Sunday, February 28, 2010

Busy at Blue Note Bakery

Billions of Bourbon Bites
Between bourbon bites and gumpaste creatures, I've been keeping pretty busy at Blue Note Bakery. Although Blue Note is almost exclusively cakes, they use the cake trimmings and scraps from sculpted cakes to create what they call bourbon bites. These tasty little things are moist, chocolatey bites with a hint of bourbon and dusted in cocoa powder. These are often packaged for promotional events, but they sell them as well. Not everyone at Blue Note enjoys scoring and cutting out the little squares, but I kind of enjoy it as long as the batch isn't too sticky and difficult to cut. However, you do end up covered in cocoa powder. A small price to pay for such deliciousness.

Yo Gabba Gabba in Gumpaste
I was pleasantly surprised to be given the chance to create a character out of gumpaste for a Yo Gabba Gabba birthday cake order. I've never really worked with gumpaste before, so to have my first experience be for an actual order adds a bit of pressure to get it right. They let me choose whichever character I thought would be easiest to work on, so I chose the blue, oval-shaped cat thing since it's basically an egg with arms and legs.

The problem with gumpaste — which is similar in texture to modeling clay — is that it dries very quickly, so you must work fast and have a plan from the start. If it starts to dry, you can add a little bit of shortening to moisten it. I made the mistake of adding too much at first and had to redo it by kneading it in since it looked a little rough. Gumpaste is white but can be dyed with food coloring to create any color that you need. It took a little while to mold my little blue cat thing (I found out his name it Toodee) as close to perfection as possible, but overall I think it came out pretty good for a first attempt at a new medium. I'm still shocked that they used it on the actual cake!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Plating and Piping

Besides French pastry our class has also been working on honing our piping and plating skills. For piping practice, we work on creating borders, writing and various design elements. We made faux buttercream using shortening in lieu of butter so that we don't waste the good stuff for practice. It sounds as gross as it looks, but it serves its purpose. We also practiced using a little of the ultra bitter chocolate that was accidentally purchased instead of semi-sweet. Chocolate flows a lot smoother than buttercream, which is ideal for writing and intricate design work.

We also tried our hand at plating design with a few leftover raspberry mousse cakes made a few weeks ago. Clearly, my piping skills need a lot more practice since the lines aren't quite even all around and they get a bit shaky here and there. I really enjoy practicing piping though and I aim to get really good at it since it's pertinent to my culinary career aspirations.

Our chef taught us a great little trick for creating small decorative chocolate pieces like the little circles on the mousse cake pictured to the right. You can't see it very well in the photo, but the circles are streaked with red and brown chocolate. Very cool and arty looking and it gives the cake a bit of a mod flair.

He starts by taking a square of acetate and using a 2-inch paint brush to repeatedly spread colored cocoa butter (we used red) back and forth several times until the chocolate set into a streaky pattern. Then he melted chocolate in a double-boiler and applied a thin coating on top of the red pattern using an offset spatula. Then leave it out to allow the chocolate to set. Then you can take a cookie cutter and cut out various shapes to have on hand whenever you need to add decoration to a dessert. VERY impressive looking, yet incredibly easy to do. I LOVE this technique!

Ooh-la-la! French Pastries and Other Tiny Tasties

Our class is now focusing on French pastries and other tiny delicacies used for plating presentation. We've made Madeleines (a small, traditional seashell-shaped French cake), Dacquoise disks (baked hazelnut meringue disks), Financiers (a light tea cake with almond flavoring - pictured above) and Brandy Snap Baskets/Lace Cookies (a light, brittle wafer cookie with a lace-like pattern).

I really liked the Dacquoise disks (pictured left) which are light and soft on the inside with a slightly crispy outside (a little like rice krispies) and not too sweet. You can use them as a base for a dessert by adding ice cream or pastry cream and fruit on top. They are easy to make and you just have to pipe them in a spiral to create the disks, then bake for a very short time — they should look pale like in the photo, not brown.

The Brandy Snaps or Lace Cookies (pictured below) were very tasty too, but with a sweeter flavor than the Dacquoise. They are delicate, yet crunchy like a fragile brittle. When you prepare to bake them, you should use a small scoop (melon baller-size or smaller is good) because they spread out a lot. Place a scoop on your sheet pan and give that one roughly 1-2 inches of space before placing the next scoop in the row. When you remove them from the oven, you have the option of leaving them as flat disks or molding them into a desired shape while still warm.

To create a basket, simply drape the disk over an overturned cup, bowl, salt shaker or whatever else you might have handy. You can also curve them over a rolling pin for a U-shape, make a cone, a tube, or cut/break them into small shapes to add as garnish on a slice of cake or other plated dessert. Then you can fill your basket with ice cream, mousse, whipped cream and fruit or just about anything else you can think of. For added flavor, paint the inside of the bowl with a thin layer of melted chocolate — this also prevents dripping if the basked contains ice cream or fruit.

Although the Madeleines (last photo) we pretty to look at, they were basically like little sponge cakes with a hint of citrus flavor  — not that exciting to me but charming nonetheless. I've never had a madeliene before, so perhaps a different recipe would have a more impressive taste than the one in our books. Much of their flavor comes from browning the butter and adding the lemon zest. To achieve the traditional seashell shape, you will need to purchase a madeleine pan (I've heard the metal ones are better than silicone for getting the shape to come out perfect). Then just dust the tops with powdered sugar and they are ready to serve. They would be ideal to serve at a party since they are bite-size, slightly sweet and impressively cute.

Monday, February 22, 2010

a pain in the butt, two-day tests & a new bakery

A Pain in the Butt
I've been lagging behind on my blogging lately since I've been busy recovering from that never-ending cold and now a broken tailbone. Don't worry, I'm okay! I injured it a year ago, but prolonged sitting at my desk triggered the back pain and has made the past few weeks quite challenging. I'm on the slow road to recovery though and every day I'm walking less and less like Quasimodo. Please be kind to your behind, because life is no fun with a broken bum.

Two Days of Testing...Ugh
Much of the past week has been spent prepping for our two-day exam. We had both a written and a practical exam covering several weeks of material. The practical required us to make five different items. I had to make pastry cream, jaconde (almond flour cake), fruit tarts, devil's food cake and italian meringue. After that, we had to ice and assemble our cake and make a french pastry out of the jaconde. I think I did okay overall, however, my pastry cream was overheated and I got crumbs embedded while icing my devil's food cake with mocha buttercream (photo). I think I will pass the exam though and I'm pretty happy with what I accomplished considering my back had been hurting most of the time. I'm SO ready for a normal week though.

Blue Note Bakery
Even though I have now completed all 120 hours of my externship (hooray!), I have still offered to help out and get more experience at Blue Note Bakery ( Angela Jiles, the owner, was kind enough to take me in and allow me to learn even more about cakes with her friendly staff. Her bakery creates some amazing, beautiful and quirky cake designs. She is even going to be featured in an upcoming issue of Rachael Ray's magazine! Her style of cake design is exactly what I want to do, so I'm hoping that I will gain a lot of knowledge at Blue Note and maybe even join their team in the future. I'm so excited to go back again on Friday!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Week of Cakes and Coughs

You may have been wondering why I haven't posted in a while, but I'm back now. I've been battling a bad cold for the past week and had to miss a few days of class. My cold is finally subsiding and I managed to go to class for two and a half days last week, which is when I got to work on cakes.

We started out learning to make a Genoise, an Italian sponge cake that uses only air incorporated into the batter as its only leavening agent. Because air must be trapped inside the batter, it is a bit tricky to successfully make this cake and our class has had to make several attempts.

The key is in the folding technique used to mix the ingredients. While spinning the bowl, use a bowl scraper to scrape from the center to the edge of the bowl and flip your scoop of batter over. If you fold it incorrectly or if you fold it too much then you lose air and end up with a flat cake. You also have to move quickly to get it in the oven immediately after you finish folding and take care not to jostle the pan or you will knock out the air. Also, if the oven is too hot then the air in the batter will expand too quickly and will flatten your cake. See what I mean about it being a bit tricky?

Eventually, we did get a few cakes to come out right, but most of the class agreed that the recipe itself was a bit dry and bland since the Genoise isn't a very sweet cake to begin with. We did manage to make a decent Sachertorte (see photos) with the chocolate Genoise cakes by filling the layers, dripping ganache on top and adding almonds on the sides.

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