Thursday, April 23, 2009

Just Peachy

Brioche Peach

Spring is in the air. The weather has shown some promise here in New England, and not only is the air feeling lighter, but moods appear to be also. This week was probably one of the best at school. There was a lot of light-hearted goofing, yet we were still very productive, turning out several recipes more of croissant and puff dough. Even the work load felt lighter with the introduction of Chef Delphin's dough sheeter.

Our schedule mirrored last weeks. Monday was prep day. We made two recipes of croissant dough and one recipe of puff. After spending a few hours earlier in the day painting a hallway in my apartment, I wasn't looking forward to rolling all that dough, but figured it beat making time to go to the gym. Then Chef asked the question of the day, "Does anyone know what a sheeter is?" Well I've heard of them, but never used one. I understand they can make minutes work of what would normally be arm-numbing hours of rolling laminated doughs. He explained to the rest of the class the whats and hows of a sheeter with a gleam in his eye. (I had heard a rumor the week before that he had a sheeter that had recently been repaired....) After his explanation, he asked if we wanted to learn to use the sheeter. The class was quiet. I don't think it had sunk in. "Yes, yes, say yes!" I egged my classmates.

We carried our patons of dough to the kitchen next door for our sheeter demonstration. Chef was like a 5 year old child on Christmas morning, so eager to show off his new toy. He took the first batch of dough, pressed out the air bubbles and placed it on the belt. He stepped up to the controls, like a captain approaches the wheel of his ship, and within a few quick moves the lumpy dough was smooth and evenly stretched. With a big grin on his face he asked, "who's next?" One of us nervously approached the machine with dough in hand ready to take the helm. What ensued was lots of howling laughter, Chef yelling at us for going the wrong direction and eventually me being the first to run the belt too long and loose my dough into the catcher at the end. (otherwise it would have gone on the floor!) We laughed till our eyes watered.

Chef Delphin Showing off the Sheeter

The Croissant Dough looked like Pillows the Next Day

Tuesday the jovial mood continued. We gave our doughs their last turns and prepared for baking. Croissants, Chocolate Croissants, Bear Claws, Danish, Dartois and Brioche Peaches were slated for production. Chef had explained the previous night that the Dartois could be made sweet or savory. We voted to make a savory Dartois on Tuesday for our dinner. The Dartois is two layers of puff dough, with either a sweet filling, ie almond cream, or a savory filling enclosed. Our savory of choice was Potatoes, ham, leeks, gruyere, shallot bechemal sauce and fresh parsley. It turned out wonderful. We cut thick wedges of it and ate it at the end of the evening as we packed up our goods.
Filling the Savory Dartois

We only have one more week of pastry before we start review for our midterm. Then it's on to savory cooking for a few weeks before summer break. Did I also mention I have 5 weeks of wine tasting seminars? Tonight's seminar class wrapped up Food Management. My classmates and I gave our presentations on our restaurant concepts. My group's concept, "Puff Daddy's", a restaurant with a menu based around sweet and savory cream puffs, was well received. (the sample coffee cream puffs I brought in helped, I'm sure)

To end the seminar with a bang, our instructor gave a presentation on sparkling wine and Champagne. Finishing with a demonstration on how to "saber" open a bottle of sparkling wine. This means you take a knife (or a sword) and hold the bottle with the neck facing away from you. Then, with out having removed the cork, you strike just under the collar of the bottle with the back edge of the knife. The pressure of the contents and the strike combined cause the bottle to cleanly break at that point, and the cork and collar to rocket off. I only wish I had brought my camera with me...... What a fun week.

And just to prove we did do some serious work this week. Here are a few more photos:

Croissants Fresh From the Oven

Assorted Danish

Potato, Leek & Ham Dartois

Friday, April 17, 2009

Getting in Shape, Pastry Style

Cinnamon Pecan Croissant Roll

Almond Croissant

They say never to trust a skinny chef. Silly as it sounds, one of my biggest fears about starting a career in a pastry was gaining weight. The first day of class, our slender instructor told us not to worry about gaining weight, we'd be too busy to eat. She claimed she had never been to a gym in her life, but she didn't mention the work outs she gets in the kitchen. Prime Example: Rolling croissant and puff dough. My arms, wrists, shoulders and abs are still sore from Monday night's marathon dough rolling session. Believe me, you can trust a skinny chef, just don't trust one that doesn't eat.

Here is why making croissants is such a work out; and for those you who love croissants, what it is that makes them so flaky (and bad for you). Butter! We made 2 types of croissants, one regular and one called, "quick". You start by making a yeast dough. Then you pound a block of cold butter into a flat tablet and place it back into the fridge to keep cold. Once the dough has rested enough, you roll it into a square slightly larger than the butter tablet, place the butter on to the dough with the corners to the sides of the dough and then fold the dough over it like an envelope. Seal the envelope, and then the rolling and folding begins, aka the "workout".
Rolled Butter Ready to be Wrapped in Dough

Croissants require 3-4 single fold turns. This means you roll the dough thin and then fold one side of the dough towards the middle and fold the over side over top of that. Then in to the fridge to chill. You have to chill the dough in between turns so that the butter does not melt. Then repeat the previous step 3 more times. The rolling gets tougher as you progress. Probably just because your arms are getting tired, the dough doesn't really get thicker, you're just cramming more layers of dough and butter together. After the final turn, the dough goes into the fridge to rest overnight.

On Tuesday we pulled our carefully wrapped doughs from the fridge and rolled them to the desired thickness for cutting into triangles. The triangles were then rolled into croissants, proofed, and then into the oven. The results? Beautiful, golden, buttery croissants. Eaten hot out of the oven, almost made the soreness of my muscles melt away. It seems like a lot of work, but oh my it is worth it. Maybe next time I won't roll 3 doughs in one night. I think I'll stick to just one, unless of course I don't have time to make it to the gym.
Interior View of the Almond Croissant

***In my last post I mentioned only having 3 weeks of school left. This was a mistake. Since I was originally enrolled in a 16 certificate program, this is when my schooling would have ended. As of last week, I signed my transfer agreement to complete the 37 week Professional program, so I will now be in school till mid June, before taking a break for the summer.
Pithivier with Almond Cream Filling

Monday, April 13, 2009


Flaming the apples for Tart Beausejour

Just this once, I'm going to skip writing about my classes for the week. The past week was kind of a review for me. Cake decorationg on Monday and more Petit Fours on Tuesday. I'll be adding photos to my portfolio soon so you can see. What I really want to tell you about is my Friday.

JJ asked me to do some more work for Cuisine En Locale, and I gladly accepted. My challenge: make 3 French desserts for approximately 30-35 people who were attending a class on French Culture at the Cambridge Adult Education Center. My pastries were to follow a fantastic traditional French dinner made with local and organic ingredients cooked by JJ and Ben. We decided for the dessert to have a tasting plate of 3 items: a Pistachio Financier, a Chocolate Macaron with Chestnut Buttercream and a min Tart Beausejour.

I woke up at 8:30 am on Friday morning and was in the kitchen baking by 9am. I did some grocery shopping and prep work earlier in the week, but the brunt of the work was done on Friday. I baked several rounds of Financiers and then gathered my supplies and headed out for lunch with JJ and crew. After lunch I realized I had left all the prepped tart shells in my freezer at home and had to hurry back to get them.

We finally got into the school kitchen by 3:30pm. Dinner was to be served at 6pm and dessert around 8pm. I got to work baking more financiers, making buttercream, almond cream, whipping egg whites for the macarons. Just about the time I was half-way through baking macarons, I burnt a tray full and was trying to figure out if I had enough ingredients left to make another batch. We were then informed we had to vacate the kitchen for a class that was to start at 6:30pm. I was trying not to panic, I had to clear my stuff and possibly carry a tray of unbaked macarons down the street to another location for baking. I managed to buy enough time to bake the last sheet of macarons before moving to the other kitchen to start baking the mini tarts.
First Kitchen Space

We hurriedly gathered our neccesities and walked to the new location for the evening, only to find out the oven was not working in that kitchen and I had 30 mini tarts that needed baking. I was determined that those desserts plates were not going out without those tarts. Thinking quickly, I picked up my phone and called a friend who just happens to manage a cafe convienently located around the block from where we were. It went something like this:
"Hi, I need a big favor. I'm just around the corner, I have 30 mini tarts that need to be baked by 8pm, and my oven is not working". His response, "What tempurature do you need the oven set too?" God Bless Justin!

At 7:00pm I gathered up my 3 half sheet trays of mini tarts and ran as quickly as I could (in the rain) over to the cafe to bake the tarts. I returned about 30 mins later with beautiful, golden, warm and fragrant apple tarts. JJ, Ben and I plated the desserts and exchanged hi-fives. Disaster averted. The adrenaline was making me high and shakey all at the same time. I didn't notice how hungry I was till I calmed down.
Mini Tarts Beausejour

Here is where the validation comes in. This was really my first paid gig. It was a long day, and we had some wrenches thrown our way. I made a few mistakes, but I pulled through. I felt like a working professional. I got great feedback about my work and my pastries. I was stressed but I loved every minute of it. I'm feeling pretty certain I'm in the right place and it's a really good feeling. For all the years I struggled with, "what do I really want to do", it is amazing to know I have finally found it.
The French Dessert Plate

This week in school we start Viennoiserie- laminated doughs and all things Croissant. I keep looking at my recipe binder shocked how much I have covered and how there are only 3 weeks left before summer break. It's been an amazing 3 1/2 months so far! And I have some great oppurtunities in the pipeline for my summer break, but more on that later. I'm off to bed.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I received another letter from the CEO of Brown Baking Company today. It appears my hard work is not going unnoticed (and that they are finally requiring their chefs wear proper kitchen attire). My truest aspirations are to one day be an integral part of this prestigious Ohio based company.

Subject: Commendations from Brown Baking Company


We here at the Brown Baking Company have been keeping a close eye on your
progress, and we must say that you have been doing very well in your schooling. Of course, in our quest to recruit the finest bakers this industry has to offer, we have seen many students with such skills and feel we are in a position to offer some valuable guidance.

Looking at some of
your work, we can see the obvious progress in your presentation skills, but one must always remember that the taste is what leaves the final impression with any dish. Here we show one of our "senior" bakers practicing with a delicious yet basic chocolate cookie. Note the look of concentration on his face even when working on such a simple staple of the baking industry. And of course our main taster confirms that his skills are indeed up to task.

And this brings us to our perhaps most important piece of advice, your
co-workers are part of your family... Here at Brown Baking Company that feeling of "family" is crucial to letting everyone move towards creating the finest deserts. Looking at how far you've come, it would appear that you are well on your way to potentially being a part of our family. With Best Wishes and Continued Success, Derek CEO Brown Baking Company

"Senior Baker"

The "Main Tester" is getting better at keeping his face clean.

My favorite employees at Brown Baking Company

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fun, Food-Filled Weekend

"Ohhh the Babies"

I've suffered my second culinary injury of sorts. My pinky finger on my right hand has a small blister from stirring 4 double batches of Pate Choux (approximately 500 puffs). I am by no means complaining; I am very proud of my battle wound because it was for a good cause. If Pastry makes me incredibly happy, making pastry for a good cause makes me even happier. I'll explain.

On Thursday while working a shift at SLT, I had the pleasure of meeting JJ Gonson from Cuisine En Locale. Take a look at my blog listings and you'll see the link for her blog. Cuisine En Locale is a personal chef service here in the Boston area that prepares meals with local and organic foods. I was intrigued by JJ's business and told her I was a pastry student at CSCA. She responded by asking me if I wanted a job. "Um, yes!"

Friday late afternoon was spent hanging with the fun employees of Cuisine En Locale in their kitchen making batch after batch of Pate Choux puffs. It was my trial by fire, and I think its safe to say I passed. The puffs were for a benefit event for Mind Matters on Saturday, that Cuisine En Locale was providing the food for. I didn't get to attend the event, but I had a great time making the puffs and getting to know the crew. I hope to be doing some more work for them soon.

Saturday I worked a short shift at SLT and then stopped by the Upper Crust on my way home to find it was my favorite pizza for the slice of the day! Eggplant, tomato and ricotta. Later in the evening I had a small gathering of friends for my birthday dinner. A friend from school cooked for us, we drank some wine and then had a great dessert of Lace Tuiles, Caramel Mousse, Coffee Cinnamon ice cream and Pear Almond Sorbert. I was so busy eating and enjoying the great company, I didn't take any photos. But the scallops and mushrooms, the asparagus, and grilled steaks we had were fantastic. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Italian Desserts, Ice Cream and Tuiles Rematch

The Mimosa

Whew! What a busy week it has been. Monday started out early with an interview..... and I have been hired, but more on that to come. In Monday evening's class we tackled 3 Italian desserts: Tiramisu, Mimosa and the Mara. I had been looking forward to this class specifically for the Mimosa.

Two years ago when I was working seasonally for Godiva, I worked with a girl who was enrolled in the pastry program at CSCA. She would bring her desserts from class to work for us to eat. Imagine working in a chocolate shop and then having someone bring you more decadent desserts. I recognize many of the desserts that we have made so far, from the ones she brought to Godiva. However, the Mimosa stands out in my mind. It was such an odd looking cake. It reminded me of a pineapple, with the yellow cake crumbs on the outside, and the pineapple leaves sticking up out of the top of the cake. The taste was addictive. Alternating layers of light lemony, citrus cream and moist lemony cake- I think I almost ate the entire cake myself. I had secretly been waiting to make this cake since I started the program.

Along with the Mimosa we made a non-traditional Tiramisu. It was molded into a stainless steel mixing bowl and placed into the freezer. To unmold it, we floated the frozen bowls in larger bowl of hot water for a few seconds and then upturned them onto cardboard cake circles. It you timed it right, it slid out with a few shakes. If you didn't, you ended up with your hand accidently in the cake like one of my classmates. We had a good laugh over it and our chef managed to smooth over the marscapone cream. Once it was completely garnished, you couldn't even tell it had an accident.

The final dessert was the Mara. It was constructed very similar to the French cakes. We lined our rings with a Grand Marnier mousse, then alternated layers of Strawberry syrup soaked genoise with more of the mousse. After an hour or so in the freezer to set, we applied ample amounts of Strawberry glaze to the unmolded cake, and topped them with white chocolate decorations and fresh Strawberries.
The Mara

I have a confession to make. Tuesday night I was not looking forward to our class on ice creams and sorbets. I like ice cream and sorbet, but feared the class would run similar to the jams and jellies class, ie making the similar recipes over and over, just changing the flavor, and not much creativity to be expressed. I was happy when our instructor for the evening said we only had to make one ice cream and one sorbet, which ever flavor we wanted, and then we should think about making something to go along with the icecream for plating. I choose the coffee ice cream and the pear sorbet recipes. Then the wheels started turning.

Remember my post on Tuiles? Did I mention how those ridiculous cookies almost reduced me to tears? How I wanted to hang up my apron and go home? Well I decided that a nice lace Tuile with a chopped hazelnuts and a hint of Grand Marnier would be the perfect accompaniment for the cinnamon coffee icecream I was planning. I was ready for a rematch. I measured everything perfectly, creamed the butter till it was almost white, mixed the ingredients, filled my pastry bag and crossed my fingers.

The first batch came out of the oven light and caramelly colored. I let them cool for a few minutes and then began the tedious process of lifting them ever so lightly from the silpat. They came right up! Light, crisp, perfection. I did a happy dance with my spatula, popped one in my mouth and then pipped more rounds onto the sheet and returned it to the oven. 3 days later, I'm still basking in my triumph over the Tuiles.
Lace Tuiles

Cinnamon Coffee Ice Cream with Lace Tuiles

Pear Almond Sorbet with Caramel Sauce