Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reprise in Pastry

The pastry kitchen is air-conditioned to help keep dough, marble tops and sticky sweet confections at a cool temperature. Unfortunately the AC doesn’t do anything to help cool tempers.

Our second night in pastry was instructed by Chef Mimi since Chef Alain had the night off. It’s funny to work on the same recipes with a different Chef – everyone puts a spin on how they do it their way. As students, it is almost like we are starting at square one with the same recipes.

Chef Mimi instructed us throughout the night and gave us her spin on plating our two desserts. I don’t know what it was but I was not playing my “A” game that night. It all started with the nougatine…(insert fuzzy dreamscape here)

Nougatine is made with corn syrup, fondant and butter – the corn syrup and fondant are melted until golden brown, removed from the heat and the butter is stirred in and allowed to cool. A half sheet pan is with lined with parchment and the mixture is poured out and resembles amber-colored glass. Once the nougatine is sufficiently cooled it’s then cracked into many shards to get ready for the food processor to blast it into a sugary dust. I know you are thinking…what is the purpose of that?! Here’s where our luck runs out.

The sticky shards are pulverized and then sifted through a fine mesh strainer onto a Silpat-lined sheet tray. The dust is carefully applied to the Silpat in an even thin layer. The sheet pan goes into a 350 degree oven for a 60 to 90 seconds and then emerges to resemble a opaque sheet of melted sugar that is thinner than a millimeter thick. Immediately we take a square cutter and score the glass sheet while it is still warm. The nougatine sheet is then allowed to cool once again and then very carefully we chip away to remove the perfect 3” x 3” squares. These nougatine squares are part of the garnish for the apple sorbet dessert.

That night, nothing was going right with our nougatine, we tried to make the opaque sheet of sugar 3 to 4 times and each time the sugar would crack, or come out of the oven bubbled and warped – we just couldn’t get it right. Luckily we had some squares from the last class and tried to salvage what we could of the new batches.

I think we were cursed that night, our first meringue didn’t form properly, our apple foam was flat, and plating the desserts was a bit haphazard – not our best night – but I blame the temperamental nature of pastry – it is never straight forward, always fussy, and needs constant care every step of the way.

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