pastry school

Pastry School Recap | Unit 7 – Petits Fours (Happy Valentine’s Day!)

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Happy Valentine’s Day! To celebrate, I made some white chocolate and raspberry macarons. The white shells were a little more successful than the pink ones, which I over-deflated a bit, but both should be yummy to share with friends on a trip to Carmel this weekend.

To be honest, the hype and reverence around French macarons make me a little less excited about making them. That is probably why this is the first time I’ve made them at home (outside of class). However, I do think they are delicious treats, and no doubt big money-makers for bakeries (I almost always grab one when I’m at a Bouchon Bakery)!

Conceptually, petits fours are the most interesting to me. I love the idea of shrinking down desserts, and although it may be too labor-intensive, I could imagine having a bakery specializing in innovative petits fours. The French translation of petits fours is “small ovens” and the term refers to bite-sized desserts. The two dessert types are glacé (glazed, such as the ones you see in Swiss Colony catalogs), and sec (dry, such as macarons, meringues and biscuits). I believe there is also the savory type, salé (salted), for appetizers.

Some examples of petits fours from Unit 7:

Hazelnut Financiers:
 Pâtes de fruits: raspberry and passion fruit jellies
Sablés: swirl cookies
 Unit Exam: fruit jellies, Russian tea cakes, passion fruit barquettes, lemon-raspberry sandwich cookies, raspberry macarons, cat’s tongues, nougat, madeleines
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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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Pastry School Recap | Unit 3 – Puff Pastry

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I love puff pastry. Maybe because, like pâte à choux, mechanical leavening is involved. In class, we made paillettes, or twisted straws, flavored either with cinnamon sugar, or cheese and spices. However, I was never quite satisfied with the version we made in class, for reasons I’ll explain below. Fortunately, last Christmas when I went home to Orange County, I came across a new bakery in Brea, CA called Merely Sweets. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered on their website that the owner is a graduate of the New York campus of my school (f/k/a French Culinary Institute)! No wonder I seemed to recognize most of the desserts in the shop, including cinnamon twists that looked much better than what we made in class.

I was inspired to experiment with new methods to achieve the fatter and more robust twists that Merely Sweets had. I think the result, as seen in the photo above, was much more successful than the ones from class (see photo below).

Instead of twisting a single strip of puff pastry dough upon itself as done in class, which I think overworks the dough and results in a harder, denser stick, I cut a longer strip, put the flavoring on one side, folded the strip on itself, and then twist the folded strip. Then, I sprinkled the outer surface with turbinado/raw sugar for extra flavor and crunch. (You can do the same thing with cheese and spices too.) The problem with twisting a single strip upon itself is that on one hand, you want to twist it tightly enough to hold its twisted shape while baking (instead of unraveling), and on the other hand, you want it twisted just loose enough to give the stick some room to puff up. It just doesn’t quite work out and the exposed flavoring also tends to burn.

On the whole, puff pastry might have been my favorite unit of pastry school. Learning the technical side of puff pastry demystified the pastry and made so many diverse desserts accessible to me. It takes some amount of work to prepare the dough, and a whole lot of waiting time in between turns of the dough (rolling and folding the dough), not to mention the long waiting time for the dough to chill. But once the dough is made, it’s like a versatile, magic play-dough.

Some examples from Unit 3:

Napoleon Strip: my favorite dessert
Gâteau Pithivier: puff pastry filled with frangipane (a pastry cream / almond cream mixture)
Vols-au-vent: classic hors d’oeuvre vessel for sweet and savory fillings
Fruit Strip (bar tart): fresh pineapples and ground pistachios
Caged Poached Pears:
Apricot Galette:
Chocolate Palmiers: displayed only for demonstrative purposes; I otherwise never recommend making or eating chocolate puff pastry (not tasty)
Apple Dartois: apple compote in a lattice
Unit Exam: round napoleon, vols-au-vent, apple galettes
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