

I’m not making this up. This was intentional. This porcupine/hedgehog/sea urchin/bush looking thing was almost exactly on par with chef’s. My sticks just happened to more flat than his…6 of one kind, half dozen of another, right?

This is when it hit me. People, what is this? How is this Christmas related? Was it a wreath? Are we going with a very merry under the sea theme? Did we screw up somewhere along the way? Is this some sort of torture device, saying no more dessert, this one’s for Santa?

No, I just made Jesus’ Wreath of Thorns. In chocolate cake.

Moving along, to remind us that we are making a Christmas cake and because its cold outside, you sprinkle some coco powder and powdered sugar on top for that festive flair.

Then, since its Christmas and not Easter, you remind everyone by adding some decorations in the form of almond paste, spray-painted pinecones and holly leaves, and topped off with an orange ribbon rose. Why an orange ribbon rose, well…I don’t know. I just went with it at this point.

And for good measure, chocolate stars.

My final product. I decided to hold off on the orange ribbon rose…it seemed gauche.

And to prove that this was the intended outcome, here’s chef’s:

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jesus.

Chef sold these before we even finished them since they are a hot commodity due to the spikes, so no one took a cake home this week. No one seemed to notice, we were still trying to figure it all out.