I think Plated Desserts and I have a love-hate relationship.
I love the intricacy, creativity and all encompassing quality of them… but HATE (and this is going to sound incredibly insensitive and narcissistic so try not to judge me) how little control I have and how quickly everything comes together at the end–with only one final product.
Let me start off by telling you just how little control I had starting from Monday morning. So last week was a break, and I haven’t been in school for about 9 days (which was actually torturous, but more on that later). Usually Chef gives us the recipes for the following week on Friday afternoons, but this time we didn’t get any recipes–leaving me nothing to study or prepare for before class.
So we all showed up for class this morning, not knowing the slightest hint of what we would be doing. Chef…Well, let me just say, that this is Chef’s favorite week of the four week unit, and he was no less than thrilled at the prospect of doing plated desserts…and at the horrified looks on all of our faces when he gave us 6 recipes…for our three hour class.
On top of that Chef informed us that on Thursday we will be given a list of ingredients and on Friday we will have to carry out a “challenge”–creatively making a plated dessert using all the ingredients in a way that expresses our emotions from our holiday break.
Let’s just say that if it were even the slightest bit socially acceptable to have curled up in a ball on the floor in the kitchen at that moment, I would have. I probably will on Friday, and screw the consequences.
More than anything in the world, I hate not being prepared and fully in control. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but this is going to be so emotionally and mentally taxing I highly doubt if I will sleep at all for the rest of the week!
But back to Monday! So today we were given our 6 recipes, and then had our names picked out of a hat to see who would be the “chef in charge” for the day.
Obviously it was me.
So then I was in charge of choosing the recipes that each person would make (with Chef’s help and guidance) and was also in charge of appointing someone to be in charge of cleaning–and if anything went wrong it would be on my shoulders.
We all scampered off to gather and weigh our respective ingredients, and then one by one went from each of our tables to the next as we watched and completed each recipe. It all started out tranquil and happy enough–though of course by the end we were like chickens with our heads cut off, because in the end, we are just students who have only been at this for three weeks.
Todays elements involved a Japanese style roll cake, a creme anglaise, a chantilly cream, “burnt earth” dough, raspberry confiture and hibiscus jam. When I saw each of these recipes, I literally had no idea what the end product would look like. Give me a recipe for a cake, and I have no problem visualizing (or attempting to visualize) what the final product will look like. This bunch of recipes? I mean, I imagined nothing, but even if I had I’m sure I would have been wrong.
And I have to say; it turned out amazing. I have no words for how delicious it was and how incredible it was to look at the final product and see how everything came together.
It was an Ah-Ha! moment. Now I know why Chef loves this week and–even though by now you can tell that it is a bit masochistic–I think I love it too.
Tuesday continued the internal struggle of adoration and hatred for plated desserts as we put together a dessert called Chocolate Road to Perfection.
We had a few moments of being sidetracked due to in depth discussions of differences in ice cream and sorbet and then the use of microwaves in the kitchen. The microwave discussion ended up lasting throughout the remainder of class time as one student argued the need to avoid microwaves at all coast and Chef discussed how microwaves could be used to make all parts of a recipe even for a Michelin Starred dessert like this one.
Personally I have nothing against the use of microwaves, and was more baffled at the idea of making a sponge cake and meringue in the microwave for such a high scale dish than anything else.
The dessert was fantastic–and readily appreciated by my classmates in cuisine when I brought mine to lunch for everyone to taste. The plate starts with a base of Cocoa Caramel, so you just know its going to be amazing. Then it is topped with Meringue, Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Sponge, Milk Foam, Chocolate Tuile, Cocoa Vinaigrette, Cacao Crumble and of course flowers and leaves for decoration and a fresh taste. It was supposed to have an ice cream component, but our ice cream maker failed epically, and after 2.5 hours the ice cream still hadn’t firmed up adequately so we weren’t able to plate it.
I thought it was beautiful and delicious without the ice cream, but maybe sometime I will try making it again with it.
Its Wednesday. And Chef finally told us the secret ingredients for Friday’s challenge.
It increased my wanting-to-curl-up-under-a-table feeling, because along with normal ingredients like bananas, rum, raisins and cream cheese, we are required to use semolina.
Chef was altogether too gleeful when he revealed that last one.
Luckily enough for us, we were able to listen to Chef talk about how to go about planning a recipe–and we learned things like how to plan based on the season or time of the year, the different flavors you need to achieve balance, and how to choose additional flavors when you have one as a starting place. We had this chance to talk because there was a new oven being installed (yay!) and so the electricity in the kitchen was turned off, meaning we couldn’t really start anything.
Everything seemed so calm while Chef was talking, but I know its just the calm before the storm. I mean, parsley? Really? I barely use parsley in savory dishes!
Anyway, we finally were able to start our day (with electricity) and started gathering the ingredients for just four recipes. Like the other days this week, once we had gathered our ingredients we went one by one to each of our tables to collectively do one recipe at a time with Chef talking us through everything. I’m beginning to like this style of teaching, though I have to admit that I would love nothing more than to be able to do every step from start to finish myself. But then again, this is a good lesson for how a real kitchen works–you will never be able to make all of the elements of a dessert yourself unless you are working completely alone.
Todays recipes included a pistachio biscuit, pistachio cremeux, rose compote, strawberry tartar, a blueberry compote and a sugar decoration.
I have to admit I was skeptical of all the pistachio involved–it is definitely not high on my priority list of flavors–but it ended up balancing quite nicely with all of the fruit and floral flavors that were woven throughout the rest of the dessert, and it was a nice alternative to all of the chocolate and hazelnuts/almonds that we have been using.
It was the first time that I had ever cooked with roses, and it was amazing. Rose is one of my favorite aromas, and I love when it finds its way into pastries that it was absolutely incredible to actually use roses fresh from Chef’s mom’s garden in our dish. As the rose petals cooked they released their scent into the air, and had it been appropriate I might have just taken the saucepan of roses and stolen away to a quite corner just to smell it a litt while longer. Seriously, it was amazing. And a perfect balance between the red berries and the pistachio flavor.
Everything came together quite smoothly today, and we were actually able to end on time despite the long oven-related-delay in the beginning of class.
Of course there are two or ten things I might do differently or would like to have done better with my final plating of the dessert, but overall I was happy with how it turned out. Chef likes the plate to be strategically messy and not a mirror image even while remaining thoughtfully balanced, which makes plating look simple but in all reality it is incredibly hard.
After class I made a beeline for the grocery store to pick up the “secret” ingredients for Friday’s challenge, mostly so I could sit at home and stare at the ingredients if nothing else. As it turned out, as I was sitting and waiting for the bus (for 30 minutes) I had a stroke of inspiration, and by the time I returned home I was able to start attempting recipes. It isn’t perfect, but at least it was a starting point! The fact that I thought of a way to use parsley in a dessert at all still blows my mind.
Okay so Wednesday’s experimenting with my “secret” ingredients did NOT go as planned. Like…at all. And I blame 75% of the result on the fact that I have no way to measure anything. And have no electric mixer and my idea involved a lot of whipped cream and meringue.
Needless to say, Thursday began with me waking up at 5:30am thinking about my potential dessert, and then arriving at school with no idea of what we would be making–and again no recipes in advance.
Despite the anxious start to the day, Thursday’s dessert was maybe my favorite from the week (though how can I really choose?!).
Basically what we made was a deconstructed lemon tart, with Lemon Cream, Confit Lemons, Lemon Meringue, Lime Granita, Lime Tartar, and Sanded Dough. It was so refreshing and beautiful and amazing, and so easy to imagine eating in the spring at the end of a several course meal. Just one bite and I could imagine myself sitting on my deck with my family in the evening, savoring the refreshing end to the meal as the night came to an end.
As with the other days in the week, we went from table to table making each recipe collectively. I think I’m getting the hang of this. It is definitely a different dynamic from all of the other weeks at Gastronomicom, but I have come to realize that it is a better opportunity to ask questions.
So ask questions I do.
Earning me the new nickname of Miss Questions. Oops. I’ve started bringing Chef an entire page filled with questions each morning, but hey, I’m here to learn right? 😛
Thursday night I once again practiced for the pastry test–this time with new recipes and better ideas–and it went much more smoothly. I brought some to a friend, and after her second bite of the dessert, she smiled. Even if I didn’t do well on Friday, at least I had that! To me that is 90% the reason I bake–to share my creations and my feelings and discoveries with the people I care about. I want to make people feel happy through eating and sharing dessert, and already it was a success.
(Of course, I finished writing up my recipe and sketching out the dessert around 1am, so I failed completely to study for my exam in French! >_<)
Friday went a lot smoother than I anticipated it would. Also, I am beginning to change my mind about plated desserts and our love-hate relationship. I think it might be more one of adoration and bafflement…and perhaps curiosity. Every day I feel like I have learned so much, but as the saying goes, the more you know the more you know you don’t know.
And now I know that I have huge, gaping holes of knowledge waiting to be filled in.
For our class and test on Friday, all the ingredients we could use–along with the ingredients we had to use–were placed on a table. We each had 2 minutes to talk to Chef and have him look over our recipes, but after that we weren’t allowed to ask him anything.
With his stamp of approval that our recipe sizes were adequate (we were only allowed enough ingredients to make one dish) we all started. We each had 2.5 hours to complete everything, and all of us had 4-6 recipes to complete within that time.
It was amazing.
I love being in charge of my own dishes and I love, as I mentioned in the beginning, being in control. And on Friday I had complete control of everything.
Not everything turned out exactly like I had hoped it would, and my dessert was definitely not the best in the class, but it was fun. I really enjoyed myself, and even better than that, when I shared the leftovers with the same friend from Thursday, she only tried one bite before exclaiming “Oh dear god!” and giving me a hug.
Worth it. 100% worth it.
In the end, my dish was Rum Caramel Sauce, Semolina Sanded Dough, Banana Parsley Tartar and Parsley Chantilly Cream. I decided to call it 이젠 보낸다–Letting Go–because I wanted it to represent the transition of winter to summer. The dish was for spring and with the flavor combination I wanted to represent the brown and heaviness of winter at the base of the dish, which then lifted up into the slightly more fresh and colorful bananas, and then further into summer with the sprouts of parsley cream.
I highly doubt if anyone else thought so hard about why they chose the recipes or images they presented on their plate, but again, I learned a lot and it made myself and my friends happy, so it was an amazing experience.