Sunday, May 31, 2009

The pressure’s heating up with the choux

Coffee eclairs

The greatest lessons in life are usually (95% of the time) from failure.
Failures faced are engraved so deeply in minds, even more so than successes.

I remember my failure with my coffee éclair when I attempted it last year. Everything was wrong from the consistency of the fondant icing, to the crème patisserie to the choux(‘shoo’) itself.

Incidentally, this happens to be one of the items that will be graded on during our practical assessment at the end of this term.

The éclair, seemingly and deceiving simple. After all, it is just made up of three components. Never underestimate it for it may be easy to make one, it is definitely not easy to make a great one. There are just too many cafes and patisseries out there serving lousy éclairs. The choux is often the problem resulting in poor texture. And the crème patisserie may be horrid as they try to cut cost by using inferior ingredients.

I’m no big fan of the choux pastry nor the éclairs. For me, the texture and taste just don’t cut it. However, despite my dislike for the éclair, I still have to master it to pass my assessment.

Chef M*ichael was prepping us for class and reinforcing how important this lesson was and how we had to take it seriously. That kind of set the tone and atmosphere of the class for the rest of the day. During practical class, everyone was so serious and tensed up that Chef M*ichael had to tell us to loosen up.

His attempts did little to ease the tension in the kitchen.

I was stressed out and so were my classmates.

Since we had our go at the choux pastry on Thursday already (just some profiteroles with chantilly cream piped in them), most of us did not have that huge a problem in making the choux pastry. The difficulty lies with precision and uniformity.

You see, we had to pipe éclairs that are twelve cm long, of a certain width. And we had to do it the same for every single one of our twenty éclairs, not just one. “Too skinny Chef,” exclaimed Chef M*ichael as he walked passed my bench. Apparently my éclairs were too thin and if I did them that way, there wouldn’t be space to pipe any filling. So I had to re-pipe my tray of éclairs.

As for the crème patisserie, we had our go at it during the fruit flan class. However, the crème patisserie is a tricky thing. Many things can go wrong and you can just fix it but throwing in some ingredients.

Perhaps this is one of the fundamental difference between patisserie and cuisine. If a soup stock is not salty enough, you can always add in more seasoning at a later stage but if you get a lumpy crème, you can only start all over again.

Back to the possible problems with the crème patisserie: If you don’t watch over it, you may end up with burnt milk. If you didn’t whisk it enough, you’ll get a lumpy mixture. And if you didn’t boil it long enough, it will become too runny. The list goes on. Many people ended up with bad crème patisserie (either too thick, too runny that you can’t pipe it). Thankfully, mine was alright.

The coffee fondant icing was another tricky thing. The fondant icing is just made of 2 part sugar to 1 part water, 5% glucose and coffee extract. That’s no doubt easy to make. To achieve the fondant with the right consistency to coat your éclair as well as to get the glossy shine so it makes your éclair look attractive is something that comes with experience. Just a note on the fondant: you should use it at body temperature (Which means about 37 degrees celcius). If it’s still too thick at that temperature, you do not continue heating it, hoping that it will melt somemore, you should add water to dilute it. So much theory and precision on just the fondant alone!

After making all the components of my éclairs, I didn’t have time to finish assembling it! So I brought everything home to complete it. I left the class feeling totally wiped out; I was exhausted, the day didn’t go too well and all I wanted to do was to go home and sleep. I’m glad that I went home and was motivated enough to finish everything up in the tiny kitchen of mine.

I’m pleased to say that the finished éclair was way better than my attempt at it last year. (See, we all learn from our failures)

Everything was right- choux pastry texture checked, choux pastry colour checked, crème patissiere consistency checked, shine on the fondant checked, overall look checked…well, maybe more colour to the coffee laced crème patisserie “It should be like a flat white/latte colour,” says Chef. Apparently my flat white and his differs. Ah well…

Vini restaurant, Surry Hills

Food has been, and will always be the biggest part of my travel.
Ever since I got to Sydney, I’ve been indulging in their abundance of fresh produce and Aussie products but I haven’t got around snooping at the restaurant scene.

Saturday was one of the few times that I had a good meal.
C and A took Sarah and I to Vini at Surry Hills for dinner. This is a little Italian Wine and food eatery at the corner of Devonshire street along the very food-trendy Surry Hills area.

The restaurant took no reservations and even though we arrived at 630pm, it was already too full to accommodate us and we had to sit at the bar area at the back of the restaurant. The décor was black, sleek and minimalist. I like the character of the place: bustling with people, mainly friends having a great time over good food and wine.

The menu changes daily: something that really excites me. I always like surprises when it comes to food especially. Even though the menu is small, all the items that the four of us had were really good.

We ordered Italian wine from their extensive wine list and munched on the poppy seed breadsticks served along with green and black olives. Very nice indeed.

We shared two entrees: two types of crostinis, the first with swordfish carpaccio and the second, ricotta and spinach. Simple but freshly made and very good. Then, we also had the procuitto here which I think can go very wrong.

For the mains, I had the ravioli with eggplant and ricotta with cherry tomatoes and pancetta. It was really lovely even though it might sound like a weird mix. The ravioli was freshly made and when you bite into the center, it was really soft and flavourful. The pancetta was crispy and flavourful and complemented the ravioli.

Dessert though, was ordinary and average for me though I think the rest of them enjoyed it greatly. I find it quite disappointing when many restaurants may serve the best entrée or main yet fail to impress for the dessert. Or maybe, I just have particularly high expectations when it comes to desserts. We shared the chocolate and hazelnut tart, the caramel topped pannacotta, the poached pear and honey and pistachio semifredo.

The chocolate and hazelnut tart while being alright wasn’t that fantastic. I didn’t quite like the phyllo pastry base (give me a good shortcrust pastry anytime); the texture of the chocolate and hazelnut was a little closer to a mousse which I found it hard to reconcile. The semifredo was cream but it was a little too sweet for me.

Did I mention that the restaurant has Tuesday night’s special? The good news is that you can make reservations for this special. They focus on a particular regional style of Italian cooking each week. The next week’s session is already fully booked. So the four of us will meet again on the following Tuesday for a second time dinner at Vini. I’m waiting with great expectations already.

3/118 Devonshire St
Surry Hills, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9698 5131
No bookings

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Life's a box of chocolates

Chocolate pralines & florentines

Lesson X, XI, XII- Chocolates

Everybody loves chocolate in some form or another.

Be it chocolate desserts like the chocolate tart, chocolate éclairs or just plain chocolates- dark, milk, white ( well, I wouldn’t even consider white chocolate as chocolate. I shall leave this discussion for another day), or hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.

Many consider chocolates as one of their comfort foods. (it does release endorphins which brings people on a “choco-high”)

Many crave for chocolate from time to time. (Maybe more so for my sister, my dad and I)

So this week’s lessons on chocolates make me hang in great anticipation and expectations.

Over the course of the three days at school, I’ve learnt that while chocolates are good to eat (make that GREAT to eat), they aren’t fun to work with. Before you get the wrong idea, I must clarify: Chocolate-making is fun; however, chocolates can be temperamental, real temperamental which makes it hard to handle. Maybe that’s how the term “tempering chocolates” came about.

Tempering chocolate is an essential step which we learnt over the few days. In short, tempering gives chocolates its perfect texture, its sheen and shiny luster. This step is crucial in chocolate making and the reason why you are paying so much for fine chocolates. It is also this very step that gave me my soiled uniform (imagine my bleached-white coat full of brown chocolate stains. Not yummy at all.)

And did I mention that chocolates are temperamental creatures? I think I already did but just to reinforce that point. First thing to remember, water is an enemy of chocolate so avoid water, even the tiniest drop of water, at all cost!

Next thing to remember is to keep to the precision of temperatures of the three step process of making chocolates. First, heating and melting the chocolate (to 45 degrees Celsius for dark), tempering the chocolate (lowering the temperature to 27 degrees Celsius) and then reheating the chocolate (to 32.5 degree Celsius). By the end of this process, your chocolate should set really easily and have a nice and glossy sheen.

If it doesn’t, then good luck to you, you will have to restart the entire process. See what I mean by temperamental.

On Thursday, we prepared the ganache (think dark chocolate infused with cointreau, milk chocolate with coffee, white chocolate with wattleseed, milk chocolate with cinnamon) for our pralines. Lovely stuff. We even ate some of the couverture during class. (but by the second day, we were quite sick of chocolate.)

We also tempered chocolate and put them into moulded structures. The first one I did was “Miss Bunny”. Chef made it sound easy to mould them.. just brush the moulds with the tempered chocolate and then pour the chocolate in the moulds and knock out the excess. Trust me, while it is easy to do that, it isn’t easy to get a perfect one.
As a result of my impatient self, I quickly brushed the moulds (apparently not thorough enough), poured in the chocolate and knock out the excess and ended up with a bunny with slight air bubbles here and there and tiny holes everywhere. Also, there was slight bloom on the bunny, which means I might have heated the chocolate a little too hot. Not good at all.

“Mr Santa” was my second attempt and this time, I kept chanting to myself “be patient, be patient, be patient”. The chanting worked. For I did every step with more care and precaution than I could muster; brushing “Mr Santa” and all the tiny nooks and crannies. “Mr Santa” must be pretty. No air bubbles,” I said to myself as I worked at it gingerly.

And so “Mr Santa” turned out way better.

I might have gotten a little complacent by the second lesson. I thought to myself, “Well, haven’t we already done tempering yesterday? This will be a piece of cake and moulding them, shouldn’t be too hard right.”

Wrong. Tempering was a mess. I shan’t get into the details.
Moulding was a bigger mess. I forgot all about my resolution to be more patient and taking it one step at a time without rushing. It was hard to coat the chocolate evenly with the moulds; it was a tedious process to keep coating and then setting the chocolate. I hate to say this but both my attempts at the chocolate pralines were quite a disaster.

Our last lesson on chocolate was on Florentines. A sweet biscuit made with all the goodies (flaked almonds, orange peels, cut glace cherries, honey and glucose to bind them together). On top of that, it was coated was dark chocolate with a swirl design. I love this biscuit for it has my favourite ingredients in it (almonds and dark chocolate).

My Florentines were a little too browned from over baking but other than that it was quite fine. We also made chocolate cigars- those tube-like chocolate garnishing that you often see on cakes.

The week ended once again almost in a flash, too quickly for my liking.
But if there is just one thing that I have learnt this week is patience and more patience.

The lure and power of (Italian) ingredients

First pressed olive oil from Pukara Estate, Upper Hunter Valley, NSW

On a recent trip to Haberfield, I bought some gourmet produce. The most alluring of all was the first pressed extra virgin olive oil from Pukara estate, Upper Hunter Valley.

This very bottle of the first pressed olive oil was from the 2009 year’s harvest. Only 1,500 bottles of this first pressed olive oil are made and sold in a year. My bottle (shared amongst 4 friends) is bottle no. 641.

The oil is to be consumed immediately in order to truly appreciate the essence and taste of this oil.

Can I just say that the oil is beautiful..beautiful…beautiful?

My vocabulary seemed to vanish the minute I placed a morsel of my freshly baked wholemeal bread dipped in this olive oil into my mouth. The alluring yellow-green olive oil is so fruity, its taste so rich that I went straight to heaven and back.

I think I would be contented to have just freshly baked artisan bread with a good first pressed olive oil as my last meal.

Apart from the lovely olive oil, I also bought fresh homemade percorino cheese from the Italian gourmet store. I must say that even for a cheese lover like me, I’m not a fan of this cheese. The texture is squeaky at best; its taste mild.

The Parmigiano reggiano is so much better. A single ingredient has become the versatile topping of many of my lunches and dinners throughout the week. And hey, I could probably do with some freshly made pesto. (Not using my special olive oil though. That would be a waste.)

Last of all, but equally lovely is the Jamon Serrano that Sarah and I bought. Nice texture, without being too dry, salty yet with hints of sweetness. That brought me back to my trip to Spain- also the land of Jamon. Sarah and I used the jamon Serrano in our appetiser- wrapping it with blanched asparagus and grilled eggplant.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Ah…I seem to be a loss for words when it comes to beautiful ingredients..and Italian ingredients for that matter. They can easily transform any and every meal into such pleasure.

Men buy, women shop

My beautiful tools: check out the colourful set of Tovolo Standz accessories

You know how males and females are wired differently?
Shopping (it ought to be a female term really) alone proves that point.

You see, men buy, women shop.

Men stay focus and buy what they intend to.
Women like to browse..get distracted and end up with a truckload of unintended items in her shopping bag.

I just proved that point today.

After church service, I wanted to shop for some winter essentials like a scarf and windbreaker. Instead of going into female fashion stores, I wounded up at a kitchenware shop. I just couldn’t resist it after spotting the ‘sale’ banner at the shop window.

So instead of getting my much-needed winter clothing, I ended up with the six items from the kitchenwear(ware) shop. I guess damage could have been worse.

I put back many items such as the beautiful Le Creuset cast iron pans, those Riedel wine glasses, and that Bodum ice tea flask- just because I’m not settling down in Sydney.

I ended up with a Tovolo Standz silicon pastry brush (definitely a need: I need that for class), a set of Cuisinart round cookie cutters (also a need: for class), a Tovolo Standz vegetable peeler (A need: the one I have at home isn’t sharp at all to cut anything. Seriously.), a Tovolo standz grater ( A need..or maybe a want: useful for cooking at home and hey, it’s cool to get a pretty set of matching cooking tools), a cheese knife (ok..i can’t justify this one.)

What’s a girl to do when shopping is in her genes.
All females say ‘aye’ to that.

(P.S Did I mention how females can always find justifications for all their purchases? )

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My little secret

Just to let you on to a little secret...

I've made reservations at Tetsuya today for the 17 Dec to celebrate my completion of the course (hopefully).

P.S the restaurant is fully booked (yes..even on weekdays) from now to Oct.
I just HAVE to go there while I'm still in Sydney. Nothing will stop me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The bread maker

Seeded bread rolls dusted with rice flour for the rustic look

Lesson VII, VIII, IX

Breads truly epitomize what baking really is; it is both an art as well as a science. People tend to assume that baking is a craft and when they think of the pretty decorations on cakes; they automatically classify baking as an art.

Through the three classes on bread making that we had this week, I’ve begin to see how baking is as much as a science as an art.

I have always been fearful of baking breads. Never made a successful one much to my dad’s dismay. He’s a bread lover and that love runs in my family. Sadly to say, my only attempt to make parsley rolls ended up in a complete disaster- inedible, hard and extremely chewy rolls. Bread making continue to elude me as I did not understand the fundamentals behind bread making- that’s the science bit of it.

For me, this week’s classes ended the mystery behind bread.

Chef M*ichael started off Thursday class going through key culinary terms such as fermentation, retardation and proving. He also went through the steps (about 12 steps) for bread production and the purpose of each ingredient.

He spoke about how the precision of the scaling of ingredients is especially vital in bread-making. Additional salt would affect inhibit yeast growth and hence slow down the fermentation process. He also explained the fermentation process in detail; it is when yeast acts on the sugar and starches in the dough to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol which gives the dough its structure and flavour.

To encourage fermentation, one needs to be very meticulous about the temperature of the environment, the water as well as the flour. We were also learning about the equations and formulas behind bread-making.

All that information opened my eyes to the world behind bread-making. I would no longer just be a consumer of bread but also a maker of bread.

Bread is so fascinating. I leave class feeling really accomplished for I leave with four to five loaves of bread each day (excluding the bread rolls). That is about 2 kg weight of bread- probably able to feed three to four families with kids!

What amazes me most is that with just a few basic ingredients- flour, fat (butter or shortening), sugar, salt, yeast and water, I can make bread.

We made a wide variety of breads including the classic white bread, wholemeal bread, pepita (seeded) bread, soft sweet rolls and crusty dinner rolls. The part of the lesson that I look forward to is making the different shapes of bread, sprinkling the breads with a variety of seeds (poppy, pumpkin) and flour (semolina, rice flour, polenta).

The most rewarding part?

Eating my very own bread rolls with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Pure happiness.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The classics: Light fruit cake, Gateau Marbre & Piped Sables

My light fruit cake

Lesson VI

Back to the classics.
This was what Friday lesson was about.

Fruit cakes are often the center of many celebrations especially Christmas and weddings. The fruit cake that we were making today is a light one. The difference between the light and dark fruit cake, besides the colour, is that the light fruit cake has a lower content of dried fruits (~35% or less) while a dark fruit cake contains a higher content of dried fruits and they are often include rum.

Besides the light fruit cake, Chef M*ichael also demonstrated the making of the Gateau Marbre ( or the marble cake).

A light fruit cake is not hard to make at all. You just need to watch over a few things. The first being able to ensure the consistency of the batter by constant scrapping of the mixer. The second is to ensure the dried fruits and nuts are tossed in flour so that this will prevent the fruits and nuts from sinking to the bottom of the cake.

The last is not to overdo the crumble.
And was precisely what I did. We had to make a streusel topping (a type of crumble like those you see in an apple crumble) for the cake. Chef said ensure that there are no huge lumps of butter and I really took his word seriously, too seriously for that matter.

For when Chef walked by my bench while I was tossing the crumble together, he said “Chef, all the crumbs are gone!”. I turned over to look at my own ‘crumble” and realised that it was no longer crumbly because it has turned into a whole lump of dough! Thankfully, that could be rectified. With a sprinkle of additional flour, I was able to turn the dough into crumbly bits once again.

That was about the only thing that went wrong in today’s lesson.

What I like about the fruit cake is that you can dump in just about any dried fruits. I loaded it up with orange peel (Which many of my friends dislike, I wonder why), sultanas, glaced cherries and even more chopped almonds!

My cake turned out rather beautifully. Nice and even tan on the outside, cooked evenly on the inside. The crumble turned out alright too.

Time to decorate the fruit cake. During demo, Chef dusted the entire fruit cake with icing sugar. I decided that we really need less sugar so I just made a border with that. Then I got another compliment from Chef. “Looking good, Chef. Nice use of the orange peel.”

This is the second day in the row and boy did it feel good.

There was no time to rest as we also had to make piped sables (Viennese biscuits) in the same lesson. The batter wasn’t hard to make. It was just really exhausting trying to cream the butter and sugar together. I think ‘creaming’ is my most dreaded word these days. Doing it by hand is no joke and I constantly feel like my arm was going numb and going to fall off after that. The guys in the class have a physical advantage. Both Anthony and Jason, both big guys, did the creaming in half the time. Sarah and I would still be struggling through our batter when they moved on to the next step.

Piping the sables was also an uphill task. To be more accurate, it was hard getting the sables in the same size, same shape, same thickness. It takes practice, loads of it.

The sables were rum flavoured and the rum they use in school is really strong. Just by pouring it out, the whiff of rum simply rushed to your nose and through your head. Can you imagine the smell of these sables when they are being baked in the oven?


Its taste was really good and addictive, at least for me. I polished off several of these cookies during lunch break (after my lunch). Many of my friends think that the taste of the rum was simply too strong for their liking.

It was back to the theory class after lunch. Everyone was tired. Some were sleepy. Some even slept during class. I was nearly stoning out. But with the company of my newfound friends, we pulled through lecture and before we knew it, it was the end of the day.

The moment I stepped into the house. I dropped all my stuff and I just wanted to shower and sleep. I caught myself there and proceeded to make a really quick and dirty dinner. At times like these, I am so glad that I bought my 3 layer steamer instead of just a 1 layer one. I just threw everything into the steamer- rice, eggs, chicken. And there I had dinner in just 20 minutes. This simple home-steamed meal felt so good. I polished it off, went for a quick shower and headed straight to my bed.

Yes. On a Friday night. I was in bed by 1030pm while everyone was out partying and welcoming their weekend. I was just in the middle of my school week.

A happy day: Tarte Aux Fruits & Tarte Aux Pommes

My humble tarte aux fruits

Lesson IV

Alarm sounds

I stir.

What?! It’s 5am.
Yes, I couldn’t sleep till 2 plus 3 am the night before.
And when I did, before I knew it, I was rudely interrupted by my alarm.
Can I just go back to bed?

It’s just the second week of school and I am already facing difficulties in waking up! This can’t be real, can it?

I went through my morning preparations in a daze. Once I got to school, I perked up instantly. After all, it was a new week, a fresh start at school. Today’s lesson was on tarte aux fruits (fresh fruit tart) and tarte aux pommes (apple tart).

Did I mention how much I LOVE tarts and the crème patisserie?

No, wait, I seem to love all desserts, most desserts anyway.
This explains why I’m taking this course, doesn’t it?

Back to the class proper, Chef M*ichael greeted us cheerily and asked how our genoise and gateaux weekend went last week. Oh, why do you have to remind me of my cakes?

He went on to assure us that we didn’t have to worry if our genoise did not turn out too well as we would be doing it for a few other lessons.

After which, he launched straight into the pate sucree (sweet short crust pastry). Why the term ‘short crust pastry’? Well, because of the ‘shortness’ of the pastry; it should crumble, and it should be crisp.

The key to getting a good crust is not to overwork the dough.
I’ve learnt this from a lesson that I took at Shermay’s about a year plus ago.

And yes. I’ve done many, many pate sucrees before- chocolate raspberry tart, pineapple tart, and also many other shortbread cookies.

But it wasn’t time to be complacent.
Mastering the crème patisserie (the pastry cream) is essential. It is not only going to be one of the skills tested in our practical exam, but also, it is the base of many, many French pastries such as the chocolate éclairs.

The crème patisserie can get quite tricky. You need to ensure that the milk is of the correct temperature. Too hot and it will burn the milk. Too cool and you wouldn’t achieve the right smooth consistency of the crème.

Chef also went through the technique of the frangipane filling (almond crème filling) for the tarte aux pommes though we wouldn’t be making that during practical lesson.

Can I confess that my stomach was growling way before the tasting session? The lovely smells of butter from the oven just make me go hungry.

The tarts, both of them, are really good. I can’t decide which I prefer. The frangipane filling oozed of rich almond flavour and together with the caramelized apples on the top, and a perfect tart dough, made one of the best warm dessert. The crème patisserie is made with vanilla bean and I’ll just fall prey to anything with vanilla (vanilla bean to be exact).

The practical class is an intense one. We had to make the tart dough, the crème patisserie, cut up the fruits, decorate the cake AND we have to make a batch of Hollander dough (chocolate and vanilla flavour) for the next lesson.

I was extra cautious when making the crème patisserie. Even the best tart dough wouldn’t save the dessert if the crème was bad.

I was really happy to see that my crème coming together nicely- smooth, right consistency, pale yellow dotted black, precious dots of vanilla.

Chef walked by and commented that my tart dough was rolled out a little on the thick side. I admit that I’m the type of person who really enjoys the tart crust and feels that everyone would feel the same. I guess probably not.

When it was time to decorate the tart, I was kind of nervous. Friends would know that I’m not overly big on decorations. This is an understatement. To me, taste is most important. If my tart doesn’t look too good, it’s fine with me as long as it tastes really good.

I needed to overcome my lack of ability to beautify my creations so I challenged myself to decorate the tart well. We were each given a punnet of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kiwis each. I sliced the fruits carefully to ensure that they are of the same thickness.

While was decorating, the voice in my head told me that height is the way to go. That’s the way to go to make food look good. I’m pleased to say that Chef complimented my tart. He says that there is nice height there and that the colours go well together.

Can you believe that?
Yeah. I couldn’t and neither could my sis, nor my father when I told them that Chef said my tart looks good.

I practically skipped out of school and promptly gave half my tart to this café owner whom I befriended. Then I went home and rewarded myself with a slice of the tart.


I was tired but contented. That very night, I slept like a baby.

My first weekend

Since sis was here, she ate up all the madeleines, some of the scones, and a part of the genoise sponge which she pronounced it good. Since I had a few days before school starts again, I wanted her to explore as many parts of this city, as much as possible anyway.

The list went like that…

Opera House- checked
The Rocks- checked
Harbour bridge- checked
Watsons bay and fish and chips- checked
Shopping in the city- checked

What’s left?

We shopped on Sunday, checking out the aussie labels, walked through the famous David Jones food hall.

We walked (a hell lot) on Monday, taking in the natural beauty of the coastal walk from Bondi beach to Coogee beach, and listening to the peaceful sounds of the waves.

We ate, and ate on Tuesday, chewing on the fresh seafood from lobster to sashimi at the Sydney Fish market, and then munching on the loveliest traditional Italian biscuits at Haberfield.

We chilled on Wednesday, strolling without any purpose at Manly from the Corso to Manly beach and then to the look out point. We tasted bad food one after another, from the garlic prawns to the dissatisfying pancakes.

The few days were tiring but in a good sense.
Soon, my break and hers were over. She, back to Singapore for her internship and I, back to school where I am greeted by the glow of sunrise and the kiss of sunset.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dealing with hard knocks: Genoise & Gateaux weekend

My genoise sponge with piped chantilly cream and strawberry jam

Lesson 3

Back to school on a Saturday when everyone else is enjoying their weekend even all who is back home in Singapore is enjoying the long weekend. Where is my May day!
There is track work going on over this weekend on the North Shore Line. That means it affects my journey to school. I had to wake up earlier at 420am this day to catch the shuttle bus to the city in order to take a train to school.

Upon arriving at the Central Station, I realised that the train was only arriving half an hour later which was at 7am! The train ride from my school to Central station is 45 minutes and I still have to take a 20 minutes walk to school from the station. This is bad, really bad. Sarah and I were panicking as we didn’t know how else to get to school. We called D, our Indonesian classmate, to ask him if there was a bus from Central to school. There was. But our joy was shortlived. The bus was only arriving at 645am so we will be late anyway.

How can we be late in our first week of school! We had no choice but to grab a cab. My heart was throbbing faster along with the meter in the cab. We didn’t have a clue how much the ride would cost! We managed to get to school by 705am and the cab fare was expensive but at least the cost was split between two persons.

The day started with such a bad note. I thought it would pick up when class starts. We had a new chef today. Chef K*eith is from UK and quite a different teaching style from Chef M*ichael. It took awhile to get used to his style. The day’s lesson was on Genoise (pronounced as “Jen-Nwah”) cake and the Gateaux (pronounced as “Ga-Too”) weekend. The genoise is a traditional French sponge cake. It is used for the bases of many cakes. I attempted this cake on several occasions back home but I always found problems with it, mainly because my genoise don’t seem to rise as much and because it is too dry.

The Gateaux weekend got its name because it was eaten by the French during weekends (a long time ago at least). It is basically a butter pound cake. The name ‘pound’ comes from the fact that people use equal parts for the four key ingredients flour, butter, sugar, and eggs- quatre-quarts", which means four-quarters. It isn’t one of my favourites but it’s a classic that I need to master.

The demo lesson was really interesting as I got the answers that I was looki for. A Genoise sponge is a sponge cake that doesn’t use chemical aeration. The aeration comes from physical aeration by whisking the eggs and sugar over a bain marie to increase the volume several times. The key is to ensure you triple the volume of the eggs and sugar and to fold in the flour very gently so as not to knock the air out of the cake. The Genoise batter is very delicate and must be handled with care. You need to work fast and send it straight to the oven when you are done before the batter starts to sink.

Demo was interesting enough. However, practical was kind of hell. First, we are using a different kitchen from Thursdays and Fridays class. This meant a new environment to get used to. Second, we were using the mixer today and I had problems turning it on and fixing on the whisk attachment. Thirdly, the weariness that has accumulated over the past two days have kind of set in.

The genoise and gateaux weekend are cakes that needed lots of attention. And also the chantilly cream. We had to bake these two cakes, make the chantilly cream and decorate our cake in three hours. Three hours may seem long but when you are in the kitchen. The time just fly by.

I was panicking a lot when I saw many of my course mates being so quick. I felt a little lost initially yet they took no time to adjust to the new enviromnemnt. When I saw they whisking their batter, I was still measuring out the ingredients. The pressure was setting in and I don’t think I work well under pressure. Not in the kitchen at least.

Class went by in a blink. I felt kind of overwhelmed, not because I couldn’t do the recipes but because I felt slower than many of the classmates. I ended up being disorganized; I ended up re-doing some of the steps because something went wrong. And thus, my day went from bad to worse.

I felt discouraged and disappointed with myself for this lesson. It wasn’t about the end result; my genoise sponge cake turned out well (at least that’s what my sis says). My gateaux weekend was a little heavy but not inedible. However, at the end of the day, it was the process that got to me. I felt low for being slow, for being unfocussed and easily distracted by others, and for being not as efficient as others.

I left class with a heavy heart and even heavier feet.
I’m alright now as I realised that this is all part of the learning process. I shouldn’t put myself down or allow others to stress me out.

Also as part of my learning process, I need to learn to take hard knocks and disappointment as they come and be less affected by them.

I should have, a long time ago but it’s still not too late to do so. I still have a long way to go, not only for this course, but also in life.

That certainly wouldn’t be all pretty and sweet like the little tartlets and cakes that you see at the window of a patisserie.

Afternoon tea snacks: Madeleines, fruit scones, friands

My zesty madeleines

Lesson II

Here’s the thing: when you go for a masterclass say at the World Gourmet Submit, you just have to go for that date, for that couple of hours and feel happy about it. But, for the second day, I had to wake up at 5am once again. That was really hard for me because I started to feel the exhaustion creeping in. When I heard my alarm sound, it used to be a comforting song and a favourite of mine. Today, it was like the annoying ringing from a fire engine.

I had to dragged myself out of bed, literally.

I was almost falling asleep while having breakfast. That never happens to me. My sis was sound asleep in bed and I felt that instant pang of jealousy. I want my bed and barbarpapa (my mogu man)!

And so the day began on a sleepy note. When I arrived at school, I realised that I wasn’t alone. The excitement from the first class has weaned off (almost) and you can see the tired and sleepy faces.

But after seeing chirpy Chef M*ichael, I kind of perked up as I listened to this class on madeleines, more scones and friands (or financiers). I realised that I am quite a afternoon tea person. I love those English Devonshire tea sets; I love high teas with pretty little tea snacks and dainty tea cups. And so, this class really made me hungry.

Chef spoke about making madeleines and how preparation is absolutely essential. Then he spoke about friands (a French little cake made with almond meal). The friands are typical part of petit fours served in restaurants at the end of the meal. I learnt about the preparation of the beurre noisette (which is browned butter) which gives the friands a nice, burnt beutter flavour. We also learnt about making savoury scones as well as fruit scones.

For the practical lesson, we had to produce three different products as compared to a single product in the first lesson. This meant that we had to manage our time properly, work fast, and be organised. I love baking, loads but I rarely, if ever, attempt to make 3 items in 3 hours. This was really hectic and fast paced and towards the end of the class, I didn’t really know what I was doing anymore. I was just going through the motions, according to the recipes.

Surprisingly, the zesty flavoured madeleines turned out well ( my sis ate them all up which is a testament of how good they were). The friands had chocolate chip in them and I must say I really like the almond flavour in them. It reminds me of the traditional French macaron. As for the fruit scones, I baked them for a little too long I think but on the whole, they are fine.

When I was packing up, I felt a wave of relief more than anything else. Relieved that practical class was over; relieved that the baked goods turned out okay in general; relieved that the school week was about to end.

But first, I had to go through another two hour theory lesson after lunch.
Compared to demo and prac class, theory class was indescribably dry. The first theory class was on food safety. Did I mention how we cannot skip classes? Attendance is taken before and after each class and if you skip more than 2 or 3, you might not pass the course. Isn’t this worse than college? I feel like a student once again. Oh wait, I am a student!

The two hours went on for a long time. When it ended, I skipped out of school and headed to Chatwood to meet my sis and Jo for dinner.

I was tired, hungry and craving for anything savoury. We had Japanese food which was honestly not bad apart from the slightly drier rice grains. I was too hungry and too tired to really bother. Both my sis and Jo commented that I looked really washed out.

Yes. And I still had another day of school before my ‘weekend’.

My first time: Scones

My scones

Lesson I

I got up at 5am in order to get to school in time for class at 730am.
Chef said that if we are late, we will be locked out!

Transportation here in Sydney isn’t like in Singapore. I always thought that waiting 15 minutes for a bus was long. Now, I can be waiting up to half and hour. Talk about efficiency!

I met my newfound friend, Sarah, to go to school together since we stay close by. At least, I have some company while still trying to figure out the route to school. We had some drama getting to school on the first day and ended up having to run 800 metres up a slope from the bus stop to school. Try doing that with a huge bag and tool kit!

We got to school at 720am. While that may be early enough for uni lectures, that wasn’t quite enough for us as culinary students. We had to change into our uniforms, chuck our kits and bags into our lockers before going to demo class. Thank God that we manage to step into class at 730am on the dot.

Our chef, Chef M*ichael, introduce the course and class to us. He’s an Australian who has worked in many good restaurants in Sydney and in other parts of the world. Most of all, he has a good sense of humour and also very patient.

The first week of class focuses on afternoon tea snacks. On our first day, our task was to produce plain scones with chantilly cream on the side. Scones are one of my favourites- did I mention that before? I love them warm and toasted, with a strawberry jam spread in the middle. It makes for such a lovely afternoon snack, together with a pot of black tea.

Back to the lesson, Chef M*ichael explained to us the origins of scones and also the method used to produce them. Sarah and I, being overly zealous, asked many questions about the substitution of ingredients and the adaptation of recipes. And thus, we got ourselves the reputation of being the diet people. (Because our questions veered in the direction of replacement of milk, sugar etc. you get the idea)

Before we realise, the two and a half hour demo class is over. We got a taste of the scones which was heavenly- picture perfect, with a slight crusty top and a little dense center.

We had a half an hour break which we made use of the time to chat with our classmates. I also took the time to mentally prepare myself for the practical lesson in which we needed to produce a batch of plain scones.

I thought about my horrid attempt at scones a couple of years back. They were a complete failure. I prayed and hoped that I would start my first lesson on a good note.

I entered kitchen 5 gingerly, feeling the awe of being surrounded by all these professional equipment. Chef M*ichael gave us an orientation of the kitchen and a run through of the work procedures in the kitchen. It starts with disinfecting your hands and there’s even a proper way of doing it- hot water, disinfectant, paper towels.
After that, we headed to our own work stations. Sarah and I shared a bench and throughout this course, she will be my partner. I took sometime to orientate myself since it was almost like being in someone else’s kitchen where I don’t know the locations of all the items.

I took and weighed all our ingredients and have them mise en place, the way the French would say it- Have all your ingredients and equipment in order before you begin.

Then the action begins.
The creaming of the butter and sugar till they are pale, light and fluffy. This had to be done by hand. I feel so pampered by my KitchenAid. Where are you when I need you most, my dearest friend? I imagined myself as a baker in the early days where everything is made by hand.

It was hard work, I thought, but still manageable.

I proceeded on to the rest of the steps of adding the dry ingredients (Flour, baking powder, salt) and then the wet ingredients (the milk, not skimmed milk though).

Right before the first lesson, I vowed to myself that I need to learn to make things pretty and decorate well. This time, I tried to keep that. I was extra cautious when rolling out of the dough and using cookie cutters to cut out the scones and lining them out on the tray. While egg washing it ( brushing it with a whole egg whisked with milk), I ensured that I have covered all areas.

My babies going in and out of the deck oven. Turning from a pale, almost unattractive dough to a tanned and almost gleaming golden scone!

I lined them neatly and was photo whoring with just about the rest of my class.

There and then, I felt the immense satisfaction and joy that I have not been feeling for a long time. Maybe I’m born to create things. You know, like how some people just derive joy from say, painting a picture or from making a table? I don’t know?

As I packed up my stuff and thank chef for the wonderful lesson, I felt a little tired but I was still whirling from the joy of my successful scones.