A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering…Fail? Peanut butter mousse, milk chocolate chantilly, chocolate cake, blahblahblah (pg. whatever)

It’s been a while.

I went to Europe. It was not what I thought it would be. Well, Europe hasn’t changed much since my last visit, so that’s not what I mean. A friend who works at a hotel in central London arranged a short stage for me during my visit.

For readers uncertain of what a stage is (pronounced with a long a), it is basically an internship. The noun is Stagiair (with an e in the feminin, and strangely enough it’s anagram is agiterais – to agitate, which some stagiairs do with flair) and they are how the world’s finest restaurants a) train amazing chefs and b) stay in business.  Places that hold two or more Michelin stars, and especially those ranked on San Pellegrino’s list of the 100 best restaurants in the world take advantage (and so they should) of the eager young chefs happy to crack hundreds of eggs, trim micro greens, and sweep for free. For some (if not all) of the top 25 restaurants, half to three quarters of the kitchen staff are on a highly-coveted stage.

I don’t think it is as glamorous as it sounds; I myself have only had this one experience, though I’ve had a couple of stagiairs work under me, so I cannot speak for those fortunate Chefs who have gone through the system*, but this stage felt just like being back at the bistro. Which was…relieving considering I had quit because I thought I was a failface at my job. Okay. This is what it is like. Deal.

I guess I made some kind of impression. Mostly I think I was very comfortable and got on very well with the boys in the kitchen (boys! I miss working with boys!), but I didn’t really fuck anything up so I suppose my abilities played a role as well. They offered me a job.

So, now I move to London? I guess so. Which also means this blog is going to…change. Question mark.

Tonight I was speaking to the Pastry Chef who I will be joining and she exclaims how exciting it is that we now have a Commis.

Note: a Commis is the lowest level position in the French kitchen brigade system. Everyone starts out a Commis. Sadface. 

Okay, that’s great! Olymics are going to murder us, so we have someone to make tuiles! (First pastry commis chore, always). Except this commis worked at… A resto I shant name but is owned by one of the best chefs in the UK and who also happens to be one of my favourites, despite my never having eaten anything he has created. Oh, and his last Chef de Partie (my new position to be shared with my fantabulous pastry cohort) worked at…El Bulli. Because the fact is that like Kevin Bacon, all culinary roads lead back to that magical place in Catalonia.


When one of my PhD friends began Masters, the school forced them to sit in a seminar devoted solely to convincing them they were not frauds, that they all worked hard and had the knowledge to be there. At the end of the class he, much like everyone else I assume, left thinking, “well, no one else is a fraud, but how long will it take them to realize I am?!”

I am Jack’s insecurity as well as his mildly hyperventillating lungs.

Below is the original post I wrote last week when I created this disaster. I had not given my notice at the time, so I wasn’t interested in plastering the interwebs with my plans. This is an excellent example of HOW I AM A FRAUD. Or insane. Whatevs.

This is the first thing I have made since my return.

You may note there is no photographic evidence.

This is because I suck at making cakes.

Erp, maybe only a bit. I can make North American style cakes, which I loath, because it doesn’t require a lot of thought to pipe some scallops around the edges and plunk a rose on top. Hello Costco.

French style cakes require a panache I do not have.

I can make chocolate decor.

I can make macarons (err, most of the time).

I can spray things (including the floor, the table, the radiator) with chocolate.

I can pour glaze on stuff.

But I can’t for the life of me put it all together and not have it look gaudy.

This is why I don’t work in a bakery. Or rather this is possibly why I SHOULD work in a bakery.

Given that Migoya has a selection of “lost cakes” (cakes that are listed but photos were left on the cutting room floor), and this happens to be one of those cakes, I am not posting photos because I didnt take any.

Instead I decorated the cake, crinkled my nose, smooshed it gleefully with a palette knife and scraped it into the trash.**

I really, really hate making cakes.

Now I’m going to gym really hard and think about how much I hate cakes.

Oh, and here is a photo of said cake prepared in a tasting menu style plating. Some guy on Facebook said it looked like a skinned cock and balls. His complaint (aside from the supposed phallus, I still don’t see it) was that it should be bigger and that I make food not arts and crafts. Come on. This isn’t a crochet Jesus fish, it’s a quenelle and some joconde and peanut brittle. And this isn’t innovative or novel in my profession. I’m not growing a jacket out of live mouse fur and calling it art. I attended a Culinary Arts Institute! My clever response of course was “That’s what she said.” I think I’m ready to go back to a kitchen full of boys.

* I was desperately hoping to find some culinary geek had created a flow chart or tree that maps the chefs who have travelled down from El Bulli and/or The French Laundry to end at their own top-ranked resto (ie. Grant Achatz) but alas my search was fruitless.

** For those of you concerned with my seemingly lack of respect for the many food products involved in the preparation of this cake, in my defense it was only 4″ in diameter. I would never discard a full sized cake so non-chalantly. Rather I’d scoop it into a bowl and serve that way.

A Childhood Dream Revisited — the BFG V2.0 (pg.143)

As a child, every time cake was mentioned (usually during a conversation about what to have for special occasion X), I would pipe in


and my mom would reply kinda like

ew. No.

So then I’d probably make a face and cross my arms and pout about how dumb it was to not want anything called Black Forest Cake.

I mean really, to a child (and especially a twisted one), the words BLACK and FOREST together conjured up the most wonderful images, specifically involving shrubs and trees alike, all black, and probably some roving ROUSes (rodents of unusual size). I didn’t care about the chocolate or the cherries. I likely neglected to notice the presence of whipped cream. All I wanted was a cake. From a forest absent of colour. I also really liked to order the ham, but this post isn’t about swine.

The Black Forest Gâteau was invented in the 16th Century in the Black Forest region of Germany. The area abounds with sour cherries, and the locals distill the cherries into a clear brandy they call Kirschwasser. The cake itself is traditionally a lot like this:

So exciting!

In school I was stoked to make this cake, because man oh man did I want to show my parents how tasty this thing could be. This is what I made:

Now that I am a grown-up and I know there are no forests made of coal, no ROUSes, that Get Smart was really racist, I understand that BFG isn’t all its name is cracked up to be, that it’s pretty boring and too often made with Maraschino cherries, waxy chocolate, and whipped topping.

Wait, I forgot!

Why do I keep calling the Black Forest Cake a BFG?

Technically, it is a Gâteau. Sure it’s a French term, but the French have their ways for a reason; although the English to French translation of cake becomes gâteau, which the English use liberally and without purpose, there is more to it. The French use the word cake. Weird, eh? I didn’t see that coming either. A cake is, well, cake, but gâteau is cake with flair, gusto, joie de vivre!

Let’s look at a drawing, since I kind of like those:

My favourite Chef from school summed it up much more simply than that drawing: A cake goes on the counter, a gâteau goes in the fridge. Because a Black Forest cake is smothered in whipped cream, it is really a gâteau, as some very unpleasant things happen to whipping cream when left on the counter.

However, I will note that this particular version is more of an Entremet.

Maybe I’ll bore you with the definition of an Entremet another time?


Devil’s Food Cake

Chocolate Mousse

Vanilla Chantilly Cream (whipped cream with a touch of sugar and vanilla)

Cherry Compote

Start by baking a chocolate cake. I know this sounds Sandra Lee instructions, but I still haven’t found one I like, so until I do you’re on your own. The closest I ever managed was a gluten-free/vegan cupcake I doctored that actually made me happy. I find the recipe for Devil’s food suggested is…boring. I’ve tried it now four times, and have been disappointed each time. I also find it is very easy to overmix, as I have overmixed the batters 50% of the time.

The Mousse though, is fucking lovely. I recommend it for most of your special occasions.

Dark Chocolate Mousse pg. 147

200g Eggs

58g Sugar

250g Chopped Dark Chocolate (64%)

Heavy Cream, whipped Medium peaks and chilled

Prepare a Bain Marie for sabayon – Whisk eggs and sugar over double boiler until 60 degrees Celsius (140F). Whip by hand or in a mixer until 35C and ribbony. Melt chocolate over hot water bath or in microwave and cool to 35C. Strain the eggs over the chocolate and whisk until homogeneous (will be thick). Start by folding half the cream into the chocolate mix, then incorporate the rest. Fill piping bag with mousse.

With the cherries, I picked up a compote of Montmorency Cherries, loosened it over heat by adding half a cup of water and some lemon juice to cut the sweetness, along with a couple glugs of Heerings Cherry Liqueur.

The vanilla chantilly is as mentioned above, slightly sweetened whipped cream with vanilla, spread on a saran lined tray, frozen, and trimmed to the size of the cake layers.  I used some left-over mousse and cream to create mounds for my forest landscape, then froze it overnight.

I finished it all up with my fav, the chocolate spray-gun, chocolate trees, and cause it’s Valentine’s Day (okay, no, because I needed some colour and visual excitement), teeny gold hearts and red sugar flakes.

I like the landscape look — I’ve been ruminating over this for many years, but this is my first execution. I think I’ll work on it some more. This isn’t perfect, but it is a good start.

Here I threw together a plated version, cheese-y tree and all. I left it “deconstructed” despite my hatred for that cliché term, only because I had to use this bowl for something. And quite frankly, often desserts must be designed around the dish available to serve it on. Oh well.

14. Pie vs. Tart… Dark Chocolate Ganache and Salted Caramel Tart (pg. 261)

I wasn’t going to make anything for the blog this weekend because I posted my “this is why pastry chefs cry” rant, and because I decided to sandwich mint chocolate ice cream between macarons, which is never a bad idea.

But then I was thinking about pies, which led me to tarts, so I flipped through the book and found the Dark Chocolate Ganache and Salted Caramel Tart.  In it’s most basic form (which is not how it is presented in publication, but that’s not the point), this is super basic and totally delicious.  And if you bake frequently, you probably have all the ingredients for this in your cupboard.

So I decided to make this simple, elegant tart as a calorically dense high-five for my pie-a-versary.  This week, I will have made 5000 pies.  I dunno how you feel about pie, but I think that is a lot of pie.

I’ve often shown up at events, tart in hand, and people have said things like “Wow, that’s a great pie!”

And I smile and nod and try not to grit through my teeth in a completely rude way “Thanks,” smile, “it’s a tart.” Keep smiling. SMILING.

So what’s the difference?

In the most basic way, a pie is made in a pie dish — it has sides that are probably at 45 degrees and range between 2 and 5 inches.  Sometimes they have tops (double crust) or lattice work.  Their dough is often crimped along the edge by hand (using the thumb and forefingers), sometimes they are crimped with a fork, or a twisted braid, or edged with dough cut into shapes like leaves.  They are usually filled with a fruit, sugar, and cornstarch, but can have cream or custard fillings.  They are more often than not described as “rustic” with their flaky pastry and are very, intensely American.

Everything about a tart is more refined, reduced.  The sides are often short, only 1 or 2 inches, either 75 or 90 degree angles.  Rarely is the rich filling baked in a tart, unless it is lined with almond cream, which is used mostly to keep the cream filling from soggifying the crust or is a baked custard enrobing thinly sliced and perfectly lined up apples or pears.  If the sides are fluted, it’s usually because it was made in a fluted tart tin — not fluting by hand (and using a shortcrust, which is more like a butter cookie with little flake) keeps the crusts clean and perfect.  If there are berries, they are more often fresh and given a sheen of neutral glaze.  Tarts never have tops.


In December I was going to give a class on making ice cream.  But then the lovely ladies running the program suggested that perhaps the class size would be hindered due to it being…December.  Well.  I can’t say I consume a great deal of ice cream, but if it’s offered to me in December I’m just as likely to accept as in July.  In fact, maybe more so.  I don’t care for melted ice cream.  If I did, I’d just drink crème anglaise.  Anyway, I’m now doing it in July.  This is not something I can do in July:

The only time you will ever hear me cheering about -20 temperatures is when I want to make two batches of ice cream in a twelve hour period.  My freezer cannot accommodate such volume.  My balcony is the only reason my ice cream production spikes December through March.

Since my new rules for this project dictate I need only technically make a recipe once, and not over and over again as many times as various recipes appear throughout the book, I am declaring right now that, unless I feel it incredibly necessary for some kind of structural integrity, I am not making Crème Fraîche quenelles again.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike them.  I very much dislike either taking four days to make crème fraîche or buying a tub of it.  The stuff will turn before I can use it for another recipe (I can only photograph on the weekend due to my work hours and a north-facing apartment), and then I slowly melt into the Sneaky Hate Spiral no one wants to witness.

For years I’ve been drooling over a book written by Frédéric Bau called Au Coeur des Saveurs.  It is out of print.  For some reason I haven’t minded throwing down a couple hundred for other books, but this one I’ve always put off even though I have it on very good interweb researching authority that it is most excellent.  Maybe I don’t want to believe that plated desserts is my thing.  Everyone has one, and in pastry you develop a strength in one of four things: Cakes, Confections, Plated Desserts, or Viennoiserie.  Cakes I can do well, desserts I <3.  Keep in mind I make pie for moneys, not dessert.

Blahblahblah. Anyway, he edited a new book cause now he’s the big toque at Valrhona’s Grande École. And this ice cream is in it.  I thought there was nothing it could be more suited for but this tart.

Cocoa Nib Ice Cream – Adapted from Cooking with Chocolate

400g Milk

225g Cream

2 Yolks

90g Sugar

2 tsp Honey

85g Cocoa Nibs

Toast nibs in 300 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Bring dairy and honey to boil, temper blanchired sugar and yolks, cook to 84 degrees, add nibs and give ‘er a good stir, transfer to a bowl and cool down over ice, on your balcony in -20, or lacking those pour into a large cake pan and stick it in your freezer.  Mature overnight in fridge.  Strain. Churn. I threw about 20g of nibs back into the ice cream.  NOMNOMNOM. Makes a little over a pint.

No wait! Don’t eat it.  Make something nice for it.  The bitter, smokey flavour of the cocoa nibs needs nice things:

I used a GF version of Valrhona’s Almond Shortcrust.  At the bistro I had to make hundreds of individual tarts.  The sucrée dough was easy to work with speed-wise, but very finicky when it came to baking.  Underbaked meant the sides would collapse or absorb too much curd or mousse, baked as you would a full sized tart and you couldn’t cut through them with a fork (so embarrassing), so just ever so slightly underbaked was perfect. When you’re baking in a demo room or in the basement because your oven is full of drying pancetta, this was difficult to achieve.  I am still ashamed of some of the tart shells I sent out.  This almond shortcrust is phenomenal — I ate the tart with my preferred dessert utensil (spoon) without issue.  It’s a pain to fonçage, but totally worth the effort.

Valrhona’s Almond Shortcrust (GF) — This recipe is practically identical to that in MC

120g soft butter

1 egg

90g icing sugar

15g Almond Flour (toast first for deeper flavour)

60g sweet white sorghum flour (or pastry flour)

15g potato starch / 15g potato flour / 150g brown rice flour (or 180g pastry flour)

Combine all but the second scaling of flour, the add flour in two additions until just mixed.  Roll between saran wrap or acetate (don’t use parchment! I tried, it sticks like crazy) and chill for 30 min.  Dough should be cool but pliable.

The only adjustment I made to the ganache (which is 42% chocolate, 53% cream, 5% butter) was to add 2 tbsp of Honey and 3/4 tbsp Espresso Powder to the cream.  Awesome.  Lick the bowl awesome, and I don’t generally do that.  It turned out well.  I think this would be a hit with all the customers I don’t have (my cafè friends will be over the moon methinks), but this ice cream is perhaps better then the time I churned a bunch of left over crème brulée.  And you know how much I like  to eat burned things.

I finished it off with the gorgeous Coffee Bean Brittle à la BraveTart, cause I think I’m in love with her blog.

Random ice cream macwich!

A Classic: Mont Blanc (pg 177)

I chose this dessert for several reasons:

  • it is single serving – plating time!
  • it is a classic
  • it is very bizarre looking, and I’ve been a bit obsessed with making it (aesthetic reasons only)

I had reservations about this dessert because:

  • I hates chestnut.
  • no but seriously, they are gross.
  • I don’t get why people like chestnut.

What’s a Mont Blanc, anyway?

Apparently invented by Austrian Antoine Rumpelmeyer, Pastry Chef at Angelina (1903) in Paris, where they continue to serve his original recipe of chantilly, meringue, and sweetened chestnut paste.

When I started working at the café, we sold chestnut paste in a tube.  People would come in and swoon over it, recalling delicious childhood memories of chestnut paste and whipping cream.  I was horrified.  The idea of squirting brown paste from a tube onto a plate and covering with with whipped cream sounded frivolous, undelicious, and the image it conjured in my brain was ugly.

Then I saw rows of what looked like edible balls of yarn in a book on Parisian pastry, and low and behold, they were the “delicacy” I had always feared. Here it is…

I made the following changes:

  • no sablée, mostly because I didn’t feel like it, though I would have done it if I had more time
  • no crème fraîche, I used plain old boring whipped cream instead
  • I whipped the store bought sweetened vanilla chestnut paste with butter because, again, I was admittedly trying to play down the whole chestnut thing
  • I used cara cara oranges and glacé orange to give it another dimension – I mean, Migoya’s addition of milk chocolate is great, but I wanted some citrus in there to cut the sweetness
  • I made it straight-up traditional-like.  Migoya’s instructions on how to assemble this was too much for my brain and my tiny kitchen and I have other things to do on my weekends then try to make weird cakes I can hardly conceptualize.  And besides, the traditional way looks like a mound of sweet, brown spaghetti.

Chestnut Financier (pg. 178)

200g Sugar

80g Almond Flour

80g Cake (or Brown Rice) Flour

3g Baking Powder

122g Browned Butter

200g Egg Whites

6 Roasted Chestnuts, peeled and chopped

30g Glacé Orange bits

Preheat: 345 Celsius

Brown butter, cool.  Combine dry thoroughly. Stir in whites, then drizzle in butter (this recipe is small, so by hand is fine, but is easier in a stand mixer).  Pour batter onto 9×13” sheet pan lined with parchment and spread evenly.  This will bake up to about half an inch.  Sprinkle with chestnuts and orange.  Bake until done (about five minutes after you smell the chestnut).


80g Egg Whites

80g Sugar

80g Icing sugar

Orange zest


Whip whites, adding sugar after they’ve frothed if you wanna go old-school text-book style, or just dump the sugar in and do some other stuff while your whites whip.  They aren’t a baby, they don’t need you to mother them.  Once they are medium peak, add the icing sugar, then turn them on high for the final 30 seconds.  Fold in orange zest.  With a 6mm piping tip (or one that’s medium sized) pipe 2” discs.  Dry in a 150 degree oven until completely dry. Probably 3 hours, but maybe more.

Milk Chocolate Mousse (variation of recipe on pg.179)

200g Milk

275g Milk Chocolate

95g Dark Chocolate

5g Gelatin (used Knox) bloomed

520g Cream

Whip all but 75g cream to medium and reserve chilled (I whipped an extra 60g and set that aside to replace the Crème Fraîche chantilly at the same time).  Be sure to chop chocolate finely.  Bring milk to a boil.  Pour over chocolate and stir until completely melted.  Allow to cool to 30 degrees C.  Take 75g of cream and heat, add gelatin be sure it dissolves.  Add to chocolate.  Fold chocolate into Cream.

Have some kind of mold ready.  I used an aluminum demi-sphere.  I like this because it fits in my freezer, is easy to unmold the perfect half-spheres it forms, and doesn’t require cumbersome trays like silicone molds do. Also, super easy to clean.

Fill half the mold, and pull the mousse up the sides with a palette knife so you don’t have any embarrassing air pockets.  Chill for 15 minutes in freezer.  Place a meringue guy in there, then pipe on some of that saved whipped cream.  Chill 15 minutes if you are a stickler for perfection, or just throw that chocolate mousse on there, top with your rounds of financier, and wipe the sides clean.  Freeze at least 3 hours before unmolding.

How do I unmold frozen delicious from aluminum molds, you ask? One of these:

This is one of my top 5 pastry tools.  It burns sugar.  It frees cakes and ice creams from rings and pans.  It has an ergonomic handle and auto-starter with pressure control so you don’t have to stop and adjust the gas half-way through burning things or search for a lighter a server never gave back during your smoke-break.  We had plain old boring propane canisters with burner attachments at the bistro when I first started and it would take 2 minutes to burn a crème brulée.  That means it would take over an hour to do a banquet of just 60 people (longer because of the time it would take to adjust the flame based on the amount of gas in the canister or re-lights).  Then, one day, after discovering during service the night before that the school’s instructors or students had stolen all of my full propane tanks and replaced them with one sad, barely hissing, eggy-smelling so-empty-it-wouldn’t-light tank, Chef came in with the BERNZ-O-MATIC and my life was altered forever.  This baby burns a crème brulée in 30 seconds.  SECONDS. I became a brulée champion.  Buy one, love it like your first born.


Chestnut Paste

This was the part I loathed.  This can goop is so sweet and so confusing in flavour.  I threw it in the stand mixer with some soft butter (3:1 ratio, less butter if you like chestnuts) and whipped it smooth.  I can’t take credit for this, Lenôtre does it this way, so it can’t be wrong.

I piped it.  A poor showing on my first try, but such is life.  I froze it.


Spray Station Action!

I found, in a health food store of all places, this white chocolate that had the whitest colouring added to it, it looks like a block of white-out.  Of course, I had to purchase such an unnatural beast because I refuse to order white chocolate-dye online.  My reason being only that I am stubborn.  I dislike the idea of consuming this product in mass quantities, so I am to use it solely for spraying shit with the chocolate paint gun.  Again, 34 degrees seems about right for this, unless you want a shiny, even coat, and then the recommended 38 degrees is good.  Ratio is 1:1 scary white chocolate and cocoa butter.

So here we have it.  I plated it on slate cause, well, it’s cool, and cause the Mont Blanc is a sugary ode to the snowy Alps. Or something.  Over on the right there is some powdered orange meringue business, the bottom we have some glacé orange and supreme Cara Caras in it’s juice — a reduction infused with roasted chestnut shells and a drip or two of spiced Canadian Whisky. The orange reduction, admittedly, was my favourite part of this dessert.

All I can say is the mousse needed some more ooomph, which I adjusted in the recipe with the dark chocolate addition, and though the financier was very good on its own, it was lost in the beige of the Mont Blanc.  If I made this again, which is doubtful, I’d soak that financier up with that tasty reduction situation.

If I eat one of these in Paris next month, I’ll admit if it enlightens me to the way of the chestnut lovers.


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


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.

…10. Superheroes, Science, and Megan vs. Chocolate – Chocolates part the first (of many, number unknown)

Apparently, WordPress gives you a Gold Star for your 10th post.  That suits this post nicely.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a Gougères situation.  Gougères are basically cheesey puffs filled with more cheese.  Delicious.  Anyway, I thought the gougères production was going badly (which is ridiculous and paranoid) so I didn’t go to my friend’s party because I thought they were fucked up.  They weren’t, but I figured that out after I decided to wrap myself in a blanket and never leave the house again.

I relayed this story to my shrink, not thinking this was a big deal, just annoying cause my friend boycotted me for a week.  She referred to it as an “incident” and asked what I could do in the future to keep myself from getting into such a negative head-space when I make pastries that aren’t up to my standards (perfect in every way).

This is what came to my mind:

Stain Boy, but with an Eclair on his chest with a big P for PASTRY!

I’ve always been a fan of superheroes — my first crush ever was on Batman, because, well, he’s BATMAN.  And when you work in kitchens it isn’t a bizarre thing to see someone you work with walking around on his or her break with an apron around their neck all cape-like.

So I says to her I says: I could get a cape.

I COULD GET A CAPE? That’s so stupid.  That wasn’t what I meant, I was just trying to visualize myself being totally awesome.

When she gained control over her laughter, she said “I don’t know what that means, but as long as it works for you.”

I could tell she wasn’t ever a comic book girl, so I half-heartedly attempted to reason why wearing a cape could help anything, but to no avail.  Oh well.  I did, however, think of Stain Boy when I made these chocolates and avoided having my head explode when I remembered that making chocolate is stupid messy if you are me and you only make them sometimes.

And so we come to today’s adventure:

Chocolate is my nemesis.

Or perhaps I am the nemesis of Chocolate.  I think it knows that I eat it out of instinct rather than logic.

So while Chocolate and I get along in many areas (my stomach, for one), when it comes to tempering it, I fail.  Almost always, multiple times until I eventually get it but by then I hate Chocolate more than most things.  When I was in school, in a safe environment with plenty of marbled surfaces and somewhat climate-controlled room, I could do it.  I was fast, the chocolate was smooth, had a snap, I was proud.

Then I graduated.  And it was as though the chocolate gave me the middle finger and then assed my car, starting this feud.  I had to make chocolate occasionally when I was at the bistro.  Nightmare.  I worked with it at home on the tiniest marble in the world. Disaster.  My mother found me in the kitchen, 4am on Christmas day, trying to temper chocolate, JUST BECAUSE.  I had nothing specific I wanted to do with it, I just felt compelled and couldn’t sleep until I did it.

Why then, do you wonder, did I decide to make bon bons for Christmas this year? I guess I’m a masochist.

The tempering technique described by Chef Eddy van Damme was recommended to me by a friend of mine who pastry chefs in London.  She finished school a year or so ahead of me and had always complained about tempering not being her strong suit, so I decided to trust this guy.  His blog is really great, even if he is a handsome celebrity — I rarely trust the good-looking or the famous.

There are different ways of tempering chocolate.  Wait, do I need to explain the tempering process?

This is for children.  Don’t be offended if this reads like it’s been dumbed-down.  I’m not a scientist so I refuse to get all uber technical on my blog.  This blog is about me having fun, and science is only fun when unicorns are involved. Also, I should say this is a blatant rip-off of the Callebaut video we were shown in school to explain said chocolate science (C.S.).  I was relieved to have already read a book on C.S. and thus didn’t need to pretend to know what those pointy things were doing and why there were so mad.

To explain briefly:

There are 6 types of chocolate crystals, and they form one after the other.  The temperatures are when the crystals melt. If you start with a beautifully tempered chocolate bar, you must only melt it to 31 degrees Celsius and go about your business. Why? Because level 5s (which I call Happy Crystals) are the only crystals that can form level 6 crystals (the AMAZING Crystals) which make chocolate durable, smooth, and shiny.  If your chocolate is not tempered from the beginning, melt it to 50 degrees to get rid of all those nasty crystals, then cool it to form level 4 and level 5 crystals (29 degrees), then melt it to 32 degrees so all that’s left are the Happys, which, when they set, will become the Amazings.


Tabling – to portion some heated chocolate onto a marble to cool it through agitation, usually to 21-25 degrees then combined with hot chocolate to achieve 32 degrees.  Takes time to learn, makes a kind of a mess, but looks super flashy. This is what they make you do in school, so, you know, when you’re working in a Chocolaterie and the power goes out, you can temper the chocolate without a machine.  Some shops make people do this all day for flare.  It’s like visiting the most fattening zoo ever.

Seeding – Adding tempered chocolate (set) to melted chocolate to lower temperature and encourage Happy crystals.  Sucks cause not all the chocolate melts and so you’re left with chunkies floating around, unless you use a giant block, but who can afford that?  Not this guy.

Incomplete Melting – As vaguely described above, gotta start out with tempered chocolate though.  Good luck finding that in bulk.

Thinning – THIS IS THE ONE.  Melt.  Cool to 35 degrees through agitation.  Add 1% grated cocoa butter.  Agitate to 31 degrees.  What do ya know? You’ve got tempered chocolate that didn’t make a mess and didn’t cost you  your first born. A+.

So with that I proceeded to make a huge mess, because well, I relate to stain boy on many levels.  And above is what happens when you cool your apartment to 16 degrees instead of the more appropriate 19 degrees while chocolatering.

Accomplished are:

Nutmeg Truffles pg. 465 – delicious.  Tempering not so necessary as truffles are rolled in cocoa to set, but I do it because it’s good technique.

Lemon Ganache with Popping Candy pg. 455 – silicone moldies.  Delicious but had air bubbles.

Maldon Sea Chocolates pg. 467 – Molded centres in demi-spheres then hand-dipped, finishing with fleur-de-sel. To be honest, I’d rather eat some of that awesome Lindt Fleur-de-sel.  That stuff is crack.

I will say this – the only molds I have are ones that I picked up from the school for a super deal because they were getting rid of them.  They are ugly and look like chestnuts, have stupid flowers on them, or are shaped like maple leaves (which are awesome, but you can’t fill those with, say, Jasmine tea ganache). So I bought new molds.  I was totally tricked by clever marketing (and reasonably low prices) into getting silicone.  DON’T GET THESE if you want to be a happy confectioner.  Popping them out was great, no complaints there, but all the gusto I could muster while tapping those molds to rid them of air bubbles was no match for the floppy tray.  This would make more sense if you could get a hard plastic tray to pop these guys into while working with them, then pull them out to empty and wash the silicone.

Here is an establishing shot of finished product.  Had to severely alter it (Vintify?) because my camera corrupted the shot that was in focus and had the white balanced. Pictured here are the Browned Butter Marshmallows from BraveTart, and  Strawberry Balsamic Rosewater Macarons which just tasted like those pink wafer cookies we all liked when we were kids. I used the Lenôtre recipe, which makes me happy all the time.  I put this box together for Secret Santa at work.

…5. Looks like delicious, delicious childhood – Espresso Cream, Crisp Chocolate Meringue, and Flourless Chocolate Cake (pg.150).

Any time people have asked me things like “So if I need to travel with _____ for _____ number of hours/days…” I immediately cut them off and say “I don’t recommend that.”  I am very adamant that my products be served at their optimal-life state, either ten minuted out of the oven or two hours from being decorated.  While a lot of bad pastry comes from mediocre recipes, some from poor technique, many suffer from irresponsible storage or age (see Macaron rant when I post it).

My first food job was at a café that specialized in fresh-baked scones.  The concept was brilliant — the scones were baked in small batches all day long.  The likelyhood of anyone buying a scone baked more then 2 hours earlier was extremely low, unless it was a very, very slow day.  And while this commitment to freshness caused some issues (different flavours sold at different rates on different days so being out of one or two flavours out of eight was likely, but a fresh batch was never more then 30 minutes away for the patient), it meant the product was always at it’s optimal state.  This is why I am now so picky about when I finish and then deliver cakes.

And yet I am going against everything I believe in right now.

The espresso-filled Lego-shaped cake in the trunk was finished at 8am this morning.  It is now 7:42pm (it’s in a portable fridge, don’t worry).  It will be served two days from now (say whaaaat?).  Le sigh.

This cake is made with the following:

A chocolate meringue disk —

Meringue, which I can only spell because I have to say Mer-rang-guay in my head, as with So-Crates and Jel-la-pen-o (and we all know I so often have to write Socrates and Jalapeno in the snail-mail I compose), is equal parts sugar and eggwhites.  It can be made three ways – cooking whipped whites with sugar at 120 degrees (I-tal-ien style), whisked over a pot of simmering water until thick and fluffy (the Swiss way, which I like to think of as the Difficult way, because the Swiss were always difficult and “neutral”), and by just whipping the whites with the sugar, the efficient French way.

To make this chocolate meringue, you make a French meringue, add 1/4 of the meringue’s total weight in Icing sugar (ie. 50g i.sugar to 200g meringue when 100g whites and 100g sugar are used), whip for at least 5 minutes, then fold in the same quantity of sifted cocoa powder.

Now, here is the point where I explain why this came out weird.  I have a gas stove with no fan.  Yes, the meringues came out quite flat.  And they took 3.5 hours instead of 2 (at 200 degrees instead of 187, wtf).  BUT they are pretty awesome.

Dip said meringue in chocolate.  More awesome.

Migoya’s Flourless Chocolate Cake – pg.152

100g Yolks

75g Sugar

225g 64% Chocolate

112g Butter

150g Egg Whites

Prep a pan with parchment, sheet pan or springform.  Heat oven to 350.  Whip yolks and 1/2 sugar to ribbon stage while melting butter and chocolate over a bain marie. Combine once chocolate is melted but not hot.  Whip whites and remaining sugar to just before stiff and fold into chocolate mix carefully.  Spread evenly in pan with offset.  Bake until firm.

This I made to the same thickness as the meringues, which means my montage should be good.  This recipe is wonderful.

Espresso Cream

This is really just a Bavaroise.  And instead of using espresso beans, I used ground espresso for the look and the mouth feel.  I have a very crippling coffee addiction, so the idea of eating the grinds excites rather then hinders me.

This is a cake with no photo, but Migoya’s instructions say to place a silicone block inside the cake mould, then build the cake upside-down so the result is to have a recessed space for those chocolate-coated puffed rice he is so into.  As I did not have said rice puffs, I opted to make 12 salted ganache demi-spheres, which I froze, then lined up on the frozen barvaroise before spraying the cake with a chocolate-loaded paint-sprayer.

Hence why my cake looks like Lego. GIANT CHOCOLATE LEGO.

But that’s okay, I made it for my big brother’s birthday, the guy who gave me 10kilos of lego when he moved out.  Happiest 5 year old ever.  Given his coffee addiction and love of chocolate, this seemed like the perfect birthday present.

Here is my spray-station.

Thankfully, I’m the girl who moves into an apartment with a giant roll of window-plastic for winter and never puts it up but also never gets rid of it.  I knew that roll of plastic was going to come in handy eventually.

Here is the part of the cupboard I didn’t protect.  Lesson: make a good spray-station!

When you spray your cake with chocolate, always use equal quantities chocolate to cocoa butter.  The cocoa butter has a higher melting temperature, but it liquifies the chocolate and allows it to set as soon as it hits the frozen cake, which is how the texture is achieved.  I had to lower the temp to 34 degrees rather then the more common 38 because my freezer is not awesome, so the cakes are never as cold as they would be in a quality commercial freezer.  If the chocolate is too hot, it will not texture, just wash over the cake and look liquid and shitty.  It’s happened to me before.  Don’t let it happen to you.

This is the Wagner spray-gun I use.  Oooo, ahhh.

Regrets: In the future I will be very careful about placing demi-spheres, as I did manage to disturb the barvaroise even though it was frozen.  I should have heated an offset and smoothed the surface.  Also, I have this tendency to, due to strain from over-use and arthritis from immune deficiency, release things spontaneously.  Like drop a bag of groceries in the street.  My hands sometimes just let go.  And, as you can see in the upper portion of the cake, I dropped the spray gun ON THE CAKE.  Silly me didn’t make extra ganache orbs.  I hate how imperfect this cake is.  I want a remake.  I can’t look at this anymore.

No plated version, as this was a gift.

But I did sneak this montage photo, which I will post later.


Ohohohwait! This was tasty! Again, not sweet.  The only adjustment I would make would be to add maybe 50g oil to the melted chocolate the meringue is dipped in, because we found it umpossible to cut with a fork, and that isn’t acceptable.

…2. Um, what’s the deal with the cheese-y blog name?, and The Ultimate Chocolate Chunk Cookie (pg. 288)

nomnomnomFirst, I apologize for this set of photos.  I’m lame at that stuff sometimes.

I’m not gonna lie.  Subway cookies are amazing.  They are raw and gross in the centre, which doesn’t matter because I don’t think they are made with anything that could go off (ie. sawdust and cornsyrup), you can bend them in half before they break and their edges have a slight crispness to them.  I won’t eat them because I know they aren’t food.

When I was a kid I loved those super soft Chips Ahoy! despite them not actually tasting like anything.  Not even sugar.  But they were so, unnaturally soft.  Needless to say, I firmly believe the best cookie is an unbaked cookie.

For years I have been trying to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe that satisfies all my cookie needs:

  • Tastes like delicious; by this I mean it has a good strong chocolate flavour, but the dough can stand on it’s own — slightly sweet, with vanilla and maybe a pinch of nutmeg.
  • Soft and slightly underdone on the inside, doesn’t dry out when cooled. No sharp edges to scrape the roof of my mouth.
  • Spread to a large disk and awesome, but not pooled and over-mixed.

Okay, so most of these things can be easily controlled.  If you over-whip your butter and sugar, your cookies are going to spread.  If you bake them on low heat for longer then instructed and remove them when the centres are still light, they won’t be dry inside.

But the first one is tough, because it’s based only on ratios.

At work I make a good chocolate cookie.  I think I amended the David Lebovitz recipe.  These cookies sell almost faster then I can make them, for good reason.  They are very handsome and very tasty

As far as gluten-free, I’ve had fair success with Kate Zuckerman’s recipe she offers in The Sweet Life (amazing book, by the way), which is soft and dry rather then greasy.  Like the President’s Choice cookie but good.

Migoya says his is the best.  He says if you make it properly, deliciousness will ensue, and thus the blog-name is revealed.

Here it is:

212g butter – 21 degrees

151g sugar

143g brown sugar

90g eggs – room temp

4.5g vanilla paste, whisked in with eggs

3g salt

4.5g baking soda

317g flour

317g chocolate chunks (I used Cocoa Barry 66% Cocoa Mexican Pistolles because I didn’t have enough block-form Callebaut.  Note: I made these again two days later with the Callebaut and they were still great, but if you’re looking for a big, rich chocolate flavour, go for a high-quality dark chocolate bar if Cocoa Barry isn’t around).

Cream butter and sugar, just until combined. Scrape sides.

Add egg little by little, scrape down sides as you go.

The only strange thing about his cookie is the baking soda and the salt are added to the egg-butter-sugar goodness, not the flour.  I’ve never seen this before.  Why?  I don’t know.  Baking soda starts doing its business right away.  Is this to keep it from levening but still acting as a brown-ing device? He doesn’t say.

Add flour.

Fold in chocolate.

Scoop with a #16 scoop.  I don’t know what this is.  I only have a yellow japanese scoop I bought at an antique store, so it has no numbers.  If the recipe actually yields 50 cookies which would be unlike every other recipe that claims to make three dozen and you actually get eight, then my scoop is 200% too big.  But nobody hates giant cookies.

I made a batch of normal people cookies and gluten-free cookies.  Right from the get-go, the batches behaved differently.  The butter for the gluten-free batch wouldn’t mix with the sugar.  It actively refused.  I’ve never seen that before, at least with 21 degree butter.  4 degree butter is defiant against almost anything, but this was just confusing.  Then the butter wouldn’t play nice with the eggs.  What. The. Fuck.  I had already made the normal people batch, and it was great!  Whatever.  I kept going.  The dough ended up soppy.  Sigh.

Bake at 347 degrees.

Really?  Problem the second.  This is my stove dial:

347, eh?

On top of being the most vague stove ever, it is gas and non-convection.  This has proven to be a problem in the past.  Almost all the time.  And I never remember because I’m so excited to make things that it isn’t until disaster strikes that I recall how horrible my oven is.  This is not a cookie oven.  No matter how many cookie sheets I stack in there, the bottoms will always burn and the tops will never bake.  And now I had to figure out what the non-convection cookie-burning oven temperature equivalent is to 347 degrees.

Here are the results.

On the left the gluten-free guys, all flat and over mixed.  FAIL.

On the right are the regular guys.  My crazy oven took 20 minutes to bake them.  Probably because I did not press them as much as I should have and they were likely too cold since I was so excited I just shoved them in the freezer.  I am impatient.

Here’s a more intimate view.

Okay, we know who wins.  This is a good cookie.  It has a surprisingly audible crunch, like when you eat rice crispies.  The crunch isn’t thick and full-on crunchy.  It’s totally a light crisp shell that mainly serves to protect the soft inside and provide a bit of an exciting mouthfeel, like the characteristics of a great baguette.  And if you use Mexican chocolate  I used, this cookie won’t be crazy sweet, but it will be incredibly rich, so a glass of milk or black coffee is a must.