Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Learning Lessons

The Golden Cage (pg 172)

Yes, we are still working our way through the Cake Bible. But, we've decided that it's much more fun to work through it a bit at a time and darnit, we enjoy just hanging out sometimes.

The Golden Cage uses the Golden Genoise (pg 125), Barak Palinka or brandy, Apricot Silk Meringue Buttercream (pg 243) and Gold Dust & Caramel Cage (pg 313)

The Golden Genoise is an incredibly dense cake, made with 12 egg yolks. So, it's rich with a texture that is fine -- RLB says it makes wonderful Madeleines. One of these days were going to have to try this. This cake has such a tight uniform crumb without being dense and heavy. Simply amazing.

After all this baking, I have to be honest, buttercreams still rock! We've done so many variations on this theme (Today's: Apricot Silk Buttercream). The Silk Buttercream, as you may recall, has a couple things happening simultaneously. You make a creme anglaise, you make an italian meringue, you beat the butter, you add the creme anglaise, until smooth, you add the Italian meringue (This is the one with egg whites and a sugar syrup beat into them). There are a ton of steps, but it always seems to turn out for us -- even back in the beginning.

For the caramel cage and dust, you basically do a controlled burn of some sugar with some water. Once you've got it just right (amber colored), you drizzle it over a prepared kugelhupf pan (OK, neither J nor I have one of these, so we used the alternate spring form pan to bake the cake in). For the cage, we improvised and ended up with a few really good pieces that we stuck into the top of the cake, in a caramel version of the Enchanted Broccoli Forest (in college, we had a copy of that cook book on our communal shelf. Full disclosure, I still have a copy on my shelf.)

We learned a couple of things with this recipe. A humid day really does make it tough to work with caramel. It never stops being sticky on a humid day. Although, in this months Gourmet, one of the writers says that they made wonderful meringue in Ireland, I wonder how they fare with caramel? Ours just never stopped being sticky, except when we wanted to get it off the spoon, it stuck like concrete! But it did taste good.

(Notice the strawberry? That was J's suggestion and she was right!)

Second, trimming the dark edges off the edge of the cake layers is a good thing to do. That's what we're doing this project for- to learn and improve and to have fun spending time together of course. I think we have done some improving, and I hope that it is noticeable?

This cake was an amalgam of things that we've learned baking our way through the Cake Bible and taking the class at La Tulipe. Next week's post will have an example of something we probably couldn't have done without some of this last year's worth of practice.

Wow, what a year it has been. I remember the trepidation that I had bringing up the idea of Bake Through to J. Would she think it a colossal waste of time? Would she laugh and politely get out of it? It didn't occur to me that she'd embrace it with even more excitement than I had. That she'd be the one to, more often than not, push to keep us on track so we will some day actually make our way through the book.

So while I take my hat off to Rose for the book, and Chef Maarten for the baking class, I throw it in the air that J and I get to spend this time hanging out. I can't imagine a better baking partner.

Bake through everyone.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cooking Class: Part 4 The Finale

Alas, the fun and excitement of watching and learning from a brilliant chef has come to an end. The last session was a whirlwind I can hardly recount. Chef told us to come hungry and we ate nearly everything we made in this plated dessert session.

Once again, the quality of the ingredients used at La Tulipe is just extraordinary. The butter- always the high butterfat Plugra, the milk- organic, the vanilla beans- fat juicy beans from Tahiti, and tonight was no exception. We made a pear sorbet from the most wonderful pear puree and a liquor called Belle de Brillet. It is Brillet Cognac blended with Williams pears. Pear tends to be a fleeting flavor at best. Even the ripest pear seems to fade into an incapturable vapor leaving the suggestion of pear essence more than an intense mouthful. Packing 22 pounds of pears!!! into a 750 ml bottle of Cognac results in an intensity that is astounding. Combine the top notch puree, the liquor and an Italian gelato machine that mixes and freezes quickly so as not to create too large a crystal while not whipping in too much air, and frozen pear perfection is achieved. The photo is the last remaining tablespoons of what I brought home. In the class this was served with the most amazing caramel sauce I've ever seen.

Jessica, who escorted the C&H brown sugar all the way form Oregon for us, and who first introduced us to La Tulipe by (rightly) proclaiming the croissants the best in the land, has lamented that sorbet is a seasonal item at the bakery. Chef Steenman creates chocolate works of art in the cooler months and gelato in the warmer months. I now understand why Jessica is counting down the days to gelato season.

Now, that's not to say that the chocolates aren't also extraordinary. Again, I am overwhelmed at the quality of ingredients, the chocolate, the marzipan and the seemingly limitless talent. Pictured here are some of the chocolates that Chef Steenman makes for Easter. The frog and chick contained foil wrapped eggs and nuts, the pink bunny, duck, and rooster were made of marzipan. What a face on the bunny!! They were so beautiful we almost didn't dare to eat them, but knowing the quality of ingredients involved we had to sample!

The other items we enjoyed on that last day of our class included a strawberry compote with champagne sabayon, chocolate crepes with nectarine and a black pepper creme anglais, apples and raisins with frangipan baked in filo served with creme anglais, and praline beignets with lime basil creme anglais. The unsweetened, yeasty, beer beignet batter against the soft sweet filling was delightful.

Robb and I both enjoyed this experience so thoroughly- thanks to Michael, Kevin and my Dad for the wonderful gift!!