May 27, 2012

last day

I thought my 3rd semester would end with the mini reuben sandwiches in Garde Manger. Or, at least, I thought the blogging part would end there because the last couple of days would be cleaning and quizzes, nothing exciting. I was wrong.

Although the cafeteria was shut down for the last two days of class, Mr. Stellman decided to sell flat-rate combo meals as a fundraiser for the Five Star Club. The first day went smoothly and we raised something like $1500.

The second day... well. I just remember it being 11am, a bunch of us staring at sheet trays full of raw chicken, and it dawning on us that we were scheduled to open at 11:15am. Mr. Stellman thought it might not even be worth it to still do the fundraiser. My thought was: "Well what are we going to do with this chicken?!" So then came the flurry of torn plastic wrap, hands moving and pieces of raw chicken flying onto parchment papered sheet trays into the oven, packets of sausage and veggie burgers slit open and arranged onto more trays... and of course this was the one day of school I decided not to wear my chef coat and work boots. Instead I was wearing a sweaterdress and leggings, handling all the raw chicken while running around like a chicken with its little head cut off.

Mr. Stellman pushed back opening time to noon, and I'm proud to say that we had trays of food in the warmer before them, replete with barbecue sauce straight out of the container. I'm sure the prospective student tour groups being led through the kitchen were like WTF, but I didn't care, that disaster junkie part of me is still alive and well and it was on fire that day.

barbecue fundraiser

Three of us (Jordan, Cris and I) put out a good 100+ chicken legs, 50+ sausage links and 20+ veggie burgers in under an hour. I was proud and ate my last cafeteria meal very satisfied.

staff meal

It was a good end to the past three semesters.

May 26, 2012

mini reuben appetizers

For our last class in Garde Manger we got together to make appetizers.

Because of the impending ban on foie gras, Chef decided to sear some off as a last hurrah.

Since foie is basically fat, it smokes when it sears. And you shouldn't even try to flip it in the pan while the pan is over the fire because the oily smoke (and the pan) can catch on fire.

searing foie gras

Here's the seared foie. I tasted a piece but I didn't like it very much. I don't tend to like rich-tasting things. I actually rather eat butter (yes, just plain butter) over foie.

seared foie gras

Also, this being our last class, Chrissy engraved a banana squash tribute to Chef Oakley. Kudos to her artistic ability - she's always sketching or doodling amazing things. (Chef looks like Toy Story's Woody!)

banana squash engraving

So for appetizers, Isabel and I got together to make mini-reubens. Chef had house-made pastrami for us to slice up, but the rest of the ingredients we had to forage, especially since the cafeteria had already shut down and all the walk-in refrigerators were being cleaned out. Before we found sauerkraut we found pickled jalapenos slivers, and before we found mustard (whole grain and honey) we found thousand island. Then we also found queso fresco (which I thought would go with the jalapenos) and arugula. We conducted several taste tests using the edges of toast I had buttered and pan-fried. We decided to use everything.

cleaning day ingredients

First the bread was cut into small triangles and the pastrami to match. Then we mixed the whole grain mustard with honey mustard and thousand island dressing for the spread.

pastrami & thousand island mustard

Isabel put on the jalapenos while I crumbled on queso fresco and laid on arugula leaves. We started at different ends of the tray so it almost looks like we're advancing chess pieces or having some sandwich ingredient battle.

pickled jalapenos, queso fresco & arugula

The sandwiches were assembled with toothpicks, dramatic because they were the long kind for regular-sized sandwiches.

mini reuben assembly

And there you have it, mini-reuben sandwiches.

mini reubens

To see what my classmates' made for appetizers, scroll left after clicking here!

wedding cake

For our final project in Advanced Baking, we had to come up with a wedding cake - either a real one or a styrofoam model. Most of us chose styrofoam - less to worry about, but also it can be kept forever. At first I was going to make both, but then I quickly realized that it would be nearly impossible so I settled on a styrofoam one.

I started brainstorming early, because I knew the end-of-semester crunch would inevitably come along (as Chef Mark described it, an avalanche that would snowball and gain speed, taking down everything in its path including us).

For the theme I started thinking about marriage and what I feel married to. It didn't take me long to think "my bed!" and start basing my cake entirely off my bed. I took some photos of what's on/around my bed to try to incorporate it into the whole design.

wedding cake ideas

Here's the duvet, faded lavender with a fern/lavender-like design.


Here are my pillow cases, white with a swirling flower design.


Here's the tissue box, light purple with flower designs, sitting atop lavender sheets.

tissue box & sheets

So from those three elements I thought I would make a three-tiered round cake - faded lavender on bottom, white in the middle, and lavender on top.

I included the lei around my lamp because the flowers were purple and white.

flower lei

The mattress, although blue, has a silvery-pink rose pattern on it. I thought I could find a ribbon like that to decorate the top and/or sides of the cake.


So the first step of constructing the cake model was fondant (kind of like edible playdough) and styrofoam rounds. To get the colors I wanted, I could have used food coloring with white fondant but I chose to use up colors left behind by previous classes. I mixed a rose-hued one, an indigo one and an off-white one to create the lavender I wanted.

fondant colors

Once I kneaded the colors enough till they all blended, I rolled out the fondant to a big flat round and then draped it over the styrofoam round. Because the fondant I used was leftover, it was drier than fresh fondant and parts of the drape cracked. I had to rework it with some shortening so it wouldn't crack as much.

fondant over styrofoam

Once the three tiers of rounds were done, I set to decorating the bottom layer. Unfortunately Chef Mark didn't have a fern pattern cutter, but he did have dozens of other leaves so I picked two that I liked - one lotus-y and the other tulip-y. The cutters saved me from having to cut out leaves by hand, which would have been exhausting. The stems I was able to form using the wavy side of a bigger cutter shape. Although the design didn't come out looking exactly like my duvet cover I still liked how it looked.

leaf cutters & fondant design

Chef Ng caught a picture of me in action, pasting the fondant shapes I cut onto the fondant "cake" with the help of some water.

fondant decoration

For the top layer I used the ribbons I purchased at Michaels. Couldn't find any silvery-patterned ones like I had imagined, so I settled for two different kinds of purple. Cut sections of ribbon and pasted it into a loop with the help of some royal icing (mostly egg whites and powdered sugar, but kind of like glue). I also used the same ribbon to surround the base of each cake layer.

royal icing & ribbons

Once the ribbon loops were arranged they made a flower pattern.

ribbons arranged

On top of the loop I inserted a fake white rose (also from Michaels). I would have made one out of molding chocolate like this one Chef showed us, but then it would've been off-white (because of the white chocolate) and not the bright white to match the middle layer of cake.

rose on top

The last thing I did was pipe royal icing designs onto the middle layer. Royal icing itself is harder to pipe because it doesn't flow like whipped cream or buttercream. But not only that, I had to pipe sideways, which meant that I was working against and not with gravity. It was harder than I expected, so the designs I'd previously practiced on paper had to be vastly simplified.

patterns & icing

Overall the cake was very enjoyable to make because of the whole design process - idea/theme, gathering of materials, working with material constraints, etc. There were things that I could have made better if I was willing to redo them - the cracks in the fondant, the blemishes in the piping work, etc. But I'm happy with how my first wedding cake turned out. The colors and the flowery details still remind me of my bed.

finished cake

To see my classmates' final projects, click here and scroll left through the pictures!

May 25, 2012

chocolate souffle

Another thing I tackled while on dessert station was the classic chocolate souffle. I have never had any experience with it, but I thought it was necessary to try and eventually master, given that it's such a classic.

Classic souffle starts with making souffle cream, which is similar to pastry cream but denser. From my textbook it starts with 1/4 cup milk cooked with 2.5 oz sugar to boiling. On the side mix 3 oz flour with 2.5 oz sugar, 1 1/2 cup milk, 1 egg, and 2 egg yolks. Temper the egg mixture with 1/3 of the hot milk, then pour the egg mixture into the hot milk and cook again to a boil, then cool over an ice water bath. Once the souffle cream is cooled it's useable (I made it the day before and refrigerated it).

cooking souffle cream base

Souffles call for ramekins, which need to be buttered and sugared inside. The butter I wiped on with my fingers, but Chef Mark showed me the trick with sugar, which is to pour some sugar into one ramekin, turn it sideways and rotate so the sugar coats all the sides, then pour the sugar into the next ramekin, and etc. I did it for five ramekins.

butter/sugaring souffle ramekins

Then I melted 5 oz chocolate with 1.5 oz butter and added that and 1 egg yolk to the souffle cream.

melting chocolate & butter

On the side I made meringue with 5 egg whites and 2.5 oz of sugar. 1/3 of the meringue went into the chocolate souffle cream to lighten it, and then the rest went in. The mixture was poured into the ramekins - they were supposed to fill the ramekins all the way up to the top but I had just shy of that. Chef Mark showed me how to even out the top with a spatula, then pinch the edge of the ramekin with your thumb and forefinger while rotating the ramekin so your thumb makes the border-space between the souffle top and the ramekin.

chocolate souffle setup

I was scared that prepping out the ramekins meant that the souffles would not rise as much in the oven, but it turns out this recipe allows it to sit out for awhile without affecting the rise. Taking too long between the oven to the customer is guaranteed to make the souffle fall though. So I made sure to tell the servers that they had 20 minutes between putting the dessert order in to getting the souffle to the table.

Here is the test souffle I baked off to make sure that 20 minutes was really what it took. (Look, the rise!)

chocolate souffle baking

Mr. Stellman warned me that I'd be lucky to get one souffle order because customers simply didn't want to wait around for a souffle. However, I got two orders, both as the customer was just starting in on their main course so they would get the souffle around the time that they finished their entree.

chocolate souffle

This was one of the ones left over at the end, baked and then served with vanilla sauce in the middle. Molten rich and decadent, but still light enough.

plated dessert project

For the plated dessert project we were tasked with coming up with a single fancy plated dessert (or alternatively, working with a partner and coming up with a mini dessert buffet). While searching for inspiration on I found this recipe for a buttered popcorn ice cream sundae. It was reminiscent of the popcorn/carmalized poundcake/banana/almond dessert I'd eaten not too long ago at AQ. Plus, it reminded me of the ever-popular buttered popcorn jelly belly jelly bean. And the prospect of making a savory sweet ice cream was exciting. So I decided to go for it.

The ice cream flavors I've had experience making have all been flavored with the addition of a spice/extract (cardamom, vanilla, etc.). This was the first time I would be steeping the ingredient (popcorn from the bag, buttered and salted), pureeing it, cooking it, and then straining it out at the end.

food processing popcorn & cream

The popcorn was steeped in milk and cream, puree-ed with corn syrup and sugar, then cooked with a beaten egg yolk and sugar mixture.

Once strained and cooled, I experienced some difficulties with the school ice cream makers (both were the cheap kind where you have to pour in ice and ice cream salt and refill as necessary). One flat out didn't work and the other kept stopping mid-churn. I eventually got the latter to work by taking all the ice and salt out, letting it start to churn first and then putting ice and salt gradually back in.

straining ice cream base

The ice cream I made came out to about 10 scoops (which I prescooped and froze as half-spheres).

Next I decided to make peanut pound cupcakes, which I thought would work as a pedestal for the ice cream to sit on. Pound cake recipe is easy - known in French as "quartre quarts" or four quarters, it's four ingredients (butter, sugar, egg, flour) in equal parts. I did a half pound of each ingredient, which was enough to make 10 cupcakes. Added some roasted peanuts in the batter. They came out nicely but weren't as moist as I had hoped, so I decided to cut them up as pound cake bites so it wouldn't be this whole chunk that one would have to dig into.

peanut pound cake muffins

Besides that the other toppings I had were caramel sauce, chocolate peanut butter halva, peanut brittle bits, and chocolate shavings.

dessert ingredients

The caramel sauce was exciting because it was my first time making it. Basically it's butter and cream added to sugar syrup cooked to the caramel stage (important to remove it from heat as soon as the sugar starts to brown so it doesn't burn).

butter to caramel sugar

Making peanut brittle (another epicurious recipe) was similar to making caramel sauce, except it's adding butter and peanuts to caramel sugar syrup. Oh and baking soda, which makes it foam and... helps it set?

adding peanut & butter to caramel sugar

Whatever the case, I poured the mixture out onto marble so it would cool and harden. I tasted some pretty immediately and it was delicious - crunchy and caramel-y but not too sweet. Reminded me of the sesame peanut candy I had growing up. I passed out some pieces to people around me and they liked it a lot too.

peanut brittle

For the chocolate peanut butter halva I took the peanut brittle and puree-ed it with some melted chocolate and peanut butter. It came out like a gritty paste - hard to dispense so I mixed it with the pound cake bites. I imagine that it made the cake bites a little bit more moist.

Since I made enough for 10 portions but only had to have 4-6 portions for the plated dessert project, I sold the extra portions as a plated dessert in the PCR dining room.

To assemble the sundae I put a handful of the cake bite mixture at the bottom, a few popcorn kernels, then the pre-scooped ice cream, then piped whipped cream, drizzled caramel sauce, then topped everything with peanut brittle bits, chocolate shavings, and a few extra popcorn kernels. (This display dessert that I had to make was difficult because instead of meltable ice cream I had to use shortening, and that was sticky/oily and messy.)

buttered popcorn ice cream sundae

For the project version of the dessert I went a bit further and added bananas brulee. I also decided to practice my plating skills and go beyond the sundae glass to the more traditional flat plate. This version had a whipped cream quenelle on it, which I had to practice making.

traditional dessert plating

This version is a more modernist take, more landscape-y and scattered, with the ice cream even cut in half.

modern dessert plating

I liked the sundae glass the best though. One of the most gratifying moment ever was me watching this girl in the PCR digging her spoon into the glass and scooping everything out from the bottom, so clearly enjoying her dessert.

To see my classmates' plated dessert projects, click here and then on the "<-- Newer" button for more.

May 24, 2012

dessert station

After Tableside I rotated to the Dessert station, where Clarisse and I took turns either manning the dessert cart in the dining room or plating desserts in the back.

The desserts we presented/plated all came out of first semester Plated Desserts station. I was in that station once (making things like lemon panna cotta and green tea creme brulee). It was kind of like coming around full circle.

On the day where I got to be in the back, these were the desserts I had to be ready to plate:

Mini apple pie, with dried apple chip, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce:

mini apple pie

Flourless chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, chocolate pieces and cocoa powder:

flourless chocolate cake

Strawberry napolean with strawberry sauce and garnish:

strawberry napolean

Banana bread pudding with whipped cream quenelle, caramel sauce and bananas brulee:

banana bread pudding

Given the options I decided to be very organized and lay out all the different ingredients I needed to plate each dish. I even make a list:

dessert station setup

Sadly very little orders came in, but I was able to use the time to work on my plated dessert project for Advanced Baking - buttered popcorn ice cream sundae.

buttered popcorn ice cream sundae

Don't worry, I'll talk about it in my next post!

May 20, 2012

san francisco baking institute

For Advanced Baking one day we had the honor of visiting the San Francisco Baking Institute. The facility started as a showroom for professional baking equipment. People would come from all over to test out the high capacity mixers, ovens, etc. But then there's was a lot of interest in the baking side of things (as opposed to the equipment side), so classes were formed. Nowadays the institute is a combination of education and production facility, though it still serves as a showroom. But also the masters of baking there get flown around the world to troubleshoot baking/equipment issues.

So first of all, the workrooms are giant and immaculate. This room is filled just with dough sheeters.


True the nature of it being a production facility, we got our hands dirty (well, just floured) rolling baguette.

rolling baguette

Andy, tour guide and baking master, showed us around. After rolling baguettes we were shown to the wood-fired oven, which regularly sustains temperatures above 800 degrees Fahrenheit. It was no wonder that this naan bread he inserted into the oven (on a long wooden paddle) bubbled up pretty much immediately.

bubbling naan

It was done in less than a minute (and devoured in roughly the same amount of time).

baked naan

Then he inserted a rolled out piece of pita dough, which poofed up like magic after it went in. After he took it out we got to try our hand at rolling out and baking naan/pita.

retrieving pita

Here's the pita I put in, burnt because of the extra seconds it spent the oven (too much traffic around the oven for me to take it out on time!).

burnt pita

After that we went back to the baguettes, which had proofed, and laid them out on the deck oven belt. We scored them (cut slits) and sent them into the oven.

class laying out baguettes

They came out nice and crispy-crusted, and as an extra surprise we got to take all of it home :)

baguettes baked

I signed up to volunteer with the bread-making class this summer, and hopefully there will be more opportunities down the road!