I had my first day of real classes today! There were two demonstrations followed by a practical. The first demonstration covered basic things like pralines, fondant, and coffee extract. Other than having to sit in a stifling room in our uniforms, the demonstrations are pretty cool. It's pretty much like lecture in university, except the room smells like butter and sugar (note to professors: you too can have three hour lectures if you keep the room smelling like baked goods).
The recipes covered in the first class were pretty basic, but the chef had useful tips, like always adding sugar to pectin before dissolving it in water, to help it mix better. The most thrilling part of the demonstration was when chef Tranchant tested sugar temperature by dipping his fingers into a pot of boiling sugar and dropping the resulting pinch into a bowl of water for the softball test. I guess candy thermometers are for wimps.
The second demonstration covered a variety of sablés, or sandy French butter cookies. They're called sablés for their crumbly texture. The smell of butter quickly pervaded the room as soon as the first batch of cookies went into the oven. I wonder if long-term contact with butter aromas can make you fat?
All of the cookies have a similar preparation of mixing cut-up pieces of butter with the dry ingredients, then (optionally) adding a mixture of egg and water as the wet ingredient. The chef was very meticulous about preparation ("for small pieces, it's better to line them up in neat rows on the baking sheet so you can count them more easily"), and took some pains to do the decoration for the chocolate shortbread rounds (chocolate dough wrapped in regular dough, topped with crushed hazelnuts and a single almond). Here's a better view of the cookies:
The cookies turned out to be nice and crumbly, with a good butter flavor. I wonder if the butterfat content in the butter made a difference in the texture, but I couldn't get a definite answer out of the chef (he thinks it's 85% butterfat, but says it doesn't really matter until you're making laminated dough). My favorites were the glasses - because the raspberry jam provided such a nice contrast - and the diamonds, which are crumbly orange-flavored shortbread cookies with no eggs added.
We made diamond cookies for the practical. The cookies themselves were fairly easy to make, I think for the first day it's the experience of working in a pastry kitchen that counts. The refrigerated marble counter (yes, it's a marble counter with a fridge built in on the bottom. I totally want one at home.) is such a luxury to work with. It's amazing what a difference a sharp knife and a large, cool work surface makes. The important lessons of the day were to always keep the work area clean and organized, and move anything you're not using (like the balance) out of the way.
The only problem is, I came home with a box of around a hundred shortbread cookies...
At the end of the practical class, chef warned us not to get too confident, because the recipe complexity will quickly pick up. Tomorrow, for example, we'll be making apple tart. And on Friday it'll be Gateau Saint-Honoré, albeit with a simplified recipe.
I'm totally looking forward to making croissants and tempering chocolate in the weeks to come : )