Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pastry Boot Camp Day 5 - It all comes together

Day five started the way all the others have...dragging myself out of bed at 5 AM.  But this time, I had to finish packing (I move to a hotel close to the airport tonight) and get to the Culinary by 6:15 so we could meet our Continuing Education coordinator for breakfast.  She's been escorting us to another breakfast kitchen instead of the one we're scheduled for.  The chef is more creative and the breakfast choices reflect it.  The meals are very banana chocolate chip pancakes here! 

We then hustled off to our classroom.  Chef gave a final lecture, then showed us a PowerPoint of the plated desserts lecture he was giving his class (a real class) this afternoon.  We all love to get back into the kitchen.  No matter how tired you are, you forget it when you walk in there. 

We had another aggressive schedule today.  We were supposed to do crepes and soufflés, but there wasn't any time.  Instead, we finished decorating our cakes, made fresh fruit tarts, made dessert sauces, made more eclairs, cream puffs, and swans out of pate au choux.  We also made palmiers (puff pastry cookies that look like butterflies) and pithiviers (puff pastry tarts filled with almond cream).  We glazed our baked fruit tarts (I made an apricot almond tart) and the fresh fruit tarts.  The student assistants set up tables with white tablecloths and made displays of our desserts. 

In the middle of this controlled madness, two things happened.  A Continuing Ed person wanted us to complete our course evaluations RIGHT NOW.  We basically told her no way (she had told us we couldn't take them home and mail them back).  We had explained we had much too much to do for our dessert buffet; no was not an option, so we compromised and agreed to come back early from lunch and do them then.  Of course, we've come back early from lunch every day because we love what we're doing. 

The second thing that happened:  I asked Chef one last time to demonstrate piping (literally for the fifth time) and he did, calmly and without frustration at my inept technique (hold bag; squeeze hard).  For some reason, the stress of piping ebbed away and I not only held the bag reasonably well, but my piping looked pretty decent.  I was overjoyed...I had piped a simple border on my cake!  The rest of our desserts came together very nicely.  Chef was pleased with our collection and asked some of the other chefs to come by and see our buffet (and have some, of course).  The lemon vanilla glazed cream puffs (my creation!) were a hit and I was thrilled when Chef told the first visiting chef that he had to try them. 

My poor, homely cake was the ugly ducking that turned into a swan.  After I piped the border, Chef helped me decorate the top in a modern, asymetrical way, utilizing the glazed hazelnuts and chocolate cigarettes we had created yesterday.  It looked so much better.  

We had a surprise visitor.  The chef who created crème brulee teaches at the Culinary, and Chef asked him to stop by our kitchen and see our buffet.  He gave us pointers on our crème brulee (!!!!!) and admired each dessert individually.  It really was a treat. 

We had a nice group of chefs and Continuing Ed people and that was good because we had an amazing number of desserts.  They tasted great, but partly because we relived their creation as we ate them.  Finally, everyone left (some with whole fruit tarts or cakes), and chef gave us our diplomas.  We took a picture of the class together.  The campers who live within easy driving distance left.  I hung around since I don't leave until tomorrow morning, plus dinner would be free at the Culinary kitchen of my choice.  I decided to visit the Cuisines of the Mediterranean kitchen as it was "in Italy" today.  But before that, I took Chef up on his invitation and sat in on his class with his full time baking and pastry students.  It was fun, partly because I knew some of the answers to questions he asked the class, and partly because I knew I was just visiting this class.  I can go home to my kitchen and just cook.  I don't have a refrigerated marble pastry counter, nor ovens large enough for full sheet pans, nor walk-in refrigerators I can store racks of sheet pans in.  But I also have none of the stress and anxiety to spoil my love of baking.  I walked away from the baking and pastry building grateful for the experience, and glad to be heading home to my little kitchen.  I have a slab of puff pastry chilling in the trunk of the car to bring home with me.  I have no idea what I'll create with it, but I'll figure it out. 

Boot Camp Day 4 – Hide your Garnish (recipe included)

Day four?  It can't be.  That would mean tomorrow is day five and that's the end. 

Today we hit a stride that made things easier.  Instead of each team trying to make chocolate mousse, a fruit mousse and a Bavarian mousse, each team made one of them, and Chef told me I was with him (yay!  The student assistants do his mise en place, so I didn't have to weigh and measure much today).  We continued assembling our cakes.  We rolled out puff pastry for palmiers (puff pastry cookies that look like butterflies) and used it for pithiviers (a large, round puff pastry filled with almond pastry cream).  We'll bake both of those tomorrow, in addition to making our fresh fruit tarts.  And we had a blast making the mousses (our was passion fruit) and using them to fill glasses.  We had decorated the glasses (the student assistants and the Chef did most of the glass decorating while we were at lunch).  All of us were running around with pastry bags filled with mousse, filling glasses and mini dessert molds and anything that held still long enough got topped off with mousse.  We also continued decorating cakes and I asked Chef if I could candy some hazelnuts for mine.  It turned into a demo.  Here's the recipe: 

Hazelnuts (skinned) -- any amount but you have to weigh them for the....

Sugar -- 60% of the weight of the hazelnuts

Butter -- about the same amount as 5-6 hazelnuts (guesstimate) 

Grease a cookie pan or line with parchment.  Put the sugar and the hazelnuts in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  The sugar will start to melt and when it does, it will caramelize quickly.  Keep stirring until medium brown, then remove from the heat, stir in the butter until completely melted and incorporated.  Spread in the sheet pan.  Separate the individual nuts (if using as a garnish) with your wooden spoon.  When cool, use to garnish cakes, tarts, pies, or a dish of ice cream.  Also very nice to eat.  The recipe also works with whole blanched almonds, and I want to try it with salted peanuts.  

When you make a garnish like this, it can disappear overnight from the kitchen (not just at home, apparently here too).  One of the restaurants is upstairs and they pillage tools and food from our kitchen.  It's a little annoying.  So I brought the nuts with me when I left class, but before that we had the... 


Peter Greweling, the Chef who taught the chocolate part of the course, just completed the Culinary's book on chocolate and confection (aptly named Chocolates and Confections).  He brought chocolates for all of us (A LOT of chocolate for 7 people).  Since we were in a classroom, not a kitchen, he brought a hot plate, chocolate, and all of the tools necessary to teach us how to temper chocolate, and how to make truffles.  We also made chocolate cigarettes; although that term is no longer PC...they're chocolate sticks.  Then we made fans.  My fan making skills are consistent with my piping skills.  We didn't learn about the history of chocolate. Maybe the hungry look in our eyes convinced him we needed chocolate NOW (it had been several hours since we'd had any sugar and we're now addicted).  The tempering instructions were so easy and totally take the mystery and difficulty out of it.  The fresh truffles we (helped) make were great.  I can't wait to get home and start spreading chocolate on a marble slab so I can whip up truffles on a moment's notice.  Yeah, right. 

He kindly left the liqueur out of the recipe and told us how to modify his recipe if alcohol is not used.  It was a great class (but I could get into Car Repair 101 if truffles were served).  He took our truffles, and the garnishes he made (we looked on helpfully) to go on our cakes and put them back in his bake shop (a restaurant would never dream of raiding a chef's bake shop).  We'll pick them up tomorrow morning. 

I can't believe it's ending tomorrow.  I have learned so much, but like one of my fellow campers, I'm not quite sure how to incorporate it into my life.  But the one thing I am pleased to take away with me is a certainty that this would not have been the right path for me to pursue professionally.  That has given me a great deal of inner peace. 

Boot Camp Day 3 – Are 200 layers enough?

Unbelievable as it is, my Boot Camp is almost over.  Part of me wants it to go longer and part of me wants it to be over.  I think my feet are in charge of that part. 


Things got even more interesting today as we made meringue (OK, we watched it and the teaching assistant made it), tart shells (the Chef made mine), butter cream (the teaching assistant again) you sense a trend? 

We did make fruit tarts and assemble our cakes.  Those were almost an after thought as we spent most of our time making, worrying about and generally obsessing over our puff pastry.  About two-thirds through the day I said to one of the other campers "Gee, this really isn't that hard.  Why did I think puff pastry was difficult?"  She looked at me like I was completely insane and walked away. 

Today was puff pastry day.  Puff pastry has literally hundreds of layers of butter in the flour.  The butter creates steam as it bakes, and that steam is what makes it rise.  I know you don't care, you all just want desserts.  So I won't bore you with the mechanics of making puff pastry by hand, but it includes such techniques as two-fold, three-fold, four-fold and lock ins.  Sounds like a poker game gone bad, doesn't it? I did a two fold when I was supposed to three fold, so the Chef got involved.  He got me straightened out and my puff pastry was in fine shape all day.  He's learning that I'm not an easy student.  Duh!  My cake assembly skills are right behind my piping skills (I still pipe like a four year old).  I explained that flavor has always been more important to me than appearance.  Chef and the two assistants don't understand that kind of insanity.  

We only baked butter cookies today, which were tasty but we have much higher standards now.  After yesterday's dessert extravaganza, my fellow campers and I had to head to the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe for a taste of something, since we would have to wait four hours for dinner before having our second dessert of the day.  Even more strange, none of us thought it at all unusual that we were going in search of sweets.  We did find the most decadent chocolate cookie ever, and I have the recipe in my textbook!  Brace makes 11 dozen cookies. 

Then I went to the library and watched videos produced by the school.  They are part of students' class assignments.  The library was also disappointingly lacking desserts.  The videos were good and really were like watching demos in class.  Since I've missed a lot of demos, I was able to catch up on some techniques. 

Tonight's dinner is at Escoffier (French) restaurant....hmmm.....desserts........ 

Boot Camp Day 2 – My Teammate Sucks

Day 2 started before dawn, as will all of the days.  I scraped ice off my windshield before taking off for the Culinary (as they call the school).  I'm careful to observe all speed limits as the county police seem to have little interest in any law enforcement that doesn't involve a speed trap.  It will not surprise you that I drove around campus for 10 minutes looking for the correct parking lot.  The breakfast line had formed by the time I (a) found the correct parking lot and (b) found my way back to the kitchen where breakfast is served.  I noticed yesterday that the people who ordered pancakes got their breakfasts really fast, so I went with pancakes.  Today they had bananas and chocolate chips and were served with maple syrup (burp).  Then I ran off to our kitchen to start my mise en place.  The rest of the students and the chef arrived and we had a short lecture, then we hit the kitchen.

Today was an ambitious day (I'm sure it will seem like an easy day when I look back on it tomorrow night).  We piped our pate a choux for eclairs, cream puffs and Paris Brest and baked them off (OK, the student assistant baked them in the big ovens).  We made tart shell dough.  We made butter cookie dough and piped it into shapes that resemble stars (if you woke in the middle of the night and looked at mine without your glasses, you would think they were...oh yeah, stars).  We filled and glazed our eclairs.  We made a foamed cake batter (genoise), and then baked it in four cake pans.  We'll assemble our cakes and make butter cream frosting for them tomorrow.  Tomorrow we'll also bake the tart shells, and make fresh and baked fruit tarts. 

Some things went better than others.  Chef called the other campers over to look at my tart dough so they would know what theirs should look like. That was the high point.  I got my mise en place done early but production can be challenging when you're on your own.  I had the eggs for my cake in a double boiler and left it alone for a minute or two when Chef reminded me I needed to put my piped cookies in the walk in.  When I came back, the water under the bowl was boiling and my eggs had started to scramble.  That batch (15 eggs! 2 pounds of sugar!) went down the sink and I ran off (literally) to crack 15 more eggs and weigh another 2 pounds of sugar.  I stood over it and whisked like mad, with the student assistant's instant read thermometer. I won't go into the details but a well intentioned suggestion from a student assistant lead me to tilt the bowl in a way that, you guessed it, put the eggs in a position that the heat under the pan started scrambling the eggs.  It was too late for me to start all over for a third time.  The Chef said I could use the cake layers he made during the demo (I missed most of the demos today), but one of the student assistants suggested we strain the eggs through the chinois (very very fine cone shaped strainer), then beat it like mad on the mixer to cool it down. 

IT WORKED!!  My eggs beat up to incredible volume and I got four cake pans out of it (the yield per the recipe).  The other teams got three or even two layers. 

I think if I hadn't had that traumatic experience, Chef would have made me stay after class and pipe "I will not over heat my eggs" 100 hundred times since my piping looks like the extruded sand kids use to make sand castles at the beach.  

At the end of the class, we plated some of the desserts we completed so far:

Crème brulee

Crème caramel

Petit pots de crème

bread pudding


Cream puffs

Cream filled swans

Paris Brest (pate a choux filled with a chocolate hazelnut flavored pastry cream) 

It amazed me how good our desserts looked.  And they even tasted good!  The eclairs were the best eclairs I've ever had.  I realized they should be crisp on the outside, contrasting with the pastry cream inside, and the dark chocolate fondant on top.  We begged a maintenance man to take the rest of the desserts (Chef told us they would put them aside and take them to dinner so the students could have them with their dinner...that felt like somewhat of an honor). 

After that, the school took a photo of our group, then we headed off for a lecture on teas and coffees.  It included tastings of 16 teas and 6 coffees--served with six different pastries.  It was an exceptionally good class, and I learned a lot. It was 5:15 when we rushed back to our hotels to change clothes before dinner.  Dinner was at St. Andrew's Cafe, the Culinary's healthier cuisine restaurant.  It was a fabulous meal, but the chef sent each of us a dessert assortment (minis of white chocolate cheesecake, chocolate panna cotta, pineapple and orange sorbets in an almond tuile cookie cup, and an apple tart with vanilla gelato-see photo of plated dessert above).  We were crying with pain as this was, easily, our fourth dessert of the day.  The students working in this restaurant truly cared about our dining experience. 

Several of you have requested leftovers, samples, a daily Fedex.  Leftovers are a big problem here.  They take all food scraps to local farmers who use it for compost or feed. 

It's late here and I have to study a little before I go to bed.  Tomorrow, we MAKE puff pastry. From scratch. 

It’s boot camp, without the push-ups

Today was day 1 of Pastry Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of America.  The day started early (we had orientation at 6 AM).  There are 7 of us in the class (the eighth was a no show).  They gave us our uniforms (white chef's jackets and black and white checked pants--standard kitchen wear), textbook, pastry bag & tips, etc.  Then it was off to breakfast.  You get to choose from 6 different menu items (omelet, scramble, pancakes, hot cereal, etc.) and the Breakfast Cookery students (who start at 1:30 AM!) make your order and hand it to you.  You then go into the dining room and eat with the students.  After bussing our own dishes, we headed to our classroom and met the Chef.  He lectured for about an hour and a half on custards, then a coffee break at 8:15.  So far we hadn't done very much and I was beginning to wonder if I would get much out of the experience.  

After the coffee break, we went to our production kitchen and the chef demoed various recipes (pastry cream, crème anglaise, crème brulee, and pate au choux--they're the pastry used for eclairs).  He demoed from 8:30 to 10:00.  Since there were 7 of us there would be three groups of two and one group of one, and I volunteered to be the group of one.  Wow, that means I am cracking A LOT of eggs by myself!  But I'm here to learn and do in a classroom atmosphere.  At 10, the Chef said we better to get to work on production since each team had to make pastry cream, crème anglais and pate au choux, plus one dessert.  And we had lunch in an hour.  And since I was a team of one, I had to do all the prep work and the cooking.  Each team had a stove, oven and table to work on.  But you go to the pot room to fetch your pots, you measure your own flour and sugar and butter, etc.  I got through the pastry cream really fast once I got my mise en place (French for "put in place"--the prep work) done.  AND I didn't burn the was beautiful.  Then I worked on the crème anglais and was rushing to finish it so I could go to lunch with the rest of the class.  The Chef hung back to help me, and my crème anglais had a bit too much texture so I had to strain it.  He said that can happen in a couple of seconds and that's part of the learning.  I rushed over to the kitchen where students pick up lunch (4 choices--trout with veggies and wild rice, strip steak, pork something, and eggplant parmesan).  And there are desserts and chocolates, plus killer breads.  And the food was pretty good.  All of the food here is made by students as part of their curriculum. 

After lunch, we went back to class to make one more element (the pate au choux) and a dessert.  My choux broke (meaning the fat started separating).  The student assistant and the chef both told me I didn't boil the milk long enough, but the chef showed me how to save it.  It was amazing.  At the end, the student looked at it and said it was thanks to me!!  Then I made my dessert (each team being responsible for one of the four).  I made the bread pudding with cinnamon and raisins and it turned out nice. 

The most frustrating thing (next to having to crack about three dozen eggs) is that we haven't eaten a single thing we've made!  I wish I'd grabbed a tasting spoon and tasted my pastry cream.  We'll pipe our eclairs from the pate au choux tomorrow.  Later in the week, we'll make fondant, the glazing for the eclairs.  At our graduation on Friday, we'll get to see everything we produced this week.  The Chef is very accommodating.  When someone expressed an interest in a dessert made with choux and pastry cream, he said we could do a small one when we're doing our other production work later this week.

After the class, we cleaned up the kitchen and then went for a tour of the campus with a student.  I'm back at the hotel to study a little for tomorrow before I go back for dinner.  Our dinner tonight is at Caterina de Medici, the CIA’s Italian restaurant. 

What surprised me the most? 

How hot restaurant stoves are...your hand gets really hot as you stir pots on the stove.

How fast you can work when you have a deadline.  When I bake, it's for pleasure and I stretch it out.  It's caused me to wonder if I can speed it up and make nicer desserts.

A lot of what we are learning is how things should feel and look when we're making them.  The Chef has each of us touch the dough or whisk the cream to be able to identify what it should be like.  That's invaluable.

Tomorrow, we start all over again at 6.  The Chef asked us what we'd like to do differently tomorrow, and we all agreed we want less lecture, since he covers the lecture information when he's doing the demos. Then maybe we can get everything done without feeling like we're running a marathon.  Although running a marathon might help offset the effects of eating three culinary school meals a day!

Boot Camp Redux

My Pastry Boot Camp experience was too fabulous to not share it.  I hope you enjoy these posts.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hello from my kitchen

A few months ago, I was attracted to the world of blogging for one selfish reason...I want to join Tuesdays with Dorie! I have thought about creating my own blog so I can join in the fun with the TWD bakers, but since I plan to start a kitchen renovation in the next couple of weeks, I figured I wouldn't be able to contribute for a couple of months, so why not wait?

This morning,
TWD gave me the push I needed to get going: Laurie (the moderator) is cutting off membership in what has been a very popular blog, on October 31st. Kitchen or no kitchen, I need to get moving!

Looking back, I have "blogged" before, albeit not on an actual blog. I attended a
Pastry Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of America in January 2007, and every night I emailed stories to a group of friends. They loved it, and I enjoy going back and remembering the craziness and the tranquility of being in a place that's all about food.

So pardon the plain, boring look of my blog. As time goes on, maybe I'll get savvy enough to make it beautiful and splashy. Or maybe, like my baking and my food, it will be homely but delicious. Stay tuned!