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.