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A Christmas Cliché and a new direction – Caramelized Pears and Brown Butter Pastry Cream Tart with Crème Fraîche re-imagined (pg.251)

So when I started this project, I didn’t want to change the design of the dishes and products Migoya gives us in The Modern Café.  A chef friend of mine rolled her eyes and told me to just make everything mine, go with my gut, blah blah inspirational blah.  I felt uncomfortable with this because:

– I can’t follow instructions to save my life.  I do.  I learn. I remember.  Copying, despite my culinary education, is not something I do well.  I wanted to make everything in this book essentially verbatim as a way of forcing myself to practice being the type of chef I would like to someday become.  Disciplined. Precise. Thorough. Technically sound.

– Is it really my place to stand here, with my little experience and knowledge, to mess around with a great chef’s hard work? I mean, where do I get off thinking I am better than him?

I worked through the recipes, trying to make them look like the photos, hoping they taste like what Migoya’s versions would taste like.  That was fine.  But now I’m bored.  This is not fun.  And considering how much time this takes, I would like it to be fun, because that’s the point of doing what you love.  Sure everything takes tedious work, and it isn’t all rainbows and balloons (if that’s what you think fun is), but if I can’t do whatever I want at my job, why be boxed in at home?

Here is my version of the Caramelized Pear and Brown Butter Pastry Cream Tart:

Not a tart.  More like… a Bûche de Noel.  Ooops.

When I worked at the bistro, I was excited to hear I would be making yule logs for dessert at lunch the week before Christmas.  Near the end of the week, when I was getting bored of making 24” yule logs and piping holly berries and leaves on every plate in chocolate, Chef told me he had a surprise for me.

“Guess what.  You get to make zee log for two more weeks! And we will serve with ze special holiday dinner! Hope you make enough sponge!”

Granted, had I been working at a bakery, I probably would have made yule logs for 2000 people, but adding 750 servings of yule log to the menu on top of the other desserts did not make my heart flutter.  Nor did making 1400 meringue mushrooms, lovingly brushed with cocoa for that naturalistic, Martha Stewart perfection, excite me in the least.  Somewhere over the three weeks of logs, the holly leaves on the plates went from three to two, and the mushrooms from two to one.

I chose to yule-log this tart because I love the idea of Gingerbread houses, but hate the waste.  The yule log allows for cheesy, ridiculous décor, as well as a completely satisfying dessert. That and this proves you can yule-log anything.

Brown Butter Diplomat mousse

126g Milk

30g Sugar

Sprinkling of salt

1/2 a Vanilla pod, scraped clean, 2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 tsp vanilla paste

4 eggs

20g Cornstarch

25g Browned Butter

100g Whipped cream, Chilled

Heat the milk with the vanilla pod (if not using one, add vanilla flavours at the end) and half your sugar.  Infuse for 20 minutes to maximize your vanilla flavour.  In a bowl large enough to whisk eggs and cornstarch, whisk up your eggs, sugar, and cornstarch until sugars are mostly dissolved. Reheat your milk to just a boil (be this is a tiny amount), temper your eggs, and whisk everything together in the pot and whisk like your life depends on it until the mixture is thick and boiling.  Remove from heat, drizzle in the cooled browned butter, and pour the custard immediately onto a sheet pan or plate lined with plastic wrap. Cover and chill.

If you have a couple of cornstarch lumpies here and there, don’t fret.  You can throw that pastry cream into a stand mixer and smooth the cream out, and if they are really problematic, and you have a stick blender, do what the Cuisiniers do, and emulsify those lumps into oblivion.  I won’t tell.

When your cream is cool and smoothed, fold in the whipped cream, and fill a 2” pvc pipe (lined with parchment — you can also use a paper towel roll like me), wrap in plastic and freeze overnight.

*While it would be safe to put a sheet of gelatin to stabilize the cream, I filled, rolled, decorated and served the log within a couple of hours, so I didn’t bother.  If I were selling this or had less control over the environment, gelatin is a good way to go.

Caramelized Pears

5 Pears, peeled

300 g sugar

1lt water, boiled

Caramelize the sugar dry — heat it in a heavy pot over medium-low heat until it browns.  Since you won’t be using the sugar save for watering it down, it isn’t a big deal if you stir it or not.  It will begin to brown unevenly, so stir it then.  Cook the caramel to your desired colour.  Everyone likes caramel made to different degrees, so I won’t give you a temperature.  If you aren’t sure how dark you like it, aim for lighter rather then dark.  Dark is good if you want less sweetness, a complex, bitter flavour, but too dark will leave you with an overly bitter, charred aftertaste, which some people love, but many people are repulsed by caramel that dark.  Remove from heat.

Add the water slowly.  It will spit and fizzle and if you burn yourself that is not my fault.  Heat the caramel water until all the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat and add your pears, then cover with a plate or tray until cool.

To prepare the pears, slice them in half, remove the small core and string with a spoon or melon baller, then chop into even, smaller than bite-size pieces.  Reserve, straining.  Scale out 150g poaching liquid and heat with 100g sugar for soaking.  I totally pan-fried these to dry them further and give them some maillard browning for added flavour.

Instead of Crème Fraîche Quenelles, I whipped 100g heavy cream with 100g Crème Fraîche and 50g of sugar to stiff peak and spread it on the Browned Butter rolled sponge, sprinkled the pears, and rolled the frozen cream baton while soaking the sponge with the caramel syrup.  Roll the naked log in plastic wrap or Parchment, tightening the roll as best you can with a long metal spatula or bench scraper.  Freeze until just solid, then cut the ends on a bias, using one or both pieces as cut branches.

Chocolate Buttercream

100g yolks

200g sugar

400g Butter, soft

100g melted chocolate

Cocoa

Make a Pâte a Bomb by whipping the yolks in a mixer on high while bringing the sugar and 10% water to 120 degrees Celsius.  Turn the mixer to medium and stream the sugar into the bowl along the side, avoiding the whisk or the sugar will just spray to the sides and leave a mess in your bowl instead of cooking your yolks.  When the sugar is all added, turn the mixer on high and run until the yolks are cooler then body temp, ideally the same temperature as your soft butter.  Turn the machine down to medium-high and add the butter in chunks.  The buttercream will appear to break, but keep running the machine and it will come together into a lovely light yellow cream.  Pour in the melted chocolate, and add cocoa to your liking.  I often add a flavourless black colouring to chocolate frosting when I’m making logs, but this is personal preference.

I frost my logs with a small palette knife.  Tradition dictates making the bark with the prongs of a fork, but that’s too 70’s ugly for my taste.  I like my logs looking like cedars.

I used almond paste to make the figures.  I won’t describe this process, as I am always learning how to sculpt with sugar paste or marzipan.  I can’t learn from sculpting books, only from trial and error.  Besides, everyone should go with their own style.  Mine did contain floral wire, but to maintain Elf authenticity, they were all different sizes, varying demeanors, and had their own stockings.   Tasty.

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