Saturday, August 29, 2009

Week Nineteen: Cookies and Plated Desserts

The first two days of this week were devoted entirely to cookies. That's never a bad way to spend an evening, in my opinion. We made the dough for half of the cookies on Monday night and then held it in the refrigerator overnight so we could bake it off the following evening.

On Tuesday we worked on the other half of the doughs and baked those along with the doughs from the previous evening.

The spread was quite impressive.

From left to right: spritz, Italian macaroon, mamoul, biscotti, amandines, checker board

From left to right: biscotti, rugelach, spritz, madeleines, Italian macaroon, mamoul

From left to right: madelines, marbled, checkerboard, linzer, chocolate chunk, marbled, pecan ball, biscotti, rugelach

From left to right: brownie, Sicilian fig, Scottish shortbread, oatmeal raisin, biscotti, madelines, marbled

It was a fun (and delicious) two days. I brought an incredible amount of goodies home and Mike enjoyed picking out his choices to keep in the apartment. The remainder went to the office with me on Wednesday and, just to give you an idea of how many cookies I had, people in the office could not finish them.

After our two-day cookie adventure, it was time to move on to plated desserts. I think most people in the class were excited by this, as looking at restaurant dessert platings can be a bit overwhelming.

But before we could plate the desserts, we had to actually make the desserts. So Wednesday night, each team was assigned a different dessert and we were to make all of the components, which would in turn be plated on Thursday.

My partner and I divided up the work and set about mise-en-placing our ingredients. But my partner was having a bit of an off night. The first clue was when I looked over and the milk and cream for the ice cream custard was overflowing on the induction - she had walked away to go get eggs.

There were many other "Oops!" moments through the remainder of class. I am by no means saying that I never make a mistake in the kitchen or have nights where I just can't seem to get it together. But working alongside such a disaster was incredibly frustrating - especially since I knew it was affecting the result of our desserts.

Thursday night we were to put the finishing touches on our plating components before moving on to preparing items for Monday and, finally, assembling plates. There was not too much on our plate for the evening, until my partner decided she wanted to make the plating group that had been left out the night before (there were four plating options, but only three groups).

So that more than doubled our work for the evening. I re-warmed the chocolate sauce for our original plate and then went coat the frozen gianduja parfaits with a power sprayer (not kidding). When I came back into the kitchen, our table was again a disaster as she explained she had accidentally turned on the induction for the chocolate sauce up to high, which obviously burned the sauce. The pace was thus a bit frantic the rest of the evening.

But plating the actual desserts was quite fun. It was a creative process, but also quite methodical in terms of how the customer would actually consume what was put in front of them.

Gianduja Parfait
Chocolate Sauce, Hazlenuts, Cocoa Nibs, Vanilla Ice Cream, Carmelized Banana

Chocolate Caramel Tart
Caramel Popcorn, Chocolate Pudding, Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Chocolate Sauce, Praline Citrus Sorbet, Peanut Butter Powder

We have two more evenings of plating desserts and then our exam and practical will follow on Wednesday evening. That means we move into the final module next Thursday evening, which will consist of chocolate work and wedding cakes.

During the week, it still never seems like this schedule will ever end. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I love the weekends so much - they give me a chance to relax and reflect - and sleep.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Week Eighteen: More Cakes

I missed my first pastry class on Monday evening. I had to go have the stitches removed from my finger and, while I was told I would be able to make an appointment, a receptionist with a major attitude problem informed me I would most certainly not be able to schedule an appointment.

I skipped my lunch break on Monday so I would be able to leave at 4 PM. That gave me almost two hours before class started and since the clinic was just down the street from school, I hoped this would be plenty of time to have my stitches removed.

Three hours later I was finally called back to see the doctor and after another hour, the doctor actually made an appearance in the exam room. He complained about his day as he removed each of my stitches, a procedure so simple I could have done it myself in about five minutes.

I had not regained the full ability to bend my finger, but it has gotten progressively better over the past week.

Needless to say, I missed class that evening, as it is policy to not allow students to enter the kitchen after the first thirty minutes of class. It was annoying, but I did know from reading the lesson that I was not missing a critically important lesson: the evening was a production class where students were to prepare cakes for the remainder of the week.

I was happy to be back in the kitchen Tuesday evening, where my classmates and chef-instructor assured me I had missed nothing important. So we set about creating our desserts of the evening, two Italian treats: zuccatto alla ricotta and tiramisu.

I worked in a team of three this week, which made everything go much faster. We broke down the recipe so each person was in charge of a different portion. Before I knew it, our zuccatto alla ricotta was chilling in the blast freezer and we started working on the tiramisu.

The tiramisu was to be frozen overnight and unmolded in the following evening's class. But the zuccatto alla ricotta was ready to be unmolded, decorated and enjoyed that evening.

After we removed each dome from their flexi-mold, my partner sprinkled the tops with toasted, chopped pistashios.

They were placed back into the blast freezer for another five minutes, just enough time to set the topping.

I thought the individual portions were visually very appealing, but I was a bit underwhelmed with the taste. The cake portion of the dessert had been soaked too heavily in the rum syrup, which made the taste quite harsh. The rum overpowered the filling, made of smoothed ricotta, chocolate chunks and chopped pistachios, which I am not certain I would have enjoyed anyway.

On Wednesday evening, we first composed a grenoblois, which is a rustic French cake. A walnut buttercream separated two layers of walnut flavored cake. After the cake was coated in the crumb layer and chilled, chopped walnuts were folded into the ordinary ganache which was then poured over the entire cake.

The second cake of the evening was a symphonie: hazelnut cake layers, praline butercream, rich ganache and an ordinary ganache on top. A few flecks of edible gold leaf were strewn across the top.

Lastly, it was time to unmold the tiramisu from the previous evening. Our chef-instructor was more than happy to demonstrate using the blowtorch to free the metal frame.

I think I only have tiramisu one time before this evening and I remember not being a particularly big fan. But I loved the cream, sweet consistency of this recipe.

Thursday evening was a complete disaster. Chocolate ribbon cake was the only cake of the evening and the preparations and cake assembling was finished by 7:30 PM. After that, the chocolate plastic, which is pretty much a gourmet Tootsie Roll, had to be rolled thin and molded.

Ten thin, long strips had to be molded into ribbon forms. But I could not get my ribbons to look like the instructor had demonstrated. I asked for help, but our chef-instructor said I was doing fine.

Two hours later, all of the chocolate had been molded. But just as I had suspected, my ribbons were not formed correctly. It was the ugliest looking cake I have ever seen.

I do not enjoy doing things incorrectly and I certainly do not enjoy ugly pastries (that take four hours to make). But I met up with Mike after class and the cold beer helped remedy my temperament.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Week Seventeen: Cakes, continued

It has been an incredibly long week due more to my job than anything else.  I have been reminded this week just how miserable I was last summer and why I was driven to start considering a career change in the first place.
The height of summer brings a lull to trading, which may have been a welcome break in other thriving financial times, but now just makes an already slow day quite unbearable.  Day after day, I find myself finished with my work less than half-an-hour after stepping into the office.  It's draining to sit and do nothing, not be productive, try to fill my time with something meaningful that will make me feel a little less like I am losing my mind.
Class has been my only refuge; the only place where I feel interested, excited and productive.  I know I am working towards being able to pursue a career in something that I truly love and feel I will bring talent, however small it may seem at the moment, to the industry.  But since it does not appear I will be able to pursue a career in pastry until about March of next year, it still seems like a distant dream that I cannot quite touch yet.
On Monday, we set about frosting and decorating yet another cake, this time using the chocolate genoise layers baked last week and frozen over the weekend.  I decided on the chocolate praline flavor combination, which used rich ganache whipped with praline paste and butter as the frosting.
I forgot to mention this last week, but a genoise cake is very dry and flavorless by itself.  To give the layer moisture and flavor, the cake layer is brushed heavily with a liquid made of simple syrup and some complimentary liquor.  The suggested liquor for flavoring was dark rum, so I measured 2 ounces of the rum into 6 ounces of the simple syrup.
The praline ganache was quite difficult to smooth on the cake, as it was very light and flimsy.  I decorated the sides with chocolate shavings and the top with twelve piped flowers, using toasted hazelnuts as the center.

Unfortunately, the rum completely overpowered the other flavors of the cake.  Chocolate and praline are not wallflowers when it comes to flavors, but they were no match for the school's cheap, dark rum.
Tuesday brought a new chef-instructor to the classroom, Chef Chad.  He substituted one evening during breads and, as he is quite funny, had everyone in the class laughing for the entire four hours. 
With Chef Chad's arrival, we set about making roulades, basically a rolled genoise, for the evening.  I was a little bit over genoise cakes at this point, but the curriculum decided we needed another lesson on this type of cake.
We were to make up double batches of the genoise cakes to be baked in half sheet pans.  Each team chose to make the chocolate genoise over the plain, probably because the cocoa powder provided just a touch more flavor.  As my partner heated the eggs and sugar and then began to whip the mixture, I thought something was a bit off about the texture of the eggs.  I sifted the dry ingredients together, observing that our mixture had much less volume than the other groups.
But I didn't say anything.  My partner has made it blindingly clear that he will not accept criticism or questioning of any sort.  But Chef Chad was happy to question the measurements of the eggs, to which my partner finally realized he forgot to add 8 ounces of egg yolks.  So I remeasured all the dry ingredients again and the half sheet pans finally went into the oven.
Chef Chad encouraged us to use the flavorings in our curriculum as suggestions, using them as a jumping-off point to create our own ideas.  So, for my roulade, I decided to use brandy and simple syrup as my flavoring and sweetened whipped cream as the filling and the outer layer of frosting.  I would decorate the top with chocolate piping and strawberries.

I was a little disappointed with the roll, which was not as tight as I would have liked, and the chocolate piping on top was not exactly even.  I do not think the chef particularly liked the decoration I had done on top, and suggesting it might be a little intricate for a cake that does not have a smooth outer layer.  Taste-wise, the cake was okay, the sweetened whipped cream definitely made it, but was nothing extraordinary.
Wednesday night's lesson held a special place in my heart - it was the lesson I observed when I was trying to decide whether to attend pastry school at ICE.  I remember watching the students in awe as they hurried around the kitchen, impressively whipping up beautiful mirror cakes and sharing their final product with me at the end of class.  I left my observation that day sick from all the sugar and whipped cream, but completely convinced this is something I wanted to pursue.
So when it was my turn, I had a bit of an advantage when it came to choosing which flavor I wanted to produce.  I remembered all of the flavors (blueberry, strawberry, raspberry and mango) being quite delicious, but I remembered the stunning color of the blueberry, which is what I decided to create.

The color was just as beautiful as I remembered, only this time it was something I actually made.  The mirror was composed of two very thin layers of genoise moussilene, with a healthy portion of blueberry bavarian piped between the layers.  A blueberry "mirror" was poured on the top and then decorated.  The next day, it took less than two minutes from when I sent out the email to my team for the cake to be gone.
Charlottes were on the menu for Thursday night's class.  I fell in love with Charlotte Cake during my first job as a hostess/dessert waitress when I was in high school.  At first, I loved it because I thought it was the most beautiful cake to cut and plate - the delicate lady fingers holding in the light chocolate mousse.  When I finally tasted it, I thought it was pure heaven on a plate.

I was pleased with the way the Charlotte turned out.  The lady fingers were a bit difficult to pipe and they turned out being fat, stubby fingers, but they tasted just delightful.  I think a different chocolate mousse recipe would have worked better, but the difference was not all that noticeable.  I topped it with chocolate curls when I got home and my official taste tester seemed to approve.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Photo Gallery Link

It seems my photo gallery link is a bit hidden from several people who are interested in accessing it.  I have posted the link on the right-hand side of the page, under the "Links" heading as "Photo Gallery".  When you click on photo gallery, it will take you to a page where I upload all my work from class, which you can view individually or as a slideshow.
I usually upload new photos to the gallery with each weekly post, which, when I am on schedule, should be every weekend.
You can also bookmark the address:

Week Sixteen: Cakes, continued

While my waistline protested, we continued cake instruction through last week.  On Monday night, we worked in teams to create a seven-layer Dobosotort, a traditional Venesian cake.  This involved spreading nine wafer-thin cake layers on sheet pans.  After a quick ten minutes in the oven, they emerged as delicate, crispy layers needing just a few moments to cool before frosting. 
While we waited for the layers to cool, each team also made another tort: our team was assigned a chocolate, walnut tort.  I made this up while my partner worked on the chocolate buttercream for the Dobosotort.
Once the chocolate walnut tort was in the oven, we set about constructing the seven-layer masterpiece.  Each thin cake layer was topped with an equally thin layer of chocolate buttercream, one on top of the other.  The remaining two layers were to be coated in caramel, allowed to harden and then cut into large triangles to top the tort.
The night was going smoothly and with only fifteen minutes left of class, I began to cut the caramel-coated cake layers into triangles.  As I used my chef's knife to try to unstick one of the layers from the cooling rack, the knife slipped and my left index finger caught the impact.  So I spent the next two-and-a-half hours in the emergency room with a bloody finger making small talk with one of the program directors.
I never actually went to sleep Monday night because every time I closed my eyes, I just saw the accident happening over and over again.  It makes for a long week when Monday and Tuesday are one day rolled into one.
I arrived at class Tuesday night sporting three stitches and a splint, still nauseous and hating caramel even more than before.  Luckily, I only had to make a few small adjustments in order to work on the recipes for the evening: angel food cake and chiffon.  The bandaged finger was really only a problem when I was trying to move equipment (KitchenAid mixers, inductions, etc). - which I managed to do since my partner apparently had better things to do.
We made a cocoa angel food cake - or rather, I made the cocoa angel food cake as my partner got the ingredients for the chiffon cake ready.  I gingerly got that in the oven and got ready for the chiffon cake.  I asked my partner if he would like to make the chiffon to which he informed me he would make his own.  Have I mentioned people can sometimes be a bit difficult to work with?
Nonetheless, I whipped up my lemon chiffon cake and also got that in the oven.
The instructor was nice enough to have everyone save their cakes from the night before, so I would not miss the tasting. 

The Dobosotorte (aka finger murderer) was lovely.  The layers were beautifully symmetrical and it tasted a bit like a Kit-Kat bar.

I was disappointed by the chocolate walnut tort.  I expected a very dense, chocolaty mouthful of cake, but instead it was lighter and not very rich.

Also, I am not a fan of angel food cake.  I tried several versions (cinnamon, all-spice, cocoa and ginger) so I can say I gave it an honest try.

The chiffon cakes were not that much better - although I did like the pecan version which was unmolded Wednesday evening.
We had a substitute chef-instructor Wednesday evening who worked with us as we created plain genoise cakes, chocolate genoise cakes and many items which would be used to finish cakes during Thursday and the following Monday's class.
For Thursday evening, our only task was to individually finish the plain genoise cakes.  I decided to make the lemon-raspberry genoise cake and set about mise-en-placing my items.  I enjoy the recent evenings where we have been finishing cakes - for me it's relaxing and allows my creative side and perfectionist personality to work together.
Once the cake was put together and frosted, I started on the sides.  I envisioned the sugared almonds placed around the cake almost like cobblestones and since I had plenty of time, I set about doing so.
I was not thrilled with the design on the top of the cake, but I really did like the effect of the almonds on the sides.

It was a long week.  I stayed exhausted from Monday night on, never really recovering from losing sleep that night.  As much as I am loving the program, I think I am ready to see the end of this hectic schedule.

Week Fifteen: Cakes

My hectic schedule combined with summer weekend get-aways has left me a bit behind on my postings.  I hope you don't mind me going quickly through this week, as it is a bit difficult to remember every detail two weeks later.
During this week, we began decorating cakes individually in class.  With a little guidance from our chef-instructor on the desired thickness of layers, we are allowed to create our version of the cake, decorating as detailed in the instructors or by ideas we have personally.
The first cake we decorated this week used the lemon-scented white cakes we made last week and held in the refrigerator over the weekend.  I chose a lemon-raspberry flavor combination for finishing: raspberry jam striped in between layers of lemon butter cream.

I was pleased with the evenness of my layers and final look of the cake.  My rosette-piping skills need some honing, but I was still pleased with my first effort.
Tuesday's class during this week was cancelled due to the fact there was no running water at the school.  I was thrilled to have the evening because Mike found out earlier that day he passed Level One of his CFA exam.  Instead of getting covered in buttercream, I was able to celebrate with Mike and his father over wonderful food and wine at a nearby Italian restaurant.
We returned to class Wednesday for another night finishing cakes, this time a chocolate layer cake.  Before we started doing this, we made up the baked almond frangipane cake which would be cooled, layered and held overnight for tomorrow's class.
I used a rich ganache as the filling between the two layers of chocolate cake and then iced it with a coffee buttercream.  I became a bit more creative in my finishing this evening, creating the cake I had envisioned all day at 
I used semisweet chocolate shavings on the sides and then equally spaced twelve chocolate covered espresso beans around the top.  I was again pleased to find the layering was equal and the cake was gooey, chocolatey and delicious.  I was so excited to take the cake home to share with Mike; so imagine how disappointed I was to find the cake was destroyed somewhere along my trip home.  There was one small, salvageable piece which I sadly served to Mike on our crisp white plates.  One bite and Mike suddenly seemed to sympathize with my disappointment.
I absolutely could not wait for Thursday night : petit fours!  All day, I sketched out a design each time I dreamed of these little confections.  My excitement grew as we cut out the cakes, two layers baked almond frangipane separated by a thin stripe of raspberry jam, into bite-sized portions.

I chose the gels for coloring the melted fondant: sky blue, mint green and white.  And that is where my excitement for petit fours stopped.  The melted fondant would only coat the cakes if it was exactly the right temperature.  Too hot and it would seep into the cake, too cold and it would become a thick glob on top of the cake.  Needless to say, it was frustrating. 

They were also incredibly sweet - which coupled with four hours of frustration led me to decide I would never make petit fours again.  At least not willingly.
Site Design By Designer Blogs