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


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