I have survived my second week of school! And I have a holiday weekend to get ahead on my reading. And write my first paper since college. Sigh.
Several readers inquired as to whether my classmates are really as competitive as I made them out to be. Truthfully, the atmosphere in the kitchen isn’t competitive; it’s disorganized and frantic. We’re still learning where things are located and trying to complete several new recipes every day. We have 2 1/2 hours to make everything, but the time vanishes in the blink of an eye. In that time we have to get our mise en place together, cook, clean up everything and have the room ready for lunch with benches, drinks and silverware. In addition to making our own plates we usually have to make one or two trays up for school employees and guests. There aren’t always enough burners, since we often need to use more than one at a time. There also aren’t always enough tools for everyone. It’s a mad race to the finish line and sometimes we bump into each other along the way. But I honestly like everyone I’ve spent time getting to know. There are all kinds of personalities and some of us work better together than others. I think in time we’ll evolve into a well-oiled machine, but for now things are a bit messy.
This week we learned how to properly butcher a chicken, made a few new salads, mayonnaise (finally something I’m comfortable with!), strawberry tarts, and spent two full days getting a crash course in food safety. We were also served an amazingly delicious 3 course meal by the Phase II students. I was in awe of their skill and the fact that I’ll be able to do that in 4-5 months.
All I’ll say about the food safety class is that it may be awhile before I can eat sushi without seeing certain images in my head. Oh, and if you have to take a food safety certification exam, don’t go crazy at the Ice Cream Social (also courtesy of Phase II). By the time our exam started, half of us were falling asleep. But it was soooo worth it. Strawberry balsamic ice cream, salted caramel ice cream, champagne sorbet… there was so much goodness in one room.
The strawberry tarts we made were to die for. Chef provided the apricot glaze since we were already taking on quite a bit. We made the tart shell and custard, prepped the berries and pieced the whole thing together.
The tart shell we used was made from a dough called Pate Sucree. The dough is easy to make and perfect for an assortment of sweet treats. All of our baking recipes use weight instead of quantity measurements. Depending on how the flour is packed, a cup can weigh anywhere from 4.5 to 5 oz. Baking is a science. I recommend getting a good digital kitchen scale if you want consistent results. The professional kitchen is all about consistency. That’s what keeps customers coming back!
- 12 oz AP flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 oz sugar
- 8 oz butter, softened
- 1 egg
- lemon zest (around 1 lemon’s worth of zest)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine the dry ingredients. Use a bench scraper to blend the butter into the dry ingredients. Briefly whisk the egg in a bowl before adding it to the dough. Finish with the vanilla. You don’t need to kneed the dough as you would with bread. Think more of folding the dough in half and pushing down on it. The final touch is something the French called “fraisage” which involves taking small handfuls of the dough and pushing it along the table to really get any remaining bits of butter combined. Round the dough into a ball and thin it out to around an inch thick and then rest the dough in the fridge for at least 45 minutes or for an entire day. The dough can stay in the fridge for 7-10 days (the sugar acts as a preservative).
Creme Patisserie (Pastry Cream)
- 2 cups cream or whole milk
- 5 oz sugar
- 6 egg yolks
- 1.5 oz cornstarch
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Reserving around 1/2 cup, simmer the cream in a medium-sized saucepan, preferably one with a heavy bottom to avoid scorching.
- In a separate bowl, slowly whisk the cornstarch into the yolks, making sure to avoid lumps. Whisk the sugar into the yolks. During this process, you can thin out the mixture with the reserved cream.
- Add a bit of the simmered cream to the egg mixture while whisking (this is known as tempering). If you add it too quickly you will cook the eggs.
- Once the cream and egg are combined, return them to the saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Whisk constantly to keep the mixture smooth. It will smell starchy at first and you’ll know it’s ready when the starchy flavor is gone and it’s thick, shiny and very sweet.
- Strain the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Straining will remove the chalaza (the little white part attached to the yolk which toughens during the cooking process. Add the vanilla. Voila.
We used 4 inch tart shells. Cook the shell for around 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees, or until it’s done. To make the strawberry tart, fill the shell halfway with pastry cream. Slice the strawberries in half and arrange them in the tart with the point facing upward. You want strawberries that are around the same size and you want to fill up as much space as possible so you don’t see much of the custard. Finish by generously brushing the strawberries with a hot apricot glaze.
If you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to writing my paper!email. You can also follow me via RSS, Facebook and Twitter.