Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Savory Side

Dinner in E Kitchen at CSCA

Asparagus with Orange Dill Mayonnaise

I am in the middle of 5 of the most delicious and well fed weeks of my life.....and I'm the chef! Most of you know that I have always enjoyed cooking and baking. Many of my friends would tell you I'm already and excellent cook. However I was very much looking forward to savory cooking. My cooking skills thus far have been self-taught from cook books, magazines, food network and mostly trial and error. I am far from starving, but rarely do I sit down to a meal I've made and feel like I'm eating food from a well acclaimed restaurant. The past two weeks that has changed (with much help from Chef Jim).

Last week we started on Monday with Eggs. Lots of souffles, a frittata, Croque Madams, sauces and my favorite since visiting Paris; French style scrambled eggs. I now know the secret! They are cooked with lots of cream, and over low heat, preferably over a water bath. I served them on rye toast rounds with a rosette of smoked salmon and fresh dill. Getting hungry yet?
French Style Eggs with Smoked Salmon

On Tuesday we learned about soups and stocks. We had a wide range of soups to choose from to make. I have never had Bouillibaise. Honestly the idea of fish soups has never appealed to me, but my goal has been to challange myself to try new things, so this is the recipe I chose. Lucky me I got two live lobsters to cook in my soup along with plenty of cod and halibut filets, some clams and scallops. You start the soup by sauteeing onions, leeks and tomatoes. Fish fumet, herbs, saffron and orange rind is added and the soup is allowed to simmer. The mix is then strained and the lobsters get cooked in the broth. Then the remaining seafood is added in steps till everything is cooked just right. The soup turned out nice and light and brothy with hints of fennel, saffron and orange. I loved it. Lobsters in the Bouillibaise

The recipe also included a Rouille, a paste made from roasted peppers, garlic, dried bread and a little fumet. I loved the Rouille. It was great just spread on bread, and was a fantastic addition to the Bouillibaise, giving it just a little kick.

This week was chicken and beef. Monday we learned to cut up whole chickens. How to take the skins off and debone the pieces. It's a lot easier than one would expect. My recipe for the evening was a Gallantine. This is a kind of chicken Pate that is cooked in the skin of the chicken. Here I go again with challenging myself. The trick to this recipe is, you have to remove the skin from a whole chicken, in one piece. It takes some patience, but I managed to do it.
Whole Skinned Chicken

Once the skin if off, the chicken is divided up. The dark meat gets ground up and mixed with cooked shallots, some black truffle and brandy. The breasts are kept whole and seasoned. Once you have your whole chicken skin, you lay it on some cheesecloth and form it into a rectangle and being to fill it with the ground meat, lay the breasts on top and roll the skin into a sausage like casing around the chicken. The Gallantine is then poached in chicken stock till it is cooked through. It is intended to be served cold, like most Pates, but I really enjoyed it slightly warm with the salad one of my classmates prepared.
Sliced Chicken Gallantine with Salad

Last night we learned about beef and moist heat cooking, ie braising and stewing. Our dinner menu was Veal Blanquette, braised short ribs with biscuits, and beef carbonnade. As we were sitting and enjoying our dinner, I let out a sigh. The food was so good, and maybe even better because I knew all the hard work and anticipation that went into it that evening. Am I doubting my choice to pursue pastry? No way, but I am really, really enjoying the time on the savory side. Besides, who says I can't do both?

3 more delicious weeks to go......

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Testing, 1-2-3

Golden Vanilla Vegan Cupcakes

"If you are afraid of butter, use cream".
-Julia Child

I am often asked if I am a purist and only use butter when I bake. Yes, I use only butter, and so does the CSCA. It's funny that some people almost seem afraid of butter. Even some of my classmates dislike getting it on their hands. I was actually raised on margarine, probably another one of my parent's money saving tactics. When reading through recipes in my mother's cookbooks and I would come across a recipe calling for butter, my mind would do the instant translation to margarine. It was never questioned. I even made shortbread with margarine (I shudder to think of it now). I only got to taste butter when going out to eat and you'd get the little foil wrapped pats in your bread basket.

At some point in my adult life, probably after I started reading gourmet cooking magazines, I became a butter convert. It wasn't long before I became a firm believer in the one, true and only unsalted butter for baking. My sisters seemed a little shocked when I first told them I had begun baking only with butter. My what a rebel I was!, but they quickly followed suit. Butter really just tastes better and has better results. However it has been said anyone can be bought for a price.

Last week I meet with a lady who plans events and she is interested in hiring me to make some pastries for her events. There is a catch, the pastries need to be Vegan. She asked if I had any experience with making vegan pastries and I had to admit no, but I know that they are possible. Then came the usual question about am I a butter purist. If I am making it for myself or close friends, definitely. But I understand that in this day and age you sometimes need to be flexible. There are so many different dietary restrictions; nut, wheat, egg allergies, lactose intolerance, vegetarian, vegan and kosher lifestyles. I count myself very fortunate to not have any food allergies that I am aware of. I would hate for someone to not be able to experience some of my creations because of a dietary restriction. I am willing to learn how to make vegan and/or gluten free pastries. Not only may it open more creative outlets, but it will allow me to share with a larger audience.

In my first attempt of making a Vegan pastry I tried a recipe from the book, "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World". I tried the basic Golden Vanilla Cupcake recipe. Not too much different from a regular cupcake except their are no eggs. Milk has been substituted with Soy Milk and Butter with Margarine or Oil. I was admittedly a little skeptical at first, but thought if they put in a book and are selling, how bad can it really be? They turned out really good. The cupcakes had a nice texture and crumb. The flavor was good. I would guess most people wouldn't know the difference if they weren't told they were Vegan. Great as they were, I'm not planning on becoming Vegan anytime soon. I'm still a Butter and Eggs kinda girl, but a little experimentation never hurts.
Sweet, cake-y bite

Another project I took on this weekend was making a birthday cake for my friend Adriane. This cake was a mixing of old baking style with new pastry school learning style. I have made this cake recipe over many times and my friends love it so much they personally request it. It is called a Black Russian Cake. It is normally a chocolate cake with Khalua and Creme de Cacoa in it and a sugary syrup of the same poured over it.

I decided this time to make the cake more like the French cakes we have been making in school. I baked the batter in my cake rings, and cut them into thin layers. Instead of mixing the coffee, Creme de cacoa and Khalua with powdered sugar as the recipe instructs, I made a heavy syrup and mixed the coffee and liquours into it and used it to soak the cakes. I then made a coffee mousse to fill between the layers of cake, and a bittersweet Chocolate Ganache to frost the outside of the cake. Adriane loves stars, so of course some bittersweet and white marbled stars were in order for the decorations. I couldn't wait for her to see it.

The cake didn't come out exactly as I had planned, but Adriane thought it was great. I thought my Ganache was a little too stiff and I need to work on my gelatin proportions for mousses. But it was fun to take a basic cake that I have been making for years and reinvent it useing techniques I have learned from school. I'm going to scan some more of my old recipes and see if there are more ones that I can redesign with my new education.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Playing Catch Up

Rosemary and Carmelized Onion Foccacia

I'm going to tell you something shocking. I don't post all the photos I take, and I don't share everything thing I do pastry wise. Are you surprised? It's really difficult for me to keep up with school, work, friends, searching for more work and well life in general. I want to be able to share more of my photos so that is why I added my portfolio to the sidebar. If you ever seen anything in there and you want to know what it is, just send me an email at and I'll let you know.

This week in school we made more bread. On Tuesday we made our own bread recipes using baking percentages. I made a Foccacia with roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. Along with bread I made some cheese crackers and Lavosh. Thankfully classes were not very stressful this week because I was exhausted from making 400 cookies on Monday for a catering job.

So time to play some catch up here with a few photos of cakes from the European Classics class that I did not get around to posting but really wanted to share.

Black Forest Cake

The Alhambra

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Luck of the Draw

My mid-term plate as it returned from the tasting panel

It never crossed my mind that I would pull the Paris-Brest recipe for my practicum recipe. I hardly studied for it. I've made so much Pate Choux since starting school, I feel I could make it in my sleep. Pastry Cream is another recipe I have repeated many times. When describing the process of the practicum to friends, I often used the Pate Choux and its components as an example. First you make the Choux paste, then pastry cream filling and the Fondant. After selecting my face down recipe in a nervous game of Pastry Roulette, I turned my page over to reveal my fate: Prepare 2 Paris-Brest with Praline Mousseline, 2 Swans with Chantilly Cream and 2 Chocolate Eclairs with Chocolate Fondant. Oh no, the Fondant!

Don't get me wrong, I love Fondant. It's lovely on top of Eclairs and Cream Puffs. It tastes so much better then powdered sugar slop glaze. I can recite the procedure for making Fondant, including the two separate temperatures and the steps at which you need to reach them, perfectly. It's just my execution is less then perfect. I suppose everyone who is in the career they truly love, has at least one pet-peeve or one task or aspect they struggle to do their best at. Fondant is my Achilies heel. I've mastered the Tuiles, I faced down the Gateau Basque, and I've perfected the Macarons, but Fondant is still a foe.......for now.

My classmates laughed when I told them what recipe I received even they know of my struggles with Fondant. I managed to make the Pate Choux without incident. My pastry cream was fine.
I started the Fondant, boiling the water and the sugar, making sure to monitor the temperature.
I removed the saucepan from the heat and poured the heavily viscous, clear syrup onto a sheet pan to cool. This was the easy part. After it had cooled, I scraped it into the mixer and began mixing slowly. This is the difficult part. You have to stop mixing at the precisely right time, or your Fondant won't be perfect.

What is perfect Fondant? Perfect Fondant should have a smooth shiney texture. It should be loose enough to dip puffs into, but thick enough that it leaves a nice coating and doesn't drip excessively. When it dries it should have a glossy finish that does not show fingerprints when touched. My Fondant sadly came out grainy and dull. I discussed it with my chef as to why. I'm guessing the culprit was insufficient mixing. Good thing I have my hefty 6qt mixer. I'm going to be practicing Fondant a lot.

Other than the Fondant being less than perfect, I got a good review of my plate. I have not received my final grade for the entire practicum, but I feel confident I did well. We had our written exam on Saturday morning and I feel I did good as well. Both tests were an affirmation of how much I have learned so far, and what things I may still need to work on. We may be done making pastry in school till classes resume in September, but the pastry making continues in my little home kitchen....and maybe some other new exciting places too this summer. More on that later.
The "Before" Photo

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

Raspberry Macarons made for my practicum review

Once again I've been a little MIA. I've been busy preparing for several things. Packing up my apartment, preparing for the arrival of visitors, and for tonight's midterm practicum. This is my first big test in Pastry school. We arrive to class tonight, pull a random card with a recipe on it and then the fun begins. The selected card will only have ingredients and quantities listed. We will have to write out the procedure for making the recipes first and present them to the chef before we are allowed to go into the kitchen to prepare the recipe and then present it to the tasting panel. Piece of cake!

Thankfully the huge binder full of recipes for the first half of the program has been pared down to 8 possibilities for tonight. There are a few I feel extremely comfortable with and about 2 that I wouldn't be too thrilled about pulling. Macarons was one I wasn't feeling too sure about, until after last nights review and practice session, where Chef Delphin declared mine perfect and rivals of any you could buy in Paris. I ate a lot of Macarons in Paris, and after biting in to the delicate pink round last night, I heaved a great sigh of relief. They were perfect! and reminisce of the wonderful Macarons I bought at Pierre Herme.

I have a lot more thoughts I want to share about my program and progress thus far, but it will have to wait till after my test. I still have some last minute review to do and a little more cleaning in preparation for my guests that arrive tomorrow afternoon. Wish me luck!