I just finished eating the most beautiful, most delicate desserts of my life. The Institute for Culinary Arts had a visiting chef in to demonstrate some fancy schmancy chocolate a local purveyor is carrying. Chef Sylvain Leroy, who visited the institute, works for the Paris Gourmet and travels some doing these demonstrations, mixing up the mousse that is the lightness of lightness and showing us the proper way to temper chocolate and how to make the best ganache. I am inspired. Mousse and Bavarian creams are things I have not been fond of. It's the gelatin. When used improperly, it is chunky and granular, but now I see that the gelatin allows the mousse to retain its effervescence.
It was a bit exciting to see Chef Leroy (named one of the best 10 pastry chefs in the country by Dessert Professionals magazine!) masterfully play with chocolate, meringues and purees. I struggle so much, making a complete mess of my station in class and at work. In the two-hour demo, he made three desserts whose names are actually quite meaningless to me until described: first was an exotic coconut and mango verrine, followed by a royale blueberry cremeux and finished with a douceur. Right. What are those?
The verrine was pineapple compote base with a coconut mousse filling and topped with mango gelee. Incredibly light and tropical. It tasted so much like Thailand to me. They were a little obsessed with those bubble teas when I lived there and the pineapple compote was a bit akin to a bubble tea, except delicious, whereas those tapioca balls are completely disgusting. But it had the best parts of the creaminess of those drinks.
The blueberry cremeux involved quite a bit of chocolate. He made a chocolate ganache, mixing hot heavy cream and pureed blueberries over chocolate morsels until they emulsified "like mayonaise" as he explained. He had a lavender streusel dough already chilled and ready to go, adding a delicate crunch to the chocolate. He then topped the dessert with glazed blueberries that were just in the absolute peak of ripeness.
The best dessert, however, was the mystery douceur. Let me say this: white chocolate mousse. He mixed the white chocolate with plain Greek yogurt (brilliant), which added just a tiny bit of tang to what can be an oversweet ingredient. The douceur had the same streusel topping and he added some glazed strawberries.
He closed the session with a demonstration in tempering chocolate. As much as baking and pastry is a delicate science, chocolate work is one more step beyond. He explained that the chocolate must be heated to this temperature and the cooled to this temp but not below and so on. My friend Ashley and I were sort of joking and chatting with him in the front row and he asked one of us to volunteer. We looked at each other and I sensed that she maybe wasn't quite convinced, though I'm sure she would have done it. But I just stood up and walked right up there to have him teach me how to make these lace-like chocolate fans. He poured out the melted chocolate on the counter and spread it thin with a spatula. After it cooled and dried a little, he used a bench scraper to quickly pinch and fold the chocolate into strips that then curled into a fan. I was so nervous to try that I couldn't even look up to see how many people were watching the demo. There were about 15 or so students plus pastry chefs from the casinos and some higher end restaurants in town. Fortunately, Ashley grabbed a photo before I screwed anything up or sat down. My heart was just beating beating beating. There I was about to make a fool of myself with chocolate, but it was, of course, fine. He gave me a few tips, and I got to see the chocolate up close. Tips from one of the best pastry chefs in the country. That's a once in a lifetime.
Below are photos from the demo and a few explanations.
Chef Leroy garnishing the tropical verrine with a feullettine, this delicious cookie that is a combination of chocolate, wafers and hazelnut butter. Die.
The blueberry cremeux.
Blueberry cremeux up close
More up close. So pretty.
Strawberry-white chocolate goodness.
Working with chocolate.
Keeping a safe distance.
Ashley stealing the leftover white-chocolate mousse.