Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My best part of the day

IP Lesson XV- Danish pastries

Hazelnut twist

Right from the first week of the Intermediate course, Ch*ef G*ert has been excitedly telling us that he hopes that he would taking the class for Danish pastries. After all, who would be more appropriate to teach us about Danish pastries than a Dane?

Maybe I ought to clear a huge misunderstanding right at the start of this blog entry. While the rest of the world know these lovely pastries as Danish pastries, in Denmark, they are known as “Wiener- brød” which means “bread from Vienna”.

Let’s take a trace back to the history of the Danish pastry or “Wiener- brød”. In the late 1800s, many bakers from Vienna were offered jobs in the bakeries at Copenhagen. Along with them, they brought along a recipe for a type of sweet bread which became hugely popular amongst the Danes. Its popularity led the Copenhagen bakers to develop the dough process behind this sweet bread and eventuality led to this much-loved pastry.

For the purpose of this entry, we shall just continue calling it “Danish pastry”. The pastry itself is similar to the puff pastry dough but instead of giving it 6 single turns, we only give the Danish pastry 3 single turns. This gives the pastry its soft, ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ sensation. According to Ch*ef G*ert, high quality cake margarine is used in the production of these delights in most bakeries in Denmark.

But since we don’t have access to that, we stuck with our good old friend, butter.

To me, the best thing about Danish pastries is that you can create a colourful plate of them in different shapes, sizes and flavours just with this single dough. The possibilities are endless!

Assortment of danish pastries

A variety from Kringles which is a pretzel-shaped pastry filled with Remonce, to apricot windmills filled with crème patissiere, as well as apple turnovers and hazelnut twists would be perfect for a sweet breakfast on a winter’s morning or a tea to be enjoyed with friends.

The dough was prepared the day before and it is made with basic ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, butter, yeast, eggs. The butter is then enclosed in the dough and given three single turns with a 20 minute resting period in-between turns. An amazing thing what simple and ordinary ingredients can present you at the end of the day.

The next day, when we took out the dough from the cooler room, the dough has puffed up to about double its size. It looked like a huge pillow and one that we embraced with arms wide open.

That expansion was most welcome; it simply meant that we were doing something right with our dough.

The fun part of the day began: it was time to shape our dough into windmills, pockets, twists and turnovers. I must admit to having a favourite and it does not even have anything to do with taste! The windmill looks fun, vivacious, bright and cheery. It reminds me of a kid’s toy, all it lacks is a stick to hold it, just like a lollipop.

The Danish pastries were given a final touch as soon as they were out of the oven. Though they already look attractive, a quick brush of the apricot glaze just made them glow in its beautiful shine even more.

That was the point where I didn’t bother resisting anymore. The aromas of the butter blended together with the sweetness of the apricot jam got me in the end. I did not even want to wait till I get home before biting into one of these!

A few of us spent the rest of the Saturday evening beside the oven, packing and eating our very own Danish pastries together.

And that, to me, was the best part of the day.

Devouring the twist

Traditional never tasted better!

IP Lesson XIV- Apple strudel

Tradional apple strudel

Often, we get excited about new desserts; the more foreign they look and sound, the more we want to try them.

Like all things traditional, traditional desserts tend to be forgotten or neglected. Or sometimes, they have evolved radically. Think of the Opera cake: How many variations of it have you seen?

While I don’t think that this evolution in the pastry world is a bad thing, I feel that we should not forget the good old traditional ones. For in them, we can learn about the fundamentals of baking, to understand culture, and to enjoy something that our predecessors have devoured and enjoyed.

I for one am guilty of embracing new dessert creations. I loved the surprise in every bite- new and unknown combinations of flavours and textures tease me and marvel me. Sometimes, I tend to snub off traditional pastries because most of the time, they are very humble or simple. Sometimes I am not even aware of the traditional pastries because of the ‘bastardized’ versions in the new world.

When you mention apple strudel, I think of the ones made with layers of puff pastry, pastry cream and apples, the ones that were responsible for a huge apple strudel craze in Singapore years ago.

Class today opened my eyes to the traditional apple strudel and to put it simply, I love it!

The traditional apple strudel is best known in Vienna, Austria. However, it actually originated in Hungary before spreading to the rest of the Austrian-Hungary empire.

Basically, this traditional apple strudel that we baked uses a paper-thin dough and filling the dough with tart green apples and flavourings before rolling and baking it.

The making of the strudel isn’t difficult. The hardest part lie in stretching the strudel dough. It was such a fun experience! Imagine just pulling the dough at all four corners till you get tracing paper thin dough where you can see your hands through it!

This must be done with much care and being impatient will just ruin the dough. Once you cause a tear or hole in the dough, you can’t scrunch up the dough and start over. This is due to the fact that the gluten needs to be well-relaxed (we left the dough overnight in the fridge) before stretching it.

Well, this is not to say that this dough is entirely unforgiving. A small tear wouldn’t hurt. Just continue with it and most probably you wouldn’t see it the moment you roll it up.

My Malaysian coursemate actually commented that the texture of the dough feels like prata (or the Malaysians will call it ‘Roti Chennai’) dough and to prove his point, he really went to pan fry the dough.

Surprisingly, it did have the taste of prata without the greasiness! Ch*ef G*ert, my Danish chef, liked it so much that he actually asked for seconds and thirds!

And so all students from SIM (Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia) all went crazy with the leftover strudel dough making variations of the prata (or roti Chennai)-with egg and without egg.

Now, while I can go on and on about the crazy variations of the prata, I should probably get back to the apple strudel proper.

Once you get past the hard bit, it’s time to be rewarded with the easy bit: comes the easy part: the random scattering of the ingredients for the filling. That is to allow those apple slices, brown sugar, sultanas and whatever you fancy to fall like autumn leaves onto the paper thin strudel dough which has been brushed with melted butter.

Then, it’s off to the oven to get it baked! Even though the apple strudel can be served cold, I think that it’s best served warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream.

That would be heaven on a plate.

Sometimes it is the most traditional desserts can taste so good and can be so comforting.

Give me this apple strudel and I will give up my fancy desserts!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cultural exchange

IP Lesson XIII- Hot cross buns and baklava

Hot cross buns

Moving away from classic French-style desserts and diverting our attention to some other well-loved desserts and pastries from other countries and cultures.

We made hot cross buns and baklava during Thursday’s class.

Hot cross buns at the end of August does sound a little strange. After all, they are meant to be eaten over Good Friday and Easter. Nonetheless, they were yummy buns sweet buns spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice with sultanas, currants and mixed peel.

Even though I don’t really see them much in Singapore, hot cross buns have been a childhood memory from the books that I have read and the song about hot cross buns (I can still sing it!).

A warm image comes to mind when I think of hot cross buns. A mother opening the door of her oven and carrying out a tray of freshly baked hot cross buns, all a shade of golden brown. And then, there is the sweet smell of bread that fills the entire house. Two kids come running down the stairs, following the smell which leads them to the kitchen table. Mother then serves her children those warm buns with a mug of hot chocolate for a late afternoon tea.

Hot cross buns, Hot cross buns
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

The hot cross buns were not hard to make especially after having baked several types of bread. The only difference is that we had to pipe the cross mixture on the buns to give them their signature look and to finish them with an apricot glaze after they are baked to give it an attractive shines.

Diamond Baklavas

We prepared our baklavas concurrently. Baklava is a rich and sweet pastry made with layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios and sweetened with a syrup.

The origin of the Baklava is not well-documented although many ethnic groups has claim it as their own. Whatever its origin, the Baklava is enjoyed through Middle East all through to Greece.
I naively thought that we will be making the filo pastry sheets from scratch! However, chef K*aren told us that chefs don’t bother making their own filo because it is pretty difficult to roll them out into such thin sheets.

Having made a baklava, I doubt I would readily choose to eat one anytime soon. The amount of clarified butter (otherwise known as ghee) that goes into it is quite astonishing even for us pastry students who have been going through heap-loads of butter each week.

Besides the clarified butter, it is drenched(note the word, drench) with a sweet, sugary syrup.

If I were to make my own baklava, I think I would make it less sweet and let flavour it with a good amount of rose water to give it a good floral and distinct flavour which would be much better than plain sugary sweetness.

After a hectic week of baking gateaus, the pace in the kitchen slowed down significantly this week. With less stress, we can enjoy every bit of the lesson much more.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The beauty of mistakes

IP Lesson XII- Sacher torte and Tiramisu


Sacher torte

Saturday’s class was dedicated to making two very popular cakes: Sacher torte and tiramisu.

Sacher torte must be one of the most popular cake around. It originated from Austria in Hotel Sacher. It is rich chocolate cake with apricot jam and dark chocolate ganache.

Tiramisiu which means ‘pick me up’ is a delightful dessert that originated in Italy.

While we were most excited about making these two cakes today, our moods were literally dampened as I found out that my partner has lost her tool kit. She was visibly affected (who wouldn’t be when the tool kit cost so much!). I was lost for words because I know that, quite frankly, words would bear little comfort when faced with such a loss.

In any case, the lesson had to go on and we had to bake our cakes no matter what. So the both of us trudged on with the hectic lesson where we had to prepare and assemble both the sacher torte as well as the tiramisu.

The sponge fingers were made from scratch and it was my first time baking them. I think I wouldn’t be buying store-bought ones anymore the next time I make tiramisu.

The filling was made with mascarpone cheese, cream, icing sugar, egg yolks and tia maria (coffee liquor). It’s not hard to make tiramisu but I must say that this is one of the better recipes around.

The tiramisu worked out well but as the tin was too large, we didn’t have enough filling to fill the tiramisu to the top which marred its look quite a bit.

The chocolate sponge cake for sacher torte was baked and it was sliced and layered with chocolate ganache and apricot jam but the hardest part lies with the application of the glaze. Done right, the sacher will shine from every angle. (I’m not kidding!)

The dark chocolate ganache had to be of the right consistency(flowy) before pouring over the cake. If it is too thick, it will end up in a dull blob.

It also sets very quickly which meant that you would have little time to spread or try to change its form once the glaze is on.

Another thing with the sacher's glaze is that you cannot put it in the fridge or it, too, would lose its shine. Such is the delicacy of the sacher's glaze.

Most of us had trouble with the glaze and ended up not having a smooth top and sides. Mine was a terrible mess. It was far from what chef had done so effortlessly during demo. I totally underestimated the glaze.

But we all learn from mistakes don’t we?
In fact, I find that the best lessons are always from mistakes.

Sometimes hard, sometimes painful, but always good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I can't sit still!

I'm going to Tetsuya's tonight.
Long story on how we got the reservation but I'm not complaining.

I'm looking forward...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


IP Lesson XI: Raspberry Mousse Gateau

Raspberry Mousse Gateau

Sitting at the demo kitchen watching Ch*ef K*aren prepare the raspberry mousse cake was definitely and easy and enjoyable ride.

Being in the kitchen an hour after demo and having to prepare the same raspberry mousse cake was an amazing journey that we experience great accomplishment.

The raspberry mousse gateau was assembled with the following components: Jaconde (an almond sponge cake), chocolate flavoured tulip paste (required for the patterned sides of the cake), raspberry mousse (the filling of the gateau), raspberry glaze.

The pretty sides of the cake was made using a patterned silpat mat. First,we prepared the tulip paste to spread across the mat and refrigerate it till its firm. Next, we prepare the jaconde sponge to spread over the tulip paste and there you have it. Two colours, two flavours.

The jaconde was also used as the base of the gateau. The raspberry mousse was made from raspberry puree and gelatine leaves. Can I just say that I dislike mousse that is made using gelatine as a binder? To me, it just gives too firm and jelly-like a texture. I rather use whipped cream or beaten egg whites instead to give it a creamy texture.

To top the cake, a raspberry glaze was made using the same puree, glucose, gelatine, sugar and water to give it a nice red, shiny layer.

Finish up with tempered chocolate decorations. I’m so happy that the chocolate decorations are shiny, shiny, shiny and I didn’t realise that the sound of the snap from the chocolate can be so enduring!

Presenting to you, my raspberry mousse cake…

Pretty but I wouldn’t choose to eat this..

My moment: Le Fraisier

IP Lesson X- Le Fraisier

Le Fraisier

Le Fraisier, a popular French strawberry shortcake, is made with genoise sponge, soaked with a kirsch punch syrup, layered with mousseline cream and decorated with strawberries and topped with a layer of marzipan.’

I much prefer the Japanese style version of this cake which has a much lighter and fluffier sponge and also a less rich cream. The mousseline cream is made with crème patissiere and a whole load of butter! The French love their butter. I do too. But the only thing I could thing of while making the mousseline cream was ‘Fat, fat, fat’.

However, it gives me much gratification and joy when Ch*ef K*aren came over to my bench and announced to the entire class, ‘this is a darn good mousseline cream. Look at that..it’s beautiful’. She then proceeded to scoop some mousseline cream up onto a random slice of strawberry and put it in her mouth and gave me her ‘this is to die for’ look.

That moment was defining for me. Something hit me.
It reaffirmed my decision of taking this course.

Behind my passion of creating cakes and pastries is my joy and pride derived from witnessing people enjoying these creations.


For the past three weeks of school, I have been stuck in a rut: uninspiring days and sleepless nights. I was missing home a lot more badly than I did in the previous three months. I really hate to admit it. All I wanted to do is to leave after the intermediate course and abandon the superior course.

You see, Superior course is a huge obstacle for me. For one, it did not make sense for me. Its focus is mainly on sugar work, marzipan moulding and chocolate work which I don’t have that great an interest in. As much as I value the appearance of the product, taste has always been top priority for me. It seemed senseless to be making things you wouldn’t be eating like an entire sculpture made from marzipan or sugar.

I shan’t go on and on about that. In essence, I’m glad to say that I’ve put all these self-doubts, continuous questioning, and indecision behind me. My reasoning: At the end of December, I want to be able to say that I have fulfilled my goal of completing the entire diploma programme. That fulfilment and pride would be immeasurable; it would be priceless even though the certificate might not be so.

What’s more, I’ve come to terms that the pursuit of knowledge in all things related to food or more accurately pastries means a great deal to me. I cannot leave without understanding the intricacies behind chocolate, sugar and marzipan. I might not have much use of these particular skills, but what I do know is that the knowledge of it would be comfort to me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chocolate obsession

Gateau Concorde

IP Lesson IX- Tarte au chocolat noir and gateau concorde

I’m still lagging in my blogging! We made tarte au chocolat noir and gateau concorde last Saturday.

Chocolate desserts are such a great hit aren’t they?

Tarte au chocolat noir is a dark chocolate tart made with chocolate short pastry filled with dark chocolate ganache and decorated with raspberries. I think this recipe is one of the best that I’ve tried. It’s rich, not overly sweet. Dark chocolate lovers will adore this one!

The chocolate short pastry is made with cocoa powder, icing sugar, butter and it’s a much more delicate dough compared to the pate sucree (sweet pastry) that we have been making. Even after resting the dough (like all other pastry doughs) for twenty minutes, it still tears really easily so we had to handle it with care.

The chocolate filling is pretty easy to make. The key to getting a great tarte au chocolat noir (apart from using good chocolate couverture) is to give it plenty of attention. By attention, I mean when you put them in the oven, you need to make sure that the filling doesn’t bubble and boil if not you wouldn’t have a nice smooth surface.

The Gateau Concorde was a joy to make. It is basically chocolate meringue discs layered with chocolate mousse and decorated with chocolate meringue tubes. We made French meringue for this purpose and bake the meringues at a low temperature for about 1.5 hours to dry them out. This results in a crispy meringue that simply cracks in your mouth.

The Gateau Concorde is a little too sweet for my liking! Yes, even for a sweet tooth like me. The chocolate mousse is really perfect on its own. Rich, creamy and really chocolatey. The meringues were really too sweet. If you know the amount of sugar that actually goes into this meringue, you probably will think twice about eating it!

I’m heading off for a picnic in Royal Botanic gardens now. Shall blog about this week’s classes soon. I promise.

For now, I’ll leave you with the tarte au chocolate noir recipe because it’s simply fantastic!

Tarte Aux Chocolat Noir

(Recipe from Le Cordon Bleu)

Chocolate Short Pastry

280g Bakers Flour

200g butter

50g cocoa powder

120g pure icing sugar

2 egg yolks

pinch of salt

Sieve dry ingredients, rub in butter till crumbly.

Add egg yolks and incoporate. Do not overwork the dough!

Roll the dough out into the size of your palm and flattened it. Leave it in the fridge to rest for about 20 minutes.

After resting the dough, roll it out to about 3mm thickness, line it on a tart dish. At this point, you can give your dough more rest if you wish to. If not blind bake the tart at about 180 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until it is cooked.

Tart Filling

80ml Milk

200ml cream

200g Dark Couverture

1 Egg, beaten

Boil milk and cream.

Pour over chocolate pieces (you will need to chop up your chocolate if it comes in a block) and stir to melt it.

Add egg and stir till well combined.

Pour into tart mould and bake at 150 C till set.

When it sets, it wouldn’t be wobbly if you shake it. Do not overbake the chocolate tart till the chocolate filling is bubbling/boiling. Leave the tart in the tart dish for awhile before removing it to cool the tart in the fridge.

Decorate with fresh raspberries and icing sugar.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fear no more...

I have overcame my fear of tempering chocolates..

That's enough reason to celebrate!

[reading] Chloe Dutre-Roussel's The Chocolate Connoisser

Monday, August 10, 2009

The comforts a tart can bring

Linzer torte

IP Lesson VII- Linzer Torte and Tarte Aux Fruits

When you talk about comfort foods, it usually is something rustic and homely. Rarely would you hear someone mention cavier or truffles (the mushroom variety) as their comfort foods.

While most may list out savoury items as their comfort foods, I know a few people, including myself who would seek solace in sweets. For my sister, it would be a good bar of chocolate or a nice warm chocolate cake. As for myself, a good rustic tart, savoury or sweet would really make me feel all better inside. Strange as it may seem, a simple fruit tart or spinach and feta cheese tart has the ability to release endorphins in my body and make me feel happy.

For class on Thursday, we made two rustic tart- Linzer Torte and tarte aux fruits.

The Linzer torte originated in a small town called Linz, Austria. It is in fact a tart made with ground nuts (either hazelnuts or almond) and spice with a layer of raspberry jam in the centre, finished with its characteristic lattice-patterned top.

You know what I love about studying in Le Cordon Bleu is that I get to learn and taste these new desserts. It is my first time tasting and making this torte/tart. You can say it is love at first taste. It is little wonder why it remains a favourite amongst the Austrians. Another interesting fact of this torte is that it’s one of the oldest known cakes in the world.

Rustic but comforting.

After making a few fruit tarts during basic classes, we were back to making another fruit tart. This time, it was a fruit tart not only with crème patisserie but also with frangipane filling made from ground almonds and rum. What can I say? I really love the frangipane paste filling. Almonds and alcohol: the two ‘A’s that comforts thy soul!

In my opinion, the frangipane filling works well in the tart giving it another element of texture as well as flavour. The sweet crust pastry or pate sucree is made with some ground almonds which gives the pastry a richer flavour which I think taste better as compared to just using flour alone.

The fun part with this tart lies with the arrangement of the fruits. I have always liked the tarts with fruits tumbled on the top, looking absolutely gorgeous even in its haphazard manner. The funny thing about doing this is that there is actually some order in its haphazardness. That’s the beauty of it.

I love the way that Chef K*aren does it. She makes it seem so effortless, just tumbling the berries off her hands onto the tart. As contradictory as it may sound, it took me quite a while to arrange the orderly disorder on my tart!

Feeling pretty pleased with my virgin effort, I rewarded myself by digging into a huge slice of that tart when I got home. After a long day at school, and a long bus journey home, it was pure bliss and contentment. For that moment, it took away my physical weariness and my emotional worries.

Such is the comfort a tart can bring!

Tarte aux fruits, rustic style

Sunday, August 9, 2009

You can't stop at one

My truffle tower

IP Lesson VI- Chocolate Croquembouche

A croquembouche is a traditional French wedding cake or sometimes it’s used for christening. Its name ‘Croque en Bouche’ means ‘crunch/crackling in the mouth’ in French. The original croquembouche is a cone made with profiteroles filled with crème patisserie coated with caramel (thus, giving it the crunch when you bite into it). It is decorated with spun caramel, almonds or flowers. Can you imagine such a lovely showpiece? I would really want to make one for my wedding. That’s just one frivolous reason why I’m taking this course at Le Cordon Bleu now!

Before I start rambling on about the croquembouche and my wedding, I should get back to the chocolate croquembouche proper. A chocolate croquembouche is a modern interpretation of the French classic. Imagine a cone made from chocolate truffles. I believe that the chocolate croquembouche is heaven for some of you.

What we did was to make chocolate ganaches (with alcohol like kirsch, Malibu, rum) and coat them with tempered chocolate (Dark, milk and white). And all we had to do is to ‘glue’ them together with chocolate.

The joy of building your own truffle tower (that’s what I like to call it) is incredibly immense! It’s such a showpiece you know what I mean. My truffle tower was made from about 80-90 chocolate truffles.

What do you think of that as a birthday cake? You wouldn’t even need to cut into it? All your friends can just pull out a truffle each to munch on. The only problem with it is that you probably need a really tall tower because no one can just stop at a one.

What's there not to love about chocolates?

Chocolate pieces

IP Lesson V: More Chocolates

It was time to coat our pralines and Vienna almonds.

Tempered dark chocolate was used to enrobe these yummy goodies before we decorated them with little specks of crystallized lavender. I really like purple on chocolate. it makes the chocolate pieces look gorgeous!

I thought this would be pretty simple but it isn’t that easy to coat the pieces nicely all round without getting “feet” around the bottom of the chocolate pieces.

I finally realised why handmade chocolates are so expensive. This is a tedious process, really. A few of us only got it right after a couple of attempts which meant that we had more than a couple of ugly but great tasting chocolates!

The best way to do it is to use two dipping forks.

Put the square/diamond-shaped praline pieces into your tempered dark chocolate with a dipping fork. Lift the praline from the chocolate pool and proceed to tap the dipping fork against the edge of the bowl (about 20 times) to knock out the excess chocolate. Then gently place the chocolate coated praline onto a piece of silicon (baking) paper. Use the other (clean) dipping fork to push the praline piece away to remove any feet that remains.

And there you have it. To have pretty chocolate pieces, you would need to get your chocolate properly tempered which isn’t the same as melting chocolate really. Tempering chocolate is a process that stabilizes the structure of the cocoa solids in chocolate. This method is essential for moulded or dipping chocolates which would allow the chocolate to set quickly, to give it shine and a clean snap.

And so we had a plateful of little chocolate pieces to take home. I really had to resist them.
Now, name me a person who doesn't like chocolates?

I can't, honestly. What about you?


Tempering chocolates 101:
(My attempt at explaining something really complicated)

The method that produces consistent good results is the tabling/marbling method.
Start off with dark chocolate couverture. Put the chocolate pieces into a bain marie and to melt the chocolate at 45-50 deg celcius.

Then pour 2/3 of this melted chocolate onto a cool marble surface and use a metal scrapper to manipulate the chocolate back and forth to cool the chocolate. You should manipulate the chocolate till the temperature falls to 27-29 degree celcius.

By this time, the chocolate on the marble surface would have thickened and have lost some of its glossiness. At this point, transfer the chocolate from the marble surface into the bowl containing the remaining 1/3.

Stir to combine both the chocolates till you get a temperature of 31-32 degrees celcius. At this stage, your chocolate is tempered and it should be glossy and shiny and sets quickly

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chocolate is our friend..indeed

IP Lesson IV: Pralines, fudge, ganache

It’s back to a week of chocolates.
After my chocolate disaster in Basic, I was feeling a tad apprehensive about class this week.

That sense of apprenhension was kind of eased when I woke up on Sunday morning to find myself in poodles of laughter.
This was what I saw written on the mirror in my bathroom:

“Don’t worry, Joanna…Chocolate is our friend. Once we are done with them, we will eat them!”

To sum up this week, I'm glad to say that the week did not end up in disaster.
After we conquered the chocolates, we ate them, very willingly.


We spent Thursday class preparing a variety of ganaches to be used for the chocolate truffles for Saturday's class- Dark chocolate with rum, dark chocolate with kirsch, milk chocolate (omitting the caradamon pods), white chocolate with Malibu.
Chocolate is great. Even better when it comes with alcohol.

Preparing the ganaches is an easy task; simply put a pot of cream to a solid boil before pouring the boiled cream over the chopped couverture pieces, stirring till smooth and incorporated and lastly adding in the alcohol/and butter.

We also made pralines and white chocolate fudge. Fudge is such an English thing. You’ll find shops dotted around the countryside specializing in fudge alone.

As for me, I can never understanding people’s fascination for fudge. It’s far too saccharine sweet for me. The funny thing is that Chef K*aren, who’s an English, doesn’t like fudge either.

Which brings us back to question why we are making fudge at all, white chocolate fudge at that! Fudge is made from cooking sugar, glucose and cream in a pot. You will boil it till it bubbles and thickens (Till about 110 deg celcius). Then, you take it off the heat and add in the white chocolates and stir it quickly before adding a little of butter. That explains why it is so sweet.

Pralines, on the other hand, is another story altogether. My love for pralines begins with my love for all things nuts. Since pralines is quite simply hazelnut and milk chocolate, what’s there not to love.

We made Vienna almonds too- those caramelized almonds..those beautiful almonds enrobed with a caramel coating with dotted flavours from the vanilla bean. It is so lovely that I can eat a bag of those and feel guilty only after I am done with them.

The ability to make caramel comes from the understanding of how sugar cooks and the different stages of cooked syrup (Soft ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack and then caramel).For me, today's lesson today cleared up some of the mystery surronding it.

Sugar work is serious business and we will be learning more and working more with sugar when we reach Superior stage. That will be the time when we will be getting our hands dirty (and hopefully not burnt) moulding sugar to create showpieces.
Class was pretty fun. We worked in teams which made class a lot more fun and less stressful. Working in teams did help a lot in terms of completion of the tasks. After all, working in the kitchen, like any other industry, is very much about team work.

Failing to rise to the occassion

IP Lesson III: Gateau Mille Feuille

'a thousand layers'

What else could you do with a reverse puff pasty?

A mille feuille, of couse!

The Mille Feuille means ‘a thousand layers’ in French. Frankly speaking, it really does have a thousand of butter and dough layers in the puff which makes it so crispy and its ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ kind of goodness.

The Mille Feuille go by other names such as vanilla slices and/or napoleon.

But a mille feuille by any other name will still taste as sweet.

This is one of my favourite ways of using, or rather eating puff pastry.

First of all, we had to bake three equal-sized discs of reverse puff pastry so we can assemble them. We had to ‘dock them like crazy’ in the words of one of my coursemates to prevent ‘blisters’ from forming; we don’t want a high puff, we just want the crispy layers.

It was really rewarding to take the reverse puff pasty out of the oven- the even tan of the puff pasty, the consistent puff amongst all three of the puff pasty. Next we had to prepare crème diplomat which will be the layers in between the puff pasty. Crème diplomat is similar to crème patisserie; the difference lie in the use of the gelatine in the crème diplomat which will give it a more stable structure and holding the crème in place in between the puff pastry layers.

The elements of my gateau mille feuille were coming together beautifully in a manner that I would be very proud of. Even the assembling of the gateau went without a hitch. However, the fondant icing failed me.

Or technically speaking, I failed it.

Fondant is such a finicky creature. It is easy to dismiss fondant as a sickly sweet sugar mess. You can probably say that as a consumer but as a chef working with it, you are under its mercy. Work too slowly, and you will have it setting before you can say ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ (well, that’s the longest word I know..)

That was precisely the thing that happen to my fondant. I had to spread a layer of fondant in its original state over the cake before piping a round spiral of chocolate and neon pink over it before making a design by feathering it. Before I got to the feathering bit, the fondant decides to play some mind games with me.

The worse thing about pastry is that you can’t do much corrective action like in cuisine; to add more seasoning if the soup is bland. All I could do is to helplessly allow the fondant to set before me and accept the way that my gateau had turned out. It wasn't a pretty sight (both my gateau and I).

My three hours in the kitchen has been wasted. There’s no point in having a perfectly great tasting gateau when it doesn’t look good, not to the Chef at least.

Despite it all, he was being very encouraging towards me.

"We all have these moments. Don't be too hard on yourself. Even the best chefs take time and practice to get things right."

Which brings me to this question: what if this is my one chance, that one opportunity and I let it slip? I have a feeling that there wouldn't be that many chances and opportunities for me to waste.