Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cakes and Nature!

We made lots of cake last week.  Ok, well in English we made cake, but one of the many bizarre things that a French person knows inherently without thinking, and consequently has difficulty explaining in English, is the difference between entremets and gateaux.  Whereas in English, we only have the one giant concept of "cake" which encompasses a fairly large spectrum, the French have divided it into two categories.  As chef was trying to explain which dessert was an entremet or a gateau, he frequently couldn't justify why it was one way or the other, and kept stammering that "it's just something that we know."  I guess it's difficult to search for logic with the French, as everything seems to be just a matter of feeling correct rather than being black and white like I'm used to.

Anyway, what I gathered from our very precise lecture (not!), was that the entremets are more creamy and must be chilled--ice-cream cakes in the US would probably be considered entremets here, for example.  This one is called Giverny, and has a very thin layer of cake on the bottom (called biscuit in French) that is soaked in Cointreau syrup, then a layer of pistachio bavarios, another layer of Cointreau-soaked cake, and then the raspberry mousse you see on the top.  Very springtime and light when you cut it open and see the pastel green with the pink.

My Giverny!
 We also made Succès, praline buttercream between two layers of almond meringue.  It has a very exciting decoration on top.
Pre-decor Succès

cooked sugar


It forms a little tail!

Sugar wasteland


Detail of decor on Succès
 Then we got to play with chocolate for the decoration of our other cakes, Forêt Noire, and Feuille d'Autumn.
playing with chocolate!

my Forêt Noire (chocolate cake, chocolate chantilly, vanilla chantilly, and griottines)

My Feuille d'Autumn (French meringue base, dark chocolate mousse, almond meringue, buttercream, and sheets of chocolate to decorate the top)
 We also made Opéra cake (a glorious chocolate and coffee mouth-explosion).

Here is a lovely spread of our work:
Spread of our week-long work
We also have been taking oenology courses so we can learn the basics about wine.  We only get 5 classes, but they are 3 hours long for each course.  The first course was an overview and basic explanations about cépage, terrior, and savior faire.  The second course, pictured below, we learned about wines in the Northern regions of France and got to taste a Reisling from Alsace and compare it with a Rully from Bourgogne.

Working hard in wine class
Oh my gosh--side note.  I got to meet Hervé This on Monday!  He wrote a book that I devoured this summer called Molecular Gastronomy.  He is absolutely brilliant, and they say about him that he is the man who unboiled an egg.  BUT, he gives guest lectures every 3rd Monday of the month AT my school!  It was incredible.  I was just sitting in the back of the classroom in awe.  It was just so interactive and informal, he sat amongst us in the audience seats and had volunteers perform the experiment in front.  He kept asking hypothetical questions so that the audience got the feeling that we were the ones discovering it all.  What a wonderful set up, and a great way to learn.  I wanted to talk to him more but he had to leave pretty quickly after the lecture.  Anyway, I also met this woman at the lecture who is a piano teacher (according to her, her students are the best in France).  But she works a lot with comparisons of music and food--her students, at performances, have to create a dessert or a dish that characterizes their piece, and the audience eats it while they play.  How cool is that!!  She has a blog, La Cuisine au Piano,, it's pretty interesting.

This past week we made more cakes, and also got to work to make desserts for the dinner shift at the school's restaurant (11am until 11:30pm).

My Roulade griottines (before glazing)--This is very thin spongecake rolled up tightly with raspberry jam and cut into rolls; it's filled with vanilla bavarios and griottines (alcohol-soaked cherries)

One of the plated desserts for the restaurant, Feuillantine choco praliné (plating design by Annegret)
We made a classic French cake called "moka."  It has a coffee geniose cut into three thin layers, between the layers is coffee butter cream, walnuts, and rum-soaked golden raisins.  Then the top has a very intricately piped decoration, which was very challenging, but I loved it!

My Moka--I'm proud!

Next, we made a cake called "Mogador."  It has a chocolate cake layer on the bottom soaked in a raspberry liqueur syrup, topped with a thin layer of raspberry jam, then smothered with chocolate chantilly cream, left to harden in the fridge, then topped with a very thin layer of buttercream so that the rapsberry glaze shines a bright and intense red on the top.  It was extremely delicious (we got to taste it in class), but I decided to give it to my next-door neighbors instead of putting it in the fridge with my cake graveyard (I really have way too many cakes in my fridge right now).  And it was great because I learned that my neighbor is a piano teacher (because I accidentally interrupted a lesson).  So maybe I can trade cakes for lessons--who knows!  I'd love to have some informal lessons again, or maybe I'll ask the lady with the best students in France!

My Mogador

Our class!

Finally, we made what is called "mont blanc."  It consists of French meringue piped into a pieshell-shape and put into the proofer to harden, then it's filled with crème chantilly and candied chestnuts, and then some chestnut cream is piped through a very thin tip to look kind of like spaghetti, and it's topped with a large candied chestnut.  Personally, I don't think it looks very attractive to eat a cake that looks like a bowl of spaghetti, but it's apparently a classic.

My Moka, Mont Blanc, and Mogador

The past 2 weekends have been SO nice.  I have made a point to get out and walk and see green and beautiful things.  Last weekend I finally explored the Bois de Boulogne, which is a 5 minute walk from my apartment, and is 2100 acres of absolutely beautiful, very green forest land.  During the weekend it's completely full of runners, cyclists, roller-bladers, families with little children, dogs, and nature-lovers during the morning/day, however I've been warned that during the night it's haunted by prostitutes and weird-folk, so normal people, and I stay away by night.  Anyway, I love it and I'm so happy that I have such easy access to un-manicured green now--in Paris, most of the green that is there is so nicely landscaped and pretty, but it's nothing like the uninhibited nature you can find in the US.

Entrance to the Bois de Boulogne

So crisp and green

I really liked this three-headed tree

lots of cyclists and runners use this road--and there's a horse-racing track just across the way

This made me laugh--it's a post put there just for dogs to pee on

my neighborhood
 And Sunday of last weekend, I went to a large outdoor marked near the Bastille with Ben, Annegret, and her friend Jessy.  We had a lovely brunch afterwards and then Annegret, Ben, and I went for a nice long walk around central Paris, along the Seine, and went to the Pantheon and the Jardin des Plantes.  It was a gorgeous day.
Walking along the Seine on a lovely Sunday afternoon

Ben and Annegret in front of the Pantheon

Inside the Pantheon, it's magnificent

This pendulum proves that the Earth is moving
 After our walk, Ben had to go teach a class, so Annegret and I walked through the fifth and sixth arrondissements.
On my walk with Annegret through the Luxembourg gardens
 Fridays at the Louvre, people under 26 can get in for free!  And they have music, theater, cinema, and various performances, and of course, you get to walk around in the Louvre!  I got to meet some very good friends of Ben's.  We had a yummy traditional French dinner afterwards, and then some delicious Italian gelato.

From the Egypt exhibit at the Louvre
Yesterday, I went to Versailles :)  It's one of my favorite places IN THE WORLD!  And I get to go there for free too, since I'm a student in the European Union.

Versailles! and some little French boy-scouts

Look at all the gold!

Throne room, complete with a pipe organ

You know, just a ceiling in a room, no big deal

Ceiling of the hall of mirrors

Diana, goddess of the hunt

just look at the ceiling!

love the contrast


A nature trail inside the queen's nature area

Where Ben and I stopped to have a little picnic


  1. I wish you could see my smile when I read your blog posts. The food looks divine and I love the art & architecture, plus the travel photos. I'm so happy for you, and thankful you are taking time to blog about all of the adventures.

  2. Thank you!! I'm so happy that you are enjoying it, and knowing that someone is smiling while reading makes it very much worth the time.

  3. I "second" the sentiment above, there isn't a way to read your blog and enjoy the photo's without smiling. Do you plan to open a pastry shop someday?

  4. Hi Jess, I came across your blog and I enjoyed reading it and your pictures are wonderful! Where are you now? Hope everything goes well and I remember always your smile and good mood!