As vacation winds down, I ‘m starting to prepare for my re-entry into the fervor of life at The CIA. These past few weeks have allowed me to catch up on some much needed sleep, as well as the time and facilities to practice my work. I’ve spent loads of time in my home kitchen trying to perfect the products we’ve learned in class thus far, as well as preparing for future classes.
One of the first things I wanted to try again was the Charlotte Cake we had made a couple of weeks ago. Being made primarily out of ladyfingers, I saw the perfect opportunity to do a little experimenting. Rather than fill it with the diplomat cream or chocolate ganache that we used in class, I filled it with the mascarpone tiramisu cream found in our textbook, Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft. I also used a round of piped ladyfinger batter for the base of the cake, which I soaked in Kahlua simple syrup, rather than the genoise that we used in class. The cake was topped with cocoa powder and grated milk chocolate. It went over extremely well with my taste testers (my family), and has certainly earned a spot near the top of my list of favorite things I’ve baked.
The following weekend, I chose to revisit our lesson on custards and the creaming method, making crème brulee, pot de crème, and chocolate chip cookies. Nothing goes better together than cookies and custards. When we made the pot de crème in class, we were required to make the chocolate recipe. To change things up, I decided to give the caramel variation listed on the bottom of our recipe sheets a try. As I’ve come to expect from what the CIA has provided, the recipe was phenomenal. When baked, the custards took on this brick red hue, with a mirror like, paper thin membrane, that gave way to a velvety smooth, pudding like custard beneath. It’s definitely my favorite out of the 3 custards we learned to make. The crème brulees turned out just as tasty. I made sure to grab a butane torch from the store before I got started. I had made them once before at home, but lacked a torch to give them their signature hard caramel top. Considering crème brulee literally translates to “scorched cream,” it was nice to actually be able to make it proper.
When I had made the chocolate chip cookies at home on previous occasions, I ran into some difficulty with them spreading paper-thin. On the advice of my chef, I chilled the scooped dough on the baking sheets before popping them in the oven. This chilled the fat, allowing the exterior of the cookie to set before the butter could completely melt, resulting in a chewier cookie with more body, closer resembling what we had been able to accomplish in class. I was extremely satisfied with the results. I have also started using the Guittard brand “super cookie chips” from Whole Foods. They are much wider than the standard chocolate chips one would generally use, creating these large pockets of chocolate that extend throughout the cookie like a network of veins. They are pretty dark and subdued in flavor, making them an amazing contrast to the sweet, butterscotch flavor of the cookie. These have definitely become my go to brand for cookies. Once again, everything went over with resounding “yums” from my family.
For the final weekend, I finished things off with a selection of pies. Though we were all required to make 5 pies in class, the fillings were assigned to groups to be prepared and shared amongst the class. This means that each group only got hands on with one type of filling. Making them at home allowed me the opportunity to try my hand at some of the things I didn’t get a chance to make at school. I made pecan, cherry, and coconut cream. The cherry pie filling uses the same recipe as the blueberry filling. The blueberry filling came out pretty watery in class, and I was worried the cherry would come out the same. I was relieved to find it came out a delicious, gelatinous consistency, that sliced up great in the finished product.
I had to make the pecan pie filling twice, as it didn’t come out right the first time. This was actually due to an unfortunate inconsistency between the digital and printed versions of our recipe packets. The recipe requires a caramel to be made with butter, sugar, and corn syrup, which is then cooled and mixed with eggs and vanilla. The digital version of the guide, which I was using, instructs us to cool the caramel to room temperature before mixing in the eggs. This proved to be impossible, as the caramel became incredibly thick when cooled. I then, on a whim, decided to check out the print version of my recipe packet and found that the instructions differed from the digital version. Rather than cool the caramel to room temperature, it said to cool it just to the point where the eggs would not be cooked when added. The pie turned out perfect following these instructions.
The coconut cream pie is just a standard pastry cream, which my entire class are pretty much pros at, at this point. Since I was making it for a gluten free family member, I decided to experiment some more and replace the mealy piecrust with a meringue crust. It worked for the most part, but the bottom of the crust got fairly soggy. I’ll definitely need to tweak it some more.
Aside from keeping my family and myself well fed, and on a near month long sugar high, this extra practice really helped solidify my skill set in regards to these types of desserts. As I prepare to head back to school this week, I do so with a sense of excitement and confidence. I’m sure I’ll have much more to practice in the coming weeks.