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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Culinary School - Session 5: Baked Fruit Tart; Alsatian Apple Tart; Viennese Vanilla Crescents

Culinary School: Session 5 (08.25.14)

Baked Fruit Tart, Alsatian Apple Tart and Viennese Vanilla Crescents

But who is the hall monitor?

It's been a long time since college, let alone the grade school years when a chore wheel determined classroom job assignments. 

Gone is the actual chore wheel (and thankfully, so too is the era of clapping erasers free of chalk dust), but classroom chores live on.

The reality is, each assignment is a modest obligation at worst... filling sanitation buckets... equipping ovens with side towels... brewing coffee. In the aggregate, they get the kitchen in order at the start and finish of every class without overly burdening any one person.

And then there's the role of "Baker"...

The baker is the lucky guy or gal who is tasked with monitoring the ovens and actually doing all of the baking for the class. The reality is, as the baker, not only do you have the opportunity to burn your own confections, but you can also screw things up for everyone else.

Guess who pulled the short straw the first round?

Oui, Chef. Moi!

I shouldn't complain (and I'm not). Learning how to determine if and when something is properly cooked is about as fundamental a skill as you can develop in the first few weeks of class. 

How long should I cook the cake? 
30 minutes like the recipes says? 

The reality is, it's done when it's done.

Baked Alsatian Apple Tart and Pear & Almond Tart

- Ingredients Running Tally -

Session five, and we've already hit the "Freshman 15". That's right, over 15 pounds of pastry staples consumed in less than two weeks.

At this rate, we're on pace for 350 pounds by graduation... 5,250 pounds as a class.

Ingredients used to date (08.25.14):
  • Flour: 2,035g
  • Eggs: 18x
  • Sugar: 1,405g
  • Butter: 1,205g
  • Milk/Cream: 1,280g

- The Recipes -

Yep, more tarts...

The upside is I'm getting very good at navigating the subway system with tarts in hand, and I fully anticipate the confused stares that follow me as I take my seat on the train, lap stacked with pastries.

I've also learned to keep descriptions simple when asked, "What is that?"

"It's a Tarte Bourdaloue with Poached Pears and Creme d'Amandes"
"It's a what?"
"... it's a cake... it's cake."
"Yeah.. I thought so. Nice cake." 

Baked Pear & Almond Tart

Baked Pear & Almond Tart on the Subway


Baked Fruit Tart 

An instance of theme and variation: the Baked Fruit Tart is a pastry cream (creme patissiere) based tart that is topped with cake crumbs (or in this case, Paillete Feuilletine, a fine biscuit crumb) and fresh fruit before it is baked. Stone fruit (e.g. peach, plum, mango, etc.) or under-ripe fruit that is able to retain its structure in the heat of the ovens is most commonly used.

Focus Techniques:
- Using a cornstarch based pastry cream rather than a pastry cream powder based pastry cream.
- Knife skills on stone fruit.
- Creating rose or flower shaped fruit slice arrangement.

Assembling these tarts was another race against the clock for the class where time won. The unbaked tarts were coated in butter and sent to the freezers at the end of the night. Baking comes next class.

Unbaked Tart with Pastry Cream Filling

Paillete Feuilletine Covered Pastry Cream in Tart

Floral Arranged Peaches on Unbaked Tart


Alsatian Apple Tart (Tarte Alsacienne) 

A baked custard tart in which apples are first flambeed and subsequently baked with a sweet egg custard at a low temperature in a blind baked crust. The tart is a nice mix of sweet and savory.

Focus Techniques:
- Flambee (ah, fun with fire)
- Low temperature baking of custards to prevent curdling
Blind Baking (Cuire a Blanc) tart shells

The end product tasted great, but I'm still baffled as to why my custard took a good 10 minutes longer to set than everyone else's (a difference I closely monitored in my capacity as "Baker"). My best guess is that there was too much residual liquid on the apples after they were flambeed. 

Almost everyone's tarts featured less than beautiful milky white tops, the product of air bubbles in the custard that did not pop before the custard set. Note to self: be careful not to whip air into the custard next time.


Viennese Vanilla Crescents (Vanille-Kipferl)

Hazelnut and vanilla flavored cookies that are shaped by hand and rolled in vanilla sugar shortly after baking

Focus Techniques:
- Incorporating flavor containing ingredients (e.g. hazelnut flour) with fats to best carry those flavors
- Hand shaping cookies

Unfortunately, while we did manage to prepare the dough during class, the shaping and baking of these cookies was another casualty to time. And Chef Toni made it crystal clear. You know that pace at which you're working... not cutting it...

On the flip-side, I did start the day at 5am baking 200 Oatmeal Cherry Cookies for the Crossroads Community Services Soup Kitchen, so I certainly wasn't lacking for cookie exposure today.

Oatmeal Cherry Cookies for the Crossroads Community Soup Kitchen

Next - Session 6: Fig Newtons and Fresh Fruit Tartlets

Take a look at the full syllabus

Questions? Comments? Send me an email or leave a comment.
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