Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Week 7: Puff Pastry

As I mentioned previously, last week the flu struck. It has been extremely challenging working the balance of a full time job and almost 20 hours of class a week, and the illness threw a major wrench in everything, bringing it all toppling down. My dad is probably going to call me up tomorrow and tell me how dramatic that statement sounded, but I'm going to keep it in anyway. Tuesday was the introduction to puff pastry dough, which is an extremely challenging dough. The dough needs to be rolled, folded, turned, chilled...and repeated over and over again. This process produces a dough that is almost a 1000 layers of dough and butter (!! 500 layers of butter?!). It is delicious. I can't even describe how delicious it is. I want to eat puff pastry wrapped around my every meal. Cheerios in puff pastry? I'm on it!

Vol au Vents

Tuesday we made two type of puff pastry - rapide and classic. The rapide is supposed to be a faster dough to make that produces less rise. With the use of no leaveners, this dough rises to up to eight times its size. It's baking magic. That night we assembled our palmiers and cheese straws, but didn't get to bake either.

Pineapple Bar Tart

Unfortunately, I had to leave class on Thursday almost immediately after getting there. It's really, really hard to stand in a kitchen, next to a 400 degree oven for over five hours straight, and it wasn't happening that night. I went home, rested up, and came back slightly recovered on Saturday. Saturday we made some vol au vents first. Vol au vents are a puff pastry case that is filled with with something. For these Chef Cynthia made two savory fillings - spinach & goat cheese and a mushroom. They looked great, but even puff pastry won't make me like spinach.

Palmiers, also known as elephant ears

We also made a Bar Tart that we used a touch of almond cream and some pineapple. This was the first time I ever cut a whole pineapple. I've seen whole pineapples in stores, but never had any idea how to cut them. My knife skills are slowly improving, and the whole pineapple was a big accomplishment for me.


My mom always tells me how when she was pregnant with me, she and her godmother ate a steady diet of Napoleons. Maybe this is why I'm so in love with puff pastry. We made a Napoleon cake, called a Mille-Feuille, which I believe translates from French to "thousand leaf," referring to the layers of pastry. It was three rounds of puff pastry with a lightened pastry cream in between each. We put crumbs of the puff pastry around the edges of the cake. We sprinkled powdered sugar on top and then used knives heated over a flame to caramelize a cross hatch pattern.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Croquembouche Improvements

As promised, I have dug up a picture of the Christmas Eve croquembouche disaster. Actually, my mom did. She wasn't able to come up with any photo of just the croquembouche. At the time she probably thought it would be best if this went undocumented. I think you can get this idea from the picture though....

If I hadn't pointed it out, you might just think that was a plate of cream puffs, instead of an attempted croquembouche. I'll repost the picture of my 2nd attempt at a croquembouche because I'm pretty proud of it and because that first picture is just pathetic.

And while we're on the topic of last Christmas (sort of), I found some pictures in my phone of the cake I made for Christmas Eve as well. I'm not sure why these never got posted to the blog, but now is as good of a time as any. This cake was more or less a total rip off of one that the very talented cake decorated at My Sweet and Saucy made and featured on her blog. I still have a very long way to go with my fondant skills, but I think they're improving somewhat.

Front of the cake

Back of the cake

Chocolate Raspberry Macarons

I've been wanting to make macarons for a while now. They always seemed so tricky and like they'd be a sure failure. Wikipedia says it itself, "Making macarons requires a great deal of discipline and is a process that is highly dependent on exactitude, technique, and proper equipment. For this reason it is a notoriously difficult recipe to master and a frustrating endeavor for the amateur baker." I read up on them before taking the plunge last weekend. When I told people what I was making, most people immediately thought of macaroons, the coconut cookie. The French macaron is a sandwich cookie. The tops and bottoms are a meringue cookie that is supposed to be crisp on the outside and chewy and moist on the inside.

My first attempt was surprisingly successful. The filling I used was a chocolate raspberry ganache. I think there were several key steps here. The first was bringing the egg whites to room temperature. Several recipes recommended leaving the egg whites out for 24 hours. That seemed to go against everything I ever thought about that they needed to be refrigerated. I consulted with Chef Cynthia, and she said that while there's no harm in leaving them out, they probably only need to be out for an hour or so. The second step was after piping out the meringues was to let them dry out a little bit before putting them in the oven. I'm anxious to try these again in a variety of flavors.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Week 6: Pate a Choux & Exam

I'm really behind on my blogging and baking. As if it hasn't been hard enough balancing work and school, this week I got some sort of cold/flu/plague that just completely knocked me out for most the week. I had to miss class on Thursday, and I'm still playing a bit of catch up.

So for the first of the blog posts to get up to speed...last week's pate a choux unit! Pate a choux (cream puff pastry) was only a four class unit - pretty short compared to the other units.

Austrian dumplings with cherry compote - the chefs made these and plated them for us

On Tuesday, we made gougeres, which are cheesy puffs. I love, love, love the gougeres at Artisanal, one of my favorite restaurants in NYC. I'm not sure the ones I made were as good as theirs, but it was my first attempt. And it didn't stop me from eating them for breakfast the next day.


That class we also made St. Honore cake. St. Honore is the patron saint of bakers, and he was obviously not present in our class that night. I don't know what it was about this cake, but it seemed like putting it together was a disaster for everyone. It consisted of a base of flaky pastry with three rings of choux piped on top. That was baked, along with some ball-shaped cream puffs. The puff balls were them filled with the prepared cream, which was a chiboust. Chiboust is pastry cream with gelatin and Italian meringue.

Base of the St. Honore cake

Finished St. Honore cake

Everything was going well at this point, and I put the chiboust in the fridge to set up. Unfortunately, when I took it out, it had the strangest consistency. In order to get it smooth again, I needed to mix it so that it was a bit looser than I would have liked. The cream puffs were dipped in caramel and "glued" with more caramel around the base. Caranel is HOT. Like, really hot. And I dipped my finger into it. Like I said, no St. Honore in Pastry I that day. The remaining cream was then piped into the center of the cake. The cake itself was really delicious, but I don't think I will be making this cake again anytime soon. Maybe I'd need to stop by a church and make an offering to St. Honore before attempting it again.

Dipped cream puffs waiting to be assembled

The crowning glory of our choux unit was the croquembouche. A croquembouche is a cone-shaped tower of cream puffs that is held together with caramel and then decorated in a variety of ways. It's the traditional French wedding cake. This past Christmas, Martha Stewart had mistakenly led me to believe this would be an easy endeavor. It was a complete disaster. I think it ended up looking like a haphazard pile of leaking cream puffs. I can't say with 100% certainty because by the time it hit the table Christmas Eve, I was over a bottle of wine in. I'm feeling vindicated with this croquembouche though and am going to have my mom email me the pictures so I can post them to show how far I've come. While this croquembouche came out much better than the first, I don't know if I'm jumping to make another one any time soon. Maybe next Christmas.

Finished croquembouche - the puffs were dipped in caramel, cocoa nibs, and pink coconut

On Saturday we had our choux exam. This one was smooth sailing in comparison to the first. Everyone was significantly calmer, and we all were assigned to make eclairs in vanilla, chocolate, and coffee and a Paris-Brest. No St. Honore cake? No croquembouche? Piece of cake! I'm pleased with the way my exam results came out.

Exam tray

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

Conversation heart cookies

Valentine's Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, regardless of my relationship status. It's just a fun holiday that partially revolves around chocolate, and who can object to that? I think a main influence of my love for the typically loathed holiday is my mom, who has always made it a really enjoyable day for the whole family. When my siblings and I were younger, we'd all get dressed up in our fanciest clothes and have a special meal that my mom had prepared for us. I've been trying to spread my love of Valentine's Day for years, and I think I'm making some progress. Typically, every year I host a party for my friends, but this year with school and work, there was just no time to plan it. To carry on my tradition of trying to make the day special for everyone, I went into baking overdrive last week to put together some treats to mail out to some friends and family members.

Slight modification for a friend who is into math

The first thing I made was iced sugar cookies. These are really a pain to make. They're so labor intensive and (in my opinion), don't taste that great. But, when they're done right, they look amazing, so I continue to make them. My inspiration for these was the very talented baker/blogger at A Dozen Eggs. I seriously do not know how she does it! I made two sets of cookies, traditional conversation hearts and boxers & lips. They took two nights to complete.

Hot lips & boxers

I also made Rice Krispie treats. I haven't had a homemade one of these in forever. My only complaint is that the recipe on the back of the box (which claims to be for a 13x9" pan) just does not make enough. They came out pretty thin. So, if you're making these using that recipe, double it. I like really thick Rice Krispie treats. I put some heart sprinkles on the top of these.

Rice Krispie Treats

Next up was brownies. I used the tried and true recipe from the Baked cookbook. These are really great, especially if you use good chocolate. No Hershey's chocolate in these...

The marshmallows started looking like this

And ended like this

The thing I was most excited about making for this Valentine's Day was marshmallows. I had never even contemplated making these before I started seeing recipes pop up for them, and I thought they were going to be incredibly complex to make. They could not have been any easier. With only a few ingredients, and a minimal level of skill required, these were really great to make. I dyed them pink for the holiday. I love making things that have a "wow" moment, and these went from a flat cloudy white mixture to a fluffy, shiny marshmallow in under 10 minutes.

Cut marshmallow, rolled in powdered sugar

Hopefully everyone enjoyed their treats!

Everything packaged and ready to go!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Superbowl Desserts

Somehow I've managed to fit in some baking outside of class this past week. Over 15 hours of my week are devoted to baking in class and then I have a full time job, so it's been tough finding outside baking time. Last week for the Superbowl, I made chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches and cupcakes to bring to a party.

The ice cream sandwiches went over huge, and they were relatively easy to make. The night before, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and put in in the fridge. On Sunday, I scooped out cookies that were approximately the same size and baked them. After they were out of the oven and while they were cooling, I took some ice cream out to soften. My original plan was to make my own ice cream, but I was short on time. Once the ice cream was soft enough, I spooned it onto one cookie and pressed another on top. After they were sandwiched, I rolled the edges in rainbow sprinkles.

The cupcakes were a vanilla base with raspberry jam on the inside. They were all frosted with vanilla and half were rolled in coconut.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Week 5: Pate a Choux

With the completion of the Tarts & Cookies unit, we've moved on to pate a choux. Pate a choux is cream puff pastry. Initially, I wondered how many things you can make with cream puff pastry, and like I suspected, not much. The whole unit is only four classes long and we've already done two of the. The last class is entirely devoted to making a croquembouche. I had attempted a croquembouche (cone-shaped tower of cream puffs) for Christmas Eve, and it was a total disaster. Maybe I'll post that sad picture next week.


Choux is a really cool dough. You cook part of the ingredients (flour, butter, water) on the stove until it's thickened and then you cool it down in a mixer before adding a TON of eggs. Seriously, 10 eggs per batch of dough. That's a lot. When you pipe it into whatever shape you desire, and it looks pretty flat and dense. Then you bake it and it puffs up almost triple its size and the inside is completely hollow and airy, ready
to be filled with something delicious. Like I said, cool stuff.

Paris-Brest before it's baked

Filled Paris-Brest without the top on

The first item in choux was eclairs. I thought I didn't like eclairs, but these were really good. I think the key is that I don't like pastry cream that eclairs are usually filled with. It's too thick and weird-textured. The eclairs we made in class though were filled with flavored creme legere (pastry cream lightened with whipped cream). We made vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. The coffee were awesome.

Finished Paris-Brest

The second class in the choux unit had cygnes (swans), profiteroles (ice cream-filled cream puffs), and Paris-Brest. Paris-Brest is sort of like a cake. It was created by a baker in France to commemorate the bicycle race between the cities of Paris and Brest, which is why the choux is shaped like a bicycle wheel. Once the choux pastry is baked (with almonds sprinkled on top), it is cut in half and then filled with a special praline buttercream that is carefully piped into the center to further resemble the treads of a bicycle wheel.


We had our first introduction to plated desserts with our cygnes and profiteroles. Both were plated in a lake of chocolate sauce, and we decorated the plates with some of the creme anglaise
Chef Joseph had reserved before spinning the rest into the rest into ice cream. I have a lot to learn about plating, but I thought my first attempt wasn't too bad.

Cream puff swans

Chef Cynthia also demoed popovers for us. Because they're so hard to get clean out of the pans, she thought it was best not to have us all make them. Which was probably a good call. After seeing the pan, I think it would have taken us all class to scrape out the remnant popover.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

First Exam: Tarts & Cookies

This past Tuesday was my first exam in pastry school. Technically, I had already taken my sanitation exam (which I passed!), but this was the first actual exam testing my knowledge of baking. Not knowing what to expect, I was thoroughly freaked out and studied probably more than I ever had before. The exam had both a written and practical component. I felt confident about the practical (actual baking) part, and the written section was a lot less difficult than I thought it was going to be. Each of us was randomly assigned a set of 2 tarts and 1 cookie. They were all things we had previously made in class, and I got nut tart, chocolate ganache tartlettes, and bourbon pecan cookies.

Presentation tray of finished tarts & cookies

I'm happy with the way everything came out. I felt like I was organized, worked at a good pace, and produced a good end result. Chef Cynthia seemed to think everything went well, but I won't know for sure until I get my grades back on Tuesday. She did say my cookies were a little on the large side, but I'm pretty sure they tasted okay (I couldn't actually try two of my final products because of the pecans and hazelnuts).

Close up of my ganache tartlettes, decorated with white chocolate

Now that tarts & cookies is over, we've moved on to choux (cream puff) pastry. After each unit, we rotate partners and this unit I happen to be the odd man out (we have 17 students in my class). I think it will be okay as long as I can stay on top of dish washing!

Blog Design by Delicious Design Studio