Thursday, March 29, 2007

Coconut Rochers, Chocolate Macarons, Chocolate Financiers, Madeleines

Attached is a picture of more petit fours that we completed today.

Starting in the upper left, going clockwise, are chocolate macarons, Madeleines, chocolate financiers, and coconut rochers.
The Madeleines are a lemon-flavored cake-like petit four with a nice texture. You pipe the batter into a mold that is shaped kind of like a seashell. Due to the shape of the mold, the edges cook faster while the center takes a little longer to cook. This gives the batter in the center time to spring up, giving you the "bellies" you see in the photo.
The coconut rochers are easily one of my favorites. The batter is much like a macaron batter, and the end product has a slightly crisp exterior and a moist chewy center. I took this platter to the bank after class, where the Madeleines and coconut rochers were a huge hit. One executive at the bank bit into a coconut rocher and let out a big "Oh my God is that good" in a scene reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally. It was pretty funny.
My lovely wife Ali also took a liking to the coconut Rochers, and polished off about a dozen of them. (Ali wants me to remind everyone that the cocnut roches are very small.) And my friend Tracy from the bank actually put in an order for her dad's birthday next month. Very cool.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Opera Cake, Financiers, Macarons

Sorry I haven't posted in so long. It's been a long few weeks.

Anyway, pictured are some more petit fours. On the lower left are financiers, to their right are macarons, and on top is the opera cake. Typically the opera cake is cut into bite-sized pieces, but I decided to do it a little differently today.

The opera cake is built upside down in a sheet pan. First you line the sheet pan with a sheet of acetate so that you can unmold it later (remember this, because I'll be coming back to this point in a minute.) On top of the acetate, you spread a thin layer of chocolate glaze, which will ultimately be the top of the cake. Then comes a layer of coffee buttercream, followed by a very thin layer of joconde cake (essentially an almond flour and egg white based cake), which is then soaked with espresso syrup. And I do mean soaked. Then comes a layer of coffee flavored ganache, more buttercream, more espresso soaked joconde, and on... You freeze the cake in the sheet pan overnight so it is solid. The next morning, you warm the sides of the sheet pan with a torch to release the cake, then flip it over to unmold.

Even after using the torch, we had problems getting the cake out. So I started trying to pry it out with a knife, which didn't do much. So then we went over the whole bottom of the cake with the torch, and still no luck. That the point when I remembered washing dishes the day before and finding a sheet of acetate at the bottom of the sink... Yes, I used the wrong sheet pan and therefore did not build my cake on top of the acetate! So, we eventually dug the rest of the cake out, which left all of the chocolate glaze and a lot of the buttercream on the bottom of the pan. Needless to say, I was not too happy with myself, but Tara came to the rescue and used some leftover buttercream to patch it up, then we used some leftover chocolate mirror glaze to glaze the top. And it turned out fantastic, as the mirror glaze gave a nice shiny look that the original glaze did not. We actually got several compliments from other classmates.

The financiers are essentially little almond cakes, which are very moist and quite tasty. Very nice.

I was pretty excited to learn how to make macarons, and was very pleased with the results. Macarons are small cookies made with meringue and almond flour, which you pipe onto a sheet ban and bake. Once baked, you pipe a layer of filling onto one base and cap it with another. Today we used raspberry ganache, but you could use any ganache, buttercream, jam, etc. There are a few keys to good macarons, but most important for the look is to get consistently shaped circles when piping. Although I'm not the most talented person with a piping bag, I'm definitely improving, and my macarons turned out great, as you can see. Tara had a little more trouble with hers, which didn't have the nice smooth surface that you see on mine in the picture. Rather, her's were smaller and had little points on top, which when baked looked remarkably like little nipples. She was disappointed, but I told her she could just sell them for an extra $1 as nipple macarons for bachelor parties, etc... She was only slightly amused. :-)

By the way, if you've never had a macaron, get down to your nearest pastry shop right now and get one. They're awesome. Looking at the picture above, the look like hard little cookes, but that's far from the truth. They're actually kind of chewy and moist, and can be flavored with anything from raspberry to chocolate to pistachio to coconut, etc. Seriously, go get yourself a macaron. I'm going to go have one myself...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Long Days

Hello all!

Starting tomorrow I will be assisting Chef Bob with a continuing education class on Petit Fours from 6:00 - 10:00 p.m., on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Combine that with class from 6:45 - 12:45, and work at the bank from 2:00 - 5:00, and I'm in for a few very long days. So, you probably won't see any posts from me until Saturday or Sunday.

See you soon!!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


So, yesterday I mentioned that I would not have a partner during this section of the program. That changed today, and now I'm partners with Tara. Aside from being a Michigan grad, she's pretty cool. She originally enrolled in the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC), but dropped out in favor or the French Pastry School. Apparently she's very happy about her decision. Over the last few months I've heard a lot about the other culinary schools in Chicago, and not much of it has been favorable. If you're interested in hearing more, let me know.

As for the whole partner issue, I don't want to write too much for 2 reasons. 1) I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings who might read this, and 2) I'm too tired to write, and I'm going to bed. But there was a little drama in the whole issue, and although I did not cause any, or involve myself in the drama, I'm still kind of in the middle of it. So email me or give me a call if you want to hear more.

But for now, I'm going to bed. 5:00 comes early tomorrow.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, Petit Fours

Today we begin the Petit Fours section of the course. Petit Fours are small bite-sized pastries that you'll often see at hotels and resorts, etc. Some common examples are small fruit tarts, or macarons. Over the next 2 weeks, I'll be making a variety of different Petit Fours, and sharing them with you on my blog. And if you live near the Chicagoland area, I'd be happy to ACTUALLY share them with you. So stay tuned.

Our instructor for Petit Fours is none other than Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of the French Pastry School. Chef Jacquy is one of the finest chefs in the world, and boasts an amazing resume. Take a look at his credentials at

In addition, Chef Jacquy has recently returned from France where he was competing for prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France title. The M.O.F. title in pastry has been awarded to only 113 French pastry chefs around the world (including Sebastien Canonne, the other co-founder of the French Pastry School.) There are only four pastry M.O.F.’s living in the USA today. Chef Jacquy just learned that he has advanced to the finals of the M.O.F. competition this fall, where he should be awarded the M.O.F. title. When Chef Jacquy completes his M.O.F., the French Pastry School will be the only school in the use with 2 M.O.F.'s on staff.

Finally, we drew new partners today in class. Initially I was set to be partners with Lauren, but that changed when that would have meant that Tara, who just started school with us 2 weeks ago, would be without a partner again. So Chef Jacquy asked me if I would work without a partner for the next couple weeks, and I agreed. This means that rather than sharing all the work with a partner, I'll be responsible for completing all of the products on my own, as well as doing all of my dishes, etc. It will be challenging, but I'm looking forward to it.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ciabatta, pound cake

Yesterday was our last day in the Breads section of school. While I don't see myself focusing on breads in the future, I'm glad I've learned about them and how to make them. Having said that, I think that the smaller subset of morning pastries is very cool, and knowing how to make croissants, etc will be very useful, and hopefully lucrative, in the future.

For our last day we made ciabatta, finished our beignets (for the second time) and croissants and chocolate croissants for the third time. We also did a marble pound cake (vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio) and and Earl Grey Tea pound cake. When I left school, I had a huge bag of stuff with me, way more than I could use at home. There was a homeless man on the corner by school, and he was in the right place at the right time, and was rewarded with a few loaves of hot-out-of-the-oven ciabatta bread and a few beignets. The rest went to my friends Marc and Doug, and their wives. I only kept 2 loaves of ciabatta and half a loaf of the marble pound cake.

Marc picked me up from school and we went right to the United Center to watch the Badgers in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Doug had gotten some free tickets which he gave to us, so I was more than happy to give him all the pastries he wanted, along with buying him plenty of beer to drown his sorrow over the Illinois loss. Anyway, now I need to try to find tickets to the game on Sunday vs. UNLV for the right to go to the Sweet Sixteen.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beer Bread, Pain Au Chocolat, Brioche Bostock

Today we made Beer Bread and Pain Au Chocolat. In the pictures, the Beer Bread is the loaf with the appearance of the cracked top, and the Pain Au Chocolat is the rounded pastry alongside the croissants.

Interestingly, Beer Bread contains no beer inside the loaf. The beer (Guiness, in this case) is mixed with a small portion of yeast, flour and salt, which becomes a paste that is spread on top of the bread dough. The loaf is then baked, and the beer flavor is actually drawn into the bread. Chef John also recommended the possibility of making this with champagne or hard cider. Another notable ingredient inside the beer bread is mashed potatoes. We used instant mashed potatoes, but at home I would use real mashed potatoes.

The Pain Au Chocolat is also called a Chocolate Croissant. The dough is identical to croissant dough, but it is cut into rectangles rather than into triangles before shaping. The dough is rolled around a small "log" of chocolate before proofing and baking. This is a special type of chocolate that is solid, but remains soft after baking. On some of the pieces, we also inserted a few banana slices alongside the chocolate, which was a nice touch.
My friend Marc Chapdelaine grew very fond of Pain Au Chocolat when he lived in France, and he's been asking me about it since pastry school started. I'm thinking he'll be very happy when I show up on his doorstep tonight with a half dozen for him and his wife, Deb. Bon apetit!

Finally, we also made Brioche Bostock today. We sliced up some day-old brioche, dipped it in almond syrup, spread on some almond cream, topped with sliced almonds, and baked for about 15 minutes until toasted. When I brought them home today, Ali said she could eat them every morning with a cup of coffee for the rest of her life. What a great way to use up uneaten brioche. Of course, there's always french toast, too...

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Picture of Baguettes

OK, so I'm not the smartes blogger ever. I can't figure out how to post my pictures where I want them next to the text, and I'm having trouble with spacing. I'm posting the picture of the baguettes mentioned in the previous post because I could not get it to work in that post. Stay tuned to see if I can figure it out.

Does anyone out there have a 12-13 year-old that can help me??? I must be getting old...

A flute without holes is not a flute...

...and a doughnut with no holes is a Danish. At least according to Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) in Caddyshack."

But my version of a Danish is pictured at right. We finished these today, along with a few other things. The Danishes you see here are finished off with an almond flavored pastry cream, topped with either an apricot or a Mirabelle plum. The danish dough itself is very similar to croissant dough, and the process of "laminating" the dough is essentially the same. A laminated dough is dough that is layered with butter, such as puff pastry, croissants, and danish. In the picture, you can actually see some of the layers on the edges of the danish.

Today I also finished the Kugelhopf, which is a traditional Alsatian bread, baked in a fluted mold. The dough contains golden raisins soaked in kirsch (surprise, booze in french cooking...), with a ring of almonds atop the fluted edge. Immediately after removing the bread from the oven, you submerge it in an almond syrup, which is soaked into the bread, keeping it moist but not soggy. Once cooled, it is sprinkled with sugar. The Kugelhopf turned out to be a class favorite.

Legend has it that the Kugelhopf was named after an Alsatian baker with a wooden leg. The Three Wise Men, on their way to see the Baby Jesus, stopped in at the baker's house to spend the night (because you know that Alsace is right on the way to Bethlehem...) Supposedly, the sound of Mr. Kugel's wooden leg on the floor made a "hopf, hopf, hopf" sound, and the Three Wise Men named the bread that he gave them, Kugelhopf. Seriously, that' the story.

Finally, we baked french baguettes today. The process to start the dough was a little different than the baguettes we made last week, giving a much more tasty bread, and I think the texture was a lot better too. Plus, I learned how to make the cool design in the picture.
Sorry I have not been able to post for so long. I had a nice long post almost completed the other day and lost it, and I just didn't have it in me to go back and re-write it all. But I will, maybe this weekend, sometime between one of the two Badgers' upcoming NCAA victories. I have lots to say that, so I'll let you know when I can post about what you've missed, in case you're interested.

To my brother Dave, the Spartan, condolences on the Spartan loss in the Big Ten Tourney. But you'll be happy to know that I was close enough behind the Spartans' bench to count the pinstripes on Tom Izzo's suit. Good luck in the Big Dance. Go Green.

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Friday, March 2, 2007

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart, Sarah's Pastries and Candies

Today we finished our Strawberry Rhubarb tart. The base is a sablee dough, filled with pistachio almond cream. Atop that is a Pistachio Creme Legre, which is basically a pistachio mousse. The Legre covers a strawberry gelee and rhubarb compote, and is garnished with sliced strawberries.
Our tarts turned out very nice, but I'd love to make this during the peak season for strawberries and rhubarb, when the fruit is at it's best.
After class I went to Sarah's Pastries and
Candies, where I intern on Fridays. They have a great little business where they sell chocolates made on premises, as well as cakes and pastries that are made in their kitchen off-site. Check out Sarah's website at They also sell Inteligentsia coffee, and have a steady clientele of rugular customers.
OK, so it's my blog, and I'll do what I want. So I'm taking this opportunity to stray from pastry for a second to talk about the Wisconsin Badgers, who play the Michigan State Spartans tomorrow. My brother, Dave, is an MSU grad, so we have a bottle of scotch riding on the game. I think he could have supplied Daytona Beach at Spring Break with all the booze I've lost to him over the last 15 years or so, but I hope to make a bottle back tomorrow. But, the Spartans always play the Badgers tough. Bucky needs to close out the season on a high note to secure a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney.

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

St. Honore and Paris Brest

Today we finished our St. Honore and Paris Brest. The St. Honore (named after the patron saint of bakers, no joke) starts with the inverted puff pastry that I mentioned previously. It is topped with a ring of Pate Choux, which is the same dough used for eclairs and cream puffs. Inside the ring we put some sauteed apples, but you could use almost any fruit, or no filler at all. Then it was filled with a Chiboust Cream, which is a kicked-up pastry cream. We piped several spheres of the Pate Choux, which we then filled with the Chiboust Cream and dipped in caramel, then stuck to the ring of choux with more caramel. Carlos did a great job of piping the cream, which you can see in the photo to the right.

The Paris Brest was also made with a large ring of Pate Choux, which we then cut in half and filled with carmelized roasted hazelnuts and a hazelnut buttercream. Then we covered the hazelnut buttercream with another layer of pate choux, topped off with granulated almonds and powdered sugar. I wish I could send you all a sample of the Paris Brest, because it is absolutely to die for! Just awesome. The hazelnut buttercream starts with traditional buttercream, mixed with an equal part of pastry cream, and flavored with hazelnut paste. When I die, I want them to bury me in hazelnut buttercream.

I did not get a good picture of the Paris Brest, so you don't get to see it here. Anyway, it doesn't photograph as good as it tastes. Interestingly, the Paris Brest was named after an annual bicycle race between the two cities, when a marketing-savvy baker decided to bake his pastry in the shape of a bicycle wheel.
I took the Paris Brest to the bank after class, and got the first 2 orders of my pastry career! One of the girls wants me to make her one for her mother's and father's birthdays. Pretty cool.

For my part, I tried to make the song of the day "Chiboust, Chiboust..." sung to the tune of "Shaboom, shaboom, na na na na na na na na, shaboom, shaboom..." but it didn't stick too well.

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