Friday, February 26, 2010

Ooh-la-la! French Pastries and Other Tiny Tasties

Our class is now focusing on French pastries and other tiny delicacies used for plating presentation. We've made Madeleines (a small, traditional seashell-shaped French cake), Dacquoise disks (baked hazelnut meringue disks), Financiers (a light tea cake with almond flavoring - pictured above) and Brandy Snap Baskets/Lace Cookies (a light, brittle wafer cookie with a lace-like pattern).

I really liked the Dacquoise disks (pictured left) which are light and soft on the inside with a slightly crispy outside (a little like rice krispies) and not too sweet. You can use them as a base for a dessert by adding ice cream or pastry cream and fruit on top. They are easy to make and you just have to pipe them in a spiral to create the disks, then bake for a very short time — they should look pale like in the photo, not brown.

The Brandy Snaps or Lace Cookies (pictured below) were very tasty too, but with a sweeter flavor than the Dacquoise. They are delicate, yet crunchy like a fragile brittle. When you prepare to bake them, you should use a small scoop (melon baller-size or smaller is good) because they spread out a lot. Place a scoop on your sheet pan and give that one roughly 1-2 inches of space before placing the next scoop in the row. When you remove them from the oven, you have the option of leaving them as flat disks or molding them into a desired shape while still warm.

To create a basket, simply drape the disk over an overturned cup, bowl, salt shaker or whatever else you might have handy. You can also curve them over a rolling pin for a U-shape, make a cone, a tube, or cut/break them into small shapes to add as garnish on a slice of cake or other plated dessert. Then you can fill your basket with ice cream, mousse, whipped cream and fruit or just about anything else you can think of. For added flavor, paint the inside of the bowl with a thin layer of melted chocolate — this also prevents dripping if the basked contains ice cream or fruit.

Although the Madeleines (last photo) we pretty to look at, they were basically like little sponge cakes with a hint of citrus flavor  — not that exciting to me but charming nonetheless. I've never had a madeliene before, so perhaps a different recipe would have a more impressive taste than the one in our books. Much of their flavor comes from browning the butter and adding the lemon zest. To achieve the traditional seashell shape, you will need to purchase a madeleine pan (I've heard the metal ones are better than silicone for getting the shape to come out perfect). Then just dust the tops with powdered sugar and they are ready to serve. They would be ideal to serve at a party since they are bite-size, slightly sweet and impressively cute.

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