Sunday, February 27, 2011

Practical Exam: Piping

In Tuesday's Candies & Confectionaries class, we had our practical exam. The objective of the exam was to demonstrate consistency in piping ornaments out of royal icing. We had 8 sessions, each lasting 20 minutes each, where we had to pipe 25 of the same ornament in 5 x 5 rows as consistently as possible.

For the first three weeks of the semester, we were instructed to trace and draw these ornaments only, so we could practice the shapes. Basically, each ornament is made from one continuous line. You start by drawing the tallest point and working smaller, so that each piece ends where it began. Here's a picture of the ornaments:

We turned in a homework assignment on the drawings, and then were instructed to begin practicing with royal icing or toothpaste, which is a similar consistency. Chef demonstrated how to properly pipe each of the ornaments on this day:

You can see that the line of royal icing is quite thin and the ornaments are only about 1.25 inches tall.

In class about three weeks ago, we had about 30 minutes to practice and get some feedback from Chef on our skills in this area. Needless to say, at first, my piping was super disastrous. Chef gave me some good pointers, and the old athlete/competitive side kicked in, and I felt energized to come home, practice, and be able to do this.

Over the first week, I set up four practice sessions for myself, ranging from 1-3 hours apiece. In that first week, I made significant progress and was beginning to get into rhythm with five of the eight ornaments. During the second week, I didn't have as much time to practice, but I could see my progress on the five I felt comfortable with, and was starting to get a grip on the sixth, but couldn't get anything going for the last two. Because of that, I was starting to feel frustrated and annoyed. When I feel like I'm lacking progress, I easily turn negative and start hating things based on principle. So I spent a few days stewing over this whole thing, until I finally realized I had to just get over it.

During class on February 15, we had a 20-minute practice session. Chef told us in advance that we'd have a practice session, and he'd walk around with us as a class and explain to us how he would grade each student. He told us a few weeks ago that each round is worth 100 points. You earn 4 points for each ornament. If you fail to pipe 25 ornaments in the round, you lose 4 points per ornament. If you pipe all 25, then he grades you on consistency. I thought about all of this information, and came to the conclusion that the ornaments don't have to be perfect - the goal is to pipe 25 of them as consistently as possible. During the practice round, I motivated myself to use this strategy, and it paid off. This was the correct approach. I scored the best overall during the practice round, so I felt pretty good about my progress to that point. I also let go of my frustration from the previous week, and felt positive I could do well during the practical exam.

It also helps that I've let go of trying to do things perfectly. I know some people don't believe me, but I am no where near the perfectionist I once tried to be. The truth is, I really try to excel at mediocrity; it's one of my life mottoes. By that I mean, I'm never trying to be an overachiever, but I'm not trying to be worthless either. I want to be average, or above average really, with the goal of consistently doing a good job. I felt that this practical exam was set up for this mindset - be consistent to do well enough. It also helps that I consciously reminded myself that a month ago, I could barely do this, and because of all of the practice, I made significant progress and improvement, and regardless of a grade on an exam, this is the ultimate goal - to keep getting better with my pastry skills.

So, I was feeling confident going into the exam, which would last about four hours. We began class with a short written exam, and then set up for the piping, each preparing a bowl of icing, cutting parchment triangles (which is what we make pastry bags out of), and whatever else we needed. Chef had a bag full of 18 different pieces of paper - some of them had the number of an ornament, while others had something else. Chef wouldn't tell us exactly what to expect on the others so it was all in the name of surprises.

He selected a student to draw the first ornament, which was one I felt confident with, so I was glad getting this thing going. I felt good during the first round, and I ended up scoring the highest. With this, I got to select the next ornament. I stepped up to the bag, and drew the paper which read: "You're going to have to do better than that, pick again." That's not really an exact quote, but it was something like that. I next picked: "Each student receives 2 points added to their final average at the end of the semester." That's pretty killer, and beneficial for all. And as if scripted perfectly, then I drew one of the two hardest ornaments for me. Figures, right? So off we went.

I survived the next two rounds as expected, and ended up scoring the highest on the fourth round. I selected the paper which read: "Add 100 points to every student's score." So that's huge, particularly if you're struggling. People seemed pleased with my pick. Good times. After the fourth round, though, my right hand - which is my predominate piping hand - was starting to hurt, so I had to battle through the remaining four rounds. Seriously, my hand hurt, and it made it a bit more stressful because I couldn't get into my usual rhythm. But overall, I accomplished what I set out to do, and remained consistent throughout. I was extremely pleased with my performance and effort, not to mention my general progress in this skill area.

Some of you might read this and think, "Carol, I have no idea what you're really talking about, but it sounds kind of insane." The truth is it is kind of insane. For a while I was equating this exercise with some sort of pastry school torture. And it could be torture for those who choose not to practice. Seriously, it could be an extremely frustrating couple of hours if you're not prepared. I still think it's a strange exercise on one hand, but I have come to value it on the other hand - it really forced me to practice the skill, which I wouldn't have been so serious about without the incentive. I may have said this before but one of the biggest motivators for me in school is trying not to look and therefore feel like a failure in class. I can feel bad about myself at home all I want, but in school, I want to put the best foot forward and demonstrate my work ethic, and strangely, this was one crazy way to do it. We'll be piping more at the end of the semester for a creative project so I'm sure my hard work will have a great pay off.

Blueberry Jelly & Strawberry Pistachio Tart

In Jams & Jellies on Monday February 21, we made our first jelly of the semester. To recap, up until this point we had been making jams. The difference is this:

A jam is a fruit gel made from fruit puree and sugar (where the fruit puree can come from fresh or frozen fruits).

A jelly is a fruit gel made from fruit juice and sugar (where the fruit juice can come from fresh or frozen fruits).

The process for both is basically the same; the difference between the puree and the juice results in the different texture in the final product.

I can't remember if I have said much about using fresh or frozen fruits to make these products, so let me say a few words. The gelling agent in fruits - pectin - is stronger when the fruit is closest to being most ripe. When choosing fresh fruit for preserving, it is best to use a product that is as ripe as possible or slightly under-ripe to ensure the best levels of pectin. A product that is over-ripe may see decline in the gelling capacity. You could even choose to use a combination of ripe and under-ripe to ensure the best results. Frozen fruits are equally as good in this case because they are frozen at the peak of their ripeness; this is actually a way you can sort of control the ripeness. In general, though, frozen fruits can have just as great results are fresh fruits.

My group made blueberry jelly, and we did this using frozen blueberries. We first brought them to boil in a pan and allowed them soften over the heat for 10 minutes. Once soft, we placed them through a sieve to remove the pulp; to ensure only juice, we then strained them through cheesecloth, being careful not to squeeze the cheesecloth because this could result in cloudiness in the final product. We allowed the juice to strain on its own through the cheesecloth. Once drained, we returned the juice to a pot with sugar, water, and lemon juice to make the jelly as usual. This product had no pectin added.

The other groups made peach-lavender jelly and red wine jelly using similar methods. Once the jellies were completed, some were jarred and others were placed into containers for tasting. It's usually at this time during the class that we have "snack time" and we cut up some bread to sample each of the jellies. Yes, I said snack time - just another way in which culinary school is quite fun.

Here's a random picture I took during class. The jelly was so clear I noticed that I could see my reflection in it, so here's a photo of my face reflected in the blueberry jelly:

The goal of the night was to use the blueberry jelly in a tart, but the fresh blueberries for garnish did not arrive with the shipment, so we improvised. Instead, we used strawberry jam from a few weeks ago. We made a simple tart dough which was completely blind-baked. Once cool, we spread a thin layer of melted white chocolate onto the bottom and sides of the tart shell. We filled this with a pistachio flavored pastry cream, which is pretty delicious and has a fairly unique color. We then had the flexibility to garnish with strawberries, pistachios and/or white chocolate however we wanted. This is where we basically have "play time" or "creativity time" in class. Did I mention how much I love culinary school for these reasons? Anyway, I really liked my circular idea for my strawberry garnish, but I felt it needed something else. After some experimentation, Chef taught me a technique with the white chocolate, and I think you'll agree the result looks great. I also added some crushed pistachios for the final element in the garnish.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tea Party

In Petit Fours on Friday February 18, we made products that could be served at a traditional tea party, since tea parties are one of the most popular events for putting out different platters of savory and sweet petit fours. The products we made also have tea components to them so the tea theme is doubly infused. We made an opera cake, matcha dacquoise fingers, scones, and madeleines. Because there were four recipes and there were four group members, we each began executing a different recipe to divide and conquer the workload.

I had the recipe for the opera cake, which was flavored with earl grey tea and mango. The first thing I did was prepare a genoise cake with earl grey tea. In a food processor, I combined cake flour, cornstarch and the tea in order to get the tea into fine particles. I then warmed eggs, yolks, vanilla, salt and sugar over a pan of simmering water to 100 degrees F. After this hit the temperature, I placed these ingredients into a mixing bowl and whipped them to ribbon stage. This is called the warm egg foaming method. The flour mixture was folded in, and the batter was spread onto a sheet pan to bake.

In the meantime, I prepared a mango mousse using gelatin, mango puree, sugar, and heavy cream. I also located vanilla buttercream and vanilla simple syrup. After the cake cooled, the opera cake was assembled: genoise layer, simple syrup, mango mouse, cake layer – freeze for 20 minutes – simple syrup, mango glaze – freeze again. Mandy had the pleasure (sarcasm noted) of cutting this into 1 x 1.5 in rectangles for service. I say sarcasm noted because the cake was quite spongy and slightly uneven, so the rectangles wouldn’t always stand upright. Madness.

Matcha is green tea powder, and it was a component for a dacquoise finger, which is basically a piped meringue. These were topped with buttercream ropes and raspberries. The scones were made with the traditional flavor of currants, but we used a portion scoop to make rounded scones instead of the more traditional triangles. And finally, the madeleines were prepared using a brown butter base (deliciousness) and the traditional molded pan. After baking, these were dusted with powdered sugar.

For this week’s plating, we had to prepare four identical smaller plates instead of two larger platters. And here’s what we came up with for our presentation:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Best. Week. Ever.

So, the major reason it has taken me a while to get caught up on my posting is due to a volunteer commitment I was fortunate to be a part of last week, from Monday February 14 through Thursday February 17. A few weeks ago, Chef Jeff Alexander approached me and asked if I would be interested in being a student assistant for a cookbook photo shoot. Um, hell yes I'm interested! Seriously. How could I not be interested? The opportunity to participate in something like this, no matter what type of role, is not an opportunity that knocks on your door on a regular basis. Knowing this could be a once in a lifetime experience, Chef Jeff helped me put the ball into motion. I reached out to the author via email, and she responded quickly saying that my availability would work for her, so I was signed up and ready to go!

The author's name is Virginia Willis, and she is seriously one amazing woman. As I normally would before new experiences, I tried to gather as much information as I could before showing up for this assignment. With the help of Google, I found Virginia's website and read about her background, her company, her first cookbook, and the upcoming cookbook, which is called Basic to Brilliant, Y'All: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company. I also headed to the downtown library to look through her first cookbook, which is filled with great recipes and equally great stories. I was starting to feel a bit awe-struck in thinking about spending time with a woman who is so very successful, but I was also excited about meeting her and learning from her.

In her email, Virginia mentioned that her friend and colleague, Gena Berry, would serve as the kitchen manager for the shoot, and the volunteers would be spending most of their time with her in the kitchen, preparing the dishes for the photos. Again with the help of Google, I found Gena's website and read up on her background as well. Gena is equally as amazing as Virginia, and so my awe-struck feelings had returned. Again, I was feeling excited about meeting Gena as well, and spending time with her in the kitchen where I was sure I would learn tons of new techniques and strategies.

I also took some time to gather information on the photographer, Helen Dujardin McSweeney, who lives in Charleston. I knew of Helen previously because she was a pastry chef in town for a number of years and she writes one fantastic blog. Her stories and photos are absolutely amazing so I knew this would be one exhilarating experience.

In the days leading up to the experience, I was balancing tons of emotions. I was extremely excited to even have the opportunity to be a tiny part of such an amazing experience. I was excited to meet these wonderful people, and the rest of the crew, and observe them doing the things that they love and are so passionate about. I was curious about what the days would be like, what the process would be like, what the schedule would be like, and I was trying to figure out how everything comes together. I was also thinking consciously about myself and my approach to this situation. It meant a great deal to me that Chef Jeff recommended me for this experience; I knew that he had to recommend a student that he had faith in, who would show up to the experience and represent him and our program in the best way possible. I also knew that I couldn't let him down, so the stakes were high. I ultimately decided to approach the situation like I would approach a job interview (which I sorta feel like an expert in given the last few years of my life).

My approach included the following: I showed up on time with my tool kit, I listened to instructions and asked for clarification when necessary, I asked a lot of questions, I worked hard and kept a clean work environment, I observed opportunities where I could learn new skills even if it wasn't something I was working on directly, and I generally tried to soak in as much as possible.

Throughout the four days, I worked in the kitchen with Gena. She assigned me recipes and tasks to complete, which included things like lemon filling for a lemon meringue pie, three cake layers for a caramel cake, peach pancakes, a bouillabaisse, financiers, and components for other dishes. I had the opportunity to shop with Gena for ingredients for the recipes so I learned more about purchasing the supplies for the dishes. I helped prepare lunch which was a combination of the dishes that were being used in the photo shoot. Gena taught me how to break down a duckling which was used in one of the dishes, so I learned some specific culinary techniques. And in between, I had the chance to observe how the props were set up for each of the photos. But most of all, I had the opportunity to observe and soak everything in. The whole week was choreographed beautifully - each person had a specific role to fill and the timing came together to allow for success during each step of the process. It really was fascinating to observe.

I'm not even sure the words I have written thus far truly capture the sentiment and emotion I have for this amazing experience. I am overwhelmed in such a great way with respect, honor, and privilege to have worked alongside such amazing women for a few days, and I will remain forever grateful and appreciative of their kindness in teaching me and opening up this experience to me. I am also truly appreciative of Chef Jeff's confidence in me, and his willingness to put his faith in me that I would represent him and our program well. I hope I have made each of them proud.

Virginia's cookbook will be released in September, and she has plans to have launch events in Atlanta and in Charleston. I'm so looking forward to the chance to attend the Charleston event and I can't wait to see the finished cookbook. The suspense is already crazy! And because I had the chance to eat some of the dishes, I can tell you that the food is absolutely delicious. Virginia's first book is definitely one to add to any collection, and her second cookbook will be equally amazing. I'll be sure to keep you posted in the future on these events.

I'd like to take a moment here and say thank you again to Virginia, Gena, Helen and the rest of their crew for their amazing kindness and for everything they exposed me to and taught to me. It was truly a privilege.

I'd also like to take a moment to thank Chef Jeff for his recommendation and for opening the door to this experience. And I have to thank Chef Laura for allowing me to miss her class one night to be a part of this experience. (I hope you enjoy the post!)

And finally, I want to say a few more things. Overall, this is a defining experience for me. It took me a long time to make the decision to even attend culinary school, and I feel like all of the emotions I've experienced since August - the ups and downs of managing my way through this chapter of my life - were all worth it because they led me to this amazing experience. I try so hard every day in school to be the best student I can be - and to demonstrate to others that I come from an amazing family and have amazing friends who have helped shaped me into the person I am today. And so I find it appropriate to say thank you, not only to the women I worked alongside last week and the Chefs who helped make this happen, but to everyone out there who has supported me on this journey. I promise to repay each of you someday with dessert ;)

For more information:
Virginia's website:
Gena's website:
Helen's website:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Molded Chocolates

I know that I am way behind on my class updates, but I have really good reasons for being behind, which I'll be blogging about soon. I'm hoping to get caught up in the next few days. So, here's a start.

In my Candies class on February 15, we had our last full day of chocolate production. The theme for the class was molded chocolates, another way of producing filled chocolates. Chef had a gigantic box full of various molds made out of PVC; we used cotton balls in each of the molds which creates static and aids in the chocolate's shine. We prepared ganache with different liquor flavorings and tempered dark, milk, and white chocolate as usual, before beginning production.

To use these molds, we piped one form of chocolate to aid in decoration; this is piped onto the bottom part of the mold but becomes the top of the actual chocolate candy. After that set, we filled the mold with a different type of chocolate, turned it over, and allowed the excess chocolate to run out; this created the shell. Once this set up, we piped in the ganache. And finally, after the ganache set, we closed the pieces by pouring chocolate over them and then scraping away the excess. After proper time to set, the chocolates release from the sides of the mold and can be removed. Here are some photos of the finished products:

This picture shows a good variety of the milk chocolates:

This picture shows my favorite shape, the one that looks like a pineapple, in dark chocolate:

And here's a picture of a few that Chef had boxed up for an event:

This production concludes our chocolate work for this part of the course. We have a practical exam next and then we move on to other confections. I need a break from chocolate; like I said previously, it's not that I don't love it, because I absolutely could be considered a choc-o-holic, but it's been six weeks of this type of production and I'm ready for some new mediums. The rest of the class is going to be really creative, so that's something fun (and challenging) to look forward to for the remainder of the course.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Roasted Pineapple Frangipane Tart

Can we say total deliciousness? There are so many great things to tell you about last week's Jams and Jellies class. Yes, it was Valentine's Day, and for me, it was pure baking love. Frangipane, I love it.

We began class by creating a basic tart dough, using the creaming method. We creamed sugar and butter until smooth, then slowly added room temperature eggs, and then incorporated pastry flour. The tart dough was refrigerated, which helps the gluten relax.

Next, we prepared pineapples for roasting by cleaning the pineapples and covering them in a mix of brown sugar, ground pepper, salt, and vanilla bean. We then poured dark rum over them and placed them in the oven, basting them every 15 minutes and roasting for a total of an hour.

We then made pineapple jam and apricot jam, using similar methods to previous weeks through the use of liquid pectin.

And lastly, we made frangipane, which is one of my absolute most favorite things. Frangipane is a filling made from almond paste, butter, sugar, yolks, vanilla, ap flour, and almond flour. It has a creamy texture that is sweet and absolutely wonderful in flavor. I have loved it ever since we made Pithiviers last semester in my Laminated Doughs class.

We sliced the roasted pineapple and began assembly of our tarts. We first rolled out the tart dough and placed it in the necessary pans, docked the dough with a fork and placed it in the refrigerator to again relax the gluten. Anytime you roll out pie or tart dough, it is important to refrigerate it to give the gluten a chance to relax - this helps the dough keep its shape during baking, rather than shrinking. When it was properly chilled, we piped a layer of frangipane, placed the sliced pineapples in some sort of artistic display, garnished with sliced almonds, and set them off to the oven to bake. When ready, we glazed them using the apricot jam, which was thinned down slightly with water. Here's the final result:

Did I mention it was pure deliciousness/heaven in a bite? Love.

Friday, February 11, 2011


In today's Petit Fours class, we made an assortment of confections. Confections is a broad term, and contains a variety of items which usually contains a decent amount of sugar. For today's platters, we made marshmallows, Charleston Pralines, soft salted caramels, and raspberry pate de fruit.

We've made marshmallows before, but this time, the process went much more smoothly, which is nice considering marshmallows are sticky and sometimes sticky batters are difficult to shape. My group made marshmallows without egg whites. We began by blooming gelatin in cold water. We heated sugar, water and honey to 245 degrees F. When this mixture cooled to 215 degrees F, we added the bloomed gelatin and whipped the mixture to soft peaks. We then folded in the vanilla and placed the mixture on a sheet pan to set up. Once set, we used a guitar to slice the marshmallows into squares.

We next made Salted Butter Caramels. We did this by boiling cream, butter and salt in a saucepan. In another pan, we cooked a dry caramel by combining sugar and glucose, and heating it to 293 degrees F. We combined both mixtures and cooked until 250 degrees F. We poured this into a baking frame. After this set up, we sliced the caramels into squares and some into triangles. These were exceptionally chewy and had that great caramel texture that sticks in your teeth, just the way I like them.

To make Pate de Fruit, we warmed fruit puree to 120 degrees F and then added sugar and powdered pectin. After 1 minute boiling time, we added glucose and additional sugar and cooked this to 223 degrees F, where we added citric acid solution. My group attempted to make Blackberry Pate de Fruit, but our candy thermometer wasn't working properly and our mixture cooked too long and the product became hard and un-usable. For the groups who didn't have these problems, their raspberry pate de fruit was sliced into squares on the guitar as well.

Charleston Pralines were made in one large batch by heating pecans, sugar, butter, buttermilk, salt, baking powder, vanilla, and corn syrup to 240 degrees F. When the sugar crystallized, we used spoons to portions the pralines into bite size pieces. These were definitely delicious.

As we do each week in this class now, we displayed our confections on two different platters, which we present to different groups within our building. It's also nice because there's a culinary class that plates their dishes at the same time, so they provide us with lunch around noon and we provide them with dessert. It's somewhat comical because the culinary class is comprised of all males students while my class is all female students (except for one). We gather in their kitchen to eat, and it reminds me of a middle school dance, with men on one side of the room and women on the other.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fruit Mousse Torte & Chocolate Mousse

In Tuesday's Advanced Bakeshop class, we focused on the topic of mousse; a mousse can have a variety of applications from cake fillings to cakes themselves to frozen/chilled desserts. We worked on two different applications.

The first product, which composed the majority of class time, was preparing a Fruit Mousse Torte. We began by making a biscuit joconde - almond sponge cake; the batter was spread thinly over a sheet pan and baked. Once cooled, it was cut into four pieces and layered with raspberry jam, and then cut again into 2 in x 1/2 in pieces. We next made a genoise - sponge cake - which was baked, cooled, and sliced into two rounds.

To begin assembly of the torte, we lined a 10 in cake ring with acetate and then began placing the layers of raspberry jam/joconde around the edge of the pan. We next placed a layer of genoise on the bottom, which looked like this:

We next prepared a raspberry fruit mousse which contained raspberry puree, whipped cream, sugar, egg whites, corn syrup and gelatin for structure. We placed the mousse on top of the first genoise layer, then placed down the second genoise layer and again covered it with mousse in order to level it with the top of the cake ring:

This will set up until next week, when we will unmold it and cover the top with glaze.

To prepare the chocolate mousse, we whipped cream to medium peaks, made an Italian meringue from egg whites and sugar, melted chocolate, and whipped yolks with sugar. Once the components were prepared, we folded the yolks and meringue together, then folded in the chocolate, and then folded in the whipped cream. Something was off with temperature, because the chocolate became slightly chipped during the process. It still looked pretty and tasted great, however, so we portioned the mousse into serving cups and placed them in the refrigerator to set up.

Finally, we ended class by cutting the cheesecakes from last week, which were quite delicious. The chocolate mousse and the cheesecakes were going to be served at a campus event later in the week:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Krokant = Nougat

The Europeans call "krokant" what Americans call "nougat" which specifically refers to a product made from caramelized sugar and nuts. In this case, we also included chocolate, and in Tuesday's class, we made three different types of krokant. The Chef who instructs this course is German so this is one of the reasons why we refer to these items as "krokant."

The first type we made is called Almond Blaetterkrokant, or Almond Leaf Nougat. I honestly don't fully understand the "leaf" part of the term, so that's all I have in describing these terms. For this recipe, we melted sugar to caramelize it; sugar begins to change to a light brown color around 325 degrees F while it becomes a darker caramel around 360 degrees F; we don't actually measure this with a candy thermometer, but instead examine the color, careful not to burn it. Sugar burns are the worst burns imaginable on skin, so it's essential to be careful when working with sugar and caramel. As the sugar was heating on the stove, we warmed a marble slab and created a well with the almond/nutella mixture. The caramel was poured into the well of the almond/nutella mixture, and I used two oiled bench scrapers to quickly and carefully incorporate all three ingredients together. This mixture was then placed between two oiled pieces of parchment paper and rolled with a rolling pin to a thickness of 1 cm. After cooling, we worked to cut these into 1 inch squares which were then dipped into dark chocolate. As you can see in this photo, some of these were imprinted using a dipping fork with three lines; this is a technique used by chocolatiers to denote differences between chocolates:

The second type is called Soft Krokant. To make this, we first softened marzipan by kneading heavy cream, cinnamon, and vanilla into it. Butter, glucose and sugar were melted on the stove, again to 360 degrees F to become caramel. The caramel was poured over almonds, warmed heavy cream, and pieces of the marzipan and mixed until incorporated into a filling. Again, we rolled this between two oiled pieces of parchment paper to 1 cm thickness. Once cool, we covered one side with dark chocolate; after this set up, we cut 1 inch squares, and practiced a new technique for dipping them into dark chocolate:

The third type of nougat was Fruit Krokant. We melted the sugar again to caramel stage, which was first poured over honey and butter to incorporate. Next the mixture was poured over crushed almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, and finally, the mixture was poured over a banana compound and mixed until incorporated. Again, once cool, we covered one side with chocolate, and after it set up, we cut 2 cm x 3 cm rectangles. These were dipped in dark chocolate, but the top was left uncovered:

I wasn't overly excited about the taste of the Fruit Krokant, but the other two were absolutely delicious. And I was able to take a few (although not very great) photos of previous chocolates from class, so here's a look at some of them.

This is the photo of the mocha sticks, 1 in pieces, with mocha ganache covered in milk chocolate:

This is a photo of the Baumstaemmchen or Pistachio Aida, where baumstaemmchen = "tree trunk", with pistachio marzipan over nutella ganache and covered in dark chocolate:

This is a photo of Nougat Montelimar, with almond/pistachio nougat covered in dark chocolate:

I think next week is our final week on chocolates. On one hand, this is good because I am in chocolate overload. Like I wrote about earlier, the pace of this class is crazy in terms of production, and after four weeks, the monotonous nature of it in general seems to have run its course. I also feel like I eat way too many of these in terms of sampling during class and so my body is ready for a break. On the other hand, I do really enjoy the chocolate process, and it has been great to learn so many different techniques for various fillings and coatings. I feel confident that I've learned a great deal that I could produce chocolates at home in a professional manner, so that's definitely exciting.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Strawberry Jam & Cheesecake

In today's Jams and Jellies class, we made three different strawberry jams as well as cheesecakes. We started class by making the cheesecakes. For the crust, we crushed gingersnaps and added melted butter, sugar, and a pinch of salt. After combining the mixture we pressed the crust into mini tart pans. We then sliced strawberries thinly and arranged them on top of the crust. Finally we prepared the filling.

The key to a successful cheesecake filling is having room temperature, softened cream cheese. This ensures there are no lumps in the final product. Using a mixer and a paddle attachment, we creamed the cream cheese until smooth, scraping down the sides often to ensure no lumps. We next added in ricotta cheese and sour cream, again creaming until smooth. Then we added whole eggs, one at a time, being careful to fully incorporate each egg and scraping the sides often. Finally, we added sugar and the seeds from one vanilla bean. We had a cheesecake filling that was smooth; I loved the look of the vanilla bean evenly spread throughout the filling.

We portioned the filling over the layer of strawberries, ensured the tops were smooth, and placed these in the oven to bake. Next, we worked on our strawberry jam.

My group made our strawberry jam using the homemade apple pectin we had previously made in class. We diced strawberries and added them to the pot with the apple pectin, sugar, and lemon juice. We cooked this until it thickened; unfortunately, our jam took a long time to set, and it ended up being slightly overdone but it tasted delicious, particularly with the hint of apple.

Another group made strawberry jam using liquid pectin. They had to crush their strawberries which were added to the pot with sugar, lemon juice, and later the liquid pectin. This jam resulted in a much sweeter jam than ours, due to the use of the liquid pectin.

The third group made strawberry jam with the addition of balsamic vinegar and crushed black pepper. I really liked the taste of this, but would have liked even more black pepper. We spread a thin layer of this strawberry jam on our cheesecakes, and then were free to decorate them to our liking.

I really like the structure of this course, and the fact that we work on similar products but with differing components. It's interesting to sample three types of strawberry jam and compare them. Even though my group's was slightly overdone I preferred the flavor of it to the jam made with liquid pectin. An advantage of using liquid pectin though is that it can save time during the cooking process because it gels more quickly, so it all depends on what you may be looking for in your production or final product. I really liked the jam with balsamic vinegar and pepper - it's also interesting to see different flavor profiles. And in general, I really love making these smaller sized desserts; it gives me more practice then just making one large product, and I like the challenge of experimenting with the decoration. It was especially great to see that each member of the class came up with an entirely different cheesecake - some covered their sides in crushed gingersnaps while others used strawberries as decorations in various ways. Like I said, overall, this provides a really great structure to the class, which I find enjoyable.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Classical Petit Fours

In today's Petit Fours class, we finished our work on classical petit fours, which we began last week. We also made tuiles and financiers. Tuiles are a thin cookie made from chopped almonds, orange juice and orange zest. These bake thin and spread flat and are then rolled over forms into various shapes. Financiers are a piped cake made from brown butter and almond flour, baked in a mold.

This is a photo of the Petit Four Glaces, which has a layer of almond/vanilla biscuit (which is a thin sponge cake), a layer of apricot marmalade, another layer of biscuit, a layer of marzipan, a coating of poured fondant, and a piped chocolate decoration.

We plated these with the remainder of our petit fours.

The left-most row contains the Pyramide de Petit Four Glaces (almond bicuit, chocolate buttercream, vanilla buttercream, and raspberry buttercream, covered in chocolate) and tuiles. The next row contains the Petit Four Glaces. The middle row contains the opera cake (which contains from the bottom up: cake layer, coffee flavored simple syrup, chocolate ganache, cake layer, coffee flavored simple syrup, coffee buttercream, cake layer, coffee flavored simple syrup, vanilla buttercream, cake layer, simple syrup, chocolate coating). The next row contains the Dome de Petit Four Glaces (which have Gran Marnier buttercream, poured fondant, and piped chocolate striping). The last row contains the financiers and tuiles.


In Tuesday's Advanced Bakeshop class, we made various types of custards in different applications. The first thing we made was a standard classical cheesecake, which is a form of a baked custard.

The second thing we made was an Apple Jacks panna cotta. This was done by first toasting and steeping the Apple Jacks cereal for 45 minutes in cream and milk. After steeping, the liquid was heated with salt, sugar, and gelatin to achieve the right consistency. This was divided into serving glasses and put in the refrigerator to chill. We also caramelized Apple Jacks cereal for garnish.

We next made a white chocolate creme brulee with earl grey tea as an additional flavoring. After steeping the tea in cream, sugar, and salt, we reheated the mixture to melt the white chocolate. This was then used to temper the egg yolks with sugar. These were baked in a water bath. We froze these; next week we will finish them and I'll take a picture of the final product.

Finally, we made a Gran Marnier Souffle. This was made from freshly squeezed oranges and orange zest and Gran Marnier for flavor.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mocha Sticks, Pistachio Aida, Nougat Montelimar

In Tuesday's Candies & Confectionaries class, we continued our production of various chocolates, making three different kinds. To make Mocha Sticks, we prepared a ganache that was chilled and then piped into thick round logs on parchment paper. After chilling again, we tempered milk chocolate and brushed the logs with milk chocolate, which then looked like real logs. After setting, we cut the logs into 1 inch pieces, which were then dipped into milk chocolate and dusted with powdered sugar.

To make Pistachio Aida, or Baumstaemmchen, we made a nutella flavored ganache, which was chilled and then piped into thick rounds logs on parchment paper. We then prepared pistachio marzipan, which was rolled over the ganache logs. These were also brushed with tempered dark chocolate and cut into 1 inch pieces.

To make Nougat Montelimar, we first prepared the nougat. Honey, water and sugar were heated to 266 degrees F on the stove, while egg whites were whipped with sugar in a mixer. The honey/water/sugar mixture was poured into the egg white mixture, then placed on the stove over a water bath. This mixture was whisked furiously for 25 to 30 minutes, which was quite a workout. Chef was not impressed with my whisking skills, but seriously, I was working as fast and as hard as possible; the mixture was quite thick. After the moisture was reduced, this was spread over crushed almonds and pistachios, and the whole mixture was placed between two pieces of oiled parchment paper and rolled to 1 cm thick. Once it was set up, a layer of chocolate was brushed on one side, then the nougat was cut into 1 inch squares. The squares were dipped into chocolate, but the nougat was left exposed on top.

All in all, another fast-paced high production day of chocolates. And again, there wasn't a chance for me to take any photos. Next week, I may possibly purchase some of them to bring home, and then I'll be able to take photos at my leisure.

We also spent the last 30 minutes of class practicing piping the ornaments with royal icing. Chef demonstrated this last week. His looked like this:

So each of these in actuality is 1.25 inches thick, give or take, and extremely thin. It requires the right size tiny hole in a pastry bag made from parchment paper. I spent a few hours over the past two days practicing, and I can easily say this is one of the hardest things I've yet to experience in school. My midterm exam in based on this piping in a few weeks. I'll be spending many hours practicing.

Sweet Potato Butter & Apple Galette

During Monday's Jams & Jellies class, we first worked on homemade apple pectin. We did this by quartering apples, including the peels and cores, and bringing them to a boil with water and lemon juice. When the apples broke down, we strained them to save the liquids. We then set up a jarring station, and followed the steps for sanitizing jars and then filling them appropriately with the homemade apple pectin. The hope is that we can use this natural pectin in future recipes.

We then made sweet potato butter, using a similar process as last week's apple butter. We first baked the sweet potatoes until they were soft, and then we pureed them. We added the necessary spices and cooked the butter until the appropriate texture and color.

Finally, we prepared a cornmeal galette dough. This is similar to any type of pie or tart dough. A galette is a free formed tart. We cut the dough into circles, spread on sweet potato butter and finally placed sliced apples on topped. These were baked and finished with an glaze made from apricot marmalade.