Atelier de cuisine et patisserie – The Macaron

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!  Read more

Waking up to chocolate – La Pièce Montée

Waking up on a monday morning on the first day back at school after the easter holidays is not something I usually relish, but today there was a little sweetener to help me out of bed. The INBP or Institute National de la Boulangerie Patisserie was holding a class on “chocolat” on the cruise boat “Scenic” at the Quay de Rouen and needed my help with the translation.

In the main function room of the cruise boat Frank, the chef, had set up all the equipment he needed for his “pièce montée en chocolat” or “show-piece” and was busy melting the chocolate before all the guests arrived. There was a discinctly chocolatey small in the air, and Frank gave me a sample chocolate to try – and with a welcome like that he’s clearly someone worth hanging around!

First stage on the agenda was to make Vanilla Ganache bonbons. Frank dusted the inside of the chocolate moulds with real gold. We were all agog to know how he managed to powder the inside of the moulds evenly until he explained that he mixed the gold with alcohol at a ratio of 1:9 and sprayed a coating of the mixture inside the forms. When the alcohol evaporated, the mould retained the gold dust.

The idea of digesting gold is not unknown in France. In 1531 Diane of Poitiers, mistress of Henri II of France drank, in vast quantities, gold infused beverages reputed to be the elixir of long life as a result of her obsession with eternal youth and supernatural beauty which rendered her complexion unnaturally pale. The discovery of her skeleton in 2009 showed that her bones contained an exceptionally high concentration of gold.  Perhaps if we eat enough of these chocolates we will also become outstandingly youthful and beautiful, it’s definitely worth a try!

Having powdered the moulds Frank went on to line them with a thin coating of molten chocolate. Patisserie is a science, he told us, and chocolate should be worked not at 28.7, nor at 31 but at an exact temperature of between 29 and 30°. For the novices amongst us, a matter for a thermometer, for Frank a simple matter of touching the chocolate against the back on a finger.

WP_20150511_004Frank scraped the mould with his spatula, and inversed it to allow the excess chocolate to fall back to the table and not to pool in the bottom of the mould. Today Frank had a possey of aides, one of whom rushed off with the mould to the fridge.

Meanwhile he set about making the vanilla ganache filling. Into a bowl of melted white chocolate he poured, via a sieve, a mixture of boiled milk, cream, sugar and split vanilla pod. He incorporated the two thoroughly and set them aside to cool. Ideally, he said the mould of chocolate casings should be left overnight to cool.

Frank sprinkled each casing with finely ground caramelized sugar, the recipe for which can be found at the end of this post, and then filled the casings with the Vanilla Ganache ensuring that it settled just below the level of the chocolate shell. Again he called upon one of his aides, who rushed the mould back to the fridge and we all agreed that this was better than a TV cooking show!

The INBP are renowned for their entry into national concours, or competitions, and an essential element of the concours is the “pièce montée” or “presentation showpiece”, and  Frank took the art of chocolaterie to an all new level. For sometime a pink pot had been sitting on the workbench, and as he began talking the realisation slowly dawned on us that this was no orginary pink plastic pot, but made entirely out of chocolate. None of us were rude enough to take a bite out of it to verify that he was telling the truth!WP_20150511_006

Moments later he presented a brown wooden stem which he fixed in the pot with a generous quantity of molten chocolate. Having got to know Frank a little, we divined that this could well also be made of chocolate, and he confirmed that he had made it by lining a plumbing tube from his DIY store with cooking paper and pouring in yet more molten chocolate.WP_20150511_007

Frank proceeded to pour into the pot ground cocoa beans which remarkably resembled fine grit gravel.WP_20150511_016

The little brown rings that surrounded the pot were also chocolate textured by brushing with a wire brush!

Next Frank retrieved a green fuzzy ball from a box on his work-bench, and by this point we were all shreaking out in great amusement that the ball had to be chocolate; and it was, a hollow ball rolled in cocoa-butter and afterwards with green sugar for texture. There was a call for some help, and one of the guests helped place the ball onto the chocolate stem, rapidly cooling the chocolate “glue” with a dry-ice canister.WP_20150511_012

If we weren’t astonished enough, Frank decided it needed decoaration, and made a water-lily flower out of chocolate pieces, wonderfully appropriate for the land of Monet….WP_20150511_008 WP_20150511_011….and some smaller flowers from sugar dough which he got a volunteer to help place onto the ball.

WP_20150511_019Having poured another layer of molten chocolate to seal the ganache into the refrigerated “bonbons” and chilling them again in the fridge, Frank was ready to assemble his “pièce montée”.WP_20150511_018When it was done he laid out all the Vanilla Ganache chocolates on the chocolate stands below.


Needless to say, nobody stayed in their seats very long, and it was very lucky that Frank had made a huge quantity of Vanilla Ganaches earlier, (he said he’d been up half the night) because a pretty large number of the audience were heard counting up how many they could have and were planning their raid strategy before Frank had even laid out the first lot!  I, for one, was pretty glad to be the translator, because I was much closer to the table than the rest of the crowd which definitely gave me the advantage!

WP_20150511_021For the receipé click here.

The Eclairs Went Like Lightening – Atelier de Patisserie.

For the recipe click here

I was the first to pull my camera out at the Atelier de Patisserie this week, but the Japanese students weren’t far behind! After ten minutes we were neck and neck on the photo stakes, and by the middle of the class they were actually helping me out with my own camera, and I came home with 124 photos and no excuses for forgetting how to make Eclairs!

Arnaud also had his work cut out. This class was made up entirely of ‘foreigners’, with the Japanese students aided by their own Japanese translator Miki, who herself had moved to France only a year ago, and whose mastery of the French language was incredible, already having mastered Chinese and with a good command of English.

This post is decicated to my sister-in -law in Canada, who years ago asked me for a profiterole recipe, and to my Australian in-laws for giving me this atelier for my Christmas present. I’ve been making profiteroles for a few years now, but I’ve realised by now that there will always be something Arnaud can teach us, and as with all things, he has that attention to the final detail that turns a 1€  eclair into a 2€ work of art.

Having got the introductions over; and I was amused to see that for once Arnaud was struggling with the names, Japanese is certainly not an easy language for either the French or English tongue; We picked up our pans and scales and set to work.

Arnaud talked us through all the different uses for Choux Pastry; the sugary ones of course encompassing Eclairs and Profiteroles, Chouquettes and Chaussons Napolitan; the savory including Gougères, and with a 50/50 mix of pureed potato, Pommes Dauphines and Gnocci.

Arnaud told us that Choux pastry freezes well both in its raw and its cooked state. Salt is add to all Choux pastry for flavour, and sugar to encourage them to colour golden during cooking. The length of cooking time, and the ability to assess their colour prevents the Choux pastry from collapsing by the oven door being opened too early during the cooking process.

We poured the water, butter salt and sugar into a large casserole pan and placed on the flame to bring to the boil.

We extinguished the flame, added the flour to the pan and with a wooden spoon mixed well. Once mixed, we re-lit the flame and for a minute began the process of stirring the pâte to dry it. Once the pâte fell easily from the upturned wooden spoon, the pâte was ready for the next stage.

We added the lightly beaten eggs bit by bit until the pâte was smooth and came cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.

We took a few minutes to discuss the various sizes of ‘douille’ or nozzles. An eclair took an 18 and  Chouquettes  a 12. We made up a piping bag, remembering to put a ‘bouchon’, literally translated as a cork, made up of scrunching part of the piping bag and pushing it into the douille or nozzle. We filled with the piping back with the pâte.

Holding the piping bag at an angle of 45° we ran the eclairs in 80mm lengths, pressing down at the ends and flicking back.

For the Chouquettes we used the smaller douille and made round balls piping from a vertical position. Now I have attempted to make the Chouquettes before. What always frustrated me was that after having cooked some fairly good profiterole shapes, I never succeeded in getting the sugar crystals to stay on the top of the Choux pastry. As ever with Arnaud , there is of course a secret.

Firstly we glazed with beaten egg the uncooked Choux Eclairs and Chouquettes; The Eclairs with a soft bristle glazing brush, pressing down perpendicularly to the length of the pâte; The Chouquettes by pressing down the tail left during the piping process. We then very liberaly sprinkled the Chouquettes with sugar crystals. Contrary to what one would believe, the majority of sugar crystals survive their stay in the oven.

We continue to use up the last of the pâte in the piping bag to make long thin strips called Mikados.

Once the Choux pastry is in the oven we start to make the Crème Pâtissière. The Choux will cook for 25-30 minutes.

We add the milk to the pan and incorporate a small proportion of sugar. Arnaud explains that that by adding sugar to the milk, the milk is prevented from sticking or burning to the bottom of the pan as we bring it to the boil. The milk boils at 100°, the sugar at 170°, the higher boiling point of the sugar protects the milk.

It is essential to boil the milk if using fresh, unpasturised or raw milk.

By adding the egg yolks to the poudre à flan and the sugar, the egg ‘cooks’ in the mixture. It will not curdle when added to the boiling milk.

The flame of the hob is switched off. Half of the boiling milk is added to the egg mixture which is then stirred and poured back into the remaining milk. The flame is once more ignited and the mixture simultaneously cooked and beaten until it begins to boil. Once boiling, it is beaten for a further 30 seconds until thick and smooth before the butter is added.

The pan is removed from the flame. We divide the Crème Pâtissier into two bowls. We add 30g cocoa powder to one, and strong liquid coffee to the other and mix thoroughly.

We pour the Crème Pâtissier over a wire rack covered with cling-film, and cover with another layer of cling-film to prevent from forming a skin and leave to cool.

It is time to check the Eclaires and Chouquettes. Arnaud explains that if the Choux pastry still has areas of white or very pale pastry, it must be left to cook for a while longer until all the surface is golden. If they are removed from the oven too soon they are likely to collapse or be too soft once filled with the Crème Pâtissier.

Our Eclairs and Chouquettes are ready. We place them on a cooling rack and turn the Eclairs upside down to cool.

We melt some chocolate and dip each Mikado into it.

With a very fine douille or nozzle we make three small holes in the base of the choux Eclairs.

We beat the cooled rubbery textured Crème Pâtissiere until smooth and fill a piping bag remembering to make a ‘bouchon’ or cork as before using the very fine douille (3-4mm). Using the holes we have already punctured in the Choux, we fill with the crème.

We mix some icing sugar with syrop de glucose, flavouring one portion with chocolate and the other with coffee. Choosing a flat nosed douille (nozzle) and another piping bag we apply the ‘nappage’ or topping to the finished eclairs.

Yet again Arnaud shows us techniques for decorating the eclairs, turning our 1€ Eclair into a 2€ Eclair.

and shows us a pot of Violet for jazzing up the nappage of a vanilla flavour Eclair.

We fill our cake boxes with our bounty and head home.

Barely have I got through the door than the Eclairs are all gone…..

With lightening speed!

translation: eclair = lightening

For the recipe click here