Sunday, May 31, 2009

Week Six: Frozen Desserts & Pate a Choux

This week was a bit lighter, both in terms of the schedule and material - so my entry this week will be a bit shorter and lacking in photos.  We did not have class on Monday in observance of Memorial Day, and that extra time off was relished and enjoyed.

Tuesday and Wednesday were focused on frozen desserts: sorbets, granitas, bombes, Baked Alaska.  For the individual-sized ice cream bombes, I made an amaretto flavor, complete with crushed Lazzaroni amaretti cookies.  These cookies are used a lot on Everyday Italian, so I was curious how they tasted.  They are amazing!  I was completely addicted after my first bite.  The ice cream bombe was equally as delicious.

I also really enjoyed the granita, so much so that I actually created my own version (strawberry) for a small dinner party Mike and I hosted Saturday evening. 

Thursday we started to shift our focus to pate a choux and pastry creams.  I thought of Mummy as I glazed the praline eclairs with the chocolate ganache; I do not particularly like eclairs, but I remember these being one of her favorite treats when we were younger.

There is only one lesson left in this module and our exam/practical will be Tuesday night.  I have been uncharacteristically stressed lately and the upcoming exam is a huge contributor.  I will be relieved when it is over and we move on to our second module: breads!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Week Five: Sugar and Custards

On Monday, we wrapped up our lesson on sugar and each team created divinity, torrone, peanut brittle and dry caramel.  As my partner worked on the torrone, I started the divinity.  I incorporated the hot syrup into the egg whites and allowed the mixer to start whipping the mixture cold.  I watched it closely as I cleaned-up my area to prepare for the next recipe.

About five minutes later, the mixture was a complete mess: clumpy and grainy.  I asked the chef to come look at it and as she peered into the bowl, she simply said the mixture had crystalized.  A look of disappointment must have washed across my face, as she told me not to be too concerned about it - it could have just been a tiny particle in the pan or mixing bowl that caused the issue.  I understood sugar was very temperamental, but I was still disappointed.  I do not like to mess-up.

As the taste of the candy was still fine, she had me scoop it out so it could dry.  My partner finished the torrone and I helped her mix in the almonds and spread the mixture between the two pieces of wafer paper.

We started working on the peanut brittle, as I took extra care to be sure the pan was clean.  The sugar took a fairly long time to reach the required 300 degrees.  Once it did, the honey roasted peanuts, vanilla and baking powder were immediately stirred in and then the brittle was poured and smoothed onto a SilPat and allowed to cool.

As we made our dry caramels and worked on creating caramel decorations, we each individually met with the chef to receive our mid-module reviews.  I was happy to hear I was currently earning an A.  Even more assuring than my grade, however, was when my instructor again praised my chocolate piping skills and said she thought I would "do extremely well" in the industry.

The divinity was awful - every group threw theirs out - so I didn't feel so badly that I messed it up.  But I did bring home the peanut brittle, which I thought was delicious, and the torrone.  Mike was intrigued with the torrone once I explained it was a traditional Italian candy and taste tested a small piece.  I was informed I was not allowed to take the torrone to the office; it was to stay in the apartment.

Tuesday brought the introduction to custards, as well as our second quiz, on which I received a 100%.  I am not a huge fan of custards, but creme brulee, baked caramel custard (flan) and bread pudding were on the menu for the evening.  We made up the custards fairly quickly and they were ready to set overnight before tasting.  While the bread puddings went home, the baked custards and creme brulees me stayed in the kitchen to be unmolded and burned-off the next day.
I had been looking forward to Wednesday's class for awhile: cheesecakes!  Each team was assigned a different style: New York, Philadelphia and mascarpone.  We were then to take one of each home, refrigerate it for at least 12 hours and then taste each one.  I did my taste-testing last evening after my wine class.  

My favorite was the New York style - and not just because my partner and I made this version.  The Philadelphia style was fine, but did not have as much flavor.  I unexpectedly enjoyed the mascarpone.  I thought the pate sablee (cookie part underneath the cheesecake) could have been much more flavorful on all three - it was just kind of there and did not really add anything to the overall flavor of the cake.  For the mascarpone, I think some amaretto liquor or a chocolate hazelnut base would be delectable.

We also made creme anglaise Wednesday night as well as our ice cream bases for Thursday night.  Each team had two different ice cream flavors to prepare - my partner and I had praline and cinnamon.

Thursday night was fun.  We took turns freezing our ice cream bases in the industrial ice cream machine.  The base comes out like a soft serve and is then placed in the freezer to become a hard serve.  But we were able to try each flavor before they were quickly whisked away to the freezer for next week.  

Cabby would be proud of me, as the ginger ice cream was one of my favorites.  My top-pick was the cinnamon ice cream - sweet, spicy and homey.  I think it would be absolutely amazing over a warm piece of Mummy's apple pie (any takers for Thanksgiving?).  The chocolate and coffee flavors were also very good, but the team that did both flavors added a ton of add-ins which, in my opinion, distracted the taster from the simple flavor of the ice cream.

It was another enjoyable week - I am starting to gain confidence in the kitchen and am becoming more relaxed during the recipes.  I only have four more classes left in this module, with the exam and practical taking place on June 2nd.  That will put me a quarter-way through the program - its amazing how quickly it has already gone!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Healthy Kidney 10K

It seems like it's been forever since I have written about running.  This is not because I'm not running anymore, but because the pastry program has pretty much taken over my life and, honestly, I am way more excited to share my weekly pastry updates than my squeezed-in lunchtime treadmill runs.
I am still running - three or four times a week in fact.  After recovering from the half-marathon, I shifted my focus my attention to shorter-distance races, as summertime is the season for 5Ks (3.1 miles) and 10Ks (6.2 miles).  
I ran the Healthy Kidney 10K last Saturday in Central Park.  This was my first 10K and while I was not worried about finishing, racing a new distance is always a learning experience - how fast should I go out, where shoudl I back-off or push the pace, at what miles will I feel strong or miserable?
The morning was cool and overcast, as the afternoon was supposed to bring rain showers.  The start line was on the West side, so I hopped on a cross-town bus to make my commute a bit easier.  I felt a little guilty take the bus to go run a race, but I was relieved to find many other runners sporting race bibs in my company.
The race was almost at full capacity (5,000 runners) and, for some reason, my starting position was much further back than usual.  I nervously hopped in place in my corral, waiting for the piercing noise of the start gun.  "Runners...on your mark...get set....BANG!"  As soon as the gun went off, the skies opened up - it was pouring.  For the first mile and a half, I not only dodged too-slow runners, but felt like I was running through a waterfall.  I couldn't see very far and the heavy raindrops kept getting under my contacts.
At about the second mile marker, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started.  The rain shower left behind soaked runners with 96% humidity.  I'm pretty sure the "slosh, slosh, slosh" of 5,000 pairs of sneakers could be heard throughout the city.  My right shoulder started whining in pain - I had probably tensed my upper body way more than I should have during the first few miles.  Then my shoelace came untied, which wouldn't have been too much of a problem, except I couldn't get my shoulder to cooperate long enough to tie it.
Fifteen seconds later, I was back in the race, completely regretting wearing a black sports bra under my white running shirt.  I distracted myself for the next mile wondering if Mum would be upset with me if she was here.  Her philosophy of "A lady never wears a black bra under a white shirt" had crossed my mind while I was getting ready that morning - but my new, hectic schedule wasn't leaving much time for laundry during the week.  I concluded that she would probably let it pass, just this once.
Despite another untied shoe, I finished the race very strong.  Mike was away for the weekend, so I started on my way home as soon as I crossed the finish line.  I thought about catching another bus, but decided against it due to being drenched in rain water and sweat.  Back in the apartment, I enjoyed a nice, hot shower, climbed back into my pajamas and put together a little breakfast for myself.  As soon as the groceries were delivered, I hopped back into the unmade bed to enjoy a couple hours of relaxation - blog writing and Food Network.
The results of the race were posted quickly and I was happy to have finished the 6.2 miles in 48 minutes 38 seconds - putting my average split time at 7 minutes 50 seconds.
I felt like I had found a good race distance for my new schedule.  As my only opportunity to run during the week is my lunch hour, I usually cannot squeeze in more than three miles at a time.  10Ks would allow me to do shorter training runs during the week and a longer run on the weekends.
I do not always look forward to running during my lunch hour; lack of sleep and the mind-numbness of my job usually put me in autopilot mode until 5 PM.  But knowing what the evening's class will hold in terms of tastings sometimes offers me all the motivation I need - like tonight, when we "have" to try nine different flavors of ice cream, accompanied by freshly made cones and four different sauces.  I've never been more inspired to finish my tempo run!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Week Four: Field Trip, Lectures & Sugar

This week was a bit different the previous three.  On Monday, we were not even in the kitchen, as we took a field trip to several different bakeries.  We sat through two hours of management lectures on Tuesday and Wednesday, which only left enough time for either more lecture or a bit of piping practice.  We finally returned to our normal schedule on Thursday, with a brief lecture, chef demo and then the remaining three hours were for completing recipes.

The main focus of our field trip was to a dessert bar in the East Village, Chikalicious.  The outside was unassuming and stark, with only a tiny sign on the door denoting the name.  The inside was small, intimate and we were warmly greeted by the chef behind the "dessert bar".  We all poured over the tiny menus, composed of both signature items and daily specials.  I decided on the warm chocolate tart with pink peppercorn ice cream and red wine sauce.  I was most intrigued by the ice cream.

As part of our prix fix menu, we also received an amuse before our chosen entree and petit fours afterwards.  The amuse arrived in tiny oval cups: a yogurt panna cotta swimming in a cold carrot and ginger soup.  The flavor was light, refreshing and a perfect pallete cleanser before our main course.  It was not technically an amuse, because it took about three spoonfuls to finish.

As the chefs were plating all of our desserts in front of us, our mouths were watering as we bombarded them both with questions on the industry and their experiences.  We were not their typical customers but they answered all of our questions patiently and thoroughly.  The kitchen was clean and organized; both chefs were very efficient.

My entree finally arrived - and I say finally only because I was ready to leap over the counter to grab my plate, that's how good it looked.  I started with the pink peppercorn ice cream.  Hmmm - spicy ice cream?  It was interesting, something new and unique.  The spoonful on the plate was just enough, this was not the type of ice cream you would want to eat straight from the container with an oversized spoon.  The tart was small, with a molten lava center.  Delicious and well executed, it added a traditional contrast to the ice cream.  I did not think the sauce added much to the taste of either the tart or ice cream, but it did make for a lovely presentation.

After our desserts were finished, we were presented with petit fours - coconut marshmallows, strawberry pate de fruit and Kahlua-white chocolate truffles.  Even though I am not usually a fan of coconut, I enjoyed the marshmallows.  The pate de fruit was delicious.  This was one of the first recipes we made in class and I had not particularly cared for it - the sweetness was a bit overwhelming.  But these tiny versions had a thicker texture and were less sweet.  And the truffles?  They didn't even stand a chance!

All of us shared our desserts so we could try many of the offerings on the menu.  Some I was impressed with, others I was not.  I was pleasantly surprised how portion size can really affect the customers experience.  The portions were small here, but I really appreciated that quality.  It not only allowed me to try and enjoy other desserts, but it was refreshing to finish dessert and not feel "stuffed".

The management lectures were informative, but quite boring after sitting all day at work.  The lecture on flour was equally as tedious.  But Friday we started working with sugar, making chocolate fudge, Italian meringue buttercream and lemonade.  My partner this week was the know-it-all in the class.  Surprisingly, we worked quite well together, although I'm still happy it was a lighter week in terms of workload.

Friday evening, I began my 6-week Wine Essentials course, which was offered as a "complementary "addition to our program.  I was excited to take the course, as I have enjoyed my fair-share of red wine, but really had no idea why I liked certain tastes over others.  The first class mainly focused on white wines, which I never liked, with the exception of Champagne.  I did find one style of white that I really enjoyed, Riesling, probably because it was light and sweet.  Our instructor suggested spicy foods as a perfect complement.

Last night, I was back at school, volunteering for a recreational savory pastry class with 12 teenagers.  It was a long four hours - the AC was broken, I did not know too much about the recipes and some of the other volunteers were a bit difficult to get along with.  I forgot how awkward teenagers are!  Some of them were quite obviously forced to be there and were not happy about it.  Some of them wanted to know everything and everything about what they were doing.  Either way, I really enjoyed watching

After the class, I treated myself to take-out from my favorite Thai restaurant - I could think of no better reward for a a successful 10K and night of volunteering .  I had picked up a bottle of Riesling earlier in the day and, after two glasses, I can confirm it goes with with spicy food!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

For Mother's Day, I thought it would be appropriate to pay tribute to the woman who has been a hugely influential person throughout my life.  For anyone who knows my mother, it's not difficult to see where I get most of my characteristics or how I developed such a passion for baking; I luckily not only inherited her love of baking, but also some of her talent.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother and I in the kitchen.  I would work along side her, in my toy kitchen, pretending to make miniature versions of her recipes.  As I grew older, she always allowed me to help - measuring, stirring, putting a handful of flour in my mouth against her advice.  She never made me feel like it was an inconvenience to have me there; perhaps that is now why I feel most at home in a kitchen.

I remember interviewing her for a school project when I was in elementary school.  I can't remember now what the project was, but the questions were fairly basic, favorite colors, favorite hobbies, etc.  "If you could have any job in the world, what would you want to do?" I asked innocently.

"I think if I could have any job in the world, I would want to open a bakery," she replied.

Her answer took me by surprise.  I can't even remember if I finished asking her the rest of my questions; if i did, I don't remember what they were.  I guess assumed she had always wanted to be a teacher.  I shuffled back upstairs to write my report.  

Truth be told, her answer made me sad.  Maybe it was because I knew she was the best baker of all the moms at school - it wasn't uncommon for kids to offer up their entire bagged lunch in exchange for one of her desserts (Val being the saleswoman of the family quickly reaped a profit).

Or maybe it was because I knew how much she loved baking.  She would already be busy in the kitchen when I awoke on Saturday mornings.  While other people complained about the stress of cooking for the holidays, she relished and enjoyed the opportunity.

I have never forgotten that exchange; a simple school assignment had taught me much more than I'm sure the teacher intended.  Needless to say, I have thought a lot about her answer the past few weeks as I have enjoyed the beginning of my pastry program.

So, Mummy, Happy Mother's Day.  Thank you for all the sacrifices you made without complaint for Val, me and our family.  Thank you for always believing me and encouraging me to follow my dreams.  You are truly an inspirational woman and you have no idea how many lives you have touched with your kind and caring heart.  I know you whole-heartedly focus your attention on your family and your school - you should take more time for yourself.  

I love you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Week Three: Eggs & Gelatin

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".

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Week Two: Fruit & Eggs

We also had our first quiz this week; this one was on sanitation and weights/measurements.  I am happy to report I received a 100%.

Monday and Tuesday we prepared pate de fruit, which we made with raspberry preserves.  They were a quite gummy and very sweet treat.  I took them to the office and was a little worried people would think they were too sweet; but they seemed to disappear without incident.

We learned how to properly use our knives while cutting fruits.  The knives felt very different from the ones I have at home, so that took some adjusting on my part.  We worked on peeling, slicing and wedging both pears and apples.  The pears were especially difficult since they are not in season.  Strawberries were a bit easier and we learned to hull, quarter, slice and fan.  

We also supremed oranges.  This cut looked so beautiful and professional during the instructor's demonstration, but the thin, mutilated little slices on my cutting board did not do this technique any justice.  

For practice outside of class, I now won't let myself eat an orange without supreming it first - a rule that can be quite tedious when all you want is an orange slice - but I have nonetheless improved immensely in the past few days.

Wednesday was the first day we baked for the entire class, minus the 20 minute preparation lecture at the beginning of the evening.  We worked in teams and were expected to complete five recipes in the remainder of class and have them displayed for tasting at the end of the evening.  Needless to say, I was happy I had thoroughly read through all my recipes before class, trying to make helpful notes for myself along the way.

We started by candying orange peel.  As the peels needed to boil four separate times, we also began on the Poached Pears in Wine.  While the orange peels continued to boil and the pears simmered in the wine, we began slicing apples to prepare Baked Apples.  

We had to use a mandolin for the apple slices - a tool that I have been lusting after for the apartment - but I found I was quite terrified to use it!  This mandolin was not like the cute, compact OXO models at Sur la Table; it was a commercial-sized stainless steel model.  You could feel the force as it pulled the slices of apple away from the fruit.

After the apples were dipped in sugar water and placed in the convection oven to bake, the orange peels finished boiling and were now ready to simmer.  I checked on the poached pears, but they still needed to soften quite a bit.  So we began on the Roasted Pears and Figs.  I couldn't help but think of Cabbie as coated the fruits with ground ginger, lemon zest, dark rum and cinnamon.

Once the roasting pan was in the oven, my partner and I moved onto slicing the strawberries which were to be mascerated with sugar, balsamic vinegar and an herb of our choosing.  As soon as the strawberry salad was in the refrigerator, it was time for everything to be taken out of the ovens and plated for tasting.

My favorite dessert of the evening was actually the simplest of them all - baked apples.  Crisp and crunchy like a chip, but with just enough sweetness to not overpower the taste of the fruit.  Mike enjoyed the samples I brought home, so I imagine this will become a fall staple in our apartment.

If I was a fan of pears, or if they had been a bit riper, I think I really would have enjoyed the Roasted Pears and Figs.  I happen to think the warm-from-the-oven fruit would be quite delectable over a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the summer.

We wrapped up the week by beginning a discussion on eggs.  We also had to separate eggs (thank you Mum for teaching me this so I knew what I was doing!) and then we performed different experiments whipping egg whites and yolks.

We also prepared a sabayon with raspberries (pictured at the beginning of the post).  I was very pleased with the presentation, even if I did not like the dessert.  Sabayon is very rich, much like a custard.  I did, however, enjoy the contrasting taste of the marsala wine in the dessert.

It was an exciting week.  I'm starting to become more comfortable in the kitchen, as I have started learning where everything is.  I really enjoyed the evenings where we spent the majority of the class working, which is good, since we will very rarely have long lectures like during the first week.

This weekend I am practicing my chocolate writing and knife skills as well as preparing for next week's readings and recipes.  Funny how homework can actually be quite enjoyable!
Site Design By Designer Blogs