Sunday, March 28, 2010

Week 11: Cakes I

The cakes portion of our program is divided into two portions, separated by the second half of the bread unit. Making cakes are really time consuming. One cake we made this week had seven different components that had to be made. I figure it probably took about 3 hours of actual working in order to make that cake.

On Tuesday, the theme seemed to be chocolate. I like chocolate (not as much as vanilla), but working with it is just messy. Tuesday night I had to apply stain spray to my whole uniform. The first cake was a chocolate ganache cake. We built the cake in a ring mold using layers of chocolate genoise and chocolate ganache. Once the cake set in the freezer, we took it out of the mold and poured a chocolate glaze over the entire thing.

Using organic roses (so that they're not sprayed with pesticides), we made candied flower petals. We took the petals and brushed them with egg whites and then rolled them in superfine sugar. This was a really pretty and easy touch to add to the top of the cake.

Sliced Ganache Cake

The second chocolate cake was the one that had seven components was the Marjolaine. We made the chocolate genoise and the nut meringue layers the class before. From bottom to top it was: chocolate genoise (cake), chocolate ganache, nut meringue, chocolate whipped cream, nut meringue, praline buttercream, nut meringue, whipped cream, and a last nut meringue. The whole thing was then covered in the praline buttercream and coated with the chocolate glaze. This was a really decadent cake. And being as it took so long to make, a special occasion cake.


Inside the Marjolaine

Next up for the week was our Charlotte Russe. The outside was built out of ladyfingers and inside was a white peach Bavarian (similar to a mousse). Both the ladyfingers and the Bavarian were amazing. It was a really fresh-tasting cake. I could see myself eating this in the summer. My ladyfinger piping skills needs some work, so I think I will be making it again.

Thursday night I had a really rough night at class. One of those nights where I was just like "whyyyyy did I come? Why am I not at the bar with my friends??" I love pastry school, and I'm so happy I made this decision to enroll. That said, not every class is a walk in the park. On Thursday, my jaconde (a very thin sheet cake we were using for two different cakes) was over-baked (each class has two assigned people to be bakers) and then another classmate carelessly unmolded my cake and broke it into many pieces. After that, the cake was basically unusable. I'm a total perfectionist when it comes to baking and school, so I was pretty unhappy about this. I ended up being able to scavenge some of my classmate's leftovers in order to make both of my cakes.

The Charlotte Royale was one of the cakes we made with the jaconde. We made a jelly roll using the cake and apricot jam. The log was cut into thin slices and we lined a bowl with them. The cake was them filled with a vanilla Bavarian cream with a round of white genoise placed for what would become the bottom of the cake. Once the cake set in the freezer, we flipped it over out of the bowl. I'm not sure yet how this cake tastes (it's one of three in my freezer currently), but it looks like a brain. If we had used red raspberry jam, this would have been the perfect Halloween cake. Right next to the peeled grape "eye balls."

Silpat with just the chocolate batter on it

Baked pattern cake

The next cake was one I was really excited to learn how to make. When I lived in Boston, there was this amazing dessert bar/bakery called Finale and they always had these type of cakes in the display case where the outside was a patterned cake. I never had any idea of how they got the cake baked into that pattern, but now I know the secret. Using a stencil and some chocolate cake batter (pate a cornet to be exact), you apply the chocolate to the Silpat (nonstick liner) and then freeze it. Once it's frozen, you put a white batter on top of the chocolate design, spread it thin, and then bake it. It's amazing!

This is the unfinished chocolate mousse cake that is currently in my freezer. I texted my roommate on Saturday, "If you're feeling inclined to bring home anything that needs to be frozen, don't." We have this cake, a Charlotte Russe, and a Charlotte Royale in the freezer taking up basically every inch of space. The chocolate mousse cake has white chocolate and chocolate mousse on the inside. Our mousse came out not as great as we had hoped, but tasted great. At some point this week, I'll finish that cake with some whipped cream and bring it to work. I'm really enjoying cakes so far. It's rewarding to have all the different components come together into something beautiful. This week we tackle some traditional American cakes, which will be a nice break from the plain and boring genoise!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Week 11: End of Viennoiserie and Start of Cakes I

Thank God viennoiserie has ended. I love it, don't get me wrong, but I just can't eat that much of it before I need to order my chef pants in several sizes larger. Last week we had one more class of viennoiserie, and then we started cakes on Thursday. I'm really excited for the start of cakes; it finally feels like we're getting to more challenging parts of the curriculum.

Using some of our brioche dough, we made a brioche fruit tart. The base was the brioche, and it was covered with some pastry cream, apricots, and blueberries before being baked. This was a big hit in my office. I really love apricots; they remind me of 5th grade. In 5th grade, I ate a peanut butter and apricot sandwich every day for lunch. I'd get stuck in year-long year cream cheese and grape jelly, another year just cheese on white bread. The apricot year was probably one of my healthier ones.

We also made a pannetone, which is a traditional Italian bread made at Christmas time. As far as breadish cakes with raisins go, I much preferred the kugelhopf, which was a lot more moist. The picture above was after the pannetone got squished in my tote on the trek from school to home to work. It was initially less misshapen.

Our last bread was a pain de mie, or Pullman loaf. This is a pretty simple white bread. Much better than Wonder Bread (as much as I love it). I had to give the majority of this loaf to a coworker to take home or else I would have made the whole thing into grilled cheese.

These ruche, or beehives, were so cute, and delicious. On the inside was 3 layers of brioche that was soaked with a honey/wine/lavender liquid. Those three things are delicious together. The layers were sandwiched with some creme legere (lightened pastry cream). The whole thing was then covered with a meringue, and then we took a blowtorch to it. I really love the blowtorch. Almost as much as I love this meringue. It tastes exactly like marshmallow fluff. We had made some bees out of marzipan to put on the hives the class before. Not realizing we were going to be making mini beehives, mine were on the larger side. Chef Cynthia called them killer bees.

Close up of the tiny bee face

Thursday was the start of cakes, which like I said before, is really exciting. I've seen pictures of what we'll be making, and some of it is really beautiful. All this is working up to when we eventually make a 3 tier wedding cake in Level 2.

Our first cake we made was a traditional genoise (pronounced jen-wahz). A genoise is a plain cake that is leavened simply with a meringue. There is usually no flavor added to the cake before it bakes. These cakes are frequently soaked in a simple syrup (sugar) or a flavored syrup. I will go on record and say that this cake sucks. It's dry and flavorless. I can't really see myself using this type of cake unless I'm compelled to for school. This particular cake in the picture was a plain genoise soaked in a raspberry liquor syrup with raspberry filling and a standard buttercream. Don't get me started on this pate a bombe buttercream either. My partner and I refer to it as "sugar flavored with butter." Not a good thing.

So cakes got off to a slow start, for me at least. We made these poundcakes, individual size. I LOVE poundcake. I would eat it everyday for breakfast if it wouldn't mean committing to being compared to Shamu for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, there was just something not right about these poundcakes. The texture was more like cornbread, then the buttery, soft poundcake I like.

To redeem the slow start of cakes, there was this dacquoise. A dacquoise is a cake made up of layers of meringue and buttercream. In this case, it was almond meringues and coffee buttercream. Being allergic to nuts, I couldn't try the whole cake, but the coffee buttercream was an improvement from the butter-sugar. I served this to my parents on Sunday, and they declared it the best dessert I've ever made. That's pretty huge being as I've made a lot of things they've sampled.

Continuing on the upswing was the angel food cake. This one was everything you'd want- great flavor and light, airy texture.

Also on Sunday for my parents visit, I got some low fat Cool Whip (I would have preferred homemade whipped cream, but cut backs need to come somewhere) and fresh strawberries and made the angel food cake into a really simple layer cake. This was hands down my favorite creation of the week.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Airmail Cosmopolitan Cupcakes

Last weekend, I baked some cosmopolitan cupcakes in jars to mail out to my aunt's coworker. During her training process, this woman had been particularly helpful and my aunt wanted to send her something to thank her.

Dozen cupcakes boxed up and ready to ship

After discussing a few flavor options, we settled on my cosmopolitan cupcakes, the very first cupcake I ever posted on this blog. They are raspberry cake with lime frosting and hot pink sanding sugar sprinkled on top.

Before the lid went on

It's been really hard to find time/energy to bake anything outside of class, so I was happy for this opportunity. These went out on Monday and were received in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Hopefully they were enjoyed!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Week 10: Viennoiserie

Week 10 continued with viennoiserie - breakfast pastry, generally enriched breads. This unit was not kind on my waistline.

These were raisin nut danishes...a big hit at my office. At the beginning of this unit, our class soaked a large container of raisins in rum to use in various recipes. They were a really great addition to everything we used them in.

Fruitcake is one of those things that the mere mention of elicits groans and eye-rolling. I was doubtful too, but this fruitcake has totally changed my opinion. It was a butter cake base with dried cherries, raisins, pears, and apricots. I want to make one of these cakes for everyone I know-- a one woman crusade to reverse the opinion of fruitcake forever.

The challah bread was really good. Very rich and soft. Chef Toni taught us how to do the more complicated 6 strand braid for this loaf. Having never really mastered the art of French braiding hair, I didn't feel very hopeful that I would be able to do this. My braid turned out pretty well though.


Kugelhopf is a traditional Austrian bread, that's kind of like a cross between a bread and a cake, and contains more of the rum raisins. I really loved this bread; it was moist and had a really tender crumb. Definitely one of my favorites of the week.

Brioche was sort of similar to the challah to me, but better. It was extremely soft and buttery. I think I ate half the loaf. Like I said, my waist is looking for a reprieve from breads.

These brioche a tete are supposed to look like little heads (tete means head in French). I'm not sure why you'd want to eat something that resembled a head, but this is just another quirky example of French-named pastries. Mine looked basically nothing like they're supposed to look like. I'm okay with having not yet mastered the art of making breads that look like heads.

The only scones I had ever had came from Starbucks. I like Starbucks for some things, but their pastries are not one of them. Their scones had led me to believe all scones were like hard, dry rocks. Not so with these currant scones. They were really delicious with a little bit of strawberry jam. Chef Cynthia made us her variation of this recipe, which was even more moist and amazing. I'm a new scone convert.

Stollen is another bread like the fruitcake, a cake-ish bread filled with dried fruits and nuts. The whole thing is then covered in melted butter and rolled in powdered sugar. It's a traditional Christmas bread, and is supposed to look like the baby Jesus swaddled in a blanket. I'm not sure I saw the resemblance. Maybe if you squinted and turned your head to the side.

Croissants are one of my favorite pleasures in life. Even bad croissants usually taste good. And these that we made in class were really terrific croissants. Croissants are made similarly to puff pastry - layers of dough and butter rolled out, and folded, but they have yeast added to help with the rise. We made both traditional croissants and pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants). The French traditionally bake their croissants (and other pastries) a deeper brown color than most of us are used to, but I think this just made them even better.

I used the leftover croissants to make croissant French toast Sunday morning for my parents. There's this restaurant in Hoboken, Amanda's, and they make the absolute best brunch. My favorite thing there is the croissant French toast with strawberry compote, and I tried to recreate that. Mine was good, but Amanda's has made me cry tears outside the restaurant when I can't get Sunday morning reservations.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Week 9: Puff Pastry Exam and Start of Viennoiserie

Last week was the end of our puff pastry unit, and our exam was on Thursday. After the exam, we moved into what I suspect will be one of my favorite units - viennoiserie. Viennoiserie is breakfast pastry made from yeast-levened dough. I haven't worked much with yeast, so I'm excited to start. Plus I love eating croissants and breads.

To finish off the puff pastry unit, we made speedy vol au vents, an apple dartois, and a mille-feuille (more commonly known here as a Napoleon). I don't know why these vol au vents are called speedy. I'm pretty sure they took just as long as the first ones. These were a square/diamond shape and we filled them with pastry cream and fresh fruit.

Mangoes and blueberries

The apple dartois was kind of like a fancier apple tart made with puff pastry. To make the top, we used a lattice cutter and then stretched the cut piece of puff pastry over the compote. I put cut outs of leaves on the sides. I love everything with apples, so this was a highlight of the week.

Apple Dartois

We made our third Napoleon on Tuesday. This one was just the classic version. Some classmates used some fresh fruit and jam in theirs, but I wanted to do the traditional version.

Napoleon Strip

Puff pastry was our third exam so far. It's getting progressively more relaxed for these exams, but it's still a very frenzied 3 hours or so. I was pretty fortunate this time. To determine what everyone would be making, we each drew a set of three items out of a mixing bowl. I got mille feuille ronde (round Napoleon cake), palmiers and paillettes. Both pailletes and palmiers are two pretty simple puff pastry items, and a Napoleon cake isn't the worst thing you could need to make. Paillettes are puff pastry cheese straws with a bit of spice. I had missed the class when we made them because of the flu, but they were pretty simple. A couple of my classmates weren't so lucky and received sets of pastries that were far more complicated. They all did really well though, so it was nothing they couldn't handle!

Puff Pastry Exam Tray

Vienoisserie started on Saturday morning. First, let me state that yeast is really the most foul smelling thing in the world. Particularly if you have a slight hangover. That being said, the bread it makes is delicious. There's also a lot of waiting involved in making bread. You mix the dough, then let it rest and rise in the proofer (something that looks like a cabinet and stays at the perfect temperature for yeast activity), then deflate it a little, then put it back in the proofer, more rising, and eventually it's ready to bake. The first thing on the agenda was orange cinnamon swirl bread. It tasted as awesome as that sounds. The inside of the bread was so soft and delicious. I will definitely be making that again.

Orange Cinnamon Swirl Bread - Outside and inside view

Using a portion of the dough from the orange bread, we made pecan sticky buns. A caramel, whiskey, pecan mixture gets poured into the bottom of the pan. Then the dough gets rolled into a log with a brown sugar spice mixture on the inside. We sliced the log into the rolls and fit them around the pan. After they baked, we flipped them out of the pan so that the caramel nut mixture was on top. These looked really great. It definitely made me wish I wasn't allergic to nuts. We also made something called Sally Lunn rolls, but somehow I forgot to take a picture of those. I'll see if I can steal a pic from a classmate to post up here, so you all don't feel left out.

Before Oven

Post baking

Saturday in Hoboken was the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration. St. Patty's Day in Hoboken is a really big deal. The town has a really large Irish population, 100 bars in 1 square mile, and a lot of young people. It's a recipe for a really great celebration. The drinking starts early and lasts all day (well as long as you can stay awake. I was in bed, asleep, last year by 7:00 pm), and when I left for class at 7:45 am, there was already people lined up outside the bars waiting for them to open. When I got off the PATH train with all these baked goods, I was engulfed in a sea of drunk revelers, who seemed to all want a piece of the sticky buns. I was able to protect them in order to bring them to the party all my friends are at. If you ever want to feel like the most popular person, bring a bag filled with home baked bread to a party with a bunch of people who are drinking. It's a big hit. The 24 chocolate Guinness cupcakes with Bailey's frosting I made as well didn't hurt either.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Week 8: More Puff Pastry

Puff pastry continued into last week. I'm starting to get the sense that when it comes to puff pastry, it's a love it or hate it thing for my classmates. I'm firmly in the "love it" category. There's just something soothing to me in all the rhythms of making the dough. That said, I was not a huge fan of a new puff pastry we tackled this week - chocolate puff pastry. It was a huge pain to make, didn't produce as much rise as even the rapide.

On Tuesday, we made poires en cage (pears in cage), conversations, and fruit galettes. The poires en cage looked really cool and were fairly simple to make. We poached the pears in a caramel ginger spice liquid, which was delicious.

Poires en cage

Conversations are a pastry that is made using puff pastry, almond cream, and royal icing. It's all put together and baked. Out of the three desserts from that night, this one was my coworkers' favorite. I tried a bit of it (I'm not allergic to almonds, just hesitant to eat them) and thought it was really sweet. A little bit more than my liking.

Conversations - traditional on the right

A galette is a free form tart, and we used puff pastry to form the base. The fruit compote was made with a combination of cherries, blueberries, plums, and a touch of brandy. Nothing like some liquor to up the ante of breakfast.

Mini galettes

On Thursday, most of us braved the beginning of the snow storm to get to class and make jalousie, pithivier, and tarte tatin. Jalousie, pronounced "jealousy" is a puff pastry dessert made with a layer of almond cream topped with a layer of raspberry jam. It's made to resemble the Venetian blinds a baker always witnessed his neighbor peeking through, spying on his wife to catch her cheating.


Pithivier, also known as king's cake, is made with puff pastry, and frangipane - a mixture of pastry cream and almond cream. Traditionally, this pastry is made hiding a plastic baby inside the cake. I have no clue what the significance is, but I'd be freaked out to find a tiny baby in my dessert. Whoever finds the baby though gets to be king for the day.

No baby in this cake

Tarte tatin is one of my new favorite things to eat. It's so simple - just caramelized apples and puff pastry. With a splash of Calvados. First you caramelize the apples in a skillet using butter and sugar. Once you have a good color to the apples, you throw some Calvados (apple brandy) in the pan to flambe it. I poured a little bit too much in and ended up with a HUGE flame shooting up from the pan. Really, really scary. Fortunately, I still have my eyebrows. After the apples cool, you cover them with puff pastry and put it in the oven to bake. Once the puff is baked through, you take it out of the oven and immediately flip the skillet over to release the tart. All the snow made it impossible to get into work on Friday, so I was trapped in my house with this tart. At the end of Friday, there was no tarte tatin left.

Friday's breakfast, lunch and dinner

On Saturday, we used the chocolate puff pastry we had made the class before. We made and plated some banana tarts. Chef Joseph made some peanut butter ice cream to accompany them, and it was amazing. I'm not a huge banana fan though. It's just something about the texture I don't like.

Banana tart with peanut butter ice cream and chocolate sauce

We also made a chocolate Napoleon strip. The recipe called for only a creme d'or (a fast chocolate mousse) with the chocolate puff pastry, but our instructor felt it was just too much chocolate, so we also used a lightened pastry cream for a contrast of colors and flavors. The end result was really beautiful.

The crowning glory of the week

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