27 September 2009


Finishing out this set of classes before our next exam: tarts. We learned several types of dough, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, and we also learned to make multiple fillings.

lemon cream tart with French meringue (with pate sablee crust)

lemon curd tart with Italian meringue (with pate sablee crust)

The difference between lemon cream and lemon curd is the amount of butter called for in the recipe. Lemon cream contains more butter, and therefore cannot go into the oven after the tart is filled or else the butter will melt and cause separation. The French meringue is baked separately, then the pieces are decoratively placed on the tart. In the case of a lemon curd tart, the Italian meringue is baked for a very short amount of time directly onto the tart filling. (I took my eye off the ball for a minute, so mine browned too much, but I like how the spread meringue looks regardless. Luckily there's not a very noticeable taste discrepancy.) Both tarts are delicious, but only remain so for about a day before turning gummy.

Sablee, which translates to sand in French, is exactly what one would assume: crumbly and delicate. It is temperamental when being rolled; it becomes sticky quickly, so often it has to be re-chilled and rolled again. It is not advisable to use sablee dough with extremely liquid fillings (like fruit) due to its tendency to become soggy. The gelatin content in the lemon cream and curd are stable enough to stand up to the baked sablee crust. We also baked a chocolate tart using sablee dough; the chocolate filling has a custard-like texture.

blueberry tart with streusel topping

The blueberry filling is essentially the same one would use in a classic blueberry pie. We topped our tarts with an almond streusel; an Italian meringue could also be used.

We also made an apricot tart, which was baked in a pate a foncer shell. Pate a foncer is more durable than pate sablee, but lacks vanilla or any other sweet flavor. This dough would be good to use for a savory tart or quiche. In this case, almond cream is piped into the shell and topped with apricot slices. When baked, the cream rises to envelop the apricots. I thought I had a picture of this, but it turns out I don't. It's still tasty enough to mention, though!

Paris brest

Paris brest is a pastry made using a hazelnut pastry cream combined with a traditional buttercream, as well as rings made from pate a choux (typically used as dough for eclairs, cream puffs, etc.). This is a heart attack waiting to happen.

St. Honore

We made an inverted puff pastry as part of this recipe, which was a very satisfying experience (I mean, who makes their own puff pastry?!). Two separate dough-like elements are needed for the puff pastry: a flour base and a butter base. After each is chilled, the flour base is sandwiched between the two halves of the butter base, then rolled thinly and folded. This rolling and folding process is repeated twice more over an extended period of time. The remainder of the "tart" consists of cream puffs made with pate a choux and a vanilla creme legere, which is pastry cream with whipped cream folded into it. The base of the tart is a square of the inverted puff pastry. The puffs are dipped in caramel and secured around the edges, and the inside is filled with the creme legere. Delicious? Yes. Good for you? Absolutely not.

Our second exam takes place this week. It will cover ice creams & sorbets, plated desserts, sugar candies, and tarts.

Like a Kid in a Candy Store...

What's less stressful than plated desserts? Sugar candies. Chef John noted the obvious on day one: we'd basically be staring at boiling pots all week. So many treats were created, though, and overall it was a really fun week. Here are some pictures of various goodies...

lavender marshmallows

clockwise from upper-left: apricot-passion fruit pate de fruit, raspberry-ginger hard candies, lime lollipops, cassis (black currant) pate de fruit, lemon-ginger pastilles, lime pastilles, raspberry gums (translation: fruit snacks)

from left: nougat (with toasted almonds and pistachios), chocolate nougat, traditional French pralines (toasted almonds coated multiple times in sugar), caramels, chocolate caramels

13 September 2009

U.S. Cellular Field, Mies, Koolhaas, Jam, and More Plated Desserts

The three-day weekend couldn't have agreed with me more. One might think four baseball games in four days would wear me out on America's pasttime... but no. In fact, a week later, sitting four games up on the Wild Card and having watched a few football games, I'm even more excited for the upcoming MLB playoffs. I don't have the highest hopes for my team, but who knows - it wouldn't be the first time they've pulled a surprising move or two.

U.S. Cellular Field, from a structural and aesthetic standpoint, is utilitarian at best. It looks like it was built during a war (Dad: "Well, it was... the Gulf War!"), or was at least built for use as a military base. It's grey, and the most colorful adornments are those silly lollipops atop the Jumbotron. However, the concourses are wide, the sightlines are good, and the food is great. Polish sausages with grilled onions, churros, and good beer were abundant.

Just across the highway from the ballpark is the Illinois Institute of Technology. After one of the afternoon games I took the chance to explore a couple of buildings on the campus: S.R. Crown Hall, which houses the College of Architecture, and the McCormick Tribune Campus Center. Crown Hall was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (actually, the general campus plan was designed by Mies), and is seen by many as his masterpiece and the epitome of Modernist architecture. It is a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1956 and (finally) renovated in 2005. The Campus Center was designed by Rem Koolhaas, and opened in 2003. The most defining characteristic of this building is the stainless steel tube through which the green line L train passes. The structure of the tube is completely separate from the structure of the building, so as to avoid reverberations from the trains. While interesting and original, students' reactions to the Center are mixed: though it houses several necessary components of student life, it's loud and difficult to maneuver.

Week two of plated desserts also included jam-making, which was both delicious and a lot to tack onto an already short week. My partner, Carolynn, and I made apricot jam with toasted almonds as well as cherry jam. After some trading, I came home with both of those in addition to strawberry and blueberry jam.

After a tough first week with Chef En-Ming, she actually gave me a positive verbal evaluation on Friday, which was a relief to me. These review scores make up a decent chunk of our grade, and I think everyone in my class was curious to see how she would rate our individual efforts. She was very constructive in her criticism, giving us all tips we can actually carry with us through the remainder of the program.

As for desserts, this week we made:

Almond Scented Milk Flan with Berry Water and Fresh Berries
This is called flan for its shape, but is really more similar to a panna cotta in texture. Berry water is a weird way of saying juice from the macerated berries.

Pear Financier with Hazelnut Ice Cream
The poached pears are what stand out here; they make the almond and hazelnut cake taste great.

Cappuccino Creme Brulee with Pistachio and Hazelnut Biscotti
This is topped with chocolate cream and milk foam. The aluminum cup sort of kills the appearance, but would resemble a cup of coffee if served in a mug.

Red Rhubarb Soup with Strawberry Sorbet and Banana Crisp
This is my favorite dessert from the entire course. Who would've thought frozen rhubarb could be so delicious? The leftover poached rhubarb and broth did not last long. In fact, it didn't even last the day.

Chocolate-Tea Cremeux
This is basically a trifle consisting of layers of chocolate cream (cremeux), chocolate streusel, lemon cream, and citrus gelee. It is topped with earl grey ice cream. Strangely, I have no pictures of it.

Crepes Suzette
Crepes cooked with oranges and orange juice; no pictures of this either. Last day indifference, I guess!

Coming up this week: Sugar candies and confectionaries with Chef John, i.e. gummies, lollipops, marshmallows, nougat, pralines, caramels, etc.

04 September 2009

Plated Desserts: Week I

Well, it's Friday, which means week one of plated desserts is complete... and my classmates and I are all still alive (maybe a pound or two heavier). We have entered a zone of hardcore production, which began on a somewhat intimidating note because of a) the amount of recipes, and b) Chef En-Ming Hsu. Chef En-Ming served as Captain of the US team at the 2001 World Pastry Cup, held in Lyon, France. The team took the Gold Medal, winning with the widest score margin ever recorded. Suffice it to say she knows her stuff.

Now that we have become acclimated to Chef En-Ming's teaching style (and her soft voice), we realize what a fountain of information she is. The amount of things she has to cover in one day is astounding, and I'm impressed with not only her efficiency, but her ability to thoroughly convey processes and techniques. This week we built and completed the following desserts:

Warm Vanilla-Roasted Pineapple with Mango Sorbet and Pineapple Chips
The pineapple was roasted and braised for hours, while frequently basted.

Vanilla Chiboust with Fresh Red Wild Berries, Honey Wheat Tuile, and Madeleines
Chiboust is a combination of pastry cream and meringue.

Classic French Souffles

Chocolate Molten Cake with Coffee Ice Cream

Citrus Soup with Honey Ice Cream and Grapefruit Tuile
Grapefruit and Orange in their own juice, sprinkled with candied zest

Warm Papillotte of Exotic Fruit with Strawberry Sorbet and Spiced Tuile
Pineapple, banana, and berries baked in parchment paper with butter, vanilla, and brown sugar

Red Wine Plum Stew with Linzer Tart, Spiced Ice Cream, and Florentine Tuile
This is when I realized I had not taken a picture, and the ice cream had begun to melt...

Creme Caramel
Flan... Delicious flan...

I went running this week. Really. Will I keep it up? With this weather and these desserts it'd be difficult not to. Also, I get to spend some quality time on the south side with Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, et al. during this beautiful, much needed three-day weekend. Here's hoping you all have some fun plans, too!