Pastry School Recap | Unit 5/8 – Cakes

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Cakes were my main interest prior to pastry school, and probably still are the basis of what I like to present as my “craft”. The amount of time and labor that go into them sometimes make other quicker pastries more attractive. However, I will always have a respect for and fascination with cakes.

I made this salted caramel mousse cake earlier this year for my new niece Madelyn. Although the cake is not listed on the website for Extraordinary Desserts (my favorite cake shop), it is the Versailles cake featured on the cover of Karen Krasne’s Extraordinary Cakes recipe book.

The cake is made with almond joconde sponge, soaked with some rum simple syrup, and layered with drizzled salted caramel and salted caramel mousse. The outside is pressed with praline (caramelized pistachios and almonds).

Then the top is coated with a gelatinized salted caramel.

Finally, salted caramel macaron halves (homemade!) are pressed against the sides and decorated with a ribbon (not necessary to hold on the maracons, but definitely helpful for stable transportation). Et voilà!

I wasn’t thinking clearly about the occasion when I used a spiked simple syrup when assembling this cake for a newborn baby . . . but at least the adults got to enjoy.
A few of my favorite cakes from Units 5 & 8 of pastry school:
Special Occasions cake for midterm: passion fruit bavarian cream filling with fondant decorations, dedicated to my parents’ 35th anniversary
(This is what my parents consider “posing with the cake”):
Lemon Chiffon Cake:
Marzipan Peach Cake:
Fraisier Victoria: sponge cake, creme mousseline, fresh strawberries
Flourless Chocolate Cake: with chocolate hazelnut mousse and chocolate meringues
(Here’s the inside):
Chocolate mousse cake: the outside is a decorative biscuit d’amandes cake wrap
Charlotte Royale: a dome of jelly rolls with pistachio mousse filling!
Unit Exam: genoise cake with buttercream and toasted almonds
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Pastry School Recap | Unit 4 & 6 – Viennoiserie & Bread

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Croissants were probably the highlight for most of us in class from our viennoiserie unit. And while there were some interesting items from the bread unit, croissants are so awesome that they were my highlight from the bread unit too.

Viennoiserie, or “things of Vienna”, are baked goods made from yeast-leavened dough that is generally enriched (i.e. has milk, butter and/or eggs added). Some key examples use laminated doughs such as croissants and danishes. Also included in this category are pain au chocolat, brioche, and viennois.

Given my love of croissants, I made some variations on them as part of my revisit to this unit. Here, I have plain croissants, almond croissants (almond cream filling and sliced almonds on top), green tea croissants (almond cream flavored with matcha green tea powder) and purple yam croissants (almond cream flavored with purple yam and black soy powder). The green tea flavor is a bit too muted, but the color was pretty and I think more matcha powder could address this. The purple yam flavor reminded me of the pastries from Asian bakeries.

This was my first attempt at making croissants (or anything yeast-leavened) at home, and I’m relieved I was able to proof and raise the dough (using Instant Yeast) without melting out too much of the laminated butter.

Some tips: to first proof the détrempe dough, microwave a cup of water for about a minute and then use the residual heat and moisture in the microwave; for final proofing of the formed croissants, heat the oven to the lowest temperature setting with a bowl of water inside before shutting off and cooling to proofing range.

Some examples of viennoiserie and breads from Unit 4/6:

Spiced Pecan Sticky Bun: ooey gooey goodness
 Viennois: shaped like a baguette
 Beehive: brioche, pastry cream, meringue, honey syrup, marzipan bees (who eats this??)
 Danishes: almond cream, raspberry jelly, cream cheese
 Harvest Grain Bread
Pullman Loaf (Pain de mie): aka white bread
Unit Exam: cornbread, brioche, pain au chocolat, croissants
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A Wedding Croquembouche – Congrats Stephandy!

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A croquembouche is a traditional French dessert found at celebrations such as weddings. The name of the dessert comes from the French words, croque en bouche, meaning ‘crunch in the mouth’. The dessert is basically a conical tower of profiteroles (choux pastry filled with pastry cream or crème légère), held together by caramel. A traditional base for the presentation is nougatine (caramel and sliced almonds), and decorations can include caramel, sprinkles, ganache, flowers, and more.

When my friend Stephanie saw the photo of a croquembouche we made in class, she asked if I would make one for her wedding in April. I was honored, but intimidated! After some careful planning and a little bit of practice, I’m happy to share some photos of what I hope was a generally successful attempt. My only regret is that I made this purely for decorative purposes (in part because I don’t have a commercial kitchen and in part because I had to do a red-eye drive to transport the components from NorCal to SoCal) and thus only filled the bottom two rows of cream puffs. Had I known there would be so much interest in actually eating this, and had I known that caramelized isomalt would hold up so effectively and not soften like caramelized granulated sugar often does, I might have been brave enough to fill every cream puff.

The base was the most challenging piece. After nougatine is cooked and poured, you literally have a matter of seconds or minutes to cut and shape (less when using isomalt as in my case). Once it hardens, it would have to be reheated in the oven to soften enough for molding. And unfortunately, the standard home oven is not large enough for a full sheet pan or the length of nougatine that is necessary to form the ring. Fortunately I stocked up on isomalt and almonds and got this right after a couple attempts. I also used nougatine for the decoration on top.

The flowers are a mix of hand-painted (but pre-made, store-bought) gumpaste flowers, and hand-made fondant-gumpaste roses and carnations. The color scheme for the wedding was pomegranate, citron and gold, which I think I captured in these flowers. I hope to learn how to make the wired gumpaste flowers from scratch in the near future, but given the limited time I had, these ones from Michael’s worked well.

Isomalt does caramelize but does not darken in color as much as granulated sugar does. I liked the lighter, clearer color for coating the cream puffs and gluing the pieces together, as you can worry less about drips and uniformity (just don’t eat too much of it). Isomalt is also more stable in that it absorbs less moisture and is less likely to get sticky and “melt” when sitting out. Adding a small amount of granulated sugar provides color (and control over the color). For the spun sugar, I used a greater amount of granulated sugar to get a more golden color.

This was a beast to make, but I am so glad I took on the challenge and was thrilled to share in the celebration of a beautiful young couple.

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