Healthy Nicole would be proud of me. I’ve finally learned my lesson. Too much sugar is in fact a bad thing. Last week was AMAZING with sweet treats coming at me from every turn, but I am feeling it today. I haven’t really slept well for a week. I’m jittery. My skin is dull. I can’t focus even worse than normal.
But it was so worth it!!!
Perhaps I don’t need to bake a tart everyday for the rest of my life, but it sure was fun for six days running. Not only did we have pastry class for last week’s Braise class, but I also got a one-on-one lab with Molly, their pastry chef on Saturday. Since it was just me, I got to work in their actual kitchen. Just like Chef Dave, Molly knows her stuff, but also knows how to teach and be patient with laypeople like myself.
So fun. So much work. During class on Wednesday, we created five recipes for relatively basic dessert items – pate sucre, pastry cream, caramel sauce, chocolate mousse, and Italian meringue. All of these items can be made in what I’ll call the “Sandra Lee” method, since they are done using prepackaged and/or more processed ingredients. Instead, we used the basics – full fat butter, eggs, sugar, cream, dark chocolate – and a lot of elbow grease to prepare our versions. Whereas I didn’t think it was worth it for pasta, this is totally how I’ll be making my sweets now.
They tasted so much better. So much more like the ingredients and less about being tongue-watering sweet. If nothing else in this program did, this class made me realize that the quality of the ingredients is the most important attribute of a gourmet dish.
For as much as I like desserts, I am not the best pastry chef. Why? Because I don’t like to measure. Turns out, pastry is really just a chemistry equation, so exact measurements and ordered tasks are the norm. Armed with a kitchen scale, a KitchenAid mixer, and a new partner for the week, I didn’t do so bad.
We started class by learning how to make pate sucre, which is used for tart shells. It is much easier to work with than pie dough since you can roll it multiple times if necessary.
Next came pastry cream, which you may know as the filling for eclairs. It can also be used as the base for crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream.
When it came to caramel sauce, we all kind of missed the mark. Our heat wasn’t high enough, so our sugar recrystalized. Another group cooked their’s too long and ended up with a burnt flavor. That said, imperfect homemade caramel sauce is worlds better than the stuff out of the jar. I’ve been eating it on pretty much anything all week. My new favorite flavor combo is caramel sauce drizzled over lemon tarts. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. It’s so good!
Chocolate mousse was the next up and the recipe I’m going to share with you this week. (Duh – chocolate.) This one is great in a bowl by itself, but I also liked it topped with the meringue (or whipped cream) or on the pate sucre. Later in the week, I made tiny tarts using our leftover pate sucre dough, this chocolate mousse, and the meringue. I baked it (well, actually broiled it, but I wouldn’t recommend that option seeing as I burned some), to brown the meringue. That happened, but I also melted the mousse so it was like French Silk pie, my favorite! And this leaves the Bakers Square nonsense far, far in the dust. It’s really not very sweet at all. Make a bowlful, top with a few berries and call it a day. Beautiful, perfect dessert.
Before I give you the recipe though, a bit about Italian meringue. To make the Italian version (vs. Swiss), you cook the sugar in saucepan directly over the heat and add that to whipped egg whites. You then whip the three ingredients (egg whites, sugar, water) until the bowl is no longer hot to the touch. That’s a long time!
Again, a lot of time involved, but I think its worth it. You’ll only need a small dollop where you’d take a big scoop of the fake stuff.
This meringue is also the base for buttercream frosting, which I learned about on Saturday. I also learned pie dough, lemon curd, and how to frost a cake.
Paired with two sessions of trick or treating (and yet I still have two bags of Halloween candy left), this week left me with the worst case of gut rot and the cleanest fingers as I licked up every morsel out of the bowls!
So, so, so worth it!!!
Now where’s my salad?