Friday, September 30, 2016

Les Tartes class at Le Notre

My second class at Le Notre's Pavillon Elysee was, of course, one of my favorite topics - tartes!

Same place, same kitchen, same chef, different group.  My classmates were two women of similar vintage to myself, one Parisian and one American married to a Frenchman.  They had both previously attended classes with the same chef instructor so there was some chitchat about how they spent their summer etc. 

The class was pretty much all in French and, while I understood most, there were times when my head was in a fog and was putting up roadblocks to my comprehension.  But, all in all, it went well.

On the docket:  tarte tatin, tarte bourdaloue, tarte au chocolat.

Our first task was to peel and cut up apples and tuck them into a round pan that would ultimately go into the oven.  We could choose apple halves standing on end or, as the chef demonstrated, apple quarters in two layers.

Next the chef prepared a large batch of caramel which included a bit of pectin. This was a new twist for me, and the chef explained that it helps the caramel set once the tarte comes out of the oven. Interesting.

The caramel was poured over the apples and the mélange was baked for about an hour until the apples were nicely baked through.

Then a round of puff pastry was placed over the cooked apples and the whole she-bang went back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so until the puff was nicely browned.

We didn't turn these out of the pans until the end of class to avoid the puff from getting soggy whilst having caramel-y apple goo sitting on top of it.

Below are the final results. The top right one is the chef's - he did two layers of apple quarters, and I really prefer the look of that one.  Note to self!

Mine is the bottom left and should have had the apples packed in more tightly - too many gaps methinks, at least on the left side.

The tarte bourdaloue is a variant of the classic pear almond tart, the big difference with this recipe being that the almond cream filling also contained a hefty dose of heavy cream. This made for a much more liquid mixture so when we tried to artistically place our thinly sliced pear halves on the filling, they swam around a bit.

Once baked however, everything seemed to be in good position, so it all worked out in the end.  A bit of glaze and some toasted sliced almonds et voilà!

The tarte au chocolat was made with the same pâte sablée as the bourdaloue, first blind-baked then filled with a mixture of chocolate ganache, eggs and vanilla and baked until set. 

Once cooled we gave it a finishing chocolate glaze.

At the end of class we tasted the tarte bourdaloue which I found delightfully light with good pear flavor and a crisp crust. We boxed up our three 7" tarts for tasting at our leisure i.e plenty of dessert for several nights to come (Steve is in heaven).

The main thing I took away from this class was the chef's method for lining the open tart rings (which we did for both the bourdaloue and chocolat).  While hard to describe it here, it differed slightly from the way I've been doing it since the days at Pascal's, and I found it quite rewarding.  So three cheers for learning new techniques!  

That's why I continue to take classes when I come to Paris - even though the topic/recipes may be something I've made before, there's always a tip or technique I come away with that makes my baking life a bit more enchanting. And so it goes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Brioche class at Le Notre Paris

Heading over to Le Notre's Pavillon Elysee from our 20th arrondissement apartment rental took a bit of metro planning but it worked out quite nicely.  A brisk 10 minute walk to the Alexander Dumas stop on line 2, change over to line 1 at Nation and take it to the Champs Elysee Clemenceau stop.

I love getting off there - you see the great Charles DeGaulle statue as you exit, then turn around to see the Grand Palais rising above you.  And then you see the Arc De Triumphe as you're crossing the Champs Elysee!  Not bad.

The Pavillon Elysee is easy to spot, and I learned that the angel sculpture on top is one of Gustave Eiffel's. 

One enters through an unassuming door . . . . .

and is invited inside by pleasant staff ready to serve you coffee, water or whatever.

The kitchen space is fairly small but well laid out for classes of 3-8 people.

My first class was Kouglofs et Brioches which was also attended by a young Japanese couple.  Chef Pierre Prevost was the instructor for the 3 of us.  There was a mix of English and French going around, but it all seemed to work out.  Interesting how that happens. 

We made two different brioche doughs, each with slight variations in the quantities of butter, sugar, yeast and water - one earmarked for kouglof with rum soaked raisins and one for brioche Parisienne and whatever other shape we might want to do.  

This is what we ended up with:  kouglofs individuel, brioche Parisienne and a pretty standard ring of brioche buns.

Pretty tasty too!

The new thing I took away from this one is the recipe for an almond syrup made by cooking a mixture of equal parts almond flour and powdered sugar (the French call this tant pour tant) in a simple syrup.  We dipped the warm kouglofs in this stuff and put them back in the oven for a minute or two to dry the syrup.  Deelish!

All in all a good day.

Gateau au chocolats from Des Gateaux et du Pain

The other day we visited with our friends Val and Hubert, along with their beautiful and delightful children Arianne and Gabriel.  Since we were going to be at their apartment during the le gouter time of day, we stopped at a nearby patisserie to pick up something delicious to share.

We had visited Des Gateaux et du Pain once before some years back and were struck by the art gallery like arrangement and presentation of the pastries.  As I recall we had tried one of their croissants (OK) as well as a petit pain aux cereales (delicious), but ultimately we were put off by the snobbish behavior of the staff and the fact that they did not allow any photos to be taken. 

This time I wanted to give it another try, partly because the pastries are indeed works of art, but also because the chef happens to be a woman.  Let's hear it for the ladies!

And so we went.

We opted for the gateau au chocolats, a triple (or even quadruple!) chocolate creation from chef Claire Damon - a base of biscuit au chocolat, then a ganache layer topped with chocolate mousse and finished off with chocolate glaze.  Wow.  

It was delicious!  Luscious and chocolate-y yet light and oh-so-good.

While we made a pretty good dent into it, there was plenty left over for a split between Val and Hubert and us to take back to our apartment.  Oh boy - dessert for the next couple of nights!

On a final note, as an accomplished shortbread creator and taster, I simply to had buy some of Claire's sable au caramel et fleur de sel.

These were a disappointment.  The texture and flavor just weren't there.  Sorry Claire!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cafe gourmand

Even though we never made it to Sunday brunch at Méert in Lille, I've made up for it by trying a few desserts during our dining adventures in Belgium and northern France.

A very popular choice in this part of the world for ending one's meal is the cafe gourmand - a combo of coffee and a selection of petite treats. At Markt 38, a traditional restaurant in Poperinge Belgium, I went for it. It was an interesting melange of fresh fruit, petit eclair, Chantilly cream with crunchy chocolate beads, panna cotta, eggnog straight up, ice cream and, last but not least, chocolate mousse. You get the idea.

Our friend Richard had a local specialty that was reminiscent of a rhum baba, served with ice cream and topped with some type of crispy tuile. 

Richard's wife Pauline had the house version of apple pie which was more like a thick crepe filled with apples and raisins with vanilla ice cream on the side.

We all enjoyed our treats as well as the chance to discover a taste of true local cuisine.

Paris here we come!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Méert pastry shop in Lille

Steve and I arrived in Lille France yesterday to visit niece Christina and her family for the next few days.  I had seen and heard a number of "must visit" comments about Méert, the well known Lillois patisserie, and it was one of the first stops on our hit list.

It turns out the shop is literally around the corner from Glen and Christina's apartment, so once we were up and about and had enjoyed our delicious morning coffee compliments of G&Cs Nespresso machine (with frother I might add!), we headed out the door.

As is true of pretty much all pastry shops in France, the window displays are mouth watering.  Méert's is no exception, although I won't even begin to try and tell you the names of all this stuff!

The viennoiserie case held the classics - brioche, palmier, chausson aux pommes, croissant, pain au chocolat and more.

Christina, Steve and I each sampled a treat and were more than content. We hope to return and experience the salon de thé portion of the shop - we're shooting for Sunday brunch with the MacDs (with more photos to come!).

As an end note, here's a pleasant little travel story - as we were standing in line at the shop, a Lillois woman entered and started chatting with us, giving me a much needed chance to practice my French. Of course, Steve was throwing in some Italian with which she seemed quite delighted.  She spoke English as well, telling us of her travels to the USA in the past - California, TX/LA and New York. She confirmed that our dining out choice for tomorrow night was excellent and gave Christina more tips about places to visit and/or eat. She and I exchanged contact info, and she even suggested we connect via Skype or FaceTime periodically so I could practice my French.  Now isn't that interesting?!

You never know the paths that might cross in life, eh?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Peach blueberry buttermilk cake

A short note this time.  We're remembering 15 years ago today.  Peace be to all mankind.

As Steve and I have been anticipating our departure for France on September 12, we've had an eye toward using up ingredients and leftovers in our fridge.

I happened to have some roasted peaches and buttermilk on hand, so for the Labor Day holiday last weekend I made a peach blueberry buttermilk cake.  Summer fruits are still available at the Fulton Market, and one simply can't ignore that fact!

Enough said.

More coming soon once we reach France - first stop Lille!

A bientot tout le monde!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cherry-berry feuilleté and peach buttermilk ice cream

The summer annuals are showing off their colors here in Grand Rapids MI . . . .

lovely coleus in our little garden courtyard

and the summer peaches are out in full force!

Fresh Michigan peaches are one of my favorite fruits.  So of course I've been thinking of the many wonderful ways to use them.  This time I was inspired by a peach buttermilk ice cream recipe from "Food and Wine" magazine.

I followed the recipe for my usual ice cream base (2 cups heavy cream, 1 cup whole milk, 3/4 cup sugar, 5 large egg yolks, pinch of salt) replacing the cup of whole milk with buttermilk.  I blanched 1.5 pounds of peaches, then peeled, pitted, sliced and blender-ized them with a squeeze of lemon juice, folding the purée into the cooled base.

peach purée at the ready

ice cream base finishing its chill down

I usually chill my base in the fridge for a day or two, then process in my ice cream maker and transfer to a freezer container several hours before serving.

I also wanted to use some cherries and blueberries I had on hand to complement the peach ice cream in a dessert I was planning for a family meal.  And, to top it off, there was some reverse puff pastry in my freezer just waiting to be made into something oh-so-delicious.

The beauty of the feuilleté preparation is that I can roll, shape and bake them ahead of time and hold them either at room temperature if using the same day, or in the freezer for a number of days if planning a bit farther ahead.

When ready to fill them, I simply push down the center layers of puff to make room for the fruit mixture that will be mounded in the feuilleté.

I mixed 4 cups of fruit (cherry/blueberry combo) with a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, 3-4 tablespoons granulated sugar (I like my fruit on the tart side) and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. I then cooked this concoction on med-low heat until bubbly and thickened.

Note:  this quantity of fruit filling was enough for 7-8 feuilletés about 3.5 inches square.

Then I scooped a mound of filling in the center of each feuilleté and baked at 350ºF for about 10-15 minutes.  Since the puff pastry is already baked and the filling already cooked, it's really just a matter of heating everything up.

Once cooled, I topped each one with previously baked matcha crumble (really more for color contrast than taste) and gave them a light powdered sugar dust.

the end result!

I know I've mentioned crumble before in this blog.  It's a great thing to have on hand and is so easy to make.  Make as much or as little as you'd like.  

Simply mix equal weights flour and sugar in a medium bowl, sand in the same weight of cool, diced butter to form coarse crumbs.  In this case I added some matcha powder with the flour and sugar (you don't need much).

Spread the crumbs out on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake at 325ºF, stirring and breaking up clumps every 5 minutes or so until lightly browned and crisp, 10-15 minutes total.  Let cool.

Store in a zip-top bag in the freezer and use at will!

For serving I simply placed a scoop of peach buttermilk ice cream atop each feuilleté (no muss, no fuss) and handed 'em out.


While the ice cream was a bit more icy in texture than I had hoped (I suspect due to using low fat buttermilk rather than whole milk, plus the water content of the fruit purée), the contrast of the tangy peachy coolness with the tart cherry-berry filling and buttery, flakey puff was oh-so-good indeed.

Three cheers for summer fruits!  Hip hip hooray . . . .