Friday, January 23, 2009

Berry Lovely

They call this one Fraisier. If you don’t understand French, you might be wondering why they would name such an elegant cake after a Seattle-based sitcom.

If you do understand French, then your mouth will be watering when you imagine all the fresh, juicy STRAWBERRIES that would entitle a cake to such a name.

This is definitely one of those cakes that can make even the most dessert-jaded individual take a second look. She’s a stunner. Beneath a glossy chapeau of lightly seared Italian meringue, the waist of vanilla crème patissiere is accented by a sash of cut strawberries atop a layer of kirsch-imbibed genoise sponge. Upon slicing, each piece of cake reveals even more fresh strawberries which are cleverly concealed at the center. It’s a simple but clever trick that further delights the eye and the palette when serving.

I really loved this cake. It was a little bit of Americana mixed with the classiness of French patisserie. A kind of citified version of strawberry shortcake. A familiar wardrobe of flavors, but pulled together in a way that was unexpected and classy.

Chef Cotte was with us that afternoon during the practical. We were all just starting to weigh our ingredients at the start of the class when he sauntered energetically into the lab with a big cheesy grin, asking us all if we’d forgotten him already. “Jamais!” I responded loudly in French. “We could never forget you, chef!” This earned laughs from everyone, including him. He came over to where I was standing and playfully shook me by the shoulders, and we chatted for a bit.

I was glad to see him in such a good mood. He circulated the workbench cracking jokes and interjecting additional comments and tips that hadn’t been mentioned in the demo with Chef Tranchant. While sometimes Cotte can be an unpredictable and complex character, I’ve never left one of his classes feeling like I didn't learn something really useful.

The first 2 hours passed quickly, and in the final 30 minutes we got into the garnishing stage. Using the edge of my serrated knife, I scored the top surface of the Italian meringue using a waving motion. Then using my St. Honore nozzle I piped out some flourishes of meringue and seared all these surfaces very lightly with the blowtorch. I finished with some sliced strawberries and a few pistachio halves for a touch of color. It earned a high five and a smile from Chef Cotte, so I was happy.

I saved the trimmings from my vanilla genoise, wrapping them tightly in foil and freezing when I got back to Geneva. With a fresh batch of crème patissiere , I’ll either make an inspired trifle or some mini fraisier cakes with those remaining bits of sponge. Lovely memories linger on…

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