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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Culinary School - Session 22: Conversations and Pear Tarts

Culinary School: Session 22 (10.06.14)

Conversations and Pear Tarts

How do they do that?

With each new unit in culinary school, there are always a few introductory sessions necessary to cover the basics.

Forming and working with new doughs... special rolling techniques... lots of random French vocabulary words leading to timid and usually horribly muddled pronunciations for several weeks.

And then we get to the fun stuff.

With the basics covered, there's a point where we finally start applying that basic knowledge to create some truly impressive pastries. After all, who wants to make a career out of simple apple tarts?

This session brought two truly awesome pastries. The surprisingly delicious "Conversations" managed to end my strong dislike for anything with Almond Cream (Creme D'Amandes). And the Poire en Cage may be one of the coolest looking pastries I've ever seen.

Pear Tart (Poire en Cage)

- Ingredients Running Tally -

Last week when I complained about the lack of sweetness in puff pastry, one of the sucrose gods must have heard my call. The answer to my sugary prayers came in the form of Royal Icing, part of the "Conversations" made during this session.

If there were an award for "Most Sugary Topping", Royal Icing would be enduring champion. Nothing more than powdered sugar whipped with egg whites (in roughly a 5:1 ratio by weight), Royal Icing can be spread and baked atop puff pastry to form a crisp layer that will certainly satisfy any craving (or set off a diabetic episode).

Ingredients used to date (10.06.14):
  • Flour: 8,095g
  • Eggs: 4,500g (90x)
  • Sugar: 4,700g
  • Butter: 5,300g
  • Milk/Cream: 4,525g

- The Recipes -



A sealed puff pastry filled with Almond Cream (Creme D'Amandes) and topped with Royal Icing and decorative pieces of puff pastry. 

While Almond Cream can sometimes become dry when baked, the sealed puff pastry keeps the cream moist and rich. The additional sweetness of Royal Icing, which is baked on top of the Conversation, is a welcome addition for those looking to satisfy a sugar craving. 

A traditional Conversation is decorated with a simple cross pattern cut from scraps of puff pastry (Demi-Feuilletage); however, any decoration is possible.

Focus Techniques:
- Docking the Feuilletage and rolling the base of the Conversation thinner to limit the overall rise of the pastry.
- Applying butter to the tart molds and unmolding the Conversations while they are still very warm to prevent them from sticking.
- Cutting the lid of the Conversation sufficiently large so that it can be sealed tightly with the tart base.
- Pressing out all of the air between the Almond Cream and the Feuilletage when sealing the Conversation.
- Trimming the Conversation only after the dough has chilled for 30 minutes.
- Making sure the Royal Icing is sufficiently thick so that it solidifies, rather than melts, when baked.
- Keeping the Royal Icing away from the edge of the tart mold to prevent sugar from locking the Conversation to the mold.
- Creating decorations for the top of the Conversation using pieces of scrap puff pastry (Demi-Feuilletage).

Sealed Conversation Puff Pastry Tart

Conversation Puff Pastry Tarts

Decorated Unbaked Conversations

Baked Conversation


Pear Tarts (Poire en Cage)

What all fruit tarts aspire too...

The Poire en Cage is a poached pear baked over a layer of Almond Cream inside of a decorative lattice of puff pastry. It looks amazing... it tastes amazing. It has definitely earned a place on the list of favorite pastries!

Focus Techniques:
- Creating a poaching liquid using a slack caramel base. First, a dry caramel is made by slowly and continually dusting a hot pan with white granulated sugar. The sugar quickly caramelizes, but the continued additions of sugar controls the temperature and prevents the caramel from burning. When enough caramel is produced, liquid (water and/or wine) is slowly added to create a thin, but very flavorful, poaching base. 
- Using a thicker dough for the lattice top to create a more visually impressive cage.
- Creating a lattice out of puff pastry using a lattice roller or by cutting by hand. To create the pattern by hand, a very sharp paring knife is used to slice offset vertical slits. Each slit is 3/4" long with a 1/4" space in between cuts. The vertical columns are spaced 1/4" apart. 
- Creating pear decorations: using a piece of dried vanilla bean for the stem, a whole clove for the base and a leaf cut from scraps of puff pastry (Demi-Feuilletage).

Poached Pear on Docked Puff Pastry Dough

Poached Pear in Lattice Puff Pastry Cage

Baked Pear Tart (Poire en Cage)

Take a look at the full syllabus

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