Thursday, May 24, 2012

And then there was 1

Last class! I cannot believe how fast this program has gone. It has been such a whirlwind but I feel like I have learned a lot. My skillset has completely changed. What I thought I would hate I ended up loving and vice versa (well, I don't think I hated anything). Wait, no more reminiscing. I can't do that until after this class.

I finished my last class strong. I actually got 100% on every practical exam in that class. Our last project was making a chocolate sculpture. This took about a week since we had demo days mixed in. I tempered a lot of chocolate, broke many delicate pieces and ended up with this swan.

For this piece we had to make a back piece out of dark chocolate, we had to make overlay pieces out of white chocolate (the wings on mine and the leaves), we had to make at least one flower, do some type of white chocolate filigree and make a base.

The wings were the trickiest part for me. I must have made about 20 and came away with 2 usable pieces. Luckily I didn't break them and my swan came away with 2 wings. I loved the flowers. They kind of looked like water lilies. The base was made of white chocolate, dark chocolate and cocoa butter. I dyed my cocoa butter so my base would look a bit more like water.

All in all I was happy with my sculpture. We made the back piece on a humid day so I did get some bloom on my dark chocolate so if I could go back in time I would redo it and try to get zero bloom. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of need for chocolate sculptures in the industry so I probably won't have the opportunity to try again. That is the only downside to such a fast program. I like to do things over and over until I get really good at whatever skill I am working on. I don't usually have the opportunity to do that though unless I practice at home. I guess I will have to make myself a chocolate sculpture at home!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Plate it up

I have finished the plated desserts portion of the class. We had to make six plates that were graded on taste appearance and whether or not all the correct components were on the plate. I got 100% on each of them!
For each plate we were given a list of requirements of what needed to be on the plate. Aside from that we are able to make them our own. I tried to make each plate different but there are some obvious trends in my plating style.

Plate #1 - Creme Brulee. This plate was tricky because we had to include a tuile (that waffle cookie looking thing), a brandy snap (the lacey thing), fresh fruit and a nut spear (basically a nut dipped in carmelized sugar). That is a lot to fit on a little creme brulee. Mine initially looked nicer than what is pictured but I forgot to snap a pic before being graded. My instructor broke up and tastes both cookies and took a small taste of the creme brulee. I tried to hide chunk missing from the brulee for a picture and used b-list cookies.

This was my favorite. It is a napoleon which is layers of puff pastry with a creamy filling. We used chocolate diplomat cream. This was also our first plate with sauce. We made a raspberry and a chocolate sauce. We had to include two different sugar garnishes. I piped sugar and used isomalt to make that blue sugar thing on top. We included orange supremes as well (oranges cut in a way that no pith or membrane is showing).

Not my favorite. Actually, I would have liked it a lot better if I hadn't made those things that look like arrows. Anyway, for this one we made apple and phyllo dessert, similar to a turnover. We had to include a caramel sauce, raspberry sauce, cinnamon ice cream, a tuile cookie and sugar work of our choosing. I made a sugar corckscrew and a nest that the turnover is sitting on. We were required to use these little cinnamon and sugar phyllo haystack things that the ice cream is on. I'm sure it has a fancy french name other than hay stack thing.

This dessert was a pineapple tart tatin. It is basically baked fruit with caramel and puff pastry. We served it with panna cotta, the haystack thing, a sugar garnish, an apple gastrique and tempered chocolate. This one was very tasty.
This was our chocolate dessert. We had to incorporate a whipped chocolate ganache, chocolate mousse, a tempered chocolate vessel, curl and cigarette, passion fruit sauce and dacquoise cake. having both chocolate mousse and ganache seemed a bit much to me so I put them together in the chocolate vessel to make a duo of chocolate. Or I guess it was a trio if you include the chocolate cup.
Last we made a pear poached in red wine. We then reduce the poaching liquid to made a red wine reduction. We also included vanilla diplomat cream, ice cream, the haystack and a sugar garnish. This one was also very tasty and extremely easy.

Now that we finished our plates we are on to candy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


My life has been a whirlwind of adventure, hard work, some loss and mostly gain lately.
Chocolate Mousse Cake

Shortly after my last post my grandfather-in-law died. He was an amazing man. The loss of him was felt deeply in our house and in my husband's whole family. That sort of put our lives on pause for a week while we helped with funeral preparations but it felt really good to be part of the process.

The next week I finished up my cakes class (with an A) and headed off to Hawaii. Boy did we both need that. It is maybe the first vacation we have ever taken with absolutely no agenda but to relax and enjoy the ocean. Hawaii is the perfect place to learn to relax. We kayaked, hiked, snorkeled and swam with dolphins. My husband made a fun video recap of our time. 

When I got back it was time to start a new class, plated desserts and tempering chocolate. On top of that I have been staging like crazy in an effort to learn as much as possible and secure an externship site. I think both goals are being accomplished. I have started staging every Saturday at the best bakery in town (in my opinion) and I was accepted for my externship at the restaurant with the best desserts in town (fact). I'm excited. But exhausted. 

I'm in week three of my plated desserts class and loving it (I added my instagram feed to the sidebar so you can see what I am working on). It has been the area I am least comfortable with but I am gaining confidence. Cooking on gas no longer terrifies me. I don't sweat at the idea of making caramel, or sugar garnishes any more. In fact, I am less nervous in general in the kitchen. It has only taken 7 months to get there.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Where am I?

 What have I been doing lately? Making cakes of course! Last week in class we made 3 cakes and they were all pretty tasty. First we made a yellow chiffon cake. It was light and fluffy and we filled and covered it with whipped cream. It was basically a cake to practice on. We practiced cutting it into thirds, doing a crumb coat and then mixing pretty colors to decorate it with.

The next cake we made was serious. It was a chocolate butter sponge cake with a layer of chocolate mousse, a layer of raspberry bavarian cream and covered in Italian buttercream. It was a practical exam so we had a lot of requirements. It had to be pastel, have a shell border, have three roses and six leaves, say happy birthday in chocolate, have even layers of all the fillings and have no more than a 1/4 layer of buttercream over the cake. I managed all of these things and got an A.

The last cake we made was an angel food cake. I like angel food cake because it is easy to make and once it is done you don't really have to do anything else with it, unless you want to. We got together with friends over the weekend and I brought the angel food cake along with some whipped cream and strawberries. The strawberries did not get eaten. Instead we put bacon, whipped cream and maple syrup on the angel food cake and found heaven. It may sound like a train wreck on a plate to you but I assure you that it was fantastic.

Over the weekend I made cupcakes for my adorable godson's first birthday and a little cake for him to smash. The smash cake looked like a barn. He actually tried to pick it up and throw it. So cute!

I had another stage yesterday. This one was in a restaurant. Quite a different experience than the bakeshop I staged in last month. But I loved it! I'm kind of leaning towards working in a restaurant now. I like the fast pace. I'm going to do a little more staging around before I make any final decisions. I have another stage on Saturday and I am hoping that the nerves start wearing off soon. Eventually I should be able to walking into a kitchen and get to work without butterflies in my stomach right?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cake, cake, cake, cake, cake

I really like making cake. Good think too since I will be making a lot of cakes. Last week I made 3 cakes and yesterday I made 3 more. We assembled 2 of them earlier this week.

One was the Sacher torte. It is named after the chef who created it. It is actually patented so if you wanted to make it and sell it you would have to call it something else or get sued. I really liked this cake, mostly because if turned out perfect. It is a European style cake so it is a little on the dry side. It is made with cocoa powder and almond flour, brushed with simple syrup and has a layer of apricot jam in the center. It is covered with chocolate ganache and then a layer of chocolate glacage which made it super shiny. The tricky part of the glacage is you get one shot at it. You pour it over the cake and try to get it to cover the whole thing. If it doesn't you are pretty much just screwed. Any attempt at a touch up will be very noticeable. If there is any dent or imperfection in the cake the glacage will highlight it. If done correctly though it looks awesome.

The carrot cake was a whole other beast. This cake is so full of stuff. Spices, nuts, carrots, oil. It is really dense. Almost the opposite of the sacher torte. The best part about this cake was getting to make the little marzipan carrots on top. I love marzipan. So. Much. I don't love carrot cake usually but this recipe was pretty good (except it was a little crumbly).

I have a yellow chiffon cake, devil's food cake and two chocolate butter genoise cakes in the freezer at school. I'm excited to see what they will become!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

12 Step

This weekend I had some spare time so I decided to make bread. I kind of miss baking bread all the time. It is almost therapeutic. Besides, during our breads class we had an assignment to create our own original bread recipe and I wanted to see if mine would actually work and taste good. I made a variation of ciabatta bread with fresh herbs and pine nuts.

Making bread involves 12 steps. It occasionally involves a bonus pre-step as well. I actually managed to take pictures along the way as I made my bread so here we go.

0.5. Bonus pre-step. Make a preferment. This is a bit of dough that you ferment 12-24 hours ahead of time. It gives the bread a lighter texture with more air bubbles (the sign of a good bread). I made mine the night before. This preferment is called a poolish and it made by mixing yeast, bread flour and water. It is really important whenever you are mixing yeast with water to have the water between 90 and 95 degrees. Warmer and you will kill the yeast. Cooler and it may not activate and ferment as much as it should.

1. Scale. It is important to measure all the ingredients accurately. We always use a scale.

2. Mixing - Bring all the ingredients together in a bowl first. Once they come together you can start kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface. Most breads get about kneaded about 140 times (or turns). You can see if it is ready by checking for what is called a windowpane. You pull up a bit of dough and stretch it out til it is a little bit translucent. If the window tears quickly it needs a few more turns.

3. Ferment - Cover the dough and leave it alone for about an hour or until it has doubled. You can check if it is ready by poking it. If it collapses it isn't ready. If the hole stays there and doesn't close up it is ready.

4. Punch - Once it has doubled punch it. Squish it down, fold it over, squish it down, repeat.

5. Scale Again - If your recipe is for 2 or more loaves now is the time to divide the dough. Weight it to make sure you have equal amounts.

6. Round - Pretty much was it sounds like. Roll the dough into a nice smooth ball.

7. Bench - Cover again and let the dough sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

8. Make-Up - Now is the time to make the final shape of the dough. I made mine into kind of an oval shape.

9. Proof - You need to let the dough double again. In bakeshops you would use a proof box, a warm and humid environment. Most people don't have those at home. You don't really need one, it will just take a little longer to proof. Put your dough in a warmish place like on top of the fridge. I had my oven on earlier and it was still a little warm so I put my dough in there with some hot water. If you do this make sure your oven isn't too hot. about 90 degrees is perfect for most doughs. Either way you can tell if your dough it ready when it doubles or when it springs back a little if you tap it lightly.

9.5. Score - Another bonus step I guess. If your bread needs scoring (cuts with a serrated knife), now is the time. If you want to egg wash the bead or add any kind of topping, like sesame seeds, now is the time.

10. Bake - Finally! Bake your bread. Most breads bake at around 450 degrees and will take 20-30 minutes.

11. Cool - Let your bread cool all the way before you cut or store it. I think this is impossible. I usually cut my bread when it is still a little warm. I just can't wait.

12. Store - Another important step. If you are making a crisp crusted bread store it is paper once it is cool. For a soft crust bread store it in plastic.

There. You did it! Or, at least I did. Don't worry, you can live vicariously through me this time. My bread actually worked! it is soft and tasty. It made a great sandwich for lunch today. I'm excited to try making my own dough recipe again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

All at once

Yesterday it seems like every thing came together at once. We have worked for a week on components of various items and yesterday we finally assembled. We were also surprised to find out that we would be graded on two of the items. 

First up was the Gateau St. Honore. This is the most complicated item we have made so far. It has a pastry crust, alternating rows of chocolate and vanilla diplomat cream, pate choux balls filled with cream and dipped in caramel. I made some caramel spirals just for fun. 

We made these little pate choux circles filled with cream called paris brest. Apparently they were named after a pastry served on a train in France that went from Paris to Brest. 
We made chocolate souffles as well. They were pretty simple to make.

We knew going in to this class that we would be evaluated on 13 items. In our last classes we were evaluated on 3-4 different items. We have also been able to practice the items a couple times before the test in the past. Not anymore. We have to do it right the first time and get graded on it. So far we have been graded on the souffle and the gateau. I got 100% on both! I actually think it helped not knowing that I would be graded on them. I was a lot less nervous that I normally am when making a practical item. Hopefully the winning streak continues!