Pastry Camp : Part Deux

The last two days of pastry camp, I brought home more desserts than I ever thought would be in my house at one time. Cookies, bread, ice cream, sorbet, scones, tarts, caramels - it seemed there was nothing we didn't make. Here's a summary of the sweets we whipped up at the very end. Friday was a sad day knowing it was all coming to an end, but looking back, I'm so excited and impressed with everything that I learned, and in just one week to boot!

Day 4
Chocolate Lover's Obsession
This is the cake most people think of when they hear the words, "molten" or "lava" cake. It's a chocolate cake that's slightly undercooked (don't worry the eggs have been tempered so they're fully cooked even before you bake the cake batter), so basically when you dig in, the center runs out and you have an instant chocolate sauce to dip your moist cake into. You can make the batter and freeze it in disposable ramekins and then bake a la minute! (bake to order)

Lemon Cream
This was the best lemon cream I've ever tasted - and it was easy too! You just need equal parts of 5 ingredients (butter, whole egg, egg yolk, sugar, and lemon juice). Let it sit in the fridge over night and you're set! We piped ours into one of our pate sucree (sweet dough) tart shells, but it also pairs well with the scones we made the following day. If you want to be really fancy, (which, we were, of course) make yourself a meringue dough (cream of tartar, sugar, egg whites, confectionary sugar, vanilla paster and salt), pipe in a teardrop shape onto a baking sheet and voila - the perfect cookie to decorate the top of your lemon cream tart!

Chocolate Custard Mix
This was another surprisingly simple recipe - just eggs, whole milk, heavy cream, and dark chocolate pieces (64% cacao). We used the custard to fill our remaining pate sucree (sweet dough) tart shell, baked it until set, and topped with the chocolate nougatine crisp we made on Wednesday. Delish!

Day 5
Scottish Buttermilk and Cream Raisin Scones
I shared these scones with family on Saturday for breakfast and it was almost as if they never made it to our plates, we ate them so fast. Because they were de-lic-ous. The golden raisins are steeped in earl grey tea to give these scones an amazing flavor. Oh, and the creaminess from the fat of the heavy cream/buttermilk combo doesn't hurt the situation either.

Pain a la Biere - Beer Bread
Bread is a labor of love. But it definitely pays off. I have never made more beautiful bread in my entire life. Much less, bread with a beer paste baked into the crust! Can't wait to make this in the winter to go with a homemade stew and/or soup!

Rhubarb Raisin Compote
This was probably the easiest recipe in the bunch. All you have to do is let your rhubarb macerate in the sugar overnight so its nice and juicy and plump. Then the next day, put it in a saucepan and add your raisins, lemon juice and vanilla and cook down until the mixture reduces by half. Great as a pie filling, or by itself. I tried it this morning on pancakes - so fresh and so yum!

Sweets, sweets, and more ... SWEETS!

Stay sweet my friends!


A Crash Course in Pastry

This week I have been at summer camp. Which is funny, because I was never a camp kid growing up.  And here I am all grown up (well, kinda), and going to camp. Not only that, but it's my dream camp - PASTRY CAMP! With three days down and two days left, I'm starting to wonder what's left for us to bake - we've covered a ton! So, I'm going to give you a little preview of what I've been baking and some of the tips I've been learning this week. Here goes my chronicles of pastry camp.

Vanilla Creme Brulee
A good creme brulee should melt in your mouth like a slightly thickened cream. And the best part is, you only need 5 ingredients to make it! Heavy cream, whole milk, egg yolks, sugar/sucrose and vanilla paste (or you could use extract).

Passion - Apricot Pate de Fruit
In French, "Pate de Fruit" translates to "fruit paste." They're kind of like fancy delicious gumdrops.  I had to resist the urge from eating them handfuls at a time. Plus, they only take 15 minutes to make! (aside from set time) Bonus!

Banana Pecan Bread
The best tip I learned about banana bread is the secret to creating that beautiful crack on the top of the loaf. Right before you put the filled loaf pan in the oven, take a pastry brush and dab some melted butter down the center of the batter. You're basically telling the batter where to form a crack - genius! Tell that batter who's boss!

Pate Sucree (Sweet Dough)
Later in the class we will be making a few tarts (one chocolate, one lemon) so to prepare, we made our sweet tart dough. A great trick I picked up, is to use the leftover scraps that don't fit into your tart rings to make sugar cookies.  Talk about being resourceful!

Chocolate Shells
We're making Navan Caramel and Fleur de Sel Molded Chocolate Bonbons this week, so to start the process, the first day we had to make the chocolate shells that the Navan Caramel will nestle inside of. Using a polycarbonate mold and a wallpaper scraper, it's easy to get the job done.

Day 2
Chocolate Raspberry Ganache
This ganache is going to be the filling for our Macarons. The thing about French baking is, there's always a way to add alcohol to things. However, it's usually for good reason. Because alcohol actually acts as a preservative - and when you're making ganache, you really want it to keep it's ooey gooey-ness as long as possible. For this recipe we used a raspberry liqueur (Wolfberger's Eau de Vie de Framboise, to be exact).

Navan Caramel
Caramel has always kind of scared me - I always think I'm going to burn it.  But today was my lucky day. The thing to watch for when you are heating up your caramel, is for the liquid to smoke a little bit and it should have "espresso foam" bubbles at the top. Then you know you are ready to take it off the heat and add your cream (slowly of course). And you'll end up with brilliant, not burnt caramel!

Caramels with Salted Butter
We got more practice with caramel today, and another trick of the trade our Chef Instructor mentioned is to associate the color of the finished product of the caramel with something you can reference. That way, each time you make it, you'll know when the amber coloring is just right. It could be the wood frame on a piece of furniture, a paint color, a pillow, your favorite sweater... whatever works!

Blueberry Muffins with Streusel
These turned out delicious! And the great thing is you can substitute almost any fruit for this recipe. We used frozen blueberries, but if you have them fresh, use them! A thing I never thought about, is taking fresh farmers market blueberries and freezing half of them for a cold & tasty snack in the summer - genius!

Exotic Sorbet
We just made the base and it will go in the sorbet machine later this week... but if you don't have a sorbet machine, its easy to make your own with two tools you have readily accessible - your hands!  Put some fruit in a bag with a bit of sugar and squish to a pulp (til it resembles a puree).  Throw it in the freezer and - voila! Handmade sorbet!

Day 3
Chocolate Diamants
We haven't baked these yet, but we made the dough and it looks amazing. You roll it out into logs and let it chill - basically exactly like an icebox shortbread cookie. It's called a "Diamant" because you roll them in sugar and they "shine" like a diamond.  Sweet!

There are two schools of thought when it comes to macarons, the Italian Style (using a cooked meringue) and the French Style (using a non-cooked meringue). We're trying out an Italian Style recipe which our Chef Instructor recommends because she things its more fool-proof. Regardless of the style you're using, the coloring of the cookie will be the same - the color of the cookie indicates to the consumer what type of filling will be inside.  The cookie will always be the same (albeit a different color), and the flavor(s) in the filling will be what changes. Since the filling for these is raspberry, we added red food dye - so the cookies are a deep bright "raspberry" pink.

Hazelnut Financiers
The best thing about these little cookies, is you get to make and use brown butter in the recipe. Brown butter = amazeballs. Ok now that I've stopped drooling, time for a little back story. These nutty cookies got their name during 1800's France when a pastry chef wanted to make a delicious no-mess snack for businessmen in the financial district to nosh on without messing up their business suits. Thus, the financier was born.

Chocolate Nougatine Crisp
This crisp will be for the top of our Chocolate Tart. Chocolate. Sliced Almonds. Need I say more?  It also gets along quite well with ice cream as a topping. Boom.

Vanilla Ice Cream
In my future life, I want to be a vanilla bean. When vanilla beans are being dried out, they get laid out in the sun during the day, and wrapped up in a blanket at night. Doesn't that just sound like the life? We just made the base for the ice cream today - but it goes into the ice cream machine tomorrow!  Can't wait!

Stay tuned for the rest of the sweetness I end up whipping up the rest of the week!


Food = Love

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet one of the contestants on MasterChef at a cooking series hosted by the Chicago Campus of Le Cordon Bleu.  The Spicy Chef, Suzy Singh, who's o-so-sweet, was there to talk about her experience as a student at LCB and about her experience in the spotlight on the MasterChef TV series on Fox.  (Click here to read my interview with Suzy on Gapers Block: Drive-Thru.)

The "sweet" gals in action.

The thing that really resonated with me about LCB's MasterChef cooking series class (aside from being star-struck at meeting the "as seen on TV" Chicago Chef), was the school's approach towards cooking.  The chef instructor told the class participants to think of a recipe as a set of guidelines and really encouraged everyone to make the recipe their own.  "Food is love," and when you make food for yourself and/or someone else, you're sharing that love.  "Sure, we made a lot of great food today, but I'm really in this for all the smiles you see around the room today."  That's what has attracted to me about working with food - the fact that the end product is about something more than just a nourishing, great tasting meal.  It's about the enjoyment and sense of community the act of sharing food at a table can give to you and the others enjoying it with you.  Bringing people happiness and joy from your labor of love.  That's what it's all about folks.

If you're interested in the MasterChef cooking series at LCB, they are hosted at least twice a month, each with different themes.  Anyone can sign up and you will get a MasterChef apron and receive a certificate of completion.  You'll want to put this one on the fridge for sure!

Anyways, I thought the experience was really inspiring.  Stay "sweet" my friends! 


Some Lovin' from the Oven

This weekend was a blast. Why? No, I wasn't at Pitchfork. No, I didn't run away and go backpacking in Europe. And finally, no, I didn't find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Instead of all these equally wonderful things that didn't happen, here's what did happen.

This weekend, I had a bake-a-thon of sorts. It was my cousin's baby shower and I was lucky enough to get to handle the desserts. Petit fours were a specific request and I was uber excited to try them out because (a) I had just the perfect recipe (found here) I was dying to make and (b) I'd never made them before and couldn't wait to try them out. They pretty complex little buggers, but they were loads of fun to make and turned out oh so cute!  ... Don't you agree?
Personal teeny sized cake party... in your mouth!

The batter for the cake layers in the petit fours is essentially a pound cake batter, so I wound up making pound cake too. And let me tell you... it turned out AMAZING. If you've been searching for a no-fail pound cake recipe, look no further. Trust me, its a million times better than pulling that SaraLee pound cake you bought 6 months ago out of your freezer.  
SaraLee's got nuttin' on me!

I also made these sugar cookies (they were the party favor) :

I now find myself coming down from this "bakers" high weekend. Wishin' and hopin' IL would pass that darn Cottage Food Law already. In the meantime, I'm gonna keep on doin' what I do. Continuing to seek out ways of living, breathing and (can't forget) eating the sweet things in life.

One such "sweet" thing I learned of recently is Muddy's bake shop.  

Now, I've never been to Memphis, and I've never been to Muddy's, but after visiting their website and reading up on them a bit, I feel like we're practically family. Second cousins once removed... at the very least. Anyways, they get it. It's not about getting rich on the cupcake craze. It's about using quality, wholesome, FRESH ingredients, and serving customers with a smile. Your sweet treats may make their day, but your smile will stay with them for much longer. And it's about being a good neighbor to your community. They want to be a business in Memphis because they want to contribute something to their surrounding community. As their website says : "We serve the greater good… like a super-hero."  If I lived in Memphis, you bet your bottom dollar I would be hiding out at Muddy's all day, er'y day.  But since I don't presently live in Tennessee (never say never), Muddy's will instead serve as my new obsession and small business inspiration.  

Keep on seeking the sweetness folks!  

PS - What's something "sweet" you've learned of lately?!  I'm dying to know!  


Do Dose!

Today, I went to the Dose Market (Food & Fashion - dozens of products exclusive to us.) in the River East Arts Center Building on Illinois.  It is a year round market held once a month featuring an elite selection of vendors in food and fashion.

First off, let me just say, what a great space to hold a market like this in.  Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the bike ride there, but the building itself is quite a lot to take in, with lots of wall to ceiling windows filled with art gallery space.  Downstairs, is an atrium where the Dose Market struggles to contain itself and its patrons within the walls.

Part of the immense crowd was a snakey line of people waiting to get a complimentary cocktail made personally by Grant Achatz himself.  Full disclosure - I.was.one.of.those.people!  The line was more intimidating than it looked and moved - well, not fast, but certainly not as slow as I expected.  Made with Chandon and strawberries from fellow market vendor, Seedling Fruit, this was one drink ticket you didn't want to miss out on.  And it was a special concoction, just for the market, not to be found at his new cocktail bar, Aviary.  Grant and his team always remind me of mad scientists.  And watching him in action today was no exception.

Wandering the market with my luxurious drink in hand, I came across many of my favorite food purveyors - Fritz Pastry, Hoosier Mama Pie Co, Rare Bird Preserves - and some I wasn't as familiar with, but look forward to learning more about - Black Dog Gelato, By M Desserts (which I recognized from watching Top Chef Just Desserts - owned by contestant Malika Ameen of Chicago), Whimsical Candy, and Crop to Cup to name just a few.

Being surrounded my so many people who are so passionate about what they do (whether for the art of food or the art of fashion) was truly inspiring.  It made me want to go home and start applying for loans to start a business - any business - just to be able to continue to be in the company of all these wonderful vendors.  They are a group of people who are truly dedicated to their art.  Sure it's nice to make money, but its even nicer to make a new friend in a potential customer by showing them a product or service that you have to offer that will truly make them smile.  Maybe I'm wrong, but it really felt like that was a lot of what the Dose Market was about. (I think Penny would agree with me.)

“A beautiful setting full of happy people” – Penny Pollack, Dining Editor, Chicago Magazine

So, be sure to get your fix of Dose next month.  The next Dose Market will be on August 14th.  I highly recommend you go - so highly recommend it, that I'll pay for your ticket.  If you write a comment to this post, you will be entered into a drawing for a free ticket to the Aug 14th Dose.

So seriously, do dose.  You'll be glad you did.


Feel Free

In honor of independence day, I am including what I like to call a "kitchen sink" recipe.  It's one of those recipes where whatever you decide to put in it, it's bound to be mighty tasty - (a) because you made it yourself (with a "look ma, no hands" type of pride) and (b) because you have full creative license to add or subtract whatever ingredients you so please (and showing off your math skills doesn't hurt either; add one red pepper and subtract one red onion = delicousness).  And let me tell you - having the freedom of options tastes darn good.  Do you feel me, America?

This recipe for pasta salad comes from my all-time favorite Chicago blogger.  She has been featured on Chicago Tonight and was even a judge for an episode of Cupcake Wars, and her name is Natalie Slater of Bake and Destroy.  If that's not enough reason to become obsessed with her awesome-ness, read this interview and I think you'll understand why I secretly (ok, maybe not so secretly cuz I mention her A TON), want her life.  I started reading Natalie's blog back when I was still working a desk job and just dipping my toe in the world of baking (beyond the realm of your standard choco chips and brownies and the like).  I would spend hours scouring over her recipes - and not just for cupcakes.  I came across this posting for pasta salad and it immediately became my go-to whenever I make pasta salad.  Which, being a carbie, is quite a lot.  The nice thing is, you can add whatever veggies you have hanging out in your fridge (or pantry - canned veggies, and olives work great here too).

Pasta Salad, BAKE & DESTROY Style:
-1 lb. tortellini (frozen, dried or fresh)
-1/2 cup olive oil
-2 tbsp wine vinegar (white or red)
-freshly ground black pepper
-a pinch of salt
-1/4 cup parmesan cheese
-1/2 tsp sugar
-2 cloves garlic, minced or squished through a garlic press
-plus: any veggies you may have lying around (optional)

Cook the pasta until it's al dente.  In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients.  Add veggies before serving (or if they need a quick blanch, do so while the pasta is cooking).  Let the pasta cool, then toss with the dressing.  Chill in the frige for 2-24 hours, and allow to come to room temp before serving.

I made some today with the pasta I had (not tortellini, although that is a delicious option as well if you have it around) and added carrots, celery, red pepper, olives (both green and black - getting adventurous up in here!), and instead of parm, some shredded cheddar.  Also, in honor of this we-love-condiments kind of holiday, I added a tablespoon of mayo to the dressing for a little creaminess.

Tastes like FREEDOM!

So, if you have an hankering for carbs, or if you're attending a celebration with family and/or friends later today and don't know what to bring, I highly recommend making this.  It's quick and easy, and sure to please, because it's easy to make your own.  And in honor of our nation's independence and the freedom that we enjoy in it, you can feel even more patriotic knowing that you were free to add whatever you pleased to make this recipe your own.  You'll be able to taste it, I guarantee it!