Monday, January 4, 2010

A Christmas Melody

It's been a busy few months here at Chez Marshmallow, and the next two look incredibly busy as well. Plans almost every weekend for 3 months straight are fun, but boy they tire me out! Lots of things have been churning out of the kitchen here, but at such a volume and pace that most weren't even photographed. I didn't even get pictures of each course of our Christmas dinner!
It consisted of 4 courses:
1: Rigatoni with homemade bacon, shredded brussels sprouts, and seared bay scallops (Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc)
2: Onion tart topped with mixed baby green salad with sherry-shallot vinaigrette and pistachios (Trefethen Viognier)
3: Akaushi NY strip steaks, broiled, served with roasted cauliflower and sweet potato-chard gratin (Del Dotto Cave Blend 2006)
4: Pierre Herme's Melody (Dolce)

We also had my first attempt at truffled brioche, which turned out rather well.

Our fourth course: Pierre Herme's Melody is a rather cryptic statement, so let's throw a little light on the subject. I received a Pierre Herme cookbook for my birthday. Pierre is France's premier pastry chef, and authored this particular book in conjunction with Dorie Greenspan, she of "Baking with Julia" (yes, THAT Julia) fame.
Hubband and I browsed through the book looking for a Christmas dessert and decided on Melody, a multi-layered confection that required days of advance prep. I was ok with that, in fact, it was one of the reasons we picked that dessert. I didn't want to have to assemble something at the last minute.
Melody is composed (Ha, get it?) of a layer of extremely delicate cinnamon pastry, topped with a layer of genoise, a layer of Twenty-Hour Apples, a layer of cinnamon-caramel Bavarian Cream, another layer of genoise, another layer of cinnamon pastry, and finally a decoration of thinly sliced fresh apples brushed with strained apricot preserves.
I began with the genoise, which is a dry cake leavened only by whipped egg whites. It was my first attempt, and came out as only average, but good enough to proceed.
I then worked on the Twenty Hour Apples. Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced, fanned, layered with sugar, butter, and orange zest. Repeat x 8.
Layered, wrapped, and weighted
After baking in an extremely low oven for 10 hours, they come to room temp, and then move into the fridge for at least 10 hours, weighted all the time. They come out as a sort of apple confit, lightly sweet, with a hint of orange. Very nice. The recipe makes about 6 times as much as you need, so we put some of the excess on pancakes, which I highly recommend.
The finished, assembled dessert.

After all the slicing, caramelizing, whipping, chilling, layering, rolling, baking, trimming, and fiddling were done, the dessert was good. It was shockingly light for something with so many components and layers. It was almost refreshing after a long rich meal, but still had enough sweetness to be a good finish.
My true disappointment was with the book itself. Several times during the making of this complex recipe, the instructions failed me, and it was only by experience and MacGyver-ing that it worked out. The directions for making the cinnamon caramel, the first step of the Bavarian cream, were complete and utter hogwash. I tried it his way 3 times, and failed spectacularly each time. I did it my way once, and succeeded. The recommendation for an ice bath to cool the creme anglaise was ridiculous, and caused the gelatin to seize. Furious whipping ensued. Pan sizes were off, thus making it impossible to me to have a truly professional-looking result. Hubband rather enjoyed my complaints, as he felt that being thus challenged was good for me, and interesting for him to watch. I, on the other hand, expected more from a book by Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan. I felt almost as though I was being tested, as if someone had purposely given me a book with incorrect instructions, just to see how I would adapt. I will likely try other things out of the book, and may even make this dessert again, but I will certainly take his instructions with a grain of salt.
How was your Christmas meal?

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