After a weeklong break packed with relaxation and rigor, fun and frustration I headed back to the classroom for the penultimate stage of my pastry education.
It was to be a confused week, here we were, the four of us with three new faces, undertaking what was meant to be the height of French patisserie. We were drawing on all the recipes and techniques we had learnt thus far and trying to take it to an even higher level with precision and perfection both in presentation and flavour thereby achieving overall pastry gold.
Well it was more of an endeavour rather than a clear success. We were certainly a little unsteady in our conviction.
What we in fact produced was wonderful, impressive, full of flavour hits, special… But it seemed to be missing something. At times what was needed was restraint and editing as it was just one step towards excess and over needless complexity; at others it needed a rethink and something more. We needed something new!
I think we had done enough, and our motivation was waning with little encouragement.
Don’t get me wrong… It was great, most of what we produced was spectacular, maybe we have just been spoilt and our standards have become unrealistic and our eyes have been opened too far to the tricks and processes.
It takes a lot to impress us now, and we can see past the veil of beauty to the true ingenuity and quality of a dessert.
We had been through a lot the past month – but this was an intense week, there was a lot of work and we worked very long and hard, a situation which was not helped by a few too many mistakes. The almond meal had been a dismal failure, given a high fat content, and to our dismay we threw away almost 500 macaron shells, then restarted and threw away even more.
Our caramel had failed and we threw away a whole 3 kilograms, before restarting the next day to remake our caramel chocolate tuile.
It just goes to show that no matter how much experience you get pastry is a science and art, as such it is easy to fail, and even the smallest mistake or variable can completely alter your outcome and make it unusable.
As an aside, one day after class, two of the students decided to introduce our talented French Pastry Chef to a simple and fascinating creation at the height of Western pastry – the humble rice crispy treat. (laughter and chiding now accepted…)
What was brilliant and hilarious was that the chef turned a simple process that has no recipe whatsoever into a perfectionistic French art form using all his French know-how to turn the rice-crispy treat into a Gateaux-Croustillant Chocolat Riz and taking copious notes. To see his absolute excitement and joy was amazing. You could see his mind ticking over with the possibilities – not satisfied with the simplicity of the dish he was thinking of all the flavour and texture combinations and was ready to start experimenting with the process and final products.
Whilst he found his partner rice crispy treats we all discovered moulding chocolate and freezing spray, creating weird chocolate trees with macaron fruit.
We discovered the weird and wonderful foie gras and fig chocolate ganache, as well as the horrible sensation liquorice ganache.
What I have to show you does not reflect the ups and downs our week. Despite errors we were still able to produce some spectacular desserts, although sometimes slightly different to the chef’s plans or our expectations.
We made sleek modern cakes with 8 layers, great plated desserts, as well as macarons in all shapes and forms.
We learnt great new presentation styles, very fancy!
Let us start off with one of the desserts I found most exciting; the reason being it was our introduction to my new favourite method to pull out of the pâtissier’s bag of tricks – INVERTED PUFF PASTRY! Now it may sound like a bad magicians parlour trick but in its simplicity lies an arsenal of flavour and texture gold!
The process involves a few interesting ideas and I’d love to say a heartfelt thank you to the Pastry chef that came up with this little number – when making a normal puff pastry one envelops the butter in a detrempe dough. In the case of Inverted Puff pastry, some flour is added to the butter and the detrempe dough is then encased in the butter and rolled out in exactly the same method with three envelope folds and six turns. The rest is history…it still has the same crunchy golden layers, only now it also has the insane property of being short like a sablé and it melts in your mouth after the initial crunch.
In this case the inverted puff pastry was made into a Millefeuille with Praline Mousseline Cream, tempered chocolate plaques and a caramel sauce.
Yet another revelation was the employment of a croustillant layer on top of what already has to be one of my favourite kitchen marvels – the choux! We all individually spied on the master patissiers and their cracked, crunchy layers on top of eclairs throughout the city without knowing yet how to produce such brilliance. Well now we share their secret – an it opens up so many doors!
The Caramel Choux Croustillant were topped with a perfect demi sphere of caramel fondant, filled with caramel mousseline cream and a coffee chantilly cream as well as feuillantine, and sat astride a sablé and chocolate disc.
Who would ever think of making a demi-sphere of lime panacotta with a hidden centre of chocolate mousse, afloat on a sea of vanilla crème, fruit salad and hazelnut meringue inside a sphere of dark-chocolate on a tempered dark chocolate leaf? It is a valid question, but as you can see that is exactly what we produced thus realising the chef’s vision.
Who knows how this 6 layered cake received it’s name during it’s conception – The “Frothy Vanilla Bourbon” did indeed have vanilla, and was composed of two layers of coconut dacquoise with a jelly of black currants and sour cherries with white chocolate ganache and a white chocolate glaze.
The 7 layer cake of Java, the soft chocolate biscuit, a light chocolate cream, a coffee bavaroise, a smooth caramel toffee, crunchy pearls, chocolate ganache and then sprayed with caramel chocolate.
Named after the famed capital of Madagascar and with lots of “nanas” in the Tananarive quite litterally – this monstrous cake with 9 elements would strike the fear into any normal humanbeing – starting with a hazelnut dacquoise, followed by our favourite feuillitine crisp, rum caramelised bananas, dark rich chocolate mousse, lemon crème, more mousse, chocolate ganache, chocolate glaze and a crown of caramelised hazelnuts and a caramel chocolate tuille crown – its an absolute mouthful to describe and a delicious mouthful when consumed.
It was overwhelmingly complex, each layer was delicious alone, and yet together it was still perfectly balanced; Nevertheless it is not something I would make on a daily basis, if ever, however, it is the elements and ideas behind this cake and the many derivatives that are so exciting.
We also made smaller pieces including Caramel Tartlettes – a crisp shortcrust dough, a disc of jaconde sponge, filled with caramel ganache, covered with a caramel chocolate tuile, with a coffee bavaroise dome glazed wuth caramel icing and decorated with tempered chocolate.
Changing their presentation every year – this was the 2011 Tartelette Fruit Rouge – a sable tart filled with a very tart and acidic red fruit marmelade topped with a disc of tempered white chocolate, an almond milk dome with a lemon cloud centre, a red fruit glaze, sprayed with red chocolate, and a macaron tiara with fresh red fruits.
Moving along to the modern and experimental we hit the intersection of sweet and salty with a Foie Gras Macaron – a linzer sablé, tempered chocolate, macaron dipped in dark chocolate filled with a fig, milk chocolate, cream and foie gras ganache served with fresh figs – suprisingly it was delicious with the sweet notes and earthyness of the fig, the smoothness of chocolate, and finished with a subtle richness and fat tones of the foie gras.
Moving back towards the more commonplace we made a vanilla macaron filled with a vanilla and white chocolate ganache and hidden in the centre coffee ganache, on linzer sablé, dipped in chocolate with a baton of hazelnut meringue.
As the chef plated his dessert we watched in shock as he kept adding more and more decoration, he was having such fun!
The Macaron Trees were more of a sculpture than a dessert despite being completely edible I doubt anyone would consume such a thing – its not built for de gout, the flavour, rather for its beauty. Mine at the top is meant to be a fantasy inspired by Dali with macarons literally melting off the weirdly twisted branchess, the chefs below left was fun with loads of pistachio green gravel, and a friends is the marriage of summer and winter.
And at the end of it all, after a three course lunch with matching wines, fully satisfied, we hesitantly returned to the kitchen for what was meant to be a short final burst of work, a glass of champagne and degustation of our Haute Creations.
This short burst became a further 4 hour long hall as we finally exited the establishment at 7:30pm!
We toasted our glasses of champange to our collective successes as we all graduated from Treizeme de Haute Patisserie… next for us budding pastry buffs – the stagiaire, or internship, in the Pastry Kitchens of the Ritz Hotel!