March 8, 2005
Fighting the urge to sleep past 5:15am, I went to the big student body breakfast in beautiful Farquarson Hall. Arriving right at 6, there was no appreciable line. There was a list of tempting breakfast entrees. I pitied the students working in that kitchen, already producing hundreds of meals this early in the morning, and some of them did indeed look a little bleary-eyed. I skipped the banana-and-chocolate-chip griddle cakes and most of the heavier-sounding offerings in favor of a special omelet with mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. Added some fruit to my plate, sat down with Marie, Carol, and Nicole, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the gorgeous hall. (It used to be a temple of some sort, and has been restored to its former glory - incredible stained-glass windows, cavernous ceiling, lots of intricate filigree.)
Carol and Marie told a great story. Apparently, last night, they were the last to leave the dinner table at St. Andrew's Cafe. As Carol put on her coat, the Master Chef for the restaurant came out to meet her.
"You're in the Boot Camp, I hear," he said. "How was your dinner?"
Carol, who seems like she probably likes to avoid confrontation, glossed over the problems. But then she was joined by Marie, who pulls no punches.
"Did you tell him about the soups?" Marie asked Carol.
"No," Carol replied.
"Let me guess," said the Chef, "They were cold, right?"
Marie said, "Right."
"I know. We caught that, but we didn't catch it quite in time for your table."
Marie turned to Carol again. "Did you tell him about the cheesecake?"
"The cheesecake," Marie said, "to put it mildly, does a disservice to the restaurant."
"Okay," the Chef said, "I've heard enough about the cheesecake."
He walked over to the computer, punched a few buttons. "There," he said, "the cheesecake is off the menu."
Marie and Carol were justifiably feeling extremely empowered today, having successfully gotten a poor dish taken off the menu.
Onward. Lecture at 7:00. We dissected the previous evening's desserts with the Chef. Then we turned to the new material: the warm foaming method for spongecakes and creating sponges step-by-step. We talked about the ingredients involved and the roles they play in creating a successful genoise. We all asked questions; my major question was why the volume of the egg-and-sugar mixture benefited from warm ingredients, while maximizing volume in other situations (such as whipping cream) benefited more from COLD ingredients and cold beaters. The explanation was a bit long, but essentially: in one case, you're whipping air into proteins (eggs or egg whites), and in these cases, warmth increases the ability of the proteins to accept and hold the air. With cream, we're whipping air into FAT instead of protein, and here cold fat holds air better than warm fat.
Then we covered the basic butter-and-sugar creaming method for doughs. We talked a lot about the right amount of creaming, and why granulated sugar is preferred for this: the sugar crystals themselves act like miniature beaters, forcing air into the butter&ldots;up to a point. This took us to 8:30.
We moved to a dining area for a 15-minute break and enjoyed pastries from the Baking & Pastry School. On Nicole's recommendation, I tried a Blueberry Muffin, and it was indeed one of the best - if not THE best - blueberry muffins I'd ever had. A couple other members of the group fell in love with something called a "Monkey Danish," sold at the school's Apple Pie Bakery Café. Sort of like an unusually ugly bear claw with cream cheese filling, or, as someone said, "A bear claw that's had a bad hair day." Jeff has vowed to wring the recipe out of one of the Chefs before the end of the week.
8:45 and we're back in the Colavita Kitchen. We don our aprons, toques, and side towels. First order of business: watch the Chef demo the techniques for adding flavor to basic pastry cream, piping pate au choux into éclairs and other shapes, baking them, filling éclairs, and glazing them with fondant (which may or may not also be flavored). He briefly railed against bogus "chocolate eclairs," essentially eclairs with vanilla pastry cream with a coating of chocolate-colored glaze on top. He offered that the pastry cream inside éclairs should match, in some way, their glaze.
To glaze the fondant, he softened a batch of commercial fondant (NOT rolled fondant, which is another animal entirely). It took a huge amount of elbow grease to thin and soften the fondant, which is not readily available, and we wondered why he was spending so much time and energy showing us a technique that we, as home bakers, were unlikely to be able to take advantage of. The benefit to using this fondant, he explained, is shine; typical powdered-sugar-and-milk glazes are dull, and he said that the ideal is a glossy shine that doesn't even mar when you touch it. He suggested that if we wanted this effect, it would be worth it to hit up bakeries to see if they'll sell you some of their fondant.
He then whipped up sponge cake in one of the four Hobart mixers, and made a batch of 1-2-3 dough which can be used for cookies, tart shells, and other pastries. (1-2-3 refers to the proportions of ingredients: 1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, 3 parts pastry flour. (Speaking of which, Chef suggested that the vast majority of cookie recipes are improved by the use of pastry or cake flour instead of All-purpose, or making the adjustment I mentioned yesterday - 10% substitution of cornstarch for flour - or up to 25% MAXIMUM of cocoa for flour.)
We were then divided back into the same teams as yesterday and set to work piping out the pate au choux we'd made yesterday, into éclair shapes, rounds, and "swans." Those went into the oven as we started our sponge cakes, whisking eggs and sugar by hand in the huge Hobart bowls set over simmering water, to bring the eggs to a bright orange-yellow and about 110-120 degrees. They then went into the Hobarts for 10 minutes of high-speed whisking to bring them to maximum volume. Working with those huge Hobarts was a joy and a wonder. I worried that the volume we'd achieved wasn't QUITE as great as one of the other team's, but later on, I was grateful that at least OUR pans didn't overflow in the oven and end up with scorched crowns. Our layers came out beautifully: tall and feather-light.
While the spongecake batter was in the Hobarts, we started - and finished - a batch of 1-2-3 dough and divided it into two rounds for tomorrow's tarts. We also did our mise-en-place for frangipane (an almond filling), which will coat the bottoms of the tarts, under the fruit layer, tomorrow.
At 11:00, we broke for lunch. Given my big early breakfast and then the 8:30 pastry break, and the knowledge that I'd be expected to eat a full dinner WITH dessert, I opted for a simple soup-and-salad lunch. Since it was still a Northeast Americana menu, I opted for corn-and-chicken chowder - terrific. I also tried some of the cod cakes. Yummy.
Lunch over, we returned to the kitchen. Using star tips, we drilled two holes in the bottom of a dozen or two of our best-looking éclair shells. Marie and I opted for a Kirschwasser-flavored pastry cream (cherry); Heather and Carol went for a plain vanilla filling and glaze; Jeff and Nicole got ambitious and made a wet-method caramel, thinned it with milk and added it to their pastry cream for a caramel-flavored pastry cream. Then, instead of a fondant glaze, they made more caramel and simply dipped the tops of the éclairs into the caramel. Chef showed them a technique for drying these in which he sprayed oil on a granite countertop, dipped an éclair top-down into the hot caramel, and placed it (still top-down) on the oiled counter. It hardened in seconds and gave the éclair an interesting flat caramel topping.
We all tried each other's éclairs. They were all good, although some of us found the caramel éclairs a mixed bag: delicious filling, but the caramel topping is a potential filling-puller.
I can now safely reveal the error I'd thought I'd made in our pastry cream: I was afraid it turned out salty. My partner Marie dumped the salt into the pastry cream and began to cook it before I'd had a chance to measure it. I'm sure we put in at least 3 times as much salt as we should've. Fortunately, I think the large amount of sugar in the recipe overshadowed this flaw.
Then Chef pulled out our Crème Brulees, Crème Caramels, and Pots de Crème from yesterday. What a disappointment! They all turned out seriously flawed, but none of us were to blame. The problem was the oven. See, Chef and Kylie had taken it upon themselves to do the baking and checking of all the custards. After none of them were set even after 45 minutes or more, they realized the oven was out of calibration, and moved everything to another oven. But that oven, of course, took time to get up to heat. Too much baking at too low a heat took a serious toll on all these items. Many of the Crème Brulees and Crème Caramels came out underdone, and the Pots de Crème even separated. The flavors of all these items were fine, but the textures ranged from unremarkable to downright disturbing.
Still, we learn from our failures, right?
So we nosh and nibble at our good éclairs and disappointing custards for awhile, waiting for our Group Photo to be taken between 1:15 and 2:00. Never happens. The photographer doesn't show. Why? Because it's a damn blizzard outside!
At 2:00, Chef Peter Greweling shows up for a 1-and-a-half-hour Chocolate Demonstration. Funny, friendly, and witty, Chef Greweling has a book coming out next year on confectionary - we're all going to arrange to get signed copies from him.
He came expecting to teach us chocolate tempering and truffle-making. He had all the equipment for this.
Marie speaks up: "You know, most of us already know quite a bit about tempering, and just about all of us have made truffles many times in the past. Is there anything else you might be able to cover instead?
Chef Greweling looks nonplussed. Finally, he says, "I'm happy to improvise. This almost never happens in Boot Camp classes. But what would you like to learn?"
I say: "I can't speak for anyone else, but I would love to learn to make Chocolate Ruffles, Chocolate Fans, Chocolate Cigarettes&ldots;all those great decorations."
He thinks for a minute. Much of the Colavita Kitchen is locked up at this point, so his access to materials are limited. But he rose to the challenge beautifully.
"Okay, let's do it," he says.
First, he gives us a VERY brief overview of the science (and art) behind tempering. He then starts by showing us an easy technique using untempered chocolate. He spread untempered chocolate on the backs of two large, warm plastic trays, put one in the freezer and one in the fridge. While allowing them to set, he grabbed one of the sponge cake layers one of our teams had made.
Using a scraper, he was then able to scrape off large, wide chocolate ribbons, which are wrapped around the sides of the cake. (Ordinarily, the cake would be frosted first, and this would adhere the ribbons to the cake; he was using the sponge cake only as a way of showing what the finished product would look like.) He then demonstrated making chocolate ruffles, essentially by making the chocolate ribbons but allowing one edge to scrunch up against a finger as he formed the ribbon. These went on top of the cake. He made several concentric circles of ruffles, then dusted a tiny bit of confectioners' sugar over the top. Beautiful and dramatic!
These ruffles and ribbons were some of the few such decorations that require untempered, rather than tempered, chocolate. Using tempered chocolate, he then demonstrated making chocolate cigarettes (insisting that we all make at least 10 in order to "pass the class"), and several other decorations, some of which were embarrassingly easy but still very impressive to look at when completed. The most dramatic were a couple of "cages" of thin chocolate lattice suitable for small circular cakes or Bavarian mousses. The techniques were neither difficult nor time-consuming, but what an impact.
Overall, we felt we had turned a class of potentially very limited use to us into a very unique, enjoyable, and educational hands-on experience that every one of us benefited from. And I don't think Chef Greweling will forget us soon - he reiterated that he had never had a Pastry Boot Camp class so engaged and lively, so well-informed, so inquisitive, and so much fun to work with.
That brought our class to an end for the day.
We all met again at 6:30 at The American Bounty, one of the CIA's more formal restaurants. This meal was an unabashed success. The menu can be seen here: http://www.ciachef.edu/restaurants/bounty/dinnermenu_starters.html
Our waiter, Adrian, was as personable as could be (I would be, too, if I were two weeks from graduating!). The wines pre-selected for the meal were excellent, and we were generally all delighted with our food, with very few exceptions. I had the Hudson Foie Gras appetizer, a large medallion served on brioche with a sour cherry reduction. I also took the Soup Sampler: Black Bean and Butternut Squash soups served side-by-side in the same bowl, Crawfish Bisque, and Smoked Idaho Potato Soup. For my entrée, Cedar Planked Salmon Northwest Style with Rosehip and Huckleberries, Tillamook Cheddar Gratin Potatoes and Glazed Carrots.
Of course, we had to try all the desserts. To our surprise, the dessert menu listed a New York-style Cheesecake - diabetic and low-carb style! After being promised that this was NOT the same recipe as last night's disastrous cheesecake at St. Andrew's Cafe, I decided to be the group's Guinea Pig for the night and order it. It was actually quite tasty - everybody tried it and Marie actually polished it off with pleasure. Our faith in a pastry chef's ability to create a diabetic cheesecake was affirmed anew.
Again, great conversation and a lot of fun. Adrian took us on a tour of the kitchen after dinner, and we had a brief, pleasant encounter with the restaurant's head chef.
Tomorrow: frangipane, fruit tarts, and (gasp!) puff pastry! I'm exhausted, but thrilled.