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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Culinary School - Session 6: Fig Newtons and Fresh Fruit Tartlets

Culinary School: Session 6 (08.27.14)

Fig Newtons and Fresh Fruit Tartlets

You gonna eat that?

Allow me to make the most obvious of observations: there's no lack of good food in culinary school.

Family Meal

First, there are the epic quantities of food that each student prepares each day. Learning how to make Ginger Snaps? Guess what... you're probably going to make more than one! And as any good chef knows, it's impossible to judge your own work unless you actually taste your food. In the interest of being a good student, hand me another cookie!

And for me and the rest of the Professional Pastry Arts "Freshman" in the Level I Classroom, there's another all-too-accessible source of available snacks: The Bread Baking Classroom, located just next door. Someone has been particularly fiendish by placing a multi-tiered rack of bread after fresh-baked bread just outside the classroom door. Feeling peckish?  Grab a loaf!   

Come and Get It!

And then there's family meal every evening at 8:30pm. When was the last time you saw Head Cheese in a dining hall? 

Rookie mistake: On day one, I stumbled into line with the other Pastry Arts Newbies without first surveying the full spread that was ahead of us. I managed to make it only halfway through the line when the food on my plate, vertically stacked, started to list dangerously to one side. Rather than risk spilling my foie gras to the white-tiled floor, I politely stepped out of the line, leaving behind some amazing looking Duck Confit and a host of other delectables.

Head Cheese at Family Meal

- Ingredients Running Tally -

Oh, those poor, poor chickens. If only they knew how much we appreciated their sacrifice.

Ingredients used to date (08.27.14):
  • Flour: 2,255g
  • Eggs: 19x
  • Sugar: 1,530g
  • Butter: 1,330g
  • Milk/Cream: 1,310g

- The Recipes -

With another healthy portion of class allotted to the necessary evil that is Food Safety & Sanitation (just one more session and then the final exam), we continue to run a bit behind on the syllabus. Fortunately, Chef finally gave the class an "E" for effort when it came to speed, clearly relieved to see that we might eventually have the hustle to keep pace.... might!

That said, I went home slightly disappointed, Fig Newtons noticeably missing from my carrying case of goodies. Oh well, we managed to get all of the components prepared. A quick bake at the beginning of the next class, and I'll be able to go home a happy man.


Fig Newtons

A shortbread pastry dough filled with a fig compote. 

Focus Techniques:
- Preparing dried fruit compotes, which require more water and less sugar than fresh fruit.
- Using port wine when simmering the fig compote to create a significantly deeper flavor profile.

What more needs to be said except, "It's not a cookie, it's fruit and cake!" Chef promises we'll never eat another store bought Fig Newton again. With all that port wine in the compote, I'm inclined to believe her.


Fresh Fruit Tartlets

A standard pastry cream based fruit tart, rendered in miniature (4").

Focus Techniques:
- Rolling out and forming multiple tart shells simultaneously by rolling a large sheet of tart dough over several tart rings at one time.
- "Free Form" fruit designs (rather than symmetrical patterns used for 8" tarts) using more structurally stable cuts (i.e. slicing strawberries into halves or quarters rather than thin slice).

Blind Baked (Cuire a Blanc) Tartlette Shells

Continuing in my role as one of the Class Bakers for the week, I also had the honors of firing off the Baked Fruit Tarts and the Viennese Vanilla Crescent Cookies, both carry-overs from our last class.

The Baked Fruit Tart was truly excellent. The slightly acid flavor of the nectarines really brightened the tart - an undeniable improvement over the comparatively one-note sweetness of the Fresh Fruit (Tarte aux Fruits Frais) and Apple Compote (Tarte aux Pommes) from prior classes. I also preferred the texture of the pastry cream in this baked incarnation. Thickening in the heat of the oven, the cream had considerably more body.

Baked Fruit Tart

As for the Viennese Vanilla Crescent Cookies, these were a bit of a revelation. I've never been particularly fond of what I had categorized as "dry" cookies. I would always reach for a chewy chocolate chip over a crumbly shortbread. That said, these Crescents, with their strong vanilla flavor and the richness of hazelnut flour, made for one damn good cookie. I will never call these cookies dry. And to all the shortbread previously scorned, my most sincere apologies! 

Viennese Vanilla Crescent Cookies

As the Baker, I also had the honor of searing my forearm, leaving a mark that will definitely stay with me for a while. 

So, ovens, you want to play rough? Game on!

Arm Burn Scar

Next - Session 7: Onion Tart and Chocolate Heaven Cookies

Take a look at the full syllabus

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