Archive | February, 2011

Curtains going down on the school chapter

6 Feb

As many of you know, I was in a 5 month intensive pastry program here in Paris. This meant, that 5 days a week, I was in a kitchen with 8 colleagues baking up a storm. Not bad to be me. Sadly, all things must come to an end and school had an end date. It also had a test. Oh my.

I didn’t have to apply by sending a cookie or a cake, but I couldn’t get my diploma without putting my practice to the test and in turn, get a grade. A grade from 2 MOF’s (masters in pastry) and a worldwide known chef, with impressive familial ties to the world of cuisine, Escoffier. Piece of cake – if you aren’t the one making the cake.

For our final, we had to prepare: pate a choux for éclairs and religieuse, pate a foncer for an apple tart, puff pastry for a pithiviers and chaussons aux pommes, crème anglaise for ice cream molds, an almond paste trio of roses, and, the ever fun, moka. Basics, that needed to prove we knew what we were doing and wouldn’t embarrass ourselves by calling us Patissieres. Easy enough, right? Oh, and we had one day to do it. And the 3 grading chefs? They were there the whole time, looking over our shoulders. As were our normal pastry chefs. Have I said oh my yet?

Luckily, we all did great. I spent a couple of days leading up to the exam practicing making roses quickly and piping the flames for a moka, as well as reviewing recipes and going over my pictures of each step of each recipe. While practicing and planning my timing for a pastry final wasn’t exactly like pulling the all-nighter I did the night before my biology final in college, the pressure was no less since this was again my future career on the line (biology didn’t pan out…not shocking). Plus, I was whipping cream by hand at home so I could practice piping. That’s hard!

Exam day came, I got to school early and my prep work served me well. I still need to work on the moka piping, but it went much better than my initial try!

Unmolding the crème anglaise ice cream…comic relief for the chefs that day.

The pithiviers, which proved to be a bit troublesome that day.

Apply tart – I knew I had this one, at least. Christmas helped me practice!

The dreaded Moka.

Religieuse, filled with a coffee pastry cream. Fondant and I are still getting to know each other.

And the éclairs, also with coffee pastry cream and awesome fondant. At least it was shiny!

And everything all together, for my final presentation, minus the ice cream. All the chefs complimented me on my work, so I felt quite relieved. Plus, I got a nice pat on my back when one of the MOF’s grabbed a couple of my chaussons on his way out after grading. I felt highly complimented!

So now my school chapter is done and I’m off to my internship tomorrow. Oh my…


You might be a vegetarian if…

6 Feb

…if you see this and don’t immediately think, “yum.”

That’s right guys, fresh scallops. I’m a veggie, but have no problems cooking meat for people who enjoy it. I like cooking, anything, so I can make a mean steak, a lovely turkey, and some delicious chicken parm (or so I hear, the people eating could just be nice). But I draw the line at this.

I had to shank a scallop, guys. After prying open the shell, you scrap him off his shell, scoop him out and then proceed to rip off the outer edge of this scallop’s body, leaving the meat that people eat. Knowing I wasn’t going to eat this and unsure who was going to eat it, I wasn’t pumped about it, but I’m a chef, so I went for it. I did ok at the start; the scallops clearly don’t like to be shanked, so they put a bit of a fight. But I got my 7 scallops out of their shells. With my chef’s assurance that they were dead by then, I started to take off their edges. I got through about 3 when, as I was holding it and pulling off the edges (or eyes…), the little guy pulsed.

I’m not accustomed to food moving as you are prepping it. I might have yelped, thrown my scallop, and backed off at that point. Maybe. That is an unconfirmed report. But seeing as we have a great traiteur chef, I suddenly had all 7 scallops cleaned and ready for the next step, as well as a chef who couldn’t stop laughing at me. Phew. Seeing as my friend in class and myself are both vegetarians, we were put on mirepoix duty after that while everyone else prepped more seafood. Believe me, I can de-shell cooked shrimp, take off the beard off of a mussel and, even on occasion, take lobster and crabs out of their shells for others to eat, but I was real glad all I had to do for a bit was chop some leeks and onions.

We were making a version of Coquilles St Jacques, so after prepping the scallops, we made pike quenelles (filet of pike, milk, flour, and eggs, blended together and then formed into ovals)…


…sautéed mushrooms…



…and a fish veloutee sauce (fish stock with shallots, white wine, water, butter, leeks, and the stuff we ripped off the scallops, then combine with juice of the mushrooms and mussels we cooked, milk, flour, butter, heavy cream, and salt and pepper to taste).

Once all of this was prepped and prepared, we starting to put the St Jacques back together.

Starting with a mussel and some salmon, you place the scallop in the center, surrounded with some shrimp and the pike quenelle. Add some of the mushrooms on top and you have the base of the meal.

Then you layer on the sauce, filling all gaps.

Pop it in the freezer for a couple of minutes, then add another layer of sauce. You want it to be very full. Another trip to the freezer, then you add a crust of bread crumbs and a slice of puff pastry, if you so please. I skipped the puff pastry, but liberally added the bread crumbs.

From here, the customer (or whoever eats this) takes it home and pops it in the oven to warm it up and toast the edges. Then its ready to eat! Me, I was still fearful of the pulsing scallop, so I skipped taking any home. From what I hear though, they came out really well and were a class favorite!

Breadbaker – Not the Same as Breadwinner

2 Feb

Difficult but oh so delicious.

My pastry program included some boulangerie class, so every few weeks, we would head to the boulangerie (either at the ungodly hour of 6:30am, or at 1pm to stay until 8 or so) and make baguettes, special breads, croissants, brioche…stuff my dreams are made of. Look at this. It is awesome.

We started out with the classic, a baguette. For this delicious treat, all you need is flour, water, salt and yeast. But you also need to test the temperature of the room and the flour to calculate the temperature needed for the water. You need to add the yeast after the water and flour have incorporated, but not too long after. You need to kneed at 2 speeds for specified times depending on the wanted bubbles on the inside of the bread, adding the salt at the right time at the end so the dough will reach the right temperature. You need to let it rest a few times. All while craving bread. Its hard.

We did it the first day by hand, to see how bakers used to do it. Granted, we only used a kilo of flour, when they used to use a whole lot more…

We got to this stage, of kneeding it, and realized this was a whole another world from pastry. Luckily, we only had to do it by hand once. Its hard, takes awhile, and is such a small amount. No good in a boulangerie! So we started using massive machines to work the dough for us.

After its rest in a big tub, we weigh the dough out and let it rest again.

After its nap, we form it into the baguette. You flatten it with your hand and then fold it in on itself, only then rolling it out to the correct length.

Once the right length, you put them on a conveyor-like belt, cut the tops at the correct angle (5 per baguette!) and roll them into the oven. I had issues with the oven – easy in theory, scary in practice. My whole bread dreams relied on doing this correctly! Think of the horror of no bread. Eek.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes now. The smell. Oh, the smell. I wanted to crawl into the oven and steal some bread right away, but I held off. For a bit. Because this is the reward!

Yum. Sometimes I couldn’t wait very long…

We got to take what we wanted, then the rest was either served in the student caf, or donated to local shelters. Walking home after boulangerie days always included a few baguettes in my bag…

After doing this a few times, playing with the various types of baguette (traditional, regular, fermented, poolish, etc), we were introduced to the world of special breads. This is anything from rye bread, to whole wheat, to bran, to sandwich bread, to sourdough, and so on. Similar in how the dough is made, just variations on ingredients, how the dough is shaped and the cuts on top.

We added chocolate to anything we possibly could. We’re pastry chefs. That’s how we do.

One day, we were messing around and added olives and cheese. YUM.

We even made bagels!

But we weren’t done with boulangerie. Oh no, far from it. We had to make dreamy, lovely croissant. Similar to puff pastry, but less turns. And the shaping. And the recipe. Ok, so not that similar, but close.

Just add a “little” bit of butter or margarine to the dough to be rolled out…

After the turns and the resting, you cut out the triangles for croissant, or rectangles for pain au chocolat.

You proof these guys for 2 hours, then its into the oven for heaven.

One of classes, Chef Maurice gave us free reign with the dough and we went wild. We added pistachio paste, almond cream, pastry cream, almonds, walnuts, chocolate, cinnamon and sugar. Pretty anything we could find in our lab that sounded remotely good. And good they were! Oh yum.

We were also taught about brioche and pain au lait, similar in the forms that were baked, but different in texture. We were braiding our breads mostly and I was very grateful for years of braiding hair and making friendship bracelets at this point. One of the few things I got in boulangerie right off the bat!

First off, a simple braid.

Then a 4 piece tresse.

And finally a 3-D bread.

After months of practicing these basic breads, as well as playing a bit with what we put into the bases, we were ready for our final. So, one day in December, we arrived at school at 6:30am, and started baking. We were to make traditional baguettes (4 kilos of flour, for baguettes and rolls), croissant and pain au chocolat (500 grams of flour, so 10 croissant, and 9 pain au chocolat), braid 2 brioche (one in a simple tresse or braid, one in the more complicated 4 string natte), and a special bread of our choosing (I went with brown bran bread). All by ourselves. And we had to be done by 12:30, at the latest. It was a lot, with timing needed not only for ourselves but with the people in our lab who also needed the same machines and ovens. But we all made it!

Here was my best, which I offered up to be graded. Not the best I’ve done, but I finished it all, which was my goal. Grades were based on if someone would buy our goods. I argue that some desperate person somewhere will always buy bread. Namely me. But I tried to be a bit discerning and I ended up doing well in boulangerie! Guess love for what the end result will be helps out the process.

The goodness that is a boulangerie final. It smelled incredible in there. I almost didn’t leave, but luckily, I grabbed a huge goody bag full of bread to hold me over for a few days.