Saturday, December 18, 2010

layer cake

chocolate cake

Here are some pics of the cake and other treats I made for Chris and Cara's wedding that I catered at the end of November (thanks Cara for the beautiful pictures!). The bride wanted a butter cream cake with swirled frosting. I immediately thought of the cakes in the classic Disney movie, Pollyanna. You know what I'm talking about---those five giant butter cream beauties that the cooks made for the the charity bazaar. I think one of those cakes belongs in the classic version of the American dream----a house with a white picket fence and a giant layer cake on the kitchen table.

The recipe I used for the cake was the this chocolate cake recipe from the Hershey's website. I used Valrhona cocoa powder though, which makes all the difference in the way the cake tastes.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

chocolate overload

chocolate nougat
Or in other words, Three Musketeers! I've been thinking about doing something like this for a while and I finally got around to it. The filling in a Three Musketeers bar is a basic nougat, a sugar dough made with a sugar syrup poured over whipping egg whites. I let Chris know that it is similar to a an Italian torrone, but he replied that he has no idea what that is because he is fake Italian. The syrup is a mixture of corn syrup, sugar and water cooked to soft crack stage, or around 270 degrees. While it cooked, I whipped up the egg whites then poured the syrup in and paddled it in my mixer until it cooled. I added melted chocolate to taste, rolled it out on the counter on a silpat and let it cool down. It tasted fresher than the actual candy bar and ten times more chocolaty, most likely because I used good chocolate, Guittard 55%. Here is the recipe I followed in case you want to give it a try. I cut the nougat into 1" square pieces before dipping them in chocolate, because smaller is always cuter...

ganache experiment
I made a ganache from a book that Chef lent me, Fine Chocolates by Jean-Pierre Wybauw. Usually, you make a ganache by pouring hot cream or milk over unmelted (or melted, depending on your preference) chocolate, then stirring to combine. For this recipe, I made a syrup of sugar, corn syrup and condensed milk, let it cool to room temp, them poured it over softened butter that I was whipping in my mixer. I then folded the melted chocolate into the butter mixture. I've definitely never done that before. It tasted kind of like chocolate buttercream but fluffier and smoother. I tried piping it into rosettes, in hopes that the ganache would harden slightly so I could dip them in tempered chocolate, but the rosettes never hardened. Drat. I will have to ask Chef about what I did wrong. That's an almond on top of the rosettes to complement the Amaretto I added to the ganache.

work update
We got a shout out on Grub Street, New York Mag's food blog. I wish I could say I got a chance to decorate some of the cookies, but the night shift people just don't have time. Hopefully that will change for me, though. Chef told me that I will be moving to the morning shift very soon! For now, I've been working mainly on the swing shift again, which is night time production. I'm slower than I was a year ago when I started on that shift, but I'm hoping to pick up speed as I work it more.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

coffee and chocolate

coffee bon bons
So one week before my next special order is due. I will be making a 12" cake, cupcakes, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and rice krispies treats. I bought all my supplies today and started advance preparations which included working on the chocolate decorations for my cupcakes. I went simple and did dark chocolate hearts with a little silver luster dust sprinkled on them. I used Valrhona Equatoriale 55% couveture which is freakin' AWESOME. If you temper chocolate, you will love working with this. It not only tempers easily but tastes amazing (but what Valrhona chocolate doesn't?) In case you're wondering about the percentage in the name, it represents the amount of cocoa mass or liquor in the chocolate. The higher the number, the less added sugar there is in the chocolate and the darker in color and more bitter in taste it is.

I had some leftover chocolate so I turned it into bon bons. My filling of choice was coffee made with Valrhona 33% Tanariva which is my favorite milk chocolate ever. When making a ganache, Chef Nancy firmly believes that the chocolate must be melted before you add the cream to it if you want a consistently smooth mixture. She also directs us to use a spatula to combine the two instead of a whisk so that you don't incorporate any additional air.
I used a little leftover luster dust on top because of course you can never have enough luster dust.

coffee ganache filling for bon bons
3 1/2 C (425 g) milk chocolate
5 T (75 g) butter at room temperature
1 C (250 mL) heavy cream
3 t instant espresso powder (such as Medaglia D'Oro), or to taste

Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie.
Combine the cream and espresso powder and bring to a boil.
Pour the cream into the melted chocolate a little at a time, using a spatula to combine.
Add the butter, stirring to combine.
Let cool to room temperature before using.

speaking of coffee...
I started drinking espresso while I was in France. I had it every day, at least 2 shots. Since I've been back, I've tried to limit myself a bit. I only get an espresso or cappuccino on the last day of my work week. I've tried a different place each week for last few months, so I figure I should start rating them as a matter of record. I am sticking to places in and around the Flatiron district since it needs to be close to Gramercy Tavern.
This past Friday I went to Eataly, a collection of Italian themed restaurants and shops on 23rd street opened by Joe Bastianich. They serve Italy's favorite coffee, Lavazza. The line was ridiculously long and the service disorganized and rude, but it was delicious coffee. It had a smooth, strong mouthfeel with no astringency or sourness. Having to fight my way through the designer bag-toting throng to place and pick up my order, though, kind of ruined my experience. You can read more about Eataly here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

check this out!

Check out Myriam Babin's blog, New York Kitchen, for an upclose look at the Gramercy Tavern pastry kitchen! Also read Myriam's older post on the savory side of the kitchen.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

as american as... pie
When I first started thinking about moving into the food industry, I decided to take an amateur baking class. The first thing we tackled was a classic pie. It really is the quintessential American dessert. Whenever I think of what a classic pie should look like, I automatically think Jim Davis and Garfield. I have always loved his drawings of lasagna, turkey and especially pie. His pie has a solid, thick layer of filling and a substantial, rippled crust. YES. That is my ultimate pie.

Part of my production list at work now includes making apple pies. The crust dough is made in advance, so I am in charge of rolling it out, assembling the filling and baking it off. Seriously, though, how cool is that? Who doesn't want to make pies for a living? I get to make a lot of finished products now for work---pies, upside down cakes, bread pudding---not just sauces and candied nuts and I am really enjoying it.

So here are a few of my pie preferences, since the holidays are coming up. I use 9" perforated pie tins from Williams Sonoma and I love them. I like a mix of Fuji or Honey Crisp and Granny Smith apples. I cut the firmer apples, like Granny Smith, slightly thinner than the softer Honey Crisps, so that the apples all bake evenly. I use lots of apples---6 large apples or 8 smaller ones. They will bake down in the oven so more is always better. I don't use cinnamon in the pie, though I do sprinkle some on the top. I think Americans in general abuse cinnamon in baked goods. I want my apples to taste like apples, not like Comstock canned pie filling, so I use just sugar, lemon juice and a little vanilla bean for my filling. I know Alton Brown recommends using Caraway, which I think is fine too. It is also important to roll both crusts to an even thickness so that your pie retains it's giant dome when it comes out of the oven. If there are thin spots in your crust, the steam will burst through, create holes in the crust and your dome will deflate when it comes out of the oven. Lastly, I don't cut my pie for several hours after it has come out of the oven. The filling needs time to solidify so it can look just like a classic Jim Davis slice.

Below is the recipe I use for the crust. It's true, that if you use half shortening and half butter, you get a flakier crust, but for me, you can't beat the taste of an all butter crust.

flaky pie crust
for two 9" pie crusts

1 C. cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teasopoon sugar
1/2 C. (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
1/4 C. ice water

Mix the cake flour, salt and sugar together.
Add the butter and combine by flattening the butter cubes and rubbing them into
the flour mixture.
Form a well in the mixture and add the the cold water.
Use your hands or a spatula to form the dough, being careful not to overwork the dough. Add more water if needed, a teaspoon at a time.
Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes (or overnight) before using.

diabetic chocolate chip cookies
Gee, this is a hard one. I think a chocolate chip cookie should look like this.

And not like these.

I guess they don't look that bad, but they taste granular and have that same fake sugar aftertaste you get when you drink Diet Coke. I have been trying to find a good recipe now for a couple weeks, and it has proven to be quite a challenge. (The cookies above are the same recipe, just different baking times and different sizes.) Not only do they taste grainy, but they refuse to brown. I have been spraying them with Pam before I throw them in the oven and that has given them a little color at least. These cookies are for a special order at the end of the month, so if anyone has a good recipe, let me know!

Monday, October 4, 2010

krispies experiment

rice krispies treats
So I have a project on the horizon. At the end of November I will be making a cake and an assortment of treats for a wedding. The bride requested cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and Rice Krispies treats. My mom never made Rice Krispies treats for us growing up so I decided to start playing around with a recipe for them first. I made a batch from the original recipe on the box, just to see what it tasted like. YECH. Melted marshmallows and the tiniest bit of butter just didn't do it for me.
Who has been watching Top Chef Desserts? I have and I was ecstatic to see that the latest episode featured a sophisticated version of Rice Krispies treats. Eric the baker came up with a terrific recipe that used a sugar syrup mixed with melted butter to hold the krispies together. What a difference in taste that one step made. On top, Eric added a combination of peanut butter, nutella and milk chocolate followed by a layer of bittersweet chocolate. I went for all Nutella instead of adding peanut butter because I am obsessed with Nutella. You could also do just peanut butter if you wanted to and it would be delicious.
It takes a bit of planning because each layer has to set in the fridge for a few hours before adding the next layer, but I thought it was well worth it. The texture and taste are amazing and they looked so grown up when I cut into thin strips.

adapted from Eric Wolitzky's Peanut Butter Krispy Bars

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks of butter melted
8 cups Rice Krispies
2 cups milk chocolate
4 cups Nutella
1 stick butter
2 cups bittersweet chocolate
1/2 stick of butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup

Place Rice Krispies in a large bowl.
Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and spray thoroughly with nonstick spray (or if you have a silpat, now is the time to use it).

Combine the water, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir with a wisk or heat proof spatula until the sugar dissolves and mixture starts to boil (don't stir after that otherwise you will cause the the sugar to recrystallize!). Using a candy thermometer, cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees. Turn off heat and add melted butter, whisking to combine. Be very careful with the mixture---it is blazing hot and will cause quite a bad burn if you're not careful.

Pour mixture over Rice Krispies and toss vigorously to combine. Spread Krispies evenly onto sheet pan and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Bring a small amount of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan.Combine milk chocolate, Nutella and butter in a bowl and place on top of a saucepan (this set-up is called a bain-marie). Let everything melt 3/4's of the way, then take off the heat and stir continuously until the mixture is completely melted and combined.

Spread evenly on top of Krispies and return to the refrigerator for several hours until set.

Melt the bittersweet chocolate, corn syrup and butter following the same procedure as above. Spread evenly over the Nutella layer and let set in the refrigerator for several hours.

Remove from pan, cut with a sharp knife and enjoy!

Monday, September 13, 2010

snack time!

toffee popcorn
So I finally made the toffee popcorn we make at work---with a small alteration, that is. I made the same amount of sauce but used less popcorn. I wanted the kernels to be more thoroughly covered with toffee, just like the caramel corn at Johnson's Popcorn down in Ocean City, New Jersey. I popped the popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag in the microwave since I don't have an air popper. I didn't know you could do that and was extremely pleased with the results. I put a quarter cup of kernels in at a time, folded over the top of the bag and microwaved for two minutes.
It's easier to make the popcorn with two people---one to pour the sauce and the other to toss the popcorn vigorously in the bowl. I had to make it by myself, but kept getting splattered, so consider yourself warned....
I have a feeling I'll be making a lot of this in the future, especially since it's officially football season now. Let's go COLTS (and concurrently, Arian Foster, where did you come from??? You RUINED MY DAY). And let's go Giants, too. Eli didn't look too bad on Sunday, even with the 3 interceptions.

1/2 cup unpopped corn kernels
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 pound of butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon table salt

Pop the kernels in two batches, a quarter cup at a time, in a brown paper bag in the microwave. Microwave on high for about 2 minutes, or until the popping has slowed.

Thoroughly butter a large mixing bowl and place the popped popcorn inside.

Combine the sugar, butter and corn syrup in a large saucepan. Place over high heat and stir the mixture continuously. The mixture will thicken, foam up and gradually darken. The picture above shows the toffee about half way through the cooking process. It is thickening at that point, but still not dark. Cook until the toffee is a medium tan color I call teddy-bear brown.

Turn off the heat and add the salt and vanilla, stirring quickly to combine.

Immediately pour the toffee over the popcorn. Using two spatulas, toss the popcorn with the toffee until all the popcorn is covered.

Pour the popcorn onto the counter and separate the kernels by hand. Work quickly and carefully because the the toffee will be extremely hot. (At work, some people wear latex gloves sprayed with Pam to keep kernels from sticking to their fingers.)

Make sure the toffee popcorn is completely cool before storing in an airtight container.

Monday, August 30, 2010

an exotic frozen dessert

pistachio kulfi
Chris and I just finished watching the latest season of the Next Food Network Star. I found the show enormously frustrating because the majority of the contestants didn't cook well at all. Except for the woman who won, Aarti. I watched the first episode of her new show, Aarti Party, because I was curious to see if the recipes she came up with would be any good. I tried her recipe for kulfi, an Indian-style ice cream, first. Kulfi is denser than ice cream because you don't spin it in an ice cream maker and it doesn't contain any yolks like in a traditional custard base.
Her recipe called for sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, earl grey tea steeped in evaporated milk, and chopped pistachios and raisins. It was incredibly delicious, if a bit overly sweet (there are close to 1000 calories in one cup of sweetened condensed milk---yikes!). Here's a link to the recipe in case you're feeling adventurous:

strawberry sorbet
At work, we make a strawberry pie. The filling is made simply----lots of fresh strawberries and a little sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. There's always leftover filling at the end of the night, so I decided to to take it home, puree it and spin it. Chef was concerned that there wouldn't be enough sugar in it to keep it from being icy, but I thought it turned out pretty well. The brilliant red color was the best part. That and the fresh strawberry taste.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

beating the heat

blueberry sorbet
I can't believe how hot this summer has been. Unfortunately for me, the temperature in the kitchen at work is always hotter than the temp outside. It has been 100 degrees inside on some of the hotter days outside. Some of the girls have taken to keeping ice pops---the kind that are frozen in a stick inside a slim plastic sleeve---in the freezer upstairs to use as cooling agents. They strategically place the ice pops inside their chef coats to keep themselves cool. I just stick to drinking lots of ice water and making lots of frozen treats, like sorbet, at home.

Sorbet is so easy to make because it doesn't require any cooking if you use simple syrup instead of raw sugar. I ended up making this sorbet two times this week. The first time I used a ready made frozen blueberry puree. The sorbet came out very icy and I found it nearly impossible to scoop. The second time, I made my own puree with two pints of fresh blueberries. I threw them in the blender then passed my puree through a strainer to make it smooth. The sorbet came out with a velvety texture and tasted incredibly fresh. I want to try it again but with different flavors this time, such as blueberry basil or blueberry lime.

at work...
We are now serving the famed blueberry corn sundae at work. It has layers of blueberry corn compote, toffee popcorn, sweet corn ice cream and black pepper whipped cream. It also comes with a delicious little corn muffin on the side. Chef was invited on the Martha Stewart show in 2009 to demo this sundae: It looks so stunning in the sundae glass that it's hard to resist. People have been asking about for weeks now, but we couldn't put it on the menu until the extra sundae glasses Chef ordered came in this past weekend.
We've also been on high alert because the health department is expected to come in any day now for an inspection. We've had two drills in the past few weeks and it's funny to see everyone scrambling around to get things cleaned up in time. Our pastry department doesn't have much to worry about, though, because we run such a tight ship. The only thing we have to update is the way we label products used upstairs on the line for service. The label should have the date it was made, the product name, the time the product was taken out of cold storage, the temperature of the product in cold storage and the time we intend to discard the product. This insures that the everything we serve stays out of the temperature "danger zone." One of the chefs at work sings "Danger Zone" from Top Gun whenever that term is mentioned. Heh.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

the cake project

75th birthday cake

FINALLY. I have internet access again. Four frustrating days of waiting and one new wireless router later, I am up and running again. So this is it! A cake with a beach theme for a 75th birthday. The top layer is a treasure chest which I built out of pastillage. I made multiple little gold coins and pearl necklaces to fill it with. The chest lifted up to reveal a mini cake underneath, which I unfortunately didn't have time to take a picture of. It was pretty darn cute, though, I assure you. The cake was a butter cake with vanilla buttercream and vanilla bean custard filling and was covered in fondant. I made beads for around the cake (the gold color looks a little tinny in the pic, but in real life was quite brilliant) and a few white chocolate sea shells as well.

The chest took the most time. I had to make the pastillage in advance and imprint it with the wood texture. Then I had to assemble it and airbrush it. Next, I cut all the detail pieces, like the handles, out of sugar paste, let them dry, airbrushed and attached them. Above is a picture of the box before I added any detail pieces.

After the cake was picked up, I literally didn't know what to do with myself. It was the strangest feeling. I thought of a line from one of my favorite movies, "The Bad and the Beautiful", with Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner. Douglas, who plays a movie producer, says " After I finish a picture, something happens to me. It's a feeling of letdown, emptiness..." A tad melodramtic, but still...

at work...
So I had an office day yesterday. Chef wants to put together a document with pictures of each of the desserts we make, a list of their components and ingredients and a notation of whether or not they have gluten, nuts, soy or other common allergens. Allison, who I work with most up on the line, took a good deal of the pictures. She has a beautiful blog with wonderful recipes and photographs. I then put all the pics in a document, looked up all the recipes and typed everything out. I did it in a Word document which was painful for me since PC's and Word both suck. Really, really suck. It was strange to sit at a desk for a few hours instead of running around the kitchen.
We are starting to make toffee popcorn at work. Will post on this soon because IT IS HIGHLY ADDICTIVE.
Also, I am trying to get together with Roger, the sous chef at work and incredibly talented chocolatier, so he can show me a few tricks with bon bons. He just made a blueberry lemon verbena chocolate which is incredibly amazing. Will try to get lots of pictures for this as well.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

catering job

lemon cream tartlets
I was enlisted by Anthony, one of my former classmates, to help with an order of petits fours he was making for a wedding today. He assigned me the lemon cream tartlets (yes, a miniature version of the giant tart I made a few weeks ago). All total, there were mini cupcakes with butter cream frosting and sugar paste butterflies, chocolate ganache tartlets, barquettes with raspberries and pastry cream, chocolate covered strawberries, molded chocolates and macaroons. The order called for one tray for each table, 17 in all.

Because the wedding was at a resort by the beach, Anthony created a beach theme by spreading graham crumbs on the platters and using sea shell molds for the chocolates. He also came up with the ingenious idea of using small pizza boxes to transport the tartlets.
The ride down to the resort was uneventful, mainly because Anthony was forced to drive slowly to keep all the tarts from bouncing around. The way back was a different matter, though. To use his own words, Anthony drives "like an animal", and it took all my self control to keep from panicking "a drop."
He was also kind enough to give me an autographed picture of himself on which he wrote the touching epigraph: "Dear Emma, Keep trying!" Many thanks Anthony! I'll hang that next to my award for graduating top of my class! Heh.

work update...
I've been assigned to make strawberry jam at work. The recipe is simple----just sugar and berries. All the sugar and the biggest portion of the berries are cooked together before adding in two more smaller additions of berries. Chef says she uses this basic recipe for all her fruit jams, simply adjusting the sugar as needed. I have every intention of trying this at home in the near future, but maybe with white nectarines instead (my absolute FAVORITE summer fruit).
Right now, the strawberry jam I make gets mixed with fresh strawberries and spooned onto the mint and strawberry sundae--either that or discreetly spread onto a fresh roll with some butter if I get hungry during service...

Friday, July 9, 2010

a treat from work

apricot upside down cake
I spirited this tiny tart home from work last night. When there is a whole sheet pan of them lined up, it looks like a field of flowers. The person who runs the hot station at work is in charge of making the cakes, and I have heard some complaints about how tedious it is to cut all the apricots and arrange them in the pan. It looks so beautiful, though, I would think it would be some consolation for all the trouble. We serve it with praline anglaise sauce, candied almonds and toasted almond ice cream.

strawberry gelato
So I finally made a recipe from The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto. Each of their recipes calls for you to make a plain base or chocolate base from two master recipes, then make add-ins to create different flavors. This recipe called for the plain base plus a homemade strawberry jam. I loved the recipe for the plain base. It had very little cream and only four egg yolks in it, and came together beautifully. The finished gelato was a little icy once frozen, but the taste I took just as it finished churning was smooth and extremely flavorful.

magnificent moist golden cake
So I have a cake order at the end of July! I was going to go with a delicious butter cake recipe we used for our wedding cake project in school, but I wanted to try a few other options first. This recipe is from Shirley Corriher's book Bakewise. She says in the book that she developed this recipe because she wanted to create a versatile cake that was both moist and easy to slice. It looked beautiful right out of the oven and did indeed prove easy to slice. But when Chris and I tasted it, we both agreed that it was too greasy and too sweet. I was really disappointed, especially since it was such a fussy recipe to put together. It called for milk and buttermilk, oil and butter and cream whipped into soft peaks.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

yes indeed, more ice cream

gianduja ice cream

Toasted hazelnuts. Milk chocolate. The only thing that could have made this better would have been if I had added chocolate chunks at the end. You can cheat when making this ice cream by using actual gianduja chocolate instead of toasting hazlenuts and steeping them in the milk. You don't get the same, intense hazelnut flavor, but it tastes delicious in it's own right.

pain au chocolat
Look at those layers! I made these a few weeks ago and stashed them in the freezer to cure any future croissant cravings. Unfortunately, I used up the last of my chocolate batons. One of my coworkers suggested using wedges of gianduja chocolate in place of chocolate batons, to create a Nutella-like experience inside a croissant. OH YES. I will try that next time for sure.

at work...
Chef has switched up some of the desserts and sorbets at work. We now serve an amazing blueberry sorbet (the color is incredibly vibrant) and a creamy toasted almond ice cream. Chef tasted the first batch of almond ice cream and pronounced it overspun, which means it spent too much time churning in the ice cream maker and almost churned into butter. She said you can tell by the overly fatty and grainy mouthfeel. The next batch was perfect, though. I had quite a few spoonfuls just to make absolutely certain. Heh.
We are also serving a new dessert amuse for the tasting menu which has four different kinds of tiny melon balls and a squirt of shiso syrup. Shiso is a giant, leafy Japanese herb which tastes a bit like mint or parsley. We blanch the leaves and puree them with a little corn syrup to make a brilliant green sauce. I love the way it tastes with melon and I think I will try to make a shiso-melon sorbet at home sometime soon.
I also got a re-cap this week of Chef's three rules for working in the pastry kitchen.
Rule #1: Always keep her informed. She won't get angry as long as she knows in advance.
Rule #2: There's no crying in pastry. Ahem. That one seems quite familiar. Chef specifies that if you are on the verge of breaking down, you should do so discreetly in the walk-in refrigerator or in the chocolate room.
Rule #3: When Guns N' Roses is playing on the radio, CRANK IT UP. Whenever there is lots of work to be done in a very short amount of time, you can hear Gunx N' Roses blasting from the radio in the pastry kitchen. Unfortunately, when Chef leaves for the night, some of my other coworkers like to blast Mika instead, specifically Big Girl (You Are Beautiful). I HATE THAT SONG. Really, really, really hate it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

my lost weekend

lemon meringue tart
So I was supposed to bring this beauty to a family get-together this weekend. Unfortunately, I had a rather painful encounter with a dentist yesterday which has me icing my swollen jaw on the couch at home instead. Ah well.
I used the lemon cream recipe that I made while at the bakery in France---the cream so thick you could pipe it and it would hold its shape. I also made a Swiss meringue for the top and applied a judicious amount of nappage (no slopping it on like in France).
I also used the pate sucree recipe from France for the tart shell. It calls for a small amount of almond flour as well as all-purpose flour. I'm not sure what it contributes to the finished product. Texture? Flavor? More flexibility? Anyone have an idea about this?
A lemon meringue tart is a terrific tart to make ahead of time. I blind-baked the shell a week ago, filled it with the lemon cream and froze it. Today, I whipped up the meringue and finished the tart. And it still tastes fresh even after being frozen.

at work...
So I feel completely comfortable with setting up my station at work as well as making all the sauces and candied items that I am responsible for. My quenelles have improved as well. Now I just have to get faster at plating. It can get confusing when you have five or six tickets with orders on them. Some people like to look down all the tickets and pick out one item---the bread pudding, for instance---and get all the plates ready for that one item. Other people prefer to finish all the plates on the first ticket, then start picking out similar items from the remaining tickets. And then there's more confusion when a third person comes up to help out. I feel like I would do better if I had a chance to get into a groove at my own station, but everyone just seems to jump into doing everyone else's job instead. I think it would be better, for me personally at least, if everyone stayed put, kept their heads down and concentrated on their own jobs. I understand jumping in to help someone out if they are falling behind, but not the constant rotation that goes on right now. I need to learn to be more flexible I guess.
And one more thing. Has anyone ever ordered a fruit plate for dessert when they've gone out to eat? I feel the same way about fruit plates that I do about brunch. Why order something from a restaurant that you can make better and cheaper at home? Andrew Knowlton had a great rant against brunch in the latest issue of Bon Appetit. Glad to know someone else thinks it's a flawed tradition as well.

Friday, June 18, 2010

the dreaded quenelle


At work, we scoop ice cream into two shapes: balls and quenelles. Ball shapes are a piece of cake, but quenelles are a different matter. We use large spoons from the dining room to carve out what can best be described as a three dimensional teardrop shape, smooth it out on the side of the ice cream container, then gently slide it onto the plate. The ice cream always sits on top of a mound of ground up tart shell crumbs so that it doesn't slide around on the plate on it's way out to the dining room.
If the ice cream is tempered, or softened, it is fairly easy to get a good quenelle shape. If it's too hard, you have to claw away at the ice cream with the round scoop to soften it up before you can go in with the quenelle spoon. If it's too soft, you only get one shot at getting a good shape before it becomes too soupy to use.
Right now, I have gotten the general shape down, though my quenelles don't have much of a point on them. One of the girls I work with said that it took her two months before she was able to consistently get quenelles with perfectly pointy tips on them.

malt ice cream with dark chocolate drizzle
This is another recipe from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. The recipe said to fold chopped up malted milk balls into the finished ice cream. I've never really liked malted milk balls, so instead, I folded in drizzles of dark chocolate, just like stracciatella gelato. I loved the texture of this ice cream, but not the taste. It was just too sweet for me.

at work...
Wednesday was one of those days when everything went wrong. I had to make a mint sauce, but I didn't blanch the leaves thoroughly enough, so I ended up with army green sludge instead of a thin, bright green sauce. I then had to rush to redo the sauce before service started. The recipe calls for 120 grams of mint leaves, which you have to laboriously pluck off their stems. This takes FOREVER, but it's an important step because if enough stem gets into the sauce, it can ruin the color. Next, towards the end of service, we ran out of petits fours that we give to all guests at the end of their meals, as well as dessert amuse, which go out to all the guests who order dessert in the dining room. We ended up giving out cookies instead of petits fours and diced strawberries and whipped cream instead of the normal amuse. Here's hoping Saturday goes more smoothly!

Friday, June 11, 2010

even more chocolate peanut butter

chocolate peanut butter ice cream
oh. my. gosh. This chocolate ice cream was thick and fudgy with a deep, slightly bitter chocolate taste. I used Valrhona cocoa powder, Valrhona 64% chocolate (Manjari) and, because I still can't get enough, several globs of natural peanut butter. I softened the peanut butter and folded it into the ice cream once it was done churning. I have upgraded my ice cream maker to the Cuisinart ICE-50BC Supreme Ice Cream Maker which has a built-in compressor. I can now churn batch after batch of ice cream whenever I want without having to prefreeze a bowl. I am extremely pleased with this machine because it is easy to operate and clean, even though it is a bit noisy while it is operating.

bread experiment
I bought a book that came out recently called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day." The book calls for you to make a large batch of dough that you keep in the fridge and divide into pieces whenever you want to bake bread. I had my doubts. All the bread I've ever made has required a preferment, a piece of old dough that adds flavor to the new dough, and a good deal of kneading to help develop the dough's structure. The base recipe in the book didn't call for either of these things. Despite my skepticism, I followed the book's simple instructions and was amazed at the results. The exterior was crusty and the interior chewy and flavorful. The book has a semolina recipe that I want to try next. My favorite bread from Amy's Bread was the semolina with fennel and golden raisin and I would love to try to recreate it if I can.

...and in other news
I am about to begin my second full week as a full-time pastry cook at Gramercy Tavern in NYC. I have been moved upstairs to the line and am in charge of the p.m. cold station during service. I set the plates up, keep track of all the orders that come through and when it's busy, help scoop ice cream and put the finishing touches on the plates before the runners take them out to the guests. My biggest challenge right now is learning to scoop the ice cream into a perfect quenelle, or football-like shape that you make using a special spoon. I can quenelle whipped cream well, but am still struggling with the ice cream. I'm hoping that this week it will finally click for me. I am also in charge of piping messages on dinner plates with a small cornet filled with chocolate. One of my co-workers has been forbidden to do any piping because his writing looks so psychotic. He really lucked out, though, because I'm finding it very hard to write small enough to fit onto the plates.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

pb kick

peanut butter chocolates
I bought a cheap plastic chocolate bon bon mold on Tuesday. Even though the mold doesn't work well (plastic molds aren't rigid enough to make perfect bon bons) I couldn't resist the jewel shapes. I made a peanut butter ganache for the filling and dusted the finished bon bons with a little luster dust.

chocolate cake with peanut butter butter cream
So I was supposed to make chocolate ice cream this week, but I ended up having to make a cake for someone instead. Lucky for me, I had a giant jar of Skippy peanut butter sitting in my pantry just begging to be used. I was able to use the leftover chocolate from the bon bons to make extra decorations like chocolate cigarettes and chocolate squares.

Monday, May 31, 2010

ocean city, new jersey

peanut butter cup fudge
Chris and I visited Ocean City, NJ this weekend. We go mainly to stroll on the boardwalk and eat our favorite foods. I tried this fudge at Shriver's, where you can see actually see the employees making the fudge in the back of the store. I would have liked this more if the peanut butter cups (which they make themselves) had been embedded in chocolate fudge instead of vanilla.

kohr brothers soft serve ice cream
This soft serve is my favorite on the boardwalk. I love the flavor combinations---orange and vanilla which tastes just like a creamsicle, peanut butter and chocolate, mint and chocolate. Chris likes to keep it simple. He always orders vanilla with rainbow sprinkles.

We brought our bikes on the trip and enjoyed riding on the boardwalk in the mornings. The water looked inviting, but it was numbingly cold so neither of us went in the water.

While I was in France, my mom started an herb garden for me. She gave it to me today when Chris and I met up with my parents for lunch. It's on my coffee table now and the smell of basil and cilantro is perfuming my living room. Thanks mom!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

days 5-6: barcelona

torta de crema
I decided it was high time to give chocolate a break in favor of exploring local pastries. I'm a sucker for things with pastry cream so I loved this giant danish with pastry cream and a maraschino cherry in the middle.

ensaimada This tasted fried like a donut but with the texture of a unpleasantly dry danish. It was unmemorable.

totally-forgot-to-write-the-name-down cake
A thin yet moist vanilla cake with a center of whipped cream. I could never have anything bad to say about a pastry with that much cream. Yum.

I found these most often in cupcake form, but sometimes as a giant cake where you could buy pieces by the gram. The cake is sweet, moist and has a slight citrus taste to it. Overall, the pastries here fail to impress. The puff pastry lacks taste (they have croissants here but they taste awful) and any kind of danish or cake is usually too dry for me. Best to stick to the savory side and embotits I guess.

basilica santa maria del mar
I couldn't get inside today because there was a wedding going on. Rose petals were scattered on the stairs and carriage with horses waited outside. I came back in the evening but there was a mass going on so I didn't take any pictures of the interior. No offense, Gaudi, but I much prefer this church to the alien invasion of Sagrada Familia.

the beach
I wandered down to the beach in the afternoon. There have been occasional thunderstorms today so I didn't try to sit out on the sand. This beach is at the tip of Barceloneta, a triangular-shaped spit of land just south of my hotel. It's filled with restaurants and there is an ice cream place every fifty feet it would seem.

park de la ciutadella
This park is situated directly to the left of my hotel. It was filled with couples and families sprawled on benches and on the grass enjoying the sunshine.

I won't be posting any more from Barcelona mainly because I can't reliably connect to the internet at the hotel. Check in next week for a new post from home sweet home.