Gâteau Basque, Pièce Montée and Cat Woman in Gascony!

Rad and I had been enjoying the Gascony Cookery School hospitality, and ended up chatting and supping the odd glass of Rosé until (very) late again, most of the new brigade had gone to bed, I recall Emma was also an occasional ‘night owl’, we were all relaxed in lively conversation, getting bitten to bits by rampant Mosquitoes and putting the world to rights, just what we needed.

We were back at Bernards kitchen the following morning after the regular substantial breakfast, and were going to make some sweet things. There are many amusing moments when what you expect to happen does not! The traditional method of adding Butter to Sugar and creaming, slowly adding Eggs and beating in, nah, Bernards method for making a Gâteau Basque is whack all the ingredients in a bowl and get stuck in with your hands, Rad was up for it, don’t tell David, he is a purist!

Gâteau Basque Is essentially a layered cake, piped into a dish, leaving a gap around the edge as a decent amount of raising agent is used to make the batter rise, it’s light and airy. The top and bottom layers are cake mixture, the middle layer being Jam or almond Cream. It’s utterly delicious and makes a great dessert, or cake to accompany a cup of tea, or coffee and its quite easy to make as you have seen. We all got the chance to practise our piping skills, apparently, I forget to breathe whilst performing this particular activity!

Next was Pièce Montée, in our case a Croquembouche a centre piece used at special occasions, a celebration, I have made one of these before, mind your fingers on the scorching Caramel. It’s a simple, but again extremely tasty affair, small Choux buns, filled with Pastry Cream and attached with Caramel, using a lined cone as a mould.

We could have spent hours making the Choux Buns, making sure they were all the same size and weight, but to save time we had a box of the Buns, pre-made, all the same size, so just had to make the Pastry Cream, make a hole in the base of each bun, pipe in the cream and weigh them again. Dipping the filled buns carefully and placing them in the mould and soon we had our structure, Bernard gently poured the remaining caramel to help fix the interior of the Croquembouche to make sure it was stable.

After a quick break we moved onto savoury, Prune Stuffed Pork, the Prunes were from Agen renowned for the sweet dried Plum that originates from China. We were shown the technique, the Pork was to be cooked very slowly to keep it moist, it was very delicious with the spicy Tomato and Umami Spinach, Cauliflower and Cheese accompaniments.

After lunch we were off touring, a short break from cooking to visit some of the local sites of interest. Condom is lovely, steeped in history and a great place to wander. The town name ´Condom´ is derived from ‘Condatomagus’, meaning ‘old gallic market’. Condom lies on the river Baïse along one of the main pelgrimage routes of Saint Jacques de Compostelle. Because of its location on the riverbanks of the Baise, in the 19th century Condom became the capitol of the Ténarèze region and the access gate to the Armagnac.

There is buckets of info about the area on the internet, and its historic ties with the infamous Musketeers just google to find more or click the Musketeer link on the previous line for some more background.

Larressingle, classified as the most beautiful village in France is like walking back a few hundred years into times long past. It’s peaceful, has lovely old buildings, a simple chapel and the usual tourist shops, although not garish and standout, more subtle and blend in. We had a quick 15 mins to look around, it was quite hot and that was just right before our next planned visit, the one I was looking forward to the most!

Next stop was Château de Cassaigne, where we were going to taste some local, and very special Armagnac. Armagnac is the oldest brandy recorded to be ‘still’ distilled in the world, as far back as 1310. I first visited this Château in 2014, it bought back fond memories of previous weeks at the Gascony Cookery School with fellow foodies.

We had a guided tour of the old Kitchen which was fascinating and the cellars, where maturing takes place and where some VERY old and special (expensive) bottles are locked away, you can see some of them in the middle picture above, we then got to taste the difference between 3 Armagnacs, 10, 20 & 40 years old.

It would have been rude not too, I decided to invest in a 40 year old, it was delicious. Checking up on ’the big brands’ at the airport duty free, the XO (Xtra old, typically between 10 and 35 years) was between £70 – £100 more expensive, the cost of brand and marketing, I was well chuffed with my purchase.

Next stop Romieu a fascinating and very old little town dating back to circa 1082, spot all the cats in the pictures above. We all went for a wander, Rad and I decided to see how many cats we could find, and then got distracted by a coffee vendor, next minute we both had a shot of Expresso in our hands which certainly hit the spot, it was a lovely afternoon.

Romieu has a famous legend related to the cats, they saved many lives, you will find more details in the earlier link below the above picture. We had completed our whistle-stop tour.

So now we took the road back to Bernards for an Aperitif and more food, we had done the cooking so relaxed on the veranda and discussed the days trips and the weeks food, a constant ’what was your favourite’, and ’would you do differently’, like seasoned (excuse the pun) Chefs!

Dinner was the usual delicious, rich, tasty, healthy fare, tonight was Boar pâté, Pâté de tête persillé pur porc, and Foie Gras with Pain d’Epices as a starter, followed by Duck a L’orange. I have always wanted to try Pâté de tête, a rough cut Pâté made with all the edible bits of a pigs head, its extremely tasty indeed, don’t be put of by the cut of meat that is used. Yummo. Dessert was the croquembouche, it went down very well indeed.

……………………..Until next Time………………L8ers……………..