28 August 2009

I Scream, You Scream...

Yes, I am aware I haven't posted anything in awhile, and my thanks to several of you for noticing. There wasn't much to report during our first exam last week except that a) my grades were decent, b) it wore me out, and c) my favorite portion ended up being the sugar showpiece. Who would've thought? I think there are a couple of pictures of my piece floating around somewhere; I will post them if I track them down.

Anyway, onto a more exciting topic: there are currently nine flavors of ice cream and sorbet in my freezer, along with various cakes. This week was our first with Chef John Kraus, who is tremendously gifted when it comes to both production and teaching. He is very laid back and easy to get along with on a personal level, which I find to be extremely helpful in the kitchen. Chef John began the week by teaching us how to balance recipes for sorbets and ice creams based on their ingredients. Theodore, my friend, classmate, and former table partner, jokingly put a metaphorical spin on the phrase brain freeze, that turned out to be a scarily accurate description of how everyone felt after being exposed to this mathematical process. The goal for balancing is to formulate a recipe so that the weight totals a certain number grams and contains the appropriate amounts of flavor, sugars, fat, stabilizers, egg yolks, etc. It becomes even more detailed by accounting for things like specific amounts of fat in dairy products, the sweetening power of inverted sugar, and so on. Regardless of how intimidating it is to retain all of this information, I have to admit the results yield the smoothest, most flavorful ice creams and sorbets I have ever tasted.

There are nine tables in our kitchen, each consisting of two students. In addition to the ice creams and sorbets every table spun for specific cakes (chocolate ice cream and pineapple sorbet), each table was responsible for two ice creams and two sorbets. My partner Jessica and I made black currant (cassis) sorbet, white peach sorbet, Tahitian vanilla ice cream, and pistachio ice cream - all delicious.

We used these flavors to put together several frozen desserts, the first being a vacherin made with rounds of French vanilla meringue, additional meringue pieces, white peach sorbet, and whipped chantilly cream. The second cake is a bombe: a multilayered structure built with the use of dome-shaped molds. The first layer of the bombe is raspberry coulis, the second a vanilla parfait, and an extra-fine, sandy sable crust serves as a base. After the components freeze they are removed from the mold and inserted into a larger mold coated with chocolate ice cream. After the chocolate ice cream has frozen, the bombe is removed from the mold and sprayed with chocolate, in the same fashion as our chocolate showpieces, to create a smooth appearance.

The next cake is a wood grain-patterned dacquoise. In this case, the dacquoise is two hazelnut meringue bases with pistachio ice cream sandwiched in between them. It is covered in chocolate ice cream and frozen. Jessica created a wood pattern by spreading cocoa paste and white chocolate across a piece of acetate with the guidance of a wood-patterning tool. With the acetate still attached to the perimeter of the cake, it is sprayed with cocoa paste. The acetate is then removed, leaving the wood patterned chocolate on the cake.

The final dessert we made - silly yet tasty - is called a pineapple suprise. This frozen piece of tropical goodness begins with a pineapple that has been cut in half. One half is hollowed out, while the other half is peeled and diced to make candied pineapple pieces. The bottom of the hollowed half is filled with raspberry coulis, which is then topped with the candied pineapple. Pineapple sorbet then fills the remainder of the cavity and is even piped on top to recreate the original look of the pineapple (see Chef John below, filling and piping). Yes, there is a pineapple in my freezer right now, one side legitimate, the other imitated with sorbet.
This was a really good week, not only because I have so much of my favorite dessert in the freezer (cherry sorbet, honey ice cream, and caramel ice cream in addition to the previously mentioned flavors), but because it gave everyone the opportunity for a fresh start in the kitchen. We have new partners and our first exam is behind us. Next week we begin two weeks of plated desserts, which will still involve sorbets. And pineapple.

It was a good week outside of the classroom as well. I made my first visit to Wrigley Field on Tuesday. The weather, the company, and the Red Stripe were all great, though I can't say the same for the Cubbies. I will say, though, that it's nice to attend a game every now and then where there is no emotional investment in either team; one can just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. That won't be the case next weekend during a four-game homestand for the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field as they play host to the Boston Red Sox. Why is it a win feels heavier in August and September than it does in April? Anyway, I hear the food at the south side ballpark is better than Wrigley's, so I'm looking forward to exploring my options. Until then, I'm hoping lunch at Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill tomorrow with my friend Heather and her mom will tide me over...

15 August 2009

Sugar Showpieces or: Not My Brightest Week

It's amazing how lacking the talent to blow a proper apple or pear from sugar has the potential to cause a complete meltdown. I came close to that this week, but by Friday, after only a few blisters to speak of, I finally began to get the hang of it (see a literal sugar meltdown at right... or maybe it's a Smurf...). Sadly, the fruit isn't represented on my piece because the green and yellow color I sprayed my pear looks horrible with the colors of my bases and flower. C'est la vie.

On Monday we began pulling roses with sugar. The initial goal was to build flower with six petals, and by Tuesday we upped the petal count to 11. Wednesday and Thursday were spent attempting to blow fruit, birds, you name it.

six (orange) and 11-petal (blue) flowers, respectively

Pulling a flower and blowing a piece of fruit will be part of our upcoming exam, along with a miniature chocolate piece and various chocolate candies. Until I can report on that, here are some pictures of my sugar showpiece, which I don't quite detest as much as I thought I would, though the humidity levels have already caused it to wilt...

11 August 2009

Chocolate Showpieces / Lollapalooza

While still using chocolate as a medium, making showpieces proved to be drastically different from candy production. Above all, showpieces are about precision and attention to detail; the key is to build each component slowly, carefully, and correctly on the first attempt. It's safe to say everyone found the change of pace refreshing. At times we were so focused that the kitchen was completely silent - a rare occurrence. Everybody's pieces turned out beautifully, and I think the week was a confidence booster in terms of demonstrating our skill and talent levels. The showpiece consisted of the following elements (some made by hand, others with the use of a mold):

1. Small base
2. Large dome
3. Three small domes
4. Large base
5. Main element
6. Two spheres
7. One flower with petals made from a scraping tool
8. One flower with petals made by hand with a paring knife
9. Leaves
10. White curls

Chef Jacquy securing the base and scraping flower petals

Each component is held together with nothing more than melted - yet tacky - chocolate. After the main elements were glued together (up to the point of flowers, etc.), we sprayed them with chocolate to give them a smooth, shiny finish and to clear up any traces of fingerprints. We also sprayed the flower made with the scraping tool with a color of our choice (in my case, purple). After spraying, we were left to our own devices to attach the remaining pieces.

Transporting our showpieces was a battle vs. nature. Friday was drizzly, and chocolate's number one enemy is moisture. I was faced with the additional challenge of getting the piece home and making it back downtown to Grant Park for Bon Iver's Lollapalooza set at 3:00pm. A cab was necessary, and I'm proud to report I only lost a couple of pieces during the commute.

Speaking of Lolla, here's a look at how I spent three fantastic days:

Weather - anywhere from drizzle to downpour (On a related note, I hereby subscribe to the idea that umbrellas shouldn't be allowed into music festivals - they affect views and risk eye poke-outs.)
Music - Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Thievery Corporation, Andrew Bird, Depeche Mode

Weather - warm, but overcast and generally pleasant
Music - Atmosphere, Blind Pilot, DJ set by Hercules and Love Affair, TV on the Radio, Animal Collective, Ben Harper & Relentless 7, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Weather - hottest day of the year so far in Chicago
Music - Friendly Fires, Portugal. The Man, Kaiser Chiefs, Neko Case, Dan Auerbach, Lou Reed, Deerhunter, the Killers

Fleet Foxes' perfectly-harmonized vocals translating well to a live setting; Thievery Corporation managing to keep everyone dancing and happy despite the rain (though I'm sure there were other factors at play, also...); Atmosphere's unconventional ability to rap about things that actually matter; TV on the Radio's perfect set and high energy level; Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys rocking my socks off; and the Killers making me happy to say I'm still a fan by playing five songs from Hot Fuss and managing to make songs from their other albums worth hearing, dancing, and jumping around to. Oh, and Graham Elliot's lobster corndog with lemon aioli. How could I forget that?!

Animal Collective's inability to play a single song all the way through, convincing me that their live sets are difficult to watch and uncomfortable to hear (which is disappointing due to the fact that I think Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of the strongest albums of the year so far); and Lou Reed for being the only performer to not take the stage at his designated time as well as his use of monitors as reminders of his own lyrics. I wasn't even alive when his songs were popular (both solo and with the Velvet Underground), yet even I know the words to most of them.

Back at school this week, we're moving on to sugar showpieces. Next week is our first exam...