Sunday, June 21, 2009

C’est Marron, non?

Okay, okay…so once again I have jumped to conclusions…thus, I take back everything I said about Tresor being the oddest cake we made.

Dome aux Marrons was also a ridiculous looking cake. A large hemisphere of chesnut mousse interleaved with graduated layers of hazelnut dacquoise, then topped with chestnut cream and a lot of cheesy looking marzipan decors. The only thing that was missing, in my humble opinion, was the upper half of a Barbie torso.

It was hard to stay focused during the demo. It was late afternoon and late in the week, the room was so stuffy, the row of Latino students were chattering endlessly and everyone’s mind seemed to be elsewhere. Chef Tranchant began to assemble the cake into the dome shape and apply the chestnut cream. The translator was droning on about the spatula movements of the chef when a simple mistranslation saved the day. Instead of describing the chef’s method of applying the chestnut cream as ‘spackling’, her translation came out as ‘spanking’.

Suddenly the room sprang back to life, people were laughing and making innuendos about spanking the dome and other funny comments. Even the Asian students were nudging each other, giggling and making jokes. The row of Latino males had completely stopped their chattering and their attention was now riveted on the chef.

Chef Tranchant just smiled and used the renewed level of energy as a segway for his next installment: spraying the dome with chocolate! We watched in awe as plastic trash bags were laid across the workbench and hung from the ceiling to protect all surfaces from overspray. Then an electric power painter was plugged in, filled with a 50/50 mixture of chocolate & cocoa butter, and used to spray the dome with a light coating. The spray gun made a lot of noise while coating the dome with chocolate, which seemed to further impress everyone and hold their attention (or maybe jolt them awake if they’d totally missed the spanking translation).

Despite all the fun we had in the demo and practical, this is probably a recipe I’d only make once. I found the overall taste and texture quite heavy and sweet, begging for more texture and contrast. It was a lot of work to build the cake up and get an even dome shape. And, with all due respect to any future daughters who are yet to be born not to mention Barbie herself, there is no time in the foreseeable future when I’ll be feeling energized to clean power-sprayed chocolate off my kitchen walls. Some things are best left to professionals.

Gateau Bozo

Based solely on appearance, Tresor Vanille-Fraises des Bois was quite possibly the oddest looking cake we’d made all term. I now really regret that I didn’t take a photo but the practical ran way over time and I was in a rush to catch the TGV. Truthfully, the finished cake looked like some sort of clown hat, with a decorative almond dacquoise base topped with a conical mound of wild strawberry mousse and finished with caramelized vanilla chiboust cream.

The dacquoise base was made by piping out into mounds around the edge of a vacherin mold. This created the scalloped edge of the cake when baked (or effectively the rippled brim of the clown hat!). The name of Tresor did not pop to mind when I looked at the finished result…I could only think of Bozo the Clown and this did not inspire images of luxury. I am guessing that the name of the cake was derived from the ‘treasure’ of fresh wild strawberries which were hidden in the center of the mousse cone.

I had great results with the dacquoise and the strawberry mousse. I achieved an even and smooth cone shape, which earned praise from Chef Deguignet. I discovered the technique to this smoothness was to hold the metal spatula in place against the surface of the mousse and spin the cake. The other students were doing the inverse, which was holding the cake still and trying to smooth the surface by moving the spatula around the surface.

It was our first experience in creating a crème chiboust. Crème Chiboust (named after its inventor, Chef Chiboust) is most often used in a traditional St. Honore. This is basically a crème patissiere that is mixed whilst hot with meringue to create a lighter, somewhat spongy textured mixture. The hot crème patissiere slightly cooks the meringue and helps it to trap the airiness. The heat also helps to sterilize the meringue.

As we were using a French meringue, the Crème Chiboust was less stable and despite the caramelized surface it had nearly disintegrated by the time I’d gotten back to Geneva. In addition to the disheveled appearance after a couple hours, it was also a very strange cake to cut and serve…having this huge pink mound of mousse at the tapered end of each slice. But the taste of the wild strawberry mousse was a real treat. With a bit of reshaping, this would be well worth making again.

Pleasure in angles

For whatever reason, Plaisir the gateau would be a square shaped cake. I found it an odd thing for a cake with a name as provocative as Pleasure, since all of my mental images of this word would involve more rounded shapes. Oh well, another one of those inexplicable French things I suppose (by this point I was keeping a list...)

Despite being angular, the taste lived up to the name. It was a combination of two cream layers – vanilla supreme and chocolate mousse – topped with a thin layer of biscuit joconde and finished with a croquant caramel. The techniques and recipes for each layer were very similar to things we’d already learned, with some notable differences.

The mousse was made with a milk-based ganache – the first I’d ever worked with. All the chocolate mousse we’d made so far was using a cream ganache. I couldn’t taste any difference in the finished gateau, but mixing this ganache was a touch more onerous. It was much more challenging to get a smooth ganache base, but I managed.

The vanilla supreme was very similar to a bavarois – consisting of cream, eggs, milk & gelatin but less gelatin than a bavarois. I guess for this fact they had to give it a different name.

By the time we were assembling the cake, I decided that I really liked the taste of biscuit joconde. It is a delicious sponge consisting of eggs, ground almonds, butter and powdered sugar to provide richness of taste, tempered with a French meringue to give the light & flexible texture. We’d first made it for the Opera gateau, and so the ingredients and technique were already familiar to me. Joconde is one of those sponge cakes which you can eat just as is, without any imbibing or additional toppings. I saved all my trimmings and wrapped them in foil to give to Isabelle.

The caramel layer was basically a mixture of beaten egg yolks sterilized with sugar syrup. So it was slightly airy in texture, the outer edge covered with cassonade sugar and then caramelized with a blowtorch to create a crisp shell.

We tempered dark chocolate and made decors to place atop the finished cake. I tried to create some complex and rather lengthy pieces to give more height to the finished cake. Unfortunately most of these broke and I ended up with a bunch of fragments. I put together what I had, and actually the result wasn’t bad. As I looked down the lens of my camera in taking the picture, I was suddenly reminded of a pirate ship…the chocolate decors sitting atop the golden caramel layer looked a bit like wreckage on a sandy beach.

Douceurs for Deux Soeurs

The week following the dark chocolate practical was filled with experiences involving (surprise, surprise!) more chocolate. The next practical was something called Douceur.

The name sounded promising indeed. I discovered this lovely entremet consisted of thin discs of milk chocolate, layered with milk chocolate mousse and dark chocolate-praline croquant, atop a base of hazelnut dacquoise. The finished taste combined the richness of nuts, the texture of a chocolate crunch bar and the smooth creaminess of rich mousse. It was indeed heavenly in the mouth, with the varied textures and flavours. And of course, it was once of those ‘ooh-ahh’ desserts which really excite people just by appearance alone.

I did well in tempering my milk chocolate and preparing the discs and forms of chocolate. I used the pot tempering method Chef Walther had shown us and avoided all the mess and hassle of cooling the chocolate atop the marble workbench. Anticipating an ample amount of leftover dacquoise mixture, I made several extra smaller discs and forms so I could construct some miniature Douceurs with the extra ingredients.

The milk chocolate mousse was very temperamental – both in the mixing stage and also during the decorating stage. Temperatures were critical at the mixing stage, when the thermal contrast between ingredients of different temperatures such as melted chocolate and whipped cream could easily cause the mixture to seize up or become grainy in texture. I managed to avoid any problems at the mixing stage, but by the time I was piping out the final garnishes of mousse atop the larger Douceur, the mixture was separating (just from the warmth of my hands – which by the way, are not very warm at all!).

The mini Douceurs were my favorites. They were very cute and could be savored in about 4 bites, and their appearance remained more or less intact during this process. The large Douceur was good looking until the first slice was removed….then it looked very disheveled very quickly. That said, there was a lot more of the delectable crunch layer to enjoy on the large Douceur.

I arrived at Isabelle’s to discover her sister was visiting – good thing I had multiples to share!!

Back to it

At some point in March, I fell off the blog wagon once again. Sorry for disappearing. It was a combination of workload and school I guess. Quite a few stories from Intermediate Pastry are yet to be told. So whilst I have now already moved into Superior Patisserie and new stories are beginning, I still have some catching up to do. So I am back to the keyboard - clackety-clack - keep checking back.