The science of French cooking

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How do you cook coffee spheres or milk foam? Juliana Mare shares the highlights and chef’s secrets of the molecular gastronomy class she aced in France!

My French speaking skills don’t extend much further than a simple bonjour or merci so it’s a wonder how I managed to travel solo across France for an entire month.

More miraculous though, is how I participated in not just any French cooking class, but one on molecular gastronomy nonetheless!

Lyon is known for being the food capital of France so experiencing an authentic cooking class in this beautiful city was the number one item on my holiday bucket list.

After reading some very positive reviews about In Cuisine and having the central Tourism Office recommend their class, I visited and was greeted by extremely welcoming staff who upon learning I was a foreigner, ensured I was booked into a class with an English-speaking chef.

That being said, translating molecular gastronomy terms and phrases from French to English is no easy task and sometimes, there is no literal translation.

I applaud the efforts of the chef and other women in my class who tried their very best to make sure I understood the uncommon ingredients and unconventional cooking methods.

For €60, we cooked and prepared four courses, which we got to eat (and by eat, I mean absolutely devour because everything tasted so delicious!) at the end.

 

 

Bonbons de fromage.cheese-bon-bons

Deep-fried gruyere cheese soufflé balls.

Just let this sink in – soufflé is renowned for being light and airy so to fry bite-sized balls of soufflé and still keep the inside perfectly aerated and fluffy is a pretty big deal.

The secret was mixing all the ingredients together with meringue. Yes, this was just as fiddly and messy as you can imagine but worth the extra effort in the end when you get a cheese ball that’s both crunchy and fluffy!

 

Crevettes soufflées aux chips de crevette et yaourt tomate et wasabi.

french-prawn-crackers

Blown prawns with prawn chips and tomato wasabi yogurt.

Prawns are such a popular seafood in Australia so I was excited to cook them in France but I would never have thought to prepare them in the ingenious way I learnt in this class.

While everyone loves a good old prawn cracker from their local Chinese takeaway but did you know you can buy these pre-cooked from the supermarket? They’re small, crunchy discs that you shallow-fry until they pop and grow.

Pro French cooking tip: blitz the un-cooked prawn crackers in a blender to get a crumb. Roll prawns in meringue then coat with the prawn cracker crumbs. Deep fry and watch in awe as the crumbs explode around the prawn!

This is definitely the most fun and exciting way to prepare and eat prawns!

 

Capuccino de topinambour au lait parfumé, jésus de Morteau et chips.

french-sausage-artichoke

Jerusalem artichokes, milk foam and Morteau sausage.

I’ve never attempted to make a jus and have always scolded the judges on cooking programs who say things like “depth of flavour.” That was all before I tasted the Jerusalem artichoke jus that we cooked, strained, cooked again with other herbs and spices and simmered for nearly two hours.

The flavour was rich but not from one particular ingredient. All the herbs and spices were subtle but strong enough to compliment the artichoke and the Morteau sausage, which is a local specialty, added a wonderful smoky flavour.

And the milk foam is exactly what you expect. It was like the froth on the top of your cappuccino but ten times more aerated. While the flavour wasn’t overly exciting, it added another interesting texture to the dish.

 

Tiramisu.

I don’t drink coffee and so have generally avoided this classic coffee flavoured dessert. I can happily say that this dish has changed my mind.

Unlike the traditional creamy and wonderfully sloppy version, the French version featured a Spéculoos biscuit base, coffee jelly, mascarpone foam and coffee spheres (pictured at top).

Spéculoos is a famous biscuit in France; it’s a type of spiced shortbread and is delightfully chewy on the inside, making the perfect base upon which to build a tiramisu. The second layer; espresso jelly is what cuts through the mascarpone foam with a rich coffee flavour.

The coffee spheres were the element that I most associated with molecular gastronomy. We poured small drops of espresso into a bowl of sodium alginate and calcium salt to create the spheres, which held their shape once drained.

What this created was little balls of coffee that held their shape but popped in your mouth, releasing a liquid burst of coffee – it’s hard not to marvel at the science behind this interesting cooking method!

 

A cooking class in Lyon is something I would recommend for every traveller. The cooking methods used abroad are often so different to those we use at home so it’s exciting to learn new skills that you can take home to impress your family and friends with.

I never thought I would get the chance to cook soufflé in France or make a coffee sphere so this experience is one I am delighted to have ticked off my bucket list!

You can read more about Juliana’s French food journey on Peaches & Push Ups or by browsing the #BouchonsandMacarons hashtag on Instagram!

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