Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dessert Before Breakfast?

Saturday, I rolled out of bed around seven, which was impressive since I usually can't muster that much forward momentum until closer to eight on weekdays. Somehow I managed to get showered, dressed and down to my farmers' market around eight. Sadly, my favorite growers had not arrived or were still setting up, so I made my way down to Jasper sans delicious apple and freshly baked bread.

L'Academie de Cuisine is in Bethesda, so I had a beautiful drive up through the Palisades neighborhood. Man, those houses are gorgeous. I bet their kitchens are huge and sun-filled.

From the outside L'Acadmie looks like a corner bistro with a yellow-trimmed, many-paned bay window. Since I attended the demonstration class, we were set up in a room on the first floor, which was decorated in what I think of as a French countryside palette of soft blues, yellows, and greens, not unlike my mother's kitchen. (Sadly, like myself, my mother has felt the frustration of being constrained by the limited confines of a tiny kitchen). The three-hour class breezed by while our instructor Chef Nichole Ferrigno taught us how to candy oranges, make a flawless caramel sauce and peppered us with helpful hints about baking and entertaining. Most of the prep work and measuring had been done ahead of time by the lovely three assistants, who would have looked more at home at a church bake sale rather than in a teaching kitchen. Frankly, their feathery, white-gray hair and plump grandmotherly appearances were at odds with everything I associate with grandmothers and cooking. Instead of being culinary and cultural experts, waiting to impart generations or knowhow and can-do in the kitchen, these ladies seemed a little uneasy finishing up for our chef as she demonstrated the first few servings of any one dish. I realize my preconceived notions may be unfair and a tall order to make of all grandmothers, but it is what it is. (My grandmothers both hated to cook. Go figure).

The menu was: Mini Cheesecakes with Raspberry Sauce, Apple Spice Cakes with Maple Glaze and Candied Walnuts, Chocolate Brioche Pudding with Warm Orange Marmalade, and Warm Banana-Chocolate Wontons with Caramel Sauce.

The spice cake, I must say, was far superior to my recipe, which is a) not really mine, and b) a total disaster. I'm looking forward to making it on my own.

The cheesecake truffles weren't really doing it for me. Plain cheesecake really has to be something special to get my interested. I must prefer flavored cheesecakes, like key lime, ginger or chocolate. However, I did go to the famous Junior's once in high school. I don't know whether it was having cheesecake with my bacon and eggs that did it, but I seem to remember that experience being pretty kick-ass.

The Brioche pudding - oh my - was so delicious. I have never met a bread pudding I didn't like. It was a little denser than what I usually make, but I invariably substitute croissants for whatever bread is listed in recipes I try. And I have never made a chocolate one before.

The real winner of the day was the Banana-Chocolate Wontons, which were deep fried, covered in a cinnamon-sugar mix, dipped in caramel sauce and embarrassingly elicited a mumbled, but audible, sigh of deliciousness from me. I didn't realize that you could purchase wonton wrappers in packages that look not unlike Kraft Singles cheese slices. This recipe couldn't be easier. Slice up some bananas, bust up some chocolate, stuff it into a little crab-rangoon-looking purse and deep fry for a couple of minutes. (Fry Fest III menu addition?) I think I actually felt the back of my knees tingle on these ones, folks. Whew.

All in all, it was a great class. I'm sure I will benefit from all the little tips and hints the chef added along the way. I think I'll try a few more demonstrations before I go all-in and commit myself to an evening of potential kitchen catastrophe in front of a room full of strangers.

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