Thursday, February 26, 2009

Now in 10 Mega Pixels


Just in time for Petit Four baking at school and my fast approaching trip to Paris, I bought a new camera. My little old digital camera is dying a slow death, and I have been eying some newer and more powerful models lately. I picked up the new camera on Monday morning so I'd be able to take photos at school this week (and get familiarized with its functions before Paris). So far I am very satisfied with the photo qualities. The vase of Chrysanthemums on my dining room table served as a perfect test subject.

Now about the Petit Fours. I always pictured Petit Fours as small, bite-size squares of cake, coated in fondant and then decorated. I learned this week that the word "Petit Four" actually means: small oven. Also there are about 5 different classifications of Petit Fours, and little cake bites are just one type. Petit Fours can be cookies, macarons, financiers, fruit tarts or cake bites. They are classified by how they are made/what they contain, and of course have to be Petite, or small enough to be consumed in 2/few bites.

Monday's class we made a lot of cookie like Petit Fours, classified as Petit Four Sec. I made Damiers. It's a simple recipe for a divine buttery little cookie. They reminded me of the Danish Butter cookies that come in the tall blue tin that my Grandmother used to have at her house. The Damiers are traditionally sandwiched together with Apricot jam in the middle and dipped half way into melted chocolate. I made a few traditional ones and then branched out filling some with Caramel, strawberry, chocolate, and even pistachio paste.
Damiers & Nantais Sablee Petit Fours

The Nantais Sablee is a similar type of cookie, light and buttery, with the addition of flaked coconut and almond flour. These I striped with melted chocolate, dipped in chocolate and coated with more coconut, or coated with chopped hazelnuts. They would make good sandwich cookies too with a variety of fillings.

Tuesday evening was my most challenging class so far. Having an aching back and tired feet didn't help my cause. We were each assigned 5 recipes to do on our own, along with recipes we had started the night before that needed baking. We were starting on Petit Four Demi Sec....and a lot of it was macarons, French Macarons. The recipes we had to complete were: Madeleines, Raspberry Financiers, Macarons, Coconut Macarons, and Tuilles.

The Tuilles were my downfall. After watching my classmates struggle to remove the incredibly fragile and lace thin cookies from their silpats, I was dreading my turn. I made a bad judgement call and added too much liquid to my batter. My Tuilles spread beautifully and turned caramel colored in the oven, but shattered into pieces when I attempted to gingerly lift them from the silpat. It was getting late, dishes were piling up, macarons needed filling, and my back was screaming; I wanted to hang up my apron and go home. This was a first for me. I scraped my busted Tuilles into the garbage can, took some ibuprofen and thought about how many days like this there is likely to be ahead of me in my new career.

At 2am we finally had all the dishes done (with a big thanks to a very helpful instructor), wiped down our work space, and packed up our Petit Fours. I came home and went straight to bed. I decided today I'm not going to let those Tuilles get the best of me, I will make them at home, and I will make them work.....just not this week.
Pistachio Financiers

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just like Mom made

Fresh Made Cherry Jam

The older I get, the more I appreciate how I was raised. (Yes, Mom it's true) I was just having lunch with a friend today and telling her about growing up on the farm, raising cows, pigs and goats, and growing our own vegetables. It amazes, and at the same time does not surprise me how unheard of it is these days. I feel lucky to have had such a unique experience growing up.

My classmates were surprised when I told them my parents did not buy me play dough to have as a child, even though I wanted it. Instead I got to make cookies in any shape I wanted and decorate them with homemade frosting. My siblings and I always looked forward to dying eggs to go in our yearly Easter Bread. Pie crust scraps were salvaged and coated in cinnamon and sugar and devoured as soon as they were cool enough from the oven. Yes, I did have toys, but most of them encouraged creativity instead of providing entertainment for short attention spans. The kitchen and the great outdoors took turns as my playground, and many childhood memories are food related.

When applying for school, I had to write a short essay about a food memory. The first thing that came to mind was making Apple Butter with my Mom. My mother canned as much as she could, tomatoes, apple sauce, apple butter, jellies, beans, sauces. It brought back many memories of late summer days in the kitchen; it was canning time. This Monday's class was focused on making jellies and jams, and I could not help but think about those memories again.

My classmates and I made about 15 different jams and spreads all together. Some as basic as Cherry and some more involved like Apple Walnut, or Ginger Pear. I made the cherry. It was always one of my favorites that Mom made. (I even have a jar of her Cherry jelly she gave me at Thanksgiving. I could do a little taste test, see if mine compares to hers.) I also made Quince spread and Apricot with Vanilla and Almond. I haven't tried them yet. I need to make a good batch of bread first.

Jellies and jams are actually pretty easy to make. They take basic ingredients; fruit, sugar, water, some lemon juice, and in some cases extra pectin. The trick is cooking them long enough so that they jell just right. Then you have to make sure you sterilized all the jars and equipment for canning if you want to keep the fruits of your labor for longer than a few weeks in your fridge. I found the process of making the jellies a little monotonous and not as exciting as some of the other classes I've had. As always, I did learn a few things, but I don't see myself becoming a professional jam/jelly maker any time soon. I'll save it for the late summer when I buy a large bag of apples or come across a large quantity of fruit that needs saving. Or maybe I'll go visit Mom.

Tuesday evenings class involved making custards and Bavarian creams. Which meant more delicious tarts and lots of mousse. We made two cakes with Dacquoise we had frozen from last week. One cake called the "Brazilian", was layers of white chocolate mousse and coffee mousse separated by Walnut Dacquoise, topped with a coffee glaze and then I coated the sides with Mille-Feuille flakes and garnished it with Walnut pieces. The second cake was a "Ruche" cake; translated from French: Beehive. This cake contains lemon and honey mousses separated by Almond Dacquoise. We topped it with Meringue Italian and torched it to give the meringue a nice golden color. I tried both cakes tonight. The Ruche was good, but I found the Honey mousse a little over powering. The Brazilian cake was fantastic and much appreciated by my brother and my roommates. I also made Flan, but our Chef instructor for the night ate it before I could get a photo. He said it was perfect, so I guess I forgive him.

The Brazilian

La Ruche

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Je vais a Paris

A week or so ago, I alluded to some exciting news. I have been so busy that I haven't gotten around to sharing it. I'm guessing that most of you may know already from the title of this post, but for those of you who need brushing up on your French: I'M GOING TO PARIS! (I'm just a little excited). I have been wanting to visit Paris for a long time. As I started reading some food blogs by Paris natives and American expats in Paris, I started wanting it even more. Now that I am learning to make so many French based pastries in school, it only seems appropriate.

This was kind of planned before I lost my job. I had originally planned to go to Paris for 2 weeks at least. Rent a small studio and take some local cooking courses and maybe even a class or two at Le Cordon Bleu. Then my job went south.... but of course my desire to go did not lessen. Thankfully I had a week of vacation time that was not used up before I was laid off, and my company paid me for it. My school takes a Spring break in March for 1 week. My friend Romain has graciously agreed to let me crash at his apartment in the 15th and offered himself up as my personal tour guide. I, in return, have agreed to cook for him during my visit. He has a serious sweet tooth.

I am making a list of places to see and things to do. For anyone who has already visited Paris, please send me suggestions. I leave March 4th, so I have some time to plan still. I have two fears about this trip; 1. Even with an entire week to explore, I'm afraid I'm going to miss something. (ask me about the Rosetta stone in London). 2. I'm more afraid I'm not going to want to come back. I have often felt more at home when traveling abroad, then here in America where I was born and raised.

Well, at least I will have to come back to finish pastry school. I can't make any promises after that. Oh, and there will be lots of photos and food stories to share, I'm sure of that!

A bientot!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Food is Love

The Valentine's Day Feast

This one is for all the single people out there that loathe Valentine's Day. I kept reminding my single friends that its not just for people who are in love with a partner. It's for celebrating love for anyone and everyone. Remember back in elementary school when you gave valentines to everyone, not just the boy/girl you had a crush (but they did get the super special one, and maybe extra candy). I started my Valentine's Day off with a phone call to my best friend to tell her that I love her and hoped she had a good day. Later I called my parents to wish them the same and tell them I love them too. I was already starting to feel a little mushy.

Last night I celebrated Valentine's day the best way I know how. I cooked dinner for a small group of my friends. Feeding people is one of the best ways I know to show my love for others. And like a smothering grandmother who just can't squeeze and kiss enough, I over did it by making too much food, but that is what I do. My friends contributed to the meal with wonderful additions of a Tortilla Espanol, a spicy soup, fresh made guacamole, a selection of tasty cheeses, and bottles of wine. I made grilled prosciutto wrapped asparagus, chili-lime marinated shrimp skewers, sesame-soy marinated beef skewers, a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad with basil-balsamic dressing, and a chick pea salad. Dessert was Cognac Mousseline Dacqouise, assorted tarts, and marzipan hearts.

I think it is safe to say, everyone left very full and feeling loved. I made sure to hug everyone multiple times before they departed. It was definitely the best Valentine's Day I can remember. But any day can be made better for me by adding good friends and good food to the mix.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pastry gets Saucy

Cognac Mousseline Dacquoise

There wasn't much to bring home this week from class. I'm sure my roommates appreciate the calorie break. I however didn't get a break because most of what I made this week was consumed in class. One cake did make it home (in one piece) from my class on meringues on Monday. It was Hazelnut Dacquoise (meringue with hazelnut flour) layered with a coffee and cognac mousse, and topped with thin straws of coffee meringue. I'm really starting to rethink traditional cakes with heavy frostings....the taste is no comparison to the Dacquoise with mousseline, I'm going to be completely ruined. No, not ruined, spoiled.

Tuesday night we made dessert sauces. Our choices ranged from Simple syrup, Creme Anglaise, fruit sauces, and chocolate. I made a mango sauce from fresh pureed mangos and also made the Creme Anglaise. Funny thing is I have had Creme Anglaise many times, but never realized what it was. My best memory and probably first memorable experience of having it was at the Paulaner Restaurant in Leipzig, Germany. I ordered the heavenly Apple Strudel for dessert. The Struedel arrived flakey and warm, sitting in a shallow pool a lovely tasting light vanilla sauce. After tasting the Creme Anglaise I made at school, I was able to put a name to the lovely sauce that had accompanied my Apple Strudel so many years ago.

Along with making sauces, we had to make some accompaniments to serve the sauces with. My classmates made souffles, molten chocolate cakes and I made crepes. I was eager to make the Crepes Suzette after a friend mentioned it being one of their favorite ways to eat crepes. This was another first for me. I made the caramel sauce and then added the orange and lemon juices, butter, creme fraiche and the Grand Marnier. After folding the crepes into a skillet and covering them with the sauce and a sprinkle of chopped candied orange rind, I tipped the skillet to the flame and attempted to set the dish on fire to burn off the alcohol. It took a few tries and a some additional Grand Marnier, but it finally flamed. My classmates snapped a few pictures and then it was time to eat. Crepes Suzette now out ranks Crepes with Nutella on my list of favorites.

Crepes Suzette

I filled the remainder of the crepes I made with fresh berries and dressed them with Creme Anglaise and Mango sauce. One of my classmates made a Champagne Sabayon and we used it to top sundae glasses full of berries. Other sauces made my by classmates included a apple coulis, a caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, jasmine tea sauce, peppermint sauce, and passion fruit sauce.

Fresh Berry Crepes with Creme Anglaise and Mango Sauce

Fresh Berries with Champagne Sabayon, Chocolate and Raspberry Sauces

Time for me to head to the kitchen and bake some more. I also have an article to write, and a dinner to plan for on Saturday, a quiz and test to study for, and plenty of reading to do. Oh and a little sleep to catch up on too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Looking for some feedback

I'm always up to something

I added my page counter to the blog maybe two months ago and have been delighted to see the numbers climb so steadily. I know you are out there and are reading my blog. I know many of you are coming back often and spreading the word to friends and family. Thank you!

When I started this blog last April, it was to help share the multiple things I am doing mostly with my family and friends. I had just started my garden at the Belmont Community Gardens (which I intend to continue this year). I started my short career on the New Hampshire Roller Derby team, and was just starting to post about occassional kitchen experiments. During the few short months, I started realizing how much food and cooking was my true passion, so in a sense my blog led me to find my calling and answer it. I have enjoyed sharing this with everyone, and hope I have provided some entertainment and inspiration to my readers.

Now I am going to ask you to participate. Among all the wonderful things that have happened to me so far this year, I have been offered a food column on an up and coming website and magazine. At this point I have been given freedom to write about anything food related. Wow, that is a big area. So this is where I turn to you. I want to know what is it that keeps you coming back to my blog and makes you want to share it with others? What kind of food information would you expect to find on a website and in a magazine that is geared towards events and entertainment? Do you want recipes, restaurant reviews, the lastest trends in cookware and food? What am I doing in my blog that is great and what can I do better? Please be honest, it will only help me grow and improve. Please feel free to leave comments here, or email me directly at

Thanks again for all the support. Here's to bigger and better things.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Breaking Bread

Herb-seasoned Croutons

Growing up in a large family, supported by a modest one-parent income (my mother stayed at home while Dad worked), you learn to be thrifty. You might be familiar with the saying, "Waste not, want not". We stuck to that in my family. I wore hand me downs, we ate a lot of leftovers and we were always finding ways to re-purpose or recycle lots of items. My family was "green" before global warming became an everyday term. These habits have stuck with me as I have grown and have come to live on my own. Thriftiness is especially helpful in my current tight financial situation.

I received a comment last week asking what I was doing with all the pastries I am making. No, I am not eating them all by myself (though I do consume my fair share). Most are distributed amongst my friends. My roommates pretend to groan when I bring another pastry box into the house, but by the following week's class the box has mysteriously been emptied. I also freeze some of the items I'm making. I have 2 loaves of cinnamon raisin benoiton, a few muffins and scones, and 3 small individual tarts in the freezer for whenever I need a quick dessert to go with tea or coffee, of just a midnight or early morning snack. My thriftiness does not end there.

I had a bag of baguettes drying on my counter since week 2? I just couldn't bare the idea of just throwing them out. This morning I woke up feeling the need to attack my kitchen and whip it into shape, along with making quiche so I have something to eat this week. The bag of dried baguette pieces caught my attention. I tried breaking the large chunks into small enough pieces to put in the food chopper to make bread crumbs, but it hurt my hands. This was some seriously dry bread. Then inspiration struck; I grabbed my rolling pin, a plastic bag and headed to the table. Thankfully my roommates were already awake before I started pounding away with my pin, busting the bread into bits. It was very therapeutic.

Once I felt I had sufficiently broken up the bread (and the plastic bag had split and was leaking crumbs), I picked out large pieces for croutons and moved the smaller ones into the food chopper to reduce to smaller crumbs. I seasoned the crouton pieces with some dried herbs and olive oil, spread them on a baking sheet and set them the oven at a low temperature to dry. Then I made Pate Brisee and a mushroom and sweet onion quiche filling. Both turned out lovely, but now that I look at those beautiful croutons all I can think is, I need to make Onion Soup Gratinee.... Maybe tomorrow morning after I get my $5 thrifty hair cut and do some bargain shopping at Wal-mart.
Sorting the big pieces from the little pieces

Ready for the oven

Sweet Onion and Mushroom Quiche

I'm off to school. Meringues and dessert sauces/fillings this week, and more Crepes!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I Heart Napoleons

Pear Cream Napoleons with Fresh Berries and Raspberry Sauce

Think back to when you were a child and you received some kind of achievement award. Your parents made you pose with your award and took a gazillion photos of you. You look back on those photos now and think, "why so many?, surely one snapshot of me with my blue ribbon would have been enough". But no, they had to get a photos from every angle. I think I understand now, this is something that happens when you are just so overwhelmingly happy and proud. I thought maybe I wouldn't understand it till I had children.

The unfortunate wreck of my Mogador cake made me realize, these pastries are indeed my children. I oooh and ah when they look great or do something outstanding. (Look at the beautiful crust you developed!) I guide them when they need straightening out, or proping up. I cry when they fail (or collapse in the back seat of my car), and secretly I might have caught myself telling them how beautiful and tasty they are. My latest crime of motherhood? Taking too many pictures. I will try to restrain myself from showing you my entire photo book of just one of my creations, and just show you what I consider the best of my photos here. (but I'll gladly show you more if you want, don't hesistate to ask).
Kahlua Cream Napoleon with Chocolate and Raspberry

Tuesday night's class this week was one of my favorite classes so far. I'm starting to feel comfortable in the kitchen, knowing where things are and falling into a rhythm with my classmates and getting stuff done. It was also a great class because it used basic pastry components; Quick Puff dough and Pate a Choux, but allowed us the most creative license so far. Not that we have been restricted, but it goes along with the feeling comfortable in the kitchen part.

The wheels have been spinning in my mind the past few days, fueled by the culinary stimulus of hours at Sur La Table and a stack of cook books from the library. I've started compiling a list of all the things I want to try, ideas for desserts, and recipes to delve into from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I've got it bad. I wish I was a sponge and could just soak it all in, there is so much to learn. I just wonder when I'm going to have time to do all of this, along with start looking for work opportunities. I need to get my feet wet in a real kitchen and start paying my dues.
St. Honore
(named for the patron saint of pastry chefs)

Tonight's seminar was our first on Serve Safe. I think some students may find this class boring. I was definitely doing the sleepy head-bob, but it was due to lack of sleep and definitely not boredom. A lot of the material covered in this class should be common sense to most people, more of it I have learned from working in various cafes. Now I am learning even more like the internal food temperatures for ensuring meat is fully cooked. What kind of foods are most likely to carry possible contagions and how to best prevent contamination. I find it fascinating, and am already looking at my own home kitchen differently. Most fascinating fact learned tonight: The flu is only an upper respitory ailment. The "24 hour stomach bug" you caught, was due to something you ate. Not necessary e. coli or samonella, but it could have just been a virus transmitted by that sandwich you had for lunch. Hope I haven't ruined anything for anyone.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Fall of Mogador or, My Personal Cake Wreck

Mogador Cake

Tonight's class covered fillings and Mousse, and we made several pies and one wonderful cake: The Mogador Cake. Yes, the name sounds more like a character or far off land in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the actual cake resembles nothing of a hobbit or wizard. The cake is made of delicous and elegant layers. The first layer is a chocolate Almond Genoise. This is the first time we have made Genoise, a European style of cake that is slightly drier and contains less fat than it's American counterparts.

Once it is done baking and cooling, the Genoise is soaked in a raspberry simple syrup. Then a layer of raspberry filling is piped onto the cake and covered by a layer of rich chocolate mousse. The cake is then chilled to allow the mousse to set. After the cake is chilled, a raspberry glaze is spread over the top and then the cake can be decorated with designs in chocolate glaze and garnished with fresh raspberries.
Soaking the Genoise in the syrup

Adding the raspberry filling

Glazed and ready for chocolate and fresh raspberries

As usual we made enough cakes to each take one home and we had an extra smaller Mogador, which we cut into to tonight during clean up. Everyone made beautiful designs of chocolate glaze on the top of their cakes. I decided I wanted to bring mine home to take better photos of it......
As soon as I got home and opened the passenger door of my car and spied the tilted cake box, I felt that horrible feeling of having your scoop of icecream fall out of your cone at the carnival. I opened and the box and found my worst fears confirmed.

The Wrecked Cake

My roommate attempted consoling me with, "well at least it will still taste good". It does still taste good, but I'm still a little sad. I hope none of my classmates cakes met the same fate as mine.

The good news from tonight is: everything else turned out lovely and delicious, and I still feel like the luckiest person in the world. I made mini apple pie/tarts tonight. In the past when making apple pie, I've always mounded the apples as high as possible into the bottom crust before covering with the top crust and baking; knowing that the pie will shrink to half it's size once done baking. Tonight however, my little tarts swelled in the oven, the filling almost doubling in size. They oozed sticky, sugary apple juice over the sides of the tart rings and the apple slices looked like they were going to pop out of the tarts all together. I was worried I had overfilled them. No fear, I took the out of the oven and as they cooled they returned to their pre-baked level, but now with browned edges rounding out the translucent slices in the sticky syrup.
Mini Apple Tarts

It's well past time I should be in bed. Tomorrow's class is on commercial baking. Looks like we will be learning about Puff Pastry and Nougatine. Also another announcement coming soon. I'll give you a hint: I'm going somewhere.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Have a Little Heart

Chocolate Coated Marzipan Hearts

Many who know me well, know that even when I was employed full-time by EH, I usually worked a seasonal part time job during the holidays at a well known chocolate shop. It allowed me more money to buy gifts and who doesn't like chocolate at Christmas time? As a seasonal employee, my employment would start shortly before Halloween and end just after Valentine's day, their busiest sales day of the year.

It was also at this chocolate shop, I had my first taste of Marzipan. See some of their chocolate pieces were only available seasonally, one being the Marzipan heart. Its a little heart formed of rich almond/amaretto tasting marzipan enrobed in dark chocolate. Each year I worked there I looked forward to February when the Marzipan hearts would arrive. I'd buy a few for myself and then slowly savor them one by one, knowing my time with them was short.

Now that I am in pastry school, I'm realizing how readily available Marzipan is.... for a price. I luckily received several small cans of it as a Christmas gift this year. I've been eying mini heart cookie cutters at Sur La Table, and today I put 2 and 2 together. What could be more simple to recreate the Marzipan hearts? Especially since I am not working for the chocolate shop this season, I won't be getting a 50% discount on them.

I find also rather funny that this chocolate shop is the reason I have not been able to collect any unemployment benefits yet. You see, last year I didn't stay the entire season, I gave my 2 weeks notice early in January. When filing for unemployment, I had to list all employers from the year. They were one, even though I may have worked 2 days in 2008? When I gave my reason for separation for unemployment, I simply said I quit. I come to find out that the chocolate shop says I was laid off. And I thought December was the first time I had been laid off! Anyway, I may not be able to collect any benefits just yet, till the issue is resolved, but at least I will have my Marzipan hearts now and whenever I desire.