Thursday, May 5, 2011

Not JUST a Pastry Chef...

I haven't posted in a while mostly because I've been crazy, unreasonable, unhappily busy for the past two or three weeks. We had a practical assessment earlier today, and there was a packet of paperwork that needed to be done. Now, I'm not a fan of paperwork, but I am fairly happy with myself for managing to get that 50+page monster of a plan out so quickly! I needed to have the recipes, of course, but I also needed to go over the project brief, discuss the clients, who the staff were, what their roles were, what my role was, and the health and safety issues involved. Oh god, the health and safety! That section is quite possibly the most boring thing I have ever written (and that includes the section about the different varieties of theobroma cacao -the chocolate tree, for my food classification and purchasing unit!)So the practical assessment was this: design, plan, execute, and evaluate a three course meal for four people. Simples. Nothing is ever simples! We had three hours, and two commis chefs helping us (the commis were students from the level below us.) Because this was for the hospitality supervision course, it was mostly our supervisory skills which were evaluated, so, delegation, work schedule planning, rotas, division of work, and a big part was also in teaching the commis how to make things. I taught both my commis chefs to make strudel dough (which we used, unsweetened, in place of filo dough) even though only one of them needed to make it. I also really focused on making sure that they knew what they were doing (at the time, and also what they were doing next) It was a lot of fun, and the food went down pretty well. There were some minor issues with the food, and I should have been a bit more assertive with my commis chefs. One example was the under-caramelizing of the onions for the soup, if I had been more clear to the commis about what the caramelisation does, and how important it is, we wouldn't have had to go back afterwards and re-caramelise some of the onions(!!!) But hey ho, lesson learned.
My menu was this: (and keep in mind, I'm just a pastry chef!)

Starter - French Onion soup with Baguette Crouton and Comte Croutons
(note the wee, leaf-shaped cheese crouton half-melted into the soup... there was another one somewhere)

Main - Smoked Mackerel and Leek Tart with confit tomatoes, balsamic reduction, and rocket
(the garnish on this one was the dodgy one, the ends were actually supposed to be bent opposite ways so that they would cross... Also, the leek in the bottom were served hot, as well as the smoked mackerel, but the cheese filling was cold, for contrast. A bit too much filling though, so the balance was off...)

Palate-Cleanser - Fish to chocolate? Dont think so! So I threw in a palate cleanser. I made a lemon granita, and used basil leaves and peach pate de fruit for garnishes. This was actually declared a big hit, and even the dish of the day!

Dessert - Dark chocolate tart, hazelnut tuile biscuit, white chocolate sorbet, chocolate stick garnish, and apricot coulis. I got the comment that this actually wasn't sweet enough, and that it should have been sweeter. I can see where they were coming from when they said this, but I was still quite happy with it (I liked the way that I looked at chocolate in different ways here though, and I didn't want to make this dish too sweet as it was only for a lunch menu.)

And it's onwards and upwards now! We've got another practical assessment next wednesday, so I'm going to be burning the midnight oil again this weekend getting all the paperwork sorted!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Exam Time!!

I mentionned before that I have practical exams to do for my course, and we had two of them last week! The hot dessert assessment was on Tuesday, and the cold one was on wednesday. The idea is that we get three hours to produce the best possible dessert that we can, -that you might see in a fine dining restaurant, complete with sauces, garnishes, etc. and all sorts of paperwork to go along with it. There was a booklet of recipes, costing sheets, ingredient order forms, equipment order forms, and even a vague work schedule that we had to include in our portfolios that sat on our workbenches as we worked.

For my hot dessert I had planned on making passionfruit souffles, with white chocolate sorbet, raspberry vodka jellies, and a tuile biscuit. Because I'd been so busy with competitions and other school-related but totally voluntary extra-curriculars, I hadn't had a chance to send in my food order form to the stores until the day before our exam! But it was going to be fine, right? Right?! I sent in my order sheets for both the hot and the cold exam on the day before the first exam was to take place, even though I wasn't due in at college, I e-mailed them to my lecturer who signed it and passed it on for me.

What's the best way to start off an exam day? -Sleep in, of course!!
So I arrived at college an hour late, but that was okay, because we were going to wait until the afternoon to have the practical exam so that we could have all morning to prep (and finish the paperwork!) I checked over my box of ingredients which had arrived from the stores. No passionfruit puree to be seen. I went to the stores, and appologised for having assumed that they would have it, and asked what other fruits of fruit purees they might have on hand instead. A punnet of frozen raspberries, a bag of frozen blackberries... Not much to fit in with my dessert! Until one of the managers mentionned a coconut he'd seen rolling about the back of the fridge. Brilliant!! I left the stores with a coconut, a tin of coconut cream, and a shot of malibu.

I opened the coconut and combined the milk with the shot of malibu, a couple dollops of coconut cream, and some fresh grated coconut to create my own 'puree' to use in the souffle.

Coconut souffle with white chocolate sorbet, raspberry vodka jelly, and a tuile spoon

My souffle was really delicate, and it turned out that the coconut cream was probably a bit to heavy to add without the addition of a starch (cornflour, probably) to stabilise it, so my souffles fell. But overall, my lecturer really complimented my dessert, saying that she was surprised by how well the jelly went with both the souffle and the sorbet. And saying that she really liked something means a lot when it comes from a pastry chef who's done so much. And in case you're wondering, to make the tuile spoon, I used a piece of plastic with the spoon shape cut out as a template. We'd actually used the template for an international competition, but I couldn't find the final version, this was just a dodgy predecessor!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Black Forest Gateau

This year, my course lets me pick what I want to make, and I've decided to go retro -to try to, maybe not perfect, but to do my best to recreate some of the great classics of les pâtisseries.

One of my favourite of les grandes classiques is, and probably always will be, the gâteau fôret noire. Black forest cake is quite simple: three layers of chocolate sponge (I used chocolate genoise) soaked with a kirsch syrup, filled with one layer of cherries soaked in kirsch, and filled and covered with kirsch-flavoured chantilly cream. It sounds like a lot of kirsch, -and yes, it can be, but the trick is to not use so much that the gateau becomes unpleasant.
The base flavour of the gateau, the way that I think of it, is kirsch. The other flavours serve to enhance that flavour. The chocolate sponge adds cool richness and texture, also adding sweetness in that it has been soaked with a kirsch-flavoured syrup. The kirsch-mascerated cherries add another burst of flavour and texture that, for me, really make the gateau.

I was running a little bit short on time when it came to decoration, but I still wanted to use dark chocolate, and wanted something quite effective.

I piped a chocolate design onto a piece of greasproof paper, and peeled it off once set. I repeated the design and stuck it to the side of the gateau. I piped another simple design and fixed that on top of the gateau, feeling that I could not leave it plain.

I love classic gateaus like the Black Forest, and I'd love to hear which other of the grandes classiques people have fallen in love with!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cuckoo for Cupcakes

One of the girls that I went to college with last year didn't come back this year, instead she went out and got a job in a bakery. Did I say 'bakery'? I mean 'cupcakery'! There aren't too many cupcake shops in Edinburgh, and I've never been to one before so I wasn't sure what to expect when I popped in for a visit and a cup of tea.

The shop itself is in the city centre, and has a quiet looking shopfront. I still wasn't sure what to expect until I was walking through the door. There is no laminate on those tables! I immediately loved the quirkiness of the shop, and any preconceptions I had of boutique cupcakeries were out the window. There was no counter, instead, a glass display case showing off the 12 varieties of cupcakes available to eat in the shop or ready to be packed and taken away.

I chose a black bottom cupcake to have with a cup of tea. The cupcake was a chocolate cheesecake cupcake with a mound of frosting swirled on top... just what the doctor ordered at 11:30 on a Sunday morning. I love having tea in cafes. There's something very fun about having a teapot, strainer, sugar bowl, milk jug, teacup and saucer all to myself. The cupcake was moist and the icing, which I would have thought too sweet, was actually really well placed. The tea was lovely and the girls working were friendly and approachable, so I chose two more cupcakes to take away for sharing later (carrot cake -a classic, and the Elvis -chocolate chip, peanut butter, and banana.)

Not only did the cupcakery sell cupcakes, they had a big selection of teas to chose from, and offered sandwiches and hot meals. I felt really at home in the cupcake cafe, and could see myself going back regularily, which is a far cry from how I was feeling about cupcakeries to begin with!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chai-White Chocolate Mousse...

A lot of people don't really know what I do every day when I say that I'm studying to be a pastry chef. Well, it's a lot of practicing. We have tests, exams, and assessments just like other students, but a lot of our tests, exams, and assessments are practical ones, where not only the final product is evaluated, but our planning, working methods, hygiene, safety and even our logic is taken into account as well.

We do also have to take theory classes, and in the level that I'm currently in we've had to take food safety and hygiene, hospitality supervision, financial control systems, and food classification and purchasing (and probably a few that I can't think of at the mo as well!)

Back to the practical assessments though...

The unit that we're working on right now (that I'm still finishing because I'm behind!!) is desserts. So hot and cold desserts, either portioned and plated for service, or whole (as in gateaux, tortes, or cakes.) There's a project or assessment at the end of every unit and for the dessert unit we've got a practical assessment to do. Well, two, actually... We have to create four portions of a hot dessert in three hours, including garnishes, sauces, and all that jazz. And then we'll have another three hours to do the same but with a cold dessert. Three hours sounds like a lot of time -but it's never enough!

Since I came over to the UK I've fully embraced tea-drinking. In fact, I can't function without that cup first thing in the morning! I usually drink regular tea, but I was introduced to Chai tea a couple of years back, and ever since I've thought that the spicey flavour of the tea would work well with the sweetness of white chocolate. Chai, if you've never had it, is black tea, flavoured with cloves, ginger, sometimes black pepper, and all sorts of gingerbread-y flavours. When I first started drinking it I was told that you were meant to add condensed milk to it, and heaps of sugar, so I knew that it could handle the sweetness of the white chocolate and balance it.

I had my concept, but that was only two ingredients!

I spotted silicone demi-sphere moulds in the kitchen a few weeks ago, and I've had my eye on them ever since. They would be perfect to use seeing as they're pretty much foolproof (no worries about whether or not the dessert will come out of the mould, or if there are air pockets, as you can manipulate the outside of the mould) and the demi-sphere would give the dessert a nice clean, and modern shape, something which was stressed to us when we got the assessment brief. Ice cream was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of the mould, but three hours to make a custard, chill it, and then churn it? Even with an ice cream machine I didn't think that would be enough time to chill the ice cream enough to hold the shape of the mould for any length of time. Next up was a mousse... Perfect.


I still had to make four gateau's for the dessert unit, so I decided to try out my concept for the assessment as a gateau.

I used a chocolate genoise as a base. I wasn't planning on using a chocolate genoise specifically, but I had some extra layers kicking about, and I tend to be pretty lazy at times... I cut one sponge in half and soaked the first half with a chai infused syrup. Syrups help keep sponge moist, because there is such a thing as mousse on top of a very dry sponge, and it's not nice... I spread a dark chocolate ganache over the top of the sponge to isolate the sponge from the mousse so that I would still have the two distinct textures. The dark chocolate had another purpose as well -the bitterness of the dark chocolate would contrast the sweetness of the white chocolate and keep the gateau/dessert from becoming overly sweet. I centred the ganache-covered sponge inside of a ring mould (like a tall band of stainless steel) and poured half of my chai-infused white chocolate mousse on top. The mousse was a basic custard, or crème anglaise, mixed with melted chocolate, cooled and then folded into whipped cream. To make the mousse chai-flavoured though, I infused the milk from the custard, and instead of adding vanilla or another flavouring, I added a very intense chai-infused syrup. I put the second half of the genoise on top of the mousse, which was already beginning to set. I brushed chai syrup onto the sponge, and then coated it with another thin layer of dark chocolate ganache. I had kept the ganache relatively cool so that it wouldn't run, and I was able to pour the rest of my chai-white chocolate mousse on top. I put the whole thing in the freezer to set before coating. I either took the gateau out too soon, or the mousse was too delicate and the second layer of sponge too heavy though, because as the gateau sat out I could see the sides start to curve out. I coated the gateau in a white chocolate ganache made with chai-infused cream and put it back in the fridge to set before slicing into. And you can see I was impatient there as well, because the ganache has been pulled along where I've sliced instead of cutting neatly!

The Verdict

The taste of the gateau was very good overall, and the textures worked well together. For my personal taste, I'm considering adding a thin layer of orange jelly between the ganache and the mousse, or between the mousse and the top layer of sponge -just something to break up the chocolate-y-ness of it. I also might add orange in the form of a compote though, or another element on the plate, because I'll need to think of garnishes, and a sauce to go with the dessert.

So far, I'd say this looks promising!

Blogs, and What I Do

I had a blog before, but I didn't use it; I never took the time to write in it, but more than that I never took the time to invest in it. I regret that sometimes because I like creating, and I also like connecting and sharing with people, so I'm determined to do that.

My previous blog was meant to be an account of what I did daily at college (more on that in a bit!) I want more than that though, I don't just want to write about what I do, because that's not what I'm all about- I'm about looking at what I do, but also what other people are doing, and not just in food- if I feel inspired by something as simple as a colour scheme or wallpaper pattern, why not share that and see if anyone else feels the same?

Confused yet?

I'm a pastry chef. ...well, studying to be a pastry chef. I don't know when I'll be able to call myself that, but one day I will be able to! I'm Canadian, but I live in Scotland and I'm trying to get as much out of my time here as possible, which usually means long days of college/work mixed with long days travelling/being a tourist. It's all in good fun though!