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.
Lemon Verbena Madeleines – recipe 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.
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.
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.