Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sanctuary of comfort (& quiche!)

Walking in the door last Friday night filled me with joy. I actually did a little jig as soon as I walked across the threshold. It had been the very busy final week of classes for Basic level, and I was feeling accomplished and ready to rest a bit, then to prepare for my final practical exam the following Monday.

My flat in Geneva is situated above a pizzeria in a street without trees. The place is clean, comfortable, relatively quiet and modern but otherwise nothing special – I don’t even have a balcony much less a view. However since starting my course this place has become like a shrine to me. To come home after a week such as this, to have my own bed and kitchen at my disposal really makes me feel good. To think that before starting this course, I’d considered subletting the place to save a bit of money now seems so absurd to me. I doubt I would have persevered the past 2+ months without my retreat each weekend in Geneva.

So it was time to shower and let my hair down…to review my class notes on the comfort of my own sofa, with my music playing softly and the candles lit. And it was of course time to experiment with recipes. The practical exam scheduled for Monday 10th November would consist of a technical recipe as well as preparation of one entremet (from a possible list of 10). The technical recipe would be correctly preparing and lining a tart base. As for the entremet, I wouldn’t know what I’d be preparing until Monday when I walked into the lab and drew my selection from a cup. Then I would have to prepare it, whatever it would be, within a 2 hour time limit and without the aid of class notes. And in addition to finished appearance, I would be also graded on taste, organization & cleanliness of my work area and of course on-time completion. For each minute of lateness, my score would be reduced by 2%.

All the entremets I had made at least once, so in theory there was really not much to worry about since I didn’t have too many difficulties with any of them the first time around. I just needed to review my class notes to make sure I wouldn’t have missed any steps from some of the earlier recipes, such as Dacquoise, or some of the more recent recipes such as Mogador which had a broader range of techniques required in the preparation. So getting ready for this exam would consist of reading my notes, preparing a tart base and practicing a bit of piping and decoration.

Decoration for two of the possible entremets could require the making of a rose garnish, so I dug out some marzipan from my pantry and practiced making a couple of these. I like sculpting anyway, so this was no issue and I was pretty happy with the final results. Of course, at this point I had no cake to affix them to, but that could come later. I put them into a covered dish for use at a later date.

Then I sketched some quick ideas out for piping decoration for the different possible cakes, considering what would look pretty and would be most manageable as a last step in a fairly compressed preparation timing. Using some leftover ganache, I piped out a couple of designs onto parchment paper to practice my ideas. Then I worked on the tart base. I’ve already made pate brisee a couple of times since the tarte aux pommes practical, so I wasn’t really worried. But I was hungry and I figured I would experiment in adapting the tart base to use for quiche. After all, I was pretty hungry and a girl cannot live on dessert alone! So this led to the creation of a Seared Tomato and Caramelized Bacon Quiche with Roasted Almond Crust. The quiche was pure inspiration, using only the ingredients I had at my disposal. I used fresh tomatoes heavily infused with garlic powder; chopped & sautéed bacon caramelized with maple syrup, a blend of fontal and gruyere cheeses, and chopped chives blended with cream & eggs to fuse it all together. For the crust, I adapted the school recipe, reducing most of the sugar and adding some roasted & pulverized almonds for added character. I was curious how the effect of sweetening the bacon would be in contrast to the slightly tangy & pungent flavor of the tomatoes, with all that offset by the slightly nutty crust. The result was surprisingly delicious, pretty to look at, and I’d make it again.

I really enjoyed eating a slice of this while planning for my test…good comfort food to enjoy in my own little sanctuary. Email me at if you'd like a recipe sheet.

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