Sunday, November 23, 2014

Purveyor of Cute

Perhaps I spent a few too many of my formative years inside a Sanrio shop, but small things made to mimic bigger things really tug on my cute strings.  These pumpkin puffs are my latest crush.
I fully disclose I didn't come up with this idea myself, but I will go as far as to say that I definitely made it better.  A small shop in Brooklyn specializing in choux puffs offers multiple flavors of their two-bite treats.  On a recent trip, I spied a pumpkin spiced puff in the form of a baby pumpkin.  "What a great idea!", I thought.  Only issue I had was the actual pastry was dense with little cream inside, overbaked, had no flavor, and was topped with a green marzipan round that I just didn't want to eat.  A tiny sliver of pecan inserted into the marzipan served as the stem.
I set out to make my own version to lure guests to our tasting table at the NY Mag Taste event.  Pate a choux (done right) expands into tender, globes of pastry, self-hollowing to accommodate lots of filling.  Of course, color was an integral part of making them actually look like pumpkins, so a dose of powdered orange food coloring gets worked into the batter without adding any excess moisture.  Our puffs are normally piped with a plain round tip; but knowing I wanted to replicate the striations of a pumpkin, star tip was the way to go. 

As they bake in the oven, the outer angles of the choux get hit with the heat first and set their shape, while the inner valleys blow outward, thus creating their signature pumpkin ridges. 

Once baked, they remind me of Chinese lantern plants.

Filled with pumpkin spice cremeux and topped with rum infused green glaze, they exlode "Thanksgiving pie" in the mouth!  But a pumpkin is not complete without its hand-piped Dulcey chocolate stem.

At the event, our pumpkins looked pretty fetching against a logo-ed backdrop of checkerboard coasters with a banner of holiday pastry porn hanging above.  Dripping candelabras added to the fall-festive mood.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First Croquembouche

One might wonder how a pastry chef of so many years can go an entire career thus far without ever making a croquembouche (outside of school, of course).  As my wilting arms struggled to delicately maneuver the 38" tall tower of cream puffs to an off-site wedding venue, I completely understood why.  Because it's a pain in the a**!!  From the time consuming task of dipping each puff, to the next time consuming task of filling them, to the eye-crossing business of dipping & glueing them into place, to the hair-pulling anxiety of making sure the thing gets to where it's supposed to be in one piece.... honestly, no thank you.  Not only is it stressful and tedious, it's a burden on the body too; think sore back, neck kinks, and the "no way around it" burnt fingertips.

Funnily enough, as soon as the tower was put into place and ready for the party, all that previous angst just melted away.  And that's what true satisfaction can do... it makes everything worth it.

My version veers from the ultra classic in that it doesn't sit on an a sugary nougatine pedestal, but instead on and around a foam base and cone plastered with the bakery's logo.  I felt this would drastically limit any possibility of collapse during transport, as well as afford us a little branding opportunity.

The amber baubles of caramel choux were set into demise-sphere silicone molds after dipping, which gave them their bon bon-like sheen.  This technique also keeps the shape of each puff more uniform and round.

If you've never made one, or it's just been a really long time since, go for it.  Just do a few push ups and arm curls first.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mother's Day Macarons

May means Mother's Day in the world of baking and gifting.  And Mother's Day gifting often means flowers.  And wouldn't it be fun to give mom flowers she can eat?

Macarons can take on any shape you like, but the problem is trying to match them.  We made a simple, five-petal daisy template on Word to help us keep every flower uniform.  Notice in the photo below that the piped "petals" have a tiny gap between them.  This allows them to spread slightly when rapping the tray and settling the batter.  They spread just enough to ever so slightly kiss each other at the sides.  When baked, it's nice to see a little definition between each petal (see photo above).

For each recipe, we tinted a fifth of the batter a bright yellow for the centers.  It's fun to know that simple little tricks can create something fun, clever and whimsical.

Monday, April 28, 2014

5-Hour Wedding Cake

I like to think of myself as a fairly organized person at work.  Making lists, checking schedules and calendars, spreadsheets, emails, etc. (btw, this in no way filters into my personal life; I'm a mess at home).

What a surprise to me, then, when our events manager asked me, "How's that wedding cake for tomorrow coming along?". "Uh, what wedding cake?"  Her face drops.  I die a little inside.  I check the wall of the week's events, and there it is in plain sight.  Wedding cake for 70 people.  I assure the poor soul the cake will be awesome!  Luckily, the party requested a vanilla-vanilla cake with berries..easy.

It's already 9pm, and my normal list is far from being done.  The party doesn't start till 5:30pm tomorrow, so I decide to take a chance and trust that my few years of pastry experience can make a nice wedding cake in half a day.

Next day, I have four sheet trays of chiffon in the oven by 11:30am.  A silky vanilla buttercream is done in a flash, and my sous prepped a batch of créme legére for the filling the night before.  And before you ask, no, we do not have wedding cake mise en place stored in the freezer for emergencies like this.  I have to slow down to complete the tedious task of measuring and cutting strips of acetate out of full sheets to fit our ring molds.  On to unmolding the sheet cakes and stamping out three circles for each of the four tiers.  Layering, soaking, and filling ensues, with the delicious addition of Harry's Berries (epic) strawberries embedded in the créme legére.  A quick freeze sets everything into place before removing the rings and acetate.  The "cake turntable-buttercream smoothing thing" takes the most time and focus, especially with four separate cakes, and especially if I want all the tiers to be the same 3 1/4" height... and especially if you're rusty at it like me.  Another quick freeze before assembling, using our bar straws as support stilts for each ascending tier.  It's 4 pm and the cake is built..whew!!  Now for the business of making it look wedding-worthy.  A little more buttercream to seal any seams and gaps, and some simple piping to make it look elegantly finished.

Technical cake ability aside, the success of this endeavor came down to luck and equipment.  Lucky that the couple chose a cake flavor that required all readily available ingredients.  Lucky that their impeccable taste in flowers allowed me to garnish the cake with gorgeous color and shape.  I would've been severely set back without our trusty blast-chiller.  And our stock of ring molds and gadgets kept the process running smoothly.  And I feel most lucky that I have a team to help me out and/or stay out of my way when I need them to.

When it came time to cut the cake, I stole half a slice, to taste of course!!  The freshness and integrity of the ingredients were so apparent, the taste so delicious, that it almost convinced me to make EVERY wedding cake this way.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Easter 2014

A post on chocolate eggs and bunnies a week after Easter?  Perhaps it's a testament to how busy we were during the holiday.  Or maybe the fact that sitting at a computer for more than 45 minutes gets me nodding.  Instagrammification might also be the culprit.

But anyway... Here it is!  Our 2014 Easter Collection!

The obligatory chocolate bunny definitely came into play this season.  Dark, milk and pink lapins were cast by the dozens and dressed up in bow ties in the bakery's colors.  Some bunnies hopped solo in their own sealed bags, cushioned with shredded paper.  We fashioned a "bunny run" out of a vintage wood tray and moss.

Others got to nest in green paper berry baskets filled with marsmallow eggs and malt balls.

And others just went rogue...

Our 10" tall eggs made quite an impression with fans, intrigued to know what surprise would lie inside.

Non-chocolate items included fun egg shaped petits beurres dotted with homemade jam and zagged with a little royal icing.

Also on offer, though less popular, happened to be my favorite: fruitcake!  Not just for Christmas, guys. Easter fruitcake really is a thing and it's delicious and NOT dry.  We loaded ours with Armagnac-soaked fruit and chunks of marzipan that caramelized and almost turned date-like in baking.

Overall, I'm happy with what we put out for our first Easter.  There is always room for improvement and now, we have about 10 months to start preparing for next year!  I am determined to make creme eggs in 2015!!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Crème Brulée Éclairs

Our latest addition to the éclair line-up at the bakery is this über yummy Chai Tea Crème Brulée. 
Bite through the candy-crunch shell of amber caramel, and you'll be rewarded with a frangrant and silky cremeux center.
This was another collaborative project with one of my cooks who came up with the crème brulée idea. Chai tea is one of my favorite flavor "profiles" because it can be so complex yet warm and homey feeling at the same time.  The filling gets much of its creaminess from a fair amount of Dulcey, a caramelized white chocolate product of Valrhona, which also enhances the flavor of the tea.

Chai Tea Cremeux
Fills about 50 5-inch éclairs

500 g  heavy cream
550 g. whole milk
40 g. loose chai tea (we use Harney & Sons brand)

200 g. egg yolks
100 g. sugar

550 g. Dulcey chocolate, melted
6 g. gelatin leaves

Scald cream and milk and whisk in tea.  Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to steep 5 minutes.  Pour this liquid into the yolks and sugar that have been previously blanched.  Return to a clean pot and cook slowly, stirring with a rubber spatula, until it reaches 85C.  Strain this anglaise over the chocolate and bloomed gelatin.  Buzz everything together with a hand blender and chill over ice with a sheet of plastic on the surface.  It is best to hold the cremeux overnight in the fridge before using.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sweet Hearts

"Cray cray adorbs!".  Those were the words uttered when one of my cooks spotted the multiple trays of these Valentine macarons.  I must say I have to agree!  We make A LOT of macarons at the bakery, so why not make heart-shaped ones too?  And while we're at it, why not stencil little love notes on them?  And while we're STILL at it, why not stack them on a bed of pink krinkeleen and put a bow on it?

We used a chablon to help us pipe the same chubby heart shape every time.  And just as every hipster has a tattoo "guy", we have a laser cutting "gurl" who helped us make itty bitty font stencils.  These "petits coeurs" also make great cake decorations, seen below on our "gateau for two".  Who's gonna be YOUR lucky Valentine??