I bounce along the water front for the start of the week’s classes, pleased that week one and all the uncertainty that went with it, is behind me. I’m a bit more familiar with the basic drill now. I know to leave in time to pick up a takeout coffee on the way or I’ll lose concentration during the demonstration. I know how long it takes me to change out of civvies and get that natty little cravat tied correctly. And I’m getting used to working in a commercial kitchen with a bunch of enthusiastic and committed chefs and would-be chefs.
My aims for this week are to refine my note-taking, write up a more manageable kitchen work plan which I need for each practical session, and take more care in the sessions by slowing down just a bit and not letting the progress of others in the class spook me.
So all in all I have a plan and I’m feeling reasonably relaxed for lesson four, especially as the only dish on the menu today is Quiche Lorraine in the form of one 23cm tart with gruyere cheese and lardons and some tartlets which we are set free to be creative with.
Chef makes the pate brisee, a very short pastry which is made with half quantity of fat to flour. He’s looking for a pastry that’s crisp and crumbly so he works it together slowly and doesn’t overdo it. While it’s resting he cooks the lardons, plumb juicy bacon chunks cut from the best smoked pork belly Le Cordon Bleu can find. The room fills with the smell of bacon cooking. I can’t remember many other Monday mornings being this good.
He gets the tart tin and the barquettes (tartlet molds) reading for the blind baking. He’s using rice. Those ceramic beans won’t do a good enough job of covering the whole tart and won’t get into the ends of the fluted barquettes which are like little boats.
The pastry rests some more while he makes the filling and passes it through the sieve (chinoise) so that it’s as smooth as possible. I suspect that the tricky stuff is done. Once the pastry’s been blind baked, Chef assembles the Quiche by laying lardons and cheese around the base and then gently ladeling in the cream and egg batter plus herbs and seasoning. And he does the same with the tiny tartlets. We are drawling by tasting time.
My thoughts on entering the kitchen after lunch are: don’t overwork the pate brisee, don’t burn the lardons (there’s a little sugar residue still on them),remember shrinkage, follow my workflow plan and try and relax a little and enjoy and at the same concentrate on the importance of the different stages that lead to the production of a great tart and tartlets on time.
At this point it would be a tempting diversion to talk about the history of Quiche Lorraine – although it’s now a classic French dish, it originated in Germany in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule and which the French later renamed Lorraine ……. but the fact is I mess up my quiche big time! My pastry keeps cracking as I roll it. In my attempt not to overwork it I was too cautious when adding the water and it is too dry. The cream and egg batter leak out while it was cooking and I overcook it so that the cheese splits leaving the tart with an oily slick. It’s only a small consolation to me that the tartlets are good. I’m surprised at how gutted I am that my Quiche was not a success, even though it still tasted good.
It’s the kind of day when a chocolate bar (or two) is needed to lift your spirits. But today the comfort comes in the form of Sable Bretons, classic French butter biscuits made by the Patisserie students and topped with quenelles of Chef’s coffee ice cream. I temporarily forget the Quiche.