French Macarons

Yesterday was the Macarons class and we baked Almond Tuiles, Lemon Sables, Madeleines, Palet Coconut and Orange Palet too. The attention, of course, was on the finicky ones. Most of us who signed up had baked Macarons before but failed certain times. So, this class was precious to us since we wanted to learn from the more experienced and knowledgeable one. And boy, did we learn new stuff!

The whipped egg whites should be shiny and when you scoop a little out, should be devoid of sugar.

Chef tended to my partner and I first and we had a good batter, so said Chef. Minutes into putting the piped macaron shells into the oven, he opened the oven door and observed. Something’s not right…and then he immediately looked at the oven temperature. Someone had tuned it up to 350F when it should have been 325F. The shells cracked and he explained that the heat was too much for the shells.

With coffee ganache

Something went wrong with the other pairs too. Think it was the piping. The baked shells did not turn out as well. Chef decided that we should start a new batch again and throw away those imperfect ones. Oh! What a waste! So many of them, all into the bin! The second time round, the results were much better. 

  
With pistachio and lemon ganache

With raspberry ganache

A few pointers:
1. The important step is whipping the egg whites. There is no need to use aged egg whites. Just make sure there is no speck of yolk in the whites when you whip.

2. The sugar is added to stabilise the whites. No salt added for his recipe. Go on low speed after the whites reach soft peak stage and sugar added @ ard speed 3 or 4.   The initial whipping speed is at speed 10!!!!

3. If the whipped egg whites becomes a bit too dry (overwhipped), add a little egg whites during the folding stage. Need not whip again.

4. The almond flour affects the quality of the turnout of the shells. Check if there is cornstarch added which tends to remove moisture. Better not to have cornstarch.

5. Chef opened the oven door ever so often to check on the other trays of shells. It seems that such action does not affect the baking! To tell if the shells are ready, when you place your finger on the shells, they should feel a bit shaky on the feet. Take out and let rest for 15 to 30 minutes before adding the filling.

6. Chef did not rest the shells after they are piped. It doesn’t seem to matter! But in his recipe, he recommended resting for 30 minutes before baking to form a crust which helps to avoid cracking. But it works without resting too!

Next step is to test baking them without the supervision of Chef. =p

I think I have had enough macarons for now.

I’m glad I’m not doing the washing.

CSCA – Petit Four

I’m a bit disappointed that basic pate-a-choux  is taught as part of the lesson series Petit Four and Macarons. I thought that it would touch on more of those tartlets stuff that we often eat at buffets. That forms a small part, no doubt, but a lot more time was spent on pate-a-choux which I have learnt before.

Nothing was lost, of course since different chefs teach different things and each time you learn something new. The following are examples of the various cream puffs and eclairs that we made from pate-a-choux dough. Something new I learnt was the fondant icing that was used on the eclairs. Normally, I would just use chocolate ganache but the use of the fondant creates better shine and taste. And Chef D showed us how dirty sugar (those that we bought from supermarkets) can be when he taught us to clean the sugar when making fondant, an important step to do if you want a good feel of  fondant when it’s in your mouth.

 These small tarts are from Pate Sucre.

And we took back 2 boxes of goodies plus a bag of pate-a-choux empty shells.

Next lesson. Macarons! So looking forward to it!

CSCA – BREAKFAST PASTRY (VIENNOISERIE)

Monday, we experienced the fruits of our labour. After 4 hours of rolling doughs – puff pastry & croissant – last Monday, the next step would be to shape and bake them!

The class was going too fast. No recipes, just following closely what Chef said. He, in his usual humorous nature, kept the atmosphere light by teasing us and commenting on our weird-shaped dough. Since he didn’t provide recipes, the keen participants would always ask (especially for puree and glaze), “Chef, how much do you put the rum…what did you put inside…?”

“I don’t use exact measurement. Just taste. You must learn how to taste!”

It’s ultra gratifying to see our shabby dough transformed into delicious pastries. I’m most impressed by the ‘peach’ that is made from brioche dough filled with pastry cream and cut peaches and then brushed with raspberry puree and glaze. I didn’t think that bread can be decorated like that. Creative!

So, all of us went home with at least 2 full boxes of pastries and a large bag of frozen doughs that are shaped. Time to give away these goodies!

Chef Delphin Gomes is really good in his craft and he shared his knowledge with us. But the downside is, we didn’t have the time to write our notes. These are some which I could capture.

On Croissant dough:
– Chef added 1/2 tablet of vitamin C (crushed) as a stabiliser and to promote longer self-life. It also prevents the dough from drying too fast in the freezer
– The butter block needs to be in perfect square when you laminate.
– Takes minimum 8 hours and require 3 turns and an hour of rest is needed after each turn.
– Too much rolling will be stressful to the dough. Having said that, once the dough is out from the fridge, work on it quickly to prevent the butter from melting.
– Place salt, yeast and sugar in different pockets of the flour. Don’t add all the liquid at once.
– Use medium speed.
– Never add salt in the beginning.

On Brioche dough:
– The amount of sugar, eggs and butter can change which result in either a lean or rich dough (Sherry Yard’s baking book has a good explanation on it).
– Adding water can cause the dough to last longer if you want to place it in the freezer.
– After the eggs are beaten, test using ‘window-pane’ and then add butter, a few pieces at a time.
– When the dough is elastic, it’s done. It can be stretched and there’s shine.
– Rest for at least 8 hours in the fridge.
– As with croissant dough, it’s best to first shape the dough and then freeze it (up to a month).

On Puff pastry:
– A laminated dough without yeast.
– Takes 6 turns.
– Score with an X on the dough to rest the dough.

CSCA – BREAKFAST PASTRY (VIENNOISERIE)

Back to pastry class again and this time it’s evening class – 4 hours each – from 6pm to 10pm and yesterday, it overran. The poor hubs was waiting outside for me. Hopefully, he won’t have to wait that long in winter.

Our instructor is Master Pastry Chef Delphin Gomes. Since he’s French, his English is heavily accented. He doesn’t believe in following recipes, preferring that we know the concepts and thus what’s in the notes are just the ingredients for the different pastry products – croissant, brioche, puff pastry, custard, etc.

His class is light and entertaining, yet challenging and fast-paced at the same time. Time is crucial when rolling out the dough. The longer you roll, the worse it gets. And chef went to every one of us to make sure we roll out the dough well before folding them.

It’s all about rolling, rolling, rolling yesterday.

Croissant dough, folding into thirds – one turn.

Chef showing the window pane.I realised I really need to have my brioche dough get kneaded well before adding the butter. Yup, the recipe book doesn’t say that. Like Chef commented in jest, recipe are bound to fail, so that they can come out with more books. =p

The bulging dough. Risen.

CSCA AB lesson #5 – Sauces & Review

It’s our last lesson today and we are on to sauces and based on what we have learnt from the Basic course (I did not attend) and the Advanced one, all of us are to chip in to make a part of individual Saint-Honores.

Saint-honores are made up of Pate Sable or Quick Puff Pastry as the base. Pate a Choux will then be piped out to form the rim on the base before they are baked in the oven. Next, using caramel, the ‘crust’ is dipped in the caramel and 3 balls of  pate a Choux are placed on the rim before it is dipped again in caramel. After the caramel is cooled, Pastry Cream Mousseline is piped out in rosettes and then a final piping in the middle.

Confusing? Yep, you are right. This item has all of us working real hard. I was paired up with another classmate and we did the Pate a Choux. This was not before Chef E gave a short lecture of sauces that are in the notes given to us. I’m not sure what was wrong with me but I wasn’t able to concentrate. The mind was not absorbing. I blame it on the early rising of the sun that causes me to wake up automatically at 5-ish nowadays. I was…lost in her rattle.

It’s not my first time making Pate a Choux but you know what, I made a mistake in the initial stage and was made to discard the entire batch. I felt awful and disappointed with myself, that I landed my classmate into trouble (we had to redo again). Clearly, the recipe wasn’t clear but this was not a valid reason. After all, I had made this before. I should have known better!

The second attempt was a success, under the watchful eye of Chef E. Though encouraging all ALL times, she is also firm and when something is wrong, she will not be reserved about it and point out our mistakes. It’s good that these mistakes are made. We can learn from it. Well, I can totally understand that. Actually in a culinary class, we learn more from the mistakes.

It was a tiring process making Saint-Honores. 3/4 through and I could see my classmates shrinking away. My palm incurred blisters from stirring the Pate a Choux dough and it doesn’t help that we were making double portion. Oh gosh! No more exercise for me for today!

So we bade Chef E goodbye. I absolutely love this class. Though there are some topics I have learnt before ( mostly self-taught), I gained more by going through this class. It also made me realise that there are some things that I might have done wrongly and these were highlighted when Chef E showed us the proper way to do it and alternative methods of doing things like gauging the ‘doneness/readiness’ by other means other than the thermometer! Although this is a recreational class, I must say it is less than leisure. The chef makes sure you get the concept (tries) and everyone really works their arse out. I wonder how a real class for culinary students would be like.

CSCA AB Lesson #4 – Chocolates

It’s no joke dealing with chocolates. Today, every one of us was assigned one item to make and each of us will be involved in one way or another, in creating those hand-made chocolates.

We used the seeding method of tempering (the process of melting and cooling chocolates in such a way that it hardens with a glassy, smooth coat that does not melt easily in the hand) and it basically means tempering a large quantity of chocolate easily by adding solid chocolate to already melted chocolate. Ok, there is a lot of science involved in it and I can only say that temperature and the absence of water are of utmost importance here. We were all doing fine for about 10 of the trays of chocolates until the last 3 trays when the temperature went beyond the stated temperature as we let it go through the double broiler. Arghh…

I know the above doesn’t really make sense because I am still grasping the concept of tempering. All I can say is that I totally appreciate hand-made chocolates and understand why chocolatier affix premium prices on those chocolates you see through the glass counter. It’s hard, hard work. 

And oh boy, what a lot of chocolates we dealt with today…it must have been expensive!

Below is the process:

And we each brought home a box of chocolates and truffles…time to exercise.

CSCA AB Lesson #3 – Cakes

Our lesson today was on Cakes but before we got down to business, Chef told or rather, warned us to wear something that we don’t really want and dark as we would be doing chocolates (think ‘mess’). On top of this, we have to be on task or else out we go. I guess it was about tempering of the chocolates since precision is important and tempering chocolate is affected by the temperature. I can’t wait for that class um..because I have NOT done that before.

As a good student (ahem), I read up a little about cakes. Basically, we have butter cake, genoise (sponge cake), angel cake and pound cake (I believe there are more). For each one, there are different properties and before I could consolidate my thoughts (yesterday night), I kind of gave up and retired for the night. Too much information and I figured I would need more time to understand. Too much science for me…

Chef Elise explained a little about cakes and how to actually cover the cake with the buttercream. We were not going to make American type of buttercream which consists of butter and icing sugar (phew!) but we were going for French buttercream which uses whole eggs and egg yolks. Her method is different from the one I attended at LCB. This method uses cake ring and to me, better and more manageable once you get the technique right.

When it comes to choosing, I chose the one that I have not had any experience in. I went for coffee praline cake which is made up of almond praline (what on earth is that?), coffee buttercream (familiar but the method employed is so different) and spice cake (exotic!).

To tell you the truth, I spent a long time before I got down to baking. I was reading the recipe, going through mentally what the process would be like and trying to imagine what the finished product would look like. In the end, I was the last to ensemble my ingredients and I panicked. By the time I did my cake batter, all the oven space was used up = last one to go into the oven. Thankfully, Chef came over a while later and arranged the trays again and squeeze mine in.

Next was the almond praline and I had no idea what it was. By the time I got my ingredients (got the wrong ingredients and had to redo) and wanted to go over to the stovetop, there was no more space left! *cry!* I’m way behind others!

In the end, it was okay. When the praline was almost done and in the cooling stage, I finally understood what it was and was able to picture my cake.

When it was done, it was perfect (to me). It was a piece of art. Chef was happy, my classmates complimented it and came over to take pictures. The baker was happy and chef came over…twice to ask me if I’m happy. Of course I am. I’m ecstatic!

I am weakest with cakes. I dislike assembling and decorating it yet I know it would be totally satisfying once done well. I need to bake more cakes. =)

Lynn's coffee praline cake

Mariela's Tiramisu

Chef Elise's cake

A classmate's cake

The conversion of cups to ounce has really slowed me down. I spent quite some time doing Math! Doesn’t help that the  weighing scale is in ounces rather than in grams!

Remember: 1/2 cup of butter = 4 ounces

Raspberry passion fruit tartletes with torched meringue

This is what I chose to bake for my second class on Meringue, basically because it is the only recipe that used Italian Meringue and I wanted to give it a try. It wouldn’t be daunting as long as I’m under guidance, would it?

I must admit, there was a tinge of fear as I told Chef Elise that I wanted to go for that but her approving nod assured me and I was all set to go. Since the class is only four hours, she handed me the Pate Sable dough which was all done so that I could concentrate on the fruit curd and meringue. So, what I needed to do was to roll out the dough and cut into small disks before placing them into the tartletes, chilling in the fridge for 30 minutes and then blind-baking them.

When the dough was rolled out and being chilled in the fridge (12 of them), I went on to prepare the passion fruit curd.

6 oz. passion fruit puree (I dislike measurement in oz.!!!)
3/4 cup sugar, divided
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cold cut into tablespoons

In a small saucepan, heat the passion fruit puree and half of the sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the puree begins to bubble around the edges. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, yolks, remaining sugar and salt until well combined and homogenous. Slowly pour the heated puree over the egg mixture, whisking constantly to combine. Pour the mixture into a stainless steel sauce pan and add the butter. Whisk constantly over high heat until the mixture is thick and the temperature reads 175F or steam rises off the surface.

Strain the curd into a bowl set over an ice bath. Stir periodically to prevent a skin from forming over the top.


While waiting for the puree to cool and the tartletes baked, it’s on to prepare Italian Meringue! Italian meringue is the lightest and, on average, the sweetest of all meringues.

6 oz. sugar, divided, 3oz. and 3 oz.
1 oz. water
4 oz. egg whites (each egg contains 1 oz. of white)

To prepare the syrup, add 3 oz of sugar and the water in a saucepan, preferably with a spout for pouring the syrup in a thin stream. Stir to thoroughly moisten the sugar, then bring to a boil over medium heat. Do not stir while you are cooking the sugar because syrup splashed on the sides of the saucepan dries and produces unwanted sugar crystals. Yours truly, not knowing this, stirred happily.

At this point, I started to call out to Chef Elise, “I need the thermometer!” She went around and after a failed attempt to fetch the measuring device, “I’ll show you how to gauge without the thermometer.” NICE!

Right after the syrup comes to a boil, some sugar crystals will form on the sides of the saucepan. Chef Elise used a moistened pastry brush (with little water) to wash down the sides to dissolve the crystals. This is to prevent caramelisation, she said.

While the sugar is cooking, place the egg whites into the mixer and whip on high speed until they reach soft peaks. When they reach soft peaks, turn the mixer to medium speed and add the remaining 3 oz of sugar. Continue whisking the whites in medium speed until the sugar mixture is ready/ reaches 245F.

So how to tell when the syrup reaches 245F which is the stage we want the syrup to be at. Initially, the syrup will appear in small bubbles in quick boiling motion but when it is ready, the bubbles slow down and appear to be bigger. This is the stage that it is READY!

Slowly pour the cooked sugar/syrup into the egg whites in a thin stream while you whip the whites at high speed. The meringue will rise and become very light. Avoid pouring the syrup onto the wire whip or it will splatter around the sides of the bowl and whip for 5 minutes on medium speed. Continue whipping the meringue on low speed until ready to use.

To assemble the tartletes, spread 1-2 tbsp of raspberry jam into the bottom of each tartlet shell. Chef suggested that I pipe the passion fruit curd so that it would be neater and definitely more presentable.

And then on to pipe the meringue! Then using a culinary torch, brown the outside of the meringue. I was exhilarated to use the torch and invited my classmates to try it too.

 

What fun!

CSCA AB Lesson #2 – Meringue

Another wonderful session in class! Oh! That’s quite a bit to talk about Meringue and I think I shall slowly pen down the notes over the next few days.

Today, every one of us attempted the different recipes on our own. I was the only one to go for Italian Meringue since I have done French meringue when baking macarons. What better way than to try it in class and get the chef to show you the ropes. Smart move, Lynn! I’m proud of you.

Anyway, I’m too engrossed in my work to capture more scenes in the kitchen. I like my performance today and I like it that I was swift in what I did. And if I can choose all over again on what I want to do when I first came over to Boston, I would choose to go to pastry school. I find myself so at home in the kitchen and enjoy the learning tremendously. No, I am not thinking about becoming a pastry chef though this could be one option. For now, I just love the learning. And shouldn’t we be learning for the sake of the love for learning rather than for a certificate or a job prospect and what not?

More info to be updated. For now, I’m saddened by the loss of a capable minister in the election that has just come to a conclusion. But hey, no one is indispensable. The election is over. Now is the time to start walking the talk.

CSCA AB Lesson 1 – Puff Pastry

This weekend had been rather eventful, with a tiring yet interesting Saturday. Well, the Advanced Baking course which I signed up with Cambridge School of Culinary Arts started on Saturday and it has been immensely enjoyable. That evening, we also hosted dinner for our friends which was a result of an accepted proposal submitted to Foodbuzz and which I received a stipend to carry out the dinner.

Anyway, back to Lesson 1 which was on Puff Pastry. Ok, it’s not something entirely foreign to me. After all, I have attempted quick puff pastry before when making apple turnovers but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to learn more and have the experience of baking in an industrial kitchen. More importantly, I hope to learn something useful from the Pastry chef herself.

So, the hubs accompanied me to the school and waited for me for a full 4 hours as I went through the first lesson (so touched!). There were about 9 of us in the class and the chef herself was a graduate from the school and teaches full-time now. And my, the knowledge she has! She rambled on and on and I was furiously penning down new insights. There were two master recipe that we ought to know for pastry – the classic puff pastry and the quick puff pastry. Since the classic puff pastry takes a long time (about 6 hours in total), we couldn’t possibly do that and the alternative was the quick puff pastry. I was a tad disappointed since I had experience with this method and was expecting to learn the classic one (which I also attempted before but with much less success) but we just had to make do since we had time constraint.

After the demonstration and explanation, we were to pair up and attempt one of the recipes listed in our notes. My partner, Mariela, and I chose Almond Pithivier because we had no idea what it is and decided to try it. I realised later that it is a classic French pastry.

One thing good about attending classes is that you have the experts to tell you if you are on the right or wrong track. Obviously I can learn baking on my own but I would not be able to know how much I can improve without an expert’s take on it. I realised that I have to roll the dough till it’s really thin and chef made me feel the difference between Mariela’s and my dough. Oh! Now I know! Puff pastry is hard work! So, please appreciate the effort behind making puff pastry the next time you buy it!

A few things that I have noted (my own notes and perhaps only I would understand):
–  Use puff pastry for huge rise. Otherwise use quick puff pastry since this is the easier way of making it.
– Flour absorbs moisture so keep it in a dry place.
– Gluten needs to rest so you need to place it in the fridge for it to rest.
– Butter needs to be cold and ice water is needed when making puff pastry since the moisture is needed.
– Puff pastry dough is ready when they can hold together without being sticky
– If dough is too sticky, don’t add flour to the rolling pin but to the dough, esp to the buttery side. Use brush to help too.
– Keep dough loose at all times.
– Roll in one direction esp for the first roll. Never roll both in a vertical and horizontal way.
– Keep the width consistent.
– Egg wash: don’t allow it to drip to the floor of the sheet pan as it will prevent your product to rise.

Next lesson: Meringue! I am looking forward already!

Recipe for Almond Pithivier

1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup amaretti (crushed cookies)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 oz. dark rum
1/2 tsp almond extract

Egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream

In a bowl combine the almonds and crushed cookies. Beat the sugar and butter until light, add the almond mixture, eggs and run and beat until well combined. Freeze the mixture for 20 minutes.

Roll out the puff pastry 3/8′ thick, cut out even number of small circles using cake rings/cookie cutters. With the balls of your fingers, push and pat a disk of dough out onto its baking surface to make an even circle slightly larger than your cutting guide. With a docker or two forks, dock dough all over at 1/2 inch intervals – this prevents the bottom layer from rising too much. Place a round of chilled almond cream on this enlarged bottom layer of dough. Paint the circumference of bottom disc with egg yolk glaze. Place a remaining piece of dough evenly over the almond cream, pressing two layers together. Make a little hole in the top to allow air to escape. The dough may need to be chilled at this point, but if it is still firm, proceed to decorating, then chill before baking.

Glaze the top with the egg wash, take care that it does not drip down the sides of the pastry. A classic Pithivier has a scalloped edge made with a knife all around the circumference. You may also press the tines of a fork all around the outside edge. The usual pattern for the top of a Pithivier is a sheet of swirling spokes, beginning at the steam vent, curving out to the edge. If you prefer, make a decorative pattern with the back of a fork over the Pithivier. Chill the Pithivier in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Bake the Pithivier on a parchment lined sheet pan in a 425F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375F and bake 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

LCB Chef's Series – Cake Decorating

I signed up for this class about a month ago primarily because I am really hopeless in decorating cakes, biscuits, what have you. Well, it’s also a good chance for me to get around the LCB campus and have a feel of how it would be like in the kitchen.

Since this is a cake decorating class, we did not have the chance to bake. First up, Chef taught us how to make a rose decoration out of marzipan and then it’s off to the chiffon cake in which we had to slice it and then masked it with buttercream icing. Oooo…..the icing! The serrated bread knife was SHARP! I had a small cut just by touching it; it’s that sharp! I had a fun time masking the icing between the layers and all around the cake. Chef reminded us not to be a perfectionist when it comes to the icing bit. It takes experience. Sometimes, the more we try to make it better, the result worsens.

                      

It was a fun class, no doubt and every one was very much focused on their tasks. Obviously so since it was only 3 hours and we had to try to come up with the finished product. At the end of the day, we received good and friendly instructions from Chef and her helpers (current LCB students), an apron (nice!), a certificate, drinks, cakes for testing and a rich experience.

I wouldn’t say this has changed my perspective for cake decorating (I don’t really like it) but it has proved to be rather satisfying when you get the hang of it. =)

Culinary school?

It must be the chef coat.

No. I think it’s the joy of seeing the surprised look and smile on the hub’s face.

I don’t know when it started.

The thought wasn’t new. Last Christmas, there was this game which we were asked what was one thing that you really really wanted (something to that sort) and I wrote on that small piece of paper – Le Cordon Bleu.

I started baking last year. Baking wasn’t entirely new to me. We all went through home economics classes in our Secondary School and I remember I aced it. I loved what was created in the end. They made me smile.

Over the years, I lost track of baking because the oven at home somehow went on a strike and refused to work. Mom was getting busier and thus her interest for baking waned as well. I was not really encouraged in the kitchen because mom was fussy about her territory and always nagged us on the mess we could create.

Last year, the interest came back because Ken’s place has got an oven, waiting to be used. I tried on the simplest recipe – the chocolate chip cookies – and when I popped them into my mouth, that kind of heavenly feeling came back. Encouraged was I and more baking resulted.

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