Friday, May 28, 2010

Day Five: Flambeeing Apples

As you can see from my first picture, today was exciting! We sauteed then flambeed apples in Calvados. I don't know if you can see the intense concentration on my face (or fear). It was slightly scary doing it for the first time but really fun. I wouldn't try it at home unless your entire kitchen is stainless steel. The trick is taking the pan of the fire, slowly pouring in the liquor, then tilting it toward the gas flame until the whole pan ignites in flames.

We used the flambeed apples in a Tart Alsacciane--an apple and custard tart from the Alsace region of France. The second tart we made today was a baked apricot tart. We also baked gingersnaps from the dough we made a couple of days ago, mixed more tart dough for next week, and prepared vanille kipferl dough. Vanille kipferls are an Austrian crescent shaped cookie made with hazelnut flour. We also made a batch of pastry dough by hand, using the sablage method of mixing it on the counter

My first week of pastry school is now officially over. I have a lot of information to process over the long weekend. Tonight JB and I celebrate five years of marriage at a restaurant whose executive chef graduated from my school. I'm thankful that JB's office is about a 10 minute walk south from the school. Every day after school I've been walking my tarts down to his office for him and his co-workers to enjoy. I hope they're not too tired of tarts, because more are coming next week! Lemon, chocolate, Bavarian cream, nut, rustic onion, tomato...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day Four: More Tarts

Today we continued with our unit on tarts. The second picture is of the first tart we made, a tarte bourdeloue, which layers poached pears and almonds over creme d'amandes (almond cream). We poached the pears for about an hour in white wine, water, lemon juice, sugar, and a split and scraped vanilla bean. We cut and fanned the poach tarts on top of the almond cream and baked them. I took the picture before I lightly dusted it with powdered sugar.

The middle photo shows my second tart, the fresh fruit tart and my favorite of the two. This tart would be perfect for a warm summer day. It is layered with almond cream (creme d'amandes) and a thin layer of pastry cream (creme patisierre) and then topped with fresh fruit. We continued to practice our knife skills on the fruit. My favorite part is arranging the fruit on the tart, which is harder than it looks! Every piece of fruit must be evenly sliced and perfectly placed. There is definitely room for me to improve.

We also made a second batch of pate sucree for a tart we'll be making tomorrow--tarte alsacienne. For the tart, we'll get to flambee apples. I'll let y'all know if I set myself on fire.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tarte A La Creme Banane

Here is my tarte a la creme banane in pate sucree, filled with creme legere, and topped with piped rosettes of creme chantilly. Or, if you are not at the French Culinary Institute, I suppose you would call it a banana cream tart, made with a sweet pastry dough, lightened pastry cream, and piped sweetened whip cream. It always sounds better in French, though, doesn't it :). I took this picture before I dusted on cocoa powder to finish it off.

We started today with the second half of our lecture on food safety by learning how to properly receive and store food in a commercial kitchen. We then made a gingersnap dough and left it chilling in the fridge overnight. We also prepared pate brisee, which is the classic french pastry dough. It is similar to pie dough and uses a bit of salt and very little sugar. We will use it tomorrow to make 2 tarts: a fresh fruit tart and a poached pear and almond tart. We will also be making chocolate pots de creme and baking the gingersnaps.

With respect to the apple tart I made yesterday, we finished the tart with apricot nappage to make it shiny. Apricot nappage is used by pastry chefs for that shiny finish you see on most fruit tarts, pies, etc. It is made by reconstituting the thick nappage over high heat with a liquid. You can achieve almost the same thing by cooking down apricot jam with a liquid and a bit of corn syrup, I think. One thing I love about this program is all the technical information we are learning about food. We don't just learn the recipe and then make it. We discuss the basic ingredients, the proper ratio of the ingredients, how they interact with one other, the purpose of each ingredient, and possible substitutions.

Now, I'm off to the gym.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tarte Aux Pommes

I definitely don't claim to be an expert photographer. My pictures are just to show y'all what I'm making each day. Here is the tarte aux pommes, or apple tart, that we finished today. Looking at this picture, I already see things I know I can improve--it needs to be more browned, the rosette in the middle is a little to the right, I cut the apples a bit too thick, the apples could be more tightly layered. Agh! But setting aside the perfection this program is teaching me to aim for, I am kind of proud of my first creation. And it tasted good!

Today was another fast-paced day. We spent two hours of the day learning about food safety and sanitation. I think the scariest thing we were taught was about parasitic worms that live in raw and undercooked pork and can travel to your brain. Thankfully, I don't think we'll have to worry too much about that in making pastry and desserts, although I have eaten a bacon and dark chocolate bar before :).

We finished the day making creme patissiere (pastry cream). Creme patissiere, along with creme anglaise, are the 2 "mother sauces" of any French pastry chef. And if I have to make it a lot, I will have a seriously buff and muscular right arm. It must be whisked vigorously and continuously, as we were constantly reminded. And as the sauce thickens it gets harder and harder to whisk, but on you must whisk lest you get dreaded lumps in your cream. I think I know why all the contestants on Top Chef have sweat dripping from their nose. Tomorrow, we use the cream as a base for a banana cream tart. Ciao.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day One

Today I started my six month accelerated program at the French Culinary Institute. It is exciting to be back in school after working for almost four years and especially exciting because this schooling is like nothing I've done before.

The 22 students in my class are from many backgrounds and nationalities. I'm really looking forward to learning from them and perhaps teaching them a few things about Southern desserts :).

Today we learned knife skills and practiced them by dicing apples for an apple compote. I don't think I'll be flying through fruits and vegetables like Hung on Top Chef any time soon, but I definitely thought learning the proper grip was useful.

The majority of the class was spent learning about the technical aspects of pastry dough and making pate sucree (sweet pastry dough). The dough is chilling overnight and tomorrow we'll use it to make an apple tart.

Everyone I talked to who has completed this program talks about how quickly it speeds by. After today, I understand that better. No second of class is wasted and every task is designed for maximum efficiency. It was a blast. Now, I'm off to purchase an electric scale--our recipes are measured in grams for precision.