Yesterday, for three hours I was Julia Child!
If you have ever watched the film “Julie and Julia”, you willl have seen the signpost for Rouen about three minutes into the film. Well Julia Child continued on to Paris, but she may as well have stopped at Rouen. She had many long hours of pondering in her wonderful (and if I may say so slighly excentric) voice “but what shall I do?” before she had her eureka moment. Thereafter she threw herself into french culinary school and never looked back!
Rouen has its own fabulous cookery school – the “Atelier de Cuisine et Patisserie”, otherwise known as “Fait -Le Vous Même“, and that is where I passed yesterday afternoon. All told, I had a little difficulty getting there! Based on the Rue Eau de Robec, I hadn’t appreciated the true nature of the street, nor that it is bisected midway by a large square and busy thoroughfare, and I had started at the wrong end. Still traipsing the street an hour after the class had commenced I announced defeat and left for home and to once more ponder Google Maps.
As it happened, the Atelier had moved location, and I found it for the afternoon session facing out onto the pretty square adjacent to Rue Amand Carrel.
From Rouen Gare it was an easy bus ride on the number 4 from outside Yvonne’s Boulangerie, descending at Eglise St Hilaire.
I arrived in good time for the afternoon session to be warmly greeted by Arnaud, the Maitre Patissier and to meet the rest of my fellow students. There were eight of us.
Before the proceedings could get started we were given our freshly laundered patisserie aprons, reprimanded for not tying them correctly and told that aprons should always be tied at the front in case they caught fire! Was it time to for a little anxiety?
The lesson began with a little technology, perfectly pitched to experienced cooks who want to know more about the science behind cooking, throwing all the old wives tales by the wayside. Arnaud confirmes that eggs do not need to be stored in the fridge, that egg yolks can be frozen for up to a month, and that plastic implements and bowls retain fat which prevent egg whites from beating into fluffy clouds. When it comes to eggs- its inox inox inox!
The lesson was, of course, held entirely in french and no concessions were made for those in the class who didn’t have french as their mother-tongue. Interestingly there were two in our class who were English; Kate who had lived in france for 30 years and married to a frenchman, and myself. Kate obviously needed no assistance with the language, and Arnaud was superb in verifying every so often that I had “bien compris”.
All the time taking copious notes, we proceeded with the different methods for beating and whisking; with little whisks being wrenched from our hands and replaced with enormous ones that we barely had the strength in our wrists to lift, let alone manipulate. I could already see myself, like Julia with her onions, back in my own kitchen practicing, practicing and building up my much needed “beating” muscles with a mountain of eggshells unceremoniously cast over my shoulder!
The Macaron appeared in Europe in the middle ages, but it antecedent appears to have been from Morocco and before that from Syria under the different name of the “Louzieh”. It is believed to have passed to France from Italy during the Renaissance and is likely that Catherine de Médicis introduced it to the French when she entered the French royal family. The first recipe for the macaron is found in a publication in the XVII century. Enriched by spices, liqueurs and jams the shells of the macaron were paired together in 1830 to form the shape of the macaron we recognise today. They were found in Belleville, the Parisian quarter with ganache or cream fillings in 1880 and were also fabricated by the “Maison Ladurée” which tinted the shells in pastel colours indicating their flavours.
For our class we divide into four pairs and chose the “parfum” of our choice. Kate and I chose Chocolate, knowing full well that these will be eagerly received back at home, and the others chose Lemon, Caramel and Féve Tonka.
We learn that the margin for error in measuring the ingredients is 3-4g over a total weight of 500g, and that by adding chocoate powder, as a dry ingredient it is necessary to add a wet ingredient; so it is that we add 2-3 pipettes of red colourant which improve the appearance of the end result.
Once piped, the macarons are left to crystalize for 20 minutes whilst we begin to prepare our fillings.
For the chocolate ganache we had six different “flavours” of chocolate to chose from. The tasting is as analytically done as wine at a degustation. When we have finally selected our Madagascan chocolate with its strong vanilla notes we too take to the stove adding cream and butter to the confection.
“..has anyone seen the butter” I say to which the class falls apart..
Twelve minutes later our macarons are cooked and their fillings ready. Arnaud shows us how to make them multicoloured and to adorn them with with intricate patterns.
We divide up the Macarons between the group to take home in patisserie boxes. Is this the best part of the day? No, the best part of the day was that the lesson over-ran by three quarters of an hour, and we were all so enthralled, so enjoying the conviviality and enthusiasm of the class that we didn’t notice!
I have already booked myself in for Viennoiserie next week!
For the recipe click here
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