"We'll have you work with the candy group today, they're short a person," Teresa pointed me to one of the tables. I had returned to the Advance Pastry class for one more quick run before the semester ended to pick up a few more things. Particularly how to temper chocolate, to hone my caramel skills, and to pick up a few pointers on genoise cakes in order to eliminate any errors which, from time to time, still plagued me.
I was assigned to work under Shi, a tall, ebony woman who was the only pastry person I'd ever met who was able to delegate and work in a kitchen for hours with furious efficiency without a single run in her makeup. I was extremely happy to work under Shi as we had hit off well the last time. She had an indomitable will, a good sense of humor, and a transparent no-nonsense presence which anyone could relate to. In under an hour she could be anyone's best friend, swapping stories and hopes over a furtive bitch session.
The day before she had laid out plans and timetables for what our group were to begin working on and today was planning to put it all into action. The list included lemon filled truffles, tropical bars (a toasted cashew and macadamia nut studded caramel bar that was dipped in chocolate), and marshmallows. A simple, tasty selection that would rely on a variety of confectionery skills.
Shi put me to work making a lemon ganache filling for the candy. A white chocolate based ganache. It was a task I wasn't too keen on as white chocolate had always been my Achilles heel. In ganache it often broke and separated on me leaving me to find ways of repairing it on the fly, often with ridiculous amounts of powdered sugar or cream cheese.
I broke out the scale and began measuring my chocolate, sugar, corn syrup, cream and lemon juice all while letting my inner timer (as one student called it) and nose keep tabs on the four pounds of nuts I had toasting in the oven. The nuts posed a worry for me, partially because my multi-tasking abilities in the kitchen weren't all that keen. Having more than one dish going often sent me into a dizzy spiral at whose center burned and ruined food could easily pile up. "It's your first time, trust us. We've all ruined plenty of dishes in here," noted Shi. If I burned the nuts or ruined the ganache then I would start again and make another batch.
Soon I got into my swing. I pulled the nuts, now golden toasty and shimmering from their effusing oils, and brought the cream, syrup, sugar, and lemon juice to under a boil. As I poured the cream mixture over the chocolate I noticed one of my teammates working on the marshmallow. As I looked into the mixer I could tell it wasn't right. My recent marshmallow craze, where I had made many, many, many batches of marshmallows had left me an expert. The batter, while glossy and white, had no stick. Instead it pooled and flowed like a marble-colored ooze working towards sentience, not at all the sticky stringed web of sugary doom that defined the proper marshmallow batters I knew. I realized that they had forgotten the gelatin.
I said nothing because who was I, the visiting teacher's friend, to correct the advanced pastry student? Later the error was noticed as a pan of standing sheet gelatin sat in a lonely corner. As I wrapped my mixed ganache - a success - I tasted the batter. It was set. A little floofy, it almost melted on your tongue, but not the puffy, slightly chewy texture a marshmallow should be. The taste however was dead on: sugar and vanilla.
We soon got to work tempering chocolate. I had become entranced at the method the class used, a technique that Teresa had learned from the Guittard kitchens. The process consisted of warming up chopped chocolate in the microwave until it hit about 115F then throwing in tons of seed (extra chopped chocolate) in large doses and processing the whole thing with an immersion blender until it hit 88F. By then the crystal structure was set and it could be used for candy making without the chocolate blooming, melting, or cracking. (I promise to give a more specific recipe later in a future post dedicated to the topic. It really is a method that demands its own post.)
As we candied on the room became flowery with the scent of the plated group's lemon souffles which had, sadly, deflated like into somewhat rubbery bits of cake. The confidence of the plating team seemed only as high as each of the flat little failed cakes, but what these souffles lacked in stature they made up for in taste. Tart and bright, made light with a lemon sabayon and adorned with a lemon shortbread cookie it was a citrusy plate that any lemon lover would adore. (My only complaint was the snowcap of powdered sugar on each one which, should you accidentally inhale as your brought a bite to your mouth, sent you into a confectioner sugar coughing fit).
Hours wore on and our candy was all successful. The marshmallows, though a bit too soft, were delicious. (Even more so when they were dipped in chocolate and dredged in chopped toffee and nuts.) I was proud of my ganache and chocolate making and had even picked up a few handy pointers on genoise cake.
The night was capped off when the bread group sent me home with a bag of freshly made bagels and pretzels, each perfectly sour and chewy as good bagels and pretzels are. The bagels, birthmarked with generous amounts of poppy seeds and Maldon salt, were stunning to look at and extremely flavorful. Toasted then slathered with butter and jam, they became as decadent as one can rightfully call a homemade bagel.
Overall, it was another epic night of amazing candy, cakes, and breads. I can now say I am determined to get an education in pastry. Maybe not so much formal in a classroom - at this point I've had enough of tests and tuitions - but maybe in a kitchen...