Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Candied Ginger Cake.

Candied Ginger Cake

This is a lovely recipe from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2. It turned out much better than I expected it to! I will post the recipe after class.

Monday, March 26, 2007

New Job, New Observations.

I finished my first week as an assistant pastry chef at one of my favorite local cafes. Baking for a restaurant is very different from baking at home. This particular position is also very different from the other foodservice jobs i've worked.

There are little things you just don't know when you haven't worked in a restaurant or attended culinary school. Here are a few things i've learned this week (simple and obvious as they may seem):

1. Shoes are extremely important.
I didn't have non-slip shoes, and the floors in the kitchen are really slick. My new shoes are much more comfortable, and they make me much more confident on my feet.

2. No matter how professional the front of the house seems, the kitchen can be anything.
My coworkers are quirky and have plenty of crazy stories. Enough said.

3. There is a reason people wear chef jackets and aprons.
Man...I really need one of the above. I had to do laundry today because I didn't have any more clothes that were not spotted with chocolate and flour.

4. You need math skills.
I knew i'd need math, but I do a heck of a lot more math at work than I anticipated.

Right now I work four days a week from 5pm-11:45pm. We work after the cafe is closed, and I like it. The atmosphere is relaxed and non-hurried, and I really love the people I work with. We work hard, but we listen to good music and take occasional breaks for salad or dinner.

My chefs liked the Mozart cake so much we put it on the menu!

Anyway, I -LOVE- my job. It's fantastic. I am starting to toy with the idea of trying to make pastry a career...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Playing with Garnish.

Hazelnut Garnish

My chefs liked the Mozart cake so much that we're putting it on the menu with some minor structural tweakage. The head pastry chef told me to think about a garnish or accompaniment, so at home I practiced making piped chocolate garnishes and caramel coated fruits and nuts.

At some point I got a little bored and fidgety. Somehow that lead to making strange caramel covered hazelnut alien guys.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mocha-Hazelnut Roulade.

Mocha-Hazelnut Roulade

Mocha-Hazelnut Roulade

I thought my roulade was smiling at me.

This is another recipe from Chocolate Holidays by Alice Medrich. The souffle cake base is wonderfully moist and studded with just noticeable bits of hazelnut. The filling is a sinfully delicate espresso flavored whipped cream. I picked this recipe because i've never made a jelly roll, and i'm a sucker for anything flavored with coffee and hazelnut.

Baking is very relaxing to me, and I find it very theraputic/stress relieving. Since I was very small, i've needed time alone to recharge.

Sometimes between ages three and five i'd get upset and tell my mother "I just need to be alone with my animals." I would shut myself in my room and sit on my animal-covered bed until I felt better.

Now that i'm older, i'm more likely to bake, work out, read, or take a short walk. It gives me time to process and recover.

Chocolate Hazelnut Roulade

1/4 cups hazelnuts, toasted and cooled, skins rubbed off
2 tbsp all purpose flour
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2-3 tbsp dutch process cocoa powder

1 cup heavy cream, cold
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1.5-2 tbsp sugar

16x12 or 11x17 jelly roll pan, lined with parchment or foil

Preheat the oven to 350.

Finely grind the nuts and flour in a food processor. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate and the butter in a double boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth and melted.

In a large bowl, whip the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar until pale and thick. Stir in the chocolate mixture.

In a seperate bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until stiff but not dry.Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate along with all the hazelnut/flour mix. Fold in the remaining egg whites. Spread into the prepared pan and bake 12-15 minutes until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs. Cool the cake completely on a rack, in the pan.

Dust some of the cocoa on a 16inch sheet of foil. Upend the cooled cake onto the foil and peel off the parchment.

To make the filling, whip the cream, vanilla, and espresso powder until it starts to thicken. Gradually add the sugar and beat until soft peaks (make sure it is stiff enough, or your roll will be squashy.) Spread the cream over the cake and roll up with the help of the foil. Don't worry if it cracks a bit, it will be okay in the end.

Wrap in foil and refrigerate before serving. To serve, transfer it to a platter and dust with additional cocoa, powdered sugar, or decorate it however you like.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pierre Herme's "Mozart"



Despite being a bit time consuming, this recipe was relatively simple. Best of all, I got to flambe for the first time!

You take 150g of diced apple, cook it in butter, sugar, and cinnamon until caramelized, douse it with rum, and ignite! The flames were brilliantly orange and blue.

My new job continues to be great. I keep meaning to post about it, but once again i'm tired, sick, and need to sleep.

If anyone has suggestions for what they'd like to see in this blog, let me know. I've been wanting to try and do brief interviews with people working in the Pittsburgh food industry. We'll see how things progress.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I Broached the Brioche.

Browned Butter and Vanilla Bean Brioche

Browned Butter and Vanilla Bean Brioche

Brioche is one of my favorite foods. I'd been eating almond brioche for years without even realizing it; there was a small french bakery next to my sister's ballet studio and my mom would usually buy me a pastry when we picked her up (probably to compensate for the many hours spent waiting in the parking lot for ballet class to end.)

The most memorable almond brioches i've had resently came from Ollie's Bakery in Winston-Salem, NC and Michel Richard in Los Angeles. I highly recommend them both.

The prospect of making brioche intimidated me. It's a long process, and I didn't expect the nervous anticipation that came with it. I was paranoid that despite the 15 minutes of kneading and multiple rises, my loaves would ultimately result in failure.

Thankfully, Melissa of The Traveler's Lunchbox posted a fantastic recipe for a vanilla bean brown butter brioche that is really hard to mess up.

I have a few suggestions of my own. If the butter isn't soft enough to incorporate after you've removed it from the fridge, you can beat it in your electric mixer using the paddle attachment to soften it. Also, Melissa suggests creating surface tension by rolling up the dough jelly-roll style. I did one loaf that way and the other using a folding method (you fold the outer thirds of the square to the middle like an envelope, then reshape the dough and do it in the opposite direction.)

The latter technique made for a much lighter loaf that rose higher. Even though it did get a little pocket in the middle, the air bubbles were bigger, and the crust was crustier.

I highly recommend trying your own brioche! It was really perfect with the Kumquat preserves I made.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tartlets

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tartlets

These are from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course.

This seems like a good moment to share some baking advice (which you may or may not have heard before.) Don't take recipes too seriously. This particular recipe involves making a crust, a pastry cream, and a berry topping. As long as you successfully make those components, it doesn't really matter how you go about the process.

It's perfectly acceptable to make the tarts in any shape you would like, or to substitute strawberries or raspberries for blueberries. If you're used to making pastry cream slightly differently, go ahead and do what you're comfortable with. All the details are to ensure you don't curdle the yolks.

That said, this recipe is really great. My mom describes the pastry cream as "killer."

Graham Cracker Tart Shells
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Cream Cheese Pastry Cream
1 cup milk
5 tbsp sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 1/2 tbsp corn starch
3/4 cup cream cheese, cut into cubes and softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Blueberry Topping
2 1/2 cups blueberries
1 tbsp sugar

1. To prepare the graham cracker shells, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the buter and sugars until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the honey and beat until well combined.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Mix until the dough is well combined. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form it into a disc. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

3. Preheat the oven to 325. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick, about a 13x16 rectangle. Using a 3 inch cookie cutter, cut out 16 circles of dough and press them into greased mini muffin pans of 2 inch tart pans, triming away excess dough. Alternatively, fit the dough into mini rectangular tart tins. Prick the dough all over with a fork and chill for 20 minutes.

4. Bake until golden brown, 18-20 mins. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

5. To prepare the pastry cream, combine 3/4 cups of the milk and 3 tbsp of the sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, and the remaining 2 tbsp sugar. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup milk into the yolk mixture. Remove the milk mixture from the heat and add a little of the hot milk to the yolk mixture to warm it, whisking constantly to keep the yolks from cooking. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly as you pour.

6. Return the custard to the stove and bring it to a boil, whisking constantly. Let the custard cook for 1-2 minutes until it thickens. Add the cream cheese and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Strain the mixture into a clean bowl. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When it is chilled, whisk the pastry cream until smooth and fold in the whipped cream.

7. To make the blueberry topping, in a medium saucepan , mix 1 cup of the berries with the sugar. Cook over low heat until the berries have all popped and broken down, about 5 minutes. Strain the cooked berries into a bowl and discard the solids. Add the remaining 1.5 cups berries to the cooked syrup and toss to combine.

8. To assemble, spoon the pastry cream into each tart shell and top with 2 tbsp of the berries. Serve soon after assembling.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Espresso Meringues with Berries and Cream.

Espresso Meringe w/ Custard and Berries

For me, baking at home is a luxury. We have a Simac gelato machine, a stand mixer, baking pans of all shapes and sizes, and a well-stocked pantry. Since i've been home, i've tried 1-4 new recipes a day!

I choose recipes in a manner of ways: Usually, I pull cookbooks from the library that strike my fancy (this is usually around 7-15 books, depending how many I can carry.) I scan shelves for chefs, authors, or publications I know to be good/reputable. I'll check random books that have interesting covers or pictures. Lastly, i'll take a quick look at the new cookbooks section before heading home.

I also check several on-line sources. I'll browse my favorite food blogs' archives. I'll do random google searches and quick checks on epicurious.com and foodnetwork.com.

If i'm near a Borders or Barnes and Noble, i'll also try to check all the new issues of food publications. Some of my favorites are Vogue Entertainment and Travel, Donna Hay Magazine, Saveur, Choclatier, Gourmet, Food and Travel, Cooks Illustrated, and Martha Stewart Living. The food sections of the LA Times and New York Times can also yield good ideas.

Ultimately, I choose something I feel like eating at that moment (though equipment, the season, and abundant produce can also determine my choice.) I also try to pick recipes that use techniques I'm not as familiar with.

...that is of course if i'm not grumpy, tired, and stressed. Then I pick something really, really simple.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tangerine Buttermilk Sherbet

Tangerine Buttermilk Sherbet

I'm home in Los Angeles for the week, and the glorious summery weather merited a refreshing dessert. I love buttermilk sherbet, but it's definitely not for everyone. My brother didn't much care for it, but my mother and I adore it!

This sherbet has a refreshing citrus taste that gives way to a creamy, mild taste of buttermilk. I enjoy eating it with a few little gingersnap cookies.

On a side note, work as an assistant pastry chef goes well. I love my new job, and miss it horribly. I'll be returning next tuesday, and at some point i'll tell you all about it.

Tangerine Buttermilk Sherbet
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons packed finely grated lemon zest (from 3 medium lemons)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or tangerine, in my case)
1/4 cup sugar

Stir together buttermilk, corn syrup, zest, juice, and sugar in a bowl until sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours.
Freeze mixture in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Honey Caramel Walnut Tart.

Honey Caramel Walnut Tart

Honey Caramel Walnut Tart

This recipe comes from Chocolate Holidays by Alice Medrich. It's basically a double-crust caramel walnut tart covered in ganache. I used a nice Tupelo honey that suited the recipe quite well, I think. I highly recommend baking something like this on a baking sheet- otherwise it can leak horribly in the oven.

I haven't posted in a while because i've started work as an assistant pastry chef. I'm working in a very small restaurant that only does lunch and high tea. I've always loved their pastry, and it's a fantastic work environment. My coworkers are really friendly. For now, i'm working four nights a week from 5pm-11:45pm.

Over the past two days we made caramel mousse tarts, coconut white chocolate tarts, orange ricotta tarts, herbed focaccia, white chocolate garnishes, burnt almond tortes, flourless chocolate cakes topped with milk chocolate mousse, espresso panna cottas, white cakes, sugar dough, and more.

So far, so good, although I overmixed a sugar dough after putting in 2 lbs of flour instead of 2.5 O.o I was getting really tired and spacy by then, which can be dangerous.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Congolais (Coconut Macaroons!)

Light Coconut Macaroons

First of all, let me say these are fantastic.

While I am a fan of the macaroon resembling a dense clod of shredded coconut, sometimes I find it too rich or worse, poorly made. This recipe comes from Pascal Rigo's The American Boulangerie. He describes these as a "light coconut macaroon," hinting at their spongy, almost flan-like consistency.

These are a much more dainty coconut macaroon, lightly sweetened with honey. On a whim I coated mine with a little 60% callebaut chocolate :)

2 cups whole milk
2 tbsp honey
1/3 cup pastry flour
3 cups unsweetend dried shredded coconut
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
3 extra large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 375 and spray a 12 cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and honey just to the scalding point. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the flour, coconut, sugar, and baking powder. In a small bowl, gently whisk the eggs to break up the yolks. Whisk the scalding milk mixture quickly into the flour mixture and then gradually whisk in the eggs until combines. At this point, the batter can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
3. Fill the muffin cups to the top with batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are light golden brown. Cool the Congolais in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a thin bladed knife around the edges of the cups and turn them out of the pan. Cool completely on a wire rack, right-side up. They can be stored at room temperature, well wrapped, for up to 3 days.

With a Little Garnish...

Mushroom Barley Soup

Even leftovers can be exciting.

Thursday, March 1, 2007



I've been making an effort to try new recipes and techniques. Over the past week or two, i've been playing around with soups, pastries, and preserves. I made a Mushroom Barley and Spring Vegetable soup from Once Upon a Tart, and a Sweet Pea with Mint soup from Fresh Every Day.

I really liked the pea soup. Though I thought mint would be an odd addition, it added a really nice freshness to the soup. It was hard to identify it as mint, and somehow it played off the spiciness of the black pepper.

Cannelle Colossus

This was an attempt to make the "Cannele Colossus" from the traveler's lunchbox. Mine was more of a "Cannele Collapses." I took it out of the oven a bit too early, and the inside wasn't quite cooked through. This wasn't a complete tragedy though; the crust was delicious and the inside was a very dense custard flavored with rum and vanilla beans.

This is what happens when you attempt a giant cannele at 2am and sleep during the bake time (i was sick.)

Kumquat Preserves

Lastly, I made the Kumquat Preserves from Christine Mansfield's Desserts. I'd never made any sort of preserves. The process was long, but fairly simple. You soak the fruit and seeds in water overnight, boil them for a while, let the mixture rest, and then boil it again until it sets a bit. This stuff is killer- I will try and take a picture of the finished product when I crack open a jar :)

Overall I think my experiments have been successful.