Friday, May 21, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
French Culinary Institute has a lot of amateur pastry and culinary classes, and for five weeks in April and May, I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer to assist Chef Cynthia Peithman's amateur fondant class. The classes were on Saturdays, and it was a long day having 2 back to back classes. Being in school from 8:00 am until 9-10 on Saturdays wasn't fun, but it was well worth it.
Chef Cynthia is my Level 1 head instructor, but she's also a reknowned cake artist, and she had a wealth of knowledge to share with the 22 students who enrolled in the fondant course. Just watching the class alone was really informative for me. I've dabbled with fondant, but have never quite mastered it, and I think a lot of the tips and tricks Chef Cynthia shared will prove to be useful in my next fondant endeavor.
I took some pictures of the finished cakes the students made. Some of their talent really blew me away. A sampling of the finished cakes below:
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Last week was the end of the petit four unit, and the exam was on Saturday.
We started off the week with some caramel mou (pronounced moo). It's a soft caramel that has chocolate and butter mixed into the cooked caramel, which is then poured out and cut into pieces when it cools. It sort of had the texture and taste of fudge. On one of our pieces, we sprinkled fleur de sel over top the caramel mou. I just love the combo of sweet and salty. Not my favorite item of the week though. I don't think this was really special enough to warrant making again.
The lemon cookies were sandwiched with raspberry jam and dipped in chocolate. They were a little bigger than the size of a dime, which means they were teeny tiny. If I made these again, I would make them bigger. American cookie-sized, as I call it.
We also made some glazed petit fours - pyramids, domes, and the traditional petit four cakes I initially thought covered the whole petit four spectrum. The picture below shows the pyramids and domes before they were glazed in chocolate.
Once the pyramids were glazed and set, we cut them into small, bite-sized pieces. There were three buttercream flavors in this one - raspberry, vanilla bean, and chocolate. This was one of my favorite items from all of Level 1.
These iced petit fours are soooo cute. I can't wait to make them again for a fancy tea party (now I just need an excuse to actually have a tea party). The cake was an almond sponge, sandwiched with raspberry jam, with a layer of marzipan on top. The whole thing is then covered with an icing glaze, and decorated individually. They are VERY time-consuming.
Thursday we "trayed up" all the items we had stowed the prior Saturday and Tuesday.
Thursday night we also made Chef Cynthia's tahini cookies. Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, and it's used in making hummus. I wasn't sure if I would like tahini and how it would work in a cookie, but these were awesome. The tahini is kind of nutty and I sandwiched them with grape jelly, so it was reminiscent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
I previously mentioned last Saturday's petit four exam, and what a disaster it was. It would take way too much space here to describe all of what went wrong, so I won't. If I had to give the incoming Level 1 students any advice, it would be: Do not drink on the night before an exam. It was a really, really bad idea. I had an off-the-charts hangover, the kitchen was hotter than normal, and everything was just going wrong. In addition to three petit fours we picked at random, we also had to prepare an original petit four of our choice.
My three random picks were chocolate macarons, tartelettes with passion fruit curd, and raisin cookies. My original petit four was a tartelette with a tangerine honey caramel and chocolate ganache, sprinkled with citrus fleur de sel. The flavors paired really well together, and it was by far the biggest success on my tray. As much as it was 4 hours of baking misery, my evaluation by Chef Cynthia went pretty well. There was no hiding the fact that my chocolate macarons were burnt, but she was a big fan of everything else.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Week 17 continued with petit fours, and it was delicious. Mini cookies, cakes, candies...what's not to like?
We started off the week with langues de chats (cat's tongues....ok maybe this sounds gross), pate de fruits (jelly candies for grown ups), and coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate. The pate de fruits my partner and I made was raspberry apple and extremely sugary and addicting.
On Thursday, we made our Opera cakes. Opera cake is made with a hazelnut cake layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache and then the top is glazed with chocolate. The whole cake is then cut into bite-sized pieces and decorated with chocolate piping. This was my coworkers' favorite item of the week. It seems like the inherently know which items took the most amount of time and effort to make, and pick those as their favorites.
On Thursday, we also made nougat, a candy made from basically sugar and nuts. We used a combination of whole roasted nuts- almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and some I'm probably forgetting. Then we cooked two sugars to different temperatures - one just sugar and the other with honey (which has a lower browning temperature than sugar), and poured them over an egg white foam. Once the mixture was whipped to be white and fluffy, we added the nuts, and poured it out over a nonstick surface. The nougat is dusted on both sides with A LOT of cornstarch, which I found to be odd and kind of unappetizing, and then cut into pieces. Alas, I will never know though because with all the nuts in this candy, it was strictly off-limits for me. Judging by the rate my classmates were eating it, however, it seems like the cornstarch couldn't have been that bad. I got a major workout cutting the nougat - it was HARD.
We also made a coconut version of puff pastry Thursday, which unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of my tiny bear claws and vol au vents. I also just forgot about them, leaving them in class for I guess whoever came in after us. The palmiers made it onto our tray though. We also made madeleines - which immediately made me think of this Friends episode where Freddie Prinze Jr. plays the male nanny who bakes madeleines. "Lighter than air... But that's not the point." (For my Friends-loving friends).
langues de chat, opera cake, madeleines, pate de fruits
Saturday we tackled two types of cookies using a chocolate and vanilla dough together: swirls and checkerboards. These cookies look pretty, but they were a serious pain. Neither of the doughs wanted to roll out nicely, and it took a lot of effort to get the final results. In order to speed along the process, I felt the need to consume half the raw cookie dough (it was so good...my inner 8 year old was exposed, sneaking pieces of cookie dough). Unfortunately, the dough tasted better than the baked cookies (isn't that the worst?), which were just sort of boring.
Florentine is another sort of candy we made with a sweet tart dough base with a caramel mixed with almonds and candied orange peel poured over the baked dough. It's then returned to the oven for some final baking.
I'm almost all caught up with my petit fours posts! One more left, this past week that ended with our exam (which was one of the worst baking days I've ever had). Stay tuned for that sure to be dramatic story (sorry, Dad, I'll try to tone down the drama).
Monday, May 10, 2010
I am SO behind on my blogging! Life has been particularly crazy lately with school and work, but I'm going to try to get caught up by the end of the week.
Week 16 (almost 3 weeks ago!) was the end of the breads unit and the start of petit fours, which are bite-sized desserts.
The bread exam went well, but we had temperature issues all night long. My test items were croissants, chocolate croissants, petit pains (small rolls), and lemon poppy seed muffins. Because everyone was in and out of the proof boxes and ovens all night long, both had temperatures way too low, and the baking was very challenging. My croissants didn't come out as well as I had hoped, but the overall end result was okay.
The best part of the breads exam was that we all made individual pizzas using the pizza dough we made the previous class. Mine had mozzarella and pepperoni on half.
The end of breads allowed us to move on to petit fours. Previously when I thought of petit fours, I thought they were those tiny iced cakes that are served at tea parties. Turns out they are any bite-sized dessert.
First up was financiers. They're mini hazelnut cakes with a small piece of fruit on top of the cakes. We used rhubarb and pineapple.
We also made palets au raisin (raisin cookies), but my team used dried cherries instead of raisins though, so I guess that made these palets au cerise. They were coated in a rum glaze. These were really good, but only about the size of a quarter so it was too easy to eat 20 of them without realizing what you're doing. That was actually the problem with all the petit fours.
Tuiles are crisp almond "cookies" made with butter, sugar, and almonds. They're baked, and then molded on a tuile mold to have their curved shape. They reminded me of Pringles because of the shape.
Ah, passion fruit curd. My new favorite thing in life. We filled these mini tart shells (called barquettes (French for ships) with the curd and then put fresh strawberries and raspberries on top. I want to put passion fruit on everything from now on.
I was so excited to make macarons! I had previously made them and posted the results here, and it was great making them again. These traditional macarons, made with almond flour, were tinted pink (or color of your choice) and the filled with either raspberry jam or passion fruit curd.
We also made these almond macarons which were used two ways. With some of them we made a sandwich with chocolate ganache. Everyone in the class thought they looked like mini burgers. They've never seen my mini burger cupcakes I guess.
We also made Sarah Bernhardts with the almond macarons, using them as a base for a pyramid of chocolate ganache, that was then covered in a chocolate coating. Did I mention all these desserts are bite-sized? As in, 30 seconds and 10 are gone??
One of the key portions of the petit four unit was learning to "tray up," meaning arranging these petit fours on a pretty tray. There needs to be the same number of each item, and it needs to look nice and organized.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I grew up watching soap operas with my mom, specifically All My Children. Funny story...my brother would also watch them during the day with my mom, and my dad had to put a ban on All My Children for Eric when he started talking about Adam Chandler as if he was someone we knew. (Sorry, Eric.)
Anyway, the "Lante" cupcake is a dark chocolate cupcake with a mascarpone filling and a chocolate hazelnut buttercream with chocolate pearls. Minus the hazelnut (which will send me running for the Benadryl), that sounds amazing. Fortunately, the recipe's there too. I think I'll be trying a nut-free adaptation of that in the future. For any readers who live in or near LA, Vanilla Bake Shop is giving away the Lante cupcake to the first 200 people who show up on May 5. Definitely worth checking out if you're in the area!
This one's for you Eric...