Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gateau Basque, Pâte Sucrée

We had another 9 hour day yesterday - two practicals and a demonstration. The first practical (at 8:30 in the morning, no less) was on the basque cake the chef had demonstrated the previous night. We all thought it'd be a cinch, just roll out the dough and put some pastry cream inside, right?

Wrong. Basque cake "dough" was designed to make baking apprentices cry, I'm sure. It's not a dough, it's a cake batter that we're supposed to roll out as if it were dough. It's soft, sticky, and very difficult to handle. On top of that, the practical room we were in had almost no AC, so the dough softened at an alarming rate. After much cursing and swearing all around, we finally got the dough into the ring mold. I had to patch my upper crust because it fell apart when I was draping it over the ring - hence the crack you see down the middle of the cake. The dough is supposed to be worked super cold, so you can display a clear, pretty pattern on top. My talented neighbor had better luck : )

(Seriously, isn't it supposed to be hot in Basque country? How did they ever come up such a warm-weather-averse recipe?)

Despite the uncooperative dough, we finished in record time (two hours!) and had a four hour break before our next class. We're getting much faster in the practicals, especially because people started helping each other in terms of gathering ingredients and equipment. Team work is really effective!

The Rodin Museum was a very nice place for a midday break.

The afternoon demonstration was on pâte sucrée, or sweet tart dough. The chef made caramelized pear tart with crunchy meringue topping, and honey-almond tartlets. There was also dark chocolate sorbet to eat with the almond tartlets.

The chocolate sorbet was only a little sweet and very dark (but personally I wouldn't use cocoa powder, it takes the texture grainy). It was beautiful paired with the crispy almond tart.

The pear tarts were okay. I like the contrast between the crispy topping and the soft pears, but I'm not a fan of the tart dough recipe. It's on the dry side and doesn't contribute any flavor to the tart. Now if you had a chocolate or browned butter crust...

We had the practical right after the demonstration. Again, the kitchen was hot (I think the AC gave up on itself), which meant even handling normal tart dough became a pain. The chef said I had caramelized my pears too much - that the compote should still be pale instead of golden. But isn't this a caramelized pear tart? Oh well, I'm sure it'll taste good.

The topping involved whipping eight egg whites into stiff peaks. Hand-whisking egg whites is a pretty good workout, apparently, because everyone was huffing and puffing by the end. Of course the meringue deflated at an alarming rate due to the warmth and humidity, so we tried to get them into the oven as soon as possible. I'm starting to miss Seattle and its dry, chilly weather.

I went to watch Eclipse with a friend after class. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of going to the movies, but it felt like such a treat after a full day in the strict, regimental atmosphere of the school. Thankfully, the movie only had French subtitles. A bunch of French-speaking vampires and werewolves would just be...too much.

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