Archive for the 'Culinary School' Category

BonBonBar 2010 Holiday Newsletter… Blogged

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
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Happy Holidays!  Even though I have been quiet on the newsletter front, it has been busy at BonBonBar.

The most exciting news is that I have been hard at work writing a cookbook! It is called Beautiful Candymaking, and it is due out in the Fall of 2011 through Sterling Publishing.  The book will feature my take on a wide range of candy recipes — from toffee to fudge to caramel corn — along with candymaking tips/techniques and gorgeous photography courtesy of The White on Rice Couple.

After developing so many recipes for the book, I thought that it would be a good idea to recharge and seek new inspiration for the company’s confections.  So, BonBonBar will be closed from December 23 to February 1 as I eat my way around France, Italy, Brazil, and California.  I am looking forward to returning with refreshed ideas for new products, but it most likely also means that, unfortunately, some candies will be rotated out in the new year.

As always, thank you so much for your support and enthusiasm.  Happy customers have always been my favorite part of this BonBonBar adventure, and you have given me the amazing opportunity to run a truly artisan food company that will be going into its fourth year. I am grateful, and lucky.

All the best for a happy and sweet holiday season, and I hope that BonBonBar treats will be a part of it!

Thank  you!


Founder & Chief Chocolatier,BonBonBar


So far, our candy bars are being featured in Fine Cooking, DailyCandy, and The Huffington Post’s 2010 holiday gift guides.

If you would like to place your holiday orders in advance of when you would like them to ship, please let us know in the comments of the order.

All orders placed during the break will ship after February 1.

The State of Sweet Napa

Friday, September 1st, 2006

Back in January, when I decided to name my blog Sweet Napa, I knew that it was both a challenge and a limitation. Would I stick with blogging through the duration of my 30 week program? What would I do if I wanted to continue it after I graduated and moved away from Napa? Would I try to retain the “spirit” of Napa somewhere else?

My major reason for starting a blog was to contribute information that I couldn’t find when I wanted it. When I was researching culinary schools, I had a hard time finding out differences between schools beyond geography, and I couldn’t find much about what culinary school would be like day by day, and month after month. Now, I hope that others like me will find my “Culinary School” category useful in the future — it’s a rather thorough account of every single block that we did and just about everything that we made. Of course, it’s seen through my eyes, but I tried to keep it as objective and informative as my stronger opinions would allow. And now, that category is complete, available for others to read at any time and for me to read if I need to remember something that we learned.

Also, when I was in law school nearby during the Fall of last year, I had a hard time finding reliable information about what restaurant in Napa to go to for my birthday. The fact that I put so much time into deciding on one should have been an indication of where my interest in food would take me, but deciding on a restaurant is something that I’ve always taken seriously and wanted to help others with. Going out to eat is expensive, chock full of opportunity costs, and for many people, the highlight of a day or a vacation. So, I think that every meal should count. Written descriptions are helpful to an extent, but even then, people have different tastes and impressions. That’s why I felt that taking pictures of a dish was an important attempt at objectivity… Readers may not be able to taste the food, but they can get a snapshot of what it’s like so that they can judge for themselves. And of course, a snapshot is just that — a glimpse into what was served one night at one table at one restaurant. I’ve never been comfortable “reviewing” restaurants for many reasons, and honestly, I think of my accounts of restaurants as descriptions, not really critiques. As someone who’s changed careers, I really use them to study food and its arrangements.

So, what am I going do now? Well, first of all, I’m going to New York City to do an externship at a fabulous bakery for the month of September. As a student, I felt comfortable writing about culinary school and restaurants, but as I move into the professional side, it feels different. Writing about work is much dicier than writing about school, and posting about restaurants and other bakeries seems a bit unfair to colleagues. But the former law student in me has convinced me that an extern isn’t a full professional, so I can still write about the food that I eat at restaurants and bakeries… I just hope that I’m not called out for being, say, “that extern at that other bakery who talked smack about our cinnamon rolls online.” And I’ll see if I can write about what I’m learning at the bakery. I doubt I’ll post as often, because of my short amount of time there, but I’ll make it interesting when I do. Or I’ll do shorter, guerrilla-style postings.

As for October and beyond, I’m not sure where I’ll be yet. I may stay in Napa or I may not. Once I get a real job, I’ll probably continue blogging, but probably about food that I make and food stuffs that I find interesting. I’ll see how it develops.

If anybody reading this doesn’t have a blog (food or otherwise) but has thought about starting one, I highly recommend that you do. Although I’m not as active as I wish I could be in the blogging community, it’s full of amazing people around the world who share your passion and are extremely generous with their knowledge and goodwill. I couldn’t imagine having gone through culinary school without my blog. It helped to keep me as informed, thorough, honest, and humble as I could be on subjects that I knew virtually nothing about when I started… Unveiling your exploded cherry pie to the world is as humbling as sharing an exciting new tip about cake is rewarding. When I thought about all the people from all walks of life electronically looking over my shoulder as I considered my food (some tens of thousands of people total at this writing), it never failed to invigorate me. I’m very grateful for my fellow bloggers and readers.

This may sound like a goodbye post, but I’ll probably be posting again within a week… about New York… and Provence!


Friday, September 1st, 2006

The final week of our 30-week Baking & Pastry Arts Program was focused on preparing for our graduation luncheon. Each person in our 15-person class chose to be on a certain team — either breads, mignardises, showpieces, cakes, or plated desserts. Our theme was Harvest.

I chose mignardises, which are 1-2 bite desserts, because I figured that they would give me the best opportunity to concentrate on flavor and variety. And it turned out to be true — because we only had 2 people on our team, and we were instructed to make 10 each of 30 different products. We were inundated by flavor and variety. We prepped from Monday at 7:00am until Thursday at 11:30am, when our ceremony began. Generally, we made doughs on Monday, some fillings on Tuesday, baked what we could on Wednesday, and baked/assembled things on Thursday. I think we could have reached thirty, but a refrigerator had problems the night before our ceremony and 6 things were ruined… and some meringues were over-heated in an oven that should have been turned off until the morning. We did our best to re-make them, though.

With just a little fiddling, you can easily make mignardises out of many cake, tart, and cookie recipes. All you need is the right equipment — like tartlet tins and mini-cake molds. But you can get around having those for some recipes as long as you have a small cookie cutter. You can cut a baked cake into bite-sized rounds or squares (with a serrated knife), you can form or cut small cookies, and some tart fillings would work on top of short dough rounds or as cookie sandwiches. And sturdier tarts — like the Pine Nut-Rosemary one we made below — can simply be baked whole and then you can cut out small rounds as bite-sized pieces. And people are always impressed by mignardises — I think it’s something about their compact beauty and efficiency. Chocolates count as mignardises, too, and they’re fun to make once in a while.

Graduation for our program is one of the more enjoyable graduations you can experience because, of course, it involves food and wine. So, after faculty, student,and guest speakers and the presentation of certificates, about 85 people went in for lunch prepared by our special events staff (and bread prepared by the student team). That was followed by a cheese course and plated desserts prepared (and served) by the students; mignardise were arranged on a display table at the end of the room along with the decorative showpieces and cakes. I was a bit disappointed by the side effects of our serving dishes. Instead of our families being impressed that we could set down plates in front of them, they missed our company during the exact time that they were trying to enjoy and figure out what we’d made. I didn’t get to describe my mignardises to my family, or anyone else, as they were eating them, and I couldn’t get much precise feedback. The result of all that work was kind of a blank. I understand that if you’re working in a bakery or a restaurant, you’ll rarely get first-person reactions, but for a culinary graduation that’s a culmination of a 30-week intensive (and expensive) program, that’s important.

Also, I just wanted to say…. After working in the film industry and going to law school with an interest in intellectual property, I’m reluctant to talk about people by name on my blog. But any school is really only as good as its teachers, and I am extremely grateful to those Chefs at the school who taught not only through plain instruction, but also with enthusiasm, perseverance, patience, humor, surprises, and wisdom.

So, here’s what we made… You’ll notice that quite a few recipes came from Sweet Miniatures, Just a Bite, The Last Course, and The Book of Tarts.


From Left, Rosemary Shortbread Cookies with Tomato Jam – from Ripe for Dessert. I must have overcooked the tomato jam so that it rather congealed, rather than it being like jam. It never quite reached 220 on the thermometers I was using, but you can’t always trust them. But I think I liked the result better because it was nicely moist and chewy instead of wet. The flavors were fantastic, and nicely sweet enough to be perfect for dessert.

Cocoa Nib Caramel Tarts – This had a chocolate tart crust from Book of Tarts, cocoa nib tuile, and caramel chocolate ganache (our ganache was usually made by adding warm cream and invert sugar (at 170) to chopped chocolate in a food processor, and then adding butter; for this, I made a caramel using the same amounts of granulated sugar and cream and then mixing that into the chopped chocolate and adding butter). I’d wanted to add a lemon flavor, but the candied lemon peel didn’t look quite right on top.

Cashew-Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Last Course. Really good.

Apricot and Cherry Petit Fours from CIA’s recipe, with almond cake, marzipan, jam, and fondant icing.

Vacherins – from this recipe – Small meringue shell filled with whipped cream and topped with raspberry. I recommend slicing the raspberry lengthwise and setting it on at an angle to avoid a decidedly nipple-y look. It’s surprising how refreshing and delicious these are, from such simple components.

Pine Nut-Rosemary Bites – Recipe from The Last Course. — We baked a normal round tart and cut out bitesize rounds. Good; a little too strong rosemary for me.

Sauteed Nectarine Tartlets with Honey Cream – based a tart in The Book of Tarts. This called for apricots, but we couldn’t get any at the farmer’s market so we used nectarines instead, briefly sauteed in butter and sugar. For the honey cream, we melted together cream and honey and whipped it up the next day. It was luscious and more complex, as promised. Extremely strong honey flavor, though; could have used less.

Pains D’Amande – from Sweet Miniatures – recipe here – Made with a lot of turbinado sugar. I think something went wrong with these — they were very hard and bland.

Cashew-Cinnamon Brittle – from Just a Bite – recipe here – Really great. Loved the burst of cinnamon and the cashew influence.


S’More Bites – made from homemade graham crackers (you could use either this recipe or the graham cracker crust recipe in The Last Course), this marshmallow recipe (made with the vanilla variation), and sliceable ganache made with a 2.5 part chocolate to 1 part cream ratio.

Lemon- Fennel Hats – from The Sandwich Book – Not too much fennel in the dough, filled with lemon curd and baked with a small fennel frond stuck in.

Molded Chocolates

Lemon Verbena Madeleinesrecipe from here – We experimented with baking these – one pan had batter piped into the middle of each mold and the other pan had molds filled with batter that was leveled off. They both baked nicely and hump-backed. The leveled off ones had more batter in each mold, so they were just a little bigger. We made the batter two days before, but you usually do one day in advance.

Pistachio Financiers – from Sweet Miniatures

Espresso Shortbread – from The Last Course. Made with ground espresso.

Molded Chocolates

Milky Way Tartlets – From Book of Tarts – Caramel layer topped with chocolate cream layer. Always so good.

Early Grey Pastry Cream Tartlets – we used the school’s recipe for pastry cream and just infused the milk with earl grey tea.

Blueberry Coconut Tartlets – from Book of Tarts – just heated together cream and sugar, let it cool and mixed in coconut and blueberries, and baked in parbaked shells. It was hard baking this as a tartlet because it was so small and it bubbled over very quickly before the coconut had toasted on top. It tasted really good, though, and was slightly caramelized.

Molded Chocolates

Pate de Fruit


Almond Brown-Butter Financiers (left and right)- from The Last Course

Shaved Honeydew and Blackberry Tarts – From The Book of Tarts. They had a lemon-lime curd as a filling, and I never would have put off of these flavors together myself, but this probably my favorite of everything we made. It exploded with flavor… and there were so many different kinds of crunchy and wet textures. It’s a really cool effect to simply shave honeydew so that you get diaphanous green ribbons that contain shadows of blackberries. It’s much easier to get that effect on a larger tart, though.


Sweet Cheese Puffs – from Sweet Miniatures, sour cream dough with a lemon cream cheese filling.


Tiffany Rings – from Sweet Miniatures – Dough flavored with maple sugar and maple syrup, but could barely taste it. Covered in a satin glaze of milk chocolate and shortening.

Orange Shortbread – from the Last Course – These eluded my camera, but tasted good.

R.I.P. – these were destroyed by a rebellious fridge or didn’t quite work – Coconut Cupcakes, Devil’s Food Cupcakes, Currant-Raspberry Pound Cake Tea Sandwiches, Chocolate Puff Pastry Vol au Vents with Vanilla Pastry Cream (but we were grateful for the attempts).

After the jump are some closer up pictures of what I’ve described above.

Practical #9 – Chocolate & Confections

Friday, September 1st, 2006

This was our last practical, and I think that it’s a good measure of the progress that we’ve made in the program that it was the most relaxed. When I think back to our first practical, and all the apprehension and stress, it’s almost incomprehensible. Our products didn’t always turn out perfectly by the end of the program, of course, but we were comfortable in the kitchen and had better understandings of how to prevent and fix problems. There isn’t much to say about this practical, and I didn’t take any pictures. Everyone finished on time, and the products looked good overall. We had to make 36 hand-enrobed dark chocolate truffles, 24 fondant cream centers, and 8 oz of dragee almonds. Two of the products required tempered chocolate.

During the block, we usually made our ganaches the day before we would use them, and then let them sit in the chocolate room overnight for them to set up. Since we only had 3 hours for the practical, we just had to chill them immediately instead until they had set up and we could pipe them out into little balls that we would roll into spheres and pre-coat and then coat in chocolate. My mistake for these was to try to pipe them out of a bag with a metal tip. It wouldn’t come out because it was so thick and I suppose the tip was so rigid. I finally transferred it to a new bag without a tip, and it piped out. The chill had had a weird impact on the ganache, though, because it was hard to roll them into balls; they melted or stayed firm unevenly so that they were a little oddly shaped and my gloved hands were covered in melty ganache.

For the fondant creams (which are like the inside of Peppermint Patties — we just didn’t have to enrobe them), we heated purchased fondant to 170, added liqueur, and piped them out into little circles. The challenge here is to get it just the right consistency so that they spread and set up without retaining a pointy top from the piping bag or oozing uncontrollably — so the final mixture should be neither too thick nor too thin. When we’d made them in class, our group’s fondant had been too thin after we added the liqueur, and it took forever for us to fix it. So, I underestimated the amount of liqueur in the fondant, and even though the first few piped out fine, it started to firm up and retain pointy tops from the bag. I just re-did them later, and I got the consistency right that time. I was told that they had a grainy texture, though, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was heated too high, even though my thermometer readings didn’t indicate that. And it was very hot when we piped it, so we used a double parchment paper cone made from the two triangles cut from a whole sheet of parchment and wore latex gloves.

The dragee almonds were made by caramelizing sugar onto almonds in a saucepan (which also toasts the nuts), chilling them, stirring them with three coats of a little bit of tempered chocolate at a time, and then a final dusting of chocolate. The keys are just to make sure that the nuts toast fully in the beginning, and to make sure that the chocolate is fully mixed in until it looks powder-y for every coat, or else they’ll clump together.

So, that was pretty much it. We cleaned up the chocolate room, and then I went off to the St. Helena’s Farmer’s Market for lunch… a cheesy/spicy breakfast burrito, watermelon lemonade, and figs. Actually, I took a picture of that…


Other Cool Things That We Did in Culinary School as a Class…

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Made root beer… Went on a field trip to Woodhouse Chocolates… Went on a field trip to The French Laundry for a tour… Went to the Martini House during our plated desserts block to do a tasting of their desserts…

By the way, graduation was actually last Thursday, so I’m playing a marathon game of catch-up blogging… After 23 posts in 3 days, I’m almost there… but not really. 🙂