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Left at School…

Gateau Basque

For the first time ever, I’ve left a dessert at school!

We had a lesson on the Gateau Basque and Diplomat’s Pudding, and the demonstration felt long and drawn out with a lot of silences. These desserts had both fairly uncomplicated recipes, but since the chef had to make enough to feed 40-50 people, he really couldn’t fill the time with a lot of comments as he moulded five tart rings and filled ramekins of all sizes for the pudding.

I don’t really want to talk about that pudding, because it is still giving me nightmares. Diplomat’s Pudding is like a bread-and-butter pudding from the UK, but without the nicely sliced bread and instead uses chopped-up day-old brioche. Add some green candied fruits and raisins, douse with custard, bake, and drizzle with more crème anglaise, and there you have it – something that mildly resembles what comes out of you after a hard night’s drinking. Yeah. It tasted OK, but I have never been a fan of soggy bread, or crème anglaise, or this type of baked custard (nothing like crème caramel, in case you’re wondering). So although I ate it, this pudding is not something I would ever serve at home, in a restaurant, or wherever I get to decide what to bake.

Gateau Basque consists of pastry that’s not as firm as a tart shell, buttery-er and creamier than a cookie dough, and it is filled with pastry cream and preserved fruit – typically somewhat candied cherries. The name suggests that it comes from the south of France and north of Spain, the Basque region, and according to one of my favourite blogs, pastry studio, the cake originated in the 17th century in Cambo (which is now part of southern France). Very interesting little fact that I discovered: Gateaux Basque started out as little pig-shaped cakes, but have evolved over time to become a round cake with local jams and custard filling. Typically, the black cherries used are from the little village of Itxassou near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

Inside the buttery “cake”

In class this week, I am the assistant. This means I go into the kitchen half an hour earlier, and set out all the ingredients we’re going to need on the worktop before everyone else gets there. It is a stressful undertaking because so far, the chefs have all yelled at assistants to start putting ingredients away halfway through class as people are scrambling around already, pressed for time. Furthermore, if you forget to set out certain ingredients that are just so obvious, like powdered sugar, the wrath from the chefs and the anxious glares from your classmates can probably send a semi-sane person like me directly into a nervous breakdown. Yes, I was stressed out before class today, and I couldn’t even eat lunch before I got into the kitchen. My co-assistant missed the demonstration, so I was not counting on her to be there, and sure enough, she was absent today. Luckily a couple of girls helped me out, and we scrambled between the upstairs kitchen (bigger, better stocked) and the walk-in fridges in the basement. I got to work the dumbwaiter too, which was kind of fun.

Once class began, and the dough for this “cake” came together, I was slightly shocked. I saw in demo how soft and creamy it looked, but being the person who was doing the creaming by hand was a completely different sensation altogether. This cake batter/dough felt like a cookie dough that didn’t have enough flour added yet. I was a little weirded out as I pushed the dough with the heel of my right hand – it just felt like I was melting butter with the heat from my right palm. Finally I gave up, scraped off all that gooey dough off my hand, and declared it “done”. It wasn’t. There were a few visible chunks of butter, but what did I know then?

When it came time to roll the dough out, I made a few elementary mistakes at first, with the bottom layer. I mean, seriously, imagine trying to roll out a chocolate chip cookie dough that you’ve only added 2/3 of the flour to. Yeah, tell me about it. The chef came by and showed me how the rolling should be done, but I broke the pastry anyway when I put it into the mould. Hasty patching was done, but the dough was so freaking soft by then that I didn’t dare touch it too much (it just felt like it was constantly melting under touch). However, when I got to the top layer, I was much more confident, and I think I did a much better job of keeping my pastry mobile, pliable, and non-crackable (if that’s a suitable and understandable expression). By then, though, I was running a little behind because I had taken some time out to put away the icing sugar, baking powder, and sugar bowls. I decorated the top quickly and threw it into the oven.

This is the nice edge…

Later, the chef critiqued our end product, and mine clearly showed that my dough wasn’t worked enough (the butter chunks created small holes/thinning parts of the pastry as the butter melted away during baking). I also didn’t cut the cake out of the mould cleanly, so a little bit of the edge was missing…and of course the chef found that edge right away. Overall, though, it wasn’t the worst looking thing I could’ve made, but I wasn’t proud of it either. The chef recommended that we rush like crazy in the beginning so that we have more time to decorate at the end, because customers (and critiquing chefs, I believe) buy with their eyes. After this lesson, I think I’m definitely going to start picking up my pace. I’m typically not the last person to finish my pastries, but I’m also at least ten minutes away from the earliest finishers in my class. We’ll see about that, though – next class involves whisking meringues again, ugh.

I’m not super in love with the cake, because it is quite buttery and the addition of pastry cream makes it a little too rich for my liking. However, it is definitely a superb dessert to try if you love the taste of buttery pastries. Since we have devoured that dacquoise completely, I thought it was best for us if this one didn’t come home. The effort to be healthy was half-assed, though, as I picked up a dozen chouquettes from the bakery near the school on my way home…oops!

My friend’s cake, devoured by other students (and us) on the “leftovers” table at school

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