At 9:50pm I received a message…
Come over we are all practicing for the exam!
I said it is so late are you serious, and the reply come over now and bring some cream we are running out!
In any normal city this would be a simple prospect, but in Paris where all supermarkets close at 10pm with their doors shut at approximately 9:45 so no more customers enter, it was a near impossibility.
Grabbing my wallet, phone and camera I ran like the wind down my dark staircase, no I didn’t waste the time to flick the light switch!
I ran like the wind to my closest store the alimentation generale under my apartment itself… Closed!
Then to the marche one block away… Closed!
Then running even faster as the seconds ticked by I made it to the large marche on Rue St Antoine the major road in the Marais… Entrance closed … Exit still open, so as someone left and the automatic doors opened I snuck past and began the pleading!!
Please I have to bake tonight and I need cream… I think the manager saw my smile, my exasperation and my karma kicked into gear … Be quick!
She was my maiden of Marche Franprix and saved my night!
Then charging towards the station I caught the first train and after passing the ticketing inspectors at my transfer made it to the practice lab in under 20minutes!!
Bring on the whipping!!
Exhausted and sweaty I made it up the five flights of stairs!
I was greeted by three smiling faces!
We were on a mission, I arrived quite late into the piece and was the last to tackle the unknown!
We made a new use out of a childhood favourite, play-doh!
Who needs mud pies or dark chocolate tartlets when you can have a bright green play-doh tart case hand crimped to the style becoming of a proper French Tart!
A few Play-Doh roses were thrown in as well to practice our sculpting and moulding of marzipan!
Next to tackle piping technique – both for decoration with buttercream and for chantilly cream for a St Honore!
For once I was useful and I was able to give everyone some pointers about filling their bags, and correct wrapping and holding of the bag, and then basic tips on actual piping styles. We all know I have a long way to go but we were all able to help each other.
After working through our short supply of cream which after being rewhipped too many times had become a liquid, we decided to start from scratch with the cream I bought.
It was like a cooking show with all the cameras and lights, the host proudly teaching, “now this kids is how you whip cream.”
Only for some reason we ended up with cottage cheese and then pure butter!
It was a hilarious night of many laughs and a few lessons and to finish it off we ate fresh strawberries and cherries dunked in the leftover cream!
Now tomorrow the real hard work begins.
Day One consisted of a late night rendezvous…
Day Two the attendees started faltering and stayed at home for individual study… But for two of us it was off to the 16th arrondissement and finally a kitchen with an oven!
We saved each other from a day of procrastination and poor progress. We decided to tackle the three most likely targets and some of our weakest skills!
And so a day of Saint-Honoré, Dacquoise and Tarte Meringuée aux Poires Caramélisées was our personal challenge. However, given we don’t really love their taste, and we have made them all before, we gave each a slight twist.
There was also the consideration that we had limited equipment, and couldn’t get our hands onto certain ingredients!
Before any baking though we each had to eat a hearty lunch to sustain us and so I quickly whipped together a salad to entice and inspire us!
Mixed greens with avocado, parsnip and beetroot chips, coriander and smoked salmon with balsamic, olive oil and lemon juice!
Entering the kitchen to practice, for real this time, we started working at around 1:30.
We began with the Tarte Caramélisées and so we initially did the classic trio of sablage, fraisage and coller (forming our tart case).
Then montage le blonde oeuf … and for fun we made it a race!
8 minute stiff egg whites for me
6.5 minute stiff egg whites for her, she wins, hands down!
Then we caramelised the pears and began to assemble the first of our cakes… made all the more difficult because we used flimsy plastic bags as we had no piping bags!
Next on the list was the Dacquoise – and she tackled it with such speed!
Whilst she was mounting the whites and prepping the ingredients I prepped the Pistachio paste which we completely winged, that means guessed and experimented, we had no idea what we were doing but it turned out incredible.
The sablé for the St-Honore is known to be very brittle and very difficult to work with – and so I really wanted to practice it at least for a second time before the exam! With no time for choux I piped directly onto the sablé.
Then onto the buttercream – our worst enemy and evil nemesis! I faced my former fears and kept dunking my fingers into the boiling sugar to make sure it had reached soft ball stage. Beating the yolks whilst pouring in soft ball stage boiling sugar in a thin stream whilst making sure not to lose the bowl or burn yourself is not fun! Then having to mix in 350g of cold hard butter cubes is neither simple nor appetising!
Rescuing errors – Remembering steps and tips and tricks – making appetising desserts to impress French Pastry Chef examiners – all in a days work … not easy!
So by the end of our 7 hour day… St-Honoré became a pate brisée with cassis swirl crème in the traditional St-Honoré decoration style of flame like points.
Dacquoise became a pistachio fantasy with handmade pistachio paste for a pistachio Dacquoise, pistachio butter cream and a marzipan rose.
The Tarte Caramélisées became a Tarte Caramélisées without the cassis!
And all three were left on the table for our generous hosts… I hope they enjoyed!!