Getting Artsy: Plated Desserts (and chocolate souffle recipe)

In fine dining, a beautiful plate comes second only to tasty food.  Talented chefs transform every plate into elaborate works of edible art.  When the patron is torn between devouring a plate because it looks and smells so delicious and regretting the first bite because it ruins the gorgeous aesthetic, the chef knows he’s done a good job.  The pastry chef is especially tasked with pushing the envelope to create stunning yet delectable desserts.  In Le Cordon Bleu’s bakeshop, we spent 2 days learning basic plating techniques.  Not nearly enough time but it’s a start.

Vanilla bean ice cream

Now I’m a bit clumsy, and a bit impatient, and really not so artistic (despite being left-handed).  So plating can be a challenge for a girl like me with two right thumbs.  But I gave it my best shot.  We made 5 plated desserts: vanilla ice cream in an edible bowl, creme brulee, cheesecake, chocolate souffle, and the classic Bananas Foster.  To make our plates pretty we also made raspberry coulis (raspberry sauce), chocolate sauce, creme anglaise (aka “the mother sauce” of the bakeshop), and tuile (pronounced “tweel”), which are fortune cookie like confections that can be molded into bowls and other fun shapes for garnish.

Bruleeing the brulee

The vanilla ice cream was a cinch, especially when you have a $6k commercial ice cream maker that goes from liquid to soft-serve in 6 minutes flat.  My edible tuile bowl was lovely and I’m starting to get the hang of writing in cursive in chocolate.  The artful “smear” of chocolate sauce didn’t fare too well (though I’ve never been a fan of the smear).

Plating cheesecake

The creme brulee (French for “burnt cream”) was easy.  All you really need to do is make a custard (we used fresh vanilla bean for extra fanciness), strain it, bake it, add a generous coat of sugar and set that baby aflame.

Next up, cheesecake.  Here’s where we were supposed to get imaginative.  I came up with a whimsical butterfly design, which I made by squirting the chocolate outline, then chilling until it hardened to form my border.  I filled that in with creme anglaise, and for accents I used cut-outs of kiwi and raspberry coulis.  I topped the cheesecake with a tuile twist.  Pretty, yes? It only took me two tries (my raspberry squirt out too fast the first time and made my butterfly bleed).

Plated cheesecake

The souffle was a first for me.  I always thought souffles were complicated, delicate, and required tiptoeing around the kitchen to avoid making the souffle fall.  I was delighted to be wrong about that one as they were surprisingly easy to make.  Mine puffed up just like it was supposed to.  For service we poured creme anglaise right in the middle.  Oh-my-stars was it good!  I think the souffle was a personal highlight of baking for me.  I can’t wait to impress my next dinner party guests!  Fun stuff.  You should definitely try it- you’ll be surprised how fun they are to make.  I’ll even give you the recipe I adapted from Le Cordon Bleu to get you started.  Chocolate Souffle with Creme Anglaise recipe, below.  [Note- your extra creme anglaise makes the most spectacular cream for your coffee.  A little trick I learned when we ran out of creamer yesterday].

Plating chocolate souffle

Finally, the Bananas Foster.  Fun to light liquour (rum and Grand Marnier) on fire and yell “Flambe!,” but kind of a hot mess on the plate. [See pics in gallery, above]. Our instructor said it’s supposed to look that way.  This wasn’t my favorite.  Way too sweet.  If I do it again I’d add orange segments to cut that sweetness.

Now that I have the basics, I need to get practicing.  I wish I paid more attention in grammar school when they taught cursive.

Chocolate Souffle with Creme Anglaise

Serves 4-6
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 1 hour, 20 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

Souffle base

  • 1 1/2oz Bread flour
  • 1 1/2oz Unsalted Butter
  • 8oz Whole milk
  • 2oz Granulated Sugar
  • 3 Egg yolks
  • 3oz Semi-sweet chocolate

Meringue

  • 5 Egg Whites
  • 1oz Granulated sugar

Creme Anglaise

  • 8oz Whole milk
  • 4oz Heavy cream
  • 3 Egg yolks
  • 3 1/2oz Granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Vanilla bean (seeds scraped, or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract))

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. First make the creme anglaise. Put the milk, cream, and about half of the sugar in a sauce pan. Split the vanilla bean in half. Using the back of your knife, scrape out the tiny brown seeds and add the seeds and the leftover bean to your pan. Heat the milk mixture until it scalds (tiny bubbles on the sides of the pan, not a rolling boil).
2. Whisk the yolks and the remaining sugar in a mixing bowl until yellow and frothy. Temper the yolks by pouring in a tiny bit of hot milk mixture to the yolk mixture while whisking, then add a tiny bit more, continue to whisk, keep doing this until you’ve added about half of the milk mixture. Tempering prevents you from cooking the egg yolks, that’s bad.
3. Pour the tempered yolk mixture back in the sauce pan with your milk mixture so now everything is together. Place back on low to medium heat and stir constantly. You’re creme anglaise is done when the mixture thickens to “nappe” consistency (it coats the back of a wooden spoon), about 5 minutes.
4. Place a clean bowl over some ice, and strain your creme anglaise through a fine mesh sieve into the clean bowl. The ice will help it cool.
5. Next make the souffle base. Melt butter in a sauce pan on medium heat and add the flour. Make a roux by stirring the flour until it forms a smoothe thick paste. Continue to stir for about 2 minutes over medium heat so the starchiness cooks out. You don’t want your roux to start browining. Remove roux from pan and set aside.
6. In the pan, add 2 oz sugar and the milk and cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and milk scalds (small bubbles form on sides of pan. Not a rolling boil). Remove from heat and add the roux back in. Stir with whisk until a thick creamy paste forms and there are no lumps. Taste to make sure it doesn’t taste starchy, like raw flour. If it does, cook on low heat until the starchiness goes away.
7. Make a French meringue. Add egg whites to mixing bowl. Mix on high for about 30 seconds to get the eggs started. Add 1 oz sugar to egg whites and mix until medium stiff peaks form. (Remove whisk attachments and invert. If the whites left on the end just start to crest over like a wave, you’re done. If they drip off, mix some more. If they stand up straight you’ve gone too far).
8. Carefully fold the meringue into the souffle base 1/3 at a time. Do not over mix and be gentle. Stop when egg whites are incorporated.
9. Prepare 6 3-inch ramekins by coating bottom and sides with butter. Then add a little sugar and roll around until sugar adheres to egg. Wipe tops and sides of ramekins clean.
10. Pour souffle batter into prepared ramekins almost to the top of the ramekins. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until souffle is set in the center. Souffle will puff up a lot.
11. Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately. If you wait too long your souffle will deflate again, not pretty. When it’s in front of your guest, split the souffle in the middle with a spoon and pour in 1 oz of creme anglaise directly in the center.

Sacher Torte: Cakes Part 2

For our second day of cakes in baking class, we journeyed to Austria to pay homage to Austria’s most famous dessert, the Sacher Torte (pronounced “soccer”).  Legend has it the Sacher Torte was invented in 1832, when sixteen-year-old cooking apprentice Franz Sacher stepped in for an ill chef to prepare a special dessert for Prince Metternich and his stately guests.  The dessert became a hit in Vienna, and “The Original Sacher-Torte,” a carefully guarded recipe, has been tauted as the most famous cake in the world (though I admit I had never heard of such a cake until I made it the other day).

Le Cordon Bleu, obviously not privy to Vienna’s trade secret recipe, must have reverse-engineered the recipe provided to us.  And I will intern provide the adapted recipe to you, Sacher Torte recipe.  Caution: this isn’t your run of the mill cake.  It takes quite a bit of time to prepare, but is not difficult and the end result is pretty darned good.  The chocolate cake is surprisingly dense and light all at the same time, and the oozing apricot jam center complements the chocolate like honey to apples.  The double layer of chocolate frosting packs a rich punch.  The torte is traditionally served with whipped cream, though I sent it off to Big N’s work sans creme.

After making my torte in class, and having no special event on tap to tote my torte, I let Big N bring it with him to be devoured by his work colleagues.  As luck would have it, a fellow foodie blogger was able to sample my torte (my first review!).  Here’s what The Princess Gourmet had to say about yours truly (well, my torte, at least):

“A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! Light, not too dense. Subtle sweetness. Apricot jam in the middle added a nice layer of flavor. It’s supposed to be served with unsweetened whipped cream (didn’t miss it) but on its own, it’s wonderful. It’s one of the best sacher tortes I’ve ever had.”

Not too shabby, right?  Sacher it to me baby!  (How could I resist?!?)

Enjoy sacher torte

Next up: creme brulee and the elusive souffle.

Sacher Torte

Serves 8-10
Prep time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 2 hours
Meal type Dessert
Region European

Ingredients

Cake

  • 4.5oz Butter, unsalted
  • 5.75oz Sugar (Baker's (super fine) works best)
  • 4oz Egg yolks (about 4)
  • 6oz Egg whites (About 4)
  • 1 1/2oz Cake flour
  • 1 1/2oz Cocoa powder (good quality)
  • 1 3/4oz Almond meal (finely ground in food processor)
  • 4oz Apricot jam (no chunks)
  • 4oz Simple syrup ((instructions below))
  • to tasteVanilla or brandy (to flavor simple syrul)

Chocolate glaze

  • 8oz Semi-sweet chocolate
  • 6oz Butter, unsalted
  • 1 tablespoon Light corn syrup
  • Semi-sweet chocolate (Reserve some to write on the cake)

Note

Read through all of the instructions before getting started

Directions

1.
Cream the butter and just 3 3/4 oz. of the sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg yolks until incorporated. Place this mixture in a large mixing bowl and wash out the bowl to your stand mixer.
2.
In a separate bowl, sift all dry ingredients together. (The almond meal may not go through the sifter as it is thicker than flour, that’s ok, just dump the rest in).
3.
In your stand mixer, make a meringue by beating the egg whites until foamy on high speed with the whisk attachment. Add the remaining 2 ounces of sugar and continue to beat until medium stiff peaks form. (To test your peaks: take the whisk out with a little egg white stuck to it. Invert the whisk, and if the foam falls off completely it’s not stiff enough. If the foam crests like a wave you’re there. If the foam stands up straight, that’s stiff peaks and you’ve gove too far). Do not over beat.
4. Carefully fold the meringue into the creamed butter/sugar batter, one third at a time until just incorporated. Do not overwhip your egg whites or your cake will be too dense, save as much air in those egg whites as you can when folding. Then carefully fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
5.
Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Add the batter, and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees until set in the center (until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean), between 20-30 minutes (test it to be sure). Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack and remove torte from pan to finish cooling.
6.
When cooled, carefully slice the torte in half horizontally so you have 2 layers using a serrated knife. Make a simple syrup by combining 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Heat on stove until sugar is just dissolved. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon of brandy to the syrup for flavoring. Using a pastry brush, brush the simple syrup on the top and sides of each layer so it moistens the torte. Be generous with this. You want a lot of moisture on the torte.
7.
Using a spatula, spread the apricot jam thickly on the bottom layer. Put the second layer on top so you have a two layered torte.
8.
Next make the chocolate glaze. Combine the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (double boiler) to melt these together, stirring frequently until melted.
9. Divide the chocolate glaze: put 1/3 of it in a separate bowl and set aside. Keep the remaining 2/3 in your original bowl and place this bowl over an ice bath (water and ice) to cool the glaze. Whisk it the whole time while cooling. If the chocolate freezes on the sides of the bowl, take out of the water bath, keep whisking to incorporate, and then put it back in the water bath to whisk some more. After about 3-5 minutes the chocolate will get nice and thick as it cools and will have the consistency of spreadable frosting.
10.
Place the torte on cardboard. Coat the entire torte with this frosting and make it smooth with your offset spatula. If you can't get it smooth enough, run your spatula under warm water to help you slightly melt the frosting and get it smoother. Chill for 10 minutes. Trim around the cardboard if necessary so it is the same size as the torte.
11.
Place the torte with the cardboard cut to fit on a wire rack that is sitting over a sheet tray that is covered in plastic wrap (to catch the chocolate you're about to pour). Reserve a small bit of the left over chocolate sauce (to write on your torte later). With the remaining reserved sauce sauce, pour it right over the center of the torte and let it drip down the sides. Try to coat the entire torte and get the sides smooth. If you run out of chocolate sauce before the entire torte is covered, pick up the plactic wrap where the sauce dripped on it and pour the sauce over the torte again. Let the chocolate set on the counter, do not refrigerate or you’ll lose all that cool shine on the chocolate.
12.
Optional: with the last bit of your reserved chocolate, place melted chocolate in a pastry bag and cut a small tip off it. Write “sacher” on the torte (traditional); or write whatever you want (modern). Serve the same day. Congratulations.

Pate a Choux : G-d Bless You!

Eclairs may just be the perfect French treat.  Crisp flaky pastry shell, sweet cream center, healthy dose of chocolate topping.  Not too sweet, not too filling, just the right amount of indulgence.  Even health fanatic Big N can’t resist the alluring eclair.

Baking an eclair is fairly simple, though a little time consuming.  Start to finish you’re investing about 3 hours, but when those 3 hours are up you’ll look at your 1/2 dozen eclairs and which you’d doubled the recipe.

Eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, and gougeres (cheesy puff balls) all start with a French basic, the Pâte à Choux (gesundheit), which roughly translates to “cabbage paste.”  I believe the French call it cabbage paste because cream puffs look like little cabbage rolls after they’re baked.  Don’t ask me why, I didn’t name it.  Funny name aside, pâte à choux is a fairly versatile dough to have in the arsenal and not that complicated to make (no rolling, turning, chilling, rolling, turning, chilling, like other French pastries).   Pâte à Choux recipe follows.

What you do with your pâte à choux is up to you.  (You like all this rhyming?)  Stuff it with Chantilly Cream and you have cream puffs.  Add strawberries (and basil?) or blueberries (and lemon zest?) and you have a more exciting puff.  Add pastry cream and loads of chocolate on top and you have an eclair.  Add hazulnut flavored pastry cream and some almonds and you have a Paris-Brest (created and named in honor of the famous bike race from Paris to Brest, France).  Add some gruyere to your dough and you have gougeres, which make a nice pre-dinner roll.  Lots of possibilities.  Pastry and Chantilly Cream recipe follows (for cream puffs and eclairs).

My eclairs were delectable and my cream puffs divine.  More butter straight to my thighs (only 3 more weeks of baking class, then back to the treadmill).  But don’t take my word for it.  When Big N took the rest of my cream puffs to work (we can’t eat all this sweet stuff or we’d go mad!), here’s what a lucky taster had to say:

“The blueberry pastry was fantastic!  This was as good or better than the best I’ve had in Europe or the best restaurants in the US.

It had a perfect texture, was not too sweet and very pleasureful to eat. Perfect treat!”

And he speaks French! High praise indeed.  Compliments make me beam. :-)

Eclairs cream puffs and espresso

Next up: Quiche! Blueberry pies, and lemon curd tarts! Oh my.

Pate a Choux: Eclair & Cream Puff Paste

Serves 12
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hours, 15 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 6 oz Bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 4 oz Butter (Unsalted)
  • 8 oz Water
  • 10 oz Eggs ((about 5, but best to weigh out))

Directions

1. Combine water, butter, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a rolling poil.
2. Remove from heat and add flour, all at once. Stir quickly until dough forms a ball in the bottom of the pan. You’re ready when the dough coats the bottom of the hot pan and starts to stick, about 2 minutes.
3.
Transfer the dough to a mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low (setting 2 on the Kitchenaid) until the steam stops rising and dough has cooled slightly. Turn mixer on medium (setting 4) and add eggs one at a time until each egg is mixed in.
4.
Mix until dough becomes a smooth paste and passes the “finger test.” Put a little dough between your thumb and forefinger and start to pull apart slowly. If your fingers can separate and the dough still remains together in a line, you’re ready and it’s elastic enough. If it splits apart before your fingers spread apart, keep mixing.
5.
Place dough into pastry bag and pipe in shapes: 3 inch long rods for eclairs (moving pastry tip in a circular motion to create a thicker rod, see photo), and 2 inch circles for cream puffs (moving pastry tip in rising "pinwheel" motion).
6. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the oven and bake at 375 until the puffs are well browned and crisp, close to 1 hour.
7. Fill with desired filling.

Pastry Cream: Eclair Filling

Serves 12
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 20 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Sugar
  • 32 fl oz Milk (Whole)
  • Melting Chocolate (Use chocolate that hardens, like tempered or chocolate wafers)
  • 1/2 oz Vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped)
  • 2 1/2 oz Corn Starch
  • 2 oz Butter (Unsalted)
  • 4 Egg Yolks
  • 2 Eggs

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. In large sauce pan, heat 4 oz (half) of the sugar and the milk until it scalds (small bubbles up sides of pan and a little foamy on top).
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks, corn starch, and the rest of your sugar until it’s smooth.
3. Temper the hot mixture with the cold: add the hot milk liquid to the egg and corn starch mixture a small amount at a time so it doesn’t cook your eggs. When the mixture is warm enough you can add the rest.
4. Put the mixture back in your sauce pan and on medium heat, continue stirring until it thickens. Do not stop stirring or it will burn. After about 5 minutes the cream mixture will thicken and boil. When it looks thick enough, remove from heat.
5. Place in separate pan, cover with wax paper (so it doesn’t form a crust on top) and cool until ready to use.
6. To fill eclairs: cut out small round hole in bottom of eclair (save the piece you cut out). Put cooled pastry cream in a piping bag fitted with a medium round tip (Ateco # 804 or smaller). Put tip in hole you cut out and squeeze to fill eclair. Stick the piece you cut out back in the hole (the sticky cream will hold it in place).
7. Melt tempered chocolate or chocolate wafers over a double boiler until just melted (do not burn and be careful that your bowl and all utensils are dry because water makes chocolate "seize" and that's bad). Turn the filled eclair over and dip top in the melted chocolate. Let dry until the chocolate hardens.

Chantilly Cream: Cream Puff filling

Serves 12
Prep time 5 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

  • 12 oz Heavy cream
  • 2 oz Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. In an electric mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.
2. Using the whisk attachment, whisk on low, then gradually increase to high. Whisk about 2 minutes until stiff peaks form but do not over mix. (Stiff peaks: take your whisk attachment out and turn it upside down. If the cream left on the whisk falls over and looks like an ocean wave, you’re at medium peaks. If it stays in a little point like a little snow capped mountain, you’re there.) Chill until ready to use.
3. To fill cream puffs: take a serrated knife and slice off the top third of each cream puff (make sure you keep the pieces you sliced off together with their bottoms so you remember which top belongs to which bottom). Fill pastry bag with chantilly cream fitted with a star tip. Pipe cream in concentric circles until you have a nice mound of cream. Add berries or other flavorings if you wish. Put cream puff top back on. Dust each cream puff with powdered sugar.

Spreading Joy with Quick Breads: Cookies, Muffins, Brownies

We spent the last two days finishing off our survey of quick breads with muffins, cookies, and Betty Crocker’s favorite, brownies.  Though I’m not yet a patissier, I’ve already learned a couple of valuable lessons.

Blueberry muffins and brownies

First, don’t trust a partner to measure your ingredients.  We worked in pairs to prepare an entire sheet pan of brownies.  While I was off carefully melting our unsweetened chocolate and butter mixture, my partner, who is ordinarily pretty Sharp and is one of my culinary buddies, measured our dry ingredients.  Professional bakers measure by weight on a scale, not by volume in cups, so it’s a little trickier at first.  Somewhere along the way we messed up, because our brownies were dense and dry, not the gooey chocolatey goodness they were supposed to be.  Personally I think he added too much flour but it’s still a mystery that not even our instructor could unlock.  Sorry pard’ner, I’m blaming you for this one.

My blueberry muffins, which I did all on my own, turned out fluffly, light, perfect.

Chocolate chip cookies

Yesterday we moved on to cookies, where I learned my second imporant lesson.  Cooking in a professional kitchen is not like cooking by myself in my kitchen at home where I control everything.  For one thing, it’s about 30 degrees hotter in LCB’s kitchen.  That means your butter melts faster, a bad thing when it comes to cookies.  More often than not we need to stop to chill our batter before baking.  For another, I need to share an oven with about 5 other people.  We haven’t yet mastered working together to put our trays in at the same time so oven doors are constantly opening and closing, letting the precious heat escape.  Cookie rule number 1: when you put your cookies in an oven that’s not up to temperature, this happens:

Peanut butter cookies for evaluation

Spread.  Oh death.  (Side note 1: I don’t know why, but every time I think about spread this song pops into my head, replace “sprawl” with “spread.”  Could be because I LOVE that song, it’s a personal mantra of sorts.)  If spread has happened to you, you know how frustrating it is.  (Side note 2: the divine David Lebovitz, a blogger favorite, has a helpful post detailing why cookies spread and how to prevent it, here.)  My chocolate chip cookies otherwise turned out fine, and upon tasting them my instructor gave me a thumbs up despite the dreaded spread, which happened to nearly everybody on cookie day.

By my second batch of cookies, peanut butter, I had learned my lesson, and waited patiently until others chose their ovens before I found one that everybody else forgot existed.  And wouldn’t you know it, perfect!  I’ve never been a fan of peanut butter, but if you are, then this one’s for you: Peanut butter cookie recipe below.

Peanut butter cookies and milk

Today in baking class: yeast breads (baguettes!).  How French!  More soon…

Peanut butter cookies

Serves 12-20
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 12 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 12 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 12 oz Butter, unsalted (Cold)
  • 8 oz Brown sugar
  • 8 oz Granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Salt
  • 12 oz Peanut butter (Smooth is preferred)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla extract
  • 16 oz Pastry flour ((you can use all purpose too))
  • 1 teaspoon Baking soda
  • Extra sugar (to top cookies)

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. In a mixer, add cold butter in chunks along with and brown and granulated sugar. Mix on low until butter is creamed together.
3. Add peanut butter and mix until just combined.
4. Add eggs and mix on low until just combined.
5. In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt, and baking soda together.
6. Add flour mixture in thirds to sugar mixture, mixing on low speed to incorporate 1/3 at a time, or by hand until just combined. DO NOT OVER MIX (or your cookies will spread).
7. Chill the batter for 20 minutes (important to prevent spread).
8. Scoop out 1/4 cups of batter and roll into balls. Roll the balls in some granulated sugar until they are coated with a fine dusting of sugar all around. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat and press down lightly with your palm. Take a fork and press into the batter slightly once with the tines, then change direction and press twice to get a cross hatch pattern on the top of the cookie. Sprinkle the top with a little brown sugar or sugar crystals if you have them. Place prepared cookie sheets in the refrigerator again and chill for 30 minutes (again, to prevent spread).
9. Bake for 8-12 minutes until cookies are lightly browned.