Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Devil Eats Alhambra

Alhambra has a wicked chocolate flavor that will bring you to your knees. One bite and you know whether you kneel voluntarily in awe or fall over in shock for being whomped in the mouth with a brick! It has an intense chocolate taste that you may very well not appreciate...but no denying that it will get your attention and elicit an opinion. The flavor packs a triple punch of dark chocolate-hazelnut sponge, dark chocolate ganache and dark chocolate glaze. After one bite if you are still uncertain of the flavor, then go see a specialist because your tastebuds are malfunctioning.

I have no clue as to the name origins of this cake, but the Alhambra’s character is very similar to the Buche …a separated-egg sponge, cut into layers, soaked with syrup, assembled with ganache and coated with glaze. The absence of pistachio, change of shape and decoration were the only major differences between the two cakes; the Alhambra being way more intense and singularly flavored, whereas the Buche had a bit more color and flavor diversity working in its favor. But I still enjoyed the Alhambra practical very much indeed. Even despite the punchy mood of the chef.

Chef Cotte was back from holiday and barking at everyone. While I never take the comments too personally, it seems we are not ever fast enough, tidy enough, organized enough...whatever. I sometimes feel like saying, enough already! At one point after he’d barked out a stream of rather punctuated orders, eliciting startled glances from many of my Asian classmates, I could no longer resist asking him if he'd had a bonne vacance (since normally you’d expect the post-holiday afterglow to affect moods in positive way). His face softened and he generally seemed to reflect happily for that split second…whatever it was or wherever it had been, I guess it was good. Then moments later he started barking orders again. Well so much for that idea…the vacation was clearly over now.

As shown in the demo with Chef Deguignet, once the cakes were setting in the freezer and we’d tidied up the work area, we should begin making roses out of modeling chocolate. So that’s what we did. Suddenly there was more barking… “Why do you do that? No! No roses today!” Well okay then…nip it in the bud then, monsieur. All the students were shooting glances at each other, a bit surprised since this had been our instruction at the demo. “You may only make two leaves if you want” he said to us. Clearly there are different points of view amongst our chefs on whether to rose up this cake or not. Frankly I was never very keen on cluttering it with a cheesy pink rose anyway; worse yet sticking 2 bright green leaves atop the cake without floral accompaniment, so I gladly abandoned the sculpting plans. Then I chuckled to myself when I saw Chef Cotte grab a hunk of the pink modeling chocolate and proceed to make his own rose. I guess roses are only for the chefs today. I walked to the other side of the lab and busied myself in stirring the pot of warming glaze to hide my amusement.

Just before we started the glazing step, Chef Cotte sent me up to level 3 to retrieve the white rectangular bases for the cakes. Mind you, this is not my week to be an assistant and I'd already manned the oven and had been stirring glaze, but hey...more than happy to oblige if it kept things calm and fluid in the lab area. Of course, after sprinting up there and spending a few minutes searching high and low, I could safely conclude that the white carton rectangles were nowhere to be found (at least nowhere logically near the other types of cardboard bases which I found without issues). So I came back downstairs with round bases, then stepped up to do my glazing as had been instructed by Chef Deguignet during the demo. Suddenly I was being barked at… ‘But what are you doing? I just said you are not supposed to do it that way, weren’t you listening??” Of course, I reminded him that perhaps I had been in the storage room when this instruction was given and that anyway during the demo we’d been advised glaze our cakes atop the angled spatula. I mean, what’s with the raised voice? With all due respect, I am an adult and there is probably a very valid reason why I had been following different instructions….like being physically absent from the room when they were given or in following the method of another person of authority. I shook it off; no use getting upset because it wouldn’t help.

I continued glazing as I’d observed in the demo, quickly discovering that it was indeed more challenging than the Buche, given the trapezoid angularity of the Alhambra vs the Buche's rounded shape. So it was much harder to get a smooth wash of glaze down the sides. Still, I managed a good result using the spatula method that Chef Deguignet had proposed in the demo. I only wished we had the blowtorches tonight, to help smooth a few of the unavoidable rivulets of glaze (another fun trick we’d learned from Chef Tranchant when making buche). Unfortunately, no Flashdance feelings for me today…

After my glaze set, I started on my decoration and a couple of my classmates started to compliment me. Then suddenly I was being barked at again, this time from behind as Chef Cotte re-entered the lab. “Mais non! Zis is gud” he said in broken English (pointing to the cornice of ganache and candied violets I’d arranged on the top), “zis is no gud!” (pointing to the corner flourishes I’d added in ganache). Clearly it is a matter of opinion, but okay point taken. Still, I proceeded with what I’d begun and garnished these flourishes with some smaller pieces of candied violets. Then I added some mixed flourishes to skirt the base of the cake (also to hide a couple spots that had not been well glazed. With the violets and the flourishes, it suddenly made me reflect about the early 1900's, a time when a touch of gaudy was good and silence was golden. My how times have changed!

After all that I thankfully managed to get a photo of my cake before Chef Cotte came along, cut it open with my paring knife and ate a piece! Normally this doesn’t happen during our practicals, but next Monday at the exam we’ll be graded on taste as well as appearance. He then proceeded to poke the cake layers with the knife tip and held it up closely inspect the ganache application. At that point, I half expected him to bark at me, but instead he looked me in the eye, smiled slyly, asked for a high-five and praised me for doing well.

Say what? Did I miss something along the way...?

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