Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"How can a nation be great..."

"...if it's bread tastes like Kleenex?" - Julia Child

I do so enjoy a Julia Child quote... :)

Kouign-Amann (pronounced roughly kwin-ammon) is to die for. It is everything that's wonderful (and terrible) in a dessert. It's got pastry, it's got butter, and it's got sugar. Lots of butter, and lots of sugar. It's delicious, but it's sooo caloric! Oof! Small bites! Anyway, it comes from the Breton people of France, and it is more or less a croissant with sugar, baked in a cake form. To make it, we made a soft dough which we rolled out into a long rectangle. We then spread softened butter over 2/3 of the dough and sprinkled approximately 50g of white sugar over the butter. Then we folded the bare third of the dough over onto the sugared part, and folded the other exposed third over that. Let this chill, then roll out into a rectangle, sprinkle with another 50g of sugar, tri-fold and chill. Roll out into a large square, spread another 50g of sugar over the whole surface, fold the corners into the middle like an envelope, and repeat folding. Then flip this into your cake pan and bake. Halfway thru baking, remove from the often, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with more sugar before returning to the oven. Yum. Just, yum.

Kouign-Amann - look at those layers! :)
With an Italian bread dough we made a "demi loaf." Apparently a regular loaf is twice the size...? *shrug* There are specific rules for how many slits you make on the top of a specific kind of bread. Baguettes have 5 slits, demis have 2. I made baguettes for the first time today. I think my dough was a little soft, because it seemed especially difficult to get the long skinny shape. With a portion of the dough (French bread) we made a sun loaf, which was just a big round disc of dough that we let rise, and then depressed the middle and cut lines around the outside which we twisted to make the sun's rays. Fun :) We also used the French bread dough to make épis (corn cobs?). It starts out like a baguette, but instead of slitting the tops after proofing, we made deep cuts and flipped the points to either side.

Demi loaf

Sun loaf
Épis and baguette
We also practiced croissants again, and this time we could make either almond croissants (a dollop of almond cream inside before rolling up, then a little more cream on top and rolled in slivered almonds before proofing/baking, finished with a dusting of powdered sugar after baking) or fruit croissants (a thin line of jam/pie filling inside before rolling up, and then a drizzle of fondant on top after baking). I chose to make regular (to practice) and almond croissants, because my cousin mentioned that she loved almond croissants. :)

Almond croissants
For the onion & cheese loaf, we started it like a baguette but a bit bigger. After proofing, we cut one long slit down the middle and filled it with onion slices and shredded cheese before baking. Another day we made baguettes, wreaths (which we cut the same way we did the épis), and hats. They are pretty silly looking, but it was kind of fun to make. We just took a big ball of dough and flattened out one side, then poked a hole into the middle of the fat part. We rolled a smaller ball of dough in poppy seeds and dropped that in the hole. After proofing, we flattened down the beak of the hat (leaving the very end puffy) and made small cuts around the outside to help it rise upwards.

Onion & cheese loaf

Baguette, wreath, hat
 We made a loaf called, I believe, fleur de campagne. But I didn't write it down and can find no evidence to prove it. This one also starts as a baguette, but before proofing, we made three holes along the top, and two shallow slices along both sides of the holes. Then we stretched out and squished up the holes together in the middle to give it a sort of flour shape. After proofing, we dusted with flour and baked.

Fleur de campagne
We made saucipain (red wine, sausage, pistachios), which was absolutely disgusting, in my humble opinion! I don't like wine, and I don't like nuts in my food, so... The recipe made a very tiny loaf and it was hard to work in the sausage and nuts

Saucipain (photo courtesy of Kelly)
 We made other types of breads and shaped loaves, but I didn't take the time to photograph them, or write down their names. So, below is my last photo taken on my last day of the 2013-2014 school year! The last exam we did was brioches et pains briochés. I was absolutely convinced that croissants were a part of this exam, but apparently it will be one of the first exams we do upon returning in the fall. For this exam, all we had to make were salad rolls and brioches à tête. My salad rolls, as you can see, were as near perfection as could be. The brioches are a bit darker than I, personally, would have liked them to be. But the buns themselves are the best shape I have made to date. Normally the heads all fall over, but these all stayed very proudly on top. :)

So, the school year is finished now for the summer. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I'm very glad for the break... But on the other hand, it seems silly to take 3 months off, when we only have about 3 months left to finish. A two week break would have sufficed? *sigh* If we were to continue the course through the summer, I think we would be finished by the end of September. It makes more sense to me. But, I'm not the one in charge. So... instead, I face the decision of whether or not to a) look for a full-time summer job that may or may not continue as part-time when school starts, b) look for any full- or part-time summer work I can find, or c) just enjoy my last free summer and work on some personal projects, and hope for a few baking jobs on the side to have a bit of income.

Brioches et pains briochés - exam

Monday, May 19, 2014

Exam Season

In the past two weeks we've had three exams, and I remembered to take pictures of all three!! So here they are, as well as some other desserts and things we've been finishing up between exams. First up was our exam in pâtes battues-poussées (doughs and batters that don't have a leavening agent, their volume is achieved manually before baking). This included a génoise cake, six éclairs (not filled), and six biscuits succès (an almond cookie with whipped egg-whites in the batter). I did very well on this exam.

Pâtes battues-poussées
Finished éclairs
The succes cookies finished off with hazelnut mousseline
The next exam was crèmes et garnitures (creams and fillings), which included a chocolate mousse, crèmes caramels renversées, and coffee buttercream. I wasn't as prepared for this exam as I should have been - I didn't even know all the three items we were supposed to do! But I did fairly well. Part of the exam is unmolding one of the caramel creams in front of the examiner, and I had some difficulty with that. My buttercream wasn't as soft as it should have been when I presented it, either. But all in all, I did well.

Crèmes et garnitures
Coffee buttercream
The third exam was for entremets modernes (modern desserts). We were able to prepare a lot of things in advance (the coffee buttercream from the previous exam, all the cakes and cookies, etc), so all we had to do was make a chocolate ganache filling for the opéra, and the mousse and glaze for the mousse cake, and put them all together. I also did quite well on this exam, but I did lose some points for forgetting to put the seam at the back of my mousse cake - totally didn't think about it! Oh well. :)

Entremets modernes
Mousse aux fruits des champs
Opéra with details added afterwards
In each of these exams there were a handful of people who failed one or more parts, so I feel proud of myself that I only lost a few minor points here and there. I know that I produce good results, but it's always good to have a healthy dose of self-doubt in these situations, I think. If anyone is interested, I have both of these desserts in my freezer available for sale. :)

We tried making cronuts a few weeks ago, just for fun. They're all the rage in Montreal, apparently, so our teacher wanted to try them. It is croissant dough cut out in the shape of a doughnut and deep fried. I think our oil must have been at the wrong temperature, because they were disgustingly greasy. I decided to bake mine instead, which turned out to be overly crispy croissant dough... Bleh. Overall, bad experience. But maybe we just don't know what we're doing. ;) We also made Danishes and croissant knots, but I only have a pictures of the knots. And the last modern dessert that I made was called Indulgence Noisette, which is very simply and hazelnut cookie layered with hazelnut mousse, then covered with cocoa powder and finished off with a caramelized hazelnut. So. Much. Hazelnut.

Cronuts dipped in white fondant
Croissant knots filled with raspberry jam and covered with apricot glaze
Indulgence Noisette
This past weekend I also had the privilege of baking and decorating a cake for the 60th wedding anniversary celebration of some very special people I know. It was slightly nerve-wracking, knowing that a potentially large number of people would be seeing and eating this cake, and it being my very first commissioned baking project... But it all worked out, with minimal stress. I feel that it wasn't the best I could have done, but considering it was my first time doing a cake this size (and shape) I am pleased with the results. My writing, on the other hand, could use a lot of practice! I ended up making a white three-layered 14x14-inch cake, filled and covered with Swiss buttercream, decorated with white rosettes around the four sides, and purple rosettes on each corner, with a message in the center in purple piping gel. I got lots of good feedback on the overall decoration and taste of the cake, which made me very happy. So... I have my last exam tomorrow and then Wednesday we do clean up and say goodbye for the summer. I have no solid plans as yet for the summer, so starting Thursday I will be "open for business" for all your cake, cupcake, cookies, pies, breads (I make a pretty mean croissant, if I may say so), or other baking needs!

My first commissioned baking project - success! :)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Once in a young lifetime..."

" should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold." - Judith Olney

We have been quite busy lately, making new desserts and practicing ones we already know. Our exam for the modern desserts module is in 2 weeks (May 13)! For that exam we will have to prepare an opéra and a mousse aux fruits des champs. The day that we were doing the practice, there was no berry fruit purée left, so we made mango mousse cakes instead.

We also recently made a dessert called, simply, pomme caramel. It had a sort of pie base, with almond cream and caramelized apples. On top of that is a dome of caramel mousse, with a disc of almond cake in the middle. There are chocolate stars decorating the outside (made with modeling chocolate) as well as cigarettes on the top. The whole thing was glazed with clear mirror glaze, and chopped nuts "glued" around the edge of the pie base. :)

This week we made quite a few desserts. The first is called a Frisson. It starts with a hazelnut cake layer, soaked with rum syrup, then a chocolate mousse, a crunchy layer (caramel-like ganache with chopped hazelnuts in it), followed by another cake layer and more mousse to even out the top. The decoration to finish it off is actual what the dessert gets its name from. You chill a baking sheet in the freezer for at least one hour. In the meantime, you melt milk chocolate and dark chocolate to 45*C. When it is completely melted and smooth and at the right temperature, remove the sheet from the freezer. You pour a line of each chocolate onto the sheet, and then quickly smooth the chocolate over the sheet, mixing the two colours together int he process. Once the chocolate is set (which shouldn't take long), you cut a long strip, scrape it off the sheet (it should come up easily and behave a bit like leather), quickly wrap it around the cake, and let the top fold in onto itself. Voilà! A chocolate frisson. We were supposed to finish with a light dusting of cocoa powder... My light dusting turned out a little heavy...

Next we made a Mentonnais. It has a chocolate-almond cake in the bottom, then a bitter chocolate mousse, a layer of sour lemon cream filling in the middle, more mousse, and then topped off with a chocolate glaze. The mousse had little "crispearls" in it - they're like little puffed rice beads covered in chocolate. We could decorate it however we wanted, but we had to use crispearls in the decoration. Really yummy! Something about the bitter chocolate mixed with the sweet-n-sour lemon, and that little crunch of the crispearls, just works really well. :)

Opéra - exam practice

Mousse à la mangue - exam practice
Pomme caramel

Crème caramel renversée - exam practice