individual desserts

This is one of the new rotations for second quarter: small desserts, or petit-fours. These are elaborately constructed tiny things that take maybe 4 or 5 bites to eat.

We started off easy, with pate a choux, which is the dough used to make profiteroles or cream puffs and eclairs. We piped this into circles like doughnuts, filled them with praline mousseline, and coated them in almonds and powdered sugar. They are called Paris-Brest and are often named to commemorate a bicycle race between the two cities (hence their wheel-like shape).

After that, we moved on to custards. We made flan, which involved filling teacups with caramel and then a rich eggy mixture and baking it in a water bath for about an hour. The process had two difficult points, neither of which had anything to do with the recipe itself. First, moving a hotel pan full of boiling water to and from an oven is frightening and scary. If the water sloshes over the tops of the cups, the custard is ruined. If the water sloshes over you, well, ow.

The second frustrating part is turning the custards out of their teacups. You run a knife around the edge of the cup, breaking the seal, and pull the custard away from the side a bit, breaking the vacuum. then you flip the cup upside down and the custard plops out like the one above, right? Ha. Witness:

Those are all the failed flans, which came out in pieces or fell apart as soon as they hit the plate. It is extremely frustrating to finish something well and then ruin it when you're trying to get it onto the plate. We couldn't sell any of those, and they all went to student lunch.

We also couldn't sell this, the large flan (we ran out of teacups), because we didn't have a take-away plate large enough and slices would have been hideous. It's too bad, because it turned out beautifully:

After flan we moved on to creme caramel, which is much the same process, except that you get to torch the tops to form a glass-like sugary caramel-y crust. Ours was flavored with bailey's irish cream and chocolate, but I didn't think that the flavors came through very well. Needed more booze, or more chocolate, or both. Or something. No pictures of that, simply because I forgot.

The next week we moved on to the petit-fours:

from left to right:
napoleons: blitz puff pastry and rich pastry cream, covered in fondant.
chocolate bombes: chocolate mousse and caramel mousse layered over rive gauche (chocolate) cake.
bavarian cakes: almond sponge cake decorated with orange tulipe batter and filled with orange bavarian cream.

The bombes were like a mini version of what I'd done in my cake rotation, so I was comfortable with those, and the napoleons are amazingly simple to make (despite being an utter mess to eat). The most complicated part of all of this was making the stripes on the bavarian-filled cake.

You make a batter of egg whites and powdered sugar and a bit of bread flour (called a tulipe batter), spread it into a sheet pan atop a silpat, and then use this giant long device to make a stripey design on it. Your hands need to move straight and your pressure needs to be perfect and even for the best result. The tray is then frozen and afterwards the cake batter poured on top of the pattern and baked. when the cake is flipped out and the silpat removed, the stripes will remain on the cake. Voila!

Then you spend an hour cutting the cake into wee strips and circles to make these cakes.

And that, folks, was the end of my second quarter in pastry school.