May 29, 2011

coconut mochi with peanut sugar filling

In our time on the pastry side, there was daily production but also lectures/demos/written tests, and four practicals - using the dough sheeter, making pastry cream from memory, piping buttercream shapes, and drawing designs with chocolate. And, in addition, we were assigned a project called Bring Your Own Dessert (BYOD). The idea was that everyone would make a dessert in their own free time, something from their own culture/background, something they had an emotional connection to.

I decided to make mochi, the kind that I ate as a child from the take-out dim sum shops in San Francisco's Chinatown, the kind that contained peanut sugar and was coated outside with coconut bits. I couldn't find any recipe online for it - this was the closest thing I found so I modified that recipe and came up with my own. For those who know me, I gravitate toward not cooking with recipes, and I can be very resistant to measuring things, so I've never actually created my own recipes, but this might be the beginning of something.

Here are the ingredients you need to make 8-10 mochis:

mochi mise-en-place

10 oz rice flour, 10 oz water, and 2 oz sugar (for the mochi).
2 oz roasted peanuts and 1 oz sugar (for the filling).
1 oz vegetable oil and 3 oz shredded coconut (for the outer coat).

Professional recipes differ from home recipes in that all the ingredients are by weight and not by volume (hence ounces instead of cups). If you don't have a scale at home, just make sure the ratios of ingredients are correct (ex: 1 cup rice flour and 1 cup water and 1/5 cup sugar for the mochi).

mochi batches

Cooking the mochi is the hardest part. At least, I had to go through three attempts - the first two using the method that I had found online in that previously linked article (boiling the sugar with water, mixing everything in a stand mixer, etc. etc.). It was a laborious process, and moreover, IT DID NOT WORK. The mochi was unbearably sticky and completely impossible to work with. In a fit of desperation I combined the flour, sugar and water in a bowl (kneading out all the lumps with my hands), covered it with plastic wrap and microwaved it on high for 6 minutes. It worked! And, unlike the other method which took close to an hour, it took only six minutes.

mochi filling

While the mochi is cooling, combine roasted peanuts and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the peanut crumbs are to the size of your liking. (If you don't have roasted peanuts on hand, you can roast some yourself by putting some peanuts in the oven/toaster oven until they brown but before they burn.)

filling mochi

When the mochi has cooled enough to be touched, divide it into 8-10 pieces. Make sure your hands are coated with vegetable oil, or else the mochi will stick. Take a piece and press it flat onto your palm, then spoon some of the filling into the middle. Then lift the edges and pinch shut over the filling so the mochi forms a ball.

coating mochi

Roll the mochi ball in the shredded coconut (food process the shreds if you would like them to be more like bits) until evenly coated.

mochi coated

Place each mochi ball in a cupcake liner with the seam side down, or serve as is!


To see my classmates's BYOD projects, go to my flickr and scroll through by clicking 'Next'.

fancy tarts

Plated Desserts is known as the fancy station, not only because all the desserts are made for the Pierre Coste Room (PCR), the fine dining restaurant on campus, but because the station requires the most work in presentation.

Given my previous success with presentation, I was thought to be able to excel at this station. I did all right - presentation requires skills and not just natural ability, obviously.

Chef's requirements for the station were that we produce three types of desserts a day: usually one chocolate item, one fruit item, and one cream/custard item. Something we did often were tarts: they could be filled with any of the three.

I had some familiarity with tarts from the Cakes & Tarts station, but Plated Desserts was like Cakes & Tarts to the next level (in fact, leftover desserts from Plated Desserts would be given to Cakes & Tarts to sell the next day in the cafeteria). In other words, a tart in Cakes & Tarts might have some pastry cream and sliced fruit in it, but a tart in Plated Desserts would involve something more like poached pear.

poaching pears

Poached pear is one of those things that sound super fancy but are easy to make. I peeled some pears, halved/cored them, then boiled/simmered them in a simple syrup liquid. Simple syrup = boiled sugar water (equal parts sugar and water), used in drinks because it's concentrated sweetness that mixes easily, especially for cold drinks where sugar crystals don't dissolve easily. You can infuse simple syrup with whatever flavor you want - in the case of this fashion/food blog that I follow, the designer made mint simple syrup for mojitos but she also reserved the liquid to flavor other drinks such as iced tea. In my case, the simple syrup was infused with a cinnamon stick and peels of orange zest (from using a vegetable peeler). The pears simmered until they were knife-tender (so you poke a pear with a knife and it slides in/out without any resistance).

pear almond tarts

The tart shells themselves also receive a lot of attention in Plated Desserts - the bottoms are completely flat (done by pushing the dough carefully against the sides and bottom), and the tops are smoothed out (after baking the uneven parts are shaved by a microplane zester).

pear almond tart display

I came up with the presentation by myself, and it's not bad, but behind it is a failure. A day or two before I had been attempting a plated dessert presentation, and Chef came over to supervise but he took over and I felt like: 1) I had no clue what I was doing and 2) I was overestimating my own abilities by even attempting to do the arranging myself. This time I slyly put everything together while Chef's watchful eyes were elsewhere, so maybe it was just the pressure of him watching that made me doubt myself.

practicing cannelles

I do have to admit though, the pointed elliptical shape of whipped cream I had put underneath the pear chip (called a cannelle) was rather unprofessional looking, because to make it correctly takes lots of practice. You have to dip a spoon into piping hot water, then deftly twirl it in some whipped cream and plate immediately. These 2nd semester culinary students took an hour just doing them over and over.

And to conclude, here are just some other tarts that were made at the station while I was there:

banana cream pie display

Banana cream tarts with toasted coconut and whipped cream and bananas brulee

gourmet reese's cups

Chocolate covered peanut butter tarts (gourmet Reese's cups, basically)

May 23, 2011

a slow recovery

So I've abstained a bit from blogging because of the whole exhaustion thing, but now that finals week is coming to a close, I'm feeling more relaxed (and more like a normal person), so I foresee some blogging in the near future.

Coming up are posts on:
- the plated desserts station
- the bread station (the most intense but arguably the most enjoyable of them all)

And maybe some posts on:
- what I make at home, now that I have some time
- food-related volunteering and/or internships I'll be taking on this summer

I would love suggestions on what kind of posts you would like to see. Also feel free to ask questions or request recipes, I'm pretty open!

May 9, 2011

crisis of faith

It's nearing the end of semester and honestly, I can't wait.

I haven't posted in a bit because I've been struggling just to get enough sleep - so much school (and so early) and work and homework and other lifework have made it so that I have had little room to breathe.

There was one particular bad day where I was so exhausted I sliced the tip of my left thumb while cutting bread, and then I was helping prepare for a school fundraiser by hand-shredding some cheese and my thumb was hurting and the cheese wasn't shredding at all, and I stood there for half and hour with only about a handful of cheese shredded, and I just started crying at the futility of everything.

It's times like these that I feel very deeply the nonrenewability of energy and the unsustainability of pushing oneself to the brink of exhaustion.

Also I have come to know just how valuable it is to have people around you who are going through the same thing, who you can trust to work with and feel safe in joking with, because however intangible that is, its effects in combatting exhaustion are unparalleled.

And I know because I've lost that.

Really, in culinary school I was seeking what I missed about AmeriCorps - the really intense hands-on work with people who are similarly passionate. And I thought I found it. But I'm doubting that now. And it's hard to come to terms with why then, exactly, I undertook the life-altering move to do this.

I've learned a lot, yes, but I'm not sure if I should continue on.

May 2, 2011

all for the cookie

Cookie station has the reputation of being the easiest station. You make cookie dough, portion it into scoops on trays, and then you bake them off. The difficulty lies in having all the doughs on reserve so you don't have to make every single cookie dough from scratch every day.

When I inherited the station there was not much in reserve, so I was low on cookie variations for a few days until I made enough doughs to catch up. Also it's a small station - only two people - and my partner wasn't always there, so it was a lonely station too.

The cookies we made (a dozen jumbo-sized and a dozen mini-sized each):
- chocolate chip
- double chocolate chip
- oatmeal raisin
- peanut butter (had to be kept separate from the others for allergy concerns)
- coconut macaroon (super easy, just coconut shreds in heated egg whites and sugar)
- russian tea (seen below, rolled in powdered sugar)
- and also brownies (not a cookie but also portioned as jumbo and mini)

russian tea cookies

The jumbo cookies were packaged two to a bag and sold in the cafeteria, while the mini cookies were displayed in the Pierre Coste Room (commonly known as PCR), the on-campus fine dining restaurant staffed by 2nd semester students. For each cookie plated on the display, we held five in reserve to actually serve to people.

For the PCR we also made other fancy cookie-like things, which included madeleines, palmiers (which I've always known as the heart-shaped cookie), shortbread (pictured below in triangle slices) and tuile cookies (pictured below as curvy shapes).

cookie plate (dining room)

The tuile cookies (which I loved for their cocoa nibs and caramel-y crispness) were made curvy with the help of a curved tuile pan. If you drop the cookies in while they're freshly hot out of the oven, they cool into the shape of the pan. Neat trick, huh?

tuile cookies