Archive for July, 2006

L’Epi Dupin – Paris

Monday, July 24th, 2006

I really wanted to like L’Epi Dupin — the menu sounded fantastically creative, the price was comfortingly reasonable at 32 Euros for a prix-fixe dinner, and it had such a cozy yellow and brown interior. But the food just went a bit wrong for me. I think that the recurring theme during my meal was that there was one element in every dish that was given in a large quantity … and it didn’t taste good. Only the divine tuna in my main course stands out as a truly fond memory, and even that dish had problems.

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My appetizer was the specialty of the house – Caramelized Endive with Chevre. This featured a lifetime supply of caramelized endive, a tiny bit of cheese inside, a bottom crust, and a wealth of a thick, honey-like spiced sauce. The endive tended to be too stringy to cut through easily and they were in too large of pieces to take in one bite… and then it was stringy all over again in my mouth. And the sauce was so staunchly sweet and thick. I love the idea of this dish, but I was disappointed with the execution.

tuna

My main course was Tuna with Fondue of Swiss Chard and Carrot Sauce. The tuna was fantastically juicy and tasty — without the metallic bite that has haunted many of my tunas — and I was impressed by how nicely the undertone of carrot went with it. The swiss chard with the mustard-y sauce was good, but there was way too much sauce. It drenched the chard and eventually succeeded in overpowering the tuna, which was laid on top of it without a clean place on the plate to put it on. The tuna also had fine herbs and garlic on top, which were overpowered by the mustard, as well.

mel

For dessert, I had the Sliced Melon, Strawberry Coulis, Basil and Mint, and Lemon Verbena Ice Cream. The lemon verbena ice cream was fantastic (I would have cried bloody murder if it hadn’t been, b/c lemon verbena is one of the best flavors in the world. Why isn’t more widely available???), but it completely melted within a couple minutes in the intense heat of the restaurant. I like the nutty crunchiness of the tuile, but the main disappointment was that the melon was underripe, and strawberry coulis curiously lacked flavor.

So, I had way too many slices of melon, and it wasn’t just me… Chad had way too many whole cherries in his Cherry-Lemon Soup with White Chocolate Ice Cream

cherr

And the Molten Chocolate Cake with Pistachio Sauce had way too much molten chocolate syrup (yes, it was like a syrup) gush out of it and into a puddle onto the plate with a lot of pistachio sauce that didn’t taste much like pistachio to me…

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And then there was this Roasted Peach with Tarragon Ice Cream

peach

First of all, I empathize with L’Epi Dupin… and this is a good time to talk about the heat in Paris. It was hot. And I don’t recall a single restaurant that was air-conditioned (no matter how nice), so be prepared for this in summer in Paris. At one point during the trip, Chad even said, “We’ve been to Aruba and Hawaii together… and it’s never been this hot.”  True. And during the hot, hot, hot summer months at culinary school in the Napa Valley, it’s not uncommon for our ice creams to melt like this during service if precautions aren’t taken, but I feel like a restaurant sending this out like this is a bit wrong.

We did have a fan directed at our table of 7 up until after we ordered, but then it was suddenly redirected to the table of 2 next to us… Where’s John Stuart Mill when you need him?

Sadaharu Aoki – Paris

Monday, July 24th, 2006

I have to give thanks to Bea at La Tartine Gourmande for her wonderful post (including amazing photos) about Sadaharu Aoki. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have found my way to this gorgeous pastry shop that features French-style pastries with Japanese flavors and influences.  It was one of my favorite places in Paris.  I don’t feel like repeating myself too much, so I’ll just say right now that everything was spectacular.

mocha

Duomo Macha Azuki, with green tea cream, red bean paste, green tea macaron, and feuillantine, and Black Sesame Eclair.

inj

Eclair injection holes.

citron

My brother got the Tarte Yuzu, which was puckery to an almost atomic level, and completely delicious.

I asked the counterperson if I could take pictures, and she said, “Yes,” so I made my way down the counter…  and looking at them now, all I can think is ” Why didn’t I just try one of each while I was there?!?”  Sigh… Paris withdrawal.  Anyway, on their website linked above, they have thorough descriptions of everything, if you’re interested.

And be warned that it is a rather small shop and they have three small tables for two, as booths against the wall.  My brother and I got pastries, but then the counterperson was concerned about the five others we were with who were camping out at the other tables.  She told me that each person had to order a drink and a pastry to sit down… so everyone else had to clear out.  And of course, thinking about it now, I amend my question above to “Why didn’t I just order one of each so that they could stayed and I could have tried everything?!?”

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I was told that, in Japan, cake slices are sold like this, in individual packets.  Brilliant.

Restaurant and Production Desserts Wrap Up

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

We had this block before my two week vacation in France, so I’m a little fuzzy about the details. I also didn’t get to take many pictures, because I didn’t always have time to run down to my locker to get my camera. Instead of putting finished products out on the dessert table near the end of class, we served our desserts during lunchtime to people at the tables, so we were a little more rushed during the time that I usually take my photos. But one thing that I really liked about this block was that we often made new desserts each day, even if we were in a different “section” that other groups had already been in, so rather than making the same desserts that other groups had already made, we usually made variations… it made it more interesting.

I worked alone for the first three days of the class, which was fun and hard; everyone else had a partner. I liked having the responsibility and learning experience of having to make everything myself and seeing how it all turned out, but since I felt so rushed, I didn’t have the chance to really consider what I was doing in detail. I just wanted to get it all done — so it was like having a practical every day. 🙂 And working alone also meant making obvious stupid mistakes–in hindsight–without the sober input of a partner to stop me… only the concerned look of the chef instructor did that for those three days.

So, this was a challenging block for me. And frustrating… I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at so many amazing restaurants all around the world where I could analyze and enjoy so many beautiful platings, and yet, when it was my turn to put together a plated dessert, I hardly knew where to begin. I tried to formulate the aesthetics in my mind based on shape and color, but the final result was often awkward.

I’ve mentioned the “craving test” for restaurants before, but frankly, the desserts that I crave the most are those from pastry shops that I eat individually at home, on a plate or from the box — no sauces, no garnish… just one thing that is beautiful and delicious all by itself. So, the real challenge of plated desserts was to consider the whole matrix of all that can fit together on a dessert plate — it’s like a puzzle of your own creation… If you can make it work texture, taste, and aesthetic-wise, you could put virtually anything you can imagine on the same dish as whatever else you can imagine; in the abstract, it reminded me a lot of filmmaking in this way. Since I like single pastries, it was by deconstructing those pastries that how I began to see just how plated desserts should be assembled. It’s almost embarrassing, but it wasn’t until the chef instructor gave me the most obvious excellent advice about plating that something clicked somewhat: think about how you want to eat it. After having been so caught up with the geometry of plating, I’d lost track of what matters the most to me: taste. As an example, here is a rum baba that I made and plated.

baba

This was actually one of my cleaner platings, but now when I think about this plate arriving in front of me at restaurant, I know that the first thing I would do would be to pick up my fork and scrape those three blackberries next to the rum baba, and next, I would wonder why there isn’t more blackberry sauce. BUT, since I made this dish, I know just how delicious that rum baba is all by itself (it’s made with a brioche-style pastry that is soaked in a rum, orange, cinnamon, and vanilla syrup, and they turned out just nicely sweet and rum-y, with a rich butter-y at the very finish. We baked them in little savarin molds).

So, thinking about it now, I think I’d want the whipped cream and all the berries on top of the baba, and then the sauce perhaps circled around it, so that you could put put it on your fork if you so chose, or you could just have the baba by itself, as I like it best.

Btw, when I was 19, I ordered a rum baba in a cafe in Vienna, along with a tea with rum (simply because I legally could), and it was a disgustingly overly-rummy experience that gave me a vicious headache, so I wasn’t looking forward to making this… But I’m happy that this recipe resurrected the baba for me.

Toasted Hazelnut Creme Anglaise – Creme Anglaise is a classic dessert sauce that’s generally made out of milk, cream, sugar, yolks, and vanilla; it has a ton of other applications, too, such as being a base for ice cream and bavarian cream. The first time I made anglaise was for a practical a while ago, and the memory of curdled eggs haunts me still — because it curdled both times I tried to make it… after about 15 minutes of cooking each time. So, at this point, I erred on the side of under-cooking it, so this one turned out liquidy, whereas it should hold its own on a plate.

But I’ve had more experience with it since then, and feel more comfortable with it. Basic guidelines:

  • To flavor it, you generally infuse the cream and milk and let it steep before possibly reheating it and tempering in your yolks. So, I chopped and toasted the hazelnuts and poured them into the cream and milk (and some sugar and a vanilla bean) before bringing them to a boil and then letting it sit for about 1/2 hour. Then I strained the liquid into a clean pot, and got on with the sauce.
  • You have to cook it at a low temperature until the sauce is thickened just right… This happens at 180F, and is called nappe. This is when it is supposed to “coat the back of a spoon,” which is so weirdly specific, yet vague, that it never really helped me out before until the chef instructor explained it. What this really means is that if you dip a wooden spoon into the sauce and hold the handle parallel to the ground and run your finger across also parallel to the ground, then the sauce is ready when it holds the line formed by your finger without running down. Of course, once you are used to seeing what the sauce is supposed to look like at this point, then you don’t have to test it. And thermometers never helped me out… All my failed anglaises apparently curdled by 170.
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Warm Chocolate Pudding with Nuss Sauce – This was a steamed pudding cake that involved a batter stabilized with breadcrumbs instead of flour (similar to the custard for the Queen of Puddings). It would have been easy except that taking bread from frozen-solid loaf state to bread crumb state as fast as possible was a little bewildering and time-consuming. I used the anglaise above to make the sauce, which had finely chopped hazelnuts and chocolate in it. I thought it would look messy, but it looks rather nice, almost confetti-like… but I need to figure out how to find the center of plates. 🙂 Also, I wish this pudding tasted more chocolate-y, rather than nutty and bread-y.

Baked Apple Fruit Coulis – A coulis is a strained sauce. A chinois, which is a very fine, conical strainer, is perfect for this… it annoys me that they’re not more widely available (and cheaper) because they strain so well. The apple should have been baked with the skin on to retain moisture, but I peeled them after a confusing instruction about them. Despite covering them with aluminum foil, they still dried out in the oven. We did a quick fix by microwaving some new apples with the skin on until soft and then finishing them off in the oven. Then the skins were taken off and they were pureed in a blender and mixed with simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, boiled) to make the sauce.

Cherry Sauce – This was made with dried cherries that were simmered in sugared, spiced wine until soft and then pureed until smooth and strained before added kirsch. The key to coulis seems to be cooking time and blender time because by the time I strained it, virtually nothing was supposed to strain except foam. The skins should have been softened and pulverized fine enough to pass through the chinois.

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Red Wine Poached Peaches – These turned out to not be poached enough, even though they seemed to be soft enough when I poked them with my paring knife. It’s also best to let the fruit cool in the poaching liquid, even overnight, for them to soften properly.

And given my plated dessert naivete, it was a kind of a revelation when the chef chopped my peach half in half again to help me plate it — you could never do that with, say, an individual tart to sell.

But, when I look at it now and know that the peach was under-poached, I think it would have made the best sense to serve the peach in the poaching liquid so that as much liquid as possible is eaten with the peach. It may not look exciting, but it would taste better. Serving the poaching liquid as a drink separately in this case just accentuates the under-poached peach, I think.. although it was eye-catching.

Little Fried Pies with Whipped Cream – I’d never deep-fried myself before, and it was a lot less scary than I’d visualized (they just bubbled a little… rather than erupting hot oil all over the place, as I’d feared… but that would really only happen if you put a very water-y thing into oil anyway). Depending on the dessert, the oil should be at about 325F-375F to deep fry; in a pinch, if it gets much hotter, you can add more oil to bring the temp down fast. These were filled an apple fruit mixture, and were like fancied up McDonald’s Apple Pies. They were formed, frozen, and cut into round, crimped edge shapes with a cookie cutter before deep-frying and rolling them in sugar. They tasted great.

Coconut Crusted Banana Tempura – Finer coconut flakes are better then large coconut gratings for this.

We also made fantastic coconut chips to garnish this by dipping thin slices of fresh coconut into simple syrup and baking them until dried out. I forgot to put them on most of the dishes when I was plating them up, though, because they were at the wrong edge of my table. Stupid mistake. I was just so not in the habit of garnishing desserts at that point that I didn’t remember, but for plated, it’s very important to have everything laid out in the order of assembly so that everything gets on and this was a good lesson… I felt bad that the guests missed out on a delicious element because of my simple mistake.

French Toast with Pineapple Flambe – The french toast was so good — so creamy and delicious while still holding its shape. I used brioche pullman loaves, and soaked the pieces for 20 mins. The plating turned out to be a rather horrific, though, with a piled up combination of pineapple triangles and french toast sticks that will forever remind me to really visualize these things in gritty detail before I start going at them with a knife. Taste-wise, I didn’t like pineapple with french toast, and I don’t think I ever like pineapple warm.

Cremes Normandy – The crepe batter needed to be strained.

peach crisp

Peach Crisp with Vanilla Bean Creme Fraiche – Our under-ripe peaches didn’t really soften up, and the tops were burned in half the amount of time that they were supposed to bake in. We didn’t have enough peaches, so we put in some cherries, which was a good combo.

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Lemon Souffle with Lemon Sabayon – This was a fun day. The groups making variously flavored souffles and practiced them in the morning… so whenever they were ready, the class was called over for a tasting. Unfortunately, the idea of souffles excites me, but whenever I get them, anywhere, they just taste like flavored, warmed eggs to me; ultimately, I don’t like them.

Edit: To test doneness for a souffle, the side should feel similar to when you press your finger against your eyelid with your eye closed.  And if I remember correctly, I believe that pasta dough should feel like your earlobe and ripe camembert should feel like pinching the end of your nose.

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Rosemary-Vanilla Bavarian Cream with Sugar Cookie Base – I wanted the rosemary flavor to be almost like an aromatic accent on the tongue, and it tasted very nice, esp with the strawberry glaze and sugar cookie. We did this in a flan ring, and I think that that the thinner layer of bavarian cream helped make this a very good workhorse sort of a dessert.

Apricot Yogurt Mousse – Basically, an entremet. The cherry gel center never set up, though, even though it seemed to be made correctly and put in the freezer.

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Peanut Flour Panna Cotta – Dairy-free, with a base of peanut flour and water. Tasted like raw peanut butter, with an admirable panna cotta consistency. The banana puree went well with it flavor-wise, but the color was too similar for me; honey would have gone well with it, too, but the color would have also been very brown. Oh, and if you put a thin meringue cookie btw the panna cotta and the puree, it’ll melt. Oops. In my defense, I made the puree so that it would hold its shape in a dome on the cookie, and not run everywhere, until right before service, when I was told to thin it. Also, the meringue cookie needs to be separated from the silpat as soon as its done baking.

Bread and Butter Pudding – So good and so easy… I have wonderful memories of having this when I lived in London. Just mix together a custard base, pour it on bread, let it soak, and bake. Eggs shouldn’t be cooked twice for custards, so you wouldn’t want to, say make an anglaise instead and then bake it in a bread pudding, too. And, frankly, I’d much rather bake than anglaise.

Butterscotch Pudding Trifle with Dried Fruit Compote – This was fantastic, and it’s too bad I didn’t get a picture of it. It was layered with orange marmalade, thin discs of sponge cake, whipped cream, and pecans. I made sure to press fruits from the compote against the side of the glass so that they could be seen.

Hazelnut Parfait with Roasted Hazelnuts and Chocolate – This was a parfait in the sense of a frozen dessert that’s made by beating yolks, sugar, and brandy over a double boiler until they form a ribbon, whipping til cool, folding in whipped cream and flavor, and then freezing it.

Apple Sorbet with Apple Cider Granite – We used a refractometer to determine the correct percentage of sugar for the sorbet; it should be 26-28 Brix. Granite is so easy… you just freeze and scrape, and they have a marvelous crystal texture.

Oreo Cookie Ice Cream – Just by folding oreo crumbs into a vanilla ice cream base, you get a seriously good dessert. We made this with a chocolate sauce and a quenelle of whipped cream with a brandied cherry in the center tucked into a curled chocolate tuile. It was adorable and delicious.

Culinary School has Altered with My Idea of Quick

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

Because one night this week, I came home at 7:00 after school, work, and errands, and after googling “sweet napa quick puff,” made a double recipe of Quick Puff Pastry (found here) for an Alsatian tart because it’s so “quick”… Only involving tossing butter and water into the flour and salt, rolling and folding it twice, chilling it 20 minutes, repeating the last two steps again, and then repeatings those steps yet again… while preparing some toppings, and then finally baking it and eating it. I didn’t take pictures… because I was hungry and ate it quickly.

BUT now I have a couple pounds of quick puff pastry wrapped in small pieces in my freezer, which, given the extreme heat in the Napa valley this summer, will defrost in no time for a truly quick dinner or dessert any time I want.

La Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marche – Paris

Thursday, July 20th, 2006
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My pastry tasting in Paris was kicked off at La Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marche, the utterly gorgeous food hall of the oldest department store in Paris. It just happened to be a short walk from our apartment. When I walked in, I felt like I was in a glorious French version the food hall in Harrods; it even had similar immaculate glistening seafood “pastries” on display… and of course, everything else… endless counters of fresh food of every sort, and then aisles of packaged food and confections from around the world. I finally made my way to the pastry counter…

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First of all, credit must be given to my brother who immediately got into the spirit of pastry tastings by ordering three of each kind of macaron that they had. Credit also goes to the counterperson who sensed his excitement and proudly told him that she was able to fit two more macarons into the side of the box. The vanilla and lemon were especially good. The macarons had a slight chewiness where the cookies met the filling, but the flavors were well-pitched.

chouquette

Chad gets credit for discovering chouquettes. Attracted by the vivid colors and creative shapes of their pastries, I passed over them until Chad suggested trying these brown little mottled balls. Once again he showed off his ordering prowess — they turned out to be one of my favorite new discoveries. They are simply choux pastry dotted with a certain kind of sugar, but I think that their economy belies more complex interplays of flavor and texture — the crispy-on-the-outside pastry matched by the crispy sugar… the dots of sugar deepened by the caramelization on the pastry… the crispy outside of the pastry giving way to the softer wall inside and finally the pocket of air inside until you reach the other layers at the end of the bite…

They’re simple, but not foolproof. The pastry must be very thin. I had a chouquette from another bakery that had a thicker layer of choux pastry so that there was barely an air pocket inside, and it was boring, bordering on the very bad — just chewy and sweet, like an anemic cream puff. I swear that I heard a chouquette from La Grande Epicerie exhale when I bit into it. That’s good.

They reminded me of the gougeres that started off my meal at French Laundry… These might be a nice way to start off dessert…

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On the other hand, this navette was pretty boring. A sweet, flaky roll… slightly like a breadier croissant. Maybe it’d be good with a fruit or chocolate soup…?

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I like how this Napoleon is crafted vertically, with that clip of puff pastry and chocolate on the bottom to support it all. This also made it mobile, for eating out of hand. It also tasted great.

cannele

The cannele was too eggy and moist, on the inside and outside.

tarts

For what must have been a very special reason, I passed up the stunning chocolate tarts and cream-based tarts for these modest fruit tarts. They were nice enough, but I didn’t like the pasty sort of apple puree that was mixed in with the apple bits in the apple tart and the cherry tart was a little too chock full of dried cherries and their skins, even if they weren’t all that chewy anymore. The chocolate eclair was quite nice.

coffee

This was a great tart, with a chocolate ganache base below the coffee.

pretz

A doughnut pretzel.

reccurr

Red Currants were widely available in Paris. I miss them now.

rasp

Raspberry juice is good.