For the first time since all the tart-making began in Paris, we made a delicious one that brought a big smile to my face. It was our second class, and the demonstration was again pretty silent. The recipe was straightforward enough – a tart shell recipe that we had already made in Basic Pastry, with fruit fillings set by softened gelatine sheets. We had our practical class right after, and as we lined up at the door speculating who the chef was going to be, the younger chef came up the stairs behind us. I saw him first, and embarrassingly a huge smile crept up on my face when I did. I was just so relieved and happy that it was going to be someone good at teaching, and I was going to learn something! (Stop it, I know I’m a nerd.)
The class went by quickly and silently. The surprise came a few minutes in as the chef turned on the ovens: “The baking, it’s your problem now, not mine.” My friend and I widened our eyes at each other – say what? In Basic Pastry, this chef was famous for saying “I do the baking, not you.” This tart crust had to be blind-baked first, with a lot of steps in between, so we were in for a lot of back-and-forth trips to the ovens in the back of the classroom.
The baking happened pretty smoothly, and I actually didn’t mind it too much. It felt more relaxed to me, as weird as it may sound. Glancing at the clock every few minutes as we tidied up our stations and worked on our fruit fillings made the experience feel more natural, as if I were baking at home in my kitchen. Sure, there were a couple of moments when I was stuck at the stove cooking my fruit syrup, but wanted to check on the tart shells in the oven. However, it wasn’t a big deal if I left the shell in for a minute longer.
The chef was quiet and observing in his unnerving way during the whole class, and I kept on catching his eye, not knowing how to respond. Was he judging the way I was pouring in the fruit? What now? It was like he was back to his really scary self at the beginning of Basic Pastry, before he relaxed and started being nice to me during my pistachio log kerfuffle.
My friend and I worked well side-by-side and finished pretty quickly. Since we started on our fruit fillings early, her passionfruit cream actually set quite a bit at room temperature before it was time to fill the tart shell. She patched it up with some glaze and fretted about the chef not being happy about the bumpy look, but the chef was actually really nice and supportive when he looked at her tart. He told her everything was great, and her cream was just a little too cold, but that’s normal given how early she finished the cream.
When I brought my tart to the chef for marks, he looked at it quickly and said, “Great,” before busying himself with the palm pilot (people still use these?) on which he records our marks. Even though he had been really stern all evening, I pushed my luck a little bit and said, “That’s it? That’s all you have to say to me?” He looked up at me with raised eyebrows and said, “Well it is great. The filling, uh, it’s nice.”
Concluding that I wasn’t going to get much more out of him, I began to pick up my tart to make room for the next student. He suddenly said, “Leave it.” I stopped what I was doing and looked at him quizzically. Leave what? “Leave your tart here.”
At the end of the class when he made his usual closing remarks, the chef showed the class my tart as the example of what he wants to see on the final exam. He was not critical about it at all, and in fact said it was “almost perfect”. Since this is the first time (and probably last time) that I received such a wonderful compliment on my work at school, please let me have a moment to relish in the delight those words brought me.
Okay, I’m done. So far in Intermediate Pastry, so good!
The little tart pieces I saved for myself.