I suppose it’s been something like 2.47 months since my arrival in Calgary. I also suppose it’s clear how much I’ve accomplished by the number of posts I’ve made in that time.
I could talk about the flood, but I won’t. Maybe skim over it a bit, which seems somewhat lacking in compassion (something I’ve been accused of being, I deny but am rarely believed). It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I wasn’t especially effected. Never did I stare into the face of the disaster direct, rather perched on the hill patiently waiting for the streets to re-open and life to continue. I didn’t experience it the way the community members of Mission or Bowness experienced it, I don’t want to comment on their loss or struggle, to me it feels too akin to yellow journalism. However following the events via my twitter account allowed me access of sorts to the thousands of grand deeds done across the city. It warmed my Grinchy heart.
The Stampede ended today, the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth that took place only two weeks after the grounds were flooded. An enormous effort was made in order to, Hell or High Water, allow the show to go on. While I only caught a glimpse of the barrelling chuckwagons and was only exposed to the less savoury side of the event in the Agriculture centre (I’m sorry, I may have resumed the omnivores lifestyle but it still pains me to see animals tied on short leads or behind bars), the carnival aspect was pretty amazing. I mean, I’ve never before had the opportunity to dress as a Cowgirl AND consider the reprocussions of consuming deep fried butter.
Aside from midways and floodplains, I work and am tired. Maybe it’s the altitude I need to adjust to, or perhaps I’m just plain old, but man am I tired all the time. I worry it is also that I remain technically homeless; I fantasize about drinking coffee and writing this blog at my own kitchen table or on a balcony, but this remain elusive. I don’t even live near a coffee shop or library, hence why I never blab here anymore. But work is great. It’s not perfect, no kitchen is without it’s follies, good chefs become so in their handling of missteps.
Awesome aspect #1 – The only element of the pastry world I don’t do is showpieces. I make bread, design dishes, make petit fours or chocolates daily, and I have the opportunity to do fine dining for evening service and more whimsical stuff for the rotating lunchtime menu. I actually have access the the best of most of the pastry world (though, no ice cream maker is a bit of a shame).
Awesome aspect #2 – It’s a fusion place. Chef says something like “I’m ordering spices if there is anything cool you want to order” and I’m like “*crickets*” because I’m pretty white and I went to a French school and those two things don’t make for a spice-heavy environment. Everyone at work throw around words like Ponzu and Gochujang with ease while I smile and nod. I can’t pretend to feel anything but jealously that the cuisiniers have a world of complex condiments and exotic veg to work with and I have…butter, flour, eggs, and cream.
It feels a bit lame, but working in this kind of environment, where I have the freedom to challenge myself to come up with something different almost daily, surrounded by all this amazing food I’ve either never heard of or experienced only as a treat, I have fallen into this weird world I like to think of as Kurosawabrain.
Akira Kurosawa made fusion films. He took a western (quite literally, cowboys is what I mean by western) story structure and inserted Japanese characters. The hero was often a lone Samurai, played by who I assume became his muse Toshiro Mifune. Many of his films were either remade as westerns or heavily influenced famous works (I’m looking at you, George Lucas).
Given that I’m in Calgary, what was once considered Canada’s Western Frontier, the place where the Mounted Police were created in order to bring law to our polite Wild West, and I’m working in a restaurant that is heavily influenced by eastern food, Kurosawabrain seems an apt description of my present creative drive.
Admittedly, I don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to fusion desserts. I assumed it was safe to just add yuzu to, say, a creme brulee recipe. But after 5 test batches with that pithy flavour still the remnant on the tongue, I chucked it. The repeat with matcha times two. I was struggling, so I actually googled the idea, hoping perhaps that WikiHow would give me a step-by-step guide to the art of fusing two cuisines without it feeling forced.
I’d love to say that the moral of this blog is the answer to the “how do I fusion” question, along with an awesome recipe for a sweet that embodies the idea of east-meets-west. This is not the case. I think all one can do is experiment, learn about ingredients and cooking techniques that are presently unfamiliar, and prepare for nose crinkling.
Eddy Van Damme is the shit, and his blog is beautiful, concise, and spot on. I stole his idea for a Green Tea Opera Cake and served it as a petit four, a bite sized treat at the end of the meal.
The origins of Opera cake are not clear, but no one can be certain where a lot of traditional food truly originated. It was invented in Paris, between the Belle Epoque and the middle of the century. In school I was taught that Buttercream was invented after WW2 when butter rationing ended. This supports Dallayou, a patisserie in Paris, who claim it was created in honour of an Opera House ballerina in 1955. Regardless of whether this is correct, a part of me is more interested in upholding the lore passed down to me from a MOF over what I’d find on google.
The Opera is my favourite of all pastries (aside from the Croissant, but they aren’t catagorized the same in my mind as croissants are almost savoury to me). While chocolate desserts aren’t usually my thing, the fact that the cake is soaked in coffee syrup and layered with coffee buttercream gives the chocolate’s presence acceptable.
Here is my recipe, from school as it’s the only one I’ve ever trusted, but made with a nut-free sponge (gasp!!) as I’m no longer in the old country and people have nut allergies over here. The sponge is just a ladyfinger recipe. The buttercream is just regular old French buttercream. It’s just a normal ganache, and the glaze is just chocolate and butter. These are versatile recipes and it’s not complicated to make. And it has the ability to blow minds because a lot of people haven’t heard of it.
GREEN TEA OPERA
Green Tea Syrup
3 bags good-quality green tea
Zest of half a lemon.
Heat water and sugar until sugar has dissolved. I’m no green tea expert, so I just let the syrup cool to around 80C before adding the tea. I let it steep for 6 minutes. Allow to cool fully before imbibing sponge. Don’t forget to strain it.
Place you butter in a small sauce pot and melt. Set aside. Place whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and have the 60g of sugar ready to add while they whip up. Get a piece of parchment on a baking tray and have an offset spatula to spread the mix.
Whip the white to medium peak, adding the sugar along the way. Whisk the sugar into the yolks until dissolved. Pour a third over the whites and fold in, then fold in a third of the flour. Continue alternating thirds until it has all been incorporated. Remove a portion of the batter and stir into the melted butter until combined, then fold this into the fluffy batter. Pour onto the baking tray and spread thinly. It will rise fairly well, and you want the sponge to be about a 1/4″ think when baked. Bake at 380F for 6 minutes. Allow to cool.
French Buttercream with Matcha
180g Butter, soft but not warm.
5g Matcha Powder
Whip the yolks on med-high in a stand mixer. Place 50g water in a sauce pot, then the sugar. Bring to a boil. Using a thermometer or, if you’re adventurous, using a bowl of ice water and your fingertips, wait until the bubbles start to slow from their quick boil — the sugar at this point is thick and likely around 120C, which is when you pour it down the side of the mixing bowl (as the mixer is running, avoid pouring into the whip), then when it’s all in there, turn the mixer up to high until the bottom of the bowl is body temp. Start throwing in cubes of butter, stopping to scrape down the sides occasionally. The mixture will begin to curdle just before it is done, let it go further to combine fully.
Add matcha to 2 tsp water in a small bowl, stir until it is dissolved, then pour over the mixing buttercream. You can obviously adjust to taste.
250g Chopped dark chocolate (min 51%)
Bring cream to a simmer, pour over chocolate, allow to sit one minute, whisk from the centre outwards until homogeonous. If there are bits of chocolate, just pop it on a water bath to melt them down, just don’t bring the ganache over 32C or over-stir it.
140g Chopped dark chocolate
With both chocolate and butter in a bowl, place over a water bath on low heat. Stir when melted and keep at 35-37C.
Measure your sponge and, keeping the sponge on the parchment (!) divide into 3 even pieces (after you’ve given the ends a clean trim). The cake is traditionally like 10″ square (I think, I don’t have my notes on me) and like 1 1/2″ high. I try to keep my height correct but make it rectangular because I generally cut it up into tiny pieces.
Melt down a bit of chocolate, not a lot, just enough to thinly cover the surface of one of your sponge pieces. Place this in the fridge to set while you start soaking your other sponge with syrup. This stage is important: Soak the shit out of your sponge! Like, you should use up every last bit of your syrup by the end. Be sure to soak the three sponges well before you start to build. You’ll keep soaking as you go, but soaking is the whole point of the Opera. The only reason this little unassuming perfect creation just dissolves in your mouth the way no other cake has or will is due to the soaking process.
The chocolate side of the sponge should be touching the cutting board or whatever you are building your cake on. After that piece is evenly soaked through, spread a layer of buttercream evenly. The aim is to make it no thicker and no thinner than the cake, a goal that is difficult to achieve (I still squeel when I manage it). Take your next piece of sponge and flip it soaked side down onto the buttercream. Press with a baking sheet to level. Carefully peel back the parchment then soak this layer well.
At this stage your ganache should be thick but not close to set (be careful, it will set if your kitchen is cool). Runny is a good description. Pour the ganache on a spread to even it, again to the same thickness as the sponge. Don’t worry if it runs all over! The beauty of the Opera is that it’s a mess until it’s trimmed and it has so many delicious off-cuts.
If the ganache is too soft, pop it in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before adding the next layer. Again, flip it so it is soaked side down. Then soak with the rest of the syrup. Spread your final layer of buttercream, be sure it is even as this will determine the final look of the cake, then chill until the buttercream has set.
Armed with your glaze and your long off-set spatula, pour the glaze over the top of the cake. Smooth it twice only, once in each direction. Let it set in the fridge. Once set, remove and grab an incredibly sharp knife or a pastry knife (looks like a bread knife), a jug of hot water and some tea towels. The knife must be hot and dry for every cut.
Place the tip of the hot knife onto your board on the side of the cake opposite you. You want to trim the edges so they are clean and straight. Keeping the angle of the knife, pull it slowly towards you. Don’t cut down into the cake or the layers will smear and your montage (the layered look of the cake) will be ruined. Proceed this way until it is trimmed. Your knife should show the layers of the cake (below).
If you are cutting the portions in advance, continue to cut this way. If you, try your hand at the traditional piped design on the top. Just be sure to get the accent right.
This cake is amazing to freeze and serve later. It also lasts up to 7 days in the fridge so long as it’s wrapped well.