Friday, March 26, 2010
occupation: pastry cook
I have been making lots of petits fours tart shells lately (abbreviated at work as p-4 shells). So many that I've been developing theories about the fastest way to make them. The tricky part is that you have to reserve some empty shells to top the filled shells when they bake so that the shells retain their perfectly flat bottoms (pastry technical term: blind baking which is to bake a shell without a filling). I fill larger shells with dried beans when they bake but these shells are too small for beans so I just fit another tart mold on top, making a little tart shell sandwich.
Back to the theories. Theory 1: "halfsies." Divide number of molds in half, fill half and use the remaining half to top them. This makes approximately 144 tart shells. I would need to fill and bake the shells twice in one night in order to make enough for the next day. I've found that really hard to do each night, so Chef introduced me to theory 2: "shell-a-thon." Fill as many shells as possible, leaving only 25 or 30 for tops. With this method, I shape as many shells as possible at once, which saves an enormous amount of time. I simply transfer the tops of the batch that comes out of the oven to untopped shells I keep in the refrigerator, bake them off, and continue transferring. This makes 216 or more shells at one shot.
I've gotten a little obsessed with the numbers involved. I can fit 216 p-4 shells in 18 rows of 12 on a full sheet pan. By the end of the night, I should have at least 2 1/2 full sheet pans, or 540 shells. On my best night, I had 756 shells total, which unfortunately fell 40 short of a co-workers all-time high of 796. Arg.
Of course there is the time aspect as well. I keep checking with co-workers on how quickly they do certain tasks so I know what to aim for. I can shape 216 p-4 shells in under 20 minutes, which isn't bad but could be better. I can scoop a recipe of bacon biscuits (these will be the death of me) in 15 minutes and a recipe of regular biscuits in slightly under 15 minutes. You get the idea. It's all about becoming faster and more efficient.
My next post will be from Paris----au revoir!