This week was the first in which we were fully submerged into the program. Gone were class-long lectures; they were replaced by 20-30 minute discussions and chef demonstrations. The remaining three and a half hours were ours to create and prepare our recipes for tasting. The time flew, but not without presenting stress in ensuring our assigned recipes were completed correctly and on time.
Eggs were the focus of class on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with the greatest attention turned to whipping meringues to the correct peak for various recipes. On Monday, we created ordinary meringue and Swiss meringue. As the shaped cookies were baking, we conducted experiments on meringue - adding sugar at different stages, whipping too long, whipping with yolk, etc. - to help us better understand the process of creating a meringue and realize how quickly it could be ruined.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we utilized our new knowledge on meringues by creating many different types of souffles. We began with flourless souffles Tuesday evening. As our practical at the end of this module will be testing our ability to create a perfect flourless souffle, it was quite important to learn the correct technique. As Mike sat at Yankee stadium watching the Red Sox beat the Yankees, a game to which I had to decline an offered ticket (through a clenched jaw, I might add), I was opening up chocolate souffles, in search of the perfect consistency.
Souffles are a temperamental little dessert and it was eye-opening to see how the pan could go from almost perfect to overdone in less than 30 seconds. My partner and I did, however, get lucky (I assume luck had a lot to do with it) enough to produce a souffle which the instructor announced would have receive a 100% on the practical.
This perfect consistency was far different than I had expected. From my past experience with souffles, only by consumption, I thought the souffle was supposed to be cooked all the way through, almost like a tiny cake. Perhaps it was because my experiences were only a product of Panera's breakfast souffles, but this was, in fact, considered overdone. The middle is actually supposed to remain a bit unset - gooey, but not too gooey.
We also created flourless fruit-based souffles. My partner and I worked on the poached pear souffle and cranberry-orange souffle. These took more time than their chocolate counterpart, as a puree had to be created and cooled before folding in the egg whites. Although the reviews from other classmates was mixed, I adored the tartness of the cranberry-orange souffle, which also baked to a beautiful, vibrant pink color.
The following day, we set about creating more souffles, only this time flour was used in the recipe. The starches in the flour helped the souffles set a bit longer before collapsing (quite a sad sight to see when you've put so much effort into creating the little monsters). I far preferred the taste of the chocolate souffle this evening; the flour helped produce a much heartier taste.
The two other souffles of the evening were a bit more savory than the previous night. My partner and I produced a praline souffle and souffles a la Suissesse, composed of onion and parmesan cheese and twice-baked in a pool of heavy cream.
My favorite souffle of the evening, however, was the gruyere souffle with rosemary. I hope I have the opportunity to share these with you all one morning, perhaps over a lazy Sunday brunch.
Let's just say that after two evenings of producing six souffles and tasting a total of twenty-four, I was happy to move on to a new subject. We shifted our focus Thursday evening to gelatin, using both the powdered and leaf forms in three different recipes. Chef Kathryn demonstrated the process of creating marshmallows, in which she used rose water as a flavoring.
Then we were set loose on the kitchen to create our recipes, my team was assigned milk chocolate panna cotta, espresso marshmallows and caramel gelee. It was a lighter evening than the previous two and about halfway through, Chef Kathryn offered to prepare hot cocoa to taste-test the rose marshmallows. She prepared European-style cocoa, which I learned is made of couveture chocolate, heavy cream and a little bit of water. Delicious.
I was always baffled by how possessive and uptight chefs sometimes appeared on TV, especially if they had invited a guest on their program. But this week, I really began to understand this attitude. My partner seemed to always disappear during the more difficult parts of the recipe - whisking, folding, removing items from the oven. She had difficulty remembering the processes demonstrated by the chef only fifteen minutes prior. Her meringues still had raw egg whites at the bottom. It was a struggle to keep my mouth shut and not snatch the whisk from her hand and say, "Just let me do it."
Along the same lines, we have several students in the class who worked in the work-study program prior to entering the program. As they already knew the inter-workings of the kitchens and procedures, they were especially helpful during the first week of class as we adjusted to the program and school. But one of these students thinks that he knows everything. He will openly correct (even if he is wrong) and criticize people. Every comment and suggestion is soaked with a "better than thou" attitude.
Luckily, he does often screw up, as he is just like everyone else in the class - if we were already perfect pastry chefs, we wouldn't be there. But I was proud of myself for demonstrating restraint when he meandered over as I was ladling one of my souffles into the tiny cups. We were about five minutes behind his team and he apparently had nothing better to do than go around and critique other teams.
His "Do you need help?" was not offered with a tone of thoughtfulness, but with a scoff and eye rolling. "No, thank you," I offered, allowing the "I don't need help from someone who over-whips whipped cream" to trail off only in my mind.
My mother continually laughs that I would have received straight P's (perfected) on my preschool report card, if it were not for receiving an M (marginal) in "plays well with others". After this past week, I believe my performance of this skill should be updated to "improving".