Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dacquoiser-size: the new upper body workout!

I must admit that learning to bake in a professional kitchen has a few less creature comforts than I expected. Baking in my own home tends to be much more comfortable…not only because I’m usually doing it in my tracksuit or pajamas but also also because of all of the convenient electrical gadgets I have. The best of these being my KitchenAid stand mixer.

At Le Cordon Bleu there are industrial mixers in the practical rooms, but we students are required to learn the methods without relying on machines. It reminded me of elementary school arithmetic classes, when my teachers would insist we learn to do the sums in our head…even when relying on a calculator might be easier. So I fully appreciate why…I guess I have just gotten used to the convenience!

On Monday this week, we made a lovely Dacquoise. Another stunning cake that looked beautiful enough to be classified as French patisserie. It is made from meringue cake layers flavored with ground almonds, assembled with satiny, golden praline buttercream and garnished with a marzipan rose. The texture of the cake layers was slightly reminiscent of angelfood, albeit much thinner & slightly denser, with much more robust flavor because of the ground almonds. It is a cake I have so often read about and always wanted to try at home but never did….even with a KitchenAid at my disposal! So with all those missed opportunities mounting around me, I decided to just roll up my sleeves and be whisked away by it all.

A slight understatement indeed. Both the cake and the butter cream require a huge amount of whisking. First to get the meringue into a stiffly beaten & glossy mass….later to get the huge amount of butter in the dense buttercream to achieve silky smoothness when combined with the egg yolks and sugar syrup. So all through the practical, the happy clatter of 12 eager whisks in Inox bowls filled the air, all of the students including myself taking turns mixing with each arm. Who needs a personal trainer to help get rid of those bingo wings? Dacquoiser-size and go for the burn!! Your triceps will be calling you tomorrow, threatening to go on strike unless you agree to go back to just doing pushups.

Of course, I exaggerate a bit, but not much. Meanwhile, I would say everyone in my group achieved great success with their dacquoise. I saw nothing but smooth, even cake layers and evenly piped praline buttercream, with folks exploring different ideas on the cream application to achieve different looks. There was lots of creativity in the rose preparations, too. I wasn’t overly impressed with my results that day with sculpting the perfect rose, yet it was still fun…taking me back to those carefree, Plasticene days.

Certainly the dacquoise proved itself more durable than I was expecting. Apart from the marzipan rose, the cake transported very well back to Geneva, stored beautifully in the fridge overnight and delighted numerous colleagues on Tuesday. If ever making it again at home, I will pull out my KitchenAid and try exercising ingredient variations instead…such as experimenting with hazelnut and orange flavor combination, or perhaps something with pistachio and chocolate. It seems the choices might be endless...and I am considering to make this for an upcoming work event (where I've been asked to bake the celebration cake!)

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