Bubbles & Baking on Bastille Day
by Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse
On July 14, 2020, the Bailliage of Greater Washington celebrated Bastille Day with quintessentially French treats – madeleines and Champagne. Well-known chef Patrice Olivon led an entertaining, educational, and delicious evening on Zoom that brought together Chaîne members and guests at a dozen locations in the Washington area as well as in New Jersey, Vermont, and southern Virginia.
Introducing the history of the madeleine, Chef Patrice explained the legend that in 17th century, busy cooks for the king of France didn’t have time to make dessert. A kitchen girl quickly made these little cakes using her grandmother’s recipe, which originated in Alsace-Lorraine. The king loved them, and the chef named them after the girl – Madeleine. They were originally round, more like a cupcake, and a acquired their current shape in the 18th century.
In preparation for the bailliage’s madeleine extravaganza, Chef Patrice personally delivered (or shipped out of the area) everything participants would need, starting with all the ingredients to make madeleine batter and a madeleine pan. Because the batter would need to rest overnight before baking, the chef provided premade batter in a piping bag to bake during the event. The package also included an assortment of the Chef’s glazed madeleines and a bottle of Edmond Barnaut Authentique Rosé Grand Cru Bouzy from the bailliage’s cellar.
As the session began the bailliage was honored to have Bertrand de Boutray, the newly elected Bailli Délègue des États-Unis, join the Zoom conference. It was a great opportunity for members to meet their new national president and for “B de B,” as he’s known, to see the type of creative events that the Washington bailliage is producing while it can’t gather in person.
Chef Patrice proposed – without objection – to begin the class by opening the Champagne and raising a glass to celebrate Bastille Day. He then led the group in warming and tasting several of the glazed madeleine flavors – strawberry, salted caramel, chocolate, cinnamon, orange, and chocolate-coconut. The Edmond Barnaut Authentique Rosé Grand Cru Bouzy paired wonderfully with the fluffy madeleine and their delicious and intriguingly flavored glazes. The village of Bouzy is in the Côte de Noirs, so named for the pinot noir for which the region is known. This delightfully fruity wine is 85% pinot noir, completed with 15% chardonnay to give it finesse. It is known as “authentique” because it is based on the pinot noir, unlike other rosés that have a base of white grapes and are tinted with red. All agreed with the chef – Champagne and madeleines are a superb celebratory combination.
Chef Patrice then demonstrated the technique to pipe his pre-made batter into the madeleine pans. He explained why the type of pan is important – a metal pan, unlike silicone molds, provides the heat transfer necessary for the batter to rise as it bakes.
The gathering baked their madeleines, with the chef coaching them on assessing whether they were done based on color and a springy texture. After a bit of cooling, participants eagerly tasted their fresh pastries with accompaniments that the chef had included – rhubarb jam, which provided a tart contrast to the sweet cakes, and Nutella (no elaboration necessary – who doesn’t love Nutella?).
Next, it was time to make batter from scratch, which, according to Chef Patrice, begins with refilling one’s Champagne flute. He explained the difference between two principal cake techniques – the creaming method, used for madeleines, and sponge (genoise) method. The former uses baking powder to create carbon-dioxide in the batter, generating the fluffy texture when baked, while the latter uses the air trapped in whipped egg whites for the texture. Key to making madeleines, the chef explained, is not to overmix and create gluten, which would make the madeleines tough. Using a stand mixer, creaming the butter and sugar together first, then alternating the addition of eggs and flour, avoids this problem and ensures the delicacy that is characteristic of great madeleines. One trick the chef shared is to add the flavoring (lemon zest and vanilla) by hand after the batter is mixed to avoid it getting caught up in the mixer’s paddle. The batter needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour, but preferably overnight. The next day a quick re-mix will soften the batter before it goes into a piping bag.
Throughout the lesson, Chef Patrice generously answered questions and offered tips for perfect madeleines:
- Cake flour, with less gluten, is indeed nice to use, but his recipe and technique work well with all-purpose flour.
- His glaze is a mix of egg white, 10x confectioner’s sugar, and flavoring. After glazing the madeleines, he pops them into the oven for a minute to set the glaze. He then uses a Microplane to smooth the edges.
- For chocolate madeleines, one can replace about ⅓ of the flour with cocoa powder. (In fact, this cocoa for flour substitution ratio works in any cake recipe).
- The chef prefers higher-fat European style butter and thinks it’s worth the extra expense.
With the madeleine lessons complete, the gathering continued to nibble on the madeleines and sip Champagne while the chef happily answered questions and shared stories from his 40+ year career. Born in Casablanca (Morocco) and raised in Provence (France), Chef Patrice earned his culinary degree from the prestigious École Hôtelière de Marseille and cooked with Michelin two-star chef Jacques Maxim. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1978 and, after serving as pastry chef at Le Palais des Friandises, was the chef at La Maison Blanche for 12 years. In 1991 he was named executive chef of the French Embassy in Washington, a position he held for another 12 years. While working mornings at the embassy, his night job was cooking for President Clinton at the White House, where he worked until 2005. After his tenure at the executive mansion, Chef Patrice became Program Director and Lead Instructor for the professional culinary program at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where he trained and inspired hundreds of chefs in the Washington area and beyond. Chef Patrice is familiar to many across the country from his numerous appearances on the Food Network, where he won the competition series Food Fight and was on the team with former White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib that won on Iron Chef America.
Currently, Chef Patrice has returned to teaching through his on-line Cooking Live series, in which he shares the techniques of professional chefs with amateur cooks. In his most recent venture, Chef Patrice’s is proprietor of J’aime Madeleine, which bakes and ships the petite cakes in a variety of flavors across the country.
Chef Patrice explained how he first discovered his passion for cooking. Growing up in France, both of his parents worked – his mother in a beauty shop just a short walk from their home. His mother occasionally couldn’t get home for lunch, so he would cook the meal for himself and his three brothers and sisters, following her instructions over the phone. After school one day when he was 10 years old, he wanted something sweet. He found a recipe for madeleines, realized that he had all ingredients, and made them as a cupcake. He was excited with the results and didn’t want his siblings to eat them so that he could show his mother. When he arrived at her shop with them, she was immensely proud and exclaimed, “Look what my son made!” Everyone in the shop loved them and Patrice realized, “Wow! This is how you get the girls!” That day he recognized that his cooking made people happy and began doing more of the cooking and baking at home. Eventually his father signed him up for cooking school, formally launching his career. Thinking of this story and his current madeleines business, the chef said, “The madeleine is the first thing I’d done in my life; I think now I’m going to retire by making madeleines. It was writing on the wall. I’m going full circle.”
The chef shared a fun anecdote from his time at the White House. He was working on an early Sunday afternoon and First Lady Hillary Clinton was writing her book upstairs. She called to the kitchen and asked, “Patrice, can you send me a BLT?” “Yes, ma’am. Immediately,” he replied. He hung up the phone, looked at the dishwasher and asked, “What’s a BLT?” The dishwasher looked at him and said, “You’re the chef. You should know,” to which Patrice replied, “Listen, I don’t have any idea what a BLT is!” As the chef points out, they don’t teach BLTs at French culinary schools. The White House butler came down and explained a BLT to Patrice. He thought that such a humble sandwich wouldn’t do for the First Lady so he considered what he could do with ingredients he knew she liked and had on hand. She liked guacamole and he had bacon crystalized in sugar from an event the previous day. He toasted a round of brioche and layered it with tomato, the guacamole, the bacon, and some pesto that he found in the refrigerator. He topped it with another toasted brioche round and piled some mâche on top for the lettuce. Confirming that it did indeed contain the three required ingredients, and that it looked beautiful, he sent it to her. Mrs. Clinton called back and asked, “What the heck is this?” The chef immediately replied, “Oops, well, it’s my version of a BLT. If you don’t like it, I can…” The First Lady quickly interjected, “This stuff is delicious! From now on I want this BLT.” The chef was very relieved, kept his job, and has kept the “Hillary BLT” in his repertoire.
The chef wrapped up the storytelling by describing his experience on Iron Chef as sous chef for the former White House chef. Noting that the competition really is just one hour, he called it “the hardest thing ever that I had done.” With no time for mistakes, he recalls “my 45 years of experience – everything was in that day.” Fortunately, the chef has always worked fast. On the show, he needed to do five sauces, which he produced in just 10 minutes. He admits that he had to take some short cuts, but everything tasted good. Impressed by the chef’s speed, show host Alton Brown began calling him the “Patrice-o-Matic.” He was so “in the zone” during the hour that didn’t hear Alton or even the other competitors call him that name until he watched the show. Patrice ended the story by noting, “We won the show, so that was good!”
It was a delightful and delicious evening of baking, bubbly, stories, and camaraderie to celebrate Bastille Day. Until the bailliage can gather in person once more, these on-line sessions are proving to be a great way for confrères to stay in touch with friends around the region and beyond and to sustain the spirit of the Chaîne.