Sunday, September 14, 2008

Basque-ing in the fun all weekend!

Okay…I’ll admit that watching Gateau Basque being made was much more fun than making one. But the lesson led me to great inspiration at the weekend back in Geneva.

For those who don’t know it, Gateau Basque (pictured above) is a golden butter cake flavored with lemon zest and vanilla, then filled with rum infused crème patissiere and fruits. The origins of the cake are as obscure as the Basque civilization itself, but the recipes I’ve found all use the crème filling and presence of fruit. Le Cordon Bleu recipe uses dried apricots and prunes, however the traditional recipe calls for black cherry jam in lieu of the dried fruits. During the demo, Chef Cotte made several variations including some with fresh berries.

During my practical lesson, I had good results with the Gateau Basque. I noticed my batter and my crème were both much thicker and denser than what Chef Cotte had prepared in the demo. Still, my cake emerged from the oven looking good…smooth, even top, golden colour and it had retained the decorative patterns in the egg wash. It also transported very well in a plastic cake box on the Paris Metro & TGV back to Geneva. Still, when I went to dinner with friends on Friday evening, I decided to serve the cake with some crème anglaise since it otherwise seemed a bit plain in appearance. I’m glad I did! It would have otherwise been a bit too dry. Either there was some error in my measurements, or the cakes were baked too long in the class oven, or both! In any event, the crème anglaise made the serving presentation & degustation of this cake much more appealing.

On Saturday morning, I awoke feeling inspired to work further on my Madeleine technique. The biggest challenge was going to be finding the pans in the Geneva region. I started to realize that I’d never actually seen Madeleines ever served or for sale anywhere in Geneva region. Come to think of it, I’d never actually seen any culinary supply stores in this area. So where to look? My instincts led me to Manor in Chavannes Centre, which has one of the larger collections of cookware & gadgets in the area. I was happy to find some pans there. However these were small shell forms, done up in non-stick finish…not exactly the same kind we’d used in our practical class. Still, I figured it was as good as I’d get in this pretty much bought out Manor’s stock of pans!

The fun part of the Madeleine recipe was experienced in working with the new pans. In the practical class, we’d had to diligently butter & flour our pans to ensure the delicate cakes would not stick. Now I had these Teflon coated ones…so do I butter & flour or trust the technology?

I decided to experiment on this front for 3 madeleines…one mold traditionally buttered & floured, one sprayed with commercial butter/flour spray, and one with the bare Teflon. The good news was that none of the 3 test cakes actually stuck to the pan, but I found the one with the commercial spray had the least attractive appearance - it seemed to make an unusually dark edge on the madeleine. Since the bare Teflon was working, I went ahead and baked the rest of them without putting butter & flour in the pans. If only the chef could see me, defying the strict orders in class to diligently butter & flour each mold carefully!! :-)

Of course, not buttering the pans made the baking process go much quicker (and my heart also cheered for the slight reduction of fat). So I continued piping in the rest of the batter to each ungarnished shell, finally getting a feel for just the right amount of batter that would result in the desired appearance when coming out of the oven. Despite all my success with this, I did notice that the shell pattern on the baked madeleines wasn’t as pronounced as those I’d made in class. I’m not sure if this was because of the Teflon coating or just because the molds themselves were quite shallow and not as detailed as the ones we’d used in class. Nonetheless, the results tasted great!

I felt so good about this exercise with the madeleines, I was inspired to practice my technique with pate brise and crème patisserie. Initially I’d envisaged practicing something again with apples, but then I found some gorgeous late summer pruneaux at Chavannes Centre. So I came up with a plum tarte, using the pate brise base baked blind, then filled with a frangipane style filling and topped with plums. My frangipane was made with crème patissiere (made with brown sugar as an experiment and half of the requested thickener vs the Cordon Bleu recipe) mixed with about 100 grams of pate d’amandes cru. I finished this about 20 minutes at 180 degrees C to set the tarte. It looks pretty good…I’ll let my Geneva colleagues put it to the taste test tomorrow!

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