March 25, 2010

The Candy, man

I was bursting at the seams with sugar last week. It was the end of the section and the first 20 days with Chef Hall. Tests, checklists, spring, my brain was just overwhelmed.

I love making candy. Some of you have been the lucky recipients of some of my experiments. Now, I have even more ideas and skills! I really enjoyed class last week, it was hard but worth it.

First up, the classic peanut brittle. Baking soda is the trick here. It is what makes it better, trust me.

Next on the list, pralines. Never had one until this class. I don't eat a lot of nuts so I don't go out of my way to find candy with nuts. These candy were weird to make. You want them to crystalize and get glossy. They are piles of tan, cloudy nuts. They are super sweet too, hurt my teeth. I gave all but a few to Chef because he likes them. I am not sure how I feel about them...

You all know I love to make soft caramel. Now, I can make soft chocolate caramel. Heehee. Alan really likes these.

I on the other hand, really like nougat. REALLY like it. I made mine with pistachios, pine nuts, dried apricot, and pepitas. So colorful and so good. I am limiting myself to a couple pieces a night just so it will last.

If you are a fan of jellies, I have the recipe for you! When we made these in class, I liked them so much I made 2 more batches! The first ones, mandarin orange with ginger. The second, peach. The third, blueberry. After you make these, you let them sit out in the air for 24 hours. Then you can roll them in citric acid. My table mate at the time, Sarah, was clever and put lime zest and salt in with her citric acid. This made the jellies even better. MMM... Think of sour patch kids with actual fruit.

Truffles, wow, these are rich. We made traditional ones and we got to choose the flavor. I went again with the orange. I can't get away from it. The truffles are so smooth and tasty. I hope that the folks who were lucky enough to get some of these babies enjoy them!

Next, we worked on tempered chocolate and filled candies. I made a caramel filling, a fondant filling flavored with coconut and lime, and I got to use the rest of my orange truffle filling on some too. I got to use a fancy geodesic dome mold. It is cool! You fill it with tempered chocolate and let it set. Then you add your filling. Then you put on some more tempered chocolate and smooth the bottom. Then you wait a minute and pop them right out. I added some luster dust so I could tell the difference in the fillings. It made them pretty and shiny.

With the left over tempered chocolate, we made some nut clusters. We had some sugar coated, toasted nuts and then you add the chocolate. Ta da! Tasty.

Then that was then end of my third section. One more section. Twenty more days. Four more weeks. Yippee!

Sweet Stuff

Ok, last I left you all, I was in the thick of cakes. There were a few that I had yet to finish.

First up was the Sachertorte. This is a chocolate sponge cake layered with apricot jam, Kirsch simple syrup, and then chocolate glaze. Super rich and tasty.

Next was the Kirsch torte. This is a good one. We baked japonaise discs for 24 hours than you slap some Kirsch syrup on them, layer them with some buttercream, and a cake, more buttercream and syrup. Then you wait 3 days before you can eat it. The japonaise and cake need to soak in the flavor from the syrup and frosting. Mmmm.... We waited and it was worth it.

We then made a Dobos torte. We cut circle molds and made 7 layers, 6 in the cake and 1 to cover in caramel and cut into triangles. The layers are the sponge cake and chocolate buttercream. The sides are masked in almonds. The triangles are supposed to make it look like a crown. It looks really pretty with all the layers and it tastes pretty good too.

For those of you who like coffee and chocolate, the Opera cake is for you. This one is all about the construction. You have 4 strips of roll cake. You layer one with coffee simple syrup and put chocolate ganache on it in a thin layer. Then you take another strip and put coffee simple syrup and coffee buttercream on it. Then you put coffee simple syrup on a third strip and put that, syrup side down on either the coffee buttercream or ganache. Then you stack that on the other frosted strip.  You leave one strip to the side. Take the 3 layers and cut them in half. You will need to syrup and alternately frost the top of one and then flip and top with the cut half.

Phew. Still with me?

Then you chill it for 20 minutes. Then you take out this narrow stack and cut it on the diagonal. You need a really straight cut. Then you syrup the strip that you set aside and place the cut pieces in the shape of a triangle on the strip, strips going vertically. Then you apply a crumb coat of the coffee buttercream. Chill it again. Then glaze the whole thing with chocolate ganache. Let it set. Then write the word 'Opera' in white chocolate/oil mixture. Done. Lots of work and tasty. Alan ate a lot of this one!

After all the fancy tradtional cakes, they want to train/test us on our piping skills. Here is where we had to make a celebration cake. The important part wasn't what kind of cake but rather what we did to it. We had some requirements, shells, roses, leaves, side decor, and inscription. Not being a very steady hand, this really tried my patience. As some of you know, I shake. All the time and for no reason. Well, this means my decorating skills are also a bit on the wobbly side. With practice it will get better but right now it is not pretty.

Just when you think there couldn't be any more cakes, there is the wedding cake. Now, considering I am a bride in 60 odd days, I should know about cakes. I don't. A friend, a really kind friend, from school volunteered to make us a 'cutting' cake in addition to the cupcakes we are having. Wedding cakes are crazy and very expensive. I had no idea the time involved. Now I do. I had to plan and make one. Three layers, 10", 8", and 6" diameter. We had requirements here too. Make rolled fondant/sugarpaste, cover all three cakes with it, hide the seams of the cakes with some sort of band, 5 3-d flowers, and the dreaded drop lace. We had 3 days in class to do it and it was tough. I just barely finished with 15 minutes to spare. It did not turn out like I had planned. I am still clumsy and awkward so I may want to be fancy but can't quite get there. It was a great experience though.

My design was supposed to be spring style mendhi. I went with dogwood flowers and fun swirls.

Next post, the candy week.

March 4, 2010


And we are not talking onion here!

Cakes. That is what we started with in Term 2 with Chef Hall. A lot of individual work and at a much faster pace. On a sad note, we had another class member leave. We all are adjusting to the change.

I am with a new group member now, Sarah. We work well together and I appreciate her humor. I think she gets my Star Trek jokes... well, she laughs at them I think. I hope she isn't laughing at 'me.' ;)

I have cake coming out my ears. First was a chiffon cake with a buttercream frosting. Kind of a plain, bland cake. I wasn't really able to get it as level or the frosting as flat as I would have liked. I also need to practice more on the rosettes. I ate a couple bites of it and didn't much care for the taste of the frosting. I know someone who loves the frosting and I just love the cake, together would could have finished this cake. But alas, she is far away in the 'burg. One day, we will get together and bake. One day soon!

Next on the list is the ever different but always tasty, carrot cake. Our recipe adds coconut and pineapple to the mix so I think it is more of a hummingbird cake but what do I know! The cream cheese frosting, unfortunately, was made with part buttercream. I am not a big a fan of buttercream so it really ruined it for me. It looked pretty though! I masked the sides with toasted walnuts and decorated it with marzipan carrots.

Angel food cake. I love angel food cake.  Such a strange texture and so wonderful in just basic, sweet/vanilla flavor. I have been eating a slice a day since I made it. I wish blueberries where in season. I would make some lemon curd with all the extra yolks and I would be all set... mmm.

Pineapple upside down cake... one of my grandpa's favorites. I don't understand maraschino cherries. Take out everything natural and put back in nasty. Bleck. I liked the cake but really, I just picked out the cherries.

Anyone ever rolled a cake? I haven't. I made a lemon roll cake in class and it was weird. You bake a roll cake in a sheet pan. You let it cool. You dust it good with sugar and roll it on itself/parchement in a roll and chill it. The next day, you unroll it and brush it with a layer of lemon curd. Then you roll it again and frost it with the (bleck) buttercream. Then for presentation, you trim the ends at an angle. Then you score it and put rosettes on each section. It was quite a process. I could have made a bûche de noël instead (frosted differently, everything else is the same) but wanted to practice my rosettes.

Next up, the queen of cakes, cheesecake. We got to pick what to marble it with so I went for a orange cream marbled cheesecake. You couldn't really see the orange streaks but it tasted sooooo goooood!!! I was smart and gave 3/4 of it away. I only brought home enough for Alan and me to snack on. I could/would have eaten the entire thing if given enough time.

Now we get into the fancier stuff. Charlotte Royale filled with Bavarian cream. A messy production! This is another roll cake only this time we cut it up and then layer it with bakers jam. Then you cut up 1/4 inch slices and line a small bowl (or Charlotte mold) with them. My jam was a bit oozy so mine is not as clean as I would have liked it. I am at the point in class where I know what I want it to do but I am still awkward and not quite skilled enough to be exact. I know, practice will help but it is still frustrating.

Once you have the bowl lines, you chill it and make Bavarian cream. This involves powdered gelatin. You put it in water for it to 'bloom' and then add it to something hot in order for it to 'dissolve.' It is kind of a creepy texture but it is really useful. I am still on the fence about whether I like it. Anyway, you fill the Charlotte mold (the bowl lined with the layered roll cake slices) and then put a plain piece of roll cake on as the bottom. Not a tasty cake (I dislike the bakers jam taste) but it is very pretty.

Need a pick me up? Well, how about tiramisu! First we had to make ladyfingers, which is difficult enough, but then you take a roll cake round as a base, wrap a piece of acetate around it and tape it. Hopefully you left enough of an edge between your round roll base and the acetate strip. This is where you will start lining up your ladyfinger cookies. My acetate strip was too tight at first so my cookies wouldn't stand up. After I adjusted it, they finally stood up. Once you have the fingers up, you soak/brush the fingers with espresso/coffee simple syrup. Then you fill it part way with a tiramisu filling (egg yolks, sugar, Marsala wine/rum, mascarpone, and cream). Then more cookies, soaked with espresso/coffee simple syrup, and then more filling. On top of all of that, chocolate curls and a dusting of powdered sugar.

More chocolate? Why, sure! Chocolate honey mousse torte. Here you make a mousse by cooking the eggs with boiling honey. You have a roll cake base and a fancy strip of jaconde-stripped cake to decorate the bottom. Like this or this. My mousse set up really nice and the cake itself looked really cool. Just for size, this is about a 6" diameter cake. The Charlotte Royal is about the same. The other cakes were all 9" diameter.

One of the craziest cakes yet to work on has been the chocolate chiffon with dark whipped ganache icing, banded with a tempered white/dark chocolate band. You make and frost the cake. Then you temper chocolate. Then on a strip of acetate that is as long as the cake is round, you draw a continuous design with your tempered dark chocolate (that is being held at 88-90 degrees). Then wait a second or two and cover your dark chocolate completely with the tempered white chocolate (also being held at 88-90 degrees). Tempering is a pain but it really does make the chocolate look nice. Then you wait a second or two and lift the strip and set it in a clean spot. Then, before it sets to firm, you have to transfer it to the bottom edge of the cake and wrap it. I waited a bit to long and mine had a couple of cracks in it. All that work and I ruined it in a matter of seconds. :) Ok, ok, not completely ruined but the perfectionist in me wishes I had those seconds back!

Phew! The first section of cakes is complete. I don't have any that I need to do over so onward to the fancy cakes and wedding cake design!

March 3, 2010

The day I learned...

to love macarons. French macarons.

After pâte à choux, we focused on our last section of cookies and petit fours. For students who had time and were interested, we could save 5 each of our cookies and petit fours for a platter display that Chef would critique. I went for it. It meant not only did I need 3 of most items for check off but two extra items. It was also important to safely store them over a couple of days (tuile cookies = fragile), and then come up with a platter and a design.

First, the cookies. We started with madelines and the incredible, wonderful, colorful, and tasty, French Macaron. I love madelines but the macaron really surprised me. It is so easy to change the color and flavor and the texture is really fun too. I always have the ingredients sitting around to make them and they are quick to make too. The ones I made in class I filled with ganache for Alan. He liked them so much he ate several in one sitting. Yippee!

We also made toscaner squares, which are actually rectangles, and birds nests. The toscaner squares are made from a cake with almond brittle on top and then tipped in tempered chocolate right up to the edge of the top layer of almonds. I cannot find much about it online so I do not have much to say about it. It tasted good but I would not eat more than one piece, it was on the sweet side. Birds nests are made with a small circle of tart dough and then you pipe out an edge of almond paste stuff on that circle, with a fancy star tip. The you fill it with bakers jam (or wait until they are baked and fill with ganache). They are cute but not exciting in the taste department. The baker's jam all taste pretty awful, super sweet and not like the fruit spreads I use at home.

The next day, we made an almond pound cake to start the process of making petit four glace. This is quite a production. You make the cake, spread on baker's jam, a layer of thin marzipan, cut it into shapes, glaze it with fondant icing, and then, decorate it with a design. Phew. It was intense.

One thing we did if we had time was the tuile cookie. It is a super cool idea. You make stencils out of hard plastic (the lids of buckets/yogurt containers work well). Then you spread a thin layer in the stencil (on a silpat) and bake it. It is pretty quick. I made butterflies and then I shaped them hot from the oven so they looked cool. I took the paste home, it will last about a year in the freezer!!!

We also used stencils to make fortune cookies. You spread the fortune cookie paste thin, in a circle stencil, and bake them. When they come out of the oven, you wait about 45 seconds and then you have to shape them with your hands. OUCH! If you were really fast/clever (which I was) you can be prepared with messages. Heehee.

Next up in the cookie lineup, florentines. You see these sometimes called lace cookies. We make a 'batter' and when they bake the spread really thin. You can shape them perfectly round while they are baking by taking a lightly oiled cutter that is bigger than the actual cookie is and then move it around the cookie to smooth the edges. Pretty fancy? Well, considering after that you then glaze one side of the cookie with tempered chocolate with a fancy decorative swirl, yes. It is fancy.

I was really excited that the next cookie, meringue fingers, was back to the meringues. I had really good luck with the French macaron. These were equally successful and also pretty tasty. It is basically egg whites, sugar, vanilla extract, and dusted with chopped pistachios. The nuts are a lovely color contrast to the white of the meringue.

Chess anyone? The chessboard cookies are all about construction. You make the dough, vanilla, and to half of it, add cocoa powder. Then you roll it out to the same size and stack it, all the while chilling the dough of course. It has to be really cold to get really good shape to it. You glue the layers together with egg wash too so there is no sliding around. Once you have a brick of 4X4, 1/4 inch squares, you marble your left over dough, roll it out to 1/8 of an inch thick and wrap your brick in it for the border. It looks really cool! They didn't have much taste though.

Did I mention we made marzipan? We use it a lot for decorating so it is cool to just make a batch, kneed it, color it, whatever. My friend Denise would love it! :)

So... after all these cookies. I made the platter. We needed 5 passable of each item. Arrange it on a platter and well, they give you feedback. Here is a picture of my platter. Chef Wild-Wilson liked it and only said that if I were to serve something like it on a buffet line, never make one item a 'hazard' to get to another item... don't stack items weird and make reaching for a cookie scary for someone. The beautiful platter is our first wedding gift. K&L gave it to us before they moved away. They cannot make it to the wedding so I thought it only appropriate that they get to see it get used in such a momentous way. :)

All in all that was the last of my time with Chef Wild-Wilson. The first 40 days were CRAZY and super fun. I did fill my check list again. A lot of going in early, staying late, and asking tons of questions. I didn't do as well on the written test this section as I did the first but I am still happy with my grade, A-. I also am officially certified to work in a kitchen. Our Serv Safe test is complete and I even have a little card to carry with me now. Yippee! I understand how to keep a clean kitchen! I can work any where in the US and not have to have a food handlers card. Sweet.

I am now zooming through the second term and the advanced class with Chef Hall. Next post, cakes!