Friday, September 30, 2011

The Start of the Last Class: Cuisines Across Cultures

So here we are, in the first week of my very last class at CCA. Cuisines Across Cultures. We have a new chef, but one we have worked under before in Culinary Foundations II, Chef Steven Moore. We also have a few new students. This week has been interesting. The first night of class was a complete mess, the second night was slightly less messy, the third was manageable, and tonight we started to have some fun. Which was refreshing because this is our last class of culinary school after all! And this class is supposed to be fun.

The structure of this class is quite different from any other. There is a set menu for each night, and as the name implies, we are focusing on a variety of cuisines that spans the globe. Also, we are not cooking each dish individually, we are cooking each dish collectively. So we get to decide as a team who does what.....although I usually decide first on what I want to do and pretty much tell the others that I am doing that! But I usually take the vegetable dish so no one has complained so far! (Thanks guys!!) And then, when everything is ready, we serve all of the food family style, and sit down (or stand) and enjoy the food and break bread together, as friends do. Which is great because that gives us an opportunity to discuss the food, and ask our classmates how they did certain things, how long they cooked the chicken, or what that particular spice is.

So all of the pictures you will see from this class are not going to always be made by just me, but by myself and my classmates. However, since our class is pretty small, so far we have actually been making each dish mostly on our own. But it sure is nice to know that you have your classmates to help fill in any gaps!

So let's take a look at what we have done so far this week.... Our day 1 menu was a roasted leg of lamb with fleur de sel, salt crusted salmon, and salt and pepper prawns. I added some roasted potatoes and mixed green salad with a lemon-honey vinaigrette dressing to the mix.

Mixed Green Salad
Salt Crusted Salmon
Roasted Leg of Lamb with Roasted Potatoes

Salt and Pepper Prawns
Our Day 2 menu consisted of Muligatawny Soup, Flat Bread with Za'atar, Lamb Tagine with Couscous, and Okra Pakoras. Everything turned our fantastic. I made the flatbread with the za'atar topping, which allowed me to use a mortar and pestel for the first time... fun!
Flatbread with Za'atar
Lamb Tagine with Couscous
Fried Okra and Cauliflower
Day 3 menu was sushi! 
We learned about grains, and chef made a large batch of slightly undercooked sushi rice :) 

And then we each made sushi. Here was my  
attempt at sushi rolls...they sure are pretty!

Day 4 menu was first to individually make our own batch of fried rice (yum!), and of course I made my vegetarian, thank you very much!  I also made the Yellow Split Pea with Curried Vegetables and Spiced Rice dish....very tasty! 
Fried Rice
Yellow Spilt Pea and Curried Vegetables, with Spiced Rice

We also enjoyed some Pearl Fried Pork Balls, Chicken Teriyaki, and Ichigo Daifuku.... 

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Catered Event: Bonnie's Baby Shower

Dairy-Free Waldorf Chicken Salad on Endive
This past weekend I had the pleasure to provide catered foods for a baby shower. A few weeks ago a very good friend of mine had her bachelorette party in Tahoe. And there I met some friends of hers, and made some new friends of my own. I decided to make my tomato bruschetta to bring along to the house in Tahoe, as I had a few french bread baguettes sitting around from baking class, and the bruschetta would travel well, not to mention it's delicious and addicting! Some of the girls really loved the bruschetta, and just last week they called to ask if I could make the bruschetta, along with some other dishes, for their baby shower. I was thrilled that they thought of me to provide foods for their special day!

There was to be 25 guests at the shower, so I thought four dishes would be appropriate, as they had some other dishes planned. Already on my menu was the tomato bruschetta. Next I decided to make what I  know to be a crowd pleaser, the pear and crisped pancetta with blue cheese. I added a chicken skewer dish, that I glazed with maple and stone ground mustard, and topped with fresh mango and basil. Last I decided on making some gougeres. I had seen this recipe months ago and thought they sounded delicious. And now that I know how to make a pate au choux dough, I felt comfortable making these for the shower. Then they asked for an additional dish, one that has no dairy. So I came up with a dairy-free waldorf chicken salad, served on endive.  I hope that everyone at the shower enjoyed the beautiful day, the mom-to-be, the games, and the food!
Pear with Crisped Pancetta and Blue Cheese, Honey and Thyme
Maple and Mustard Glazed Chicken Sausage Skewers with Mango and Basil
Tomato Bruschetta
Gougeres with Gruyere and Parmesan

The table set up

Friday, September 23, 2011

End of Days in Baking and Pastry

Lemon Stacked Cheesecake with Caramel Wafer, Candied Lemon Slice, Spun Sugar, and Caramel Sauce
Lemon Cheesecake, Tuille Leaf Cookie, Caramel Sauce
Tonight was our last night in chef Richard's Baking and Pastry class. It was a normal night just like any other, really. We had a lot to do so we got right to work, and before we knew it, it was time to start cleaning, and everyone was anxious to get home. So there was no celebration or much of any goodbye's, but I did take a moment to say a heartfelt "thank you" to chef. 

I feel good about what I have learned in B&P. It certainly opened my eyes to the world of pastry, and I know that I made the right decision in making the savory side my home.  I still enjoy baking just as much as I did prior to this class, just enough to make some yummy desserts. But now I can add yummy breads, pastries, sauces, and garnishes to my repertoire. Which makes me very happy! So overall, it was a really great class, and I learned a LOT. So much so that I really couldn't tell you off the top of my head how to make biscuits, or bagels, but I would just need to refer to my detailed notes, and I can produce some great products.

Citrus Creme Brulee
In our last few nights leading up to tonight, we made some fun and yummy items that I have not yet mentioned. So let's just take a moment to look at those.....

We learned about custards, which is by definition an egg protein-gel suspended in sugar and liquid.  We made Creme Anglaise, ( a stirred custard), and Creme Brulee ( a baked custard). The Creme Anglaise was used to make ice cream....and silly me, I did not get a photo either the Anglaise or the ice cream! But I did get to sample my strawberry ice-cream tonight (lucky me!). And who ever thought of ice cream as being a "flavorful cream-base suspended in ice crystals, fat, and air"?! But that is exactly what it is.

And then we moved on to making a cheesecake, which was really much more simple than I ever thought it would be. Just a handful of ingredients, some nice little ramekins, a little bit of patience, and voila, we have cheesecake! Our cheesecakes were to be used for our final plated desserts, as shown in my pictures above. I made my cheesecake with a bit of lemon extract, which gave it a nice bright flavor. 

Then we moved on to plated desserts. Chef showed us how to make spun sugar (awesome!), and piped sugar designs, which is really tricky and scary because you have to work with the sugar while it is still hot, VERY hot! As you have to heat the sugar up to 320 degrees. Before class started tonight, we ran into our former chef instructor, Chef Tony, who we asked if he has ever worked with piped sugar, and he quickly replied "oh yes, even 20 years later I remember working with piped sugar. If you have ever gotten a sugar burn, you will definitely remember it 20 years later!" 

Chef also showed us how to make Caramel Batter and Tuille Batter, which are used for garnishes (and are required as garnishes on our final plated desserts). And we also made a caramel sauce and a pipe-able chocolate sauce. And we got to spend some time working on our final plate designs, figuring out every element for each. 

Candied Lemon Slices
Our final consisted of making a simple chiffon cake, two plated desserts - one banquet style, one VIP style, and a written test. We had three hours last night in which I made my chiffon cake, got it assembled and frosted, and also made two of my garnishes for my plated desserts. I made my caramel batter wafer, and tried my hand at making candied lemon slices....pretty huh?!?!

Lemon Buttercream Chiffon Cake with Cherry Liquer
And tonight we had two hours to complete and present our chiffon cakes and plated desserts. I was having difficulties managing my time as I was not certain about when to start my plating. I was worried that some of the elements would begin to melt, and they did. I was excited to try my hand at the spun sugar, because it looks so amazing and fun on the plate. I wound up burning my first batch of sugar as the temp jumped to almost 400 degrees, but it was more of the brown color that gave it away! I quickly got my second batch of sugar together, and threw in a little red food coloring, and kept a closer eye on it. She turned out great, and I did the little spun sugar action across two yardsticks, pulled my sugar together into a neat little cone shape, and set her aside. After some time, she started to melt, and fall into itself, as it was gathering moisture from the air. Remember, sugar is "hygroscopic" (one of the first things we learned in B&P), meaning that sugar absorbs moisture, and the moisture was making my beautiful spun sugar a little ball of mess. 

So I am fumbling around trying to decide on what to do next, as my pinkish spun sugar is withering away. I tried to make a strawberry ice-cream quenelle, but it wasn't holding shape as it wasn't frozen enough. So I finally decide to just got for it and get this thing done with! I quickly wrap up all the elements for both of my plated desserts, take a few snapshots, and let chef know that I was ready and next in line to present. He acknowledges, and shortly comes by my station. He first looked at my glowing white chiffon cake, said I did good on smoothing out the sides and the top, and piping the rosettes, and that it just takes practice to perfect. I felt good in that was only the second cake I have ever made in my lifetime. And then he moved on to my plated desserts. I don't recall he said very much, just a nod of approval as he has always been pleased with my work. And a mention of them being elegant and cohesive. Which is exactly what I was shooting for. I got perfect scores, and the highest score in the class overall. Yay for me!

Next week we move on to our very last class at CCA, Cuisines of Cross Cultures. I am really looking forward to getting back into savory cooking! And looking forward to learning about some new cuisines! Till then...Happy weekend!

Oh, and just a few more little garnishes we practiced in class with piped chocolate...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cake of a Chocolate Mousse Kind

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Pistachio
"Oh now you're just showing off", is what I heard from chef as I presented my chocolate mousse cake for grading tonight. (Thanks chef Richard!). Yeah, she turned out pretty nice. I just ate a slice, and let's just say that it is as tasty as it is pretty.

So this week we have been working on this beauty, a chocolate mousse cake with chocolate ganache. We started off by making the chocolate butter cake, then we made a Japonaise. A Japonaise is essentially a meringue, or a nut meringue. I have heard of it being an almond meringue, but we used hazelnuts in ours. The Japonaise was made in the style of making a French Meringue, and then adding hazelnut meal, then bake it off until it is crispy. This provides a tasty, nutty, light crunch at the bottom of our chocolate mousse cakes. Oh yes, YUM.

Then we made the chocolate mousse, and the chocolate ganache. Each piece of the chocolate mousse cake puzzle was pretty simple enough. Once we learned the technique, it was smooth sailing, and just a matter of whipping our eggs to the proper peaks, and adding the sugars at the right time. Then it came time to put the puzzle pieces together. We had a Japonaise, a chocolate butter cake, chocolate mousse, and chocolate ganache. Not to mention a few additional garnishes.

We each grabbed an 8" round cake pan, lined the sides with acetate, and the bottom with a parchment cartouche, then we began the layering.....first went a nice thick layer of chocolate mousse, then a layer of chocolate cake, then a second layer of chocolate mousse, a second layer of chocolate cake, then the third layer of chocolate mousse, and topped it off with the Japonaise. We turned the cake pan upside down to release it from the cake pan, and thus bottom becomes the top. Meaning the Japonaise is now the bottom layer.

We finished the cake by pouring a nice layer of chocolate ganache over the the entirety of the cake, letting the ganache drip and roll over the sides until the cake is beautifully coated and glossy. Lastly, we melted some milk chocolate and white chocolate, and made some tiny piping bags out of parchment paper. Then tried our best to pipe out some straight lines of melted chocolate on to the top of our shiny cakes. I was having a hard time getting my lines to come out straight and not squiggly, and after many attempts on parchment paper, I was quickly over it, and just went to the cake. I braved it and ran the handmade piping bag over my gorgeous and shining cake. It wasn't success, but it wasn't complete failure! They were slightly squiggly, and my partner helped me to fill in some gaps. Then we ran a wooden skewer across the top of the cake to make the swirl-like design, and finished the sides with chopped pistachio. And....voila!! A stunning chocolate mousse cake was born. Now if only I could figure out what I am going to do with the rest of this beast, because I do not want it sitting in my fridge!

mmmmm Baking & Pastry!!
Oh, and because he said I is my class partner..... reveling in his joys of our baking and pastry goodies....

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chiffon Cake...You Little Tart!

Hazelnut Chiffon Cake with Coffee Buttercream Frosting
I have some catching up to do here, as I haven't posted in a few days. Last I mentioned we were about to finish our second practical exam in B&P. We were being tested on three different doughs and the makings of a quiche, almond tart, profiteroles and eclairs. 

The night went very smoothly for me and I managed to stay on track and on time. Chef Richard ended up giving us an extra 30 minutes though, as he said the class before us needed the extra time, and figured we would too as there was a lot to get done. I really didn't need the extra time, but since I knew I had it, I took my time in the assembly of the profiteroles and eclairs, and served chef my tray of baked goodies just 5 minutes after the original deadline. And chef Richard was pleased with my work at first sight, and after a second closer look, he said that I "rocked it"! I did get a small percentage off of the quiche because the dough was likely too thin on the bottom as it was a little gooey in the very center. Ah well! It wasn't a perfect score, but my work looked fantastic, and chef gave me great compliments. I was happy!
Almond Tart with Apricot

The next day I attended the daytime class which is the same class, chef and kitchen, but different students. It was a great experience getting to work with a new group of people. They were all mostly younger, quite chatty and friendly with each other, and they were all having a really fun time. So it was fun to listen to them as I did my work. That night we made a Chiffon Cake and a Buttercream Frosting. Finally, we got to learn about chef Richard's buttercream frosting! He told us about it at the start of the class four weeks ago, and I have been anxious to learn about it ever since. And of course, it's really simple. As was the chiffon cake. Chiffon cake is made differently from your standard cake, as it is a hybrid of a high-fat cake and a sponge cake. It gets it's light and airy texture by whipping together egg whites and sugar that make a meringue, then carefully fold in the meringue into the rest of the wet and dry ingredients. All of this did take up the entire evening, so we had to wrap up our beautiful little chiffon's and buttercreams, and store them in the walk-in for the weekend, (how sad!). There they waited patiently for us to come back to them tonight....

So tonight we got to assemble our pretty little chiffon cakes. And that alone took all our class time, as it was detailed work, especially given this was all our first times putting a cake together in this fashion. And we all enjoyed getting to pick and choose our own flavorings and colors for our individual cakes. For mine, I chose a coffee buttercream frosting, with a hazelnut liqeur simple syrup to add some extra moisture and flavor to the cake. It was a bit tricky to get the cake cut into 3 even layers, and evenly frosted in between each layer. And then to straighten out the top layer and the sides. I was having a hard time with mine because it seemed that my buttercream wasn't at the proper temperature to evenly coat the cake, but I did the best that I could with it, and I think she turned out pretty nice. Oh, and we still didn't get to take home our pet chiffon cakes, as we still had to leave them in that lonely dark walk-in, until tomorrow when we will meet again....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It's Puff Pastry, Y'all!

Let's just start with two sticks of butter y'all..... or if you're making puff pastry like we did this week, we actually started with, ( I think), 2 pounds of butter. Oh what?!?! Oh yes, the 2 pounds of butter is used to make the beurrage for laminated doughs, that we then turned into PUFF PASTRY. Oh yeah! 

Puff pastry does take some work, there was a lot, and I mean a lot of rolling out the dough, and folding, and putting in the walk-in to chill, and more rolling, then folding, then chilling, and did I mention rolling? But it was all very well worth the efforts. When I learned that we were doing another laminated dough, I wasn't too excited. But then I heard what we would make with said laminated dough, and chef Richard had me at Palmiers. I love palmiers for a number of reasons. First of all, they are French, second they are simple, pretty, and sweet. And once your laminated dough, (or Paton), is finally finished, they are pretty simple to make. I was actually very surprised that mine turned out correctly, because as I was cutting them and laying them on the sheet pan, they didn't "seem right". But as I sneaked a peek at them as they were rising in the oven, I had a sigh of relief as they looked perfect. Yay! 

Oh, and we also made Turnovers and Twists with all the laminated dough. But let's get back to my of the things that makes them so wonderful is the sugar. LOTS of sugar. French law states that a proper Palmier must use a 1/4 of the weight of its dough in sugar. And the way to add that much sugar into the dough is to replace your bench flour with sugar. Awesome! Oh, and as if that wasn't enough sugar, before you lay them on the sheet pan to bake, you lightly roll them in more sugar. You know, just to be safe. 

Cinnamon Twists
This week is a short week with the Labor Day holiday, and we have our second practical exam. It's a two-nighter. And we are being tested on three doughs: Pate Brisee, Pate Sucree, and Pate au Choux. And with those doughs we are to make a Quiche, an Almond Tart, Profiteroles and Eclairs. We had two hours last night, and will have another two hours tonight. It took us the full two hours last night just to make all the doughs, and I think most of us were able to blind bake the Pate Brisee for the quiche, and bake our pate au choux. So that means for tonight, I have to make the quiche filling, the tart filling, pastry creme, chantilly creme, chocolate glaze, bake the quiche and tart, and assemble the profiteroles and eclairs. I hope I can get it all done in time!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lemon Tarts and Pate au Choux....Gesundheit!

Pretty Little Swans
Tonight in B&P we got a visit from Amy who works in the Career Services Department of CCA, and she came today to talk to us about our upcoming externships. There wasn't any new information, but it was a nice reminder that I really need to figure out what I am going to do. After the visit from Amy, we got a nice demo from Chef Richard on the makings of Creme Chantilly and a chocolate glaze he named 4-2-1 Glaze. Then he showed us how to put together Creme Puffs, Eclairs, Paris Breasts, and those fancy little Swans. And then we all got to work!

We had already baked our Pate au Choux dough last night, and made our Vanilla Pastry Creme, so those were all ready to go. The Pate au Choux dough is different in that it is a hot dough. So you actually mix the ingredients over heat in order to sort of cook out some of that flour flavor, and this is the dough we used to make our creme puffs, eclairs, Paris breasts and swans...
We then quickly whipped together our creme chantilly, and got to work on cutting and poking holes in  the profiteroles and eclairs and swans, then filled them with pastry creme, topped them with creme chantilly, and dipped some in chocolate. It was tedious work, but kind of right up my alley! These are the parts I enjoy most about baking, the finishing touches and making all our hard work look beautiful. My eclairs turned out on the thin side, so by the time I filled them with pastry creme, then went to top them with a big cloud of creme chantilly, they were wanting to fall over. Well, some of them did! So I struggled a little with that, but I wasn't the only one... I kept hearing one of my classmates saying "man down!". Ha! 

I put together my pretty little swans last, I kept checking other swans to make sure that I put the wings on the correct way, because I didn't want "angry swans"! And I must say, they sure are pretty! 
Paris Breast
Lemon Curd Tart with Swiss Meringue
Once I was finally done, (this basically took us about 2 hours I think), I put all my work on one sheet pan as chef instructed, and carefully walked my tray over to be graded. We were also graded on our Lemon Curd Tarts with the Swiss Meringue from the other night. And as we are winding down on our third week of B&P, chef gave us each individually a little overview of how we are doing thus far. He had all good things to say, that I "do nice work", and while not everything has been perfect, such as the piping work on my lemon tart, he could still sell that in a bakery, and that this is just my first time ever making any of this, so he is really grading on technique. It all makes sense to me, and I agreed. It was nice to hear and makes me feel good in that I am on the right path.