Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Merry Christmas

I've been playing with hot sugar again...

On Wednesday it was 1 year since the fateful day I lost my job with EH. As I was a working at Crema on Monday, rolling out shortbread crust, I was thinking about how lucky I am. I remembered how stressed and unhappy I was working in the "corporate" world. That feeling of being trapped in a dead end and wanting to be doing something more fulfilling is finally a distant memory. I also remember the feelings of uncertainty, the worry of getting into school, making ends meet, and finding new jobs.

Slowly everything gave way to a new and exciting journey. I was learning to make beautiful pastries, making new friends, rediscovering the joy of time off during the week. An early spring visit to Paris to reconnect with a special friend turned into returning for the summer to work for for a great cafe. Once you start to follow one dream, it seems to make all your dreams possible, or so I'm discovering. I feel I've recreated myself, but really I've just become who I was meant to be all along. The food lover, pastry maker was always hiding inside, I just had to dig a little deeper and get a little push to let her out. I've never been happier.

Wednesday was also my official "last day" of school. We had a great seminar on Tea. I learned about what makes White, Green, Oolong, Black, & Pu-Erh teas different from one another. It was a nice class to finish the year with. After wards, I went out to have drinks with my classmates and reflect on our year of learning together, and to discuss what our future's hold. Everyone is looking for jobs, but in different capacities.

There are some down sides of chasing this dream of mine. Chefs are truly artists. We create beautiful, delicious things with food as our medium. And for the most part, we earn the artists' wage. I don't plan on being rich, I desire more to have a fulfilling life, but money is necessary to pay rent, and afford a few creature comforts. January is going to be a busy month, as I intend to be job searching. I will continue to work for Crema, but not sure if they will be able to take me on full time, so I need to line up another part time job, or find someone who can offer me full time employment. I am also going to be searching for contacts and opportunities to go back to France. What better place to get a job, and continue learning?

Classes are done....however there are still finals looming, 3 in fact! January 4th is the practicum. If you recall my midterms, this is similar, but even more challenging. We still have blindly pull a card. This time that card on contains a dessert name and description, there is no recipe. The recipe has to come from my head. I'm confident on being able to recreate any of the possible items, once I can recall the recipe. I'm going to be spending a lot of the next few weeks memorizing recipes, lots of recipes.

On January 5th, our creative practicum is due. I'm actually excited about this one. The sky is the limit, we just have to create our own dessert using techniques we had learned over the year. The key is, be creative. I think I can handle it.

January 9th, is the written exam. Lots and lots of questions covering everything we've learned over the past year. Slightly nerve wracking, but at least some of it will be multiple choice. And then I am done. January 23rd is graduation. And of course I have to turn in my portfolio.

In the meantime, between cramming recipes in my brain, looking for jobs, and continuing to work, I'm going to try to enjoy my Christmas. I'll be headed to Ohio with lots of goodies to share with my family and friends. I'll be baking a special Pear & Chocolate Buche de Noel for a guest who is flying all the way from Paris on Christmas day just to see me.
A Festive Poinsettia Piece for a Festive Time of Year

The lovely photos you are seeing are of my final creative work from school. It is another sugar work piece, made of pulled and blown sugar. I suffered several blisters from making it, but when it was finished, it was totally worth it. I'm starting to really love sugar work. I felt it was appropriate for this time of year.

I'm off to enjoy my Christmas. Going to take a little break and I'll be back after January 9th, to let you know how I survied finals.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year. I hope this time of year brings magical things to your lives.
The Entire Sugar Piece

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Crack in the Mouth

Bittersweet Sugar Flower Decorations

Crack in the Mouth; that is the meaning of the French word Croquembouche. The name only describes the sensation of biting into one of the crunchy caramel coated puffs after you have pulled it from the tower of sugar. It's beautiful and delicious, and pulling it apart is at least half the fun of eating it. I can see why it is a cake made for Wedding celebrations in France, it is festive. My Croquembouche was not shared at a wedding, but it was shared with people I love very much.

I almost didn't finish mine. I was in a hurry, and it was the final day of class before Thanksgiving. Originally my plans were to celebrate my favorite holiday, in Massachusetts, with my brother. A saddening phone call from home briskly changed those plans. My brother and I decided at the last minute to drive to Ohio after I finished class, so we could spend some short, but invaluable time with our family. What was I to do with a tower of cream puffs and delicate sugar flowers? My roommates would both be gone to their respective Thanksgiving celebrations and it would be no good by the time I returned from Ohio. I decided it was going to have to go with me. In that case, I took lots of photos, fearing the worse of it's 12 hour commute in my brothers truck to Ohio.....

I did not design a fancy sugar stand for my Croquembouche. Playing on the safe side, I made a simple plate out of poured red sugar and adorned it with some orange sugar circles to match the orange and red Bittersweet flowers and vines I had pulled the day before. Everything was glued together with lots of hot caramel. Chef assured me it would hold. I had my doubts. I held it on my lap on the short drive back to my apt. I set it on the kitchen counter and went to finish packing my bag and think up a plan of how to transport the Croquembouche. I was starting to think I was just going to have to leave it to my roommates.
Close up of the Decorations on the Piece

At 3am as I was getting ready to leave, my roommate Leah suggested a way to fashion a box around my masterpiece that worked amazingly well. My brother gingerly carried it to his truck, placed it in a corner, and surrounded it with a blanket and pillow to hold it in place. I crossed my fingers and climbed into the passenger seat. See you in Ohio Croquembouche!

We arrived at my sister's house just the next day, tired and and ready to be off the road. My brother retrieved the box from the back of the truck. I carefully undid the tape that was holding the box together to reveal what was inside. It looked perfect. Only one or two flowers had lost some of their petals. The piece was otherwise solid......but not for long. My sister, brother and I admired it for a few mins and then after dinner, the real damage began. We only ate about 1/3 of the piece. The next day it was removed from the fridge and packed again into the truck for another hour and a half drive. By this point, I was obviously no longer concerned for how it looked, I had photos to show.
The Finished Croquembouche

By the end of Thanksgiving day, the Croquembouche had made it's rounds to 3 houses. Family members began lovingly calling it the "croaking bush". We had a lot of good laughs because of it. There were definitely more turkey leftovers then cream puffs the next day.

Most times when I travel back to home I fly. Taking an elaborate pastry treat with me is not an option. This was a rare and special trip. I'm really happy that I was able to finish the piece before leaving for Ohio. I'm even happier for the joy it brought to my family. This is really what making pastries is about to me; the look of joy and delight on peoples' faces when they see and eat the desserts I have prepared.

It is not an easy task to comfort people in difficult times. Often times words fail me (a crack in my mouth?), but I have found cooking/baking is my best way of showing my love. If I'm cooking for you, it most likely means you're someone really special to me.

A late posting for Thanksgiving, but hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and have much to be thankful for this year.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sugar, sugar

Strawberry and Mango Lollipops

The pastry overflow is slowly tapering off. A few weeks ago I came home with boxes of lollipops and candies, and announced to my roommates that this was the last of the white pastry boxes. They were simultaneously sad and relieved. I feel the same way too. The candy and confections class was a lot of fun. I enjoyed making the marshmallows the most. Yes, you can make marshmallows at home, and they taste soooo much better than the store bought ones. I flavored mine with coffee extract, to give my hot chocolate a nice mocha taste. Crema is now serving in-house-made candied ginger marshmallows on their hot chocolate, and it is to die for.

Hot Chocolate with Coffee Marshmellows

Of course when making candies we can't forget a popular French treat. We made two kinds of Nougat; regular and chocolate. I had seend a lot of nougat in the shops in Paris, but had never tried it. It's actually pretty tasty; though I'm still not too fond of any candy, no matter how delicious, that sticks in my teeth. My classmates and I were a little suspicious of the paper that is used to cover the Nougat at first. Chef brought it out, tore a little piece off and stuffed it into his mouth. He then explained that it was made of rice and completely edible. We each tried a little piece too. It was pretty flavorless. After we made the Nougat and I realized how sticky it is, the paper coating really made sense and you can barely tell it is there.

Nougat and Caramels

Despite my lack of funds, everyone on my Christmas list this year is going to get some great gifts. Who doesn't like a box of handmade sweets? Candy making is definitely more fun then frantic Christmas shopping. Sweets are one size fits all, and I don't think there will be any thoughts of returning, exchanging or re-gifting. I witnessed members of my family fighting over a box of my chocolates at Thanksgiving, more than once.

Lollipops Ready to Eat