The Pass. The Judgement day of plates.

The Pass. The Judgement day of plates.
Bring the finished plates up to the pass for inspection.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee is a classic French dessert made with just a few simple basic ingredients. Creme Brulee can be found in almost all French dessert menus and it is considered a staple of the French dessert.

My chef once told me, " If you really want to see the skill level of a pastry chef who is making your dessert, just order their creme brulee. It's such an easy dessert to make and everyone can make it. But just like an omelette, it's hard to prefect. "

2 cups heavy cream / 1 cup sugar / 6 egg yolks / Vanilla extract / Tin foil cups or ramekins

- gently bring your cream to a light simmer. Careful not to boil your cream.

- While heating up your cream to a simmer, whisk together egg yolks and sugar together.

- Pour the simmered cream in a steady stream into your yolk+sugar mixture while whisking.

- After whisking, it should look foamy on top but liquidy on the bottom.
-Use a scraper or spoon to remove the foam.

- Pour the creme brulee mixture into tin fold cups or ramekins as preferred and fill about 4/5 of the way. In this picture, you will notice that I used a small tin foil tart mold. This is really not preferred since the bottom of the tin is narrow and the top is very wide. This will give you an uneven baking time, the bottom will be cooked faster than the top. But this is just for my sister, so it's okay!!

- Pre-heat the oven to 300F.

- Place the tin cups into a tray filled 1/4 of the way up with hot water. This is called a "bain-marie" or aka 'water bath'. The moisture from the hot water will prevent the surface of your creme brulee from cracking during baking. I baked the custard for about 35 minutes, but the timing will probably be slightly different in every oven. Some ovens are more powerful than others, and some have really dangerous hot spots.

( "Hot spots" in an oven is basically an area in your oven that is hotter than the rest, due to uneven temperature distribution )

A general rule of thumb for checking the doneness of any baked custards, such as cheesecakes, flan, creme caramel and this is case the creme brulee, is to lightly tap the sides to see how much your dessert jiggles. Only the center of the dessert should giggle slightly while the edges are firm. This is the perfect doneness.

- Remove from tins from the bain-marie, dry off the bottom and let the creme brulee cool in room temperature for about 1 hour and then chill for 4 hours in the fridge.

- After it has been chilled, you will find the texture of your brulee has firmed up even more. Then sprinkle a generous amount of sugar on top of your custard. Try and spread an even amount of sugar on top, and again, be generous with the sugar.

- Use a mini torch and torch your way around the surface of the brulee. Turning and shifting your tin clock wise so the flame will melt all the sugar and caramelize them.

- Eventually this is what you will end up with. A thin and crunchy layer of caramelized sugar on top of your creamy creme brulee.

- You must serve your creme brulee as soon as it's caramelized with sugar, otherwise the sugar will start to absorb the moisture from the air and it will not be crunchy anymore.

- Creme brulee is best served with some fresh berries or fruits to balance the richness and the sweetness of the dessert.

Monday, December 20, 2010

French Macarons

French Macarons. They're simply just amazing. With nothing but just a few easy ingredients; they are fairly easy to make. And the French method, much easier than the Italian method, and no need to fuss over cooking the simple syrup to 118C.  And if you've never had a macaron in your life before, today would be a good start to treat yourself with these little bite size French sweets.

Now to start. You will need some basic baking tools. Mixing bowls, whisks, spatulas, pastry bag with round tip, baking tray, and parchment paper or a silpat which is a non stick silicone pad.
Crank your oven to 320F. You don't need a high temperature to bake the macaron shells. Most ovens is best at 320F, but if you have a really powerful oven, perhaps 310F is good enough. For convection ovens with fans blowing to better circulate the hot air, 300F is prefect.
Now. Ingredients. Simple and fast. You will need almond flour which you can usually find in your local pastry ingredient shops or high end grocery stores. And if you cannot finding, don't worry, just buy almond slivers and blitz them in the food processor until course. If they tend to clump up because of their natural oils being released, just add some icing sugar and that will absorb all the oil. Next, you will need more icing sugar along with good quality cocoa powder. And like always, I shouldn't have to remind you to don't skimp out on the good stuff. Always pay a little extra for that better quality.

Whisk all dry ingredients together, or if you are lazy and smart like me, just blitz them all in the food processor. Like so.

Moving on to our wet ingredients. Having your egg whites already aged for a day in room temperature allowing some moisture to evaporate and the proteins to relax. In the mixing bowl, whisk together your egg whites, meringue powder and sugar until stiff peak. The addition of meringue powder will help strength your meringue since you are just adding in dried up egg whites. And they will always help with the absorption of moisture. Kitchen Aid comes in really handy in whisking this up.

Next. Fold in your meringue gently into your dry mixture and careful not to whisk the mixture. It's tempting to just want to whisk it all together, but if you do so, you will end up destorying all the little air bubbles in your meringue and you will end up with a very runny batter. I would say 4/5 of the time over mixing is the cause of most failures in macaron shell making.
So to properly fold your mixture, start from 11o'clock direction, scoop down to 4 and glide across to 7 and lift up to bring over to 2.

After when your batter has been mixed to this point above. As you can see it's quite shiny and almost pudding like surface. Very glossy. The consistancy of the batter is still quite thick, but it should resemble the viscosity of a milkshake, where it should only juuuusttt slightly hold it's ripples before merging back into it's puddle. If it's too runny, and it doesn't hold it's shape, you have over mixed it.

With your macaron batter, fill it into your pastry bag with a round tip. If you are using a Wilton brand pastry tip, a size #8-9 would be good. You want to pipe out small even circles about the size of a quarter and half. And. here's a trick, if you are right handed, always start piping your rows from the left to the right. Always start from top left and pipe across to the right, and shift 1 row down after or start from the top left and pipe down, then shift 1 collum over. Making sure you stagger the spaces so they are not all the rows are right above each other or beside. Pipe each shell in between the space gap of two top shells or two side shells. This way the heat will distribute even through out the baking process.
Then we need to let these macaron batter rest. Allowing them to form a skin on the surface so when it rises in the oven, it will create a nice dome shaped shell. Also, this will help with the proper development of the "feet" which is a signature symbol of macarons. As you can tell from the picture above and the pictures below, there's a difference on the surface of the shells. The ones below have been rested for about 20 minutes in room temperature and they have formed a skin. They don't feel sticky to the touch, and they are still quite soft on the insides.

After resting, you are ready to bake. So in a 320F oven, place your macarons and bake for about 16-20 minutes depending on your oven. In convection ovens, it only takes a quick 10-11 minutes with the fan on. Another trick for normal ovens, you can preheat another tray in the oven and simply place your macaron tray onto of the hot tray already in the oven. That extra heated tray will give you an extra boost in heat temperature and also help insolate more heat.
Trust me. No matter how many times I've baked a cake, a bread or even small petits four desserts like these macaron shells, everytime when I peak in the oven to see if they have risen correctly and they have~ I get so excited and kiddish. I do a little fist pump in my mind and I smile and say to myself, "whew~ good job Jack".

These macaron shells came out prefectly with a nice even rise and very well developed "feet" on the bottom. If you end up with TOO much feet, it means you have under mixed your batter or your oven temperature is too high. If you don't have much of any feet, chances are you have over mixed and or your oven temperature is not high enough.
Allow your shells to cool to room temperature before piping your filling. Especially if you are using a buttercream filling or a ganache in this case, you don't want your macaron shells to be warm when you are filling it. It will obviously start melting your buttercream and ganache. So rearrange your macaron shells and play match maker with similiar sized shells. Then have 1 roll top facing up and 1 roll top facing down so this way you can pipe your filling in an organized manner and also assamble'em without confusion.

For this chocolate macaron, we are filling it with a chocolate ganache that is a mixture of 70% dark chocolate and 30% milk chocolate in ratio. I find this will tone down the bitterness of the dark chocolate, but still giving you a nice richness of the cocoa flavor, but not too much of the sweetness.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Macarons. The 2 Methods of Making.

When it comes to macarons, there are two methods of making them: the French method and the Italian method. Some chefs will tell you, they swear by the French method, and another will not hear of anything than the other. And knowing how chefs or pastry chefs are, once they have their mind set on their own philosophy, it is then a one way street. Personally, I don't have much of a preference, however if I were to choose to make macarons, I would most likely choose the Italian method over the French. *Only because you have less of a chance to over mix your batter.

In this post, I will explain the differences between the two methods.

Although there are two methods of making the macaron, and each method will require you to do things a bit differently, the general idea is the same. To incorporate your meringue into your mixture of almond flour and confectioner sugar.
1) THE MERINGUE: The French method of making the macaron requires you to start whipping your egg whites with a large amount of sugar into a stiff peak. What you will end up with is classically called, "French Meringue". The Italian method of making the macaron is similar, but instead of making the French meringue, you are now making the "Italian Meringue". And this is done by boiling a mixture of water and sugar to a temperature of 118C - 121C and then adding it to your lightly frothed egg whites.


2) THE MIXING: During the incorporation of meringues into the dry mixture, I find it harder to fold in the French meringue into to dry mix compared to the Italian meringue. Although it is harder to fold in the French meringue into your dry mix, at the same time, the border line between a nicely incorporated and an over mixed is just a matter of 2-3 extra stirs away. Once you have over mixed your batter, you will start to release the water content that was once trapped by the stiff meringue, resulting in a very runny batter that will not hold its dome shape when piped. You will have an easier time folding in the Italian meringue and the chance of over mixing the macaron batter is smaller. Since the egg whites are partially cooked by the hot syrup, therefore making the proteins bonds stronger.


3) THE RESTING: There is also a difference between the period of resting time prior to baking your macarons. Resting time is one of the many important factors for the proper rise of the macarons during baking. Resting will allow a thin layer of skin to form on the surface of your piped macaron, and is also one of the contributors to producing the famous "feet" on the bottom of your baked shells. The French method will contain more moisture content and thus, will require you to rest your piped shells for at least 15-30 minutes depending on the humidity of the room. The Italian method, on the other hand, only requires you to rest your piped macaron batter for approximately 10-15 minutes. The reason for this shorter time of rest is due to the evaporation of moisture already happening when you were adding the hot syrup into your egg whites and whipping it to cool.



Thursday, December 2, 2010

Aging or Maturing Your Egg Whites! Loosen those coiled Proteins!

As strange as this extra but crucial step of aging your egg whites is, the result of it is actually quite beneficial to your success of whipping up a strong meringue. Aging or "maturing" in regards to egg whites is simply just a process of evaporating some of it's moisture content in the whites, and also allowing the coiled proteins to relax over time.

And to further understand the whole "coiled" proteins and how it works, just picture a slinky and how it is all coiled up like a spring. ( But okay, I'm sure under the microscope, the coiled proteins doesn't actually look like that! But you get the idea! ) It's hard to get it to stretch out without it springing back at you, so therefore, we age/mature the egg whites in room temperature or slightly warmer to allow the proteins to loosen up. Simple as that. When the coiled proteins in the egg whites are relaxed, they become much more easier to whisk up compared to egg whites straight out of the refrigerator, which have a stiffer coiled proteins. Although, both will eventually achieve the same volume when whisked, but one will take a longer time and the other, less.

Although some of pastry chefs in France will age their egg whites for days, weeks and sometimes even months! But you don't have to go to the extreme like that. They are most likely aging their egg whites for a different and specific purpose, like evaporating moisture content- and we will get to that in the later posts. But aging your egg whites for moisture evaporation is VERY important in making macarons, and yes, we will also talk about that later.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Often, too many people are not aware of the lengthy time required to make a proper macaron from scratch. Although, macaron can be whipped up in just under 30 minutes or so if made by a skilled pastry chef. However, a proper macaron is sadly not a 30 minute recipe, nor is it an hour or two or three, or a full day. The proper macaron production time is actually a minimal of three to four days. Yup! Surprised? Betcha' didn't know that! Did ya~ Haha. I know I speak like I am an "know-it-all" for macarons, but really.. I'm just as surprised as you are right now when I found out this fact just a few days ago.

Lately I've been doing a lot of researching, and practice on the arts of macarons, and I've been obessed with it's traditional ways of production. Along with also knowing the differences between a French method and the Italian method, which both certainly bring forth a different texture, density and perhaps even a different range of shelf life.
In the past, I've been taught to make it the French method, hence the restaurant that I worked at was a French one, Auberge du Pommier. But I've come quick to learn about the Italian method and in the next 2 or 3 posts, I will sharing them with you what I've discovered about macarons!. And even perhaps.. a recipe or two =D

Saturday, November 13, 2010

French Bread. It's the Soul of the French Bakers.

Making French bread is quite the thrill!!.. HA.. no.. not really. It's actually quite boring. The only fun part of it is the shaping aspect. The dough is so soft and easy on the hand to play with. I started yesterday with a poolish, which in simple terms is just a starter dough that will give you a boost of flavor in your bread with early fermentation. What is interesting about the Poolish or starter dough is that, it is actually ALIVE! Yup, it's alive. Like frankenstein alive. And just like all living organisms, you need to feed it food to keep it alive and healthy. As for the Poolish, it eats flour, so every morning you feed it with some flour and it's happy. There are stories of crazy bakers, mostly frenchies, where they would bring their poolish around as they travel. This way they can feed it everyday and also make delicious bread where ever they go. It's pretty neat. I think.

As boring as making bread is for me, I still admire the process of making it. It makes me happy to see perfectly shaped dough, ready to be scored and baked. The feel of working with lots amount of flour, eggs, yeast and salt.. getting messy with your hands, sometimes it's annoying but there are times, where you just feel so relaxed with kneading all the ingredients together into a soft dough. The feel of your hands and finger tips, crusty with the bits and pieces of dried dough, yes.. it's quite annoying also but hey! It's well worth the effort and the mess.

 So sometimes we would make up to 40-50 loaves a day of french bread or other types of breads, pastries and desserts, but by the time I get home, I only have 1 loaf of bread in my hand. Yes, I give them all away to people I see. People who I don't even know that I bump into, people who happen to sit next to me on the train, or neighbors that just happen to walk in the elevator when I'm in it.

Final note. People are always so surprised when I offer food to them, and although I'm shy and I don't really like confrontation of such behavior from strangers. I know this loaf of bread, cake, or pastry will make the rest of their night a more positive one. They will go home and say, " Hey honey! guess what.. some asian kid just gave me a free loaf of bread ! " .. lol. strange.. but is it? Should it be? It makes me wonder.. what has this world become to when the thought of giving without asking for anything in return is a suspicious motive. But I'm not going to let that thought stop me from sharing what I love the most. Making YOU happy by doing what I love to do. Sharing the food that i make DUH!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My favorite Lemon Cream !!

There's this recipe from our French Pastry School text book that teaches us how to make the best lemon cream for a filling on a tart or inside a cake, or for your cream puff filling. The possibility of usage for this lemon cream is endless! And I LOVE a good lemony dessert.

Before when I made any sort of lemon tart or lemon filling for a cake, I never would have thought about adding butter to the lemon curd to make it a lemon cream. This is just SO French, adding butter to everything that they get their hands on. Being Taiwanese, (Chinese) we tend to stay away from butter, we think it is very unhealthy to the heart so maybe that's why butter never popped up in my mind to add it to my lemon curd. However, it's ironic, because Asian food are known for it's hot oil flash fry or deep fried foods, and here we are saying No to butter? HA!

So here we have your basic lemon curd ingredients and with the addition of butter to make it a lemon cream. Notice the container of butter? That's A LOT of butter to be emulsifying into your curd. Delicious!
You would go about making your lemon curd by adding sugar to your eggs and lemon juice and then combining the two mixture together then zest your lemon rind into the mix. Then over a hot
water bath, you would cook the mixture to 85degree C to pasteurize your eggs. This is important to do so, if you don't hit 85C, you will run the risk bacteria growth and someone may get seriously ill from food poisoning!

With a digital thermometer measuring the lemon curd that's being cooked over a hot water bath. It's important to keep on whisking as the curd cooks, or else the eggs will end up cooking at the bottom and you will end up getting scrambled lemon eggs. Not very pleasant to eat at all! Keep that whisk going!

When it's time, you add the butter into your curd and by using a hand blender, you will need to emulsify the butter into your curd. This will give you a real smooth, creamy and thick texture that is packed with richness and flavor! I am in love.

Lemon Cream Tart with French Meringue!

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Classmates at the French Pastry School.

It's been almost 4 months or so since I've attended the French Pastry School in early July and time is sure flying by fast. I still remember back in February when I was still in Taiwan, pondering if I should spend $22,000USD on attending the French Pastry School to further my pastry knowledge. And I can tell you with a proud mind set that, I've made a right decision.

Here at the French Pastry School, I met some of the best Pastry Chefs from around the world. From Chef Della, who was the Head Pastry Chef at 'Charlie Trottors' for many many years to World Pastry Champions like Chef Dimitri, who've just recently returned from competing at the MOF semi-finals in France. We have Chef Josh, who is super talented at everything to anything chocolate, and he has an awesome chocolate milk drink that he made for us at the end of the chocolate class. Chef En-Ming, who is another World Champion, competed for Team USA and won 1st place. And many, many more passionate Chefs, like Chef John and Chef Pierre who will be soon teaching us the the art of artisan bread making!

I enjoyed meeting everyone in my class, 4 months together have really brought all of us from strangers to almost a family-like relationship. We look forward to seeing each other everyday, look forward to making French pastries together and most of all, we are always looking forward to tasting our delicious desserts at the end of class!

Every table at school has a Kitchen Aid Stand mixer and an induction burner, along with multiple baking trays of different sizes, and stainless steel bowls and plastic bowls for mixing. There are always tons of tools and equipment for all the students to use, so none of us would have to really wait for major appliances to mix our cake batters or cook our pastry cream.

The French Pastry School does a really great job of making sure that each and every one of their students are getting the chance to use tools best suited for the task. They spend thousands of dollars on kitchen appliances, like the blast freezers that will freeze anything into a solid within a matter of minutes! And this will assure the best quality is of our work is preserved for the next day or to take home to eat. They buy the best ice cream making machines, and deck ovens that will bake anything from tarts to breads with the most prefect condition top and bottom.

There are 18 students per class, 2 students per table and at the end of each day, all 18 of us will do a thorough clean up of the kitchen classroom. We are all assigned a duty or task to go about our cleaning, from sweeping the floors, to mopping. All the fridges are wiped down with special polishing material, and all the tables are scrubbed and sanitized with the proper sanitizing solution. Every table gets reset at the end of class, meaning all the trays of different sizes are restocked, all the plastic containers and stainless steel bowls are neatly placed underneath the table. All is prepared and ready for the next day!

We have tons of kitchen aid mixer bowls, and stainless steel rings and plastic containers to scale our ingredients in. And at the end of class, they are all washed through a 3 sink dish compartment, 1st rinsed out with hot water, then it's scrubbed with soap, and it's rinsed again in hot water and then finally it's soaked in a sanitizing solution. Afterwards, we place them on the racks and hand dry them! It's a really fun job! I promise! =D