Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Charlotte, you're such a flirt...!

Walking around Paris with a lovely Charlotte in tow proved to be an interesting observation in human behavior. Like a pretty girl, a playful puppy, or a cute baby, a cake in a plastic vitrine has the power to attract the attention & curiosity of others. People want to approach; they are eager to peek in the dome and make comments or even strike up a conversation. What I find amazing is that this could still happen in a place like Paris, where at the very least I’d expect people to be blasé at the sight of beautiful edibles, as these exist almost everywhere.

Charlotte is a veritable belle-dame of patisserie, a classic French entremet traditionally consisting of crème bavarois & fruit, encased in a skirt & crown of lady finger sponge biscuit which is lightly imbibed with syrup & fruit liqueur. Charlotte was apparently created in the mid 1700's and origins of the name are varied…some sources cite Queen Charlotte, wife of George III; other sources claim the name is a mistranslation of an old word charlyt, meaning custard. But having made one on Monday, I could only possibly think of this dessert as feminine. Charlotte is cool and elegant, delicate and soft …a well dressed courtesan in fine millinery, lightly coiffed and powdered, and most capable of casting a flirtatious glance when the occasion warrants it. She mesmerized me instantly and despite her elegant posture what a gracious collaboratrice she was as I dressed her for tea time.

So as you might have guessed already, this was an amazing practical for me in every way I can think of: we were attended by Chef Walther, I had zero preparation issues with the meringue sponge or bavarois, and was given full opportunity to let my sense of food fashion run wild. With some of the leftover sponge batter, I piped out small heart shapes, at first just for additional practice with the piping bag, then kept at it once I realized that I could potentially use these for final decoration. As the sponge cakes went into the oven, Chef Walther unexpectedly brought out several punnets of mixed berries for garniture, and I felt my spirits go even higher. I began imagining how I could combine these baked heart shapes with the fruit and the vanilla pods to create my final presentation.

At the decoration stage we even got to play with small blow-torches, to lightly sear the sliced & fanned pear halves to create contrasted edges. From there I just let my intuition take over, adding a graceful sprig of glossy red cassis, a few raspberries and the sponge hearts – both lightly dusted in powdered sugar. And the vanilla…all the leftover pods we’d used for making the bavarois had been dried in the oven for our final presentation. I found pieces of varying flexibility and proceeded to form some hooped shapes to complement the hearts, as well as a drier piece that I cut into multiple fronds to give her some height at the crown.

I’m happy for my work in this class. Charlotte, all I can say is our paths will definitely cross again…meanwhile, behave yourself!

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