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Showing posts with label pastry chef. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pastry chef. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Smoked Pineapple Tart a la Mode

We here in Kansas City just love when things are smoked! So why shouldn't fruit get in an all of the fun? As an honorary citizen(transplant from Arizona, mind you) of the Midwest, I salute you, Kansas City, for your love of the hickory, the cherry, the apple woods. I salute you, Kansas City, for your rising smoke stacks and perfect barbecue rub recipes. And since I am wearing my Pastry Chef toque, time to have some fun!

Smoked Pineapple Tart

  • 1 medium-sized pineapple
  • Pie crust(either store bought or use your favorite recipe(or you can use mine))
    • 8 oz butter
    • 10.5 oz flour
    • 2 Tbsp sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 Tbsp vinegar
    • Enough water to bring it together
      • Pulse it all together in a food processor. Or just combine all of this stuff by cutting the butter into the flour and then adding the liquids and eggs until it comes together, then freezing it/chilling it for at least one hour
  • Spicy Pastry Cream
    • 5 egg yolks
    • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1 Tbsp butter, cold
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper**
Break down your pineapple by cutting off the tip and bottom. Then lay it flat on its bottom and "peel" the pineapple's thick husk using a chef's knife, carefully, following the curves of the fruit. Cut the fruit into half, down the middle and then down the middle again. You now have four quarters. Cut the core out of those corners by making one long slit down the middle of the fruit and discarding the ick. Slice each quarter piece into thirds, lengthwise, and then arrange on a sheet pan in your smoker. Or on a rack. It's really whatever. 

Don't have a smoker? No problem!

Take three disposable aluminum pans, the kind you get at the grocery store in the 'kitchen tools' aisle, and perforate one of them with a knife or a nail. Light a combination of your favorite wood chip blend and get some smoke going in the bottom of the first pan. Place the perforated pan atop the smoky 'coals' and then line with wax or parchment paper. Place your pineapple on the paper and cover with the third and final pan. Secure with aluminum foil and set it into a warm oven(200 degrees is just fine) for about 30 minutes.Just...keep your window open. It'll get smoky in your house.

Create your custard by whisking the sugar, salt, cayenne, cornstarch, and egg yolks together until it forms a wonderful thick ribbon. Boil the cream and vanilla together, and splash the hot liquid into the yolks, stirring constantly. Place the combined liquid back into the pan and bring it slowly-slowly-slowly to a boil, or until it gets thick, whisking constantly. Remove immediately from the heat and add in the butter. Give it a strain, too, if you can.

Roll out your pie dough into a large circle, big enough to fit into your pie/tart tin and have some hanging over. If you're using a tin, go ahead and get the dough into it now and let the dough sit, draped over the tin and its edges, for about five minutes. This allows the dough to relax. Once your dough is relaxed, fill about 2/3 of the way up with your reserved pastry cream. Then arrange the pineapple slices atop the custard in a pattern, or just plain across it. Just make sure it's covered completely! You can now either fold the dough over the pineapple, or trim it off the edges. It's up to you. I trimmed, but there's no reason you can't fold it over into a lovely flower-like galette! Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and delicious. Let it cool completely before cutting. If you want to eat it warm, pop it in a hot oven for about five minutes before slicing and serving with ice cream!

Happy eating! 

Friday, October 3, 2014


Not to be confused with the Hostess snack, these Snowballs are completely homemade! (Or, rather, Housemade. Because, you know, I made them at work.)

The restaurant industry is a fascinating one, that cannot be contested. There are a million factors as to why a restaurant could fail, and one of these factors as far as losing money goes is over buying. What does that mean? It just means that you didn't quite keep the best track of your inventory, and you bought stuff when you do need to buy stuff. Now it's sitting on the shelf, not being sold, and therefore not making any money. I have a lot of the stuff on my rack at work. Things like almond paste and flaked coconut and ground oats. They're not saying that I can't use, but there's things that aren't on my menu. So, now, in an attempt to help out the restaurant, I have decided to turn to a childhood favorites: snowballs.

(Disclaimer: I have never eaten a hostess snowball in my life. When I was a kid, I pointed at one of the gas station once asked for my dad if I can have it, and he said "no, sweetheart, no food should be that pink." And that was the end of it. I never tried it. But I'm very familiar with them, as I would see them in the lunch pails of my friends at school growing up. And in various gas stations around the country.)

I had initially gotten the idea from Chef Elizabeth Falkner, a very famous pastry chef, whom I admire quite a bit. She's got this shop called Citizen Cake where she makes art out of cake. I don't know why, but it somehow inspired me to make a sexy version of that gas station childhood classic. So I googled what a snowball actually was: chocolate cake, marshmallow like fluffy stuff, pink coconut. Easy! So off I went.

The best ever chocolate cake recipe I have come across has got to be, hands down, the devil's food cake recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. It's a masterpiece. That cake brings me closer to God. (Spend $12 and get a little scale that reads grams. It's worth it.)

Devil's Food Cake
202 g AP flour
62 g cocoa powder (alkalized, please)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
112 g eggs (cracked and strained, about 2)
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
172 g mayo
205 g water, at body temperature

Preheat the oven to 325 F, and prepare a sheet pan with parchment and pan spray.
Sift all of your dry ingredients together whisk in the salt. Set this on another sheet of parchment paper for later.

Put your eggs, sugar, and vanilla into the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk to combine, and then for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the bowl, then whip at medium high speed for about 5 minutes. Add the mayo and whisk to combine. Remove the bowl from the standing mixer and fold in the dry ingredients, alternating with the water, with two additions each using a spatula. For the batter into the prepared pan and, using an offset spatula, read it into an even layer making sure that it reaches into the corners. 10 minutes if using a sheet pan. You can also use muffin cups, but I can't give you time for that since every oven works a little differently. 10 minutes. It should be fine. But let cool completely before using/sculpting.

With this cake, cut circles using a cookie cutter and stack, using either marshmallow fluff or just melty, gooey marshmallows that you blitz in the microwave for a few seconds. But I would recommend just getting a big jar of marshmallow fluff and going to town on this, because you're also using it to "frost" the outside of your cakes and get the coconut to stick!

As for dyeing the coconuts flakes, I prefer the Wilton paste eyes. But invest in a pair of gloves. Because that stuff will stay in your hands like no other. I like Wiltons rose color for this particular application. I also use it in other cakes and frosting s. Wilton really does put out a great line of products as far as colors go. They last for a long time, and the colors are always really intense! Look at what they did to these cupcakes.

See? Totally perfect pink color, just in time for October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Thanks for reading and happy cooking! Post your results and request for new blog content in the comments below.

posted from Bloggeroid

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee is also known as the "Queen of British Desserts." I have no idea why.
Few desserts can easily evoke the luxury of the creme brulee. Literally meaning "burnt cream", it is a fabulous custard dessert with a crisp, crunchy top of caramelized sugar. The home cook will not often attempt this as broilers can be tricky in the residential oven, and I honestly can't think of many that go out and buy blow torches. But maybe that will change with both the Foodie movements that seem to be happening everywhere as well as Colorado's whole legal marijuana thing going on. (Don't over-think that last part if you didn't get it initially. Move on.)

The long and short of it is that the creme brulee is kind of a dream, a special occasion, something you can only get when someone offers it in a restaurant. You don't think to make a bunch of these dudes and have them in your house. At least, I assume you don't. Maybe you do. I do, but I don't hold myself to be a normal person, necessarily.

I didn't really care to have a creme brulee on my menu at the restaurant. To tell you the truth, I thought it was overplayed. I thought that everyone did that, and I wanted so much to prove that I was a good, creative, innovative pastry chef that I didn't want to go on, what I thought, was a stand-by. But everyone kept on asking for creme brulees for dessert.

"Fiiiiine..." I huffed as I went off to find the perfect recipe.

I didn't much care for the recipe in my textbook from culinary school. It was fine, sure, but I wanted something a little more different. I went to Google and trawled through Epicurious.com, Tumblr, and Pinterest, but I really didn't find anything that caught my eye. I just wanted a simple, good, vanilla bean creme brulee. Basically, I just didn't want to trust the randomness of the internet. Sourcing is so important, you guys. Don't trust everything if you don't know the source. So I went to a source I trust: The James Beard Foundation.

JamesBeard.org has become a staple for my recipe bookmarks. If ever I need something to go off of, I go there. I found the most-excellent creme brulee recipe there. It was just your basic, wonderful, perfectly-execute-able dessert. You can check out the recipe there, or just continue reading. Up to you!

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee
yield: 8 creme brulees, or one fukken big one, depending on your dish size

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 quart heavy cream(heaviest you can find)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup/7 oz sugar(vanilla sugar, if you can)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 hearty pinch kosher salt
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F, or 300 if you have a convection oven. I like 325 with no fan/low fan, so that's what I use. Combine the cream, vanilla bean(scraped seeds and pod, please), extract, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepot and bring to a boil. Remove immediately from the heat and cover with aluminum foil to let steam. Combine the egg yolks and the sugar with a rubber spatula. I don't use a whisk because it creates a foamy custard head on top, and that can mess with the final texture on top. There are ways to skim it off, but I just find it easier to use the spatula and save myself a step. 

Temper in the hot/warm cream mixture to the egg yolks, and then combine everything in the saucepot. Return to medium-low heat, stirring constantly with your spatula. I just go until it's a nice nape(which is just coating the spoon nicely, basically) before I remove from the heat and strain. Please don't skimp the straining. You'll catch any nasties or curdles that might have occurred. Just don't skimp it, okay? Don't skip this step.

Pour into ramekins of your size choice. I like the traditional creme brulee ramekins, but you can use whatever, as long as it's ovenproof. Place them in a baking dish with high sides. A casserole dish will do. Move the dish into the oven and add water to the dish until it reaches a little more than halfway up the sides of your ramekins. You can go higher, but I am clumsy, so I just go that high. Cover the entire pan with aluminum foil and close your oven door, setting the timer for 10 minutes. At each 10 minute interval, you'll return to the oven and rotate the pan. Just gently turn it around to a 180. Nothing big. You just want to make sure it's cooking evenly. 

After about 30 minutes, lift up the foil by a corner gently and check. Give it a tiny shimmy and if it's just set, remove it. Remove the ramekins from the water and let sit on your cutting board or any other fairly room temperature surface for about an hour before wrapping and putting it into the refrigerator.

About five minutes before serving dessert, sprinkle with white sugar and either torch it using a torch, or broil it under the broiler to get that signature crust. Then pop it in the freezer. The cold air will seize up the sugar and give you a crazy-good crunchy crust when you break it with the spoon. Plus you won't have that weird warm/lukewarm layer of custard just below the crust that can sometimes be unappealing. If you want to be a total copycat of me, serve it with a garnish of caramel corn, orange segments, and blueberries. And hopefully you can be just as surprised as how much you love classics like that. I realized through this dessert that there is nothing wrong with playing the Hits that everyone loves. You can be an artist, sure, but your art won't mean shit if you can't perfectly execute the basics. So learn to execute the basics! There is nothing wrong with the basics, especially when those basics are a vanilla-y unctuous custard underneath a crust of sugar. 

Happy eating!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pistachio Panna Cotta - The Dish that Changed my Life

This will be different from my previous posts.

This will not have a recipe in it. It will have little to do with food. And yet, all to do with food.

Some of you know that I'm not a classically trained pastry chef. When I applied for the job of Executive Pastry Chef at the restaurant I work at now, I had never done anything like that before. I had been a pantry cook or a line cook or prep cook. I'd only done pastry for fun. There are a lot of stereotypes in the culinary world(apparently) about women ending up to be pastry chefs because they can't handle the meat and potatoes(for whatever dumb sexist reason). I didn't want to "end up" a pastry chef, necessarily, because I didn't go to school for it. I went to school to be a Chef. I wanted to get my arms burnt on ovens. I wanted to be tatted up like a mother-bitch, on the cover of Food & Wine. But Pastry was...

When I was in school, I was mistaken for a pastry student by my Pastry Chef Instructor. I told him I was a Savory. He thought I was kidding, then shook his head and said I had a knack for it. It stuck out in my head.

The dish that changed my life
 I had the pleasure of speaking with one of my customers last night, who had some questions about some of the desserts that one of the servers wasn't sure how to answer. I offered to just go out to the table myself, since it was a slower night. They ended up ordering my Pistachio Panna Cotta, which has come to be my signature/favorite dessert over the years. They were super-nice, and we were slow, so I brought the dish to the table for them.

"So, you decided on the panna cotta, eh?" I said with a smile as I set the plate down.

"Well, we just had to get the dish that changed someone's life!" said the lady, with fork ready.

As I walked away, I had a spring in my step. "The dish that changed someone's life." It really did. It really, really did change my life.

Life's funny like that, you know? You wake up one morning and you have almost no idea how you got to where you are. You look back, trying to find that one pivotal moment. It was the moment I decided to make a pistachio panna cotta for my stage instead of a almond-pear tart with caramelized figs. Turns out I actually really love being a Pastry Chef. Not because I couldn't "hack it" on the hot/savory side, but because I just really truly love it.

I don't think mathematically or precisely. I think artistically. There's so much math and chemistry in the pastry side it's not even funny. I got poor to decent grades in math in school(I know, I'm a failure to the Asian people), mostly because I couldn't understand something on paper. Nobody could tell me how to understand math. I am what you call a kinesthetic learner: I have to have something tangible, something in my hands, for me to understand it fully. Many Chefs I have met are like this. And I take every opportunity I can to meet and socialize with other chefs, because I sometimes feel that they're the only people I truly understand.

I will never forget a conversation I had with my Chef about how we rank at #9 in the career field that's most-likely to contain psychopaths in it.  The long and short of it is that nobody truly sane will ever choose this for their path in life. We are damaged individuals that don't know how to do anything else. We are attracted to positions of power without having to really deal with the everyman. We have our own world in the Back of House that we understand. The hum of the ovens and the whir of the fans. The whoosh of the flames as it comes up on the gas burner. It's a language that we know. We aren't really built for the desk job, or anything with HR. We aren't really designed to be politically correct. Some of the best chefs I know are the nastiest, grossest, most-crass people out there. But damn if they can't cook, damn if they can't work. Some of the most non-functioning members of society one could ever imagine are the ones that are sometimes the best workers in a kitchen.

I'm not saying like I know every cook in the world. But I've cooked in a decent amount of different kitchens, enough to make the statement: The people in this career field can be fucking weird.

We're a sarcastic, crass, snide bunch of bastards. But it's all based on love. Cooking is how we socialize. It's the one way we get to touch other people's lives without actually having to meet them. We are basically introverted extroverts. Most of us, anyway.

I chose the pistachio panna cotta for my stage because, when looking at the menu for the restaurant, I saw that they had a pistachio-crusted halibut. This means they had pistachios in-house. The pistachio is also known as the King of Nuts. The rest of it easily fell into place, and I spent a 2-hour period in that hot kitchen making the best attempt at a dish that, what I thought, a good pastry chef could be proud of.

I also could replicate dishes from Alinea. That, I could do!
Sitting in the wine room, while three chefs and an owner dug into my dish, all making sounds around me and talking around me, all I could think was how much of a fraud I was. I had never felt so dishonest. My inner monologue was rambling on saying things like: "Day 1, they seem to have let me into their camp. They have not yet suspected that I am not yet one of them."

To tell you the truth, I don't know the first thing about pastry, except what I was taught in school. Do you know what I knew how to do? Butcher fish. Fabricate a side of beef. Eight-piece a chicken. I can tell you the perfect time to pull a steak from the pan my feeling it. I know how to blanch pounds and pounds of green beans so that they'll still have a crispy crunch, and will still be green, without being undercooked. That is what I know how to do. This is what I understood. But I saw the Chef de Cuisine's eyes go for the Exec's and whisper to him "this is good." I thought I was going to pee my pants. A week later I got the call saying that the job was mine, and that I started on Monday. All because of that Panna Cotta, that tiny little unassuming dessert.

Oh, and you can forget it if you think you're getting the recipe right now. Wait until I publish a cookbook and buy it for $24.99 or something like that off of Amazon.com.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Chocolate Guinness Cream Puffs(pate a choux = love)

These were the books I kept after sorting through a pile 5X this high
I live for the days that I get to experiment at work. It's not terribly often, I'll say that, but it's often enough that I get to think about it on a fairly regular basis. Not that there isn't something beautiful about repeating the same mechanical thing every day, slowly perfecting every inch of your technique, of course. But I do love when I get to put those practiced techniques into play. The words of my Pastry Chef Instructor Damian Fraase(who, to this day, is one of the most-influential voice-in-my-head mentors) ring true, when I asked him about doing a stage for my first ever Pastry Chef job:

"I would rather see a single, well-executed eclair than the most elaborate thing in the world with all flash and no substance."

And such is the truth. To become a great cook, one must master not recipes, but techniques. Technique, technique, technique. The rest will come. This is why I feed my addiction to food with libraries. I mean, seriously, I spend at least four hours of every day off I get at the library 10 minutes from my house. I love libraries. I love the quiet. The reverence I feel from the (probably) billions of pages of recipes, ideas, pictures is indescribable. When I was a child, I would volunteer in my school's library as an assistant, shelving books. The "cool girls" all congregated together and shelved fiction. Ever the outcast, I was stuck with the non-fiction. And you know what? I'm glad those girls were nasty to me. I learned to love non-fiction, and a whole new form of escapism.
"...that same faint arousal."

All of this knowledge-driven curiosity has influenced my work. I think about it while I'm working. I think about all of the different ways I could improve or change something I'm doing. I was thinking about this when I got a call on my way into work.

"Somebody called wanting something called a "crock-in-bush"?"

A pause. "Do you mean a croquembouche?"


"Okay, when?"


A long pause. "Does he know what a croquembouche entails?"

"Well, he asked about a special dessert on Monday, but just got back to me today asking about it. Here's his number. He said if you can't do it, he would love to talk about something else."

I called. It was a man wanting to make a special something for his wife's birthday. And he didn't just want a cake. Gods be praised for that. I asked him what was special about the croquembouche. He said he just thought it looked neat. I told him that the issue wasn't so much the time, but the environment.

I'm a Southwestern girl. I was born and raised in the southwest. You know what they have there? NOT HUMIDITY. Seriously, I never learned how to deal with humidity! And it just happened to be a particularly-gross weekend. I told him that my biggest concern was the sugar work. That I could do it, but I - quite frankly - was just not that skilled of a pastry chef yet to do a croquembouche with confidence in this humidity. To tell you the truth, I was just scared. So I offered an alternative: cream puffs.

We call them cream puffs when in reality they're actually pate a choux puffs. Profiteroles. And, when in the long shape, eclairs. But your average American will call them cream puffs. I suggested a trio of cream puffs, and he loved the idea.

"What flavors were you thinking?" I asked.

"Chocolate? She likes chocolate..."

Long story short, we had a nice long chat about his relationship with his wife and I drew inspiration from that. She loves chocolate so I voted for a chocolate pate a choux puff with a trio of fillings. Chocolate mousse had to be one of them, of course, with a sour-cream glaze, for the chocoholic in all of us...the other would be a citrus curd-filled puff with a milk chocolate glaze. The last, my favorite, was a stout pastry cream-filled puff with a Guinness glaze. Because, on their first date, they went to a bar and shared a beer together. (So I'm a romantic. Sue me.)

Forgive the poor quality of my camera phone. I was shaking with delight.
Chocolate Pate a Choux
  • 8 oz butter
  • 3/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c water
  • 1 c whole milk(WHOLE MILK)
  • 11 oz. bread flour, sifted(AP can work fine)
  • 1 oz cocoa powder(or two Tbsp, kind of rounded)
  • 10 - 12 lg eggs, room temperature

Preheat your oven to 400. Line baking sheets with either parchment paper or a silpat mat, whatever you have.

Combine the butter, milk, water, sugar, salt, and vanilla into a heavy-bottomed saucepot, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add in the flour and cocoa powder and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, stirring to bring everything together. Beat the flour into a bit of a paste for about 30 seconds. You'll know your dough is done when there is a film on the bottom of the pan, and the dough has formed a mass lump.

Pop this mixture into your standing mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, and beat on medium-low speed. The mixture will be steamy, but let it cool off this way for about 2 minutes. This is where you add in the eggs, one at a time, beating continuously until this paste is smooth and shiny. You will know you have added enough egg when a ribbon of dough forms and does not break when pressed and pulled between your fingers. Or you dip your finger in and the valley it forms doesn't really collapse in on itself.

Pop this final mixture into a piping bag, fitted with the pastry tip of your choice(I chose star, but you can use plain), and pipe out your shapes. I just did 'globs', but you can use this versatile paste to make any shape you like. Make sure you have a little cup of water nearby, though, to dip your fingers in and smooth out the tips. We wouldn't want any crispy burnt tops on our choux puffs, would we?

Turn your oven down to 350 at this point. Bake these dudes for about 15 minutes. Remove, poke holes in the bottom to let the steam escape, and return them to the oven. Turn the oven off and let them continue to bake for another 25 minutes, or until dried out and hollow-sounding. Or you could just sacrifice one and break it open to make sure it's not soggy in the middle. Then eat it. I won't judge.

This little vessel is a miraculous thing for pastry creams, curds, mousses, even ice cream! Or you can omit the vanilla and make it 12 oz of bread flour instead of 11 + 1 oz cocoa powder to make it your standard pate a choux, which can be used in savory options as well. They look particularly fancy at parties. If you want to make the stout pastry cream, though, keep reading.

Guinness Pastry Cream
 (adapted from Epicurious.com's Stout Creme Anglaise)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 c packed brown sugar(I used light)
  • 1/4 c heavy cream(half and half can work, too)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c Guinness(or any stout you have on hand, I just used Guinness)
  • 1 oz butter, unsalted

Whip your egg yolks, cornstarch, and sugar together using a whisk attachment on your standing mixer, or just finish off that Guinness and go nuts with a whisk in hand. Bring the cream and stout to a boil with the vanilla and a pinch of salt, and then remove from heat. Splash in a bit of the hot liquid to the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs, then pour egg mixture into the pot with the remaining liquid, whisking all the time. Return to the heat(medium heat, if you please), and whisk-whisk-whisk until it thickens nicely. DO NOT LET IT EXCEED 180 DEGREES F! Keep a thermometer on hand, if you need. But, dear God, don't.

Or you could just cut it in half and put ice cream in the middle. That's a profiterole!
Remove from heat immediately and add in the butter, whisking it in to both stop the cooking process and giving it a wonderful texture. Strain through a chinois or a tamis strainer if you have one, or just your plain ole' wire mesh guy in the back of the cabinet will do fine. Set it into a container and cover with plastic wrap, actually laying the plastic on the surface of the custard. This will prevent a skin from forming, which you do not want.

Once cool, pipe into your puffs. Or just eat it with a spoon while watching "Fargo" in your bath robe. Seriously, that's a really good show. Martin Freeman is masterful in that.

Oh, and just make a glaze using Guinness, powdered sugar, an egg white, and a touch of salt. Whisk it up and go bananas.(Otherwise known as a royal icing.)
Happy cooking, everyone!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Glimpse of (Pastry) Chef Life

I just got off of work. My hours for this work period were something along the lines of 81.33. So, an hour and a half of overtime. This isn't necessarily normal for me, but it's pretty normal for a lot of us.

Who is "us"?

Why, the cooks. The warriors. Them who feed you when you don't feel like feeding yourself. It's the faceless army that produces magic on a plate, be it that wonderfully grilled terrace major with asparagus and a sauce bordelaise, or that perfect drunk-food of pork belly tacos with an Asian slaw at your local gastropub. Do you ever think of where your food comes from? You might. If you're reading my blog, you probably do. So, good for you.

Why, yes, that is a cluster of caramel corn atop that creme brulee.
A typical day in a restaurant is usually not typical, but on average it will last about 8 to 10 hours. Every day brings a new challenge, and yet you're producing(usually) the same stuff you did yesterday. Still that gallon of pink peppercorn creme anglaise. What's that? Oh yeah. More chocolate mousse. Oh, and you have to portion some more cakes, and did I mention you have another party that needs about 40 cobblers before 5pm? Now, before you do that, translate some cleaning instructions for me to the new dishwasher. And don't forget about those 50-something creme brulees that are in the oven, which will curdle if they're in a second too long--so listen for that timer!

The life of the pastry chef is that of a 'Jacqueline-of-all-trades,' as it were. Not only are you producing your own stuff, you're training the pantry cooks over and over again, cleaning, organizing, keeping your chefs from having mental breakdowns... You're a part of the back of house, but you're not. You're kind of your own entity. You have an entire section of the restaurant to yourself. In a sense, that is. You can be part-time, full-time, mercenary, contracted...it's actually pretty darn rare that a restaurant will have a full-time pastry chef in-house. So if you're in culinary school, trying to decide on pastry versus savory, stick with savory and study pastry on the side. You never know when you'll need to jump on the line and help plate salads or make a few pizzas while your pantry chef is in the can. And if you can be versatile, you're valuable. Remember, anybody can replace you at any time. So be as valuable and irreplaceable as you can be.

Phew. Jogging is hard. 
Your feet will hurt, just like the line cooks and the chefs. Your back will be sore, as will the back of your neck. Learn to stand correctly. And stay hydrated. Do stretches at night. I do yoga before bed, and I jog with Howl in the morning. Staying in shape is really the kind of thing you want to do; not for the sake of vanity, mind you, but for the sake of not completely wrecking your body. If you stay strong, so does your battle.

I try to stay in shape by running where and when I can. I've gained weight since I made the switch from savory to pastry(#shocker), and I definitely don't want to get Diabetes as a result. After a very long day, you'll usually want to crawl into a hot shower and cry. Or perhaps you're the kind of cook that explodes on the line and threatens to kill everyone. You might even be the kind that gets into fights with the front of house, or the other line cooks, or even the Chef. You might be the kind who gets so frustrated you leave the line to go cry. I am not that kind.

I don't mind getting paid to pee. But when I'm on someone else's clock, I don't cry. When I clock-out, and get in the car, the tears will come. But I will always massage my sore neck, and my cracked hands and aching feet, thanking any God that's out there for giving me the opportunity to do something so meaningful with my life. I realize that it's not the most meaningful, if you were to really think about it. But I get to be a part of lives. Not just a life. But lives.

This year at Valentine's Day, a man proposed to his now-fiancee over one of my desserts. She'll always remember that flourless chocolate cake and cheesecake, artfully arranged on a platter, with a pile of rose petals cradling the ring box with her future in it. Today, I made a gender-reveal cake to tell a wonderful family that they'll soon be joined by a grandson. I got to be a part of that moment. I wasn't there, not really, but a tiny piece of me was in that dessert you just ate. I get to touch someone's life, and for a moment, they might just forget about what a crappy day that I had.

And that, to me, is why my job is meaningful.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The American Pastry Chef

So yesterday in class was pretty awesome. (Sorry I haven't been blogging as extensively as I should, by the way, as finals are coming up so I must concentrate!) Chef Rush's colleague Nick Wesemann of The American restaurant in Kansas City came to show us plated desserts. It was pretty awesome, since this opportunity doesn't come often to most, especially for such a kickass Chef. You would be hard-pressed to find this good of a Pastry Chef anywhere in the Kansas City area, if not the state.

Smoked Strawberry Pie(deconstructed, obviously)
We knew a few weeks in advance, and I think that I was the most-excited out of my group. Savory chefs and Pastry chefs are an entirely different animal, in case you didn't know. There is a mutual respect between the two classes, one would say, as well as a slight confusion and disdain for the other.

A pastry chef I know once said "Everybody likes pastry, and it's science and art that should be respected."

A savory chef I know once said "Those pastry guys wouldn't know a good steak if it hit them in the face."

While I will not name names, I will tell you that both of the chefs said the respective things are both awesome at what they do. With pastry you can take your time(time is actually something needed for a LOT of things like dough proofing, baking, custards setting, chocolate tempering, etc) and with savory there is often a big rush of adrenaline going on all the time. If I'm wrong, please correct me - I'm just making observations that I've seen so far.
another plating example of Smoked Strawberry Pie

I love pastry. My grandfather was actually a baker for a very long time. He ran a bakery for a very long time in Lake Arrowhead, CA, and the family joke is that his Cinnamon Rolls(which you could smell baking ALL over the tiny mountain town) were the clincher that made grandma fall in love with him. It makes sense, since my grandma had been a widow for a long time before she and grandpa met. I think I was three or four when they did meet.

So pastry has always been near and dear to my heart. From Grandpa's bakery to Mom's gourmet cupcake business(one of the biggest reasons I came to Kansas City), I will probably always love it. Come to think of it, when it comes time to take things home from school, I almost always make a dash for the sweets first. I guess it's lucky that nobody in my group really 'likes sweets that much.'

Anyway, Chef Rush sent us all of the recipes we would need for the plated desserts. They were the Iced Mango Lassi, the Smoked Strawberry Pie, and Black Forest Cake. We have three groups and each group picked from those which they wanted to do. I was immediately excited for the smoked strawberry pie, so we got that one. We actually were lucky enough to get a big Doc file of ALL the recipes.

I was super-excited to have all of them, and when I sat down to copy them on notecards for school, I noticed something odd:

No bake times. No temperatures. Simple directions such as "Creaming method" or "Combine all and cook". Most pastry chefs I've learned from have been extremely meticulous and OCD about directions. They usually will walk a person step-by-step through each recipe, because baking and pastry is a science. The next day when Nick came in, total beanpole, all arms and legs(and really hot), I found out:

"I actually started out as a Line cook. I'm not a classically trained pastry chef. I don't bake breads at all, it's just not my thing."

Wait, what?

Iced Mango Lassi(inspired by India!)
Well that explained it. It's actually brilliant if you think about it - savory chefs notoriously write their recipes in weird ways(at least the smart ones do) for one basic reason: Job Security. If someone can't understand your recipes, then that means YOU have to stick around to make delicious food! Makes sense, no?

So we got started doing our desserts. Each plated dessert had, like, eight different components on each plate, but here's the fun thing:

"Instead of doing ten different flavors and confusing your diners, pick, like, three or four main flavors and think to yourself: "Okay, so how many different ways can I showcase these?""

So, for ours, the components were:

Smoked Strawberry Pie
  • ·         Compressed Strawberries
  • ·         Smoked Vanilla Gel
  • ·         Strawberry Fluid Gel
  • ·         Instant Angel Food Cake
  • ·         Honey Crème Brulée
  • ·         Pie Crust
  • ·         Aerated Honey
  • ·         Burnt Milk Gelato

That's cake. From a microwave.
Sure, it's a lot for ONE plate,  but remember that The American is mostly prix fixe(which means fixed price, coursed-out menus that come in six or seven different courses) that has smaller portions.  Our basic flavors, as you can see, were strawberry, vanilla, and honey. The neat thing about all of Nick's recipes is that they are easy and fun things to do. The Instant Angel Food Cake, for example, is baked in a microwave. A MICROWAVE!

It's not what you think. You basically take the batter and put it in something called an isi canister, which you charge with N2O(the same stuff whipped cream cans have) and it instantly "whips" it. You do get super-big bubbles if you don't let it sit for awhile in the fridge, so it's best to let it hang out for awhile for a finer cake result. Once it's ready to use, you pop it in a plastic cup(he likes it because you can just tear away the cup and not worry about the cake too much) and microwave it for about 25 seconds.  It comes out, amazingly cooked, and the neat thing about it is that it doesn't stale as fast, nor does it get that weird pellicle that some things get when cooked in a microwave.

Chef: "Do you have plates like that at your restaurant?" Nick: "No, I just like this plate."
A lot of the things in the desserts are sort of unexpected. Smoked sugar, agar agar, burnt milk... It's a deconstructed strawberry pie with flavors and textures to really give you an experience. It wasn't just our dessert that had all the fun components, either. The Black Forest Cake had chocolate cake, milk chocolate cream, sour berry jam, vanilla sauce, cocoa nib streusel, blueberry whip, iced sweet cream(an ice cream!), torched cherries...

It's all sorts of delicious fun. It's like all the awesome things that a black forest cake should have with a new look. Revamped. Deconstructed. WOOT!

Anyway, what I really want to say about this blog is that pastry is an exciting and accessible thing. It can be beautiful and fun, and have a bit of a sense of humor. I think that pastry can  be exciting and you don't always have to plate compact and high.

Notice the platings on the desserts. Notice that they're sparse and kind of not so 'perfectly' placed. Ever hear of wabi-sabi? It's about finding beauty and harmony and perfection in things that are imperfect and natural. Everything that Nick plated that day was just on the fly. He just kind of picked things up and put them where they went. And that's okay! Not EVERY space has to be filled(something that 1st year culinary students often freak out at) because negative space provides an extra element. It's that extra want of something more.

Did I get a chance to plate something fancy with this? I SURE DID! And here's my attempt:

 I've never actually plated anything like this before. All the components are on the plate and kind of sparsely strung and flung about. I used to think this kind of plating was pretentious. But now I get it! It's just...fun. It's rule-breaking fun! It's about joy and giving your guests a bit of a 'wow' factor in an unexpected way. And isn't being American just that? Not playing by the rules and forging our own way? Sure, while it would be SERIOUSLY awesome to go to France and become a Pastry Chef there, if I end up as an American Pastry Chef someday, I think I'll be cool with it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pastries that are NOT Cupcakes(Savarin)

So I was going through my morning routine of sitting in my robin's egg blue/cerulean sequened mini papa-san chair and going through my feeds and blogs when I saw one of my favorite blogs, Cupcakes Take The Cake, did a post on "Far from Ordinary" pastries.


This made me kind of excited, because although cupcakes are awesome and fun snacks, they're still just cupcakes. They're cake with a paper liner around it, and frosting on top. That's all it is. Quite frankly I've been growing increasingly tired of the cupcake 'movement' and am ready to embrace a new favorite American dessert, but I suppose the time is not yet now.

Anyway I clicked on the link and read through - turns out "Far From Ordinary" was just the name of the bakery and not a description of what was to come. It was cappuccino cupcakes that smelled JUST like a fancy cappuccino in a coffee shop. And that's pretty cool! Aroma is such a powerful tool when it comes to a meal(or dessert in this case), and if you can evoke something in aroma before the first bite is taken, then that's a big win for you!

It got me to thinking, though...even though they're fun and flavorful, it's still a cupcake. It's still just a cake  in a small portion with frosting on top. No real technique or absolute mastery of a skill - I mean cupcakes are great, but anybody can make them. There are certain pastry skills, however, that not just everybody can do.

This is a direct quote from a blog that's quite interesting, called "The Quenelle." What's a quenelle, you ask? Well, technically, it's this kind of poached dumpling thing...but most people think of it as this little beauty:
We call it a quenelle because of its shape. A proper quenelle should have three sides and be even all around. Making them itself is kind of an art. Anyway, onto the quotes:

What makes a good pastry chef? No one in particular asked me, but I feel compelled to ask and then answer my own question.

I will tell you what I think it is. And the answer addresses the technical aspect only. The management part and all the other stuff is not relevant to this answer. It comes down to eight techniques. No more, no less. They are pass or fail.

These are the eight techniques, in no particular order:

Lamination. This includes puff pastry and a yeast risen laminated doughs. Can you execute a Napoleon and a croissant? Are the outer layers flaky and crisp and is the crumb structure regular in its irregularity? Is there any damage to the layers? Is it much lighter than it looks? is it buttery on the surface and does it make a beautiful mess when you break through the surface?

Pate a choux. Not the aberrations and monstrosities that we have unfortunately become accustomed to. Amorphous blobs of soft choux coated in dull condensation-pocked glazes. Can you make an eclair that is evenly tubular and completely hollow? A puff that is round, hollow and even?

Pastry cream. No scorch, no lumps, not overcooked, not undercooked. Proteins: yolks and starch coagulated on point). No pastry cream powders. Is it shiny, smooth and supple?

Brioche. Understand that it is an emulsion first and an enriched dough mixed to full gluten development second. Mix it as such without over-heating it. Is it soft, tender, buttery, airy... pillow-like?

Ganache. Speaking of emulsions. Can you formulate and balance a ganache recipe to fill confections and another for a slab to cut and dip? Do you know the difference between these types of ganache and what they are for?

Temper chocolate. So it shines and snaps. Thin shells in confections (throughout the entire shell, including the base... Is it uniformly thin?)

Thin sheets for chocolate decor. Can you manipulate it and keep it under working control for long periods of time? Not a speck on your coat. Not under your fingernails. Not on the wall or on your work table. Can you harness it?

Make a macaron. Can you mix it to just the right consistency, pipe it all to exactly the same size, let it dry just long enough, let it bake just long enough?

Spoon a quenelle. Ice cream, sorbet and whipped cream or creme fraiche. Small, medium and large. With any spoon.

If you can execute all of these eight items without mistake, with the true quality aspects they deserve, and with relative ease.... Then you are a good pastry chef. If you do seven of them, you are not quite there yet. I wonder if we took all of the pastry chefs we admire and respect, or perhaps do not admire or respect but we hear about a lot and give them awards, how would they fare? How many would pass?

I really, truly want to see any of these techniques be part of the challenges in cooking show competitions. Not who makes the sassiest cupcake. Frankly who gives a shit about cupcakes? Any home cook can make a decent cupcake.

Do these well, and you will succeed, perhaps not financially, but you will know deep down that you are not a hack, and that is one definition of success, which plays into your integrity , self respect and what you are made of There's nothing worse than a hack who doesn't know he (or she) is a hack. Perhaps the only worse thing is a hack who knows he's a hack and does not care he is a hack. God bless P.R. firms, right?
Okay so this is what we're pretty much taught in school. Just so the trolls know, I don't hate cupcakes. I just think they're beginning to become overhyped and we should look to new things! Puff pastry is awesome, but rarely is there a home cook that cares enough to master it...so that's probably out.

Another awesome thing is pies. Mini pies are cute and fun! Remember the blog I actually did about mini pies? Of course you do! Well, if you don't, it's a post called Move Over, Cupcake! So what's a new trend-er to do? SET A NEW TREND, THAT'S WHAT!!!!!!!

So you know what I think should be the next trend of pastry fun? SAVARINS!!!

Now you may be asking yourself, "What the hell is a Savarin?" Oh, I'll feed you, baby birds...

THIS is a Savarin!

Add caption
What the.... THAT? You think THAT is going to be the next big thing?

Yes, I do. And let me show you why.

You can find this on Food Network.com!
 See, a Savarin - also known as the Gateau Savarin - is basically a rum baba. Which means it's a small spongecake baked into a ring mold, soaked in RUM.



And do you know why else this is cool? The ring mold allows it to be like a BAKED DONUT.


They can also be edible reading glasses

Who doesn't like donuts? I'll tell you who - terrorists.

So they're spongecakes(the kind of cake that's usually classified/used for cupakes), in a donut shape(who doesn't like donuts), soaked in RUM(insert witty Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow quip here), are small(so you can feel okay about eating one or twelve - er, two) and have a hole so they can be filled with ANYTHING(giggity) your little heart desires.  This could be chantilly(whipped w/ sugar) cream, pastry cream, chocolate, fruit... Anything you can imagine, really.
This opens up a good world of culinary exploration because cakes are awesome and can be made in any flavor...you can now experiment with different types of alcohol(even though I'm sure most pastry purists would tell me its blasphemous) , and lots of different types of fillings.

It's like a cupcake transitioning into a donut. And it's sophisticated! And sexy! And you can have lots of fun with it.

So who's with me? Ready to take down cupcakes? I'm starting a Savarin movement. Follow me on Twitter and tag #TeamSavarin on all your tweets! Let's get this trending! So have fun and happy baking.

Ooh! I almost forgot...you need to know "Well, Kolika, how can I do this savarin thing if I don't know how???"

It's pretty easy to make a spongecake(any recipe will do, but I prefer the one that comes out of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking), and get a good quality rum  to soak it in after the cake bakes and dries out a little. To buy molds, Bing.com has some great ideas/references here. You could also just hit up your nearest Sur La Table(easily my favorite store) and get some of the things you see here.

Have fun! GO #TeamSavarin!