making up for lost time

Whew! It’s been a really long week, even with Monday being a holiday. Actually since we had that extra day of rest, our schedule was booked full for the remainder of the week. Back-to-back demonstrations and practicals can be quite intense and physically draining. We were all exhausted by the end of the week and still had class on Saturday.

We started off on Tuesday learning all about meringue and filling our bodies with sugar. Chef demonstrated how to pipe meringue into various shapes and sizes, my favorites being les champignons (’the mushrooms’) and garlic. The mushroom caps were even lightly dusted with cocoa powder for that added visual effect… super cute and adorable!

In practical, we whipped up eggs white into meringue by hand for our Dacquoise dessert cake, which is made with two layers of almond meringue and a layer of praline buttercream. If any of us had any quandary towards the massive amounts of butter used in French cuisine, well…the buttercream would definitely push anyone over the edge. For the praline buttercream, we used 350g of butter, 220g of sugar, 7 egg yolks, and of course praline (a nutty spread that’s similar to Nutella, only without the chocolate). This was probably the single most unhealthy thing we’ve made so far at Le Cordon Bleu. A slice of this cake should come with the Surgeon General’s Warning!

The one nice thing we learned in making this cake was how to shape roses out of marzipan for decorating the top of our cakes. Chef demonstrated the step-by-step process with ease and grace.

The difficult part was shaping the petals into a rose, instead of a cabbage, which all of us unwittingly did the first time around, but Chef made us start over again until we got it right. Eventually, all of us had lovely roses sitting atop our artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising, heart-attack-on-a-plate Dacquoise cake.  A wonderful way to start off the week.

That afternoon we had the pleasure of working with Chef Philippe Clergue in cuisine demonstration, who normally teaches the Superior-Level students. (He was the kind man that welcomed me to Le Cordon Bleu on my very first day.)  We learned how to make the perfect French-style omelet and a classic poule roti (’roast chicken’).

The wild mushroom and herb omelet was perfectly light and fluffy and would be great to have on the menu for a weekend brunch. The roasted chicken was moist and tender (unlike the one I got at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago) and served with a vegetable garnish on the side. Our vegetable batons (basically matchsticks) would be served in a turned artichoke, which we would have to practice time and time again in preparation for our final exam. I’ll definitely be buying a kilo of artichokes from the supermarche when the time comes.

The next day, Chef Bruno, (who happens to have an uncanny resemblance to Jonathan Pryce, who plays Governor Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), presented us with a three-course meal… pork roast with an herbed crust, grilled salmon with sauteed spinach, and chocolate profiteroles.

Here you can see Chef Bruno slicing the salmon steaks and piping the profiteroles made from choux pastry.

I found out that the trick to making a savory spinach side dish is to saute it in brown butter with a whole glove of garlic that you remove before serving. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and you’re good to go! If only Popeye had a personal chef to introduce him to much tastier things in life besides canned spinach =P

In pastry class, we took a step back from our butter overload and stepped into a whole new world of petit fours. Chef made a variety of these little cookies, including tuiles aux amandes (almond tiles), cigarettespalets aux raisins (rum raisin biscuits), and duchesse (duchess cookies).

When I got back home, I managed to take a couple glamour shots of my palets aux raisins and tuiles aux amandes before I let them spoil my appetite for dinner =P

On Thursday, we started our series of lessons on farce (forcemeat stuffing) in cuisine, which sounds awfully unappetizing, I know. Chef made a duck terrine and stuffed veal rolls, both of which didn’t suit my personal tastes.

Duck terrine is such a fancy food, even for French standards in my opinion.  It requires a ton of ingredients, preparation time, assembly, baking, and at least 24 hours to set. Somewhere in between the ground duck meat, pork shoulder, pork fat, and chicken livers, chopped prunes, and outer layer of pork fatback, I lost interest.

I seriously dreaded going into practical the next day to make the veal rolls. I’ve only eaten veal a couple times in my life and every time I feel sick to my stomach afterwards. Perhaps it’s just my subconscious at work, but I really just don’t care for the taste of it. I was already feeling a bit nauseous when we were given the three cuts of veal eye round to pound into scaloppine. At the end of practical, I wrapped up my veal rolls in tinfoil and left them on the large table downstairs in the Winter Garden for anybody who wanted to taste.

Before the week was over, we finished our lessons on farce with stuffed chicken breasts… what a relief! We were each given a whole chicken to debone and after carefully carving out the breasts, we stuffed them with a white meat mousseline, baked them the oven, and plated a single serving with a creamy mushroom sauce on the side, which was packed with flavor from the chicken bones. Since we left the skin on the chicken breast and braised it in the oven, the meat came out perfectly tender with all the juices still inside, the mousseline stuffing was delightfully light and airy, just as a mousse should be, and the creamy white mushroom sauce was simply the icing on the cake!

I would think the mushroom sauce would also go quite well tossed with some mushroom ravioli…serve that with a side salad of arugula and slices of parmesan cheese and a glass of dry white wine… oh man, I miss Italian food =/  But still, I think I’m craving Chinese food even more… tomorrow is Sunday and our only day of rest before the start of another food-filled week. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll pay a visit to Chinatown here in Paris and seek out a decent place for dim sum… I’ll keep you posted ;)

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