Posts Tagged ‘dessert’

Right now I’d like to talk about something that is high on the minds of me and my fellow classmates at ICE; something those not familiar with the culinary world may have never even heard of. Stages.

No, not like the kind you danced on during you’re four-year-old ballet recital. Pronounced stah-jeh, a stage, or a trail, is essentially a day-long interview / try out that most culinary professionals must do before securing a job, or an externship in a kitchen. Right now, my classmates and I are getting into the full swing of stages as we visit various kitchens and try to determine where we’d fit the best for our externships, which will begin in January!

This week I had my very first stage in, not a restaurant, but a test kitchen for a food magazine here in New York City. Again, I won’t name it, but let’s just say this publication has been in print for over 50 years, publishes around 60 recipes in each issue, and inspires its readers to “enjoy their meal.” I was exceptionally lucky to get to spend the day learning about and helping out in their test kitchen, and can honestly say it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

So what exactly does a stage entail? Well, it really varies from kitchen to kitchen. Some places, you might just be shadowing a chef or cook, observing and learning about what they do. Other places, you might help with prep work, stocking the walk-in, or other low-level tasks. If you’re very lucky, you might get to actually cook a dish, though I hear this is rare. On my trail, I learned the ins-and-outs of the test kitchen, got to know the team, helped prepare for a tasting with the magazine’s editors, and did the “mise en place” for several recipes the kitchen was testing that day. It was a long, labor intensive day on my feet, but I loved every second of it, and the day truly reaffirmed that this is what I want to do with my life – s0mething I’ve never felt after any of my interviews in the marketing world! I mean, what could be better than spending the day in the kitchen, trouble-shooting fabulous recipes, tasting, analyzing and adjusting until you get them just right? I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but for me, it seems like a dream job!

After my trail, still riding high off of my experience, I headed straight to ICE for an amazing class –  cake decorating! On Monday night we had prepared lemon, sponge, and chocolate cakes, as well as plain, milk and semi-sweet chocolate whipped cream and swiss meringue – so many luscious sugary confections that we stored in the ICE walk in as the building blocks for Tuesday night’s class. Then, armed with our offset spatulas and piping bags, we set to work.

I’ve always loved to bake, but in all honestly, I’ve always stayed in my comfort zone – cookies, muffins, cupcakes, even pies. Something about cakes, especially ones made from scratch, seemed complex and intimidating to me – heck, even my cousin who sells her elaborate, beautifully decorated multi-tiered cakes for parties uses boxed cake mix because it just tastes so darn good! But after Monday and Tuesday night, cake-baking and decorating has been completely demystified for me, and I stand corrected at how easy it was. With Chef Sim doing his usual job of eloquently simplifying techniques that look complicated, cake decorating wound up being easily my best class of pastry, and here’s what we accomplished:

First up was the tender, moist lemon cakes from Monday. We each prepared a nine-inch cake, which we cut in half using a serrated knife. Then, we beat down some Swiss Meringue butter cream and flavored it – I chose lemon oil to flavor mine, because I’m pretty much a lemon junkie when it comes to dessert. We also set some raspberry jam to melt in a sauce pan to decorate the cake, rather than using chocolate like other classmates opted to.

The lemon cake layers were doused with a rum-simple-syrup to moisten them (a must for refrigerated cakes), and then in between the layers went a thick smear of lemon butter cream. Then, we frosted the sides and top of the cake with more butter cream, and pressed the sides into candied slivered almonds. The top was decorated with butter cream florets, raspberry dots, and macadamia nuts. I decided to dub this my “Sailor Moon Cake” (I date myself) because of its whimsical appearance. It’s super girly, and I’m super proud of it.

Next up was a Torta de Spana, or the Italian version “Spanish Bread” – a flavorful three-layer sponge cake filled with semi-sweet chocolate whipped cream, raspberries and strawberries. The sides of this towering confection were pressed with shredded coconut, and it was topped with candied almond slices and powdered sugar. Overkill? Perhaps, as my partner Leigh Ann dubbed this my “Yeti Cake.” Still, my roommate Cara brought it to work the next day and her coworkers went crazy for it, so appearance isn’t everything. And I still think it was cute, in a retro sort of way.

The grand finale was, most appropriately, a rich, dense low-laying chocolate cake with feathered chocolate ganache. Making this cake highlighted two pastry techniques that are much easier than they seem: a) making ganache, and b) feathering designs.

So… ganache is basically heavy cream and chocolate. That’s it. Really?! Seriously!?! The fact that I didn’t know this is sort of depressing, because knowing this means you can easily make some of the most impressive truffles, cakes, and chocolate desserts ever in record time. To make this very chic cake, we brought one pint of heavy cream to a boil, poured it over one pound of semi-sweet chocolate disks, and let it sit for a few minutes before whisking it smooth. Working quickly, with the cake on a cooling rack, we poured the ganache over the cake, a la Chocolat, and smoothed it with a small offset spatula. Before the ganache set, we streaked the cakes with white chocolate, and, using a paring knife, gently dragged the blade through the chocolate in opposite directions to create the signature swirls. The result was pretty fabulous.

And then, I had three cakes to eat! With one that’s already been devoured by Cara’s hungry coworkers and two to go, I’m counting my blessings that I’ll have guests in town this weekend and an apartment full of hungry Halloween party-comers on Saturday. Happy Halloween!

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Queen of Tarts

This week, I made tarts. A lot of tarts. Eight of them, to be exact.

Our culinary class did a total one-eighty on Sunday night and dove straight into the wonderful world of Pastry – also known as the opposite end of the culinary spectrum from what we’d been doing for the past, oh, eight months. I think we all were a bit nervous; with school already more than two-thirds done, how would we fare taking two months off from aggressively cooking three nights a week to spend our nights dusted in flour? More than a few of us were unsure about this change in direction right when our culinary skills just starting to feel steady.

But then we made caramel-vanilla poached pears, and we sort of just gave in. Funny how sugar can do that willpower.

Pastry module is already so different from all of the culinary modules we’ve completed, in so many ways. For one, we’re no longer eating dinner. Months of culinary were partially characterized by hours of coaxing mouth-watering smells from ovens and saute pans and pots, only to be culminated by sampling all those delicious foods in a late evening dinner. Now, we pack quarts of frangipane, pate brisee, and pastry cream into plastic tubs, splay the date and contents across the top, and stack them in the reach-in. Our mouths water, but it’s not every night that they’re satisfied. We resist the succulent smells of vanilla-perfumed pineapple and candied pecans as we pack them away for another night’s class.

Another interesting change is the deviation from plowing through recipes and menus at a breakneck pace. By late in Module Two (a culinary, not pastry Mod), we knew technique well enough to create our assigned dishes with just a little direction. But now, our evenings are spent practicing the will-bending combination of patience and urgency, taking plenty of time to watch chef’s demos unfold, but hastening to complete the tasks ourselves within our allotted time frame.

And then, there’s the end results. Unlike cooking savory dishes, where following a recipe to the tee might give you a mediocre, good, even very good (but rarely outstanding) result, in pastry, diligence and focus in constructing a confection based on definitive instructions will nearly always result in something beautiful and delicious. Your own attention to detail, rather than culinary intuition, will make it perfect.

And when so much of the action of pastry happens behind the closed door of an oven, or inside a refrigerator, it makes the alchemical process of creating pastries that much more magical. Hard, tart pears turned to soft, caramel bliss below the shield of a parchment paper; liquid milk and eggs turn to thick cream while your blinking; crusts become golden brown under the weight of beans in the dark depths of an oven. We learned to make sweet, flaky, crumbly, and savory crusts; we grilled, poached, candied, macerated fruit; we beat eggs and sugar and flour and milk into frangipane and custard and cream.

My favorite? These tarts.

Reminiscent of the tarte aux fruits that filled windows of patisseries I passed in Paris one winter many years ago, these tarts epitomize the beauty that is possible as a pastry chef. They also emphasize the importance of simplicity, comprised of just a basic pate brisee crust, traditional pastry cream filling, and topping of scattered fresh fruits. But in simplicity can come perfection, and when care is paid to each of these components, what emerges is the freshest, most delicious, light, sweet fresh fruit tart you’ve ever tasted. I ate one standing up at a prep table, powdered sugar dusting my chin, a late sugary dessert-for-dinner that took my breath away. That cream! It was smooth, refreshing, and light with just a hint of creamy vanilla. And fruit so fresh, it burst with tartness in my mouth, cutting the sweetness of the custard just right. The crumbly pie crust provided just the right amount of contrasting texture, and I realized, this was worth waiting three days to try.

Tarte Aux Fruits – Makes 8 small tarts

Ingredients for the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup lard, cold
  • Small (4″ – 5″) tart tins
Ingredients for pastry cream, adapted from Epicurious
  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg, whole
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Remaining Ingredients
  • Assorted fresh fruit: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, bananas, kiwis
  • 1 cup of apricot nappage or jam
  • 1/2 cup of water

Method for the crust
Place  flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the cubed butter and lard, and mix with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (note, this can also be done in a KitchenAid mixer with the paddle attachment). Add 1/4-cup ice water in a stream, and work quickly to mix the dough together. On a clean floured surface, shape the dough into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Pie crust can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days, or in the freezer for a few months).

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Once the dough has chilled in the fridge, roll out the dough on a floured surface to about an eighth of an inch thickness. Using a round cutter or a small bowl as a guide, cut circles that are about three-quarters of an inch bigger than the tart tins. Lift the circles and press gently into the tart tins around the edges. There should be a slight overhang around the perimeter of the tins; press this between your fingers to extend it upwards from the edge of the tin, creating a rim.

Line each mini tart with a small round of tin foil, press it down, and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Place the tart pans on a sheet pan and bake the crusts for 15 to 20 minutes until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove the parchment and beans return the crusts to the oven to continue baking for about 5  more minutes until the bottom appears to be flaky and golden. Remove from oven and set the tart pans on a  table or a wire rack  to cool. Once cool, remove tart crusts from the tin and set aside.

Method for the pastry cream

In medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, egg, 1/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch.

Transfer the milk to heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add pod. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Set pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.

Once the milk mixture reaches a simmer, temper it into the egg mixture, and then gradually whisk the egg mixture back into saucepan. Return to saucepan over moderate heat and cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Transfer to bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on surface, up to 3 days.)

Method for assembling tarts

Prepare apricot glaze for tarts by adding one cup of apricot nappage or jam and half a cup of water to a small sauce pan. Heat, stirring, until the mixture has the thin consistency of a glaze.

To assemble tarts, fill each tart crust with pastry cream to the brim, using a spoon. Arrange the slices of fresh fruit or berries on top of the pastry cream as desired. Using a pastry brush, gently glaze the berries with a minimal amount of apricot glaze, being careful not to over do it (it will look gloopy). Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to two days. Note that these are best when fresh.

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A few weeks ago, on a typical, totally average Saturday morning, I was lounging on the couch with Adam, channel surfing and enjoying an extended period of non-committal relaxation. This has become the routine, in some ways; as semi-adults, we’ve graduated from the cartoons of our child to another sort of Saturday morning comfort entertainment. We circulated between our three go-to channels – Food Network, Cooking Channel, and HGTV – and finally settled on an episode focused on the essentials of pie making, a vicarious experience since a health kick had us eating oatmeal for breakfast.

Sure, this show on pie making seemed innocent enough. But I quickly realized that this was no ordinary episode. Halfway through, the host was whipping up homemade gray-sea-salted-caramel on the stove top, tempering egg yolks into a vanilla bean custard, and slivering perfectly ripe creamy bananas. I, characteristically, was drooling. Adam, on the other hand, was rolling his eyes, an act only exaggerated by my actual growing angry at the host because she was going to be able to enjoy this salted caramel banana cream pie, and I, stuck with my bowl of mushy oats, was not! How was that fair? I asked the universe. I quickly found myself wanting justice, wanting retribution for being taunted with this ridiculously sumptuous dessert with no signs of closure.

But mostly I just wanted bananas enveloped in a thick, luscious custard, perfumed with Madagascar vanilla and the most subtle of tropical fruit, rich like melting ice cream punctuated with the faintest hint of salt in a river of buttery caramel, all resting upon a savory, crumbling bed of homemade pie crust. With whipped cream on top.

As usual, my epicurean fantasy gave way to reality as I searched for the perfect rationale to execute this over-the-top dessert. The result? Just as good – nay, better than I imagined. I toted this pie, which was baked one and a half times bigger than it should have been in a jumbo-sized Costco pie tin, through forty-five minutes of Memorial Day traffic to a family barbecue where is was greeted with open arms, and eager stomachs.

For a family who knows how to fill up on dinner, it spoke to this pie’s virtues that nearly everyone went back for a second “slice.” And I only say “slice” tentatively because once it hits the plate, the custard, caramel, and whipped cream ooze out over the sides of the crust, like an ice cream sundae in the hot summer sun, pleading to be gobbled up as quickly as possible.

Which is for the best, as it makes licking your plate clean that much easier.

Salted Caramel Banana Cream Pie- Makes one pie (9 to 12 inches)

Largely based on Kelsey’s Essentials

You’ll need:

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, chilled or frozen
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons ice cold water

For the pie filling

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 recipe Salted Caramel Sauce, recipe follows
  • 4 bananas, sliced

For the salted caramel (YUM)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Gray sea salt, crushed, or kosher salt

For the whipped cream topping

  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar

Now, as you may have guessed from this list of one hundred and one ingredients, this pie is not the simplest recipe in the book. If you are ready and willing to take this journey, clear your morning schedule and fully commit yourself to the extremely enjoyable process of creating this confection. Let me reiterate: It. Is. Worth It! Good things take time, and this pie is at the top of the list. And I promise, if you plan properly, you can have the whole thing done in two hours. Doesn’t that sound like a great way to spend your morning? I can’t think of a better one! Here’s your roadmap to heaven:

Start by making your pie crust: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour and the salt; cut or work the butter into the flour with your fingers or a pastry blender until you have large pea sized chunks scattered throughout. Alternatively, pulse the dough in a food processor, or mix in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on low speed.

Add the ice water slowly while stirring with a fork, or in the food processor or mixer, until just combined. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Roll out chilled pie dough to fit your pie plate (the extra dough can be balled up and saved in the freezer or fridge). Transfer dough to pie plate, pressing the dough lightly into the plate; trim the edges. Dock the dough with the prongs of a fork evenly over the bottom of the pie plate. Line the docked dough with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the pie crust until the edges are brown and golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the weights. Return crust to the oven to finish baking for another 5 minutes.

While your pie crust is baking, you can make your pie filling and salted caramel (note, the caramel can also be made in advance).

To make the filling, start by mixing the sugar, salt, cornstarch, and flour in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Over medium-low heat, slowly whisk in the milk.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks. Once the pastry cream starts to boil, slowly add 1/2 cup of the pastry cream to the egg yolks and whisk quickly to temper. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Continue whisking until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and is smooth and thick. Strain. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, and vanilla. Stir in 1 cup sliced bananas. Allow the mixture to cool.

To make the salted caramel, start by combining the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil without stirring. Boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, about 5 to 7 minutes. Watch this carefully – it’s not the time to walk away from the stove.

Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream. The mixture will bubble up in the pan, so be careful. Stir in the unsalted butter, and salt, to taste. Transfer the caramel to a dish and cool.

To make the whipped cream topping, take a large bowl and your beaters and stick them in the freezer until frosty. Then add the cream to the bowl and whip until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, cream will then become lumpy and butter-like.

Once your pie crust, filling and caramel have cooled down to at least room temperature (cooler is fine), it’s time to assemble your pie! Wahoo! This is the fun part!

Stir up your pie filling to loosen, if necessary. Cover the bottom of the prepared crust with a layer of thinly sliced bananas and drizzle with 1/4 cup of the salted caramel sauce.

Top with another layer of sliced bananas, then add the custard and fill the crust to nearly the top, covering the bananas completely.

Top with another thin layer of bananas. Add the whipped cream, drizzle with salted caramel and decorate the pie any way you’d like with the rest of the sliced bananas. Get creative!


Chill the banana cream pie until the filling is set, about 2 hours. Serve with extra salted caramel, if desired, because really, why not?

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Sunday was a day full of family, fun and most of all food! Since a picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s still quite early in the week, I’ll save us all some reading and let the photographs speak for themselves!

My cousin Danie’s jaw-dropping home-made cake for her sister-in-law’s baby shower. Yellow and chocolate cake, buttercream, fondant.

The appetizers – tomato, roasted red pepper, fresh mozzarella, thyme, balsamic

Panko-breaded creamy cheesy risotto cakes

French Toast: challah bread, egg custard, blue berries, brown sugar, cinnamon

Quiche Lorraine

Tortellini, ricotta, pesto, sundried tomato, pine nuts

Marachino Cherry Parfait

Braising: Lamb shank, rosemary, thyme, merlot, veal stock, rondeau

Monkfish (the ugliest of all fish) searing in hot olive oil

Balsamic braised chicken thighs with a porcini-portobello-oyster-cremini-shitake mushroom cream sauce

After the oven: Fully braised lamb shanks emerge in a red wine reduction

Braised lamb shanks plated with red wine sauce and braised mirepoix

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