Archive for the 'Culinary School' Category

Chocolates & Confections Wrap Up

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

This was the last block of our 30-week program (though it was followed by a week to let us prepare for our graduation ceremony). I liked it a lot — our eight teams made such a wide assortment of candies that it was like we were our own candy shop. I was the type of kid who ate gummy bears for dinner when left to my own devices, but I’ve since reformed to the point where I think making candy is more fun than eating it. In addition to what’s below, the class also made leaf croquant (caramel and ground nuts folded together like puff pastry), butterscotch lollipops, salt water taffy, peanut brittle, gianduja, pate de fruit, gummy bears and worms, circus peanuts, marshmallows, and more. A lot of what we did revolved around precise temperature readings, whether it was boiling sugar to a certain stage or tempering chocolate… though, of course, you should also try a water test for boiled sugar, and with chocolate, you also have to keep the consistency in mind; if it’s too thick, even in tempering range, it should be heated until a little thinner.

I liked the way that the chocolate was handled in this block. In the past, for tempering, we’ve had to melt either pistoles or hand-chopped chocolate over a double boiler to 120F, take it off, let it cool a little, add a block seed and stir it around, test it once it gets down to about 90, remove the remains of the seed onto a piece of parchment to dry so that it could be wrapped up, and then get to work with the tempered chocolate, flashing it over the double boiler as needed to reheat it and drying the bottom of the wet bowl with our side towels.

Instead, this time we had access to a few handy things to make our lives easier, and we used a different seeding method. We had a warming cabinet that contained deep pans of melted dark, milk, and white chocolate. As long as the melted chocolate was at about 115, you could ladle some into a bowl and add your seed. Instead of a block of chocolate, we added enough pistoles to equal about a 1/4 of the volume of the melted chocolate. The pistoles cooled the chocolate faster than a block seed, and as long as you have little pieces of them left at 93F, they help temper the chocolate. If the pistoles are melted by 91F and the tests show tempered chocolate, then you’re golden and ready to work (if there are bits left, you have to strain them out, though, so it this method takes a little practice). Instead of dealing with a double boiler that contains seize-threatening water, we used heat guns (normally used to strip paint) to reheat the chocolate to keep it in temper. And the real beauty of this method is that once you’re done with you’re chocolate, you can just pour it back into the pans in the warming cabinet and use it again next time. There were no messy block seeds lying around that people unfailingly resisted using anyway. And having the chocolate already melted saved so much time. Efficiency and cleanliness… awesome. And I think that a lot of got over fears of tempering chocolate b/c we did it so often and it worked so well.

Pistoles, btw, are button-sized pieces of chocolates sold by manufacturers, and we tested the temper of the chocolate by coating a piece of parchment paper with the melted chocolate and seeing if it set up without any streaks in a few minutes. For our purposes, streaks usually meant that the choc was too hot, and in a few minutes, you could test again. I loved using my laser thermometer for this block, by the way.

Another thing that made our lives easier was a chocolate tempering machine… for obvious reasons. It still needs to be maintained, though, and have its temperature adjusted and a seed added. We also didn’t use it all the time.

We also had access to a guitar that could cut ganaches and gelees into perfectly even shapes. Here’s an example of one.


Chocolate Dolphins made from a mold. Tempered chocolate was poured in, the mold was tapped, the chocolate allowed to set and contract, and popped out.


Mendiants. These involved piping a round of chocolate and waiting until they had just set a little before putting the nuts and dried fruit on top.

We also made Grand Marnier Truffles from a 2p dark chocolate (1#) to 1p cream (8 oz) ratio (plus 1 oz each glucose, butter, and liqueur). They were hand-rolled, and hand-coated in dark chocolate, with either a plain, cocoa powder, or spiked finish.

A sliceable Butter Ganache was sliced on the guitar and enrobed.

Chocolate Covered Raspberry Caramels and Toffee. These were early in the week. In addition to bouncing the bonbon over the melted chocolate to get excess off, we also used a hand-fashioned contraption that had two poles keeping a wire taut, and you could scrape the bottom of the chocolate on it to prevent chocolate “feet” from forming.
The toffee was make by constantly stirring sugar, cream, glucose, and a vanilla bean until the temperature reached 293. We poured it between four bars on a silpat, waited for it to cool a little, marked it, and cut it. I learned that by boiling the cream with the other ingredients, you’re not caramelizing the sugar, but instead, its the milk solids that brown and provide the caramel flavor and color. This has a greater depth of flavor than caramelized sugar. You stir it so that the cream doesn’t scorch, and there’s so much fat and invert sugar that it won’t crystallize.

The caramels were made with raspberry puree.

Cardamom Bonbons. We peeled the cardamom pods to get at the seeds that we used to infuse our cream. We placed squares of textured acetate on top of some for the textured look, Maldon sea salt on others, and made little plaques from chocolate spread on transfer sheets with cocoa butter design on others.

We also made Shell Molded Chocolates. You have to polish the molds with cheesecloth to ensure a shiny finish, brush molds with chocolate (optional, but prevents air bubbles), fill molds with chocolate, tap on table top to remove air bubbles (you can check to see if you got them if the mold is clear), empty upside down, let set a little, scrape clean, and let set completely. Then ganache is piped in (and can be allowed to crystallize overnight), and then cover with chocolate to form the bottoms, and unmold when set.

We also made a Peanut Butter and Pecan Fudge. We waited for it to cool to about 120 (I think), and the tabled it on marble until it thickened and dulled so that it took 12 seconds for it to stop spreading out when left to itself. Also, I added the peanut butter while it was cooking, but I think it would have been best to add it before it was cooled because the PB turned into a clumped in the middle of the saucepan. I was able to remove the slightly burnt pieces, though, and the fudge turned out remarkably smooth.


Nougat Montelimar. I think it turned out like the real thing. Very good. Made with sugar, honey (a lot), water, glucose, egg whites, cocoa butter, vanilla, and almonds.

We also made Lemon Fondant Creams using fondant, lemon oil, and limoncello. The fondant was heated to 170 and flavorings were added to adjust the consistency so that they piped out into smooth discs. They were then enrobed. They were similar to peppermint patties.


Dragee Almonds. These are made by caramelizing sugar onto nuts in a saute pan, letting them cool, and then coating them with multiple layers of chocolate as you mix them in a bowl; they look powder-y when done, and then you sprinkle cocoa powder over them. They’re really good — crunchy, nutty, chocolate-y, caramel-y — and they smell great when you’re cooking them.

We also made Marzipan for Portugal bonbons (flavored with Port). Sugar, water, and vanilla been were heated to 248, and poured over ground almonds and cinnamon. After it cooled, we ground it up in a food processor, adding Port to adjust the consistency. They were cut into moon shapes with a round cookie cutter and enrobed. They were really good.

We also made Apricot Gelee Squares with Agar, which were like a less chewy pate de fruit.


Hard Candy. This was made using a pulled sugar-like technique, and flavored with cinnamon oil. They were cut with scissors while still warm.


Chocolate Box. Made by pouring chocolate into molds for the top and bottom, and rolling out chocolate modeling paste for the sides, which was fit against the outside of a cake ring until set up a bit. Most people chose to decorate their box.

We also made Chocolate Sculptures with pieces made in a cutaway gelatin mold; molded spheres with colored cocoa butter, white chocolate, and a dark chocolate; sprayed chocolate; and chocolate cut outs.

The Burn that Decided to Puff… Two Weeks Later

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Two weeks ago, about an inch of skin, just below my pinky, was burned by a heat gun. It hurt a lot, but I treated it with eveything I could — ice, burn gel, aloe, and even a sliced tomato. It didn’t blister, and it only left a red mark that had diminished significantly into barely a pink mark.

Then, today, as I was driving, I noticed that the area is covered with three splotches of puffiness, like mosquito bites. They don’t hurt, unless pressed hard. Maybe the chafing from the steering wheel disturbed it? If anybody has an idea of what’s happening, please let me know…

Practical #8 – Contemporary Cakes

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

For this practical, we were asked to make two identical entremets cakes based on recipes of our own devising or findings — making it so that it had 30% chocolate by eye, at least 3 flavors and 5 textures, and incorporated the theme “Flower Power!” Like the Restaurant Project Practical, I like that we are given the responsibility to come up with something that we like and try to make it work, even if there was the added risk of making things that sounded good but we hadn’t personally made before. I practiced making the nutter butters and bavarian cream (x1, instead of x3 as I used for the cake) the day before, though.


Mine was a Nutter Butter Banana Cake, made of honey peanut bavarian cream layered with chocolate flourless cake, caramelized bananas, nutter butter crumbles, a honey glaze, and garnished with a nutter butter flower and mini-nutter butters. As I was thinking about what flavors I wanted the cake to have, I became stuck on the idea of an adaptation of the Elvis sandwich, which layers honey, banana, and peanut butter (bacon optional… and was seriously considered for the cake) on white bread and is then fried. I was going to spray the top with chocolate and then put the honey glaze on so that it would look like fried toast, but I practiced it, and it just looked messy.

The night before the practical, I’d worried that my cake would turn out boring because it really didn’t have many things in it, so I tried to re-arrange the elements and add new things, but the new versions weren’t appealing to me.

So, I stuck with it, and sure enough, I was told that it was monotonous in my evaluation. Plus, the bavarian just barely set up. So, my cake was a sideways entry into the world of entremets. I think it would work as an entremet if a layer each of dacquoise, feuilletine, and chocolate mousse. But as I’ll discuss below, I wouldn’t wanna do that.

Here are some technical thoughts on the cake:

  • I hoped that the nutter butter crumbles would provide a crunchy element, but the recipe turned out sandy cookies rather than crunchy ones. They were, nonetheless, delicious. I got the recipe from Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book. You can shape them by hand using a certain tedious method, but our creative chef pinched a round cookie cutter into a peanut-shaped cookie cutter, and that’s better and faster.
  • Here’s why the bavarian cream barely set up and was so soft — I’d simply tripled a recipe for a bavarian cream in our packet, but I should have taken our bavarian cream formula into account — for bavarian creams, there should be a ratio of 100 ml anglaise : 100 ml cream: 1 gelatin sheet, but the original recipe called for 3 gelatin sheets for 375 ml cream, which is a touch loose, so when I tripled it for 1125 ml cream, I got 9 sheets gelatin, which is very loose. I should have just added at least 2 more sheets. It didn’t set up for a long time, and I unmolded it at the last minute in case it collapsed. Ironically, though, I probably only needed 2 x the recipe to make the correct quantity for two cakes, but since the cream was so loose and oozed out of the bottom of the cake rings to form mounds on the sheet pan underneath that were akin to the fjords of Norway until it finally set, I ended up needing exactly 3 x the recipe to fill in for the oozed-out cream.
  • It’s quite home spun for an entremet, but heck, it looks cute.
  • I’d never made the flourless chocolate cake in our recipe packet before, and assumed it would make a reasonable cake for two thick layers, but no, it turned out so thin, which didn’t bode well for a cake whose only other main element is simply a lot of bavarian cream and bananas. Maybe doubling the recipe would make it thicker.  Maybe I over-folded it, but I don’t think so…
  • My bavarian cream had bubbles that came up when I poured on the final layer. I used a blow torch to get rid of them, but then more appeared. No one had ever seen that happen before, and I still have no idea why it happened.
  • Caramelized bananas are really good — you just melt sugar in a pan into caramel, add butter, roll bananas in it, sprinkle nutmeg over them, and cool them (I put plastic wrap over them as they cooled so that the caramel would stay soft).
  • I don’t usually like mirror glazes because a set jelly on top of cream rarely appeals to me, but I liked the honey glaze because I’m used to honey being thick. We used a standard formula of 1 cup water to 3 sheets gelatin for our mirror glazes, so I used 1/2 c water and 1/2 c honey.

But there was one very important element that did work: taste. I couldn’t stop eating the cake. It was comfort food — the kind that makes you want to find a back porch and a sunset.

So, even though it doesn’t really work as an entremet, I think it works as a dessert, nonetheless. In an oddly Proustian moment, by the second bite of the cake, I was brought back to New York in 1999, when I’d go to the Magnolia bakery and occasionally emerge with some Chocolate Wafer Ice Box Cake or some Banana Pudding — both basically involved a form of cream with layers of cookies/fruit. My cake for this practical seemed to be a kind of combination of these two cakes. First, the creamy part — my bavarian cream was made by folding whipped cream into a gelatin-laced dairy component (peanut honey creme anglaise) while the banana pudding is made by folding whipped cream into a starch-thickened dairy component (condensed milk vanilla pudding) and the ice box cake simply has whipped cream. Next, the cookies — the wafer-thin chocolate cake replicated the chocolate wafers in the ice box cake, and the bits of nutter butters replicated the Nilla wafers in the pudding. Also, the flavor of the bananas layered in my cake permeated throughout the rest of it, like the bananas in the pudding do after a few hours, too. The result was a cake whose taste so strongly suggested a more complex and less sweet honey-peanut-banana pudding and whose soft cookies-bathed-in-cream texture also mimicked the ice box cake.

So, even though the bavarian cream was so soft, I liked it more than if it had been firmer (the creepy, unnatural firmness of bavarian creams is why I usually don’t like them), and when I think about adding, say, some crunch, I can’t come to terms with it. If I were to make it again, I’d layer my components in a glass bowl instead of a cake ring, put in a lot more cake and cookies, and serve it in scoops, as Magnolia does.

Contemporary Cakes Wrap Up

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

This week in early August focused on cakes generally composed of layers of sponges, dacquoises, mousses, creams, and glazes. We’d already made some during our Basic and Classical Cakes class, but I guess these cakes had more elements in them. We made two cakes in two day each, and the fifth day was a practical.

I’m going to name “proportionality” as the most important concept of the week. Since these cakes were composed of so many different things, each component had to be made with the correction proportion of ingredients so that they had the correct flavor and texture to begin with, and all of the components have to fit together proportionally for a composed texture and an interplay of flavors — and the amount of each component used in proportion to each other is very important. I almost wish that cake rings had grooved marks on the inside so that you could tell more accurately how thick a layer is b/c once you pour it in, it’s hard to tell.
Since many of these cakes have components that are poured in or placed in, you can make a lot of cakes in just a little longer than it would take to make one of them. But you often have to wait for something to set before adding the next layer. We put these cakes in the freezer a lot between layers.

It doesn’t feel right not to mention that the students had a rough time in this block because the recipes that we were given needed tweaking — quantities were off, instructions were off and incomplete… and I don’t think we had a firm idea of the art of these cakes. Since it was only a 4 day class with the 5th day for the practical, the course didn’t have a chance to smooth out, and many of the problems couldn’t be anticipated — like if there was too much gelatin in a mousse (esp since, in this case, we learned more about bavarian creams than mousses). We handed in notes about what was off so that corrections could be incorporated into the recipes, so I can only hope that future sections have a better time with this… and that our instructions don’t reflect errors that we made. I think it would have been cool if we were given the recipe guide as a reference at the beginning of the week, and then used the week to perfect a unique cake to make for our practical. Since these cakes are often featured in competitions, treating the block in a similar way makes sense, especially since we knew the basics of the components already.


Coffee Hazelnut Cake. From the bottom, this had a crunchy paillette feuilletine (melted choc, praline paste, and wafers mixed together and spread out to set), two layers each of alternating hazelnut coffee mousse and coffee dacquoise, a white coffee bavarian, and then chocolate ganache sprayed with chocolate from a paint gun. This was made as a larger sheet cake, and then cut into smaller cakes, one of which is pictured.

This one was mostly okay (only the quantity for the dacquoise and feuilletine should have been reduced by 1/3), except that the ganache became problematic. It was too soft so it was put into the freezer and became too hard. We tried to hand form it into shell shapes as we were supposed to, but that looked icky because it was all pointy and bumpy, even after spraying it. So, the next day, we took off the bumps, and rolled them into the round you see here. There’s a vaguely tiramisu-like style to it that I’m okay with. And actually, the ganache should have been whipped so that it could be piped on, but the instructions were incomplete.


This was The Shining Cake, er, no, I mean the Kir Royale Cake. For the jaconde that runs around the outside, we used a special rectangular silicone mold with grooves in it so that we could spread in purple colored tulip paste, and then spread almond jaconde batter on top and baked it. That was cut into a strip and used to line a 2″ cake ring. An almond dacquoise was used as the bottom, topped with a cassis mousse made with cassis puree and gelatin sheets. That was left to set overnight, as was a cassis jelly in a 6″ silicone mold. The next day, we placed another layer of dacquoise over the cassis mousse, and then the cassis jelly disk. Then we made the Champagne mousse, which was the real reason that I wanted to make this cake, since I find that working with bubbly alcohol is one of the trickier things that you can do. It was made by mixing sparkling wine with egg yolks and sugar over a double boiler until it foamed up a lot and then reduced down into a thick reduction that could hold a ribbon. That was then used to make a mousse adding a little more sparkling wine, gelatin, and cream. It was all topped with a cassis mirror glaze.

I loved the flavors of the champagne mousse and cassis mousse, and thought that they were a great combination, rivaling the charms of the drink.

But then there was that cassis jelly. It’s quantity was at least double what it should have been in the cake, and it didn’t set up, so it ran everywhere.

And I didn’t like the almond flavor mixing with the kir royale flavors. Granted, I don’t know what flavors would go well with kir royale flavors in a cake… I’d probably just leave them alone together.

We also made really good Apricot and Pistachio Ice Cream Bombes in dome molds as a class project, as well as Baked Alaskas.

Advanced Wedding Cakes Wrap Up

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

We had a four day long class about contemporary wedding cakes, so we played with rolled fondant, gum paste, and the like. A guest Instructor, who owns a pastry shop and wedding cake business in the area, came in to teach us for two of those days.

Here are some things that we learned:

  • You need to crumb coat your cake before applying the rolled fondant to it. The crumb coat should be perfectly smooth and even, with no shadows from the cake showing (or else it’ll show through the fondant). Since you need to chill the crumb coat so that it firms up a little, you can also smooth it out more precisely once out of the fridge since you’ll have more control over the firm icing.
  • You can make your own rolled fondant (especially if you want it taste good), but many wedding cake makers buy it. We were advised to stay away from fondants with ingredients that end in “-ice” (such as regalice, satinice, pettinice, etc) and patisfrance because they are gritty and taste bad; they generally can be rolled very thin, but their ensuing transparency isn’t desirable either). Instead, she recommended Massa Grischuna and Massa Ticino. Wilton is okay, too.
  • Fondant is hydroscopic (it attracts moisture), so air and moisture will affect it.
  • Modeling Chocolate can also be used to cover a cake, and it often tastes better than fondant. It’s firmer, though, so you have to sheathe the top and sides of the cakes separately, and then close the seam smoothly with your fingers. You have to keep in mind that white chocolate has a yellow color when you add coloring to it; for instance, adding pink will get you peach.
  • French buttercream should only be used to fill a cake — it’s too soft to put on the outside. Italian buttercream can be used for either.
  • As a wedding cake maker, you can always re-invent yourself… because there’s rarely repeat business.
  • If you can get an exclusive deal to make all wedding cakes for a hotel or retail store, that’s good.
  • Gum paste flowers usually take at least a day to dry. Gum paste is desirable for this b/c it can be rolled very thin.

We were to decorate one real cake and one styrofoam cake during this block. I was sick one day, so I only decorated one real cake. I just wanted to get a feel for how the fondant acted, so this was a start…


It’s no secret that I loathe making pure decor stuff, so my cake was the wedding cake for people who don’t like wedding cakes. The only thing that I really wanted to get right was to have a perfectly smooth layer of white fondant… no tears, or scratches, or bumps. And I did it. I attribute some of that to my enthusiasm for rolling tart dough. Anyway, what you do is roll out the fondant on a mix of cornstarch and powdered sugar (you can make a little tied baggy from cheesecloth), and then go over it with a fondant smoother. If there are little air bubbles, gently prick them with a toothpick and smooth over them; the air bubbles usually found by running your hand over the fondant than by sight. Once you put the fondant over the cake, you smooth it again and make sure that it’s snug against the cake. To trim it, you run a pizza cutter around it, at an angle so that it doesn’t scrape against the fondant. You need to put something around the border to cover the seam.
To color fondant (and marzipan), you color a small batch, and then use pieces of that as seeds for coloring other batches of fondant.

For the rope, you just twist together two strands of fondant, and then roll them so that they flatten out. I think it looks much better like that than unrolled.

For the Flowers That Do Not Exist In Nature, you roll a rectangle of fondant, fold it in half, and then roll it up, slightly spiralled, and then pull apart the edges a little. I made a whole bunch more, but I also wanted some degree of proportion on this modest cake, so only three of them were needed. They were secured to the cake with toothpicks. The leaves were made with molds.