Monday, March 3, 2008

Cooking Class: Part 2

The second class was so intense in some ways that I found myself with a bit of a furrowed brow and a touch of the headache.
We made the Chile Pepper Raspberry Chocolate Cake. And, damn if it isn't the prettiest thing I've ever seen, well, honestly, it's the prettiest thing I think I've made.
Each of the people in the class (all 4 of us) got to take one home. It's a chocolate mousse cake with a raspberry gelatin middle, that is spiced with a chile pepper simple syrup. And, it's covered in chocolate glaze. The glaze gets poured through a fine mesh sieve which slows down the flow and removes any tiny air bubble that might blemish the smooth sheen. Then snappy tempered chocolate decorations and gold leaf are the finishing touches.

Up until recently, I focused on learning the big things -- what type of cake, what type of filling, which frosting/icing should I use. Really, it's the smaller, detail orientated things that make a more amazing cake.

With the glaze, the sieve works wonders, but so does the even pressure of a spatula. You coax the glaze over the edges, you make the top even and the edges covered. It's such a simple thing you don't think it can be that important, but really, it is. It's what makes the finished cake look, well, finished.

Chef Steenman showed us how to make all the components. First we made the chocolate sponge layer, which is piped onto the cocoa powdered silpat. Have I told you how much I'm not a fan of piping? It seems so fraught with despair. And up till last Wednesday, it was. I practically swoon when watching Chef pipe perfect circles. He shows us what is possible and that is surprisingly encouraging. Really, it's about doing it over and over and over and making mistakes and corrections.
We then made simple syrup and infused it with chili peppers. To this syrup we added raspberry puree and gelatin. We made a deliciously silky chocolate mousse that had a consistency similar to gelato. It was not the fluffy air filled mousse that you might expect. It was rich and egg-y and chocolately. Then we got to assemble the whole lot. Anything you build upside down has to be good, right? In a cake ring- which it turns out is an equipment must in the pattisserie- we first added mousse. Then the raspberry layer which was sandwiched between chocolate disks was added, more mousee, another chocolate disk, more mouuse. The last thing in the mold is a layer of flourless chocolate sponge. Really I think it's just there to give you something to lift the cake off the cake plate. But, it's a light and airy cake like layer that contrasts nicely with the satiny smooth mousse in color and texture.
While the cakes chilled, we learned all about chocolate. Cocao Barry is the brand of chocolate Chef Steenman prefers. He says Vahlronha is the best, but not enough better to justify the 3x greater price. He spares no expense on ingredients: plugra butter, organic milk, vanilla beans from Tahiti, fruit purees from France that are totally unbeleivable. Chef worked in a chocolate factory in France and has pictures of the process of making chocolate from cocoa pod to chocolate bar. He told us about processing differences in Belgium and Switzerland. Fascinating. Then we got into the tempering process and the 4 types of crystaline structrues in solid chocolate and the temparatures at which they melt. He tempered some chocolate to show us how. In concept the process seems reasonable: melt, cool, melt. We'll see the next time we have some chocolate project on our own how simple it really is.

Chef proposed that what makes a quality chocolate isn't just the % of cocoa and cocoa butter, but that the texture is what he's looking for. In the process of grinding the chocolate into paste, there is a step called conching. Near as we can tell it's grinding while the temperature is controlled. The longer you do it, the smoother the chocolate. As Americans we tend to think that if 60% cocoa is good, then 72% must be better. Not so. His dark chocolate is 64% and has the most luscious full flavored taste.

After he finished tempering we learned how to make decorations. He colored some cocoa butter red and splattered it onto acetate strips. Once it was hard we spread a layer of the tempered dark chocolate onto the strips and when they just firm enough, but not too firm, cut shapes on the strips and then set them to cool. Once cool, we peeled the acetate sheets off and were left with amazingly shiny peices of chocoalte with red polka dots. Chef says it should be shiny enough to comb your hair in the reflection!!
Fantastic!! We each took a cake home with such pride. If you are in Mt. Kisco, he is selling these as individual cakes for now. They are just being introduced. The chocolate disks made clean slicing somewhat difficult as you can see.
The individuals are completely amazing- instead of glaze they are chilled and sprayed with liquid chocolate. The chocolate hardens in little tiny sand grain sized dots. They also don't have the disks of chocolate in the interior (at least for now).

I wonder if we will ever be able to replicate the artistry of all this chocoalte work.
Much like Janet's sentiment in her post about bread baking, I also don't like to make mistakes. I do what I can to keep mistakes to a minimum. I remember in my Math Methods Course. One of the teaching assistants said, "Are you stuck? Good, this is where you begin to learn."
It's true. You can't know what your limitations are until you reach them. And, you can't grow past them to you know where they are. Piping is one of my limitations. But, I'm working my way through it.



Megan said...

That cake is amazing! I love the decorations on top. I want to go to class!

Julius said...

Gorgeous pictures!

I am in envy, I want to go to that class too.

from Occasional Baker

thecoffeesnob said...

The cake looks perfect! I would be beaming with pride too if i ever made anything like that. Your class sounds like so much fun!

Kristine said...

Damn that's pretty!