Wednesday, December 21, 2011 synch with the elements

I felt better after my croissant catastrophe once I had my dose of spaghetti and parmesan with olive oil (my ultimate comfort food) and a viewing of Pride & Prejudice. I was ready to get over it and face the tropical elements once again. This time, I blasted my air conditioning, armed myself with valor and positivism, and set out to make a classic French apple tart. A tarte aux pommes.

A tarte aux pommes consists of a sweet pastry dough crust, apple filling, and apple slices for decoration. I'll cut to the chase. It was a success! Even though this recipe involves butter, and mixing it at just the right temperature and in just the right way, the elements seemed to cut me some slack, and bingo! This was the result:
yesterday's french apple tart
Here's the recipe. Try it for your Christmas meal, and let me know how it goes.

French apple tart (adapted from a Le Cordon Bleu Paris recipe)

Sweet short pastry
200g flour
100g butter (cold)
4g salt
20g sugar
1 tsp water
1 egg

Apple filling
3 apples (Golden Delicious work best)
30g butter
30g sugar
30ml water

3 apples (Golden Delicious) for decoration/top of tart 
brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (350 degrees fahrenheit). Prepare a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and butter a circular tart mold.

In a bowl, add flour, salt, butter (cold), water, egg, vanilla, and sugar. Make the movement with your fingers as if you were counting bills to mix the ingredients together. Once mixed, top your workspace with a bit of flour, dump the mixture on the surface, and use the heal of your hand to press and push the dough in order to mix the ingredients further. Be careful not to mix too much, or else the butter will start to ooze. If you feel that your dough is too warm, put it in the fridge for a few minutes before rolling out the dough.

Working quickly, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until it is about 3mm thick. Make sure your dough is at least 1-2 cm larger than the circumference of the tart mold. Then use your rolling pin to place your flattened dough on it, and carefully roll it onto the tart mold. With your thumb and index finger, press the rim of the tart mold to ensure that the dough is properly attached to the mold. Leave a bit of dough on top of the tart mold, and use your rolling pin to roll over the lined tart mold to trim the excess dough. Place the lined tart mold into the fridge (or freezer if you're in the tropics)!

You'll need at least 2 1/2 - 3 apples for the tart filling. Roughly chop these apples and saute them in a pan with butter, sugar, water, vanilla, and cinnamon. Saute until golden brown. 

Place your filling into the tart base, creating a mound in the center. 

Slice your decoration apples in moon shapes and create a design to top your tart. The photo above shows a circular pattern, but placing the apple slices in diagonal lines also works well.

Top the tart with bits of butter and brown sugar, and place in the oven for 35 minutes or until golden brown.

May the elements work with you on this one!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Battling the elements...and losing

This is my sad report about how I failed making croissants and pain au chocolat yesterday. I had to find ways to satiate a craving...and they didn't end well.

On Saturday, after writing about my early-morning craving for pain au chocolat, we headed to a new pastry shop that apparently makes good pain au chocolat. We arrived at 8:10am to find that the pastry cooks were just getting to work. When we asked about the pain au chocolat, they said we could have some that had been made at 4pm on Friday, and that the fresh Saturday morning batch would be ready around 10am. Hmm. 

I know I've been spoiled by the fact that you can get fresh croissant and pain au chocolat at nearly every corner in Paris at all hours of the day. Even though I understand this is not the case everywhere in the world, I can't help thinking...stale pain au chocolat for sale? 10am? Really? Since when do pastry cooks begin work at 8am? 4am is more like it, isn't it?

To be honest, I'm not sure if the demand is there. We were the only patrons at the pastry shop, so I don't know if it's worth it for this shop to make fresh pastries early in the morning because perhaps Trinidadians aren't interested in pain au chocolat that early on a Saturday. 

Could it be that by making French macaroons and craving pain au chocolat I'm trying to impose something new on a Caribbean island that may not be interested? My French macaroons sold well, but I had to lower the original price since people aren't familiar with them, and I had to explain what made them special. Some people are very excited about my macaroons, and others probably couldn't care less and would prefer the usual run-of-the-mill stale cupcakes.

Well, my kitchen sure thought I was imposing something new. And it wouldn't budge. It was a sweltering 90+ degrees in there yesterday morning as I embarked on my pain au chocolat-making effort. This was an adequate environment for my yeast dough, and it rose beautifully in the warm humidity. 

When I began rolling out the dough with the butter inside it, however, things started to get ugly. The best butter to use is dry butter, which contains less water content. I couldn't find dry butter in Trinidad, so normal butter had to do. It was a mess. Butter was oozing out of the dough, the dough didn't have it's necessary elasticity, and I was getting frustrated. I turned and rolled the dough twice (you must do this five times in order to achieve flaky croissants), and threw it into the freezer to try to control the oozing. Once out of the freezer, I turned and rolled again, and even though I did my best, this was not working. 

I had to keep moving because my brunch guests had arrived and I needed to put those babies in the oven, no matter what. I rolled the croissants and pain au chocolat into their shapes, let them rise a little more, brushed them with egg wash, and into the oven they went. 

A few minutes later, my husband came in asking if something was burning. As I opened the oven door, a giant cloud of smoke came out. A revolting smell of burnt butter filled the air of my kitchen, and I saw my hopes and dreams of eating nice pain au chocolat disappear into the sweltering air of my Caribbean kitchen.

Gooey, slimy, yucky. That was the result. I felt awful because I wanted to impress my friends. I let myself down, and all I wanted to do was roll up into a little ball and do what makes me feel better - make pasta and watch Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth, of course). Honk if you're a fan.

I was not my own fan yesterday. I was sad, disappointed in myself, and frustrated by the fact that I think I want to import France into an hot and humid environment that seems to be pushing culinary change away. My macaroons were successful, but hated the humidity after I made them, so it was a battle to keep them in proper shape to sell them. 

This story does have a happy ending, however. I'm going to practice, test, and remake, even if it means a battle against the elements. Wish me luck.
the other dishes for the brunch were lovely

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pain au chocolat nostalgia...and what to do about it

It's crack of dawn this Saturday morning in Port of Spain and the wild parrots and all kinds of other birds are singing and chatting in the bougainvilleas and palm trees outside my window. The hills of the island are an emerald green today because the rain has brought them to their magical splendor. 
blog writing set-up in trinidad
I woke up very early because of a craving that I'll find hard to satiate. Pain au chocolat. On Saturday mornings I used to walk around the corner to Gerard Mulot, a perfect pastry and bread shop in Paris, and buy the most crispy, buttery, flaky, croissants and pain au chocolat in the world. Sigh.

Even though Trinidad is at it's beautiful best this morning, I miss Paris. This nostalgia is particularly strong because it's lead by my stomach! So, what am I going to do about it? Two plans. First, to visit a new pastry shop in Woodbrook that apparently makes decent pain au chocolat. Next step, prepare yeast dough and make my own!

We invited dear friends for brunch tomorrow, so into the kitchen I shall go! I haven't found dry butter in Trinidad, so we'll see what the results will be of a croissant dough without it. Will they be as flaky as when made with dry butter? Will the taste be different? Stay tuned, and I'll let you know.
the croissants and pain au chocolat i made in paris - i'll try to recreate them!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Macaroons for Trinidad

Oh, joy of macaroon joys!

Who ever said that it's impossible to make macaroons in 90 degree, 90 percent humidity? Everyone.

Well, I took it upon myself to prove "everyone" wrong and make macaroons in Trinidad, whose climate is quite different from that of Paris, to say the least.

I returned to our island home on Sunday, eager to return to a life of normalcy after our Parisian adventure. Any other person with some kind of sanity would rest, take time to unpack, and enjoy their home. Not me. I felt the need to get right into the kitchen and start practicing what I've been learning for the past eight months. 

So, I decided to participate in Trinidad's UpMarket, a lovely food market that takes place once in a while where chefs, both professional and amateur, sell their goodies. This was just right for my homecoming project.

A sane person would have probably stayed safe and chosen to make cupcakes or banana bread. But not me (once again). I chose the pastry that is perhaps the most difficult to make. Even for experts who have been making them for a long time. Macaroons. French macaroons.

Macaroons are tricky little guys. They hate humidity and water, are totally susceptible to the weather, and if you mix your batter a little too much, or a little too little, they simply won't budge. They won't poof and make the little "feet" I told you about long ago in a previous entry about my first time making macaroons.

Needless to say, I was extremely nervous because many people have told me that they've tried to make macaroons in Trinidad, and other hot and humid climates, without success. Their batter doesn't rise, the pastry cream oozes uncontrollably, or they simply don't taste good because the ingredients don't work well together because the cosmic universe of the tropics decides to work against them.

Armed with valor and positivism, I turned on the A/C unit in my kitchen to 18 degrees, studied my recipes, laid out my equipment, measured out the ingredients (which I had to visit five places to find), pre-heated my oven, and crossed my fingers. 

I didn't find ground almonds in Port of Spain (anyone who knows where I can get some in this city, I'd appreciate the info), which is the key ingredient for macaroon batter. So, I've been using a coffee grinder to grind almonds. Not a fun task. I whipped my egg whites, folded the batter (this is the trickiest part), and into the oven they went. 

Macaroons and ovens. I won't go into detail, but let's just say it took me three hours to make forty macaroon halves (two halves, with a filling, make one macaroon). The oven dance, as I like to call it, requires opening and closing the oven to let the humidity out, turning the oven on and off at precisely the right times in order for the macaroons to poof, and pray to the cosmic universe of the tropics to help you out. Repeat this five times, and that's what I've been up to since Tuesday.

So, what you've been waiting to find out...they were a success! Lemon, raspberry, and chocolate ganache fillings are ready for tomorrow's sale, and I'm all set. Here's a sneak peek at the macaroons on sale tomorrow:
veronica's macaroons
raspberry macaroon
So if you're in Trinidad, stop by tomorrow at the UpMarket, where I'll be selling these little pieces of almond and meringue heaven.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pizza and grilled cheese haven

I just returned from visiting my sister, her husband, and baby, in New Haven, Connecticut. My brother-in-law is studying at Yale, and I wanted to check out their stomping grounds. I also wanted to have a bite of famous New Haven pizza.

What I found will surprise you. The pizza was only ok, but the grilled cheese, served by the Cheese Truck by the side of the road on the Yale campus, is quite simply the best grilled cheese I've ever had.
the best grilled cheese sandwich with the yale campus as a backdrop
It's a mixture of provolone, swiss, comte, gruyere, gouda, and sharp cheddar on sourdough bread with cornichon pickles. Absolutely fantastic! You can get add-ons like arugula, applewood bacon, and roasted reds, but the simple cheese on bread is simply the greatest cheese sandwich I've ever had. Together with a to-die-for tomato soup, I was golden as the grilled bread I was feasting on.

Next time you're in New Haven, opt for the cheese truck at the curb. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to try to re-create this little sucker chez moi.

...and tomato soup

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving and a glorified cream of pumpkin recipe

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it's about being grateful, and boy, do I have things to be grateful for this year. I cherish the lovely aspects of Thanksgiving that are about being with family, enjoying the beauty of autumn, and feasting on delicious food. Turkey, sweet potatoes, corn bread, cranberry sauce, green beans, and pumpkin pie. YUM.

As Colombians who have been living in the US for a while, my family adopted this holiday into its annual repertoire. It's become an almost sacred family tradition. We respect the usual suspects like turkey and stuffing, but we've also added our own twist to them. Coconut rice is a must, and the turkey stuffing is quite different from the breadcrumb-heavy variety found on most US Thanksgiving tables. 

I'd like to share one of my recipes that was part of our Thanksgiving meal this year. It's a great idea for an autumn appetizer or amuse bouche. It was also the verrine appetizer that I presented for my cuisine final exam, and the chefs liked. And guess what? It's super easy. The important thing to keep in mind are the flavors, and to know how to balance them so that the end result is a layer of subtle flavors that enhance one another. 

Also, have fun with the presentation of a soup like this. Use a shot glass, a small square vase, or whatever you find in your cupboard that could be a nice container for it. I used limoncello glasses on Thanksgiving, and they looked lovely. 

Cream of pumpkin soup with caramelized apples and walnuts 
our thanksgiving amuse bouche - glorified cream of pumpkin 
Roast 300g red kuri (pumpkin) in the oven at 200 degrees for 30 minutes. Once roasted, remove puree from skin and discard seeds.

Sweat 50g carrot, 100g parsnip (optional), 1/2 onion, and 50g leek mirepoix in butter and add 1 lemon grass stick, freshly grated ginger, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 cinnamon stick, pumpkin puree. Season with salt, fresh ground pepper, and add chicken stock to help sweat the vegetables. Blend and strain. 

Apple walnut brunoise
Cut 1 Rubinette or Golden Delicious apple into brunoise and chop 100g fresh walnuts and caramelize in a sauce pan with butter, 1 tbsp maple syrup, and 1 tbsp honey.

Candy thin slices of Rubinette apples in 50ml water and 50g sugar and dry in the oven at 90 degrees for 2 hours.


Place a layer of caramelized apples and walnuts on the bottom of a verrine or serving glass, then fill 3/4 of the verrine with soup.
Whip 100ml cream and top verrines with a dollop of cream and a small basil leaf.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Victory: Tooting my own horn

winged victory of samothrace at the louvre, 2nd century BC
At the risk of sounding pompous and arrogant in this entry...I DID IT! I WAS VICTORIOUS! I earned the Grand Diplome in cuisine and pastry from Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Please excuse the tacky reference to the winged victory of samothrace pictured above, but I recently  went to the Louvre, and was inspired. In fact, this inspiration came at a perfect moment because it was a few days before my final cuisine exam. 

This is a sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike (Victory). Ok, now I'm totally pushing it, but I can't resist telling you that my name, Veronica, is a hybrid of Greek and Latin. The first part of my name is derived from the Latin word "veritas", whick means truth. The second part of the name is derived from (you guessed it) the Greek word "nike", which means victory, or victorious. Therefore, I was truly victorious! I ended up with three medals (one gold for the Grand Diplome, two silver for the cuisine and pastry diplomas), three diplomas, six certificates, and a whole lot of wonderful memories. 
Before I tell you about the graduation ceremony, I need to explain all about the final steps to getting there - the cuisine final exam. Preparing for it was one of the most stressful experiences I've ever had. Two weeks before the big day, we were given a list of ingredients to use to create four servings of an appetizer and a main dish. Some of the ingredients on the list were mandatory, and others were made available for our dishes. I love cooking fish and seafood, so I was glad to see sole, cockles, mussels, and scallops on the list. There were also some lovely autumn ingredients like pumpkin, parsnip, apples, and walnuts. 

Coming up with a decent dish was fun, but waiting around was driving me crazy. I became an insomniac and obsessed over plating ideas, flavor pairing, and most importantly, timing. I was a total dork and created a 15-minute interval schedule, printed it out, and scrutinized and memorized it. We had four hours, and any minutes of lateness would count against our grade. In the past, people have failed this exam for being twenty minutes late.  Can you imagine failing after 9 months of work because you were twenty minutes late? 
preparing for the exam

I told myself this simply wasn't an option, so I made crucial decisions that would simplify my dishes in order to buy me some time. I'm so glad I did this because the day of the exam I kept it simple, kicked it into high gear, moved faster than I've ever moved before and BINGO! Finished half an hour before my time was up. This was a good thing because my sole rolls (filled with scallop mousseline and rolled in spinach leaves) were undercooked so I had to poach them a second time. If I hadn't had that time, I would have gotten major points taken off for undercooking my fish. 

This is the final result. My appetizers were verrines filled with cream of pumpkin and parsnip with a bed of caramelized apple and walnut brunoise. My main dishes were sole rolls filled with scallop mousseline, chanterelle mushroom flan, potato puree infused with chanterelles, and beet "macaroons". 

They say that the winged victory of samothrace was created to honor victory at a sea battle. Well, I faced my own sea battle...even if it was with seafood rather than the sea. I defeated those sole, cockles, mussels, and scallops, and I did it! I graduated and it makes me feel relieved, happy, and proud of myself. 

I'm sure I won't always be victorious, and I'm sure I'll burn cakes and overcook plenty of fish fillets. But I will always be proud of my accomplishments - both little and big.
with my chef's hat
The graduation ceremony took place in Cercle de L'Union Interalliee; an incredibly elegant building on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, next to President Sarkozy's presidential palace. The chefs and graduates were all decked out in their chef's hats, sporting their new medals, and glowing with pure happiness instead of sweat from cooking in a sweltering kitchen, for a change.

Au Revoir, Paris

It's 5:20am in Paris, and I can't sleep. My husband, son and I are leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport in a few hours to fly to the US for Thanksgiving and then back home to Trinidad. And so our Parisian culinary adventure comes to an end...for now. After all, "au revoir" actually means "until next time".

I've been trying to put into words how I feel about what I've done for eight months, and a few ideas come to mind. I'd like to share them with you, in case they inspire you to take that necessary leap to achieve your dreams.

- It takes a village. This is true for anyone because you need friends, family, and mentors to achieve goals. It's particularly true for parents, and I dare say, mothers. So find your rocks, and make it work together, ideally in a way that everyone can benefit from the experience.

- It takes persistence and positivism. I guarantee that there will be psychological and physical breakdowns. I personally had two major ones and quite a few little ones. At times, my body hurt and my stress wanted to take control. It took effort, but I managed to stay with it, and persevere.

- It takes joy. Remember to appreciate the good things, the little things, and even the difficult things, because they will all help you get you where you want to go. Joy will make it a far better ride.

There are many things that I still want to write about concerning this Paris adventure, including all about my final cuisine exam, wine pairing, museum visits, Parisian life, among others. So I plan to continue writing my blog about Paris, the US, Trinidad, my own recipes, and anything else that inspires me.

For now, I feel nostalgic at the crack of dawn and wanted to give this magical city a proper goodbye. Its imposing elegance and absolute beauty deserve nothing less.

As for the Cordon Bleu, I will tell you all about graduation in a separate entry, but will say that I had a fantastic experience learning at this school of culinary greatness. Thank you, LCB.

We visited the Eiffel Tower two nights ago to say a proper au revoir, and it seemed to look down at us in regal pomp and say, "well done. you were a part of this". I hope so.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sugar pouring, pulling, and blowing

When I found out what taking a "sugar" exam at Le Cordon Bleu Paris meant, I almost had a heart attack. 150 degree molten sugar that resembles lava more than a sugar cube, sugar flowers so transparent you can break them by blowing on them too hard, and (let's be honest) gaudy shapes and colors that have a place in a 1950's banquet or a very showy and ornate Beijing wedding.

When I was a mere basic student all the way back in March (that really seems like years ago!), I would see superior pastry students waddle down the stairs, half dead, heading towards the front desk for some basic first aid to treat their sugar burns, blisters, and dehydration. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to it.

I would look at Chef Deguignet's sugar sculptures that he'd exhibit after demonstrations and think to myself that they were amazing, of course, and obviously incredibly difficult things to make, but that they were really old-fashioned, gaudy and, well, tacky. No offense, Chef, but you do understand.

So, I made my way through basic and intermediate pastry and all of a sudden I found myself in front of a scorching hot non-crystalized caramel, a heat lamp, some protective gloves, my hands, and my creativity. And guess what? I LOVED IT! Granted it's one of the more dangerous things I've ever engaged in, but also one of the most fun. To make something so delicate with molten sugar. Awesome.

These are the phases I went through to get to my final sculpture.

First, I practiced pouring sugar (cooked with food coloring and a lot of glucose to 155 degrees) to make what would become the base of my sculpture. This was my first piece:
my first poured sugar sculpture
Even though I loved the shapes and the movement of this sculpture, I didn't think to put a base on it, so it crumbled into a thousand pieces (!) but only after the chef had looked at it, thankfully. I was told, however, that if that had happened on exam day, I would get a big fat zero for presentation (eeek!).

The next step was to practice sugar-pulling. In order to get the right consistency, you cook the sugar to 165 degrees, add a little glucose, and finally some tartaric acid. Then you pull the scorching hot blob of sugar a few dozen times to make it look like satin and place it under a heat lamp. Now you're ready to make some flowers. All you have to do is put your hands under the sweltering heat lamp and manipulate the scorching sugar. And voila! A flower is born. You can also make ribbons. Oh, that's so easy. (I know sarcasm doesn't translate too well in writing, but I hope you're getting it.)

my first flowers
Then it was time for sugar blowing. It's a lot like blowing glass, and the chances that your blown piece will shatter into a million pieces is probably just as high. And when sugar like this breaks, it's as if it were glass, and it can cut you in the same way.

Chef Daniel Walter blowing a horn
my second sculpture. my attempts to blow sugar on this day failed miserably.
Finally, the day of the exam. We were told we had six hours to pour, pull, blow, and assemble. On went the gloves, out came a deep, controlled breath in preparation for this odyssey (I can't think of any other word that hits the spot this well).

After a lunch break, and some breathing (and hydrating) time, I was inspired to blow some sugar and try to redeem myself after my first failed attempt at such a thing....

...and POOF! This is what happened:

So this was my sugar final exam. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I've taken many exams in my day, but I've never been as frightened as when I had to make souffles, and sugar (!) POOF!
I passed. With flying colors (and no flying sugar glass, thankfully).

To be honest, I don't know whether or not I'll ever do something like this again because it's so dangerous, and also so tacky! But I will say that it was fun, and that I have a new found respect for Chef Deguignet's work. This is what he made in two hours:
It's a horn-of-plenty. How's that for a Thanksgiving centerpiece?

Monday, October 31, 2011

In preparation for the end...or is it the beginning?

It's been a while since my last entry because, to be honest, I'm exhausted. Eight months of 13-hour-a-day classes, written exams, practical exams, cooking, filleting, baking, tempering, sugar-pulling in addition to potty-training, apartment-cleaning, uniform-ironing, and all sorts of other fun stuff, have knocked the wind out of me. At the same time, however, these things have filled me with profound joy and excitement for what's to come. 

Today was our last (!) demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu. Chef Lesourd WOWed us with his detail-oriented presentations of a goat's cheese and bell pepper entree, veal loin a souffled potatoes, and poached pear dishes. We took photos of our group with the chef, and some of us started to get teary-eyed and feel nostalgic about the upcoming end of this course.

My sugar-pulling exam is on Thursday, and my cuisine exam is on Monday. I'll tell you all about this sugar-pulling business after my exam, and I'll also write about the cuisine final, and how I've prepared for it. 

For now, I wanted to share some more photos of the superior level at Le Cordon Bleu. This is the stuff the chefs are made of. Even though I'm more tired than I can express, I know I will look back at these photos and remember how inspired I was at this point in my life, and how I hope to some day achieve a similar degree of culinary perfection and creativity.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wine, chocolate, and a caramel recipe

It's not surprising that I've gotten excited about wine while living in France. It's everywhere. Anytime. Anywhere. The best part is that you can get a very decent bottle without breaking the bank. In fact, in France a mineral water or fruit juice can cost you more than a decent Cote du Rhone. 

One of my new favorite things to learn about is food and wine pairing. I plan to tell you more about a fantastic pairing session I attended recently, as well as the course on French wines I took at Le Cordon Bleu, but first I'd like to tell you about pairing wine with chocolate.
Chocolate and Maury wine. Maury wine (from the Languedoc region of France) resembles Port wine, except it's a bit less sweet. Therefore, making it the perfect match for a fine chocolate of the dark variety (at least 70%). It's as though the bittersweet cocoa is asking to be finished off with the sweet tartness of the Maury. 

You know how sometimes you have a sip of red wine left after you finish your main course, and when you take a sip of the wine with your dessert, it creates a disgusting bitterness in your mouth? Well, Maury allows for the opposite; a delectable sweetness without the possible cloying sugar fest of a Port. Try this Maury - MA Amiel (the 15-year is best, but this 2008 vintage was very nice).
fantastic Valrhona chocolate - 70% or 85%. my pastry chef says it's the best, and i agree
As long as we're on the subject of chocolate, this week I tempered dark chocolate and filled it with my own caramel. It was a total success! Not a streak in sight, nor a fingerprint to speak of. 

The caramel is made by making syrup from glucose and sugar, waiting until the perfect color and pouring butter on it to stop the cooking process. In a second sauce pan, bring whipping cream, vanilla, and sugar to a boil and add to the caramel/butter. Let the caramel rest in a cool area or the refrigerator, and bingo - the best caramel you'll ever have. 

The chocolate tempering is another matter all together, and it's a long, painful process that I've told you about before, and will be sure to tell you more about since I'm about to embark on a chocolate-tempering extravaganza. We have two exams in superior pastry at LCB - one is tempering chocolate  and making a chocolate sculpture, and the other is sugar-pulling for six hours. More on this later...if the burns on my fingers are not bad enough to prevent me from typing on this keyboard, that is.
my chocolates filled with caramel 
this took me 2.5 hours, so i have a new-found respect for chocolatiers

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rungis: The largest wholesale market in the world

Atelier #1 went well. I made a darn good tartare sauce to go with deep fried jumbo shrimp and mini salmon cakes for my appetizer, and my tiny spinach souffles poofed beautifully, along with my pigeon and mushroom duxelles tian for my main course. I finished in five hours instead of six, so I'm on my way to feeling more prepared for the final exam, which is sneaking up on me like Beethoven's three knocks at the door.

But what I'd like to talk to you about today is my visit to Rungis, the largest wholesale market in the world. There are gigantic fish markets in Japan, China, San Francisco, etc., etc., but this one has it all. It's located about 20km from the center of Paris, and is basically it's own city, covering 232 hectares and selling over 7 billion euros of products per year. That's a lot of fish, poultry, cheese, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and meat. Oh, so much of it.

Le Cordon Bleu organized a visit for us students, and we were awestruck by the magnitude of the place. We were also impressed by the high quality of the products and how pristine it all is. Not a fly in sight, not a thing out of place. 
veal that only drank mom's milk
We had to wear giant vests and hats to cover up every inch of ourselves and avoid contaminating anything. After the mad cow disease scare of the 1990's, hygiene was kicked up about a dozen notches. The warehouses are frigid - the whole thing is basically a series of massive refrigerators containing quality products to supply the Paris metropolitan area, and beyond.
foie gras

2 weeks old
piles of cheese (there are over 3000 different kinds of cheese)
gigantic emmental
gigantic steaks
Being a foreigner, and an anthropologist, I was interested to look at the origins of the products. Beef, poultry, and pigs were mostly all French. Most of the vegetables were French as well (with quite a bit of Chinese produce), but many of the fruits were from South America (Brazil, Colombia, Peru, among others). It made me think about how far food travels to get to your plate.
uchuas from colombia

colombian bananas
piles of mushrooms 
piles of pink garlic from toulouse

20,000 trucks go in and out of Rungis every day. I knew the French liked their fresh food, but this visit made me appreciate what it takes to be one of the world's most famous culinary capitals. 

Butchers, smaller Parisian market vendors, and chefs come to Rungis to select their products. It's not only about stocking up, however, it's about discovering new items to add to your menu. Kiwi, for example, was introduced to France at Rungis a few years back. A few chefs tried some of this exotic fruit, thought of ways to incorporate it into French cuisine and pastries, and is now a staple product in France. Rungis is a microcosm of the world's best products, and the French are masters of knowing how to create delicious dishes with them.