Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gourmands/Gourmets in training

Je vous présente ma classe 8B.  Here are the little darlings in my 8B class this year.  They are taking French 2.  I taught them last year in French 7 and some of them were in my 6th grade class for students new to our school.  They have to put up with me, a morning person, either first or second period every day (we have a crazy rotating schedule).  But they handle it well, for the most part, and don't growl at me very often.
This is a crew of cookers and eaters.  We have already tried macarons, those wonderful little almond flour French sensations, four times and school has been is session for only one month.
First, we sampled Parisian Macarons made by ER, using a Martha Stewart recipe-

Beautiful and tasty.

Next up, lovely little pink macarons made by MH, using a recipe from I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita.  MH said she visited Sur La Table and bought a macaron-making kit.  I have a silicon baking mat I purchased at Galeries Lafayette in Rouen a couple of years ago, but I honestly prefer parchment paper.  Maybe I just need more practice with it, though.  The little circles are drawn on it so it is easier to make them the same size.  (How about someone come up with parchment paper with the circles drawn on it??  Maybe I will email the company about that...)

And last, but by no means least, chocolate macarons from LK and AC.  On the same day, no less.

AC's have a chocolate ganache filling (you can never go wrong with that).  LK prepared hers with the help of a pastry chef employed by her parents.  In Durham, her parents are well-known to us eaters.  They own Watts Grocery, Sage and Swift and Hummingbird Bakery.  Chefs par excellence.  I asked LK if her mom's pastry chef would give me a lesson and I am now signed up to take a macaron-making class in October.  Arles Lucy has signed up, too.

Notice how they all managed to get "feet" on their cookies.  Not necessarily an easy task, mes amis.  I have failed at it more than once.

Another day, KC brought in little chocolate cakes for us to sample.  (One of my new 6th graders brought in truffles the same day, so they were photographed together.  I will save the truffle recipe for another day!). 

If you need "real food" to serve before the dessert course, we have also sampled cassoulet, a wonderful dish that I ate in Carcassonne while on sabbatical in 2008.  LJ treated us to that.  

The little darlings reminded me that I can cook for them anytime I wish, too.  Maybe I will soon to repay them for their generosity!

Parisian Macarons

1 1/4 c. powdered sugar + 1 tsp
1 c. finely ground and blanched almonds
6 Tbsp. egg whites (~3 eggs)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350F.
Whisk together confectioners' sugar and ground almonds.
In a mixer, whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy.
Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar.
Continue to whip until stiff, glossy peaks form.
Fold in confectioners' sugar until completely incorporated.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside.
Fit a pastry bad with a 3/8-inch #4 round tip and fill with batter.
Pipe i-inch discs onto prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookies.
Let batter spread out and dry at room temperature.  (Drop the baking sheets on the counter a few times to get the air out of the cookies.)
A soft skin will form on the tops of the macarons after about 15 minutes.
Bake, with oven door slightly open, until the macaron surface is dry ~15 minutes.
Remove baking sheet to wire rack, let macarons cool, then peel off parchment.
Use immediately or store in an airtight container.
Turn macarons so their flat bottoms face up.
Pipe ~ 1 tsp. filling on half of the cookies and then make sandwiches.
Refrigerate for 1 hour.

3 large egg whites
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. (two sticks)  unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces

Whisk egg whites and sugar in electric mixer until stiff and shiny (3-5 minutes).
Add butter, 1 piece at a time and continue mixing until butter is incorporated.
Cover and refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before stirring/spreading.

I Love Macarons

2/3 cup almond meal or ground almonds
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 large egg whites, room temperature and preferably aged up to 3 days
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 280ºF, and position 2 racks in the lower section of the oven. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. If you have time, draw 1-inch circles on the back of each sheet, spacing the circles at least 1/2-inch apart.
  2. If your almond meal is very coarse, grind it with the powdered sugar in a food processor until fine. Sift the almond meal-powdered sugar mixture twice through a mesh sieve.
  3. Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer), and begin to beat on medium-high. When the eggs are frothy, gradually add granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Continue to beat the egg white mixture until glossy and stiff peaks form when you lift the beaters. Gently stir in the vanilla extract. Be careful to not overbeat the meringue (e.g., the meringue takes on a clumpy texture).
  4. Add half of the sifted almond mixture, and gently fold it into the meringue using a flexible silicone spatula. Lift from the bottom, up around the sides, and toward the middle, being careful to not overagitate the meringue and lose too much air. Once the almond mixture is predominantly incorporated, add the second half and repeat the folding motion.
  5. When the almond mixture is just incorporated, you will need to transform the batter into the appropriate texture. Using the flat of the spatula, "punch" down into the center of the batter, then scrape more batter from the sides to the center, and punch again. You will need to repeat this 10-15 times (or more, depending on your arm strength and the beginning texture of your batter) until the batter slowly and continuously drips back into the bowl when you scoop it up with the spatula. Think of the consistency of molten lava. For the best results, punch the batter a few times, check the consistency, then punch a few more times, etc. Do not make the batter too runny or the macarons won't rise as they should, and you could end up with oil stains on the surface.
  6. Pour batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 0.4-inch tip. In a pinch, you can also use a gallon-size Ziploc bag: just snip a teeny bit from one of the bottom corners. Twist and clip the top of the bag to avoid overflow. On your prepared baking sheets, pipe out 1-inch rounds in the circles you drew (remember to draw the circles on the back side of your parchment to avoid ink or pencil stains on your macarons!).
  7. Holding the baking sheet in both hands, rap each baking sheet firmly on the counter two or three times. This smooths out the tops and helps form the "pied" or frilly foot on the bottoms of the macarons. Allow the piped macarons to dry, uncovered, for at least 15 minutes. The macarons should form a very thin, smooth crust where, if you tap it lightly with your finger, the batter will not stick to your finger. If after 15 minutes, the batter is still sticky, let it dry longer. This may take up to an hour on humid days.
  8. Place both baking sheets in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. After the first 2 minutes, open the oven to allow any excess humidity to escape. Halfway through, swap oven racks and rotate the sheets for even baking. The macarons are done when they are baked all the way through and the shells are just hard. Take care to not underbake (insides will still be mushy) or overbake (tops will begin to brown). Remove them from the oven, and cool on baking sheet placed on a wire rack.
  9. When fully cooled, assemble the macarons with your choice of filling. The assembled macarons can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Basic Buttercream Filling

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Just like the basic macaron recipe, the basic buttercream filling recipe can be customized with endless flavors and colors. But don't stop at buttercream! Try jams and preserves (or even Nutella!) straight out of the jar, or whip up a quick chocolate ganache for a decadent spin on the macaron.
1.     Cut butter into pieces, and mash with a spatula until the consistency resembles mayonnaise.
2.     In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then add the granulated sugar, and whisk until the mixture lightens to an off-white and you can no longer see the granules of sugar. Add the milk, and whisk to combine.
3.     Pour the egg mixture into a small saucepan, and heat over low heat, whisking frequently to ensure that the mixture does not curdle or scorch. Cook until the mixture becomes thick and custardy, like pudding.
4.     Pour the egg mixture back into its bowl, and whisk constantly until it returns to room temperature. Whisk in the butter in three batches, add the vanilla, and stir until smooth and all ingredients are fully combined. Pipe or spread onto one macaron half and sandwich between the other.

Natalie's Melting Chocolate Cakes
makes 12

200 g (7oz/ scant 3/4 c.) butter, cubed
200 g (7 oz/ 1 1/3 c. dark (bittersweet) chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
200 g (7 oz/scant 3/4 c) castor sugar (superfine sugar)
4 eggs
1 tsp plain all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 180˚C (350 F˚/gas mark 4).
Place the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate has melted.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl with the sugar, stir with a wooden spoon and leave to cool a little while.
Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture, one at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Finally, stir in the flour and mix well.
Pour the cake batter into 12 mini-loaf pans (or prepared muffin tins) and bake for 12-15 minutes until the centres are set but still a little wobbly.  Turn the oven off but leave the cakes inside for another 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
You can store these covered, in the fridge, for up to 2-3 days.  Take out 30 minutes before serving.

Easy Crockpot Cassoulet
serves 6

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, coarsely chopped
1/4 lb. cooked smoked sausage, such as kielbasa or spicier andouille, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. water
3 cans (15 oz each) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion to hot oil and cook, stirring, until onion is tender, about 4 minutes.  Stir in chicken, sausage, garlic, thyme and pepper.  Cook 5-8 minutes, or until chicken and sausage are browned.  Stir in tomato paste and water.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Stir beans into the chicken mixture.  Cover and cook on LOW heat for 4-6 hours.  Before serving, sprinkle the chopped parsley over cassoulet.  (You could put it under the broiler for a few minutes before serving- without the parsley- to get a crust on the top- the way it was served in Carcassonne.)

When I am Chez Fanny, she serves me cassoulet.  And, of course, in France you can find seriously good duck cassoulet in a can from Castelnaudary, a lovely spot in Languedoc known as the world capital for this specialty.  

Bon appétit to all cookers and eaters, young and old alike!


Vagabonde said...

J’aimerais bien aller dans votre classe pour manger toutes ces gourmandises ! Merci d’avoir visité mon blog.

The Sabbatical Chef said...

Vous serez toujours la bienvenue, Vagabonde! Venez! Je vais utiliser votre blog quand ces jeunes commencent leur étude de WWII. Quand nous irons en France au mois de mars, nous visiterons les plages de débarquement et la cimetière américaine.

MaryJames said...

la cimetiére américaine ou?

Virginia said...

I have a healthy respect for anyone who can make macarons!!! My friend Genie is a master and brought me a huge box once. My fav was pistache with NUTELLA BUTTERCREAM! I died and went to heaven.

I am not a baker so I might just try the cassoulet.
PS Next time you are in Butte aux Cailles visit L'oisive thé. It's right on the main street and is a delightful yarn and tea shop.

The Sabbatical Chef said...

V- I have failed at macarons more than once. They are finicky things. I am excited about taking the class, though. On verra... Thanks for the suggestion. I hope to be in Paris in January.

The Sabbatical Chef said...

Bonjour MaryJames--
We go to the Normandy American Cemetery-- Vagabonde, who left a comment here (and I have since checked out her amazing website) tells me there are several but we go to this one --
The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan was filmed there. We had a young Frenchman from St. Lô as our guide last year. He did a wonderful job with my students.