pastry school

I got to school at 7:30 on the first day of my second week, and I felt like I'd been run over by a train. My body hadn't adjusted to the physical labor or the early hours yet, I was getting sick, and I was hungover. Awesome. I staggered in to class, seriously not ready for an hour and a half lecture on wheat.

Instead, we were told to stand up and file into the chocolate room.

My 7:30am class was a chocolate tasting.

Suffice to say my mood improved dramatically. Lecture me on cocoa mass and cocoa butter and varietals of beans any damn time you want, so long as I'm sampling the wares.

One of the best (and completely non-traditional) things about my program is that not only do we do pastry and artisan breads, but also charcuterie and cheeses. What this means on a practical level is that sometimes, when I wander into the walk-in to find oranges, I'm confronted with this:

glad I'm not a vegetarian anymore.

speaking of "not a vegetarian anymore," i ate this:

It's called head cheese. I wasn't told what it was until I was halfway through it. And by "told what it was," I mean "given a graphic and detailed description of how it was made." Oh, culinary school student lunch, how you entertain me.

this is our mascot, wilbur:

he's eight months old and becoming prosciutto.


tarts from pastry school

So, I did it. I took a leave of absence from my PhD program and I registered for pastry school. I've spent the last two weeks on tart rotation and I thought I'd share with you some of the fruits of my labors.

Pear-almond frangipane tart:

This is a pate sucree dough, with frangipane piped and spread over it, then two poached, sliced and fanned pears on top with sprinkled almonds. I didn't get to taste it since we sold the tarts whole.

Orange and pistachio frangipane tart:

This is also pate sucree (we use pate brisee for quiches), with a frangipane that is made with half pistachios. On top are cocentric circles of oranges, alternating regular with cara cara (which are more like grapefruit).

Rome Apple Tart:

This tart is Rome applesauce (which is the color of raspberries) under thinly sliced Rome apples. The whole thing is glazed with apricot glaze (apricot because the flavor is neutral and it's high in pectin, for gloss).

Meyer lemon meringue:

It's meyer lemon curd with swiss meringue piped on top (sloppily; still learning!) and then torched. Yes, I get to play with a blow torch.

my next rotation is doughs (viennoiseries): croissants, danishes, etc. I will finally learn to make pastry cream!


maple cream pie

I ate this cream pie at least six times last winter. I went through so much maple syrup (use grade B, it has more flavor) that I should've been importing from Canada. So when I had to make something seasonal for someone I was sort of trying to impress, I turned to this. I figured, I'd made it before, it wasn't a common pie, and it was delicious. And I was short on time and it didn't take forever.

So I then did something completely asinine and I decided to try a pie crust I'd never used before. Now, because I taught myself to bake by starting with pie, I've never been afraid of pie crust the way a lot of people are. I forget that it's even possible to buy pre-made ones in the store because I don't see why anyone would do that. So I make my pie, take over, and we all eat. The pie disappeared. Success!

Later, the person I'd been trying to impress tells me, "I must admit that it made me a bit nervous when you said that you were bringing pie because I knew that if your crust had been bad, I would see you a bit differently."

So. I'm damn glad that pie crust turned out well. It's the mark of a halfway decent baker, apparently. Phew.

Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie
New York Times
borrowed from Smitten Kitchen

3/4 cup maple syrup
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 9-inch pie crust (use whatever recipe won't betray you; this time around I went with Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours).

1. Par-bake pie crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie refrigerated pie shell with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until beginning to set. Remove foil with weights and bake 15 to 18 minutes longer or until golden. If shell puffs during baking, press it down with back of spoon. Cool on wire rack. Lower temperature to 300 degrees.

2. Prepare filling: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce maple syrup by a quarter, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and egg. Whisking constantly, slowly add cream mixture to eggs. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a cup or bowl with pouring spout. Stir in salt, nutmeg and vanilla.

4. Pour filling into crust and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until pie is firm to touch but jiggles slightly when moved, about 1 hour. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Yield: One 9-inch pie, 8 servings


pumpkin brandy cheesecake

I love pumpkin pie, but I get tired of it quickly. I wanted something else to make, and after having Smitten Kitchen's pumpkin bourbon bread pudding, I simply couldn't pass up the pumpkin bourbon cheesecake. Except I was out of bourbon (ooops). I substituted brandy (and roughly doubled the quantity) and the cheesecake was to die for. Confession: I don't even like cheesecake, and I ate this up.

The pecans in the crust make the whole cheesecake, I think. They turn all buttery and taste a bit of alcohol (perhaps that's all the brandy i poured in...) and are absolutely amazing. I'd eat the crust on its own. I suppose you could substitute other nuts it you so chose, but I really can't imagine why you would. These are the best.

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
Gourmet, November 2003
Smitten Kitchen

For crust
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 oz), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For filling
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional) (I used brandy, and at least doubled it)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For topping
2 cups sour cream (20 oz)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)

Garnish: pecan halves

Make crust:
Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan. (This didn't work for me, so I used the springform as usual).

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake:
Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl until combined.

Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl.

Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping:
Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

Epicurious’ note: Baked cheesecake can be chilled, covered, up to 2 days.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.


extra-tangy sourdough bread

I love sourdough bread, and the tangier the better. I was given a sourdough starter (by King Arthur) as a gift, and after feeding it for a bit I decided to try this recipe of theirs.

Now, I thought I totally screwed this one up. My dough was SOUP. There was no "molding" or "shaping"; I had to pour the "dough" into bread pans and pray. Especially since I had promised bread to people at a party and there was no time to start over. (Worse: the party was for the person who had given me the starter and I didn't want to demonstrate that I had massacred her present...)

What came out of the oven was actually bread, albeit not the kind of loaf one would expect (my loaves were roughly two inches high...). It was certainly edible and definitely sourdough. Lesson: always bake it anyway. Sometimes the oven gods are kind.

Recipe by King Arthur

* 1 cup "fed" sourdough starter
* 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
* 5 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 2 1/4 teaspoons salt

by weight-- more accurate:

* 8 ounces "fed" sourdough starter
* 12 ounces lukewarm water
* 21 1/4 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
* 1/2 ounce sugar
* 2 1/4 teaspoons salt


1) Combine the starter, water, and 3 cups of the flour. Beat vigorously.

2) Cover, and let rest at room temperature for 4 hours. Refrigerate overnight, for about 12 hours.

3) Add the remaining ingredients, kneading to form a smooth dough.

4) Allow the dough to rise, in a covered bowl, until it's doubled in size, about 5 hours.

5) Gently divide the dough in half; it'll deflate somewhat.

6) Gently shape the dough into two oval loaves, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise until very puffy, about 2 to 3 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

7) Spray the loaves with lukewarm water.

8) Make two fairly deep horizontal slashes in each; a serrated bread knife, wielded firmly, works well here.

9) Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, until it's a very deep golden brown. Remove it form the oven, and cool on a rack.


pumpkin chocolate brownies

I know, I'm so late with these updates that the season is all wrong. It's not fall anymore, the pumpkins are off the shelves, and it's about thirty degrees outside. with snow now and then.

But i figure, you can always get pumpkin at the store, and perhaps it's better to eat pumpkin foods out of season, when you're no longer inundated with squash and sick of even the color orange.

These brownies are extremely moist and a bit fudgey, and they keep well. Because they're so rich, it's best to cut them into small pieces. The bittersweet chocolate pairs well with the sweet pumpkin; you could even cut the sugar if you wanted.

Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
Stolen from Smitten Kitchen

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar (the original recipe calls for the larger amount; I think it could be dialed down a bit)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish (These can be hard to find, and if you use an 8-inch pan, bake longer.). Cut a length of parchment that will cover the bottom and two sides (makes it much easier to remove), and line the pan with it. Butter the lining as well.

2. Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.

3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.

4. Pour half of batter (about two cups) into a separate bowl and stir chocolate mixture into it.

5. In other bowl, stir in the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don’t set.

6. With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Be sure to get your knife all the way to the bottom of the pan. Mine didn't marble so well, but no harm done.

7. Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes (check early and often, know that brownies in an 8-inch pan will take longer). Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.