It’s so much nicer, when it’s brilliant

The quote catches me. I say it and my hand draws up to my lips, I whisper it and my breathe catches on itself. It is a stumbling little brook I skip across on dry stones, the air first thing in a pink morning, walking behind an elderly couple holding hands, catching  bread, peering bread that you have kneaded, rising.

When traveling with my ladies in Alsace France about three weekends ago, we all decided to spend around 40 Euro ($60) for an afternoon cooking class to learn the French art of “making life edible” (a direct quote from a lovely retiree who shared the class with the three of us. The course was a hands on, pleasurable, technique driven (versus recipe driven), cultural experience. Of course, we prepared 4 dishes. All of them highlighted the CHERRY.which, the very charismatic chef picked from his own backyard trees. Here is what I learned:

1) How to brown butter.
It is called beurre noisette.and you’ve got to make sure you are swirling the pan to enhance an even melt. Then, WAIT for a foam. That foam is the most delicious sign EVER. It means

“lean into it..it is calling your nose [I thought he said NAME. which made me giggle!}

Once you smell that nutty aroma, which can take more than 10 minutes, take the pan off the heat and transfer the browned butter into a heat-proof bowl to cool. (he also recommended putting that bowl into another bowl with ice. You can also brown large batches of butter at a single time. It keeps for quite a while in the fridge, or you can freeze it in ice cube trays….

2) I learned a technique of beating..how to quickly make a figure 8 sweep to blend in gentle sauces like a sabyon. Oh! I loved practicing this technique. This sauce, basically a egg yolk sauce, is so lovely, and creamy and delicate REQUIRES a lot of air, in order to properly set up. The chef specifically noted that we needed to start with a COLD bowl. It requires about 65 g of sugar, and 5 yolks and some
liquor, wine or champagne (we used KIRSCH, cherry flavored!). and it is brilliant…..so much more nicer, brilliant than whip cream in a can). This was the point where my eyes must have been sparkling a little. Proud that I MADE some so….imperfectly brilliant. Undiluted joy.

3) How to make perfection. Better then as caramel chocolat au lait.

“oh! I am so sorry for you. Once you know how, you’d be sorry to know how beautiful it is.”

The 4 final dishes

And yes..the memory of this taste makes my toes curl a bit (and my visions of a vegan lifestyle sink….are there French vegans?).

Now…caramel and I have a touchy relationship. I am sure she would have broken up with me a long time ago. I have somewhat developed a stalker relationship with it. But, she always tends to burn me. Or slip away before I meet here.
Which is why I cherish it so.
When someone tells you that it is fool proof, label them as a liar STRAIGHT AWAY. Yes, essentially it is melted sugar. And Sure, all it takes is melting it..We practiced the DRY method, and it takes finesse. And a careful eye. Two things that don’t come all that easily to this Special K.

With the chefs help, however, I had her this time. The secret lies in ..DON’T STIR THE PAN. Lean into it, and patiently watch this sugar….

For 6 servings, we had about 6 ounces (175 grams) of sugar in a medium sized saucepan. Over medium heat you just LET IT SIT for about 6 minutes (A LONG time) and then you’ll see it turning all liquidy on the outside. Then, quickly JUST SHAKE IT.I was FASCINATED at this point. You just let the minutes tick by.until about at minute 10, when a lot of it looks brownish, and with a wooden spoon.

Think about it this way….it is chemical

The Maillard reaction and caramelisation are both non-enzymatic browning.
Non-enzymatic browning is responsible for colours (brown tones) and
flavours (subtly burnt).
As a result, chocolate and caramel are made to go together, highlighting each other’s nature….

You are meant to be mine!

4) “Quality Control”

As the chef lead us that day, from time to time he would announce “quality control” and would encourage to swipe the finger in this or that, and savor the moment: The minute before you blend this into that and create an us.
Cherries soaked in liquor. The crème egg mixture, and almost compulsively, pate de pistache.
I’ve always known that I am a sampler, but this day, I controlled the brilliant quality of it all.

Oh, how that day I licked my weight in that green pate. The taste is like falling in love, tempered in the sweet vulnerability of almond in the background and the allure of that green nut. It almost makes you go a little crazy, that fervor,
the taste of poetry, pentameter form.

When I first went up to place it in my mouth, our new friend URGED

Don’t do it! You will become DEPENDENT!

Oh, maybe not dependent, but brilliantly devoted, yes.

My life is quite nicer….


2 thoughts on “When it’s BRILLIANT

  1. Brilliant post! You totally captured the experience, although maybe it’s a little easier for your words to take ME to the moment. Such great memories! I laughed as I read all your quotes since I could hear them coming out in those French accents. Quality control is a must! It’s a habit I aim to practice each time I am experimenting in my kitchen.

  2. I’ve always wondered what it means to brown butter…but more importantly, I love that you took the time and spent the money to find out!

    I need to learn more about QC. 🙂

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