We cracked so many eggs this week.
Week Two at SFSC’s Pastry Program is all about eggs. In addition to reading all about the composition of eggs in our textbook, we learned about all the different applications of eggs in baked goods, and worked on a number of desserts that utilize, and feature, eggs.
We made meringues: French, Italian and Swiss. We made eclairs with choux dough. We made sauces, jams and continued working on our class granola. We made lots of custards, flans and brûlées with different flavors (my leche flan to the right and all the different ones below), ramekins and ingredients. It was full of exploration of all the ways eggs play into finished products of things, featuring the way they lend structure, tenderize, and flavor.
And I finally got over my fear of creme anglaise. Creme anglaise and I have had a rough history. The two times I’ve tried to make it in the past failed miserably. Boiled over pot of cream, overcooked eggs – not ok. And, if I’m being honest, the same goes with pastry cream. Turns out there are many crucial steps to making a successful anglaise that I think a lot of recipes online leave out (or maybe I glossed over them, not understanding their importance?). Getting the proper set up is key before you even start. You need an ice bath, a fine mesh strainer, ideally a thermometer, a whisk, ladle… the list goes on. But once you have everything and you’re set up, chances are your sauce will come out alright. And even if you over-cook it, you can still save it (see tips!).
The big highlight for me this past week was to finally get to try using a dough sheeter. A dough sheeter is this massive piece of equipment that accurately, evenly and quickly presses dough to a certain predetermined thickness. This is a god send for something like croissant dough, which is nearly frozen and needs to be rolled to a certain thickness about four times – something that is a complete pain to do by hand. These machines are massive and expensive, so many small-scale bakeries don’t even have them. Needless to say, I was excited to use it. We ran our Craquelin* through it to get it down to 3 millimeters. It made getting the tough dough down to that thickness effortless. Now I want one for at home, but they don’t really come in a non-industrial size as far as I know.
*Craquelin is a dough that is added to the top of chouquettes to make it look dutch crunch like. Here’s my practice version at home on the silpat, compared to chef’s version at school:
Most days, we focus on a particular application of something. After Chef demos whatever thing is it we’re learning, each classmate takes one recipe and executes. For the Choux dough, there were a couple of savory options (Gougeres, anyone? Yes please) so naturally I went for one of those. I grabbed a recipe that used garlic confit, maldon sea salt and parmesan cheese in a choux dough. The little bites were heaven and the garlic confit was so tender that it just broke up into the dough when mixed it. The whole kitchen smelled incredible and these little guys went fast. I smelled like roasted garlic for the rest of the day (whatever, I’m not even mad).
Blessing and Curse
The best and worst part of going to pastry school is that we have to sample and try all of the things we make, at various stages of making it. That means we tried each version of the meringues, all the different custards, flans and all the different pastry creams with the variations on starches. And, on Friday, we had a big ‘tasting’ party where we tried the bread pudding we worked on, the pavlovas we made, the eclairs that were decorated, and got out all the custards. (p.s. on Fridays, we have wine with our desserts. yaaas)
There are a lot of calories.
We take home a lot. We taste a lot. We plain eat a lot. I’m finding it hard to balance tasting it all to learn (ok, and enjoy) but not overdoing it. And because my schedule is new and the #curiositycrawl is also on (post to come on that soon), there is a lot of time spent eating and a lot less time for working out. It’ll all work itself out, but this is something I’m being mindful of.
Also, we’re only in week 2 and I’m TIRED. I come home most days drained and sweaty. Doing this is hard work. You’re on your feet the whole time, running around in a hot kitchen in front of stoves and ovens, and you finish up with a marathon cleaning session. It’s a lot of work and it’s only the beginning. Our recipes and prep lists will only continue to grow.
I have nothing but complete respect for those who work in professional kitchens and bakeries. It takes a lot to do what you do.
A week dedicated to all things chocolate. In addition to normal class, we’re going to visit Dandelion Chocolates in San Francisco’s Mission District to learn about how they produce their incredible chocolate. I’ll be sure to report back on what we learn and make!
We’re also being treated to a Q&A with Head Baker of Manresa Bread, Avery Ruzicka. I’m not excited AT ALL (omg squeeeeee), as well as a tasting workshop at the end of the week.
While that’s happening, I’m also TAing for a night class (Weeknight Dinners, Fall) as well as taking a Pasta Making class one night. It’ll be nice to learn some culinary skills as well.
Week 2 Pro-Tips
- Piping is hard. Practice as much as you can to get consistent. Also, it may seem obvious, but pipe as close to your body as you can (rotating the tray as necessary) and try to hold the tip as steady as possible. Here’s my practice round with a Swiss Meringue.
- Setup your Station. Make sure to have all your tools ready before you start making a creme anglaise or pastry cream. You’ll easily overcook your anglaise if you have to run around looking for a strainer while it sits in the pot and continues to cook with the residual heat.
- Choux dough is super stable once it’s piped. It can sit on the tray waiting to be baked for a while. This is handy to know if you want to make say, gougeres, for a dinner party at a friend’s house: have them portioned out on the sheet pan and bake them there.
- Fun tip: If you want your meringues to look absolutely pro, take some gel food coloring with a small pastry brush and brush two ribbons of color inside your piping bag. The meringues will pipe out with a sort of ombre color.
- You can ‘burn’ egg yolks if you add sugar to them and don’t immediately mix it in. The result will be bits of egg pieces that won’t go smooth. If you’re ever adding sugar directly to egg yolks, be sure to whisk it in immediately.
- To get garlic smell off your fingers, wipe them on stainless steel! Who knew?
- There’s a lactose free custard made from white wine!
- Hone your knives before every use (ideally). This helps realign all the mini-teeth on the blade. And get them professionally sharpened once a year!
- You can fix a broken/overcooked creme anglaise. Just hit it with an immersion blender (or put it in a food processor) until it smooths back out. It won’t be as silky in texture, but it’s still very tasty and palatable.