exploring petits gateaux

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I took a class at the ICE recently with Chef Chad Pagano called “Exploring Petits Gateaux” (the translation from French is “Exploring Little Cakes”). Chef Chad is currently preparing for the 2007 National Pastry Team Championship held in Nashville this July (which is scheduled to air on FoodNetwork later in the year), so the recipes for the class were originally conceived for possible use for the competition.

Pictured above are some of the cakes created in our class (unfortunately, they were taken with my camera phone, so the quality could be better). The upper left photo features a “Nougatine Parisienne”, which consists of layers of pistachio macaroon sponges, caramelized apricots, and nougatine cream. The sides are wrapped in a wall of chocolate transfer sheet. Creating the various components of each petit gateaux really is a really time-consuming process, so our teams were limited to one creation. I made the nougatine, which is akin to fancy peanut brittle. Timing is key, from toasting the almond slices, to achieving the correct blond caramel color (this took some figuring out!), to spreading the mixture thinly on a sheet to cool. Part of the nougatine was ground and incorporated into the nougatine cream, part was broken in irregular chunks and spared for decoration. The cake was garnished with a layer of melted apricot jam, whole pistachios, nougatine, bubble sugar, and thin slivers of toasted vanilla bean. An exquisite and decadent presentation!

Chef Chad demonstrated some basic sugar techniques, which was a real delight. I have glassblowing experience, and since melted sugar behaves similarly to molten glass, I felt an affinity for the process. The lower left photo is what happens when isomalt sugar is melted in an oven on a silpat covered by another sheet of silpat. Chef Chad added a mere few drops of food coloring to the sugar, which created these amorphous patches of color. We later used the resulting “sugar bubbles” as garnish.

The upper right photo features the “Passionata” — layers of coconut dacquoise disks, passion fruit bavarian, and pineapple filling, glazed with a passion fruit miroir. This was actually my favorite, as I’m kind of on a passion fruit kick right now (the green tea/passion fruit dessert I had from the Sadaharu Aoki Patisserie in Paris got me hooked).

Pictured on the lower right is the “Pralinette” — layers of marjolaine sponge cake disks, Italian meringue, light praline cream, wrapped in chocolate plastic (aka modeling chocolate). The chocolate plastic is rolled with a rolling pin using cocoa powder to prevent sticking, and then cut to size. Once wrapped around the cake, the top edges are folded in to the center. The nest-like garnish was created from isomalt sugar melted with a bit of water. The melted sugar drips from the end of the spoon and once the correct temp is achieved, it can be “spun” by threading the sugar quickly around your hand.

I think this class will definitely keep my inspired for a while. I can’t wait to recreate or modify some of the creations, but first, I’ve got a big baking project this summer that’s been keeping me preoccupied — my first wedding cake for friends!! More on that to follow…

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