Sunday, July 24, 2011

Making your own Silicone Molds

This cake was made with Copy-flex, a food grade silicone that is ideal for very detailed casting, since in its liquid state it is very fluid and it seeps into every single nook in your negative. For this mold I made the negative simply out of Plexiglas rectangles glued together with acrylic glue. It is key to make sure that the negative is on a flat surface, well adhered (i spread a thin layer of shortening on the base to keep it steady; some use Vaseline, but Vaseline should really have no place in a kitchen... I suppose neither should shortening for the matter). As you can see from the website you combine both compounds and immediately pour them onto the negative or the mold you are using. It takes a few hours to set but the results are always breathtaking to me. This silicone is heat and freezer resistant.

Oh and the cake, if you want to know, has the following components: Yuzu cream, litchi jelly, vanilla streusel and vanilla genoise as a base.

On a final note, Copy-flex can be costly (and a pain to cleanup), but worth it if you ask me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amendment to Previous Post

A few of you suggested adding sugar in one form or another to the list of techniques that make a good pastry chef. Specifically pulled sugar. Others mentioned cooked sugar products. After giving it some thought, I will add another technique to the previous 8, for a total of nine.

Sugar cookery. Can you cook sugar to the correct temperature and know what type of product each temperature is for? Do you know how to prevent crystallization? Can you pull sugar competently? Can you make caramels and cooked sugar confections?

I hesitate slightly with pulled sugar, and here's why: pulled sugar, while certainly a difficult technique, it is mostly decorative (notice that I said mostly... of course some hard candies require pulling, such as the wonderful items made at papabubble) and used in showpieces which no one eats, they are just pretty to look at, but that does not mean it should be discarded completely.

By including this, should I also include other mostly decorative skills? For example, a technique such as the Lambeth Method , that is incredibly complex and hard to master, but frankly out of style and antiquated... should that be included? I would say yes, but in more general terms (the Lambeth method, in my opinion, is not a make or break technique in of itself, but piping in general is). So here's number ten:

Piping skills. Do you have piping skills? Can you pipe with chocolate? Really, something as simple as writing "Happy Birthday" using a parchment paper cornet (or cone if you prefer) and melted chocolate, using a very thin strand, with evenly sized letters (not chicken scratch). Can you pipe ganache evenly? Royal icing? How about those macarons? How about the filling for those macarons? Pate a choux for eclairs and puff? Is it evenly extruded?

So there you have it, a nice even round number. 10.

On another note, someone mentioned Humility, and I agree, except that is not a technique per se, but it does make me think of what my next posting should be, and that is, what are the personality traits of a good pastry chef? Certainly, I will add humility to that list. Stay tuned.
P.S. I'd like to thank Tariq for this comment (whom I assume is Tariq Hanna from Sucre in New Orleans, unless there is more than one Tariq in pastrydom, which is entirely possible, but highly unlikely).

Finally, during the course of this year I will be posting recipes and methods for some of these techniques.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What makes a good pastry chef?

What makes a good pastry chef? No one in particular asked me, but I feel compelled to ask and then answer my own question.
I will tell you what I think it is. And the answer addresses the technical aspect only. The management part and all the other stuff is not relevant to this answer. It comes down to eight techniques. No more, no less. They are pass or fail.
These are the eight techniques, in no particular order:
Lamination. This includes puff pastry and a yeast risen laminated doughs. Can you execute a Napoleon and a croissant? Are the outer layers flaky and crisp and is the crumb structure regular in its irregularity? Is there any damage to the layers? Is it much lighter than it looks? is it buttery on the surface and does it make a beautiful mess when you break through the surface?
Pate a choux. Not the aberrations and monstrosities that we have unfortunately become accustomed to. Amorphous blobs of soft choux coated in dull condensation-pocked glazes. Can you make an eclair that is evenly tubular and completely hollow? A puff that is round, hollow and even?
Pastry cream. No scorch, no lumps, not overcooked, not undercooked. Proteins: yolks and starch coagulated on point). No pastry cream powders. Is it shiny, smooth and supple?
Brioche. Understand that it is an emulsion first and an enriched dough mixed to full gluten development second. Mix it as such without over-heating it. Is it soft, tender, buttery, airy... pillow-like?
Ganache. Speaking of emulsions. Can you formulate and balance a ganache recipe to fill confections and another for a slab to cut and dip? Do you know the difference between these types of ganache and what they are for?
Temper chocolate. So it shines and snaps. Thin shells in confections (throughout the entire shell, including the base... Is it uniformly thin?) Thin sheets for chocolate decor. Can you manipulate it and keep it under working control for long periods of time? Not a speck on your coat. Not under your fingernails. Not on the wall or on your work table. Can you harness it?
Make a macaron. Can you mix it to just the right consistency, pipe it all to exactly the same size, let it dry just long enough, let it bake just long enough?
Spoon a quenelle. Ice cream, sorbet and whipped cream or creme fraiche. Small, medium and large. With any spoon.

If you can execute all of these eight items without mistake, with the true quality aspects they deserve, and with relative ease.... Then you are a good pastry chef. If you do seven of them, you are not quite there yet.
I wonder if we took all of the pastry chefs we admire and respect, or perhaps do not admire or respect but we hear about a lot and give them awards, how would
they fare? How many would pass?
I really, truly want to see any of these techniques be part of the challenges in cooking show competitions. Not who makes the sassiest cupcake. Frankly who gives a shit about cupcakes? Any home cook can make a decent cupcake.

Do these well, and you will succeed, perhaps not financially, but you will know deep down that you are not a hack, and that is one definition of success, which plays into your integrity , self respect and what you are made of There's nothing worse than a hack who doesn't know he (or she) is a hack. Perhaps the only worse thing is a hack who knows he's a hack and does not care he is a hack. God bless P.R. firms, right?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I am a very big fan of the flavors of the classic Mont Blanc dessert. Chestnut paste, vanilla Chantilly and sablee dough. Very straightforward but incredibly pleasant. I first tasted it in a pastry shop in Paris named Angelina that has been around for a while. A very long while, so they know how to make it well.

In this dessert I took those flavors and created a visual landscape of an imaginary mountainous valley with various Mont Blancs (hopefully you know that the name refers to a snow covered mountain in the Alps, the highest in the area; it does not refer to the Swiss pen and watch maker). The "mountains" are a combination of sweet chestnut puree and mascarpone coated in white velvet spray. Below them, beyond view is a thin layer of vanilla chantilly made with heavy cream and creme fraiche. Above the chantilly is crisp streusel and streusel crumbs enhanced with green food dye. The garnishes are candied mimosas and lilacs, ash powder grey macaron shells and edible copper glaze to resemble mushrooms.

There is the individual portion above, but below is the "cake-in-a-box" version.