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"!