Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Longest Day of the Term: Meringues, Pastry Shop Visit, Basque Cake Demo

(Warning: loads of food pictures ahead.)

Today was the only 12 hour day in the entire term - two demonstrations, a practical, and a pastry shop visit. It was a long day, but I think I'm getting used to the rhythm of things - I made sure to eat throughout the day, and I didn't fall asleep in class!

The first demonstration was on meringues. It was definitely the prettiest demonstration so far, the chef made praline dacquoise cake and meringue-sorbet-whipped cream cake (there's a French term for it, but google came up empty).

The three brown cakes are the dacquoise cakes. A dacquoise is a French meringue with almond powder and flour mixed in. I expected something crisp and hard, but it actually makes a fairly fluffy cake. Here's what a slice looks like:

I absolutely love the praline-flavored buttercream filling. The rich, nutty, caramel flavor is just perfect with the light cake.

The chef made a marzipan rose demonstration as well. I'm not a fan of the unnatural colors and the concept of inedible decorations, but I guess it looks impressive (technically you can eat marzipan, but it's like play-doh). The chef's pipping job is top-notch, though. Look at those perfect round teardrops!

The meringue and sorbet dessert was really interesting. The chef topped disks of meringue with disks of strawberry sorbet, then decorated the whole thing with whipped cream and fresh fruit. It makes for a very pretty and light summertime dessert. I'll have to do it with mangoes and passion fruit!

We made the praline dacquoise cake for the demonstration (see cover picture). The nice grandfatherly chef (see the puff pastry post) was away and we had chef Nicolas again. Nothing against him personally, but he just makes me nervous with his disciplinarian ways. I mean, honestly, he made us go downstairs to see how the other group was moving faster than us - maybe if he didn't intimidate everyone we would get through faster, jeez.

Ranting aside, my dacquoise came out fine but I didn't whip my buttercream enough. I still need to work on pipping, and it doesn't help that buttercream is ridiculously temperamental - too hot and it won't hold its shape, too cold and it starts cracking. It's something I can easily adjust for at home, but a bit harder when we're under the clock in the practical. I'm not proud of my marzipan rose because it looks more like a cabbage than a rose, which is apparently a common novice mistake. The chef recommended that we all go home and practice with play-doh.

The pastry shop visit was a fun change because we got to go outside, in our "civilian" clothes. We visited Christian Lecoq, a small artisanal pâstisserie run by Mr. Lecoq himself.

We got to visit "the laboratory", which was small but very clean and orderly. They make chocolates, candies, pastries (sweet and savory), and ice cream all in-house. Mr. Lecoq kept on emphasizing the importance of first-rate ingredients in making quality products. We got to sample apricot tart, lemon tartlets, and almond tuiles. Everything was delicious, but my favorite was the apricot tart (I'm a little biased since apricot is my favorite baking fruit). The gorgeous fruit definitely played the dominate role, with the pastry and almond cream complimenting the tartness of the apricots.

Inspired by the visit to such a gourmet destination, a couple of us took a detour on the way back to the school and grabbed something to eat.

(We really needed something non-pastry-related, okay? Don't judge.)

The last class of the day was a demonstration for basque cake (butter cake filled with pastry cream) and diplomat's pudding (a fancy word for bread pudding). Watching the chef make cake after cake, after cake, after cake, got a little monotonous, and we all just wanted to go home after a long day.

Four basque cakes in the back, the rest are different presentations of the diplomat pudding, served with creme anglais, raspberry and apricot coulis, and strawberries.

I'm not a huge fan of the basque cake. The pastry cream is very thick, and the cake itself is fairly dry (I think it's overbaked!). The chef said the cake is traditionally made with jarred cherries, that would probably make the cake more moist. It'd be delicious with blueberries or raspberries too, I'm sure. Here's a nice cross-section of the basque cake, you can see the pastry cream layer nicely.

I get to make the basque cake at 8:30 AM tomorrow! Nothing like cake for lunch...


  1. Is the disk of sorbet frozen? Was it like an ice cream cake? It does sounds like it would be good with mango sorbet or passion fruit sorbet, some sort of tartness to offset the sugary sweet meringue.

    Glad you got some lunch, even if it was Micky D's. Nothing wrong with a happy meal, my kid's favorite when they were young.

    Get some rest and some breakfast before heading off to class, sounds like another long day ahead.

    Thanks for sharing your adventures, gives me an idea of what to expect if I should follow your footsteps to LCB in Paris.

    Jo Ann

  2. Seems like you're having fun! All of your things are looking good so far :)

    I find it funny that you have a "dashing but strict chef Nicolas" and so do I! maybe there's one at every school..haha