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More authentically “Parisian” (and sugar-loaded) experiences

July 31, 2008
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And now, we move on to the more typically “French” gastronomical experiences. One of the extremely laid-back “classes” I enrolled in was Culture et Cuisine. The course included three cooking classes: two at the Academie de Cinq Sens, and one at Chateau Chantilly. Most of the time, however, we wandered to fantastically expensive gourmet foods stores and tasted macaroons on occasion. we tasted more macaroons than I could count… only, surprise! I found out that I actually really don’t like macaroons that much, pistachio being the sole exception. I know this is extremely neurotic, but there’s something about the squeak of my teeth cracking into the sugary meringue that makes me practically see the cavities starting to drill holes in my molars. However, macaroons do look cute as buttons lined up side-by-side in rainbow colors (random thought: do petits fours still exist??). Who wouldn’t be excited to receive them as a present? Some food pornography for your hungry eyes:

Now that you are salivating, let’s move on to the cooking classes. Those at the Academie were with chef Pierre-Dominique Cécillon, who dropped out of school at age FOURTEEN to cook! Talk about starting early… does that mean there’s no hope left for me?
The first class was savory, while the second was in patisserie. I fretted a little bit over the vegetarianism thing, since it turned out that the main dish was stewed lamb with ginger and shallots. However, I figured I should jump at the rare opportunity of having meat to work with and might as well learn. Still, even before vegetarianism, I was always squeamish about touching raw meat– and it was still strange to me, grabbing on to slippery, pink flesh with stringy white portions of fatty tissue. I’m only accostumed to chopping vegetables, which you slice into with a satisfying crunch… nothing prepared me for having to slide the knife deeper and actually saw at the meat until i finally was able to tear it into cubes. But phew, it was over. Cooking the lamb was simple (too simple, if you ask me. I would have prepared to learn a dish that was a bit more complicated, but oh well): olive oil and shallots were sauteed in a pot, the lamb was added, seasoned, then fresh ginger and tomatoes were added, and the whole thing was stewed until tender. The end.
The other dish was like a baked ratatouille– slices of eggplant, zucchini and onions sauteed in olive oil, then arranged in spirals in a circular dish, topped with sundried tomatoes and basil, and put in the oven.
When everything was baking and the lamb was being divided into containers to bring back to our dorms, the chef suddenly went to his stash of filleted fish and asked if i preferred salmon or cod. Salmon, of course. And then he preceded to saute a humungus, juicy, coral pink rectangle of salmon and top it with extra zucchini coins that hugged the fish like a second set of scales. I could see several of the carnivores eying me enviously. Haha, suckers.
In addition to this, we sauteed girolles (French word for crimini mushrooms) in butter, and the chef teased me when I said I was afraid of using too much of it– “c’est pas bon pour le sante!” and he said “oui, c’est pas bon quand il y en a trop… mais il n y a jamais trop du beurre!”
We dined well that night. We gave the food to the cafeteria workers, to be put out specially for our class. It was strange to eat professionally cooked, Mediterranean-French style food on our cafeteria trays, but oh-so worth it. Sure, the food was simple, but because there were eleven of us, we couldn’t do anything too complicated. It was more the thrill of cooking in a cooking school– the clean counters and shiny cabinets, the refrigerators full of any ingredients you could possibly need… in fact, at one point, the chef extracted what resembled a square of brown sculpy from the fridge and sliced it into cubes. It was rich, brown, creamy ganache, and he asked if we could taste the flavor– what immediately came to mind was raspberry, but it turned out to be fruit-infused black tea.
When we returned for the dessert class, things got complicated. Baking is something i have absolutely NO experience in. I’ve always been scared by the precision– every time I even attempt blueberry muffins, I overmix, and what results are blueberry- studded rocks of flour and butter. But what we were making were so much more delectable than blueberry muffins… what was on the menu today were THREE desserts: pistachio macaroons, chocolate fondant, and green tea madeleines. We divided into groups, so each person only made one dessert– I decided that even though macaroons are much too sweet for me, pistachio is my favorite flavor, and they were the only one of those desserts that I had absolutely no idea how they were made. So we went with it.
Just as I thought: macaroons are ridiculously difficult. No wonder they’re so expensive. It didn’t help that the recipe we were following was extremely vague, leaving out the fact that we were supposed to sift the flower and dissolve the pistachio paste before mixing it into the meringue. Here’s the recipe, translated from the French (so the units are metric):
Ingredients (for 35 macaroon halves):
-170 g powdered sugar -125 g powdered almonds -20 g pistachio paste (this is looks black and shiny, almost like extremely fine caviar, but when dissolved, it turns lurid green) -3 egg whites -30 g powdered sugar
For the ganache:
-2 egg yolks -100 g heavy cream -50 g pistachio paste + 25 g sugar -20 g butter -2 packets (sachets) of vanilla sugar

Make the macaroon biscuits:
Mix the powdere almonds, powdered sugar, and pistachio paste. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks (ours had egg yolk specks and we had to start over twice!), then add a teaspoon of sugar. When the peaks are stiff, add the rest of the sugar and continue to beat them. Incorporate the mix of powders and fold it into the egg whites softly with a spatula.
Put the meringue mixture into a plastic bag or pastry bag. Squeeze out rounds onto a baking sheet, then left the baking sheet and drop it a few times so that the rounds become flat. Let them sit for 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 150 celsius.
It is important for these to be macaroons and not cookies! Bake them for about 14 minutes– it depends on the size of the macaroons and the oven.
Prepare the ganache:
Mix the egg yolks with a packet of vanilla sugar. Heat the cream, pistachio paste, and other vanilla sugar packet. When it begins to bubble, add the eggs, mix quickly, and turn off the heat. Refrigerate the cream (add the butter before).
Make the macaroons (this is so self-explanatory that it wasn’t even in my recipe):
Let the meringues cool, then take the ganache out of the fridge. Put ganache between two macaroon biscuits and stick them together. You probably want to refrigerate them before you eat them so that they’re crunchy and not soft.

Whew. That took a while. Our macaroons turned out much bigger than normal storebought ones, and they were obviously messier and a bit assymetrical. However, I actually enjoyed them, although I was a bit disappointed when the chef added so much green food coloring that my thoughts immediately jumped to St. Patrick’s Day. I prefer things to be natural. The color aside, I liked them fresh– think of them as gourmet Oreo Cakesters (which I’ve never actually had).
The other two recipes were extremely simple.
Recipe for the madeleines:
ingredients :
For 20 madeleines
150 g soft butter
200 g sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon of green tea matcha powder
1 packet yeast
200 g flour

Recipe :
Preheaat the oven to 200 C°
Mix the butter, sugar, the eggs one by one, and the tea. Reserve the batter.
Add the yeast to the flour, mix it, then add the batter and beat “énergiquement.”
Pour into molds and back for 7 minutes.

I loved the madeleines because, unlike the macaroons, they were neither too sweet nor unnaturally green. The tea flavor was powerful, but was an interesting change after one too many lemon-vanilla macaroons. Someone in the class mentioned that the taste reminded them of cheese tortellini… since I used to live on these, I could actually taste what they were referring too! But I have no way of putting this into words… it doesn’t mean they weren’t delicious though.

Last but DEFINITELY not least, we made fondant au chocolat. This was so simple a five-year-old could probably do it, and the guiltiest and most sinful pleasure ever. Because these only bake five minutes, we ate them on the spot after everything else was ready. And it was perfect– as the edge of the spoon punctures the cakey side of the chocolate dome, molten fudge pours out from within, coating everything in its path with gooey richness. and then you sip it like hot chocolate. HEAVEN.

ingredients :

For 12

250 g Valrhona dark chocolate
250 g butter
8 eggs
125 g sugar
75 g flour

Preheat the oven to 200°c
Melt the bvtter and chocolate together.
Mix the eggs, sugar and flour, then add the butter-chocolate mixture.
Mix them together and pour them into molds.
Cook for about 5 minutes.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Kevin permalink
    August 4, 2008 8:03 pm

    All of those macaroons look good! I really like the sound of pistachio macaroons.

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