When you look at beautiful pastries displayed in a pastry shop I wonder what kind of space they were made in and of course, the a-z of making them. So when I saw online that pastry courses were being offered at La Forêt Noire, a pastry shop just around the corner from us, I signed up. My first class was a one-on-one with the pastry chef because I couldn't do the group option on the weekend. So, just the chef and I, making three desserts over the course of 3 hours, and all in French of course, which I loved.
Entering in to the workspace of a pastry chef is a pretty exciting moment. You might expect a vast kitchen, when in fact, the space is very small. Everything has it's place and it all works out.
We introduced each other--he has been a pastry chef and owner, now retired, of the shop for 40 years. He was the first one in Grenoble to offer pastry classes and many other shops followed suit but then stopped as pastry classes don't really pay the bills. He, however, continues to give the classes in his retirement while his son runs the shop.
The plan for the afternoon was to make three desserts: Opera Cake, Chocolat Royal, and Raspberry Macarons. I had wondered how we could do all of this in an afternoon, but he had a system in place. The pictures will give an overview of the process of each one, although we sort of made all 3 desserts at once, doing one step of one and going then to another step in a different recipe, returning to our first to continue with step 2, etc.
Macarons Framboises (Raspberry Macarons):
There are many macaron recipes, but there are basically two ways of making them: the French way, which is super precise, or the Italian way, which allow for more leeway. We did the French way, so I paid very close attention. The precision comes in the measuring of the ingredients and in the mixing, especially knowing when to stop mixing. This takes practice. You can see that the macarons pulled off the silpat mat beautifully. The fresh raspberry jam (just berries and sugar) became the filling. Chef noted that all the flavor of a macaron is in the filling, so make sure it is good!
French cakes are much smaller than their American counterparts (these are 6" in diameter and about 1.3" high). They are not layered like ours are, although they may still have layers made of different components. The Royal Chocolat is made up of two layers: a crunchy base followed by a silky smooth chocolate mousse filling. This cake does not need to be baked and is quite simple to make. There are two ingredients that are not common in the U.S, : "praliné"--a hazelnut praline paste and "feuilletine" a crispy confection (think cornflakes) made from sweetened crêpes.
The "feuilletine" is produced commercially, but was originally conceived as a way for a pastry shop to make use of cookie scraps. Could I use cornflakes? No! They become soggy, whereas "feuilletine" stays crispy. I may have to invent another type of base-perhaps a cookie base.
The crispy base is made by mixing the praline paste with the "feuilletine" along with some white chocolate. A chocolate mousse becomes the second layer, filling the metal circle. Freeze the cake and then carefully remove the circle using a kitchen blowtorch (or hairdryer). Melted chocolate covers the sides and cocoa powder the top. You can decorate the top with whatever chocolate decor is on hand. I did not make the ones pictured, but they were made in the pastry shop. Done!
I was excited to see how this cake was made as I have made it myself several times. What I liked about this one was that it was round. It is a cake made up of 5 layers with 4 different components. So, a bit of a process.
You start by making the "glaçage", as it needs to cool before using it as a glaze, the top layer of the cake. Then you make the "biscuit"- almond sponge cake. Using the metal circle, cut out two circles of cake for each cake (this recipe made two cakes). A coffee sugar syrup is brushed on the cake to keep it moist and to give it flavor. Italian coffee buttercream becomes the next layer, followed by another layer of cake, again soaked with coffee sugar syrup. Layer four is a chocolate ganache. And then there is just enough space to pour a layer of chocolate glaze.
The cake is frozen. Once frozen, remove the circle, add a decoration of choice to the top of the cake and the cake is finished. Note that the chef did the decoration on the top. Such a masterpiece of flavors and textures.
The desserts got boxed up and I was done for the day. We enjoyed a sampling that evening. My favorite was the Opéra, followed by the Royal Chocolat, and then the macaron. That said, they are all very good and I'm very happy with the results.
Leftovers? Yes, lots. We've invited six students to have afternoon tea and dessert...