Archive for the 'ICE classes' Category

Asian Flavors, American Paradox

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Pardon the pause since my last post. I am re-designing my site (a work in progress), re-arranging my home (a work in progress), all the while still undergoing something of a blog identity crisis. Some words of advice: do not develop an interest in the writings of Michael Pollan (who suggests you stick to eating foods your great grandmother would recognize) and molecular gastronomy simultaneously, lest you end up in an existential pastry quandary like me.

I also have an occasionally conflicting relationship between pastry and its effect on my personal health and others’, even attempting vegan alternatives on occasion. I admit that such anxieties would seem to epitomize what Pollan refers to as America’s “national eating disorder”. We are an unhealthy nation ironically obsessed with health and the latest nutritional breakthroughs. Our ever-changing scientific knowledge of food, diet and nutrition is imperfect at best. This epistemological crisis has the potentially harmful effect of wrongfully praising the merits of one food while vilifying another (for example, pastry). In defense of pastry, I find the following revelation interesting, taken from a NY Times Magazine article by Michael Pollan (and also mentioned in his book In Defense of Food):

Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the phrase ”chocolate cake,” Americans were more apt to say ”guilt,” while the French said ”celebration”…

The French, for example, take pleasure in food, eat smaller portions, eat socially, and don’t overly obsess about food’s nutritional value (which can lead to guilt when we do not eat foods deemed nutritious). The paradox of the thin pastry-popping Parisian exists as a paradox to us because of our flawed perspectives and systems of thought about food.

But maybe I digress.

Ultimately, this particular post isn’t about American or French pastry, per se, though the techniques are undeniably Western. The subject is Asian flavors.

So let us eat green tea biscuit (pronounced bis-cue-EE).

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Left: Coconut-Lemongrass Ice Cream, Green Tea Biscuit, Caramelized Rice; Right: Yuzu Cream and “Meringue”, Green Tea Biscuit and Ice Cream, Ginger Caramel

I took a second class at the ICE with Michael Laiskonis, the cerebral award-winning Executive Pastry Chef from Le Bernardin, and blogger too. A few weeks ago, we learned about incorporating herbs such as thyme, tarragon, and rosemary into desserts; this time, we learned about incorporating Asian flavors, most notably flavors from Japan, India and Thailand, in contemporary desserts.

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Black Sesame Panna Cotta, Apricot Sorbet, Soy Caramel, with Cherry Gelée, and Black Sesame Powder, Shiso Leaf. The photo on the bottom right is black sesame powder made through a combination of black sesame paste, sesame oil and tapioca maltodextrin, a curiously feather-light powder that enabled the pulverization of the paste/oil into the black sesame powder, using a food processor.

Chef Laiskonis clarified that the often contested and misunderstood buzzword “molecular gastronomy” is about developing a basic understanding of how food works. This knowledge can, in turn, liberate us and open up new possibilities.

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Frozen Ginger Parfait, Rhubarb-Citrus Compote, Mandarin Coulis, garnished wih Rhubarb Chips, and Tuile Croquant. The rhubarb was sliced into paper thin strips with a mandoline slicer and baked in the oven. The tuile craquant was melted in the oven until pliable, and stretched into delicate decorations.

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Rose Sorbet, Chickpea Sablée, Mango Coulis, Pistachios. Inspired by Indian flavors.

This was another stimulating class taught by a gifted and generous instructor. There was much to learn from each of the numerous, detailed components of the desserts above, from the rhubarb slivers, to pulled tuiles, to the use of unconventional foods such as chickpeas in desserts, all accomplished in the span of one class. I registered for these classes hoping to be inspired by new techniques and flavors, and I have been. But I also ended up with a bit more than I bargained for–not quite intending to struggle with my thoughts as much as I have–but sometimes it is necessary to question, to take the path of greater resistance.

Herbal Desserts Class with Michael Laiskonis; Musings

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Michael Laiskonis is at the forefront of contemporary pastry. He is the executive pastry chef at famed three Michelin starred Le Bernardin in New York, James Beard award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2007, and was featured on “Iron Chef”, “Martha Stewart Show”, etc. Michael generously documents his experiments in molecular gastronomy and creative processes in a blog, Workbook which is a paragon of excellence, in both thoughtfulness and content. While much of his writing may be orientated towards restaurant professionals, it is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the intersection of science, pastry and art. So when I perused the latest catalog from the ICE and saw he would be teaching this session, I immediately stopped what I was doing and registered for his class (or two!).

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(Left) Michael Laiskonis tempering chocolate; (Right) “les herbes du jour”: basil, tarragon, rosemary and thyme

Admittedly, I write this post with a vague sense of apprehension, conflict, questioning. I feel apprehension over the thought of writing about molecular gastronomy, of which my experience is non-existent. Michael Laiskonis drew molecular diagrams and and presented various percentages or equations for the perfect ice cream, somewhat reminiscent of watching an Alton Brown show. I was simultaneously taken back to chemistry classes at Stuyvesant High School in New York, where I struggled to grasp a scientific concept while secretly marveling at the demos. I feel conflict over the dichotomies of the much-debated role of “molecular gastronomy” in light of my current reading of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, where the deconstructionism of the modern diet and somewhat anti-science stance seem at odds with this movement of molecular gastronomy (I may get in trouble here and could expound upon this at greater lengths, but will perhaps save this for a later date). And I question the direction of this little blog o’ mine, as really neither a food critic nor professional chef, wondering – is this blog really a reflection of me – what has my life morphed into? At times, I have felt that I am not quite this and not quite that, never really following a predetermined path. Sometimes I just have to remind myself that I am what am, where I am, that I am the cumulation of my experiences, and that is just fine.

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Roasted Pineapple, Sesame Pain de Gênes, Rosemary Ice Cream: I loved this black sesame seed cake with almond paste and can’t wait to try this again on my own. The white rectangles are neutral caramel – a sugary, pineapple dust that fuses to create the ethereal crisp that tops the dessert in the upper left hand photo.

In my experiences taking recreational classes at the ICE, there has always been such a diverse range of students, but there was a roster of more serious students this time, from culinary school graduates to chefs at The Modern, Bouley Bakery and other establishments. I was concerned I might be in over my head, especially after seeing ingredients like trimoline (an invert sugar used to retain moisture), locust bean gum, and glucose atomisé (powder) listed in the recipes.

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Vanilla Parfait, Tarragon Meringue, Grapefruit Sorbet: The green disks are tarragon meringues “baked” in a dehydrator; there was also a separate batch baked on silpats in ovens, but those meringues were more brittle and difficult to work with. The dessert was tart and refreshing, the flavors were so nuanced and refined.

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Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta, Basil Seeds and Foam, Strawberry Pearls, Lemon Purée.

The glassblower in me still holds an affinity for bright, shiny things and translucence, so I was a bit assertive or ambitious in choosing to do the above dessert, which entailed creating strawberry pearls. The ingredients in the pearls included fresh strawberry juice and agar agar (a gelling agent derived from seawood). The salmon roe-resembling pearls certainly have a great ‘ooh’ factor, and are incidentally rather addictive. Another dessert component that resembled caviar, or the black specks on the spoon, was actually basil seeds hydrated in sweetened water.

Part of the appeal of pastry and working with my hands is being immersed in action unfettered by the mind. Taking Michael’s class, however, has been thought provoking, challenging the symbiotic use of the mind and hands. What I take away from this class will remain to be seen – sometimes there is a potential disconnect between knowledge and experience, in that knowledge and ideas can get ahead of your hands…And sometimes knowledge inspires, and forces development.

For more about Michael Laiskonis, visit his blog.

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!

A Class with Pichet Ong from P*ONG

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Last Thursday was a bag of mixed emotions. It was an unseasonably humid autumn day in New York, I hadn’t slept well, I was physically not feeling great and in generally groggy spirits. Whining aside, I hauled myself over to the ICE to take this class I had registered for a while back.

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As soon as I saw Pichet Ong‘s smiling face, my mood was instantly uplifted. Pichet is such a personable man. So cute! He spoke about his background at Jean Georges, La Folie, Spice Market, etc. and how his experience in savory cooking has influenced his desserts in both flavor profiles (his desserts often play with salty/sweet flavor combinations such as the apple hand pie with bacon caramel) and his creative development process. He uses more of an instinctual approach, spontaneously creating, tasting, then revisiting the creation a second time to record the measurements used for any given dessert. Pichet regarded this instinctual approach in admittedly generalized terms as a vaguely “Asian” approach. I found this interesting and personally inspiring as I’ve come to regard baking as less and less of an exact science based on precise measurements and timing and learning to hone my instincts instead.

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Apple Hand Pie with Bacon Caramel (my handpie chosen for plating demo!)

The class was divided in two. As much as the Apple Hand Pie with Bacon Caramel intrigued me, I’m actually allergic to bacon (or rather, the nitrates) so I quickly opted to join the Stilton Souffle, Walnut, Basil and Arugula Ice Cream group. At least we all got to shape a few hand pies. This cheese souffle (picture below) was quite savory, counter-balanced by the light, cool arugula ice cream.

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Perhaps my favorite dessert of the class (and also the least savory) was the Carrot and Salted Caramel Cupcake, which is sold at Batch Bakery in New York. This cupcake was moist and oh so delicious.

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Another delicious item was the Chevre Cheesecake Parfait with Huckleberry, Walnut, and Maldon Salt. The base of the dessert is a walnut cookie crust, a very nice crunch that contrasted the airy parfait.

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This class was so much fun. I purchased Pichet Ong’s book The Sweet Spot and am so inspired by the exciting and unusual flavor combinations. Pichet is also working on a second book, though I’ll be “digesting” the knowledge I’ve acquired from this class for a while…

exploring petits gateaux

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

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I took a class at the ICE recently with Chef Chad Pagano called “Exploring Petits Gateaux” (the translation from French is “Exploring Little Cakes”). Chef Chad is currently preparing for the 2007 National Pastry Team Championship held in Nashville this July (which is scheduled to air on FoodNetwork later in the year), so the recipes for the class were originally conceived for possible use for the competition.

Pictured above are some of the cakes created in our class (unfortunately, they were taken with my camera phone, so the quality could be better). The upper left photo features a “Nougatine Parisienne”, which consists of layers of pistachio macaroon sponges, caramelized apricots, and nougatine cream. The sides are wrapped in a wall of chocolate transfer sheet. Creating the various components of each petit gateaux really is a really time-consuming process, so our teams were limited to one creation. I made the nougatine, which is akin to fancy peanut brittle. Timing is key, from toasting the almond slices, to achieving the correct blond caramel color (this took some figuring out!), to spreading the mixture thinly on a sheet to cool. Part of the nougatine was ground and incorporated into the nougatine cream, part was broken in irregular chunks and spared for decoration. The cake was garnished with a layer of melted apricot jam, whole pistachios, nougatine, bubble sugar, and thin slivers of toasted vanilla bean. An exquisite and decadent presentation!

Chef Chad demonstrated some basic sugar techniques, which was a real delight. I have glassblowing experience, and since melted sugar behaves similarly to molten glass, I felt an affinity for the process. The lower left photo is what happens when isomalt sugar is melted in an oven on a silpat covered by another sheet of silpat. Chef Chad added a mere few drops of food coloring to the sugar, which created these amorphous patches of color. We later used the resulting “sugar bubbles” as garnish.

The upper right photo features the “Passionata” — layers of coconut dacquoise disks, passion fruit bavarian, and pineapple filling, glazed with a passion fruit miroir. This was actually my favorite, as I’m kind of on a passion fruit kick right now (the green tea/passion fruit dessert I had from the Sadaharu Aoki Patisserie in Paris got me hooked).

Pictured on the lower right is the “Pralinette” — layers of marjolaine sponge cake disks, Italian meringue, light praline cream, wrapped in chocolate plastic (aka modeling chocolate). The chocolate plastic is rolled with a rolling pin using cocoa powder to prevent sticking, and then cut to size. Once wrapped around the cake, the top edges are folded in to the center. The nest-like garnish was created from isomalt sugar melted with a bit of water. The melted sugar drips from the end of the spoon and once the correct temp is achieved, it can be “spun” by threading the sugar quickly around your hand.

I think this class will definitely keep my inspired for a while. I can’t wait to recreate or modify some of the creations, but first, I’ve got a big baking project this summer that’s been keeping me preoccupied — my first wedding cake for friends!! More on that to follow…