Gateau St. Honoré

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When I was in Paris I finally got the chance to try the famous Gateau St. Honoré– a toothsome confection consisting of a layer of puff pastry, topped with a piped choux pastry swirl, topped with a ring of caramel-dipped cream puffs, and filled with fluffy cream. It was rich, decadent, and begging to be reproduced at home. Of course, I can rarely leave well enough alone, so when I decided to try making one I thought it would be delicious to incorporate elements of another famous French dessert, the Paris Brest.

Paris Brest is made of a large ring of choux pastry (meant to resemble a bicycle wheel, as the dessert was created in honor of a bicycle race), which is split and filled with a praline mousseline cream. The praline is made of caramelized hazelnuts and almonds, pulverized until they turn into paste, which is then folded into the cream.

I actually vacillated between which of these desserts to make, as both sounded fantastic, but in the end the Gateau St. Honoré– being both more complicated (I always love a challenge) and involving puff pastry, which I always adore– won out. But instead of the regular chiboust (mixture of plain pastry cream and Italian meringue) to fill the center, I made two changes: First, I used diplomat cream (mixture of pastry cream and whipped cream) instead of chiboust cream, because I hate making Italian meringue– too fiddly with the sugar syrup. Second, I decided to add praline paste to the cream to deepen the caramel flavor of the dessert.

The result? Spectacular. The flakiness of the puff pastry base adds just enough textural interest to the slightly firmer choux pastry and the gobs of creamy, hazelnut-kissed filling. The hard caramel dip on the cream puffs is just enough to crunch between your teeth and provide a hint of bitterness, and the dessert as a whole is light yet rich. I will absolutely make this again the next time I need an impressive finish to a meal.

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Chocolat Chaud (French-style hot chocolate)

While I was in Paris I took the opportunity to try a cup of the world-famous chocolat chaud at Angelina’s sumptuous tearoom on Rue Rivoli. Let me just say, its fame was well-earned– the chocolate was rich, smooth, and dark, with just the right amount of sweetness. Unlike some people who have tried it, I didn’t think it tasted like a melted chocolate bar– on the contrary, it was just milky enough not to be cloying, and not too thick. Really, it was excellent, and while I have my own hot cocoa recipe for winter days, I thought it would be nice to have another version in my recipe box for special occasions.

Of course, the internet yielded a plethora of recipes, each purporting to replicate French-style hot chocolate but each one different. I decided to try a few to see which came closest to what I remembered.

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Ispahan = Perfection

ispahan macaron

Okay, so having tried Pierre Herme’s Ispahan in panna cotta and granita, I’m ready to bite the bullet and try reproducing the exact dessert I had in Paris. Here’s a photo I took of the original for comparison:

ispahan macaron original

To recap, it’s two macaron shells filled with rose-flavored cream, lychees, and fresh raspberries. Because of the chilling and resting time you’ll need to start these at least a day before you plan on serving them.

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Ispahan Panna Cotta (raspberry, rose, lychee)

ispahan panna cotta final

While I was in Paris for my breadbaking course, I made a point of visiting famous pastry shops (okay, not just famous ones) and picking out the most delectable-looking desserts to enjoy, regardless of cost or calories. After all, it’s not every day one is in Paris and able to experience all of the delicious things the city has to offer! And one of the most important delicious things on my list was the Ispahan macaron at Pierre Herme.

The Ispahan is a dessert made of two pink macaron shells, sandwiching fresh raspberries, lychees, and a rose buttercream. The combination of flavors was perfect. Absolutely perfect. It was an exquisitely balanced meld of sweet and floral and fruity, with creamy and crispy and juicy textures in each bite… I just can’t do it justice with mere words. A perfect dessert. This from a woman who usually goes for chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. I knew I had to recreate it here at home.

I’ll get to a perfect reproduction later, but until then I’m just trying to get the general flavor profile right. I decided to start with panna cotta, figuring that it’s light and creamy, doesn’t have egg yolks or butter to disguise the delicate flavors of rose and lychee, and is simple enough that I wouldn’t feel bad about wasting tons of time and effort if it didn’t turn out well.

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Traditional Breadbaking at Le Cordon Bleu Paris: Wrap-up

Now that I’m back in the States and done with my breadbaking course, I figured I’d give more of an overview of my impressions of the class.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It was less hands-on than I’d hoped (and expected), but I’m chalking that up partially to the fact that this was Chef Boudot’s first time teaching it– he did ask for our feedback on the third day, and seemed receptive to the idea of making fewer types of bread but allowing us more hands-on work for each. If I’d been able to design the class from scratch with unlimited resources, I’d have paired up students and given each a batch of ingredients and a separate dough mixer. That way each pair could following along with the instructor to add the ingredients and watch the kneading process up close, shape the dough, and prepare it for a single-oven baking session with the whole class. As it was we did a lot of standing around, watching Chef Boudot add ingredients, weigh out dough for everyone to shape, and do the detail work. I’m hopeful that for future classes he can cut down on the amount of bread (which was already more than any student could consume) and increase the experience level.

This would also help reduce the inevitable confusion that resulted from trying to work with 4-7 recipes per day, each with multiple steps spaced out over several hours. It was difficult at times to follow whether a particular step or discussion was regarding one recipe or another, particularly where both involved similar ingredients and steps.

Interestingly, the part that I’d been worried about before– the fact that the class was taught entirely in French with an English translator– wasn’t an issue at all. Our translator was excellent, a chef in his own right, and did a great job relaying our questions and the chef’s answers to everyone, even over the noise of the mixer.

Hmm, what else to mention? The chef had several assistants during our class, all young women from South Korea or China, who all spoke excellent French and ran here and there, prepping and carrying ingredients and getting all of the utensils and other components in order. I hope they were getting some good experience (or at least class credit) out of it!

My fellow students were generally great– everyone was very excited about the course, and it’s always nice to be in a room full of people as enthusiastic as you are about a specific subject. We spent our down-time swapping tips and stories about previous baking projects, and recommending things to do in Paris while we were there.

Anyway, great class. Definitely something to do if you’re interested in bread or baking in general. Final thoughts? Bring family to help you to eat the bread, an extra sweater for croissant-day (brrr!) and above all COMFORTABLE SHOES.

Traditional Breadbaking at Le Cordon Bleu Paris: Day 4

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So this is it. The last day of class. Chef Boudot said we’d be doing less fabrication than on other days, but it sure didn’t seem like it! We had a ton of work to do, probably because this day’s recipes involved a lot more fussing and construction.

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Traditional Breadbaking at Le Cordon Bleu Paris: Day 3

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I’m back from Day 3 of the breadbaking course, and my most enduring memory of the day is that it was cold (16 degrees C). With good reason, of course– we were making brioche and it was necessary to keep the dough (and all the butter inside) cold while we worked with it. We also got to do a lot more hands-on work, which made me happy. What did we make? Let’s see! Continue reading