Friday, July 2, 2010

Saint-Honoré Demo, Class Dinner (All-Dressed-Up and Squished in the Subway)

Paris is getting pretty hot these days. Having lived in Southern California and Texas, I don't really mind the heat because one can always seek the refuge of air-conditioned rooms. Well, let's just say that AC isn't so prevalent here in Paris. Thankfully, the pastry kitchens at Le Cordon Bleu are nicely air-conditioned (think of the precious pastries!). Unfortunately, places like the demonstration and locker rooms, and the subway and certain nice restaurants - more on that later - aren't so accomodating.

In the morning practical yesterday we made madeleines and fruited pound cake with rum syrup. The batters were pretty straight-forward. The cool trick chef showed up for softening butter was to spread it on parchment paper and beat it mercilessly with a rolling pin. Although...I think the chef was afraid I'll smash my thumb with the way I was going at it, because he took my butter aside and stuck it in the microwave. The wonders of technology!

My madeleine batter didn't get chilled enough in the fridge so it was a mess trying to pipe it out into the molds, but it baked up well in the oven. They were moist, tender, and delicious. Aren't they cute?

And here's my fruited pound cake. I gave one away (along with everything I've accumulated so far) to my landlady. I'm wrapping up the other one in plastic and stashing it in the freezer for a while - apparently it tastes better after you keep it for a few days/weeks/months. 

I was looking forward to the afternoon demonstration because it covered Gâteaux Saint-Honoré and Paris-Brest. Both are essentially elaborate excuses for gigantic cream puffs (the Saint-Honoré has a contrasting short crust or puff pastry base, the Paris-Brest is really just an overgrown cream puff filled with praline cream). Unfortunately, there was a guest speaker at our usual demonstration room,  so we had to use the smaller (and much hotter) upstairs room. Dressed in our chef's jackets with long sleeves and high collar, we were all subjected to a nice, slow roast for three hours. The pastries looked amazing, but I couldn't wait to get out of there!

From top to bottom, clockwise: standard Saint-Honoré, small Paris-Brest, monster Saint-Honoré, large Paris-Brest. The standard Saint-Honoré is what we'll be making at the practical. 

At night we had a class dinner at Le Train Bleu, an elegant grande dame restaurant at the Gare de Lyon train station. A group of us girls met up at the Vaugirard metro station and went together, turning heads left and right with our high heels and short dresses. It would have been quite Sex-in-the-City-esque if it wasn't the middle of the week during rush hour, in the stifling heat of the subway station...

We finally arrived at the restaurant after several subway transfers and a bit of confused meandering at the Gare de Lyon. The restaurant itself is very large and elaborately decorated in the Belle Epoque style. It would have been very impressive if it wasn't stifling hot inside the restaurant.

The menu was a five-course meal with wine pairing. The food was well-executed and strongly-flavored, not bad for the fact that they had to serve the same thing to about a hundred people.

The leek lasagna with chanterelle mushrooms was very nicely done. I couldn't really taste the leeks, but the flavor of the mushrooms really came through.

The duck was, well, you can't really screw it up if it's cooked rare and you leave a nice layer of fat on top...

For dessert there was a chocolate tart with white chocolate ice cream. For me, the only saving grace was that the ice cream was so welcomingly cold. I think we've been so spoiled by the pastries made by the chefs at school that it's hard for other desserts to measure up. The pastry chef who sat at our table did not touch his dessert.

After dinner, we had to endure another long, crowded, sweaty subway ride before getting home. Maybe I should have come here in the winter instead...

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