Friday, July 9, 2010

It's Not So Fun Anymore...

There's a heat wave in Paris, and even nights are becoming unbearable. What's worse is that the air conditioning in the school has been spotty. The normally cool demonstration room has been uncomfortably warm for the past few days, which makes it easier than usual to doze off. The locker room is toasty as always (maybe hellish would be a better description, after all it is in the basement). What really hit a nerve, though, was that the practical kitchen we were working in yesterday had absolutely no air conditioning. Even the refrigerators were not working.

Working with pastry in a stifling hot kitchen while in full uniform is no fun for anyone. Especially when the only thing you've eaten that day are pastries.

We only had two classes yesterday, a demonstration of petit fours followed immediately by a practical session. I thought it would be a quick day, but the heat and sugar-overdose made it seem much, much longer.

For starters, the demonstration class lasted a record full three hours (they're usually two and a half, so we can have a break between classes). There were only four cookies, and three of them were quite simple. The chef took less than an hour to make the raisin biscuits, cigarettes, and marshal's batons (egg white and almond cookies).

Clockwise from the top: macarons, marshal's batons dipped in chocolate, raisin biscuits, cigarettes, plain marshal's batons, more raisin biscuits. 

And then, the chef started making macarons. I was really excited during the first batch because I've been quite obsessive about making them, and I wanted to see how they were done at Le Cordon Bleu. My excitement wore off quickly though when the chef made a second tray, and then a third tray, and then a fourth tray... I think there might have been six trays in total, it became hard to keep track.

They look quite cute all presented on a plate, don't they?

You have to realize there were a lot more macarons that didn't make it onto the tray...

After what seemed like forever (it was only around two hours), the chef finally finished filling all the macarons. To my surprise, the macarons weren't that much better than mine! Some were nice and tender, but all of them had air bubbles, and some were downright awful, with a thin hard layer of congealed almond goo underneath the air bubble. To be fair, I think two days of resting in the refrigerator - which is what shops do before selling them - would have made the macarons a lot better.

The practical session was a nightmare. We had to work in a hot kitchen with our full uniform on, and on top of that I made the mistake of not eating lunch before coming to class. Apparently, eating sweets on an empty stomach makes me feel sick and cranky. I was already in a bad mood because the cookies we had to make (raisin biscuits and marshal's batons) don't taste good. The heat and sugar didn't help things.

The raisin cookies were the fussiest little things ever. It's just a simple cake-like batter with rum-soaked raisins studded on top. But no... the cookies need two layers of glaze! After the cookies came out of the oven, we had to brush them with apricot glaze, and when that dries, a layer of rum glaze goes on top. The cookies are then put into the oven briefly to set the glaze. I just about flipped out when the practical chef showed me a "well done" cookie, covered in a thick layer of hardened sugar glaze. They're just little cookies, for god sakes. They don't need all that varnish.

The marshal's batons were even worse (see cover picture). The cookie itself is pretty upsetting for me. It's an egg white and almond cookie that is disturbingly soft and chewy, like an old sponge. The covering of crispy crushed almonds help somewhat, and the chocolate covering is just unnecessary. You can't fix a bad cookie.

Lesson learned: bad pastries make me angry.

The good news is, I made an amazing passion fruit-lime-orange curd today that totally reaffirmed my faith in pastry. But that's for another post : )

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