March 11, 2005
One of the great pieces of advice Chef Eglinski gave us today: never take raspberries out of the container by reaching into the container and taking them out. "For every one you take out," he said, "you crush five more." Rather, pour them into your cupped hand.
Last day. Got up extra early to check out of the hotel. Went to lecture. As usual, we started by critiquing both the previous evening's meal at Caterina de Medici, and the previous afternoon's dessert wine tasting.
The main topic for the morning was chocolate: its origins, the three varieties of beans, the harvesting process, the fermentation process, drying, cleaning, roasting, cracking, grinding and milling, and conching. But wait, there's more! We talked about additives, mixing, tempering and molding, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and compound chocolate.
With so many chocolate lovers in the group, we could easily have talked, and asked questions, about these topics for a long time, but I think Chef was trying to keep it moving because there was a very busy morning ahead. He talked a little bit about there was a lot of misinformation going around about chocolate (for instance: he said, "A lot of people say that chocolate was used as money. It wasn't. It was, however, used in the barter system."). He recommended the book "The New Taste of Chocolate," by Maricel E. Presilla, as being a better source of information than most. I was glad to hear this, since I'd found a copy for cheap on Half.com just a couple of weeks before the class, and had already started reading it.
Later on, I asked Chef if he'd read "The Emperors of Chocolate," one of my favorite books on chocolate (it's the story behind the Hershey and Mars empires). He had, and endorsed both its coverage of the topic and its readability.
Another quick side note: I'd always wanted to experiment with making chocolate from scratch, but could never find a source for unroasted cacao beans (even roasted cacao beans are extremely hard to come by). Jeff had a great source for these: www.chocolatealchemy.com. They sell a variety of cacao beans, raw or roasted, online, as well as cacao nibs, also roasted and unroasted. They have all the other equipment and ingredients necessary for making finished chocolate starting with the bean.
Back to the lecture. Chef Eglinski then went into tempering in more detail than we'd covered it in the Chocolate Demonstration on Tuesday. He talked about the advantages of tempered chocolate, which we all pretty much knew by now: glossy appearance, strength, "snap," smooth mouth feel, higher melting point (he quotes the old M&Ms commercial: tempered chocolate will melt in your mouth, not in your hand&ldots;at least, for a bit). Another advantage is that tempered chocolate will contract slightly as it sets. This makes it easy to remove from molds, straws, and so on.
Incidentally, Chef Greweling had mentioned earlier in the week that tempered chocolate continues to harden for 24 hours. This comes into play when working with it. For instance, when you want to make truffles coated with tempered chocolate, it's best not to freeze or chill the centers before coating them. Why? Because, after they're dipped, the frozen centers will expand as they warm up, while the tempered chocolate will be contracting as it sets. The result will often be cracked shells.
We then talked a great deal about the "tabling" method for tempering chocolate. If I can get this down, I can sell my tabletop temperer on ebay, because it's faster and potentially much easier. Essentially, you melt as much chocolate as you'll need, getting it to about 110-115 degrees, pour some of it onto a marble or granite slab, spread it out into a thin layer, scrape it back together into a mass, and repeat the process over and over until the chocolate starts to cool. You then return the cooled chocolate to the bowl of warmer chocolate, stir them together for a minute or two, and test for temper (by dipping something into the chocolate - the corner of a bench scraper, for instance - and seeing if it starts to set up in a few minutes, maybe 5-7).
Both Chef Elginski and Chef Greweling use what are essentially wide putty knives for scraping chocolate during tempering, making curls, cigarettes, and ribbons. Going to the hardware store and picking up a putty knife or two is far cheaper than going to the kitchen store and getting the same item with a fancier name.
Our assignments for the morning's work session: very busy! First, we'd finally use our puff pastry (which we'd started on Wednesday!) to make pithiviers (using a combination of frangipane and pastry cream) and palmiers (also known as "elephant ears"). Then, one team would make "hippon" tuiles (very cookie-like), one team would make raspberry tuiles (lacy and super-crisp), and one team would make a ganache glaze. We'd unmold the mousses and terrine we made yesterday, glaze the bombe-shaped mousses we'd made yesterday in the lined coffee cups, create some chocolate decorations - including the impressive cages or "fences" - and plate all our remaining desserts decoratively with combinations of raspberry purée, crème anglaise, chocolate glaze, fresh raspberries, tuiles, confectioners' sugar, chocolate cigarettes, and so on.
Fruit-based tuiles, made with fruit purée or preserves, are nice because they can be reheated at your leisure after their initial baking, and then shaped -- by placing them over a rolling pin or a cup, for instance. Other kinds of tuiles, like the Hippon tuiles, cannot be reheated and manipulated, so if you're going to shape them, you HAVE to shape them while they're just out of the oven.
We took our usual pastry break. Nicole and I first ran to the Apple Pie Bakery in the hopes that we could pick up some Monkey Danish to go before they were sold out for the day. We lucked out! Nicole snagged a couple, and I got 4 Monkey Danish (to analyze at home, of course) and two Butterscotch Pecan Danish. I'm told their Ham and Cheese Croissants are excellent as well.
Chef demoed the construction of the pithiviers (also known as King's Cakes): rolling out the puff pastry, cutting it into two circles with cake rings (one circle being 8", the other being 9" or 10"), brushing the smaller circle with egg wash around the rim, piling on the mixture of frangipane - which had to be softened a bit first by whipping - and pastry cream, putting the larger circle of dough over this, sealing the edges and trimming them, egg-washing the entire surface, cutting the tradition design into the top, fluting the sealed edges, and chilling them prior to baking.
There was enough puff pastry for each person to make their own pithivier, but Marie and I still worked together - I put together the frangipane filling, for instance, while Marie did the rest of the mise en place.
The hardest part of the pithivier, at least for me, was getting a nice circular shape. I had my dough rolled out to the requisite 1/8", but as soon as I'd cut it with the ring, the cut circle would contract, more in some areas than in others. I overheard Chef talking about this with someone else, and saying it was because under ideal circumstances, after the dough was rolled out to the right thinness, it would be refrigerated for awhile to let the dough relax before cutting it.
The rest of the assembly went smoothly. It's a little tough to draw the curved spokes in the top of the dough freehand. The assembled pithiviers went into the walk-in to chill a bit before being baked.
We then took our remaining puff pastry and made palmiers as Chef demonstrated. The secret, he said, is sugar: LOTS and LOTS of it. Just when you think you've used enough sugar, you need more. The dough is rolled out on a sugared surface instead of a floured one, even thinner than 1/8", and sprinkled liberally with sugar through the rolling and folding process. Instead of regular sugar, cinnamon sugar, vanilla sugar, or basically any kind of flavored sugar can be used - Jeff and Nicole used ground hazelnuts along with their sugar. Or one could use a savory medium instead, such as parmesan or herbs.
The folded palmier dough is pressed down the center with a rolling pin, and then it, too, went into the fridge to chill before being sliced into cross-sections and baked. They get flipped partway through baking, and Chef said that the finished palmiers should be in a little pool of carmelized sugar.
I decided partway through my rolling-and-folding that I'd prefer to use vanilla sugar. I asked Chef if he had any, and he said "No, but we can make some." I had always thought that the way to make vanilla sugar was to bury a vanilla bean in sugar and wait a few days. Chef snatched up my bowl of sugar, grabbed the vanilla extract, and basically massaged some of the extract into the sugar. Bingo, a big bowl of wonderfully scented vanilla sugar!
Marie used cinnamon sugar for hers, and they turned out delicious.
Somewhere in here, we all went to lunch. Can't remember now exactly at what point in the proceedings it was. The lunch menu - which changes every two days for three weeks, then starts over again - was Americana, the South. (Not Tex-Mex south, but southeastern.) There was a vegetarian jamalya that interested me, but I opted for the Crawfish Etouffe with rice and broccoli, and crème brûlées for dessert. The lunches and breakfasts here are really on par with the restaurant cooking&ldots;sometimes even superior, I think.
While the pithiviers and palmiers chilled and baked, we set to work making our chocolate "cages" with a bowl of tempered chocolate. These were not difficult, although some of us, including me, found chocolate squeezing through the tops of our little handmade parchment pastry cones. They're done with a close cross-hatch or curlicue on a strip of parchment just big enough to encircle the mousses we made yesterday in the acetate molds. (Chef Greweling liked to have a ¼" inch overlap, but Chef Eglinski likes it to be a perfect match. "Just one of the points upon which Chef Greweling and I differ," Chef Eglinski said with a smile.)
The parchment is lifted gently and wrapped around the unmolded mousse while the chocolate is still wet, and then left to set.
While that set, we took the tuile batters out of the fridge (they need to chill before being used) and made our tuiles. The raspberry tuiles were free-from and dropped onto a silpat, but for the Hippon tuiles, a stencil is often used. Chef showed us how to make good stencils from the lids of plastic refrigerator containers. It boils down to cutting a circle of plastic out of the lid but leaving part of the original rim attached to use as a handle. He used a paring knife to cut a star shape into the flat plastic, placed it on the buttered and floured underside of a baking sheet (so that there'd be no rim to get in the way, and spread just a little Hippon tuile batter into the stencil, smoothing it out with an offset spatula so that it was very thin and even. These and the raspberry tuiles only bake for a few minutes.
We then took turns pouring glaze over the unmolded dome mousses. Chef demonstrated making striped chocolate cigarettes: pouring a little tempered white chocolate onto the granite, spread it thin, running a decorating comb through it, allowing it to set, pouring tempered dark chocolate over that, smoothing it until you could see the white stripes through the dark, and letting it set to the usual consistency for making cigarettes. Chef pointed out that it really doesn't matter what the top looks like, since that will all be curled on the inside.
Most people who tried it had great success with their striped cigarettes; I did not. My main problem was that my dark chocolate was too thick in places, so the bottom of the chocolate (against the granite) was already starting to harden while the top was still too soft. Finally, I said, "The hell with it," and started scraping it all up haphazardly to throw in the leftover chocolate bucket. On the very last swipe with the putty knife, ZIP! It rolled into a fat, perfect cigarette.
We also piped our white chocolate, raspberry, and chocolate mousses, along with strawberry (or was it raspberry?) purée and whipped cream, into goblets, and decorated them with the tuiles. We plated the sliced terrine with raspberries, chocolate sauce, strawberry purée, and crème anglaise. We learned the simple technique of drawing the tip of a knife through dots of sauce to create that elegant swirled effect. Chef used the paring knife with the flat of the blade facing the sauce, rather than edge-first - he said that cutting through with the edge might be too thin to create the effect. A bamboo skewer, he said, would also be a good implement to use for this.
At this point, everything was ready. Our pithiviers and palmiers were out of the oven and cool enough to serve. The mousses in cages were plated and decorated, as were the terrine slices, mousses in goblets, and the chocolate-glazed mousse bombes. We laid everything out on the table and sampled it all, but it was clearly WAY too much for anyone&ldots;and because they all used the same mousses and sauces, no real reason to have more than a bite or two of any one preparation.
Kylie set out cardboard boxes of various sizes so that we could pack up whatever we could salvage of our work during the week. I boxed up my buttercream sponge cake and my flag-themed fruit tart, my palmiers, my pithivier, and the vanilla sugar Chef had whipped up for me. I think most people were able to take home the same items. Given that my ride home was only an hour-and-a-half, I also took my remaining puff pastry. Most people, I think, were able to take away the same items.
Here we were at the end of the experience. Chef opened a bottle of champagne, thanked us and gave us his hopes that he had given us the bravery to try things we'd never tried before. ("Empowerment," I thought, was the right word for it.). He handed out our Certificates of Accomplishment and our Group Photos. Marie presented Chef with a card (she and Carol had had the foresight to buy thank-you cards for Chef Eglinski and Kylie, and brought them to last night's dinner, so we could all sign them) and with a special surprise: a purple Hostess Sno-ball and a Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll, all decorated with chocolate curls and cigarettes and other fillips. We urged him to try a little, but he wisely declined, and the dishes went into the same location as all those terrines, mousse bombes, parfaits, and caged molded mousses we'd just finished making: the garbage.
It was time for most of us to say our goodbyes. Marie and Carol are staying for a one-day hands-on Chocolate class on Saturday, but the rest of us were taking off. Hugs were exchanged, promises to keep in touch, and I'm going to get everyone involved in my forthcoming "Post-mortem" journal entry. Since I haven't spent much time talking about the personalities and activities of the other members of my team, and I don't really want to be responsible for stepping on anyone's toes, I had the idea to ask each team member to write up a few sentences describing one of the OTHER team members. This way, each person gets to write up their assessment of somebody else, and nobody will know who wrote each description. (The only person who won't be described is ME, since I reveal more than enough of myself in these journals.) I'll be posting the results as soon as I've collected them.
I was home two hours later, laden with baked goods, newfound confidence, CIA tchotchkes, and memories that will last a lifetime.
I'm sad it's over - there's so much more to learn! - but I'm glad to get home and start putting these things into practice. I think I'll be making Maida Heatter's Orange Chiffon cake first (I've had enough of puff pastry and mousse for one week), but I'm going to do some fancy decorations and plating for it.
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