30 October 2009

Petit Fours and Mini French Pastries

I can tell I'm in a bit of a lull lately because I wasn't really excited to write this. We made some really delicious treats during this portion, but everything feels reminiscent of things we've already learned, such as tart shells and meringue, which makes it slightly more difficult to get out of bed on time in the morning. The upside of such repetition, however, is that I could probably make pastry cream with my eyes closed if the situation ever arose.

The general idea behind the petit fours class is to create small bites. Here are some examples...

blueberry with streusel
chocolate espresso
fresh fruit
dacquoise (the French call these "cat's tongues" - ew.)
macaron shells on the sheet tray
filled macarons
...and a few other treats:
pate a choux, before being baked
baked pate a choux, now transformed into filled eclairs, etc.
opera cake, which, as far as I can tell is the French equivalent of tiramisu... though you'd never convince any of my chefs to admit it...
Next week we have an exam over breads, breakfast pastries, and petit fours. I am truly grateful for the approaching time change, as I'm sure it will lure me into a normal sleeping pattern for at least a week or so. Boy, do I need it.
Also, my brother, Thomas, is on his way to Chicagoland as I write this! He is moving to Skokie, IL from Raleigh, NC, and will continue to work for McCormick & Schmick's. Though I have no idea where I'll be two months from now, it will be great having a family member nearby in the meantime.

16 October 2009

Chicago Marathon

Marathon weekend in Chicago is a blast. This was my second year as a spectator, and I have to say it's truly a great weekend to be in the city. Apart from having to wake up so early on a Sunday, the event basically gives everyone a chance to view the city as grounds for a scavenger hunt. The 26.2-mile course covers 29 different neighborhoods, reaching as far north as Addison Street near Wrigley Field, and as far south as 35th Street near U.S. Cellular Field. Each mile marker is surrounded with people cheering on runners. Many viewers have friends or family running, and some just like being part of the crowd.

This year I was lucky enough to be able to track my cousin Julia and Uncle John, who live in St. Louis, as well as my friend Brian, who lives in Kansas City. This was Julia and John's first marathon, and their training efforts really paid off for them. It was so cool to see such a look of well-earned accomplishment on their faces. Brian, who has been a runner longer than I've known him and who has run this marathon more than once, finished with a 2010 Boston Marathon-qualifying time. Amazing. I'm so proud of them all.

Breads and Breakfast Pastries

My freezer is full of bread that I will most likely never eat. Truly. Check out the damage at right. I sometimes lose track of just how much product I'm making at school, but am strongly reminded when I open the door to dig for Boca patties (...or sorbet).

I have learned so much about bread during the past two weeks, mostly pertaining to mixing methods and chemical reactions. My classmates and I were taught three different ways to produce bread, each yielding a different crust, crumb, and shelf life.

whole wheat bread ready to be baked
baked whole wheat bread
French baguettes
beer bread in the oven
farmer bread (with walnuts)
country bread formed into shapes

Besides bread, we also focused on breakfast pastries such as brioche, croissants, danish, waffles, and beignets...

chocolate croissants
almond croissants
brioche topped with almond cream and sliced almonds
beignets, both fried and waiting to be fried

Next week we start on petit fours: dacquoises, eclairs, mini tarts, macarons, etc. Just in time for my dad and sisters' visit next weekend.

13 October 2009

Chef Nicholas Lodge

Recently all students had the pleasure of watching a demo by Chef Nicholas Lodge, a world-renowned cake decorator. He spent an entire class period teaching us the fine details of gumpaste flowers and piping techniques. As students, we've all grown accustomed to seeing a (relatively) quick demo after we scale all of our ingredients, then returning to our stations to begin production. The catch concerning Chef Lodge's presentation was that very little interaction was required on our parts, so at times it was tough to keep our bodies from falling into a state of utter comatose. Regardless, the opportunity to watch this true craftsman was a privilege for us, and has me curious to learn how well I will respond to making my own gumpaste flowers next month.

Exam II Recap

My class recently completed our second exam out of what will eventually be a total of four. It's strange to think we're at a halfway point, but there hasn't been much time to dwell on it. This exam tested our knowledge of ice creams & sorbets, plated desserts, sugar candies, and tarts. We began with a written test comprised of 40 questions (ten from each section). I considered myself remarkably unprepared for this since I had a stage the previous evening and didn't get home until very late, yet I ended up only missing two questions out of the 40.

With the first hurdle cleared, we had the rest of the day Wednesday as well as Thursday and Friday to present the following items to Chef John:
  • vacherin cake (chocolate ice cream sandwiched between two rounds of meringue, frosted with whipped cream, decorated with meringues, and frozen)
  • cappuccino creme brulee served with biscotti and a scoop of chocolate cream
  • traditional souffle
  • 12 chocolate caramels, wrapped
  • 12 passion fruit-apricot pate de fruit candies
  • 12 peppermint-flavored pastille sugar candies
  • lemon curd tart (made with sweet dough and decorated with meringues)

The process went smoothly overall. To be sure, there are always jitters, but after the first day it's a lot easier to evaluate where the rest of the week will lead. My partner, Carolynn, is a speedy rock star and finished quite early on Friday; I wasn't too far behind her. No rush, no panic attack, just a quality effort with good results.

Here are a few product pictures: