day nineteen - french desserts

Note: For six weeks, July 5 - August 11, I will be enrolled in the culinary arts cooking and pastry/baking certificate programs at Boston University. Cooking is Monday and Tuesday, baking is Wednesday and Thursday. We have to keep a daily journal of the experience, so I'll be blogging about the class every day.

Like car commercials, talking about hating Mondays or liking Fridays on Facebook, Sarah Palin, news shows asking how parents feel the day after their son or daughter was murdered and when people say, "I'm the type of person who ___," it's too bad I don't like meringue, because there's enough of it to go around. I've got whipping egg whites down by this point. I wish we made chocolate truffles as much as we made egg whites. Or short ribs.

Last Wednesday was French desserts night, even though we've pretty much been making French desserts all along. That being said, the French know their pastries, so you can never really spend too much time on them. Our professor brought in this book and this book and the desserts are pretty much, "Make five different types of cake, four different fillings, a crunchy thing, a paste, a jam, two frostings, a chocolate ganache, put it all together, cover it in two layers of glaze, a sheet of chocolate that has some type of design made with an acetate stencil and finish with some glazed, gold-leaf covered berries." 

I wish we had attempted something ridiculous like that, though, even if only as a class. It would have been a great project! Hermé's book has some great descriptions and diagrams and pictures of his ridiculously beautiful desserts and it would have been nice to see if we could accomplish one of them. Probably not, but I think we would have learned a lot.

Anyways, we started with illes flotante or œufs à la neige (floating islands or eggs in snow), whichever you like. You often see the terms used interchangeably and there are too many different arguments on the internet (surprise!) about the difference - some say islands have alcohol, some say eggs in snow can be made into different shapes. It's not that important. Basically you make a creme anglaise, then you make a meringue, then you lightly poach egg-shaped dollops of meringue in a water bath until just set, then you float the islands on the creme anglaise and drizzle some caramel on top. It certainly looks cool and unusual. But, eh. I'd rather just eat the creme anglaise. The poached meringues are just sort of strange. And, while the caramel we made gives a nice crack and textural difference from all of the fluffiness, I think I would still use a more liquid caramel.

On to blancmange. I was excited about blancmange because our recipe called for almonds and almonds are the best nut. That's just a true fact. Blancmange is a dish from the Middle Ages (the name means white dish) and usually included a meat, like chicken, and was considered a good food for sick people. It's a panna cotta-like dessert made with gelatine. The thing is, the amount of milk measured out for us was different from what was in the recipe. We just happened to notice, so we remeasured. When it came time to put the blancmange in the molds, everyone else's poured into their molds while ours was thick and had to be scooped in, but Chef Janine said that's how hers looked when she made it. But then when we went to try them, she liked the ones made with more milk better anyway because they were creamier. Oh well. If anything, the modern ones I have seen are way creamier than anything we made, much more like a panna cotta, so if I made it again I think I would make it like that.

Finally, clafoutis. This was my favorite. A clafoutis is basically a sort of pancake-like custard dessert made with fruit, traditionally cherries with their pits left in (supposedly the pits give the clafoutis more flavor, but I'm skeptical there is much of a difference). My partner for that night's class, Priya, arranged the cherries just so and the batter was poured over. It went into the oven, puffed up and we ate it warm with some powdered sugar sprinkled over the top. Compared to the overwhelming sweetness and weird texture of the other two desserts, this was perfect. We washed it all down with champagne. Well, everyone else did, and somebody washed theirs down with two glasses of champagne. I hate them. (I'm sure it was an accident. A horrible, horrible accident).

Coming up - Italian desserts, including ricotta cheesecake and baked peaches.