Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant..."

Curious minds ask me often, "Carol, do you have homework for your baking and pastry classes?" The answer is, of course, yes, I do have homework assignments. Sometimes, it's as simple as reading a chapter in a textbook on a specific topic or concept. Other times, it's studying for quizzes or exams, as to be expected. The most http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifinteresting and intense homework assignments, in my opinions, are the ones that require brainstorming ideas, researching recipes, and testing out ideas in one's home kitchen; I have done this mainly in the past for final practical exams when I was asked to produce a recipe of my own for a grade, such as my Pumpkin Sponge Cake or my Italian Petit Fours or my Red Potato Tart with Rosemary Jelly.

In Plated Desserts last week, we handed in a homework assignment. Chef asked us to research 10 dessert menus at 10 different restaurants; 4 of the restaurants were local to Charleston, 4 were in the U.S. and the remaining 2 were international. Since I am planning to create an Italian dessert menu later in the semester for another assignment/practical, I chose to focus my dessert menu research on Italian Restaurants.

I started with the local Charleston restaurants, and was originally disappointed because three of the restaurants here I was curious about did not actually post their dessert menus online. I did get good information from the other local restaurants, so it worked out in the end, but I am still curious about those other restaurants. Perhaps I'll just need to schedule a few dinners so I can see for myself.

For some of the 4 restaurants in the U.S. I chose to take a trip down memory lane. I first researched Varano's Italian Restaurant in Wells, Maine. Some of you may know that my cousin Jen and I had an amazing meal there in the summer of 2009 during our New England Road Trip. I was flooded with great memories as I surfed Varano's website and perused their dessert and regular menu.

I also looked at the menu for Tutto Italia in Epcot Center, where I ate in March with my family while on vacation there. And thanks again to cousin Jen, I have photos of some of the desserts we ate.

Here's a Dessert Trio - Mocha Tiramisu, Cannoli, Mousse in Espresso Cup:

Here's a Cannoli:

And here's Gianduja-Chocolate Torte

I gathered a lot of great recipe ideas as I compared and contrasted the dessert menus of these 10 restaurants, and I am really excited to continue working on my own dessert menu concept for an Italian restaurant. I'll leave you with lyrics from one of my favorite songs, which I believe is appropriate for this trip down memory lane:

"A bottle of white, a bottle of red,
Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead.
We'll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I - face to face.
A bottle of red, a bottle of white
It all depends upon your appetite
I'll meet you any time you want
In our Italian Restaurant.
-Billy Joel, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

Friday, June 17, 2011

Custards & Creams

During Monday's class, Chef demonstrated Bananas Foster, which is a favorite plated dessert, particularly in the South. The recipe we used, as well as the history of the dessert, can be found on Brennan's website as this is where the dessert originated. People love Bananas Foster because it is served tableside, after the pastry chef puts on a show for guests. What I love about Bananas Foster is that while it is made from only a few simple ingredients, it is so delicious.

Butter, brown sugar and cinnamon are the first ingredients, and are cooked until gooey and golden brown in a pan. Banana liqueur is added, and then the sliced bananas are laid in so they begin to soften.

The pan is removed from the heat so rum can be added, and then returned to the heat to ignite the rum; people love the flames that are present as the alcohol cooks off here and leaves the dessert with great flavor.

To plate the dessert, a few of the bananas and sauce are placed on the plate and then vanilla bean ice cream is placed on top. So good, so very good.

We played around with the bananas and this process, and after, used the mixer to break the bananas down into a tasty caramelized banana jam.

In general, this week's classes focused on different custards and creams. We made a chocolate panna cotta, which is Italian for "cooked cream." After setting up in the refrigerator, we plated the panna cotta with a quenelle of banana jam and a quenelle of malt whipped cream, and some crushed pretzels for crunch.

In Wednesday's class, we first made zabaglione, which is a classical Italian custard made of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine that is poured over fresh fruit. The French make Sabayon and use champagne or white wine instead of the Marsala.

We next plated a simple trifle, which are also really popular in the south. This trifle had a vanilla butter cake, which was cut into small cubes, splashes of rum, vanilla bean pastry cream, and fresh berries in a layered formation. It was topped with a quenelle of whipped cream. As you'll see in this photo, Katelyn's quenelle in the left glass is appropriately sized and smooth, while mine, in the right glass, is a bit too large and not very smooth.

Quenelle is the new rosette, for me anyway. You may recall from my recaps of my Cakes classes last fall, how much I struggled with trying to get my hands to make rosettes the proper way, you know, just one of my many struggles in the "cakes" world. Well, the quenelle is the new challenge. This is a technique for a clean, smooth, and properly shaped amount of whipped cream, ice cream, whatever really. If done properly, it should look sort of like a smoothly rounded football of whatever the product is. We use this technique a great deal, so I need to practice so I can improve.

The final dessert we plated on Wednesday was a coconut tembleque. This dessert was so much fun to make, because of the different components. First, we used fresh coconut to peel strips for the garnish. The strips are placed in simple syrup, then baked until lightly golden brown.

We next made fried pastry cream. Yes, you read that correctly, fried pastry cream. We froze chocolate pastry cream in a rectangular pan, then cut it into slices and finally cut small circles which we kept frozen as long as possible. (For the record, frozen chocolate pastry cream tastes like the most delicious pudding pop, so I may just have to make a few of these and keep them around for the summer.) We set up a station, of flour, milk, and panko bread crumbs, to batter the cut circles. We did a double-coat for extra crunch on the pastry cream before we fried them.

To plate the dessert, we used chocolate sauce and the fried pastry cream as the base for the tembleque.

And we finished the dessert by placing the tembleque on top and garnishing with the coconut strips.

I really loved this dessert. I loved each component separately, and together, they made for a delicious overall dessert. I liked the texture of the tembleque as well as the crunch on the outside of the friend pastry cream. The flavors worked really well together, and so it was a great end to another great week in Plated Desserts.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Plated Desserts Blog

My Plated Desserts class is keeping a blog this summer, so we can share photos and what not. I'll be posting there what I post here, but if you're interested in more information and photos from my class, feel free to check it out on a regular basis: Puddin' On A Plate.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Warm & Hot Desserts

Last week was a busy week in Plated Desserts. We executed three full plated desserts and worked on some additional components for things to come. I thought I'd do a better job this summer keeping up with my blogging about class, but last week just got away from me. Hopefully, I'll do better in the future.

Last week's sessions were on warm and hot desserts. Obviously, the key here is timing to ensure that these desserts make it to the table in a restaurant in appropriate time so they remain warm for the guest.

We first worked on Souffles, which are of course extremely popular desserts in restaurants. Souffles are versatile, and flavors can be changed seasonally for so many different options. Guests love souffles in part because of their presentation. They are served tableside, and the server usually uses a knife to poke a hole in the Souffle and then pours in the accompanying sauce. Sometimes guests like to do this themselves; it's part of a fun dining experience. The key with a souffle is ensuring the timing so the souffle doesn't fall before it reaches the table.

My group worked on a Coconut Souffle with a Roasted Pineapple Sauce. Chef showed us a way to clean up the serving dish to ensure height in the souffle. Here's a photo of them before baking followed by a photo during baking:

Check out the great height on these souffles!

After baking, the souffles were plated and dusted with powdered sugar.

Each souffle was plated with a side container of sauce, ours being the pineapple sauce.

These were pretty tasty. I liked the coconut flavor paired with the pineapple. I'm generally not a big fan of souffles because I'm not a huge fan of cooked meringue which is a large component of this dessert; however, this flavor pairing is one that I could get behind on a regular basis. And regardless, exposure to this type of dessert is a key component in any pastry training so it's nice to have done this again in class.

The next desserts we worked on were molten cakes, which my Dad loves to call bomb cakes; a restaurant in Oxford, OH, used to serve a Bomb Cake, and he always had one when he visited. They're not overly popular at restaurants he frequents so I could tell he was excited about me maybe making these for him the future.

My group worked on a Vanilla Molten Cake with a White Chocolate Center. It was plated with a strawberry and blueberry salsa, strawberry sauce, mint sauce, and fresh mint.

This dessert wasn't necessarily one I was crazy about. The white chocolate and vanilla combo didn't really work well for my palate. I liked the blueberry and strawberry salsa and could see using this in various applications, but I'm not sure I would make this overall dessert again.

The other groups made a dark chocolate molten cake with a mexican chocolate center. This cake tasted more to me like a true molten cake. It was moist and had great flavor. Chef showed us a really great technique for garnishing here, with caramelized cocoa nibs which were pulled by hand. This was plated with red hot sauce, made from the red hot candies, and vanilla bean ice cream.

The final dessert we worked on was a take on peanut butter and jelly. We made a peanut butter financier, which I am a huge fan of in general. Financiers are made typically with almond flour and brown butter. I adore brown butter; it's one of my favorite things in both sweet and savory foods. It just brings out such good flavor. For the jelly component, we made a grape gelee from grape juice that was set with gelatin. This was plated with a malt flavored whipped cream and crushed peanuts. The garnish on top is sliced vanilla bean, another really cool technique.

All in all, last week was a great week in terms of exposure and practice to some really useful techniques and desserts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer School: Plated Desserts

I know it's been a few weeks since I've last posted. I had the entire month of May off from school, and I had ambitions of writing some reflective posts about my first year in culinary school, but, well, that obviously didn't happen. I have lots I'd like to share so at some point I'll get around to doing that but for now, I'll be posting some updates about my summer school class, Plated Desserts.

Before class even started, I was excited about taking this class during summer school. I figured it would be nice to have only one class in my schedule which would give me some time to work and take advantage of some other summer interests, like beach time and what not. It will be a slowed down pace from the typical semester and managing the emotions of four classes per week. Plated Desserts meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:30am to 1:00pm, so it will be a nice start to the day two days out of each week through mid-August.

I love plated desserts. I think a lot of people do. When I order dessert in a restaurant, there's great anticipation for me to actually see the plating of the dessert and then to actually taste it. We eat with our eyes first, so the plating is really a critical component, and I'm really interested in knowing more about this process - figuring out components and making them both delicious and visually appealing. I'm not sure I'll ever work in a position where this will be my role but I'd at least like to have that as a possibility.

This week's class was centered around classical American desserts and classical plating. There are guidelines for the components of classical plated desserts, which include a 3-5oz. main item, 1-2oz. of sauce(s), garnish, and a crunch factor. For some desserts the crunch factor is included, whereas for other desserts, it gets incorporated in the garnish. The four components should work together in harmony to create a balanced dessert; this can also be accomplished by contrast as well, but the key here is balance.

We worked in four groups to make eight different desserts. We used a variety of sauces - caramel, chocolate, strawberry coulis, creme anglaise - as well as vanilla bean ice cream and vanilla bean chantilly cream as components. And because this was classical American plating, we used the ever popular mint leaf for a pop of color.

The first dessert my group worked on was Peach Cobbler. We created a filling from sliced peaches, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt. This was spooned into serving dishes, dotted with a dab of butter, and topped with a sweet cream biscuit crust or streusel.

To plate the Peach Cobbler, we used an underliner, the dish of cobbler, a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, and peach slices for garnish.

The second dessert my group worked on was French Silk Pie. To make the crust for this, we made our own oreo cookies which were crumbled with butter to form the crust and we then made a chocolate mousse filling.

To plate the French Silk Pie, we used chocolate sauce to pipe graduated dots, a quenelle of vanilla bean whipped cream, and a sprig of fresh mint.

Here are the remainder of the desserts that the other class members worked on.

This is the Chocolate Bread Pudding on a base of creme anglaise with chocolate sauce and topped with vanilla bean ice cream and a garnish of mint:

This is the Creme Brulee with a nut sablee:

This is a Chocolate Layer Cake on a base of creme anglaise with vanilla ice cream and a whipped cream quenelle garnished with mint:

This is the Chocolate Truffle Torte with creme anglaise and strawberry coulis design with whipped cream and a sprig of mint:

And finally, this is the Apple Pie with caramel sauce dots, vanilla bean ice cream, and cinnamon:

All in all, it was a great first week and a great start to summer school. I am really looking forward to building on the knowledge and skills from this first week of class. Is your mouth watering from the photos?