Thursday, October 28, 2010

Last Weeks at FCI

Whew, this past month has been a total blur, which I guess explains why I've been MIA. In the past 4 weeks, I've completed many major end of class projects at FCI, graduated, quit my job, went to Disney World, and started a new job!! So I'm sorry that I've been neglecting my blog, but hopefully I will have more time now to be updating. I'll get to all the explanations in a bit, but first let's start with the projects!

Candy Bar Cake

Our first major project was to create a menu for a fictional restaurant of our choice. My restaurant was a dessert wine bar on the Hoboken waterfront, called Sweet Surrender. From my menu, my chefs selected two desserts for me to make - the Signature Candy Bar Cake and the American Classics Threefold. My threefolds were 3 related desserts on one plate, and the American Classics one was carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake, and apple crisp. The candy bar cake was flourless chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse and a roasted peanut caramel, covered in chocolate ganache and then chocolate glaze. I served it with a caramel sauce and peanut butter ice cream. We had two days to prep and plate our desserts, a real challenge for me being as I had 4 separate desserts I needed to make. Everything went really well though, and it came out really well.

American Classics Threefold

After menu projects, we were on to our wedding cakes. The Level 1 students picked the theme, 1920's inspired with red, black, and white decor. I didn't want to do a traditional wedding cake with flowers, and pearls, etc. I decided to use poured sugar to created a mosaic border and blown sugar spheres to cascade down the cake. It took me a full class, 5 hours, to blow all of the sugar balls. It's a process similar to blowing glass, but with edible materials. The days that we did our cakes could not have been more humid, which meant shortly after putting my cake together, it was a sweating, dripping mess. Fortunately it held up for grading though.

When our wedding cakes were completed, we moved right into our final exam. Our final consisted of a written exam, covering everything we learned in the program, and a practical exam where we made five items we drew at random and created an edible stand to display them all on. The theme for our stands was "space." For mine, I did a stand with the sun and planets cut out and sugar poured into the holes. On the stand I had rockets, a moon man, shooting stars, and the moon. My final didn't go as well as I had hoped it would, but at least I finished it and graduated!

Graduation was really nice, with a lot of our instructors showing up to wish us farewell and send us off with their words of wisdom. I surprised myself and graduated with honors, meaning I had a 95 grade average for the entire program. I know grades mean very little, but personally it was reassuring being as I had invested so much into the program and given up so much to make it happen. While in school, I worked full time, attended class, maintained a small side business, and had a restaurant internship every Saturday night and some Sundays for over 3 months! It was tough, but well worth it in the end. Not long after graduation, I got hired at a very good restaurant in the city and started there this week!

I did it!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Welcome to the (Sugar) Jungle

Doesn't my post title make you think of this?:

As much as I love Guns n' Roses, this post isn't about them (it's a baking blog!). One of the more exciting units at school was definitely our Sugar 2 section. We finally got a chance to pull, blow, and pour sugar into really beautiful, delicate items.

My sugar flowers I made


The downside of this is that sugar is hot. Like really hot. We cook it to 329 degrees and then cool it down (but not too cool) before we start working with it. Even with the rubber gloves on, our hands were completely roasted. After two straight weeks of this, my hands were just completely swollen and covered in blisters. You kind of forget all about that though when you see how pretty your sugar work turns out.

That's the thing about sugar - the wow factor is high. Due to the amount of skill, tools, and space you need, sugar work is not the type of stuff the average home baker is making in their kitchen.


Angry monkey

For the culmination of the unit, as a class we made a giant sugar showpiece. We chose the theme "jungle" and all divided and conquered. Some people were assigned making the animals out of blown sugar, some people poured the base (a mammoth task given the size of the showpiece), others made the trees and leaves. My job was to pull sugar flowers. It's a time-consuming process, pulling one petal at a time and cutting it off the sugar, letting them harden, and then attaching them all together.

The final result was really cool looking. I loved the monkeys my classmates made, and the waterfall was really beautiful. Overall, we worked really well to pull this off, and I think it was a major success.

Final product

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ambitious Baking: Tiered Cakes

I absolutely love the challenge of making fondant-covered cakes, even though my skill set in that arena is still pretty lacking. Every year our family friends host a massive beer pong tournament. It's really something you can't believe unless you see it for yourself. Every team agonizes over team name and comes decked out in matching uniforms.

Front View

I had a clear vision of the cake I wanted to make for this party. There's almost a 100 guests that attend this party, so it had to be big. I decided on a three-tiered cake with Solo "cups" made out of fondant mixed with a natural gum so they would dry hard overnight. I used real Solo cups to draw a template and mold the cups. There were 30 teams that participated, so I piped every team name on a fondant plaque that was then put on the back and sides of the cake. The letter piping was the last thing I did, and by the time I got to the last team, my hand was shaking.

Side View - Handwriting was a little shaky

The cake flavors were chocolate cake with cookies and cream buttercream (10"), white cake with passion fruit buttercream (8"), and banana cake with white chocolate buttercream (6"). Despite the massive quantity of cake, it was pretty much demolished at the end of the night. The cutting of the cake went down around midnight, many rounds into the tournament, so it should have come as no surprise that I sliced my hand while divvying up the cake. Luckily it wasn't too deep, and nothing that 5 Band-Aids and another Bud Light could not fix.

Back of the cake

The party happened to coincide with the beer pong commissioner's birthday, so I made a miniature birthday cake. I did a white covering with black polka dots and a pink glittery bow. Thankfully, my friend Vica came to visit just in the nick of time. When she arrived at my house, I was thoroughly in the weeds (chef talk for "in major s***") and didn't think I would finish on time to make it to the party with a completed cake, much less the tiny birthday cake too. Vica stepped in and made an awesome pastry assistant, helping me out with the finishing touches on both cakes.

I have no idea how cake designers transport their cakes without any damage. We had a short 10 minute drive to the party, and my cake arrived with many cracks (albeit they were only noticeable to me). We had a kind of rough drive there, with me sitting in the trunk of the Explorer and my mom driving, us yelling at each other the entire time. She probably could have driven a teensy bit smoother, but at least I know that when I need a delivery person for my future business, we already had the test run (fail). My mom has many skills, but apparently smooth driving is not one of them.

This cake was only 4"

I'm already looking forward to next year's tournament (the 5th annual!), but think I'm going to go easier on the desserts so I can rest up pre-tournament and maybe go further (my partner Morgan & I had a pretty abysmal showing).

Me & a few of my friend at the tournament

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Evening of Desserts at FCI

The Evening of Desserts is an event in the pastry program that we were all looking forward to. We had seen the Level 2s before us get to do it, and I know I was anxiously awaiting a chance to show off what I had learned for my friends and family.

My team's dessert - chocolate hazelnut mendiant

We each got to invite guests to come and sample desserts that we prepared and plated. My parents, my sister Melissa and her boyfriend Joe all came to check it out. Being on a Tuesday in the city, I was really happy they could make it.

Molly prepping the amuse bouche - a lemon scorpino

We had a menu of eight items that our guests could order from, and each team was in charge of plating one of the desserts. My partner Brittany and I were in charge of the chocolate hazelnut mendiant. I'm not sure why it's called mendiant, but it was a semifreddo. We made a (really boozy) cherry compote to go with it, a kirsch caramel sauce, and a really crazy chocolate piece. I had the idea for the chocolate "wave" from something I had seen on Best Thing I Ever Ate (which ended up being nothing like our finished wave).

With my parents - you can tell my mom has spent more time at the beach than I have this summer!

With Melissa & Joe - another illustration of how I've spent my summer tucked in a kitchen, away from the any sort of UV rays...they both work at the beach

The mendiant ended up being the most ordered item (thanks my classmate Molly who plugged our dessert in her intro), and Brit & I were a well-oiled machine.

Kataifi nest with fromage blanc mousse and fruit compote

Overall, the night went really smoothly. Everyone was super pleased with the results, and my family loved the desserts they ordered.

Panna cotta with peach compote, raspberry riesling granita, and granola

After everyone left, we got to taste the desserts we served. My personal favorite was the fontaine, which was a chocolate cake with ganache and fresh raspberrys wrapped in filo dough and baked. It was served with a trio of sauces, and was so good. A close second was a kataif (another type of dough) nest with the fromage blanc mousse.


Champagne sabayon with roasted peaches

Plum soup with almond cubes and orange sherbet

Group scorpino shot to cheers the end of the evening

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Week 30: Back to Plated Desserts

There are three plated desserts units in the FCI pastry program, and in our second one we moved on to some more complicated desserts and some more polished plating. The style of plated desserts we do at FCI is VERY polished - a lot more so than I see my style evolving. On every plate there will be a dessert, a couple sauces, a tuile (thin cookie), a chocolate doodad, some fruit, a garnish, more garnish. Don't get me wrong, it all looks very pretty, but just a little too "done" for my taste.

Chocolate hazelnut mendiant with cherry compote

Speaking of actually taste, the desserts we made in this unit were fantastic. We made a lot of semifreddos which reminded me of ice cream...that isn't ice cream. The mint chocolate one was a particular favorite of mine, and I don't even particularly like mint.

White chocolate citrus semifreddo with strawberry salad

White chocolate hazelnut semifreddo - the raspberry cake part of it was excellent

What's been interesting to me has been the combinations of flavors we put together that surprisingly go well together. I like experimenting with this, and our chefs having a lot more experience than us and have been good leaders. When I read the dessert descriptions the night before class, I'm sometimes skeptical about how things with pair, but it's all been good so far.

Chocolate mint semifreddo with blackberry salad - sooo good

The highlight of the second plated dessert unit was the Evening of Desserts we hosted for our friends and family (more about that in another post), but a close second was the Saturday morning Chef Peter made breakfast for the 8 of us who had showed up for class. Poor Chef Peter, the only male in a group of 16 women, has to put up with a high chatter volume, lots of giggling, and a ton of Christmas carol singing (don't ask...) from us. The biscuits he made nearly brought the 8 of us to tears, they were so good. Buttery, light, flaky. I've never had biscuits this good before. I still dream about them.

Those biscuits!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More Wedding Pics

Lauren, the bride of the second wedding I did in July, was nice enough to send me over some of the professional pictures after my last post. The pictures look incredible, and I'm so happy I can share them!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some Wedding Baking in July

On top of my already insane schedule, many months ago I agreed to take on two weddings in July. Back in April and May, this seemed like a good idea. Things were a little calmer back then, I think. Flash forward to mid-summer when things could not be crazier, and suddenly it was time for these to be delivered.

Had to throw out almost everything in my fridge to make room for the cake truffles -
just 1/2 the vanilla here!

The first wedding was for their favors which were 300 cake truffles. This was the one that I thought would be the easier of the two weddings, and boy was I wrong. So very wrong. I was under-prepared for just how long it would take me to complete 150 chocolate and 150 vanilla truffles and mistakenly thought I was on the ball. It resulted in a meltdown of epic proportions that required me calling my parents to bring in reinforcements - more chocolate and some moral support (thanks mom & dad!). Once they were all finished and bagged though, it was such a rewarding feeling and I was really happy with how they turned out. I had some pretty great reviews from the bride and wedding guests, and am really happy that everyone was pleased with the outcome.

Bunch of cake truffles packaged

For the second wedding the following week, I had learned my lesson and was super, super prepared. There were lists of lists. I needed to make an 8" cake covered in fondant and 144 cupcakes decorated with individually cut and painted (with edible luster dust) fondant pieces. The fondant decorations were shaped like blossom flowers and butterflies. I was able to get those all done over a week in advance to leave me enough time to bake everything the night before pick up.

Start time - just home from class

I was fortunate that when my parents were up to help out with Wedding #1, they took me to the grocery store so I had a car to transport all the ingredients. Which was excellent being as it was 12 pounds of butter, 3 dozen eggs, 10 lbs of flour, 10 lbs of sugar, and many more heavy items! That would have been quite a struggle carrying that back to my apartment.

One of the 6 boxes of cupcakes

Close up of cupcakes

The one issue with this all was that the pick up was on a Friday morning. I'm in class until last Thursday night and don't usually get home until midnight. Class is my first priority, so I knew missing one wasn't an option. Not having the freshest cupcakes possible also wasn't an option, so I settled on the fact I'd have to start baking when I got home from class and stay up as late as it took. Everything went really smoothly though, and I was getting a new batch of cupcakes into the oven every 20 minutes - about as fast as I could expect to go.

Close up of cupcakes

Finished cake

Sometime around 3:00 am, the cupcakes were baked and frosted, and it was time to start the cake. Covering cakes in fondant is always really nerve-wracking for me, but it went pretty smoothly, and I was happy with the way the fondant decorations looked on the cake. I boxed everything up, ending just after 4:00 am.

End time - documented to remind myself how crazy I am

Crashing into bed was probably one of the best feelings ever. What a long day - I was up at 7:30 am to go to my "real" job, then class, then 12 dozen freaking cupcakes!!! Talk about a sense of accomplishment. Somehow I managed to remember to take pictures of everything too (it was on my to-do list!).

The bride was nice enough to send me a pic from the wedding set up - looks beautiful!

Looking back on both these orders, I think I was clearly insane for agreeing to do them, but I'm so happy I did! Not only did I get to be a part of these awesome people's weddings, but I got to test the limits of my baking, something I really love.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chocolate Projects: Fairy Tales

This week I posted on Food 2 about our final chocolate projects. You should check it out there! Our theme was fairy tales, and I chose my favorite fairy tale - Little Red Riding Hood. My piece weighed about two and a half pounds and was made entirely out of chocolate. There were some challenging moments during the course of the project, but overall, it came out pretty close to how I envisioned it.

Initially, I had wanted to make the characters out of modeling chocolate (it's pliable like clay), but Chef Peter called that a cop out. Using various molds and piping techniques, I managed to make Red and the Wolf entirely out of solid chocolate. The only elements that were made out of modeling chocolate were the roof shingles, Red's hair, quilt, cape, and the pillow "cases." I hand-painted the quilt and pillows using luster dust mixed with vodka.

This project was a big deal for me because like I said in my Food 2 post, I had built up a lot of anticipation for this assignment. Plus, chocolate was never really my strength during Level 2, so I felt like this was a particular achievement.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Week 28-29 Chocolate II

Week 28 brought the return of the dreaded chocolate unit. I did not enjoy the first chocolate unit - it was messy and tempering chocolate proved to be challenging. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed our second chocolate unit. I now have a feel for the tempering process, and the whole thing went much smoother.

Spiced Caramels

This unit we got to make a bunch of candies - both traditional and some not so much (beer ganache anyone?). In the first unit, we did hand-rolled truffles which have a less uniform look than their molded counterpart - bon bons.

Chocolate-dipped Butter Toffee

Peanut Butter Nougat - Soooooo good!

When I think of bon bons, lazy housewives lounging on the sofa eating them comes to mind. This is probably because whenever my dad would come home from work, a frequent refrain from my mom would be "What do you think I did all day? Lay on the couch and eat bon bons?"

"Paint-splattered" Dulce de Leche Bon Bons

My Glitter-ized Dulce de Leche Bon Bons

Bon bons are great because there's so many different fillings you can make. Almost any flavor can be used. One of the best class days in this unit was when our class had free rein to make a filling of our choice. I made a passion fruit caramel filling and a beer ganache filling. Some of my classmates fillings included caramel apple, tiramisu, wasabi, fig, peanut butter, and so many more. In the locker room after class, the culinary students just descended on the beer ganache bon bons, devouring almost all of them.

Gold=Milk Chocolate Bon Bons with Passion Fruit Caramel
Red= Dark Chocolate with Beer Ganache

Inside the Passion Fruit Bon Bon

In the chocolate unit, we also made our first 2-tiered cake, a chocolate cake with a delicious chocolate raspberry mousse filling, and a chocolate buttercream. Using cocoa butter colors as "paint," we made transfer sheets and poured chocolate over them. When the chocolate was partially set up, we bent the chocolate strip around the cake. It's a pretty cool technique, and the finished cake looked pretty good. The picture's deceiving though - it was way tinier in real life - just a 3" and a 6" cake.

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