The Taming of the Choux – Paris

On April 30, 2012 by Paris_Stilton

When quitting a hard earned, well paid job in the corporate sector after 7 years of study, a good back up plan is always advisable, and my colleagues and friends all agreed that undertaking an international Masters degree was most definitely a respectable alternative.  Although I am not entirely sure a Masters of Gastronomy is what they had envisaged…

I have just completed the first week of my 6 month professional Masterclass of cuisine and pâtisserie at Lenôtre in Plaisir, France. Created in 1971 by the father of French cuisine Gaston Lenôtre, the school offers its students the chance to be taught by a first class team of chefs and pâtissiers including 8 Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, (I had never really understood why the French have a reputation for being ‘unkempt’ until I found myself in the kitchen surrounded by a bunch hairy old MOFs) as well as week long ‘chef’s signature’ courses by the likes of Joël Robuchon and Frédéric Anton.

On our first day we were ushered into a room, handed our full chefs get-up, warned that we would all gain 5 kilos by the end of the 6 months, and told matter-of-factly that being a chef isn’t really a very female friendly profession and perhaps us girls should consider ‘persevering with pastry’.

And on that very French note, we started our introduction to pâtisserie.

First up was the pâte à choux (choux pastry), which is the light fluffy pastry used to make profiteroles, éclairs and the like.  This is apparently the “easy pastry” (lets face it, in the spirit of  bad pastry puns, if there was ever going to be an “easy pastry” it would probably be the tart), however for someone who originally thought it was called ‘shoe pastry’ I am not surprised I encountered a few initial hurdles.  The pastry itself didn’t present too many difficulties, unless of course you were following the English translation of the recipe.  The translations range from the plain incomprehensible (“mix quickly to avoid the creation of a speck”, “melanger the liquid in a leaf to get a crea” or the best “after 2am of cold in 5 degrees to hunt (chase away) gases may keep (preserve) until the next day”), to the rather cute (“place apricots around the tart like ears”), to the downright bizarre (“stir in a pot and then go to China”). 

Incidentally the word for a sieve in French is “un chinois” which unfortunately also means “a chinese person”; needless to say by the end of the first week the poor Chinese girl in the class grew very tired of answering ‘yes I am here’ every time someone asked where the chinois was.

But the real trick lay with the piping bag (which for the record is most definitely not called “une pipe”, as I learned the hard and embarrassing way).  The piping bag must be held in a certain way so as not to overheat the pastry; when finishing a profiterole the nozzle must rest in the middle of the pastry so as to create an elegant apostrophe and not a dog-crotte like catastrophe; and each éclair must be exactly the same length, width and height. Four trays and two piping bags later and I really was about ready to go to China – this was the veritable Taming of the Choux.

The brioche was no easy feat either.  After beating the rather heavy dough mixture on the bench for 10 timed minutes, I decided it was necessary that I become ambidextrous for fear of returning home 5 kgs heavier and with an enormous right arm muscle.
My pre-risen pastry looked much more ‘Paris Brest‘ than brioche if you know what I mean, but they rose to the occasion once in the oven.
At the end of each week we gather our bounty to take home; this week it was 14 chocolate eclairs, 6 chaussons de pommes, a chocolate tart, an apricot pie and 12 brioches.  An awful lot of pastry for one gal – yet somehow, by the end of the weekend, not a crumb of evidence was to be found.

So the question that begs to be asked is, who ate all the pies?


Paris Stilton

«   |   »

Expat France Blog Expat: living abroad - Where Expats Blog Expat Women - Inspiring Your Success Abroad