Friday, July 31, 2009

Perfect Paris Tour

I think I have created the perfect Paris tour, please respond with your suggestions. Remember this is just a three day list with time for shopping, eating, and drinking. One church, one museum per day, more than that you will lose your head a la Marie-Antoinette. I haven't checked the transportation issues for this points, but will work on them next week.

Day One
Notre Dame - point zero of Paris, the perfect starting point
City bus tour, get your bearings, see the sights by day.
Louvre - see the Mona Lisa and pick a few other highlights
Eiffel Tower - go up but the best part of the skyline is missing. twilight is great.
Seine Boat Tour - see the city at night, and return to Eiffel to see the sparkles on the hour starting at 10 pm.

Day Two
Arc de Triomphe - please don't cross the street, use the tunnels
Champs-Elysees - shop, eat, drink
L'Orangerie - see Monet's famous waterlillies here and no where else.
Musee d'Orsay - get your fill of the Impressionists here - start on the top floor
St. Chapelle - small beautiful church
Picnic on the Seine - baguettes, some Brie, a few bottles of wine and a blanket

Day Three
Le Marais - see Place des Vosges, maybe the free Carnavalet museum, cool shops
Pere Lachaise - say your regards to Proust, Sarah Bernhardt and the Lizard King
Montmartre - twisty hilly streets, famous strip clubs, artist hangouts
Sacre Couer - wedding cake church at the top of Montmartre

Optional Day Four
Versailles - buy your tickets online AND go early
Giverny - Monet's country home

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sightseeing Again with Friends

I have been a busy Paris Tour Guide. Jen and Kathy are both here now and we have been touring the city for the past few days.
  • Climbed the Bell Towers of Notre Dame - hello Quasimodo
  • Walked around Le Marais - shops were closed but we didn't care
  • Viewed the Decorative Arts Museum in the Louvre
  • Picnicked on the Louvre's Lawn - Ham and Cheese on Baguette
  • Night Boat Tour of the Seine - Cheesy but in a good way
  • Eiffel Tower Sparkling - see the video below
  • Dinner near Les Invalides - until the Metro closed and we had to cab home
  • Musee Carnavalet to see how Rich Parisians Lived Through the Centuries

Kathy loves Art Nouveau and the Museum had an entire restored jewelry store designed by her favorite artist.

  • Lunch in St Catherine's Square - tomato/mozz, white fish, creme brulee
  • Notre Dame Interior - stained glass is too hard to photograph
  • Pompidou Center (I didn't go in, but Kathy did)
  • Les Halles area - I love the senior rollerblader

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tour de France

Team Astana leading the way into Paris
Alberto Contador in Yellow and Lance Armstrong in blue

What a day in the sun!

Check out my photos of the last leg of the Tour de France here.

I met my friend Jen at the Hotel Regina (near the Louvre, not the nasty one rented by the hour near the red light district) and we spent the day watching the Tour de France riders loop around Paris 8 times. It was a great view until the entire French police force decided to pull up their motorcycles and vans in front us 10 minutes before the riders arrived in Paris.

There was a little breakaway group chased down by the peleton (no idea how to spell that) and then a crazy sprint to the finish for Mark Cavendish win the stage. Jen has been following the Tour for over a week, so she explained much of it to me, as I have watched three stages, but only in French.

It was crowded, hot and really fun. Then we decided to have a glass of wine before she met her group for their final dinner at the Eiffel Tower - I almost fell over when the bill was 26 euros for two glasses of wine. I have forgotten how cheap my neighborhood is compared with the tourist areas - I usually get a whole carafe at my fave restaurant for 12 euros, or a bottle at my local grocery for less than 5. Have mercy on my bankcard!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Graduation Reception with Catered Pastries

Yes, I passed and almost have the certificate - except that they wrote "Dwyer Sarah" on the paper, so I gave it back to have it corrected. I was happy to see that I moved up after midterms to finish above the class average.

Of course, the school only served pastries for the reception - I did have two, so my ban on sweets is over!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Caramelized Pear Tart

Caramelized Pear Tart - Not the Final Version
(No Photos Allowed During Exam)

The first session is over! I can't believe how fast it went. From my apple tart disaster to a damn good chocolate mousse cake. I have made some new friends and look forward to the next session of cuisine.

After our last demonstration, we went downstairs to eat lunch and study. The administrators had, in their infinite wisdom, posted our written exam scores. I did well on the exam - 92, but just ok on the list of ingredients - 70. The final was hectic, two and a half hours disappeared in a flash. We drew colored tokens to find out what we would produce and I got a green - which meant the Caramelized Pear Tart. I wasn't too concerned, but I knew that beating the egg whites by hand would be time-consuming and a little tiring. The other groups made a Pithivier (puff pastry with almond cream) and the yummy Moka cake. The room was very quiet, no laughing, just serious concentration.

For the pear tart, start with a sweet short pastry crust. Caramelize pears with butter and sugar, add some sultanas (white raisins) and pear brandy. Make the meringue and line the bottom of the pie with it to hold the pear juices. Add the pears on top with some black currants and then pipe three rows of meringue very carefully with arms that are still shaking from beating the egg whites. Don't forget to cover with lots of powdered sugar and sliced almonds - luckily Chef JJ reminded me as I was about to bake my tart without them!

Make the dough to line the tart ring for the technical portion, I only had to reroll once, and then pinch the dough for a pretty edge.

Keep checking my pear tart in the oven and clean up my station. My meringue rose well, but I had a little landslide to the side of the cake, making the tart ring removal hairy. Chef JJ helped, and it looked alright. Of the 5 of us that made it, I think mine was in the middle looks-wise. Not sure about the taste. There were definitely some closely averted catastrophes for the others as well, one classmate used another's tart ring by accident, one forget the sugar in the meringue. And that was just for the 5 of us making the pear concoction!

I joined a few classmates for a post-mortem at the local bar. Hoegaarten on tap makes all patisserie concerns melt away. Small graduation ceremony at the school Friday afternoon, then I can get back to sightseeing in Paris, hosting friends and maybe even trying some French pastries.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Final Exam Thursday

Getting to bed early, my final is Thursday at 12, the school is supposed to call me if I don't pass. I should have a good idea by 6 pm local time. Then I can pay attention to more important things - the Tour de France, the Paris Beach and Jen and Kathy coming to visit.

I just made the craziest baguette sandwich - salami, boursin cheese, cornichons and olive spread. The only thing I didn't add: Nutella!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A couple of funny things about my apartment

It is telling about the French or maybe about my landlord and his assorted tenants.

Here are the contents the china cabinet in this apartment:

26 white wine glasses
5 champagne flutes
12 red white glasses (i use for white bc they are bigger and less likely to topple over onto my computer as I drink and blog)
3 water pitchers
6 tiny juice glasses
4 mugs - one is marked "Star Trek"
2 cafe au lait mugs - I use them everyday for my huge morning tea
2 bowls, and plenty of plates.

Yes, 43 wine glasses, for an apartment that has a maximum capacity of 12 people.

Oddly, the pillowcases have cats on them. And not just any cats, but creepy cartoon cats wearing sneakers. This I really don't understand. After a few restless nights, I put them into the cabinet where they can't cause feline-related nightmares. If you are coming to visit, you might want to bring a pillowcase (this means you, Nancy), or you will be sleeping with Irvin or Nigel - I don't like those cats, but I named them anyway.

The toilet room sink - the bathroom and toilet room are on opposites sides of the apartment - is extremely small and resembles a urinal. It is probably the only sink that would fit, but I find myself walking across the apartment to wash my hands. The toilet works fine, which is not always true for Paris apartments, but I can't seem to get the hang of it. Don't read this next sentence if you are grossed out with toilet talk. I need to sit more forward, but I can't seem to remember this, so I have to clean skidmarks off back of the bowl every morning. Such a little thing, but I promise my visitors that I take pride in the pristine condition of that bowl, no scary surprises. And I promise not to post any photos of my mistakes.

Scott, my landlord, reads this blog, so I hope he doesn't mind, but these things continually crack me up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kicking the Tart Ring Ass Tonight!

Oh yeah, not be a braggart, but I am getting good at filling the tart ring with the sweet pastry dough. My new acacia rolling pin is Magical! The process seems very simple, but it is deceptively so. The dough must not be overworked, it must be the right temperature and it must be caressed into the mold with gentleness and love.

Seriously. Those are almost quotes from Chef C.

I practiced three times tonight, and the third one looked almost perfect. The first time I did this in class was the disastrous day of Tarte Aux Pommes (apple tart) when I burned the apples and my plastic spatula, the chef called my dough a mess and I ran out of apples to cover the top - even the dishwasher laughed. So getting this practice was time well-spent. Things are really starting to come together, I understand the recipes and the procedures.

On a funny note, my neighbors are starting to wait by the front door at 7:30 to see what they will be having for dessert each night. Tonight, they feasted on "buche de chocolat-pistache." And they are great critics, I am happy to have 'taste' feedback, since the chef's only critique the dessert's appearance. I could bake a fish head inside, and as long as the ganache was smooth and the piping straight, I would pass with flying colors. Really, there are some serious pastry catastrophes that the chefs never see, and since they don't taste, they will never know.

Also, Le Cordon Bleu knows I have a blog now, I don't think I really care, but the head of admissions asked me if I was Sarah Dwyer, and when I said yes, she said something about reading my blog that day. Perhaps anonymity would have been a better choice? I think half the people in my class have a blog though.

Candy for Grace

My niece Grace has a birthday today, so I am sending her some candy (virtually).

Strawberry Marshmallow, Licorice, Regular Marshmallows and Gummy-somethings

The French are a little crazy for marshmallows, I think the pink and white marshmallow sticks would be great for hot chocolate.

Happy Birthday, Grace - I will make you a cake when I get home, whatever kind you want!

E. Dehilleron

Happy Birthday, Mom!

When we were in Paris about 10 years ago, my mom dragged me to this famous French cooking supply store. It was fascinating, and now it is even better. There are more shops in the area, selling everything for cooking, especially great chocolate, exotic spices, and ingredients that are difficult to find in the states - Tonka is illegal in the US, but the French use it like vanilla. I know we will have a fun day just browsing through the stores with a French-English dictionary trying to decipher labels. I just hope the TSA doesn't rifle through her stuff to 'identify' the spices she brings back to the US.

I went this weekend to get some necessities to practice my dough skills. It is amazing - I think they have some stock left from when they opened in 1820. I bought a great rolling pin of acacia wood, they wrapped it in paper and I don't want to undo it, it looks cool. I also bought some round pastry cutters to fill small tart molds, they are some cool plastic and sharpened to the ends, so they cut the dough instead of tearing it like metal cutters.

The store is a wreck, but definitely worth checking out the selection of copper pots and bowls, as well as the tiny utensils like escargot forks and huge pots that for cooking an entire side of beef. The pot to the left is about 4 feet high, sorry for the lack of comparison. I ran into 4 different classmates while shopping, everyone was buying the tart rings to practice. The store gives us a 10% student discount, which is nice because sales tax is 20% in France.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I know I keep saying it, but this one is really my favorite!

Chocolate genoise (sponge cake), chocolate mousse, raspberry preserves and raspberry brandy.

I will be accepting orders for this later this year, I promise!

I have decided to join the Basic Cuisine section for the fall, and then will finish Intermediate Pastry by December, if all goes as planned. This way, I will be done by the end of the year, and ready for business in January.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Today's Plans

Fun day planned - a little pastry supply shopping, grocery shopping and hopefully a little reunion with my friends: wine, cheese and baguette. Note: if you decide to drink 4 glasses of wine to celebrate a test, stick to one type, not white, pink and red. Or maybe if you decide to eat a platter of cheese and smoked meats, don't also eat fois gras for dinner. I had the worst stomachache last night, but am feeling fine this morning!

Here is a link to the Dehillerin store where I might buy a copper kettle to boil a whole animal or a small child, wicked witch-style! OK, maybe just a rolling pin and a tart ring to practice for my technical exam.

I have been working on my marzipan roses, and they are looking good! The Dacquoise cake seems to be on many previous exams, so I want to be prepared for it. I am just not looking forward to whipping the meringue and buttercream by hand. Will get a big fat whisk today too. I hope I can control myself in the culinary supply stores, it is going to be difficult.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Exam is Done!

I think the test went well and best of all, my chocolate mousse cake is delicious! This is one dessert that I will make again and again - it might become my 'signature dish.' I will post a photo tomorrow.

Written Exam Today

I think I am OK for the test, I have the recipes memorized pretty well, and most of the terms are in my head. The written exam is 10% of my grade.

In the technical portion of the exam, I will have to fill a tart pan with sweet pastry - so a tart pan and a rolling pin are required for some at home practice, I am excited to check out the cuisine stores of Paris. I want to be sure I have that part down to a science, so I don't have to think about it. We also have the list of 10 items that we will have to make for the final practical exam. The yummy Moka cake is on it, as is the Dacquoise with the marzipan rose.
It's been a fairly good week, we have a new chef demonstrating, and he is quieter, but is very open to questions. Croissants and brioche are waiting for my next visitors. I left bags of treats on my neighbors doorknobs to make some room for the next batch of goodies - chocolate cake today!

Will post a bunch of photos this weekend.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Moka Cake and Bastille Day

Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower were amazing, but I didn't get one good photo. Just google it to see how beautiful it was. I did get some video, but haven't figured out how to download it yet. Maybe this weekend, I have a written exam this Friday, so I might not be blogging a ton this week. I just realized that this is a 20 day class -- squished into 17, so the word Intensive is very appropriate for this format.

I made a Moka cake (Mocha) Monday and started dough for croissants that we will finish today. The Moka was my favorite dessert so far. Basic sponge cake, soaked with coffee-flavored imbibing syrup. Coffee Buttercream and chopped almonds finished it. Twenty years ago, I made a similar cake from Julia Child's The Way To Cook, and thought that she made up imbibing syrup! To me, at 17, it just seemed like a funny way to say flavored sugar syrup.

I have to be at school soon for our class photo, I wish I could figure out how to turn on the iron, my hat is looking very sad.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday Stroll - Updated

I haven't figured out how to get a cool slideshow on my blog, so if you want to see my Sunday stroll, check it out on Facebook. I think I fixed the link, please try again.

You do not need to be on Facebook to view them.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Petit Fours

Marshal's Batons
Petit Fours are lovely little treats for parties, and also for 'le gouter' - the French version of teatime -- a sweet afterschool snack for kids, and little sweet something for adults too.

The chef demonstrated 4 different kinds: macaroons, cigarettes, raisin cookies and marshall's batons. We made the last two in our practical class. Macaroons are a craze in Europe, I remember liking them in Switzerland a few years ago at Sprungli - they called them Luxembourgli, I think? They are mostly sugar in the meringue shell, and have a flavored paste holding the two halves together. I do not care for them, but macaroons are highly profitable, and people seem to love the little things. I apologize to those of you who do love them.

I had a good day in the kitchen, the chef in the practical kitchen was happy with my results. The raisin cookies are a simple drop cookie with three raisins added on top. They taste very much like raisin bread, and would be improved with a little cinnamon. Of course, at Le Cordon Bleu, they take a simple cookie and give it two separate toppings - apricot glaze first, then a mix of powdered sugar and rum is drizzled over them. I am not sure if I have made a dessert in Paris without alcohol. No wonder everyone wants a dessert in the afternoon, it is cocktail time!

The marshall's batons are meringue based as well, but not quite as sugary. They are similar to a Pepperidge Farm cookie. We pipe them onto baking sheets, sprinkle chopped almonds and when they are cool, spread chocolate glaze on them. The chocolate glaze conversation was a little heated. I think some of us are wondering why take the time to make a nice cookie and cover it with cheap chocolate glaze - dark chocolate mixed with vegetable oil - instead of using a nice tempered chocolate or ganache. The main answer is cost. I understand that patisseries need to make a profit, but I also think that the school should be teaching us the higher end of the scale, instead of the lowest. I will get off the cheap chocolate soapbox now.

Friday was also my last day this session to be a kitchen assistant (kitch bitch), thank God! It means I had to carry the ingredients not already in the kitchen up three or four flights -- the dumbwaiters never work, and people steal ingredients off the tray. If something was missing, or there was not enough, I had to stop what I was doing and book around the school to get it. I also have to make sure the kitchen is in order before we leave, which is not always easy to do. Mostly, our group works as a team, but there are a few who don't pitch in and those who are clueless about cleaning up their own messes. For example, at dinner, I asked everyone what they missed from home, and one person answered, "I really miss my servants!"

Tomorrow we make individual tarts, chocolate and orange (separate). Then we have Tuesday off for Bastille Day. I have to take some time to study, we have our written exam on Friday afternoon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What is the Patisserie Program At Le Cordon Bleu?

The Pâtisserie Diploma Program content:

BASIC PÂTISSERIE COURSE - This is what I am doing now
Introduction to French pâtisserie
Basic doughs
Introduction to creams & fillings
Traditional desserts & cakes
Classical techniques, basic decoration
Masking & glazing
Introduction to yeast doughs (croissants & brioches)
Basic French Pâtisserie terminology

INTERMEDIATE PÂTISSERIE COURSE - I will take this from September to November
Prerequisite : Basic Pâtisserie Certificate
Artistic decorative skills
Savoury petits fours
Introduction to breadbaking
Mastering bavarian creams & mousses
Caramel & nougatine
Introduction to chocolate : hand tempering & dipping

SUPERIOR PÂTISSERIE COURSE - I am undecided about this course, it would be next year from January to March, I am not interested in Chocolate Art or Sugar Art. This course is only in French- no translators.
Prerequisite : Intermediate Pâtisserie Certificate
Contemporary Restaurant Desserts:Hot & cold restaurant desserts, including contemporary cakes, tartes, bûches. Emphasis on decoration & presentation. In- depth study of flavours and aromas

Chocolate Art : empering chocolate, hand-dipped & moulded chocolates, mixing different chocolates and textures, chocolate boxes and flowers, molding chocolate shapes and sculpture for a center piece

Artistic Sugar Creations: Techniques of cooking, colouring & pulling sugar. Pulled sugar flowers & ribbons.Blown sugar spheres.

Basic and intermediate levels are translated into English.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Watch out Paris!

Steph is coming August 6th - good thing most Parisians will be on vacation, so there is little chance of an international incident.

Happy Birthday - Have a great time in Miami!

Feeling Much Better and Getting Good at Beating Egg Whites

Tarte Meringuee Aux Poires Caramelizees

Thanks to two nights of good sleep and Advil Cold and Sinus, I am almost back to my usual self, sorry to my classmates, I will be talking again!

We made a caramelized pear tart yesterday. I am really starting to get the process of the doughs. COLD butter is key, not really possible in the school kitchen, dice it in small pieces, mix it with your hands into the flour and sugar, trying to make a sand mixture. Add the wet ingredients, mix gently with a finger or spoon. Dump it out on the counter (hoping the previous cuisine class cleaned the counter after working with fish or chicken) and press it out on the counter in small clumps with your palm. Fressage is not a kneading process, more sliding the mixture out on the marble to incorporate the butter without warming it. Hopefully after doing this twice, your dough is homogeneous and you flatten it out on a cold baking sheet and place it in the fridge to cool off for rolling while you work on the filling.

Rolling out dough is an art. I am working on the tossing of the flour so it sprays the granite counter in a very fine layer. Using the right amount of flour is important, you don't want the dough to stick, but too much flour will make the dough dry. The key is moving the dough after EVERY roll, just a quarter turn, sliding the dough in a circle to grab a little more flour from the edges, and roll out one more time. Do this about 15 times, and roll the dough on your pin, and lay over your tart pan.

Caress the edges into the walls and corners very gently and cut off your dough with the rolling pin. Press the edges of the dough up above the rim of the tart ring, as it will contract while baking. Let the tart sit at room temperature for a few minutes to air out, fill and bake until ready.

If you need to make meringue for the filling or topping, get ready for 15 minutes of aerobic activity focusing on upper arms. Whipping stuff by hand is getting old fast. I understand when I can add the sugar, please let me use the Kitchenaid!

PS The chefs use mixers in the demonstration.

I giggle every time someone says, "mine isn't stiff enough yet." I just want to throw out a Michael Scott "That's what she said."

My tart was the second best in the group that Chef W. commented about - I am pretty good at the stiffening, but my piping needs to be more precise. I think my arms were so tired, I just didn't focus on the task enough. I will take more time with it going forward, as the chef reminded us, people buy cakes with their eyes!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pastry Shop Visit

From Left to Right: Mojito Macaroon, Mont Blanc and Eva Tart.

Angelina's, a famous patisserie on Rue de Rivoli, hosted our class for a tour of the kitchen, I was only allowed to take one photo, their website has more. The tea room was filled with tourists, and a line was starting to lengthen out the front door.

The basement kitchen was spacious and spotless, so nice to see after my cramped and almost filthy kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu. We started in the dough making area - amazing machines to roll out dough to a standard thickness, put pastry into little tart pans, and proofing machines that keep dough cold until 6 am, when they start warming them for the day's baking. The next area held the ovens and the machine for piping out meringues and pate a chou (for eclairs, etc). The last 'poste' was the decorating room, where the second chef in command -- just under the chef de cuisine, showed us how to make their signature desserts. A Mont Blanc - meringue base covered in chantilly cream topped with chestnut paste. The chef won a contest with a dessert he named after Eva Longoria (long story about ice cream, of which there is none in the tart). It is a little sweet dough base filled with rich chocolate, hiding a creme brulee middle, decorated with whipped cream, sugared violets, gold dust, a raspberry and a little piece of edible silver leaf. It was too chocolately to taste the creme brulee or raspberry puree. Yes, I finally said it, it was TOO chocolately for me.

Macaroons are a big seller at patisseries these days, and we tasted a mojito flavored version. We also tasted their hot chocolate, made from African cacao - so rich with a perfectly creamy texture.

Although it was good to see how a real patisserie works, it had a factory feel to it, nothing like what I envision for myself. I think many people in the class were disappointed in the use of so many machines as well as the lack of creativity. I understand using a dough roller and mixers, but some things are better done by hand, even though it might mean they have some irregularities. I think we would have enjoyed a smaller, more traditional patisserie.

PS - I think Orangina cures the common cold. I drank a liter today, and feel much better.

12 Hours of Sleep Has ALMOST restored me

Drinking my morning tea with extra honey, and thanking everyone for their get well wishes. I took a little medicine last night, slept for 12 hours and feel mostly better, but today is another 9 hour day, so I hope I can keep up. We have a pastry shop visit in the middle of the day, so that helps break it up a bit.

I am trying not to talk at all, so my voice returns faster, which is very difficult for me. People keep asking if I am OK, since I am usually the most talkative person in class - SHOCKER! Classmates around me helped cleanup so I could get out the kitchen and come home - I think I had a fever because it wasn't hot and I was sweating like it was 120 degrees.

Dacquoise is my favorite dessert so far. It is a great combination of smooth and crunchy, nutty and sweet. Making it went without a hitch! It is a two-layer meringue-based cake with ground almonds in the batter, topped with praline buttercream and a marzipan flower. Remember, we do everything by hand, so we whipped the egg whites for the cake with a whisk until the whisk can stay in the bowl when you hold it upside down! It takes about 10 minutes, which doesn't sound like that long, until you try it. We also whipped the buttercream by hand - another 10 minutes.

French buttercream is delicious - no egg whites. We boil sugar and water to the soft ball stage - no thermometers, we cool our fingers in cold water, dip quickly in the boiling sugar water, and back to the cold water to see if the syrup will make a soft ball between our fingers. Pour the syrup into beaten egg yolks and whip until it is cool, about 5 minutes, then add 350 grams (about 3/4 of a pound) of butter and some praline paste. Beat until smooth. The buttercream can be flavored with anything - chocolate, coffee, or a liquor: rum, Grand Marnier, Chambord, etc.

The marzipan roses were fun to make, mine got a little smooshed to the side, but it was still OK. Some people made amazing ones - pink on the inside and white towards the outside. If I was feeling better, I would have tried another one like that. Others made ones that the chef said looked like cabbages! I will probably buy some marzipan at the store to practice, as this dessert could be the recipe for our final exam.

I had a little epiphany about making everything by hand - which pastry shops do NOT have time to do. It is a little like learning math. Yes, you can use a calculator to add, subtract and multiply, but you have to learn the process in your head so that you understand the basics. That is what we are doing, learning the basics so we know when the egg whites are ready to receive sugar, and how soft the butter needs to be add to the buttercream so that the consistency is right for piping. Once you understand the foundations, you can start to use a calculator or a mixer.

My refrigerator is starting to look like a pastry shop! I think all of my neighbors, at least the ones I met, are gone for the summer already. So I leave some of my creations for the cuisine students and the others I bring home, hoping to find a hungry family just waiting for dessert.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I am getting a cold, and losing my voice, so heading to bed without uploading photos of today's delight: DACQUOISE! It was amazing and I made a flower out of marzipan too.

Luckily I brought my whole medicine cabinet, so I don't have to deal with a french pharmacy today. Thanks to Amy, who actually carried the luggage with my drugs- all legal, of course.

Class Dinner

The school organizes a dinner for all the students in the same semester - pastry and cuisine - at a fine restaurant - we went to Atelier Maitre Albert - "a highly contemporary rotisserie in the heart of old Paris." (that is from the press package). Very swanky, but not as swanky as three-Michelin star Guy Savoy, the main restaurant of this group. I felt like a real person again after being in my kitchen whites for so many hours a day. Everyone looked great, and I even put makeup on for the first time in two weeks. I wasn't sweating profusely - it is cool and rainy - and my hair wasn't slicked back and covered in a hair net. It was not a difficult clean up! Although I did wear heels, and have forgotten how to walk in them, so it was tricky.


Aperitif - Champagne - Quite nice, I had two just to be sure I liked it
Amuse-bouches - cheese gougeres - a little wet inside for my taste
Soupe de courgettes et beignets d'herbes - Zucchini soup with a parsley beignet
Lieu jaunes suit sur sa peau, brocolis en puree - Pollock with skin on broccoli puree
Magret de canard a la broche, peches roties - Duck breast with roasted peaches
Choco-framboises - chocolate dessert with raspberries

Great wines - red and white, bien sur! (of course)

The fish was wonderful, the duck was divine, the peaches superb and the rest was good with the exception of dessert. Thin sponge cake, covered in ganache, with two fresh raspberries and fresh raspberry puree on the side. It was lovely looking, it just didn't overwhelm me, but I no longer have a sweet tooth, so maybe I am the problem here.

Chef W. joined our table, he is the nicest chef with an infectious enthusiasm for patisserie. He won the best patisserie in Paris in 1999, sold the business after 30 years, and in retirement, works at Le Cordon Bleu. He speaks very little English, but we had enough people to piece together he conversation. My favorite part - "Sarah, (please use the french pronunciation of my name), le plus de vin bois, le joli vos yeux." Two possible translations, my french is not good enough to be certain:
The more wine the chef drinks, the prettier my eyes are.
The more wine I drink, the prettier my eyes are.

I did use a heavy hand with the eyeliner (yes, ladies, I pulled off a close approximation of the 'smoky eye'). Not sure which translation is right, but no one really drank that much wine, so I take the whole thing as a very nice compliment! I think he was more amazed that I wasn't sweating my usual buckets.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Eclairs today! I didn't quite get the chocolate glaze on straight, but it was my first time. The little pastries are called chouxettes - simple and yummy.

Need nap before class dinner at swanky restaurant. Will write more later.

Monday, July 6, 2009

C'est Bon!

YAY! My first complement from Chef C. My St. Honore pastry passed his high standards with a "Bon!" (Good!)

My pastry isn't perfect, but it is getting better. I am so glad I took the six-session pastry class at L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda -- thank you, Theresa. I know better when things are in the right stage, and I am even able to help people around me a little. I am celebrating my successes today with a half-bottle (ok, maybe the whole bottle!) of champagne, I just wish I had some visitors to share in the ridiculous amounts of pastry and the amazing champagne.

My palmiers (elephant ears) and apple turnovers turned out beautifully, even though I didn't really mix the puff pastry dough enough.

I am not that fond of dead animals, and thought that I wouldn't be able to stomach the cuisine track. The cuisine class in the kitchen before ours cooked rabbits today. And very nicely left the heads in a bowl for us as a present. I was the only one who could stand to move the bowl into the dishwashing room. So if I had an extra 40 grand, I think I could do it! In case you are wondering, rabbits heads look frightening like cat heads. I didn't take a photo, and promise to never post a photo of rabbits' heads here.

Still smiling after 12 hours in the kitchen!

Is it Monday Already??

Off to another 9 hours of class today. First we make the St Honore pastry, then a demonstration of puff pastry and the corresponding practical. I am also one of the assistants for this week, which mean I need to make sure that all the ingredients are in the kitchen for all students. One a happy note, I get to use the dumbwaiter!

Julie Powell, of Julie and Julia, was at school for a book signing last Thursday. I ordered her book last week on my kindle when I heard she was coming - and laughed with her mistakes. The movie comes out in August in France, I can't wait to see Meryl Streep as Julia Child!

Saturday, July 4, 2009


No - Not homesick yet - it's only been three weeks, Paris is starting to feel like home.

Yes - I miss my friends and family. Skype makes it so much easier. I just got off the phone with the DDBBs (Drunk Dewey Beach Bitches- see below), and it is so good to hear that they think the only thing missing from their weekend is ME! Can't wait to see those girls in September - flights are only $535. Book it already! Happy Birthday, Katina. Wishing Amy a speedy recovery from her rotator cuff damage ;-)

Jen, I can't wait to see you - I was thinking of you, the Tour de France was on TV today.

It is a little weird to be here on the 4th of July, I didn't go out tonight, just wanted a quiet day to recover from this first week. Friday was a great day of class. Long, but great. I know I am doing the right thing here. Finally! I get more enjoyment of a fruit cake than I ever thought possible, just can't wait until we get to the chocolate part of the class.

Thanks to everyone for the encouraging emails (especially the 'stay focussed' ones from my brother) and comments - please keep them coming. I changed the layout of my blog to make it easier to read, let me know if it is better.

Special thanks to Jeannie and Nick for moving the rest of my stuff out of my apartment. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. and Thank you again.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Take a break from hotdogs, beaches and barbeques and read about Thomas Jefferson and Monticello.

Trust me, read it.

Even the DBB posse should stop with the Orange Crushes and read it. Miss you all, and want some drunk texts and photos soon! Thanks for the message last night, Hackett.

(DBB = Dewey Beach Bitches)

Full disclosure - my mom sent this to me, so all credit goes to Regina.

Fruit Cake?

Really? I just spent 6 hours to learn how to make Fruitcake! Umm, the thing that we dread receiving, and try impossibly to re-gift each year. Yup, I now know where those are made, Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. And then never eaten and sent to unsuspecting Americans as Christmas gifts. I have two in my freezer for unsuspecting visitors. Insert Cruella de Vil laugh here. My results are pictured above. Chef's C's creations are below.

Yes, making a fruit cake might be appropriate for my mindset right now, thank you Nancy for pointing that out! I am a little batty from the heat and the challenge.

Chef C. demonstrated basic cakes yesterday: fruit cake, madeleines, and lemon pound cake (called Le Weekend) As we tasted his creations, I enjoyed the fruit cake much more than I thought, the madeleines were very good, and the lemon pound cake, was fantastic. The lemon cakes rose, and fell into a U shaped mass, making the chef throw a few utensils around in frustration, the class was silent about the issue, I think we were too scared to ask why it happened. He didn't even decorate three of them, "they are too disappointing." My favorite part of the day was when the chef's pastry scraper (spatulas must be for kindergardeners, or silly Americans) hadn't been washed yet by his assistant, and without missing a beat, he pulled one out of his back pocket! I had to keep myself from laughing out loud, that is not allowed.

The tasting is the last part of the demonstration, we each keep spoons in our coat sleeve (near where most humans have a bicep, I just have upper arm fat) for this express purpose. I think my fingers would be cleaner than my spoon, I wash it, but it continually falls on the locker room floor as I am getting dressed. It is considered rude not to clean your plate - mainly, the best chefs in the world have created this, and you must eat it, even if you don't like it. I have liked everything so far, cleaning my plate has rarely been an issue for me. I have no taste for sweets right now though. Amy left half a bag of Milanos, which wouldn't usually make it through an hour, much less two weeks in my pantry. I entered the most beautiful pastry shop on Rue des Martyrs, my cool neighborhood shopping street, and didn't want a thing except a baguette. Arnaud Delmontel did win best baguette in Paris in 2007, so I think I did the right thing. I am not, by any means, getting skinny here! I think I gained 5 pounds already!

In the lab part of the class, called the practical, we started with making the madeleine dough, then while it cooled, made our fruitcakes, and while those baked, piped our madeleine batter into the molds. Everything worked as it should, my cakes got a thumbs up, and my madeleines got a high five from the chef. That is very high praise, but no tastings by the chefs yet. Most people had an easier time with the cakes than with the apple tarts. Chef C. is stricter than the other chefs, checking everyone for uniform rules conformance, including a hair net. So I promise, there are no hairs in my pastry.

Five of us went out for a drink yesterday, it was good to have a little socializing. Today might require serious 'socializing,' as we are in for a 9 hour day.

PS Julie Powell (Julie and Julia) was at the school for a book signing, I will write more about it over le weekend.

Photos L to R: Lemon Cake (note sunken area in the middle), Madeleines, and Fruit Cake.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day Three Meltdown

Apple Tarts, they seems so simple when Chef Cotte demonstrates. He creates six batches of dough in the time it takes me to just get my ingredients together. Then he dices apples for the regular tart, halves them for tarte tatin, and quarters them for Tarte Normandie (apples with custard filling, my favorite of the day), and slices them very thin for the topping of the the first tart. He is very specific about how to cut the fruit, making sure that we follow the safety rules. His Tarte Des Pommes is shown at left, notice the height, the perfectly fanned apples, no holes through to the layer below, which you can compare my tart shown below.

Up in the practical kitchen, I stick the knife into the palm of my hand on the second apple, but am too embarrassed to even ask for a band-aid. Don't worry, no blood was incorporated into my tarte des pommes. I got my dough made and it was so dry, then realized that I forgot the egg! Back in the bowl, added the egg, before anyone noticed. Then my dough was looking pretty good and I popped it into the fridge to cool down. I, of course, am nothing close to cool. I am dripping sweat, so much, that the nice Chef Walter brings me a paper towel and wipes my brow. I need sweatbands, I am wearing long-sleeved polyester pajamas, the weather outside is 90 degrees, there is no ventilation in the kitchen and 20 stoves are on to cook apples!
The chefs speak a little English, but there are enough French-speaking people in the class to help out when they needs a translator in the practical kitchen. I understand maybe 20% of what he says. In the demonstration kitchen, there is a translator for every word! My apples look good, so I turn off the heat to let them dry out a bit and focus on rolling out my dough. Dough does not like 120 degrees, it is supposed to be cold to keep the butter from melting. My dough cracks the first two times I roll it out, and the chef sees my frustration and pulls it back into a ball, flours my marble workstation with the insouciant french way of tossing flour so that it only covers the area under the dough. He rolls it out for me, and for many others, who have dough stuck all over the marble. Phew! I move my apples to the burner behind the hot one, and start slicing apples for the top of the tart.

Not difficult, I go slow, so that they will fit together perfectly and fan out without showing the inside of the tart, but my apples are very small and one of them is completely brown inside. I look for another apple to add, but there are none. So I slice mine as thin as possible hoping that I will be able to spread them out across the pie, I am almost zen about these apples. Hmm, something is burning. Did I leave my papers near the stove? Nope, but the burner I moved my diced apples to? It has mysteriously been turned on, and half my apples are scorched and sticking to the bottom of my pan. Quickly, I pour the non-burned apples into a bowl, and hand the poor dishwasher my pan to hide the evidence. He looks amused.

Back my slicing. They don't look quite right, but I think it is just the deformed apples I have. When the chef comes around to my corner, he looks at my sad slices and searches for the English word. "Desorde!" "Desorde!" Not in a mean way, but to try to get someone to translate. Very quietly, the woman two places away tells me, "It means 'Mess.'" Yes, my apples are a mess and he doesn't even know about the ones I hid under soapy water in the sink. I had been cutting them the wrong way, not across the width to get the curve of the apple, I was slicing lengthwise by mistake.

Oh well, I get the pie together, my diced apples barely cover the bottom of the crust, I try my best to get my poorly sliced apples to cover them, and mark my name on the paper under my tart to get ready for the oven. While the tarts bake, we practice making cornets (triangles of paper twisted into a cone shape to pipe melted chocolate). The chef makes beautiful designs on the underside of a metal tray, and I try my best to emulate him. I can barely get the cornet to form, but I can write my name in chocolate! Which then melts into a puddle of brown on my tray.

Tarts are done, chef gives us some currants, which I use to hide the holes where my apples didn't fit close enough together. Gotta be creative. Then he comes around to critique, just on looks, no tasting. Some are very good, the apples are as high as the crust, beautifully sliced apples, browned to perfection. Some are 'pas mal.' That is my category, I need to practice and pay more attention, so 'not bad' is just was I deserve. The lowest category is 'we will make another tart together just the two of us.' Which is very nice of the chef. I gave my tart to the dishwasher, who very nicely took it, even though he saw firsthand how poorly it was made.

I slept-walked home, tried to stay up and crashed into bed at 9 pm after watching a little Wimbledon (go Andy!) and a Julia Child dvd for half an hour to keep my spirits up. She never gets discouraged, even when her potatoes end up all over the stove. She stresses keeping the "courage of your convictions"!

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