Puff Pastry: Friend or Foe?
Today was the introduction of pastry crusts with butter. The success of Tuesday's pissaladière gave me a little more confidence in the area of dough, but what we did today made me realize that pastry crusts still have some mystery to them that I can't seem to unlock.
The short crust for quiche lorraine was fine until it was time to roll it out. The first time I rolled it, it was too thin. The second time around, too thick. And just like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, the third time was just right. Until I screwed it up by using the crimper incorrectly. Screwed it up so badly that the chef had to take leftover dough and do some patchwork. In the end, the filling went in over the patchwork. Still, I knew it was there.
Then I rolled the layers for puff pastry incorrectly. It's so hard to understand all the delicacies of puff pastry: don't let the butter roll out to the surface, use the right amount of flour when rolling, remember to turn it clockwise after X number of rolls- it's crazy! I hope it turns out okay when we use it tomorrow.
And since I'm announcing failures, here's another one: I fell asleep in class today. Just for a little bit, but it was with the two guests chefs who have high honors for chefs in France (MOF), honors that allow them to wear the French flag on their collars. These guys are the Chefs de Cuisine for the French Senate at the Luxembourg Palace. I blame my sleepiness on three factors: not enough sleep, I had already spent 7.5 hours at school, and the air conditioning broke.
Chefs at Work
But I still caught enough to be amazed. It was so complex, so beautiful, so, well, expensive! Out of 3 recipes, 2 had foie gras, one with the addition of truffles. I'd never taken a class where the chef worked with a foie gras before. And consider the size- they were larger than 1-liter water bottles, both of them!
So here's what they made, dishes with names that manage to stretch longer than all the French sentences I've attempted to say:
Foie Gras Savory Custard with Golden Chanterelle Mushrooms,
Bacon Chips & Chicken Oysters
Royale de Foie Gras et Creme de Griolles
au Lard Grille et Sot Ley Laisse
Foie gras blended with cream, then steamed and topped with sautéed chicken oysters (the best part of the chicken!), tiny little fried chanterelle mushrooms, and a mushroom cream sauce. It was heavenly, so rich that my thimble-sized taste was beyond decadent.
Squab & Foie Gras in Crisp Puff Pastry with Sesame and Poppy Seeds
Pigeon au Foie Gras en Croute de Sesame et Pavot
Imagine juicy squab breast, topped with shaved truffles and a ï¿½ in thick slab of foie gras. Then it's wrapped in puff pastry studded with sesame and poppy seeds and baked until the squab is still slightly pink and the foie gras is perfectly cooked through (look at the close up of a cross-section). It was heaven, pure heaven. The squab actually reminded me of the fried squab served at Chinese banquets. The sesame seeds gave a well-matched nutty texture. It was also garnished with perfectly sautéed Williams pears, sautéed porcini mushrooms, and squab jus.
And the puff pastry? It didn't rise as high as puff pastry normally should rise. That gives me hope- mine will probably turn out flat, but so did an award-winning chef's!
Brittany Shortbread with Fine Fleur de Sel Sea Salt,
Strawberry Jelly with Raspberries, Ice Cream with Pink Pralines
Biscuit Sable Breton a la Fleur De Sel, Gelée de Fraises
Aux Framboises, Glace aux Pralines Roses
The dessert was good but not awe-inspiring. I love shortbread cookies, but these seemed ordinary and the addition of fleur de sel didn't seem to make that much of a difference. The best part was eating pink ice cream that wasn't strawberry or peppermint-flavored. Instead, it was slightly nutty and reminiscent of pistachio.
I think my favorite part of the demo was watching the choreography between the two chefs. It's a beautiful dance, watching two people skillfully maneuver a small kitchen, knowing exactly what the next task is, communicating so minimally that you wonder if they've rehearsed this many times before. I love how chefs in French kitchens work quietly, using all their senses to hear, see, smell, taste, and touch. Plating itself seemed so complicated- various pots, instruments, ingredients come together to achieve a beautiful and composed plate.
My quiche lorraine, which I worked so hard on just a few hours before, seemed so pedestrian in light of the magic I saw. Still, puff pastry or no puff pastry, maybe I can get to that level one day!