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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Culinary School - Session 119: Final Exam Practical - Day 4

Culinary School: Session 119 (06.05.15)

Final Exam Practical - Day 4

Day 4 of 5....

There was a palpable shift in the energy of the kitchen today - a telling sign that the final judgment, which once seemed (and indeed was) days away, is almost here.

Oven buzzers blaring. Increasingly frequent cries of "Hot Pot!" and "Who the hell touched my burner?" The volume, the heat and the tensions are rising.

You can't blame people for being a little tense (unless they've been sitting around for the last three days, in which case, "It's your own damn fault!") Because if any part of the project is not done today, it has to be completed in the final two hours provided on Day 5 before the judging.

Final Petits Fours Glaces


Petits Fours Glaces

Few products are as telling when it comes to a Pastry Chef's level of OCD and anal retention. Delicate bite-sized cakes, Petits Fours Glaces are all about perfection.

Each piece should be exactly the same size. The Poured Fondant (Icing Fondant) should be of just the right thinness, leaving a just-barely visible suggestion of the layered cake beneath. And as for the decoratively piped patterns on top... in a word, meticulous.

Having baked and layered the Almond Cake with Raspberry Jam and Marzipan during an earlier session, today I was focused on portioning the sheet into individual morsels and finalizing the decorative work.

For the portioning, I forced myself to work slowly, pulling out my ruler to mark perfect 1" squares. It took much longer than would ever be practical in the real world, but it guaranteed uniformity.

And as I'm seemingly hell-bent on creating more work for myself, I decorated two different versions. The first version I coated in a plain, white Poured Fondant with pink piping on top. The second version was the inverse - a pink coating with white piping. For the pink coating, I mixed the white Poured Fondant with a dehydrated Blackberry Powder for color and flavor, rather than simply adding food coloring to the mix.

Despite a shaky hand and several less than uniform Petits Fours among the group, I have more than enough to present 12 pieces of perfection for judging.

Layered Almond Cake and Raspberry Jam with Marzipan Top

Individually Portioned Petits Fours Glaces

Petits Fours Glaces with the Just-Barely-Transparent Glaze

Glazed and Decorated Petits Fours Glaces



Seasonal Tart: Goat Cheese Mousse with Balsamic Strawberry Jam

To the extent that I created more work for myself by decorating two different versions of the Petits Fours Glaces, the Seasonal Tart is the true source of my self-made misery.

The name of the Tart only tells part of the story. Why I didn't make an Apple Tart, I'll never know (...actually, I do know... I'm a glutton not only for dessert, but also for punishment). Truth be told, this Tart has seven individual components:

1. Chocolate Sucree Shell
2. Hazelnut Praline and Feuilletine Crunch
3. Balsamic Strawberry Jam
4. Goat Cheese Mousse
5. Polenta Streusel
6. Balsamic Meringues
7. Candied Rhubarb Tuile

I've been chipping away at the components for days.

The Chocolate Sucree Shells were mixed, rolled and formed early on. They had been chilling in the freezer ever since, waiting to hit the ovens at the last moment possible. That moment came today, since it would be impossible to both bake and cool the tart shells and then set all the other ingredients during the last session.

Baked Chocolate Sucree Tart Shell

The Hazelnut Praline was another component that I made on the first day. It keeps for weeks and will just need a quick stir before it is spread as the bottom layer of the Tart. The same goes for the Balsamic Strawberry Jam and the Polenta Streusel. Patiently resting in quart containers, they are good to go for the final plating.

That left the Goat Cheese Mousse, the Balsamic Meringues and the Candied Rhubarb Tuiles for this session. I had been putting them off as long as possible, because each of these components presents a particular challenge.

The Balsamic Meringue is easy enough to make. It is a traditional Meringue made by whipping Sugar and Egg Whites. However, for the Balsamic flavor, I folded the base with dehydrated Balsamic Vinegar Powder. Not at all acidic, the Powder captures the sweet aspects of the Balsamic.

After two hours in a low temperature oven, the Meringues were perfectly crisp. But in the humid kitchen, they quickly became sticky. Despite having been wrapped air tight with Silica (a desiccant that helps pull moisture from the air to protect against humidity), the Meringues could be unusably chewy by next session. The only hope is that a quick blast in the ovens might help to restore the crispness.

The Candied Rhubarb Tuiles present the same challenge. As sugar-soaked pieces of Rhubarb, the Tuiles are extremely hydroscopic and, even when baked to the perfect crispness, become soft over time as they absorb moisture from the air. Provided that the Rhubarb Tuiles have not dissolved into unusable piles, they will likely need an oven-refresh in those final moments as well.

Balsamic Meringue

Chip Sized Balsamic Meringues

Candied Rhubarb for Tuiles

Balsamic Meringues and Candied Rhubarb Tuiles

And then there is the Goat Cheese Mousse.

Not a Mousse by the school's most technical definition (Base + Gelatin + Italian Meringue + Whipped Cream), this filling is a simple combination of a Honey Crème Anglaise that has been stabilized with Gelatin, melted with Goat Cheese and folded with Creme Fraische.

Ideally, the Mousse should be made fresh and immediately poured into the Chocolate Sucree Tart Shells. Because it contains Gelatin, the Mousse should take no more than a couple of hours to fully set before it can be served. But I don't have a couple of hours to wait on that final day. I also couldn't set the Mousse today, because the Tart Shells would absorb moisture from the Mousse over the weekend and would be soft when it came time for judging.

My solution was to make the Mousse today and refrigerate it in quart containers over the weekend. While the Gelatin will make the Mousse set to an unspreadable consistency, I hope that it can be blended smooth and poured into the Tart Shells with enough time to set to the proper consistency in those final two hours.

Only time will tell.

Goat Cheese Mousse


No session is complete without a little work on the Showpiece. With all of the individual pieces cut, colored and dried, today it was time to start assembling the final structure.

Everyone would love to assemble their Showpiece at the last minute as it reduces the risk of breakage. But as with all of the requirements for the final, not everything can wait until the last day.

I have decided on a two-staged approach to assembly. In this session, I connected all of the pieces that I could safely lay flat and wrap with dissicant on wooden boards over the weekend. I'll approach the vertical assembly as my very last act.

Next - Session 120: Final Exam Practical - Day 5

Previous - Session 118: Final Exam Practical - Day 3

Take a look at the full syllabus

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