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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Culinary School - Sessions 49 & 50: Opera Cake, Langues de Chats, Pate de Fruits, Coconut Macaroons, Madeleines and Nougat

Culinary School: Sessions 49 & 50 (12.10.14 / 12.12.14)

Opera Cake, Langues de Chats, Pate de Fruits, Coconut Macaroons, Madeleines and Nougat

Candy time...

What's one of the best part of Petits Fours? Starting to make some candy.

While miniature cookies and cakes have their place (and this session's incredible Opera Cake certainly has a place front and center on any dessert tray), it's fun to start working with candy.

This session, we broke out (and a number of us actually broke) our candy thermometers for some Pate de Fruit and Nougat. 

Plated Petits Fours

But first, some holiday antics...

As a little pre-class bonus, I was able to catch a demo with Mr. Chocolate himself, Jacques Torres, as he made a Buche de Noel. 

Eggs were thrown (and not caught)... as were some punches... and somewhere along the way, a marzipan snowman lost his head. 

All in good fun...

Chefs Torres and Jurgens

Kitchen Antics with Chefs Torres and Sailhac

Buche de Noel

- Ingredients Running Tally -

Ingredients used to date (12.12.14):

  • Flour: 22,495g
  • Eggs: 11,250g (225x)
  • Sugar: 12,725g
  • Butter: 12,750g
  • Milk/Cream: 11,790g

Fully Plated Petits Fours

- The Recipes -


Opera Cake

Certain items in culinary school are highly anticipated. The towering Pate a Choux Croquembouche, the buttery-delicious Croissant... and Opera Cake.

Opera Cake is not dissimilar to a Marjolaine. Layers of rich hazelnut cake, coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache come together to form a stacked wonder. However, in this case, the cake is ultimately portioned into single bites and finished with decorative piping. 

Focus Techniques:
- Spreading a very thin layer of delicate meringue batter onto a sheet tray. To avoid deflating the meringue batter, it should be spread onto the sheet tray both quickly and delicately. Spraying the underside of the parchment paper with non-stick spray will help the paper to adhere to the sheet tray. Rather than pour the entire batter into the center of the tray, pour it around the edges. You won't have to spread the batter around as much to create an even layer.
- Immediately removing the baked cake from the sheet tray. The thin cake will continue to cook and steam if it is left in the sheet tray. Carefully sandwich the baked cake with another parchment-lined sheet tray and flip the trays to release the cake to the cool tray. Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar as an additional anti-stick measure.
- Creating a non-stick surface by coating the underside of the bottom layer of cake with a light amount of Pate a Glacer (non-tempered chocolate). The coating will make it easier to transfer the cake between surfaces.
- Lightly washing the cake with flavored simple syrup. Given the thinness of the cake (approximately 1/4"), use only a little wash. Unlike a Genoise, this cake has a high fat content and does not require additional moisture. Too much wash will create soggy layers that will seep.
- Spreading even layers of buttercream and chocolate ganache to match the thickness of the cake. All of the layers should be consistent for presentation.
- Topping the cake with a crumb coat of buttercream and chilling the cake before glazing. A smooth, solid coat of buttercream will make for a smoother final glaze. It is also easier to portion the cake if it has been previously chilled.
- Glazing the cake on an angle. By tilting the cake and then pouring the glaze, gravity does the work. A smooth, thin layer of glaze will remain without any tool marks.
- Testing the cake for a "Cut Point" after glazing. There is a short period after glazing when the chocolate glaze is solid enough that it will not run but not so hard that it will crack when cut. Test the corner of the cake with a knife to see how set the glaze is before portioning.
- Using a hot knife to portion a cake if the glaze has hardened. If the glaze has set, warming a knife in very hot water will make it easier to make cuts without creating cracks.

Opera Cake Layer - Hazelnut Sponge

Opera Cake Layer with Pate a Glacer

Opera Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Glazing the Opera Cake

Portioned Opera Cake

Plated Opera Cake


Cats' Tongues (Langues de Chats)

Thin, crisp, citrus flavored cookies that could not more closely resemble a Milano.  

Focus Techniques:
- Gently mixing the butter, sugar and egg whites to minimize air incorporation into the batter. These are intentionally flat cookies. Too much mechanical leavening is undesirable.

Piped Cats' Tongues

Baked Cats' Tongues

Plated Cats' Tongues


Fruit Jellies (Pate de Fruits)

Fruit snacks for French restaurants, Pate de Fruits are the fruit chews of the adult world.

Focus Techniques:
- Working with Brix measurements. Brix is the sugar content of a liquid solution. 1 Brix represents 1 gram of sucrose per 100g of solution or 1% concentration. Brix varies based on the fruit puree used in making Pate de Fruits. The amount of the other ingredients in a recipe must be adjusted to account for the Brix of the puree. 
- Mixing pectin with sugar to prevent clumping. Directly adding very fine pectin powder to water can create lumps. Combining pectin with coarser sugar helps to break up the mixture.
- Using a guitar candy slicer. A guitar candy slicer is a wire-lined tool that creates perfectly sized pieces of candy, perfect for portioning Pate de Fruits.

Mold for Pate de Fruits

Plated Pate de Fruits


Coconut Macaroons (Macarons aux Noix de Coco)

The "other" macaroon, these cookies are simple balls of sugar, egg whites and shredded coconut, which have been compressed and baked.  

Focus Techniques:
- Aggressively massaging the egg whites into the shredded coconut. To create an adequate "batter" from the eggs whites, sugar and coconut, it is important to really work the ingredients together by hand. A resting period of up to an hour in the refrigerator can help the ingredients meld and reduce spread.

Coconut Macaroon (Macaron aux Noix de Coco)



The Madeleine has come to represent fleeting perfection. Sweet and tender little buttery bites... they become hard and dry within minutes. As a result, many bakeries prepare them to order so that customers can truly enjoy the hot-from-the-oven perfection.

Focus Techniques:
- Carefully and completely preparing the molds. The molds must be completely buttered and floured with any residual flour entirely knocked from the molds. Given the small size of theses cakes, any imperfections in the molds will easily result in a stuck product.
- Muddling the sugar and citrus zest by hand. By working the zest into the sugar, more of the flavorful oils are released.
- Gently beating the eggs before adding them to the rest of the batter. If the eggs are broken and beaten before they are added to the other ingredients, the overall mixing time is reduce and the gluten structure has less time to develop resulting in a more tender cake.
- Chilling the batter and molds before baking. Baking a cold batter in a cold mold reduces the chances of the Madeleines sticking.
- Piping the molds only halfway full. These cakes will expand in the oven. Given the small size of each cake, very little batter is needed for a cake to fill the entire mold. 
- Unmolding and serving the cakes immediately after baking. These cakes have a fleeting shelf-life.

Baked Madeleines



An intensely chewy marshmallow Confiserie (candy / confection). Nougat is a sugar-lovers dream... and a diabetics nightmare. 

The candy is made by whipping egg whites with both sugar and honey that have been boiled at high temperatures. The result is a thick, marshmallow-like substance. Warm nuts and candied fruit are folded into the mixture and then rolled into a 1/2" sheet that is ultimately portioned into individual bites. 

Focus Techniques:
- Carefully monitoring sugar temperatures. Candy making requires extreme accuracy when it comes to temperature. If the temperature is off, a completely different product will result. A room-temperature-solid Nougat may become a liquid marshmallow sauce. A chewy caramel may become a carbonized brick.
- Boiling honey separately from other sugarsHeating honey to as high a temperature as is required for the other sugars would destroy some of the floral characteristic of the honey.
- Heating "mix-in" ingredients before adding them to the Nougat. The thickness of the Nougat is very sensitive to temperature. If cold ingredients, such as nuts, are added to the Nougat as it finishes mixing, it will immediately seize. Adding warm ingredients keeps the temperature elevated and the mixture pliable.
- Rolling the Nougat between cornstarch-lined silpats. The warm nougat is sticky. Rolling it to the desired thickness between cornstarch-lined silpats creates a perfect non-stick surface. Any residual cornstarch brushes off easily.
- Portioning the Nougat with an oil-brushed chef's knife. The solid Nougat is difficult to cut. An oil-brushed knife works best for cutting through both the sticky Nougat and the hard nuts. 

Nougat Covered Whisk

Rolled Nougat

Rolled Nougat

Plated Nougat

Next - Session 51: Checkerboard Cookies, Swirl Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes and Florentines

Previous - Session 48: Macarons with Almond Paste, Gerbet Macarons, Chocolate Macarons, Sarah Bernhardts and Barquettes

Take a look at the full syllabus

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