Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dark Chocolate

The good news or the bad news?

I'll start with the good news: Chef JJ gave me a very nice hug.

The bad news: The reason he gave me a hug -- my chocolates were so bad that he felt sorry for me.

Oh well, out of 11 students, only 1 was able to temper the chocolate properly. Mine taste good, so that is a plus, but I certainly wouldn't buy them in a store! Just need to keep practicing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chef JJ is Back

Oh yeah, Chef JJ is back from Corsica with a nice tan and is ready to wrestle dark chocolate into submission.

He made four different filled chocolates covered with dark chocolate - coffees, truffles, mendicants, and orangettes. Then he threw together a chocolate platter, a chocolate tower, a chocolate box and some triangles for a little something extra. I don't think he had an idea of what he was going to do, the concept just came to him while he was playing with the chocolate. The chefs here are little enamored of the edible gold dust, they dip a knife in the powder and then blow it into the mold, pour in the chocolate and voila - golden chocolate!

Watching him build the tower out of the random-looking pieces of chocolate was really amazing, he just kept adding another component until it looked like this. Again, Chef JJ makes it all look easy. I don't usually love truffles with a cocoa powder coating - they make me sneeze - but these were so good, I made an exception. The coffee flavored ones were OK, the Mendicants (nuts and candied fruit) were nice, and I never got to try the chocolate covered candied orange peel before my classmates got the last of them!

I didn't get great photos today, sorry, most of them have a classmate's hand and camera in the frame. I will make truffles and coffee flavored chocolates tomorrow. Dark chocolate hardens much faster than milk chocolate, so I will have be fast, but Chef JJ never gives anyone a hard time about getting dirty, he usually ends up with a smear or two on his jacket even if he wears the hideous plastic apron.

Afterwards, a classmate and I went to Mora, the cooking supply shop that specializes in pastry equipment, to buy a chocolate palette knife and some little dippers to pull the chocolates out of the bowl. They are so cute - tiny little instruments. I can't wait to get my red marking tape on them. I couldn't resist a new plastic spoon to supplement the one I burned to hell in my Tarte Aux Pommes disaster, and a ring mold to practice some assembled desserts. Then we headed to L'as du Falafel for a quick lunch. Nothing better after too much chocolate!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Making Milk Chocolates

No, I didn't manufacture the chocolate - that is a serious factory production handled best by Valrhona and others - but I made two fillings and covered them with chocolate tempered by me.

Amy came to the chocolate demonstration class with me, and after all the complaining I did about Chef D, he was in such a good mood, even smiling! White-gloved, he hand-delivered Amy and me a special chocolate. I almost fell out of my seat. Of course, he didn't stop with the keeping clean lecture, but it was in a joking way. The chef made about five different chocolates, my favorite being just a square of chocolate with nuts and a candied fruit. Simple and pretty - not too sweet. My next favorite was the Rocher - same as the ones made by Ferrero wrapped in gold foil, but much more moist - praline filling mixed with crushed crepes, covered in milk chocolate and crushed almonds. He also made some chocolate bars covered with gold dust and a chocolate plate!

I love the pastry papparazzi!

The two chocolates that we made ourselves in the practical class were much sweeter - Pralines and Muscadines. European praline filling is made by caramelizing sugar to coat almonds and hazelnuts, then grinding it into a fine paste. We use a commercial version that is thicker than peanut butter, it is difficult to make smooth praline without huge rollers to pulverize the ingredients. The praline paste is mixed with milk chocolate and rolled out between candy rulers before cutting into crescent shapes. The chef made two sizes - small crescents for French people and large circles for Americans! Mine turned out OK, a little too much chocolate on the coating that made 'feet' on the chocolates when it cooled. It is just practice to get the excess off and my chocolate might have been too cool to coat the praline thinly.

Muscadine filling has cocoa butter, cream, glucose, vanilla, praline and melted chocolate, beaten until it gets light and airy, then piped in lines to cut into little logs. Then dipped in chocolate and rolled in powdered sugar. At first the filling was too difficult to pipe, but I warmed it for a second in the hot water bath, and it came out fine. They are almost too sweet to eat! I think if they were enrobed (that is the right word!) in dark chocolate, they would be much tastier. Without the powdered sugar, they look exactly like Tootsie Rolls.

The chocolate tempering was very technical, getting the temperatures exactly right and then keeping it at the right consistency to coat the chocolates. Most chocolatiers have trained their little finger or the area between their lip and chin to sense the right temperature. So, if you see a French chocolatier with a smear of chocolate on his face, it might not be from tasting the goods, just testing the chocolate's temperature.

Amy brought back the chocolates I made in class, so they should be at my sister's house some time this weekend, if they made it through customs!

Next up: working with dark chocolate.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Payback is a Beach

After the chef's criticism of my Opera, I was a little relieved to see that even he can make mistakes - creme anglaise base for the chocolate mousse is supposed to have milk and cream, but he only added the milk, and realized it when the assistant gave him two bowls of whipped cream - so maybe it wasn't completely his fault. Then he spilled chocolate glaze all over the edges of his cakes - making a chocolate mess - but of course his cakes looked magnificent in the end, and he was very kind to the assistant who mistakenly whipped both creams. He also congratulated one of my classmates who stayed perfectly clean while making the Opera, and pointedly put on a plastic apron to show those of us (me) how to keep my uniform clean.

We start with making a round lady finder cake to place at the bottom of the ring mold, dunked in a cocoa imbibing syrup. The bavarian cream base is creme anglaise, added to white, milk and dark chocolate, then lightened with whipped cream. A chocolate glaze tops the cake with white chocolate decoration. There are really six chocolate components to this cake. It sounds very rich, but it was light and airy.

The Chef also started us on chocolate tempering, which we have seen before, this is the process that makes chocolate snap when you break it, by getting the right chemical compounds to solidify. It looks easy, heat the chocolate to a certain temperature (45 C), cool it to another (25 C), test for shine and snap, then heat to workable temperature (29 C). The Chef now pretends to lick his fingers after testing the chocolate's temperature, and then pulls them away, with a very French "Non non non!" I think he is starting to like me.

The chefs here seem to love showing off with chocolate work. Making bands to surround cakes, scraping chocolate cigarettes in perfect cylinders, and my favorite, the "frou-frou" - a ruffle of chocolate to place on the top of the cake!

I had a good day in the kitchen, feeling like I was working on schedule, staying clean, and never even putting my fingers close to my face. I practiced making a cornet (the paper cone) to pipe white chocolate decorations on the cake, and am finally getting the hang of it. As the cake cooled to make the glaze solidifty, I made some nice designs as practice. When I went to get my cake, it was behind another classmate's and as I lifted it, I scraped the chocolate glaze off one edge. I was so frustrated, I could almost feel tears, but the chef came over and told me that he was sorry and not to worry. I would have been able to fix it, but he used the rest of my chocolate glaze (because it was perfect) to help other people. I wasn't able to recreate my design very well, my hands were shaking too much. Chef D was appreciative of the cake even with the minor mistakes.

And I only got ONE drop of chocolate on my chef's coat! Good day indeed!

Friday, September 18, 2009

If you ever miss me,

Try this list of Parisian blogs, sometimes I just can't think of anything creative to write about, so here are some alternatives:

Thursday, September 17, 2009


The Opera - Three layers of French Pastry Heaven

The Opera - it has an accent on the E, but I don't have the energy to figure out how to make it on blogger, just think, O - pear - ah, not Oprah. I have been a fan of the Opera for 10 years, it is my "Madeline" - bringing back memories of my first time to Paris and how I loved to take photos of the pastry shop windows and taste the amazing treats inside. The Opera was never surpassed - thin layers of cake, soaked in coffee flavoring, coffee buttercream, ganache, covered in chocolate glaze with the word "Opera" written in perfect French script - which of course includes the accent over the E.

Note: No one seems to know the origin of the Opera cake - if anyone would know it, Dorie Greenspan would.

Yesterday, we learned how to make the Opera - Chef C was our teacher, Chef JJ is on another vacation. Chef C is a little calmer than he was during Basic Patisserie, but still funny and a little manic, especially for 8:30 am. I was so happy to finally learn how to make my darling Opera.

Today, Chef D was our taskmaster. And by taskmaster, I mean the person who tries to make everyone cry. He is a good teacher, and his English is better than most chefs, he is so particular about how to do everything, and since we learned from Chef C, I knew it wasn't going to be pretty in the kitchen. At one point, all I kept thinking in my head, Scarlett O'Hara-esque "As God as my witness, I'll never eat Opera again."

In two and a half hours, do this:

10 mins Measure ingredients and prepare equipment
5 mins Mix eggs, sugar and powdered almonds together
10 mins Beat egg whites to soft peaks, add sugar to get to hard peaks - BY HAND!
5 mins Fold whites and flour into batter
5 mins Pour onto tray and smooth very evenly, but don't overwork the batter
6 mins Bake cake - it is very thin; start making imbibing syrup
5 mins Get cake onto rack; run back save to boiling sugar for syrup
5 mins Add coffee extract to imbibing liquid; cover and chill
5 mins Start another sugar syrup for buttercream
5 mins Realize chef wants you to make ganache first - heat cream to melt chocolate
5 mins Second syrup is way past 'soft-ball' stage, hide in sink under clean dishes before chef sees you
5 mins Start third syrup; bring eggs to stove to separate and get 80 grams of yolks (4.2 yolks)
5 mins Beat yolks while syrup heats - pull boiling cream off heat and dump on chocolate for ganache - toss in general direction of workstation - you can stir it later - or so you think
5 mins Pour syrup into yolks, and at same time, try to measure and cut butter without the chef seeing that you didn't have this prepared already
15 mins Beat until cool, then start adding chunks of butter that were supposed to be softened, but you decide to just smash with your whisk, hoping again that the chef is preoccupied with someone else's mess to realize.
5 mins "Sarah!" "Oui Chef?" "What is this" "Ganache?" "Non, non, non, that is not ganache, ganache is smooth, this is lumpy." "Ah oui chef, I will fix." And then do NOT under any circumstances put your chocolately buttercreamed finger anywhere near your mouth.
5 mins Wash your hands with boiling water and dish soap to prove that you still have clean hands. Whisk ganache with one hand and buttercream with the other.
2 mins Remember that you are supposed to put your cake in the fridge, put it in the blast freezer instead. Look busy, while you wait for cake to cool, but really just try to think of the steps you need to do next
5 mins Pull cake out - trim edges, cut into thirds, cover bottom of cake with chocolate glaze (not the top, so hope you get the second layer on before the chef notices your mistake) - Freeze cake
5 mins Flip over first layer, start soaking cake with coffee imbibing syrup, uh oh, Chef noticed the mistake and just shrugs, as if he didn't expect any better from you, you small piece of American crust, that he wouldn't deign to have in his breadcrumb mix
5 mins Cover with coffee buttercream, do NOT lick fingers, smooth and chill
5 mins Imbibe next layer, place on top, and cover with ganache
5 mins Imbibe top third, place on top, pray to have enough buttercream to cover the cake, smooth with warm offset spatula until the chef yells for everyone to get their cakes in the chiller
5 mins Clean up mess of buttercream and ganache and cake crumbs, wipe counter
1 min Realize that apron looks like you have butchered the Easter Bunny, and try to hide the chocolate dribbles with a spare tea towel that you smuggled into the kitchen as a secret weapon against the chocolate magnet you have become
5 mins Get cake out of chiller, and wait in line to glaze your cake, try not to be first, as the first person ALWAYS does it wrong, so the chef can THEN show everyone how he wants it done. Glaze cake, let excess run off, and chill
5 mins Try to make paper cone to fill with chocolate mixture to write "Opera" on top of cake. Practice this at home the night before, and still barely get it done and have a classmate take pity on you and make a better one for you. Trim edges of paper carton to size. Realize scissors are covered with chocolate, throw away messy ones, and make new ones after you wipe your scissors on your apron.

10 mins Trim edges of cake, perfectly square, without cracking the glaze, clean the knife in hot water every cut, and use all but one of the paper towels drying it off, then pretend like you have no idea who would do such a thing
10 mins Fill cone with chocolate and send a prayer to the pastry gods that they will help you write Opera on your cake without incident, do not ask the pastry gods to make it beautiful, just try for legible. Don't press your luck. Repeat process on second cake
5 mins Clean up mess at workstation, get bumped 400 more times by people trying to get in the fridge, into the ovens, and over near the sink.
5 mins Wait for chef to judge your work, but pretend to clean, while you eavesdrop to hear what he says about your classmate's work
1 min The moment of truth: "C'est pas mal, Sarah. The cake is square, the layers are good colors and the glaze is smooth. The decoration is not very good."

Phew! You made it!!

1 min "Ah, Sarah?" "Oui Chef?" "What did you make today in your practical?" "umm, the o-pear-ah, chef?" "Yes, I know, you made the Opera today because it is all over your apron, why are you so dirty?" "um, I don't know, chef." "Work cleaner, next time, Sarah, or you will get a zero!"

Next Steps:
  • Wonder how you did 4 hours of work in 2 1/2,
  • Have a glass of wine or two with your classmates, bitch about the lack of machinery
  • On the Metro, protect your Opera like an infant made of Limoges
  • Make dinner and have a small sliver of Opera to celebrate another day in the kitchen
  • Take a shower to wash to chocolate out of your hair
  • Iron your uniform for tomorrow's class photo
  • Finally have a good blog idea for everyone to read

PS I don't mean to make Chef D sound mean, he is not. He is a chef, he is the boss, it is my job to listen to him and be able to follow his directions. We both get frustrated when I can't. It is people like Chef D who keep French pastry at its pinnacle. If you don't believe me, fly over and taste my Opera!

One of My Favorite Translations

"Take just a little into your mouth, hold it gently against your tongue, then suck aggressively to bring out the proper flavor"

Out of the gutter, these are instructions on how to taste wine.


Friday, September 11, 2009

La Jamaique

Just in case I had forgotten, this project made me remember why I hate coconut desserts. Most people seemed to like it, but the aftertaste of coconut is just not my thing. The Jamaique has about 5 different components - each with multiple parts - the ingredient list alone ran for two pages - my notes almost three.

Chocolate cake for the base and sides, coconut mousse, passion-fruit/mango mousse, passionfruit flavored glaze and perfect fruit for decoration... we had to work very fast to get everything completed in time. "Chef JJ's Special" was the cake covered in chocolate glaze and even that didn't tempt me.

For the Jamaique, I added a small braid to my hair in homage, and kept singing Bob Marley's "Stir It Up." Actually, I braided my hair just to keep it out of my face, but I need a haircut so badly that I might have dreadlocks soon enough. I also realized why the rules forbid nail polish - I painted my nails red and they looked great before cooking, then I looked down after washing my utensils in almost boiling water, and the polish was halfway gone - hopefully in the sink and not in my dessert - which I gave to the nice translator from Boston - I should ask her if she found any polish?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Passion Fruit and Raspberry Tart

Another fine mess in the kitchen, you would think that I would be able to get a simple sweet pastry dough in a tart ring with no problem at this point, but no such luck! Again Chef JJ threw the ingredients together and made it look easy when the recipe called for 40 g of egg, he just said, "Pick a small one," Most eggs are around 50 grams, so I thought it would be fine to do the same. Ha! My dough was so runny, I rolled it out unsuccessfully one time, tried the blast freezer with no better results, added a bunch of flour, and finally on the fourth try, with passionfruit puree almost boiling over behind me on the stove, I got the thing to work as best I could. Not pretty, but it was OK. I then weighed an egg on my scale - 55 g! Which is quite a difference in a small recipe.

Another lesson learned: Just because a master chef doesn't always measure ingredients, I am not a master chef, and HAVE to measure the ingredients!

We baked the crust, made a raspberry puree for the first layer, topped with passion fruit cream (passion fruit, eggs, sugar and tons of butter - yum) and then glazed with a neutral jelly flavored with passion fruit seeds. If I saw this recipe in a cookbook, I would never try it, just too many components, but it was worth it in the end.

The tart was very good. And I think my neighbors enjoyed it as well. They all loved the almond cake that I made earlier in the week, my 6 year old neighbor across the hall even made me a little thank you note! It made me miss my drawings from Tom, Jack, Lucy, Grace and Rose so much. I talked to them while they were at the pool today, and one of them (Jack?) said, "Man, I miss SaSa."

I miss all of them too! I am happy to be here, but I really miss my family and friends, especially on Sunday nights.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Great questions:

There are two types of tests - written and practical. The written is multiple choice/ matching/true false from the information we receive in class. For example "What temperature is soft-ball sugar stage?" The next part is about ingredients - we have to memorize 6 recipes and then fill in 10 blanks of one recipe of the school's choosing. The practical exam is one dessert that we have made during class. They supply the ingredient list, but we can't bring in our notes. The classes are taught in French, but there is a translator in the first two levels - one reason why I am not continuing for the third level!

I love the Moka cake best of all! It was the only dessert I kept for myself and ate with two bottles of wine for dinner one night - I was green the next day, but it was worth it! It will definitely be on my menu when I get home - probably as a smaller pastry instead of a full cake. Here is my blog and photo about Moka. I also like the Mogador Cake - chocolate and raspberries!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Day of Second Session

Forget everything I said about being disappointed with not getting into Basic Cuisine - there are 60 students in the session - the demonstration room is packed to the rafters. My class has just 12 students - almost historically small for a session at Le Cordon Bleu. Chef JJ will be teaching most of the classes, and since there is only one room of us for practical sessions (us baking), he will oversee most of those as well. It means more personal attention, and less confusion between what one chef showed us in the demonstration, and what a different chef wants us to do in the practical.

Chef demonstrated a simple almond cake - no gluten, but not that much taste. It might be a good cake with coffee or tea in the morning, or with some fruit ice cream. Next, he whipped up a streusel cake - puff pastry, creme fraiche, apricots (canned of course) and a streusel topping. His puff pastry dough behaves like silk - smooth and perfectly symmetrical, mine is like those cheap polyester sheets that keep popping off the corners of the mattress. For the last part of today's scheduled lesson he made a vanilla and chocolate log cake that is called a Scottish cake, no idea why.

The best part of Chef JJ's demonstrations is what he does with leftover ingredients. Today he took the puff pastry from the streusel cake, rolled out rectangles, filled it with the vanilla stuff from the Scottish cake, baked it, topped it with raspberry jam, covered it with fresh berries, left-over streusel topping, and finished it with pistachios and red currants. A gourmet Pop-Tart!

The man could make a dessert with an egg, a packet of sugar and a piece of stale bread. It is fascinating to watch him work. By accident, I took a video of his puff pastry crimping technique - it took 15 minutes of practice to crudely approximate this deceptively simple movement. I am not supposed to take video in the demonstration, but I can't let it go to waste, the world needs to see Chef JJ in action.

We made the almond cake and Streusel cake this afternoon. The practical kitchen was very quiet, everyone got straight to work and didn't talk much. It made me miss the craziness of my Basic Patisserie class. The almond cake was a cinch, and my puff pastry was not a disaster of butter poking through the dough for once! I made a small mistake, but I was able to scrape the creme fraiche off the puff pastry before it baked and no one really noticed. My desserts are the third set in the photo - we line up our desserts in a row and Chef JJ walks by and critiques them, which is very helpful. His comment for mine was "pas mal" or something like that. The first dessert was made by a Canadian girl/woman who is very talented. I don't think I should work next to her, my work suffers in comparison!

I was able to pawn everything off on my neighbors. I think they like it, but they can just throw it away if they don't.

I am happy to be back in the kitchen, and even happier that I am in this Patisserie class.

Any questions for me?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I lied

School starts Wednesday - I was still on the waiting list for the first level of cuisine, but not enough people got stuck in immigration to move me into the class, so I am back for level 2 of patisserie. I am a little disappointed, luckily I am excited about bread baking and savory pastries! I have my Scout bag all packed for school - thanks Jeannie and Lesley - loaded with my knife kit, tupperware and freshly ironed uniform. It is the perfect bag to carry so much stuff. I have the first day of school nerves tonight, getting out my instruments of pastry mayhem gives me a certain amount of joy.
Still undecided about taking Basic Cuisine as an Intensive Course (5 weeks, 12 hour days, $10,000) from November 12 to December 17. I am almost sure, I just need to make the final decision. Note to family: I will not be home for Thanksgiving if I do this.

I have almost perfected my chicken breast dinner. I made it again for my mom, and then once more this afternoon. I finally got a sauce from the 'brown bits' left in the pain. The brown bits turned black so fast that I have never had enough to make a real sauce until today. If you can believe it, I am out of wine, so I had to deglaze the pan with water - and it worked just fine.

Hat Store

Here is the link to the hat store on the Left Bank with the killer black velvet beret.

The Pipi Police

The streets of Paris, lined with beautiful pastry shops, frou-frou dress stores, elegant tearooms, topped with flowers overflowing from window boxes over sparkling windows, have a stench that cannot be covered with the scent of freshly baked baguettes. On every sidewalk, I see the tell-tale trickle of public urination. Usually starting near the wall and moving towards the walkway, the nicest streets in Paris have as much of a problem as the ones with seedy off-track betting (mine). There are free public toilets everywhere! I even tried to get my mom to use one. Not one of my guests has ventured close to one, but I will keep trying.

The French confuse me. They don't like us touching the neatly stacked tomato pyramid, even though we carry around squeezies of antibacterial gel to ungrime our fingers. I rarely see French people washing their hands in public restrooms, How do I know? The sink is usually in a main area, with men's and ladies' toilets on either side. I don't mind, but I wish I didn't need to have daily confirmation of the lack of hygiene here - I ride the Metro, that is reminder enough.

French people are annoyed with Americans and our ever-present waterbottles and massive cups of Starbucks coffee, slurping it down like a baby's bottle, but we usually pee in a public restroom, even if we are at a crowded stadium and have to wait in line for half an hour. OK, maybe I have seen some public urination in Dewey Beach, but it is a pretty rare occurrence. The DC Metro might have a couple of stations that have a less than stellar scent, but the French have us beat for pee stench.

So, the Wall Street Journal reports that the French are fighting back with the Bad Behavior Police! Yay - I hope they spend some serious time at Barbes-Rochechouart Metro stop.

Aren't you happy that I do NOT have a corresponding photo for this post?

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