Archive for January, 2009

January Daring Bakers Challenge

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

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Has it been a month already since the last challenge? Time seems to have passed so quickly, yet the yule log and the holidays associated with it seem at once long gone…I’ve been a bit preoccupied with time lately (the recent season premiere of LOST has something to do with it, no doubt), or just preoccupied in general, perhaps. I had visions of “Rock Band” inspired guitar tuiles that never materialized thanks to various projects I’ve got going on, but oh well…

January’s Daring Bakers challenge was all about keeping it light. A tuile, either sweet or savory, or nougatine, were all options this month. Inspired by my recent class with Johnny Iuzzini, I decided to recreate certain elements from the class, partly to see if I could indeed successfuly execute the recipes again. This month, I made peanut nougatine with rum and coke ice cream, and caramelized bananas flambeed with rum.

I tried two shapes for the nougatine – one free form and one cut out in circles. I did not want my nougatine to be too dense, so I chopped the peanuts instead of keeping it whole or halved. They were still a bit dense after introducing the caramelized sugar, so I manually stretched the nougatine to intentionally create holes or a lighter effect. The bananas were caramelized and flambeed with a bit of rum, and the rum was further emphasized in the rum and coke ice cream. Incidentally, the recipes for the caramelized bananas and ice cream are available in Iuzzini’s new book, Dessert Fourplay.

This month’s challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

Desserts Class with Johnny Iuzzini from Jean Georges

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

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Johnny Iuzzini teaches students to “respect the curves of the fruit”

ICE‘s catalogue has some choice offerings this session, including (but definitely not limited to!) classes with chef Michael Laiskonis from Le Bernardin, and this recent class I took with Johnny Iuzzini from Jean Georges restaurant. Iuzzini is a James Beard award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year, and has trained with Francois Payard, Pierre Herme, among others. He’s also made TV appearances on Paula’s Party, Top Chef as a quickfire challenge judge, Martha Stewart and, oh yeah, also happened to be twice voted NY’s sexiest chef in a Daily News poll. Iuzzini’s book, provocatively entitled Dessert Fourplay, has just been released, so the desserts in the class were based on his book.

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Iuzzini is quite a rock star in the pastry world, so I was a bit starstruck meeting him and some members of his team at Jean Georges, who were on hand to assist students throughout the class (they were all so great and helpful, by the way!). I just got a new camera lens a few days prior to the class which I am not yet accustomed to, so I feverishly snapped away throughout class hoping to get a few decent, in-focus shots – in between chopping fruit, piping cake batter, flambeeing bananas, etc.

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Various stages of creating the Polenta-Pineapple Cake, from caramelizing sugar, filling with pineapple and piping cake batter; akin to creating flan or an upside down cake.

Chef discussed his dessert quartet concept used at Jean Georges, or how a single element is carried out in a complementary plating of four mini desserts. We would be working in teams to create the numerous components to ultimately plate our own “fourplay” (har, har).

I really liked this peanut phyllo crisp, for example, with a peanut flour/sugar layer, which was later used to garnish one part of the quartet. After an initial baking, a layer of confectioner’s sugar is dusted and the phyllo crisp is reheated, allowing the sugar to caramelize (though unevenly in the second photo below – you want to avoid that). This creates a delicate, flaky crisp, which is later broken into shards and used for garnish.

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Peanut phyllo crisp

One of the other quartet components was the flambeed bananas with rum and coke ice cream, which Iuzzini is demonstrating below.

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Fire and Ice: flambeed bananas and rum and coke ice cream quenelle

After working in groups the whole night, we each had the opportunity to plate our own desserts. Here’s Iuzzini’s plated demo. I loved the way he balanced and delicately offset the quenelles atop the phyllo crisp/bananas. He also created carrot foam using fresh carrot juice and an immersion blender.

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Clockwise from left: Chef Iuzzini’s plated demo of pain perdu (brioche French toast) with cream cheese ice cream and papaya lime compote, pineapple polenta cake with pineapple spice sauce, mango lhassi with diced fruits and carrot foam, flambeed bananas with rum and coke ice cream, peanut phyllo crisp and caramelized peanuts.

Wow, I hadn’t realized all that we accomplished in class until I just detailed all the components in that lengthy description. The class was really well-orchestrated in this respect. Also, while the components are certainly numerous, none were especially difficult. We were all left to plate our own arrangements using the desserts we created in class.

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My plating arrangement with overfilled lhassi, deflated carrot foam, half-assed melting quenelle, sans specialized, compartmentalized Jean Georges dinnerware.

In perusing my copy of Iuzzini’s Dessert Fourplay, I’m quite surprised by the relative accessibility of the recipes. Though I haven’t tried them yet outside of class, I think they would appeal to a wide range of pastry cooks. The recipes and flavor combinations are really quite compelling and I imagine this will be a great go-to book. I particularly like how each of various elements of the quartets can really stand on their own, should the idea of creating four mini desserts at once be daunting, as I imagine it would be to many. Also, the desserts are beautifully photographed, which is always appreciated.

My one minor complaint was that I wish there were a little more of a color contrast in the final dessert – but this is more of a personal photography issue (though the photo of the same dessert in the book is quite stunning). Class was a blast and the mere hours spent there were inspiring, edifying. Iuzzini was a really charismatic, generous and playful instructor, even poking fun at students who burnt their caramelized sugar (tsk, tsk). Good times!

fortunately, not a fluke…

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

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I tried making another batch of macarons, this time adding some matcha powder, just to see if my last successful attempt was a fluke. I was relieved when the feet came out again! Hopefully, I’m starting to get the hang of this and am developing the fundamentals upon which to build.

finally it happened to me…

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

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I’m talking about macarons!

Emboldened by my recent success with the French Yule Log (and needing something to do quite a bit of leftover egg whites), I decided to try my luck once again with the humble macaron. I’ve tried making green tea and chocolate macarons before with mixed success. They certainly met the requisite “tasty” factor, but fell short in the “pretty” aspect. Namely, they were lacking the frilly feet so coveted by macaron makers. Well, with expectations low, I tried a basic recipe for practice and lo and behold…a New Year’s gift…success!

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These macarons are filled with praline whipped cream (again, ingredients from my last Daring Baker’s challenge).
This time, I decided to plop myself in front of the oven window and watch the whole baking process (it only took just over 10 minutes), so I determined that the most critical factor that had been throwing me off was the oven temperature. I’ve been bemoaning the oven that came with our condo ever since we moved in and the temperature fluctuations and their effect on the little feet became quite apparent during my observation. It was an illuminating discovery. I haven’t had problems with larger cakes, but little macarons are quite the sensitive little things. Hopefully, I’ll get a convection oven one day.

I should also note that I was able to determine this by piping two sheets of macarons. I decided to hold off on baking the second sheet until after I made the first one. The first sheet was not as successful. The oven was too hot and the tops cracked, but the ones towards the front of the oven came out fine with frilly feet, leading me to believe the temperature (where the front of the oven is cooler) was the culprit. I know about oven hot spots from working with glass, and there were certain tests you could do to determine their exact locations by suspending glass rods across the annealer to see where the rods were sagging. Perhaps I should try a comparable experiment with my oven!

I also tried something I had read about – to place one sheet on top of the other to prevent the bottom from getting too hot. That is also likely a factor in the success of the second batch. Anyway, these were my personal notes. I guess no matter how much you read about making macarons, it’s just a matter of actually making them and developing your own experiences. For me the most interesting thing about this process was developing an increased awareness of heat. Anyway, I’m happy the year is off to a good start!