Learning Petits Fours

I’m beginning to realise the flaw in this food blogging gig: I can’t actually cook and blog at the same time.  The days when I’m cooking like a maniac, or having people around for dinner, or going to cooking classes – in short, engaging in any of the activities useful for inspiring blog posts – are the very days when I don’t have the time or energy to blog.  I’m not sure there’s a solution to this problem (Cook less? Impossible! Fail to report on my culinary feats?  Highly unlikely…)

Yesterday, in any case, was one of those days.  I cooked, quite literally, from the moment I got up until the moment I went to bed, staggering out to the kitchen at 7:00am to brine my feta, draining my yoghurt, and separate my gourmet  feta curds from their whey, continuing on to attend a full day class in making petits fours, and then rushing back home to make dinner, for guests, after which I stayed up until 2am making a fiendishly complicated and time-consuming lemon meringue curd cake for a work fund-raiser.

Oh, and in between I finished a Louise Edwards romance full of people cooking things, which I plan to review here sometime soon, but you’re going to have to wait for that, and to find out how the cheese turned out, and even for the cake recipe, until I have slightly more time on my hands.

Today, I’m going to write about the Petits Fours class I went to yesterday – the third full-day class I have attended so far at the Savour Chocolate and Patisserie Cooking School.

That is one full-on class.  We had twelve people there, about half of whom were in the food industry – professional à la carte and pastry chefs, apprentice chefs, a woman who is working on setting up a patisserie school in Adelaide and I think another who owns a pastry or cake shop.

Sablé breton with citron ganache

Over the course of the day, we made five kinds of petits fours, all of which included multiple components – there were little profiteroles filled with a lime crême patissière, sealed with tempered chocolate and topped with a caramel glaze; walnut macarons with a chocolate and apricot filling; sablées Bretons (a sort of biscuity pastry) topped with a wonderful lemon ganache and candied citrus zest (the only thing that was pre-made); little rasperry tarts with a chocolate praline glaçage; and little sweets called guineas, that are a teeny tiny friand topped with passionfruit pectin jelly topped with sesame caramel – utterly amazing.

Citron vert chou

It took all of us working together seven hours to get the petits fours done – they were fiendishly complicated and tiny and if I’ve learned nothing else, my piping skills have definitely improved.  There was a lot of piping.  This was a much more collaborative course than others I’ve done at Savour – generally, they put us into groups of three and four and each group works on each recipe, so that by the end of the day, you are reasonably  (and often erroneously) confident in your ability to make the same things at home.

Walnut and apricot macaron

Yesterday’s course, especially after the first couple of hours, was a breathless race to finish all the recipes, with everyone working on different components and hopping in to help with piping or dipping or stirring or depositing as needed – so while I’m pretty confident I could recreate the Sablées in full (a good thing too, because I really liked those), and probably the Citron Vert Choux, too, I’m less certain about the Guineas (I think, though, that my previous practice with confectionery and ability to make friands will see me through), rather hazy on the raspberry tarts (though I think I could manage them), and completely clueless about the macarons – which is a pity, because it was the macarons which seduced me into this class.  (On the other hand, of all the things we made, I liked the macarons least, and there are other classes which are macarons only, and I’ll probably sign up for one of them at a later point.)

Raspberry cream tart with glaçage praliné

In all honesty, I found this frustrating early on – I don’t learn very well by watching and listening, I have to either read a recipe or actually get my hands in there and do it, otherwise I might as well not be there at all, because I don’t take anything in.  But after a while, I went into kitchen-hand mode, and pottered around doing whatever task is assigned to me, keeping my ears open for any tips that might not be on the recipe sheet, and just figuring I’d read everything properly later.  There wouldn’t, in any case, have been *time* for me to really get a grasp on all those recipes at the rate we were going, especially with all the switching between them.

Passionfruit and sesame guinea

Once I realised this, it actually became very relaxing (if a bit physically taxing – 7 hours on your feet can be wearing, and my arms are still aching from all the stirring and depositing of heavy mixtures).  I enjoy playing with food, even when I’m tired, but it does tend to involve a lot of my brain – I spend a lot of time thinking and planning about what I’m making, how I am adapting it, what I need to do next.  To be able to work with food on a craft level, just following instructions and with someone else doing the thinking,  was amazingly soothing. And there is something both exciting and uplifting about creating vast quantities of teeny, tiny sweets that all look absolutely exquisite.

(Incidentally, the above pictures are just my personal swag, after everything had been nibbled on and tasted by everyone, and then the remainder divided between twelve people.  That’s a lot of petits fours…)

All in all, then, it was an extremely enjoyable day.  I’ve got some good recipes to try (though most of them do require special ingredients and in one or two cases equipment which I don’t have), I helped make beautiful food, and I do think I’ve learned some useful things about chou pastry, sablée pastry, and piping.  As a class, it was probably a bit less useful than the other two I have attended there, possibly because I was at exactly the wrong level for it and was just a bit too tired to divide my attention well enough.  This is not a reflection on the instructor, who has run other classes I’ve been in, and was very good about making sure everyone heard everything and got to be involved in as many things as possible, as well as answering questions from the very basic to the quite complex, (the chefs had lots of very good questions, and I think they took a lot more from it than I did) but I think the course might have benefited from being run across two shorter days, rather than one long one, because we were really under a lot of time pressure to get everything done.

Oh, and did I mention that the petits fours were delicious?

They really, really were…

Savour Chocolate and Patisserie School is located in Brunswick, Victoria, and I am very slowly but steadily working my way through all their courses…

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