Day Four

March 10, 2005

How's this for irony? I had decided again last night that sleeping in 'til a luxurious 6:15am sounded more desirable than going to breakfast at Farquharson Hall (sorry, I spelled it incorrectly last time). But I wake up at 5:15 anyway, unable to sleep because my mind instantly goes to yesterday's experiences and what today will bring. I could've gone to breakfast, but decided to get a head start on today's journal.

Random thoughts that I haven't had time/energy/inclination to put down before now:

We were told that the average Boot Camp student gains about 5 pounds. Regular CIA students, after about 20 "blocks" (and a block can be anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks), gain closer to 20 pounds.

After several days of eating at restaurants where, after the entrée and again after the dessert, they clean the tablecloth in front of you off with a crumber (or crumb sweeper), I found myself wondering last night what the market is for culinary gag gifts. I'd love to have a crumber that actually LEAVES a thick trail of crumbs behind, far more than you'd ever have made yourself. Maybe it also leaves a couple smears of wine or sauce that weren't there before. Breaks the ice at parties! Embarrasses your customers! Diners can't figure it out!

Or you could fill one of those little electric crumb sweepers with so many crumbs that, as a server, you could pull it out at the beginning of the meal and say, "I'm Adrian, I'll be your waiter for this evening," and write your name on the tablecloth with a thick trail of crumbs&ldots;sort of like they do with crayons at the Macaroni Grill.

When I ask questions in lecture, about things like the Meringue Mushrooms I've been making for thirty years, I've occasionally had one of the other students say, "Can you tell this guy works at home?" or "Can you say, 'Too much time on your hands?'" I find this odd given that we're all here for the same reason.

Nicole (who teams with Jeff) and Heather (who teams with Carol) are the more intimidating students in the class, because they're both professionals. Nicole and Jeff's team, especially, is much faster than the other teams. We've asked Nicole and Heather if they're getting anything out of this course, and they've both said, essentially, "Yes, because while we're very familiar with some of the things being covered, other topics are new to us." It's nice to see how this course satisfies so many existing skill levels&ldots;although Marie keeps emphasizing how much she'd like an intermediate Pastry Boot Camp for people who've gone through this one. Unfortunately, the response is always, "We have enough trouble finding 6 people to reach the minimum class size for the basic Pastry Boot Camp; it'd probably be even more difficult to fill an Intermediate one." Marie thinks if we all commit to coming to an Intermediate session, maybe they'd create one for us. I doan theenk so, Lucy!

Nicole and Jeff's team, by the way, is so fast that they actually volunteered to do the rolling and folding for Chef's batch of puff pastry dough as well as their own. Brown-nosers! (Just kidding, they're charming and delightful people, and generous with their praise and help.)

I have gained a reputation here as the class clown. That's deserved, I guess, but it's not as if I'm constantly interrupting to crack jokes; I don't. I'm very good about waiting for lulls in the conversation first. At dinner last night, the Maitre d' was explaining to Jeff and Marie how spam is more popular, by far, in Hawaii than in any other state in the US&ldots;and that part of that reason is that so little livestock is raised there. Once the Maitre d' left the table, everyone started talking about how nauseating Spam is. During a break in the conversation, I piped up: "I don't eat Spam. I buy it, take it home, open the can, and throw the contents into the toilet. I figure I save about an hour-and-a-half that way." Joke went over great, I just wish I could take credit for it. 20 years ago, my ex-comedy partner Karen and I worked with another comedian who made a similar joke about Slim Jims. Of course, he only claimed to be saving 45 minutes.

Heather, Marie, and Carol have been taking LOADS of photos in the last couple of days. I wish I'd brought my camera, but I'm also glad not to be filtering this experience through a viewfinder. Curiously, nobody took any photos the first day, which is a shame. Heather has volunteered to burn CDs of all the photos for everybody and snail-mail them to us. Jeff has collected everybody's email addresses and will be circulating those addresses. I have been asked to circulate several recipes I've talked about, including (drum roll) Cauliflower Popcorn and Oreo Truffles!

Did I mention that our chef's jackets are unadorned (no name embroidered, no CIA insignia)? Apparently you only get a CIA insignia on your jacket once you've graduated (and not from the piddling little Boot Camp, either). So we've all gone to the campus bookstore and purchased the iron-on CIA insignia patches for our jackets. I think we're all waiting 'til we get back to civilization before daring to iron them on, though.

One of the topics at dinner last night: compliments. I mentioned that Laura's idea of complimenting my baked goods is something like, "That looks like it came out of a factory!" I understand what she means and why it's intended as high praise&ldots;she's talking about the consistent appearance, not the taste. I think.

Okay, on to the details for Thursday, the last full day of the course. As mentioned, I skipped breakfast and went right to class at 7. We critiqued our evening at the Escoffier and got right to the day's lecture.

The main topic for the day was aerated desserts. From "lightest" to "densest," we talked about Mousse, Bavarian Cream, Chibouste Cream, Diplomat Cream, Lightened Pastry Cream (basically the same kind of pastry cream we'd made the first day, but lightened by folding in whipped cream), Lightened Fruit Curd (fruit curd or preserves, also lightened by folding in whipped cream), Whipped Cream, Whipping Ganache, and Buttercream.

Most of the lecture focused on Mousses, which consist of a flavor base (such as fruit puree, vanilla sauce, or chocolate), an egg foam (such as one of the meringues we learned about yesterday, or a version of the Sabayon that's the basis for genoise), and whipped cream. Most also contain gelatin; chocolate mousses generally don't need gelatin because the cocoa butter itself firms up and stabilizes the mousse. Frozen mousses also don't need gelatin, nor do mousses that will be served directly from a container.

We talked about stabilizers a lot. Since I do a lot of vegetarian cooking, I asked about substitutes for gelatin. Your best bet, said Chef Eglinski, is to stick with chocolate mousses, but other stabilizers are possible. There's pectin, there's agar-agar, and there's something relatively new called "deodorized cocoa butter," which is cocoa butter that's had most of its flavor removed so that it can be used strictly as a stabilizer. Kosher gelatin is taken from cows (killed in accordance with Kosher law) instead of pigs, and is not as strong as regular gelatin - Chef suggested doubling Kosher gelatin when using it in place of regular gelatin.

Incidentally, he also said that gelatin sold for cooking is taken from the fat lining the pigs' internal organs, while the gelatin derived from hooves is used for medical purposes (enteric-coated aspirin, capsules, etc.). File that under fun facts to know and tell.

We talked about sheet gelatin (harder to find, especially in quantities that are reasonable for home chefs, but easier to work with) versus powdered gelatin (much easier to find, but tougher to "bloom"). Sheet gelatin only needs to be soaked and softened in water; it will absorb as much as it needs, and the rest of the water can be discarded. Guess which Chef prefers?

In discussing the whipped cream used to create mousses, Chef outlined one of the more common problems is overwhipping the cream. This creates a couple of issues. One is that as the whipped cream is folded into the mousse, that is a form of beating the cream, so if you start with cream that's dangerously close to being beaten into butter, you're continuing along that perilous road as you whip the mousse. The other problem is that cream that's whipped into hard peaks and then folded into the mousse mixture is that it can incorporate large air bubbles, making the texture of the finished mousse uneven. While beating the cream only to soft peaks prior to folding into the mousse mixture may make for a soupier mousse initially, it will still set up firm, and it will be smoother.

We moved from mousses to Bavarian Creams, which consist of a Base (vanilla sauce, fruit puree, or a combination of flavors - think "peaches and cream" or "strawberries and cream," or other flavor combinations. Stone fruits (apricots, peaches, cherries, etc.) all tend to marry well with almond flavor. (Another fun fact to know and tell: Amaretto is not actually made from almonds, but from apricot pits!) The formula for Bavarians is very easy: 1 quart of base, 1 ounce of gelatin (in 8 ounces of water), and 1 quart of softly whipped cream.

Pastry break!

Once pastry break ended, we went into our production full-steam. First order of business: give our puff pastry its last roll-out and fold. (We'll be making pithiviers with it tomorrow.) Make a triple batch of buttercream - Marie and I flavored ours with vanilla, finding the plain buttercream just too bland. Assemble our sponge cakes, which meant the following steps: slice a cake layer into three layers and take off the browned top crust. Set up a cake stand with a cardboard circle. Put the first layer on the circle; brush well with simple syrup; put on a thin coating of apricot preserves. Add the next layer, brush with simple syrup, more apricot. Add the top layer, brush with simple syrup. Frost the top and sides with the buttercream. Ridge the sides with the pastry comb. Decorate as desired.

We had enough cake layers to each do our own cake, so Marie and I really didn't have to work as a team. The whole group worked very cooperatively here. For my part, my cake ended up looking&ldots;well&ldots;workmanlike, but I did succeed in getting a nice flat top, smooth sides, and a very crisp edge. I was stymied for decorations, so I made a quick batch of caramel, poured it onto a silpat, then broke it into shards and used large shards on top and small shards around the base. I made a few chocolate cigarettes - the kitchen was extremely hot and two of the teams (mine among them) couldn't get our tempered chocolate to set up. So I stopped after making only a half-dozen cigarettes, and instead spread some chocolate on parchment. I dragged a pastry comb through the half-set chocolate, swaying it as I did to produce long, wavy lines. I let them sit until after lunch.

Lunch, by the way, was terrific. I ordered - uncharacteristically - braised flank steak with mushroom stuffing, spaetzle, and asparagus. Every item on the plate was perfect. I hate to say it - because I so rarely eat beef these days - but it was probably the best lunch I'd had all week.

Returning to the kitchen, each team made a different kind of mousse. Our assignment was chocolate (the others were white chocolate and raspberry). We warmed egg yolks, water, and sugar, while whisking, over steaming hot water until it reached about 160 degrees. Meanwhile, we whipped heavy cream to soft peaks and melted chocolate. We folded the yolk mixture into the chocolate, and Chef stood by as we folded the chocolate-yolk mixture into the whipped cream. This was the point at which, he had warned us, we might have some seizing of the chocolate because we had a relatively small amount of "liquid" being incorporated into a relatively large amount of chocolate (which is what can make chocolate seize). Sure enough, the chocolate began to seize as we folded it in the whipped cream. Chef grabbed a whisk and whisked the mixture hard for a few seconds, and voila, chocolate mousse - with a lot of little bits of chocolate. I asked the Chef later what we could've done different to prevent that, and he said, "Nothing. Given the relative proportions of chocolate and liquid in this recipe, it's just liable to happen."

There was just enough time left to fill different kinds of molds with different arrangements of the three mousses and some cake disks. We used coffee cups lined with plastic wrap. Inside these, we spread the chocolate mousse around the inside, then raspberry mousse I the center, and a chocolate sponge round on top. We also made cylindrical molds out of acetate (well, I didn't make them&ldots;I'm not sure who did!) that we filled with alternating layers of white and dark chocolate mousse. And finally, we made a terrine - made from a half-pipe of PVC with plexiglass on the ends - with a raspberry mousse outer layer, a white chocolate interior layer, and a vanilla sponge cake base. These all went into the freezer for further decoration tomorrow.

The photographer showed up for our group photo - we posed with our decorated cakes and tarts -and then we had a about 45 minutes off 'til the Dessert Wine tasting.

The tasting, from 2:00 to 4:00, was interesting. I'm not a wine drinker, but if I were to drink anything, it'd be sweet dessert wine. Brian Smith was our lecturer; he's the co-author of "Exploring Wine" and the author of "The Sommelier's Guide to Wine." He gave us a lot of the history and science behind winemaking, covering controlled fermentation, reserved juice, late harvest, raisins, Botrytis Cinerea, and Icewine. We sampled Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2003 (which I loved!), Chiarlo Moscato d'Asti 2003 (also yummy), Baumard Clos Ste. Catherine 2001 (didn't care for it much), Cave Spring Riesling Ice Wine 2003 (great, at it should be for about $50 a half-bottle!), Chateau Puy-Servain Terrement 2000 (which had a lot of acetone notes and was much nicer after it had been allowed to breathe a LONG time), and Quady Electra 2003, extremely sweet and delicious and a bargain as well.

The tasting over, we broke 'til dinner.

Our last dinner together was at the Caterina de' Medici restaurant in the Colavita Center, upstairs from the kitchen where we'd done all our baking. The restaurant's menus are viewable from http://www.ciachef.edu/restaurants/caterina/index.html.

We all started with a Bruschetta-like appetizer utilizing mushrooms and olives instead of tomatoes. Delicious. The servers then brought out another unexpected plus: six balls of fresh mozzarella with prosciutto - not something I usually eat anymore, but it was spectacular&ldots;especially the mozzarella, which is made on-site every day at the school. My appetizer was a tuna carpaccio with capers, garlic, and EVOO. Way too much EVOO, in fact; it was sort of swimming.

For my entrée, I chose the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Poached Halibut with Mussel Broth, Pancetta and Sardinian Couscous. The halibut was well-cooked but not especially flavorful; the broth and couscous were wonderful, but most of the mussels were very sandy (something I pointed out to the Maitre d' afterwards).

We uniformly loved our desserts, and I think that's the first time that's happened at any of the restaurants.

Gotta pack tonight, so this entry is a little shorter than I wanted it to be. Tomorrow morning will be very busy, as we shape and bake our pithiviers, plate our tarts, cakes, and mousses, and do some glazing with chocolate.