Sunday, December 19, 2010

Adventures in Baking 101: Finale

The last two sessions of the baking class are devoted to making four items without assistance from Chef Dennis or classmates. At the end of the last class, the four items will be presented to the chef and to outside friends and relatives, who are invited to the classroom for a look and tasting before we pack up for the semester.

The students' final dishes arranged for presentation.

The final items are the same for all students, and must be made according to the recipes distributed by the chef. They are:
  • An 8-inch white cake, split in half horizontally, iced and decorated in a manner of our choosing. The icing is a vanilla Swiss meringue butter cream.
  • An apple streusel pie, including a flaky pie crust, apple filling, butter-and-brown sugar streusel topping, and pastry "leaves" for decoration.
  • A 9-inch fresh fruit tart. A sweet tart dough is prepared, rolled out and placed in a tart shell, then prebaked without filling (“baked blind”). The cooled, baked shell is filled with vanilla pastry cream, then decorated with fresh fruit.
  • Crèmes brûlées.

We have a total of 8 1/2 hours to prepare all of the above from scratch. In the first session, which is 5 hours, I prepare the cake, frosting, pie dough, tart dough, pastry cream, and crèmes brûlées, leaving all items frozen or refrigerated. The following week we have 3 1/2 hours to finish everything, including decorating the cake, preparing the apple pie filling and streusel, baking the pie, baking the tart shell, filling and decorating the tart, and caramelizing sugar on the crèmes brûlées.

My final cake. It looks a bit rough around the edges,
and I wish I had been more creative with the decoration.

I knew it was going to be a stretch to finish everything on time, and many students, including me, didn’t quite make it, though I came very, very close. My last step before total completion was caramelizing the sugar on the crèmes brûlées. This is done with an acetylene torch and should take only a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, like me, several students left their crèmes brûlées to the end, and I had to wait for a torch. When I finally got one it wasn’t working properly and I spent precious minutes trying to get the flame going. Time was called as I was fiddling with the torch. I didn't quite finish, but I still feel pretty good about what I accomplished.

Apple Streusel Pie. This turned out nicely.

All in all the baking class has been a good experience. I have a much greater appreciation for the science of baking and all the little tweaks that go into making a dish properly. For example, if you look at the photo of the fruit tart, you’ll notice that the crust underwent shrinkage during baking, i.e. it no longer conforms to the sides of the tart pan. Had I let the unbaked crust rest for 15 minutes before baking, this probably wouldn’t have happened, or at least the shrinkage would have been less. Little things like this separate the novice from the pro. (I meant to rest the tart dough before baking, but I was in a hurry and forgot.)

The final fruit tart. You'd eat this, wouldn't you?

I’ve enjoyed the class, but have decided to give cooking classes a break and just cook at home for a while. Next semester I’m taking a course in database management. Au revoir! :)

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