Monday, July 03, 2006

Gateaux Fraisier

The Classic Gateaux Fraisier looks like a fancy summertime chapeau one might have purchased in a milliners shop during the Victorian era. A dreamy, romantic confection, the Fraisier is studded with a crown of fresh strawberries at the base and topped with a thin layer of pale green marzipan. Tucked between are feather-like layers of sponge cake and silky crème mousseline. My Fraisier, pictured here, was prepared last Friday and Saturday for a family gathering to celebrate the return of my brother and sister-in-law to the United States from a teaching assignment in Prague.

As I spent my day off finessing the Fraisier, I was reminded again that French pastry is indeed the confluence of art and science and requires incredible focus. Sponge cake batter must be whipped slowly, and folded ever-so-gently to avoid deflating the final product. And don’t get distracted. My first batch of crème patisserie -- a “light” lemony-yellow custard which is the base for the crème mousseline – failed spectacularly, when I lost my place and forgot to add the cornstarch which is necessary for binding. The result was something that resembled a soupy tapioca pudding.

About a dozen eggs later I was on my way, even though a bit of the custard had burned slightly at the bottom of the pan. It was nothing a quick run through the sieve wouldn’t fix. Once combined with about a half a pound of butter at exactly the right temperature, the crème mousseline was the perfect consistency and ready to be layered.

Chemistry. It’s all chemistry. Not my best subject in high school. I excelled in arts and crafts. I have yet to discover the creator or exact history of the gateaux Fraisier, but I now suspect that if my chemistry instructor had told me that the periodic table was a potential baking guide, I might have paid more attention.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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