I should be saying “sadly I knew that no-one would make me a birthday cake”, but sadness doesn’t come into it at all. In fact I was perfectly over the moon at the prospect of booking myself into ‘Fait le vous-même’ again. What I had discovered was that on my birthday the patisserie for the day was ‘Royal Chocolat’ and not even a wild hound from the gates of hell could have kept me away.
This time, aware that the buses didn’t always run to plan I arrived in very good time, and enjoyed fifteen minutes taking a ‘tour’ about the neighbourhood. The shops weren’t yet open but the shopkeepers were setting up their wares and I took the oportunity to take a few photos:
and I have this message for all little piggies out there – Do not sleep if you value your lives – because this shop has plans for you!
But after these beautiful specialist shops, this one reminded me that the day has begun and it was time to get cooking …. chocolate!
I met Arnaud, the Maitre Patisier coming across the square and we entered the shop together, donned our aprons and awaited the other three royal chocolatiers!
The Royal Chocolat is a three tier gateau; a base of biscuit, a layer of ‘chocolat craquant’ and the top layer of ‘mousse au chocolat’. In any good patisserie this would cost anything between 10€ and 25€ depending on the level of superficial decoration at the end.
Arnaud began by explaining the biscuit viennoise base. The first ingredient on the list was TPT which Arnaud explained was a “half and half mix” (tant pour tant) of icing sugar and “poudre de fruit sec” (dried fruit powder). In this instance we were going to use a mixture of icing sugar and almond powder. The beauty of this receipe is that it can equally be made ‘gluten’ free and is an ideal recipe for sufferers of coeliacs. The small quantity of flour being replaced by rice flour or Maizena (cornflour).
When making this recipe it is essential to beat the eggs before weighing the quantity required. Waste can be refrigerated and used for quiches or omelettes later.
Having measured out the ingredients we added the almond TPT to the beaten egg mixture and beat it until white and fluffy. We then beat in the flour.
Arnaud is intent on developing our whisking muscles and electric beaters are “interdit”!
In a separate bowl – do not forget that it must be inox – we beat the egg whites into fluffy peaks or ‘neige’ (snow) as the french describe it adding the granular sugar a bit at a time.
We added a small scoop of meringue to the TPT mixture and mixed quickly and thoroughly. We then folded in the remaining TPT mixture gently. If the meringue is mixed in one ‘lot’ the resultant product becomes too liquid and grainy.
Making a ‘cork’ (bouchon) with a section of piping bag pushed into the nozzle (douille) of the same, we loaded the biscuit viennoise mixture into the piping bag. We used a flat spatula to push all the mixture well into the piping bag before releasing the bouchon and then inverted the piping bag so that the mixture did not immediately pour out through the nozzle. For a few of us, there was a little escapage before we got a hang of the technique!
We placed a gateau ‘mould’ on a greaseproof sheet, and starting with nozzle of the piping bag in the centre of the mould we squeezed the biscuit viennoise pâte in a spiral until a centimetre from the mould itself; removed the mould and continued to squeeze the pâte for one more spiral. There is enough of the mixture to make two such biscuit bases, one of which can be frozen for a another day!
Whilst we are waiting the ten minutes necessary for the biscuit to cook we begin the ‘base chocolat craquante’. The chocolate ‘covering’ for this section of the receipe is for hardening the praline. Any colour of chocolate can be used and makes no difference to the taste.
We take the opportunity to taste various pralines – one made from noisettes (hazelnut) and the other from almond. For this recipe we decide to make a mixture of both.
Arnaud takes the opportunity to discuss how to melt chocolate – and states catagorically ‘NEVER in the microwave’. The science behind it is simple. At 55° for dark chocolate, and 45° for white and milk chocolate the cocoa-butter burns. Once burnt the chocolate becomes unworkable. Using “bain-marie” is the only option. The water under the “bain-marie” must be heated to simmering and then the heat source switched off. The chocolate is left to melt in its own time in the residual heat.
We have a lesson on chocolate. To add liquidity to chocolate add cooking oil. It is the cocoa-butter which gives the liquidity to butter and it’s melting point is 34° which is the approximate temperature of the mouth. Hence why chocolate is so pleasurable to eat!
Bought chocolate can be very low in cocoa-butter. Arnaud recommends ‘Lindt Special Dessert’ as the best ‘on the shelf’ supermarket chocolate for cooking, but also recommends the chocolatier Michel Cluizel for his bulk-buy chocolate. Arnaud has 6 varieties of Michel’s chocolate and we get down to some tasting!
Arnaud also explains that it is possible to make your own chocolate. This is called ‘grande charge’. By adding powdered cocoa to cocoa-butter and sugar it is possible to create a chocolate to ones own desired consistancy. By adding milk powder one can achieve ‘milk chocolate’. Cocoa-butter can be bought at a french pharmacie.
But it is time to return to cooking. The chocolate has melted and the praline is added and mixed very well before folding in the ‘crepe dentelle’ ( a brittle crepe ‘biscuit’)
The biscuit viennoise is golden all over and ready to come out of the oven. We remove it from the hot tray and onto a cooling rack. The top surface of the biscuit is turned face down onto the final serving platter which prevents the finished dessert from sticking during serving and the mould is placed over the biscuit to neatly cut the irregular edges and is left in place for the rest of the session.
Immediately we spoon over the chocolate craquant and press firmly into the edges and smooth all over.
But now the time has come to make the mousse au chocolate and one has only to look at the recipe to note that there are only two ingredients – chocolate and cream. This is a seriously indulgent little number!
I have already noted that cream in France is an entirely different species from that of its neighbouring England. I am glad that Arnaud takes time to talk about cream as I have already made some mistakes on its behalf! French cream tends to be thinner and less easy to whip than its english counterpart. Arnaud explains that the fat level in cream (matiere grasse) must be above 35% for it to whip. He explains that crème liquide has had milk added and that crème epaisse and crème fraiche are better than crème liquide. Crème epaisse is sometimes treated with lactose which gives it a sourer taste, whilst crème cru (raw) can have an acid taste which is removed by boiling it. The best english equivalent would be whipping cream rather than double for this recipe.
If whipped cream is added to chocolate which is too hot it will separate the fat from the liquid, whilst on the other hand adding cream to chocolate which is too cool will cause it to harden instantly. We test the temperature of the chocolate in the bain-marie, which is a good excuse to lick our fingers later and remove the bowl from the ‘bain’.
We scoop all the required whipped cream into the bowl of chocolate and whip quickly until it is all evenly incorporated and pour over the ‘chocolat craquante’ in the mould.
We use a spatula to push the mouse into the edges of the mould to avoid air gaps and then begin to smooth the top surface.
Next comes the fun bit – removing the mould with a heat-‘gun’.
et voila! the 10€ dessert…
Arnaud is not content with the 10€ dessert!
He proceeds to pour a liberal quantity of melted chocoltae onto the marble worktop and smooth thinly across, re-scoop and re-smooth several times with a palate knife until the chocolate takes on a whitish dry hue. Still workable, the chocolate is rolled into chocolate ‘cigars’ with a sharp butchers knife.
and now we have the 20€ dessert….
But Arnaud is still not entirely happy with our creation. Why have a 20€ dessert when one can have a 25€ dessert….
Arnaud gets out the gold..
But as I said – It was my birthday and the 25€ Royal Chocolat has been eaten, so if you want to see the end result you will have to make one yourself!
Oh all-right then, I did take just one shot of it before I headed for the bus – all the time whilst walking, grinning smugly at passers-by and thinking…
‘If only you knew what was in my cake box i’d be in real trouble!’
It was truly the best birthday ‘cake’ ever tasted!
For the recipe click HERE