Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pastry School Week 4: Last Week of Tarts & Cookies

This past week was our last week of tarts & cookies. Our big exam is Tuesday and I have a lot of studying to do (and Grammys to watch), so I'm going to keep this brief. Or at least try I'm sure you have already noticed I have problems with brevity.

Tuesday was chocolate day in class. We made a chocolate Bavarian tart, a ganache tart and sablee cookies, which are not chocolate.

Chocolate Bavarian Tart

We had real issues with the heavy cream (well, at least I did). It seemed much thicker than usual, and it was warm. Now that it's been several days since I ate it and no food borne illness, I can say that I'm sure it was fine, but it was definitely sketchy. The chocolate Bavarian tart was amazing though. We made a chocolate custard and lightened it with whipped cream--soooo good.

Ganache Tart

The ganache tart was very rich. We also got to practice our piping skills, adding the white chocolate as a finishing touch.

Sablee cookies

Ok, so these cookies are one of my favorite things we've made so far in class, if not my absolute favorite. Pate Sablee could be used as a tart dough, but we rolled it out into cookies. We added a bit of candied orange & lemon peel into the dough and finished them with a lemon glaze. And then I ate all of them for breakfast the next morning.

Thursday's theme was caramel- we made it both for the tartelettes tatin and caramel nut tart. I've had issues with caramel in the past, but this one went pretty easily. However, at one point we were watching our instructor demo something and the room filled with a lot of smoke. Someone had left a pot of caramel on the stove and it had turned to char.

Tartelettes Tatin

These apple tartelettes were something else I ate for breakfast this week. Tarte tatin is a classic French dessert with the caramel is poured into the tart pan first, followed by apples and then covered with dough. When they come out of the oven, you quickly flip them over, out of the tart pans.

Bourbon Pecan Cookies

Caramel nut tart

Inside the caramel nut tart

The caramel nut tart got really great reviews from my coworkers. Even though I can't eat it (nut allergy), I think I'll definitely be making it again.

Saturday was the last class before our exam. We did some review and finished up the last tarts.

Raspberry compote

We made a raspberry apple compote for our linzer tortes. Those are two of my favorite fruits, so I thought it was great.

Linzer Torte

I also couldn't eat the linzer torte because it had hazelnuts in the dough. Stupidly, after rolling out the dough, I must have touched my lip and it was sooo itchy after that. The lattice top of the torte was a real challenge, but I'm happy I know how to do that now.

Quiche Lorraine

If I could eat one food for the next three months without gaining 100 pounds, it would be quiche Lorraine. I was iffy on it when I saw it on the syllabus. For some reason I didn't think I liked quiche, but this one was really amazing. It was a flaky crust and a really creamy custard with bacon and gruyere baked into it.

Now it's time to study for my test! That was definitely not brief!!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pastry School Week 3

I can't believe the first three weeks of pastry school are already over, and I can't believe how fast it's going. We're continuing with our tarts and cookies unit, and you would think I'd be sick of tarts by now, but there's so many (delicious) variations!

Sliced fig newtons

They all got crumbled when I put them in a bag

Last week we started out making fig newtons. My brother really liked the packaged kind growing up, but I was always wary of figs. In fact, this was the first time that I had even tried figs. We used dry figs because apparently figs are only in season at the end of summer. We cooked the figs in port wine, water, and sugar. It smelled really good, even though my figs took about four times as long as everyone else's to cook. I wasn't a huge fan of this cookie, but they came out pretty well.

Onion tart

Everything I've make at school during the week, I bring into work for my coworkers to eat. All of the tarts and cookies basically disappear as soon as I put them down on my desk. The onion tart was the exception to this. I was wrong in believing we'd only be making sweet pastries, and this onion tart was the first savory recipe to appear on the syllabus. The tart was made from carmelized onions, blue cheese (the amount of mold on that cheese really turned me off), walnuts and tomatoes. The whole thing smelled very strongly of cheese, and not in a good way. A few brave coworkers tried it, but there were no rave reviews. A lot of "it's....okay...."

I braved my nut allergy to try these spritskakor cookies. They have almond paste in them, and almonds aren't one of the nuts I tested as allergic to, but I sometimes have a reaction from eating them. All kinds of nuts are frequently processed in the same plants, so there's a lot of cross contamination. Fortunately I had no allergy symptoms, and they were just as great as my coworkers were reporting. They were a really great butter/almond cookie piped into a rosette with a spot of raspberry jam on top.

Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert that is a baked custard traditionally made with cherries. The original clafoutis is usually made in a bowl, not a tart shell. This one we made was made in a tart shell, with blueberries instead of cherries because cherries aren't in season. So this was kind of a departure from real clafoutis. It was still delicious though.

So there's two things that I'm really afraid of - burning myself and cutting myself. Being a pastry chef, both of these are bound to happen...more than once. This past Saturday I burned my thumb pretty badly trying to attach a KitchenAid bowl to the mixer I had previously had cooking on the stove. I should have realized that the bowl would be as hot as what was in it (135 degrees) or hotter, but I wasn't really thinking. I didn't cut myself this week, but during a lesson of candied lemon peel, we needed to julienne lemon peel, which means to cut it in thin strips. Our knives are REALLY sharp, and in order to do this, they had to be really close to your fingers. I think I need a lot more practice with knife skills before I feel more comfortable with them. The candied lemon peel came out really nice.

With the candied lemon peel and the meringue that burned my hand (well the bowl it was in at least), we made lemon tartlets. Using lemon curd we had previously made and refrigerated, we filled the mini tartlets and then piped a decorative design with the meringue. Then using a BLOW TORCH, we browned the meringue edges. The blow torch was also scary (see fear #1 compounded with my fear of things exploding). The candied lemon peel went into the center.

The last item on this week's menu was nut tart. Using our pate sucree (sweet dough), we lined our tart rings with it, spread a thin layer of raspberry jam, sprinkled over some toasted almonds, and then poured in the almond and hazelnut batter we had lightened with a French meringue. We were supposed to sprinkle powdered sugar over top in some sort of design. In the haste of the last minutes of class, I haphazardly overlapped two cardboard circles and powdered away. When I removed the circles, I immediately realized the design resembled cleavage. Oh well, lessons learned! Only one more week of tarts & cookies before our big exam on February 2!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pastry School Week 2: More Tarts & Cookies

Fresh Fruit Tart

My second week of classes at the French Culinary Institute were a lot less nerve-wracking. I had calmed down a lot since the start of class, allowing me to make some really great things in class. We're in the tarts and cookies unit of the course until February 2nd, and we continue to make more and more of these two pastries.

Tarte Bourdaloue

I hadn't ever really contemplated how many tarts one can possibly make. I had never made an actual tart on my own (only pies), and that has quickly changed over the past couple weeks. I am now on my way to becoming the Queen of Tarts.

Tarte Alsacienne

The class is extremely fast-paced and every class, in the matter of only five hours, we make between 3-5 completed pastries, depending on whether we have a sanitation lecture as well (that exam, my first at school, is this week!). Because we make all components from scratch - doughs, fillings, etc., it takes a bit of time to get to the finished product.

Pots de creme

The tarts we made this week were Tarte Bourdaloue (poached pairs and almonds), Fresh Fruit Tart, Apricot Tart, Tart Alsacienne (apple & custard), and mini fresh fruit tarts. In addition to this, we made gingersnap cookies, Vanilla Kipferls (vanilla hazelnut cookies), and Chocolate Heaven cookies, and pots de creme (kind of like chocolate custard).

Apricot Tart pre oven

Apricot tart after baking

The most exciting moment of the week was learning how to flambe. Being scared of both fire and knives, the choice of going to a culinary school may seem dubious, but I'm determined to overcome both in these next 9 months. I'm already making progress- I cut myself and lived and this week lit a pan on fire (on purpose).

Gingersnap Cookies

Vanilla Kipferl

Chocolate Heaven Cookies

For the Tarte Alsacienne, the apples were first sauteed and then using apple brandy, lit on fire. It was very cool! Seemingly unrelated, right after we were done flambeing, we saw a couple of firefighters walk by our classroom. They must have gotten word that there were beginner students playing with fire.

Fresh fruit mini tarts

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Week One of Pastry School!

A couple months ago I applied and got accepted into the classic pastry arts program at the French Culinary Institute. I will be attending the night program, while working full time, and cannot be any more excited to have started!! Baking is a real passion of mine, and it's amazing to be able to take it to the next level. Classes started this past Tuesday, and with the first week done, I can safely say that I LOVE it!

Full uniform - my embroidered jacket didn't come in yet. Sexy hat!

This week I got an email from a friend that said something along the lines of, "Hey, I saw you started pastry school this week. It's about time you realized that's what you should be doing." I feel that way too.

First fully baked project - apple tart

The first week of classes was simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I was so nervous to start. I had no clue what kind of skill level my fellow classmates would be at, what my instructors would be like, etc, etc. I get all kind of anxiety about starting new things, and this time was no exception. Fortunately everything went so smoothly. My chef instructors are amazing. The head instructor is Chef Cynthia, and she's really incredible. She made Caroline Kennedy's wedding cake, and now in addition to being an instructor at French Culinary Institute, she has her own really impressive cake company in NYC, Cakeline.

Banana tart - A couple of the rosettes got smushed in the fridge

In our first week of class, in addition to covering some basic lessons, we made and completed an apple tart and a banana cream tart. I brought the apple tart to work and I swear it was completely gone within 5 minutes of unwrapping it. I shared the banana tart with my family yesterday, and they approved. I'm really looking forward to all the other things I'll be learning and hope to be able to update this with pictures and stories while I'm going through these next 9 months before I graduate!

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