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The Genoise Also Rises

(post, John Dryzga)

Saturday's class was another excursion into the world of the pastry kithcen.  We would be making a cake, genoise, and try our hands at making puff pastry.  Now that I have a partner again, this lesson took on the air of "The Gift of the Magi" as most of today's recipes we would be working on singly.

Chef Nic jumped right into the demo at 9:30, not even bothering to take attendance.  We would be switching back and forth between making the genoise and making the puff pastry throughout today's class.  He demoed the puff pastry first, as we had to get this started before the heat of eight ovens warmed up the kitchen too much.  The first part of making puff pastry is to create the flour based part of the dough called the detrempe.  This is your basice flour, water and a little butter mixed together and kneaded a bit.  When you reach the desired consistency, you gather it into a ball, cut an X in the center, about halfway through the ball and refrigerate.  We then had to clean our station up and start on the cake.

Genoise is your basic sponge cake.  The distinguishing characteristic of this cake is that no chemical leaveners are used, the rising of the cake comes from the technique used in creating the batter.  Egg yolks are mixed with sugar then whisked over a double boiler until the mixture increases in volume and ribbons are formed.  The mixture is then removed from the heat and whisked some more until the mixture has cooled a bit.  This is done in order to incorporate as much air as possible into the batter.  The flour is sifted into the eggs and gently folded in.  The batter is then poured into a buttered and floured cake pan and put into a 350 degree oven with a stern admonishment to not open the oven for at least 15 minutes.

With out cakes baking away, Chef Nic called us together to demo the next part of the puff pastry recipe.  We had to first prepare the beurrage.  This is basically beating the crap out of chilled butter with a rolling pin until it has the same texture as the dough part.  Once you have the butter ready, you have to rollout the dough in a very specific configuration.  You have to leave the center as is and rollout the four edges till you end up with a cross with a thick center.  You place the butter in the center of this figure, then fold over the arms so that the butter is enveloped in the dough.  You then give this a few gentle whacks with the rolling pin and commence to roll it out.  Once it got about 22 inches long, you folded up the pastry dough in threes like a letter and roll it and fold it again.  We popped the puff pastry back in the fridge to let it rest before the next rolling then faced the disaster that was our work station.  I have not seen so much white powder since "Scarface".  It took a while to clean up since the flour found it's way into every nook and cranny.

Chef Nic then showed us how to make butter cream frosting.  This was fairly involved so Chef had us team up in groups of four to create it.  We had to bring a sugar and water mixture up to 240 degrees.  This mixture was then carefully poured into the a mixing bowl where egg yolks were whipped.  The resulting mixture was whipped over ice until the mixture cooled considerably.  Then a dumptruck backed up and unloaded a ton of butter in.  Well, not entirely true, but a whole lot of softened butter was beaten in.  Enough to make licking the spoon a potentially fatal act.  Chef had mentioned several times during the class that the butter cream had to be used with something else as it was a bit unpleasantly rich by itself.  It was.  It was so buttery, that it was just a step above licking a stick of Land o Lakes right from the fridge.  

While we let the butter cream cool a bit, it was back to rolling and folding the puff pastry.  This, of course was followed by removing snow shovels full of flour from our work area.

Chef Nic call us back together for the final demo.  He donned his Duff from "Ace of Cakes" hat and showed us how to decorate the cake.  As usual, he created a beautiful cake with absolute ease.  He also demoed how to make creme anglaise to serve with the cake.  As if twenty sticks of butter were not enough.  Creme anglaise is basically the base for making vanilla ice cream.  You bring some milk or cream to a simmer with a vanilla bean in it.  You beat egg yolks with sugar then gently pour in the milk.  You carefully cook this mixture until it naps the back of a spoon then quickly strain it into a bowl over ice to stop the cooking before you have vanilla scrambled eggs.

We then had to take our puff pastry to task one more time before freezing it for next week's class.  I'm sure I'll be finding flour in weird places for the next week.

How did my cake come out?  Well let's just say that you can hide a multitude of sins with enough shaved almonds.  It did rise as advertised and it did taste pretty good.  An unaticipated plus to the butter cream is that the cake is very rich, so you don't immediately ask for a second piece.