There are times when all we want to do is give the perfect gift to our loved ones. Whether it would be for celebrations such as birthdays, Easter, Christmas, congratulating them, wishing a safe bon voyage or sending your love when they are sick, a thoughtful present is always nice to receive.
Last christmas I came up with one of those perfect gifts for someone who only enjoys the simple things in life and is extremely hard to buy for- aka my mother. There are only so many dressing gowns, books, chocolates, make up and clothing you can give to one special lady!
As soon as mum opened her gift I realised I had given her the ultimate present- a cooking class with the famous and may I say incredibly good looking French chef Vincent Gadan. We both wanted to master the art of pastry and what better way to do it but to learn from the very best! After being held up in peak hour traffic and literally running to find the place we finally arrived to start our memorable experience.
‘Patisse’ is located in Chippendale and has been operating for over 20 years. The owner is Michelle Guberina and Vincent Gadan is the head chef. As we approached there was a bright green macaroon tower presented in the front window- we knew we had reached our destination. There were about 15 in the class and we were warmly greeted with a few complimentary hors d’oeuvres and drink- lets just say my eye wasn’t on the food at that point in time 😛 Vincent gave us a quick introduction as to what we were going to learn and soon enough the fun began! First we were taught how to make a short crust pastry for each one of our individual quiches to enjoy later in the night. I was intrigued to see what the right thickness was when rolling out our pastry as I always seem to make it either too thick or thin! He demonstrated how to assemble the pastry into the cases by slowly turning the dough so that it fitted evenly with a neat fluted edge. They looked so cute and I could not wait for them to be pre baked so we could add our chosen ingredients. Vincent gathered the excess cuttings of our savoury pastry and showed us how to use the remainder by rolling the dough in small balls and filling them with parmesan. Later in the night he took these cheesy pastry bites out of the oven and offered them around for everyone to nibble on. They were extremely moorish- I seriously could have eaten a bucketful!
While the pastry for our quiche was being blind baked in the oven, we started onto our brioche, which is a type of French sweet bread. For those of you who have not had the privilege of tasting brioche I suggest you either give it a go, find a good quality French pastry shop or if you have the time travel to le Francais and taste it first class as you are definitely missing out! While Vincent showed us the ingredients for our brioche everyone couldn’t help but smile and giggle at the sign in front of the pound of butter labeled ‘LOVE’. The buttery flavour and flakey texture of this pastry is a match made in heaven. Vincent told us to use baker’s four because it is stronger and consists of more gluten. This helps in structuring the pastries light texture. He also stressed to use dry yeast that is fresh to assist in the rising of the pastry. To make brioche it requires you to use a large mix master on full speed attached with a hook instead of a normal beater. The hook creates a different type of friction that twists and stretches out the mixture so that it becomes elastic. While we poured all our ingredients into the massive mixer he told us to listen closely as the dough made a flapping sound, indicating that it was becoming stretchy. Vincent encouraged us all to feel and pull at the dough and everyone was amazed at how bouncy and smooth it was! He separated and wrapped up individual portions and placed them in the large commercial fridge to assemble later.
It was music to my ears when Vincent mentioned that he was going to teach us how to make choux pastry. As a child my father would take me to maths coaching every Friday afternoon. However the highlight was our afternoon tea at the Italian café and cake shop called ‘Pasticceria Mancuso’ located in Burwood, Sydney. We would always treat ourselves to their delicious chocolate éclairs that were heavenly, coated in chocolate and filled with plenty of cream. Lets just say that if it wasn’t for our weekly indulgence I would have put my foot down about math’s tutoring!
I have always been curious as to know how to actually assemble a chocolate éclair. While making the pastry I found the process quite interesting as you have to ‘dessecher’ or dry out the mixture and combine the ingredients well with a wooden spoon until a skin is formed. Immediately you must remove the dough from the heat and using a paddle kitchen beater mix until no steam is visible. Mum and I kept peaking over people’s benches to see if we were doing it right. However with patience and gradually adding the rest of the ingredients our mixture formed a nice glossy paste. Once our pastry dough was refrigerated, Vincent demonstrated how to pipe the mixture onto our mats by slowly forming long tubes that resembled Italian sugary biscuits. I had never done piping before so what better way to embarrass myself and put my non-skills to the test! Thank god his lovely assistant Kate told me a few pointers and while concentrating to keep my hands from not shaking, my lines of dough eventually came out fairly evenly. We soon popped them into the oven and quickly started onto our crème patisserie to fill our éclair pastries.
Big decision was choosing vanilla or chocolate! Mum is a chocoholic and I was keen to try their high quality vanilla bean paste so you could imagine how difficult it was for us to decide on the flavor of our crème patisserie. It was getting late and we started to get peckish so as soon as Vincent gave each group a block of Lindt milk chocolate we instantly looked at each other, laughed and decided on the vanilla. Vincent explained the difference between vanilla extract and bean, informing us that although vanilla bean paste is more expensive, it is much more pure and rich in taste, allowing you to use only half of the quantity required. Adding the vanilla bean paste to our mixture gave off a lovely aroma and as a result we now use it at home when cooking. While making the crème patisserie mum, the man next to us and I were in hysterics. Every time Vincent looked away we would sneak a square of chocolate and quickly pop it into our mouths, pretending not to chew. In the end we polished off the whole block! We both agreed that we had made the right choice of using the vanilla.
Everyone’s eyes fixated on our brioche and éclair pastries as Vincent pulled them out of the oven to show us how to fill each one. Before cooking the brioche he gave us two dessert molds that had different types of edges. We halved and shaped the dough into them, allowing the pastry to rise. Vincent told us to only fill each case half way to allow for expansion and that you can use any molds for the dough such as a loaf tin. He demonstrated how to fill the brioche if you wanted it to be a dessert rather than a bread by cutting it in half, filling the inside with our crème patisserie and decorating the top with small and large sprinkles of icing sugar. The light flaky texture of the pastry with the creaminess of the vanilla crème and hint of sugar was divine.
The time had come to be taught how to assemble the chocolate éclair! Vincent told us to cut three small holes into the top of our long tube pastry and using a piping bag fill the inside of the logs with our crème patisserie. He demonstrated how the crème gives body to the pastry by expanding and filling the areas where it is airy and empty. While piping my éclair I soon noticed the outside of my shell becoming wider, creating a nice consistency. Vincent was kind and gave us each a leopard printed sable to place on top of our éclair’s as decoration. He shared the recipe to make sable and for the rest of our éclair’s we piped a layer of our crème patisserie on top. In the end I got carried away by using everyone’s left over crème patisserie and piped a three-layer coating on top of my éclair pastry. They all laughed including Vincent who described me as the creative one. I must admit we had high expectations about our éclair’s and without a doubt they were as imagined. I took the first bite of my delight and it sent me back to my childhood.
Kate gave us a box so we could place all our goodies we whipped up with extra pastry dough to store and take home. Both chefs led us to sit down at their set table and plated up our quiches, accompanied with a fresh garden salad and wine or any drinks of our choosing. We had a lovely chat and talked about Vincent’s starring on one of the series of Masterchef. For dessert we got served a slice of our brioche we had made in which Vincent deep fried and accompanied with a dollop of lemon curd and fresh raspberries. The crunchiness of the pastry with the tanginess of the lemon custard mixed with the fruit was superb and was a great dish to end the night. The fried brioche tasted just like a sweet sugary donut only much better! We all questioned him as to how he keeps his masculine lean shape as a chef and it was such a surprise when he answered, “You can eat anything and everything- it all comes down to portion size and moderation. If you feel like that extra slice of cake immediately walk away”. Vincent also stressed how important it is too cook at home as you have full control over what you are eating and not what you think you are eating. As a family we have made a conscious effort over the last two years to follow these simple principles, which I think has changed our life dramatically.
Mastering the art of French pastry was definitely a once in a lifetime cooking experience that mum and I will never forget. It was one of those perfect gifts that brings the joy out of life and leaves you talking about it all day long to friends and family. In fact I think everyone we know has an idea about what we think of Vincent Gadan 😛 hehe