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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Culinary School - Session 11: Caramel Nut Tart, Brownies and Bourbon Pecan Cookies

Culinary School: Session 11 (09.10.14)

Caramel Nut Tart, Brownies and Bourbon Pecan Cookies

When I grow up I want to be...

It's been a long time since I've been to a career fair. Longer still since I've been to a career fair as a prospective employee.

It's an odd, although not entirely unwelcome, feeling to once again be the one handing out resumes rather than the recruiter who is forced to feign interest with each handshake, doomed to repeat the same conversation every five minutes for several hours.

ICC Career Fair

When classes began last month, I hadn't fully appreciated the recruiting timeline. Although I don't know why I am surprised - it's just like business school. Start your program one week and begin courting employers the next. It's as if matriculation is little more than a ticket to the dance.

But I'm really not that cynical. The food industry is different (thank god!). For those of us with months to go in our formal training, the opportunity to set up trails or longer internships is invaluable. We get a feel for various kitchens and further hone our skills, and the restaurant gets to see us in action, evaluating whether a job offer is worth its time. It's a genuinely, mutually beneficial arrangement (infinitely more useful than sitting an MBA in a chair for an afternoon to... um... watch).

The list of employers in attendance was nothing short of an embarrassment of riches: one part Michelin Guide, one part James Beard Awards and one part Eater Heatmap. From high-brow fine dining to gastropub comforts, the best of the best were certainly well represented.

In the end, I kept my conversations very focused, speaking to a select few known for their pastry prowess (mostly through my very fortune first hand knowledge).

Next steps?  Hopefully a busy couple of weeks getting elbows deep in doughs in these kitchens. Until then, I thought it made sense to treat myself to a little snack from one of my favorites. Call it "Homework".

"Lobster Tail" at Dominique Ansel Bakery

"S'more" at Dominique Ansel Bakery

- Ingredients Running Tally -

As Willy Wonka astutely observed, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker".

I'm not sure why it just dawned on me, but it would seem that every traditional French pastry recipe calls for a splash of some adult beverage. Obviously there was going to be Bourbon in the Bourbon Pecan Cookies... but rum and port and other delicious liquids seem to be sneaking into just about everything...

... not that there's anything wrong with that!

Ingredients used to date (09.10.14):
  • Flour: 5,075g
  • Eggs: 2,250g (45x)
  • Sugar: 3,490g
  • Butter: 3,030g
  • Milk/Cream: 2,110g

- The Recipes -

Surprise Brownies = First World Problem

With our first written and practical exam looming large for this coming Monday... and with part of Friday set aside for a little review (what exactly is the proper temperature for egg whites when preparing a Swiss Meringue?), brownies were bumped up a class, adding to an already busy agenda. Combine that addition with preparing a Linzer Dough for our final tart on Friday, and yet another speed bump in the form of multiple batches of carbonized caramel for a few unfortunate individuals, and it was a pretty frantic night in the kitchen.  Love it!


Caramel Nut Tart (Tarte aux Noix Caramel)

This tart is double layered decadence as a walnut and salted caramel filling is baked under a thin layer of creme d'amandes. The smooth, rich brown top of the tart is the perfect canvass for finishing with powdered sugar or apricot nappage. 

Focus Techniques:
- Creating a caramel using the "wet" method whereby white granulated sugar is boiled in a small amount of water until it starts to color/caramelize at 340 degrees Fahrenheit. Subsequent stages progress at five to seven degree increments.
- Adding glucose to a caramel when it reaches the desired color to keep the mixture soft and to prevent recrystalization as it cools.
- Tempering caramel when adding cream or milk, slowly incorporating the cooler liquid to prevent the caramel from seizing.
- Completely sealing the caramel layer of the tart under creme d'amandes to prevent any caramel from bubbling to the surface while baking.
- Using parchment paper to cut negative space designs for finishing the tart with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Caramel Layer of the Caramel Nut Tart (Tarte aux Noix Caramel)

Baked and Decorated Caramel Nut Tart (Tarte aux Noix Caramel)

Baked and Decorated Caramel Nut Tart 2 (Tarte aux Noix Caramel)

Slice of Caramel Nut Tart (Tarte aux Noix Caramel)



These brownies are about as far from Duncan Hines as you can get. Technically a bar cookie, these confections have a well-balanced texture that is neither too cakey nor too fudgey. Adding orange juice and dried cherries to the batter results in a decidedly above-average flavor profile. And a top layer of chocolate ganache pushes these brownies towards being candy bars... the very edges of excess.

Focus Techniques:
- Using only high quality chocolate - when chocolate is the dominant ingredient, bad chocolate will make for bad final products.
- Using darker chocolate to offset the sweetness of the orange juice in the batter.
- Thoroughly whipping ("Blanchir") the eggs and sugar, which produces a meringue-like top layer to the brownies when baked.
- Rehydrating the dried cherries in orange juice prior to adding to the batter.
- Spraying the bottom of the parchment paper with non-stick spray to hold it in place while spreading the batter into the sheet pan.

Baked Brownies


Bourbon Pecan Cookies

Yet another instance when a "crumbly" cookie has won me over, thanks in great part to the use of extremely flavorful nut flours (not to mention the helpful addition of bourbon). These perfectly circular treats can be rolled in chopped pecans or topped with whole nuts prior to baking, making for an even more indulgent bite.

Focus Techniques:
- Using cool, roasted nuts to make a nut meal or nut flour.
- Adding a small amount of sugar (an amount taken from the recipe) to the toasted nuts when making a nut flour, keeping the flour from caking or forming a paste / butter.
- Adding spices (e.g. cinnamon, clove, etc.) at the time when the butter and sugar are being creamed to ensure the flavor components are fully incorporated into the mixture.
- Adding and thoroughly beating any nut flour into the dough prior to adding any gluten-containing wheat flours. 
- Rolling a thin (i.e. < 2") log of dough using parchment paper and a cutting board to press a tight, circular shape; thoroughly chilling the dough prior to portioning.
- Finishing the cookies by lightly brushing the chilled dough in an egg wash and rolling it in finely chopped nuts or placing a single nut atop each cookie.
- As necessary, correcting the shape of the cookie by hand to create perfectly circular portions.

These cookies are in the refrigerators and will be baked in time for indulging this weekend.

Take a look at the full syllabus

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