March 4, 2014
Posted in: Baking & Pastry

Pastry School: The Undiscovered Country

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By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry Arts Student

Going into Pastry School, it’s often hard to know what to expect.  Chances are fair that the average pastry student already knows a decent amount about desserts, and so is somewhat confident that they know what they’re going to learn—pies, cakes, cookies, ice cream, chocolate, etc.

What many, myself included, don’t know is that there are entire worlds of desserts out there that you never even knew existed.  I didn’t have to wait long for my first serious surprise during Bavarian week when we began to explore the application of gelatin in dessert.  Specifically, these are desserts where hot chocolates or fruit purée is added to a gelatin mixture which is then folded into whipped cream and placed in a mold to set.

First, I was shocked at how difficult this application is.  Too much gelatin meant you were making fruit flavored tires, while not enough gelatin produced a runny mess.  Second, it tastes amazing, balancing sweetness, texture, and just enough flavor to keep you interested without bringing on mouthnumb.  It’s a finicky dessert that I absolutely love to make both because it’s delicious and because it’s so difficult.

My next big surprise came about when we hit European cakes and tortes.  It was such a surprise specifically because I thought I knew all there was to know about cake—I mean, come on, it’s cake.  But it turns out there was an entire world of spongey goodness that I didn’t even know existed, and making a European style of mechanically leavened cakes called “genoise” quickly became my favorite task.

The point is that it’s important to not let a large bank of knowledge close you off to learning new things in cooking and baking.  You may think you know everything there is to know and miss out on something amazing (especially when you get to the section on international desserts).  That’s the great thing about attending Escoffier—you’re exposed to such a wide variety of desserts that you can’t help but learn.

There are entire worlds of desserts out there that you never even knew existed.

One of my favorite genoise applications comes as a stacked cake covered in Italian meringue rather than icing.  The recipe comes straight from our textbook, and while it’s a little dry and not as sweet as many might like, it is my absolute favorite cake, both to make and to eat.  Just make sure you have A TON of eggs on hand:

Pastry School The Undiscovered Country1

Genoise à la Confiture Fruit (Cake with Fruit Filling)

For the cake:
12 eggs
12 oz sugar
12 oz cake flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

Measure out your cake flour and sift it into a bowl.  It’s important that the flour be sifted, as clumps will reduce the amount of lift you get later on.

Add the eggs, sugar, and extract to the bowl of your stand mixer.  Whip them until they lighten in color significantly (the mixture will go from dark yellow to a very pale, almost off-white color).  This can take upwards of fifteen minutes, so be patient.  This is the only leavening your cake will have, so the lighter your batter, the less likely you’ll wind up with hockey pucks.

Fold in the sifted flour.  Many baking books will tell you to do this in batches, but Chef Suzanne explained that this is usually reserved for making large portions of cake.  Therefore, just do it all in one go so that you don’t burst many bubbles.

Pour this mix into two 9” round cake pans that have been buttered and whose bottoms are lined with parchment paper.  It should come between 1/2 and 3/4 of the way up the side of the pan.  Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, but be on guard.  This kind of cake burns very easily.  If it starts turning brown on top but still jiggles in the middle, crank the temperature down to 225 and check it every ten minutes until it sets.  Again, be patient.  Let cool upside down on a wire rack and then depan.

For the meringue:
12 oz sugar
3 oz water
12 egg whites (seriously)

Heat the sugar and the water in a saucepan until it reaches 243 degrees F (or, if you don’t have a candy thermometer or are worried about scary hot sugar, heat it until the consistency of the bubbles goes from what you normally see in boiling water to a denser bubble like you see in melted plastic or metal.)

Please be careful with the hot sugar.  It’s basically culinary napalm by the time it gets to temperature, so it is very dangerous.  Keep a bowl of ice water handy in case you get any molten sugar on you.  Seriously.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly drizzle the molten sugar into the egg whites with the mixer running on low.  It’s important to do this slowly, as you could form a solid disc of sugar at the bottom if you go too quickly.

Once all the sugar is in, turn your mixer up to high and beat until the bottom of your bowl is cool to the touch.  It should form stiff peaks and not be grainy.  Don’t let your meringue sit for too long—it’s best to wait until your cakes are cool and ready before starting.

Assembly, which will also require:
Sliced almonds
Dessert syrup (described below)
Fruit preserves or jam
Fresh fruit

Now this recipe technically calls for raspberry jam, but you can use whatever fruit filling you prefer.  You will need dessert syrup to moisten up your cake, which is most easily made by taking a two tablespoons of your jam of choice and dissolving it in a cup and a quarter of water.

Carefully slice each of your 9” rounds in half.  Place one of these halves on the plate or cake board that is to be your cake’s final resting place and, using a pastry brush, dab it with your dessert syrup.  Don’t go nuts or your cake will melt, but don’t be stingy either.  Then spread a layer of the jam over top and add another half of cake.  Repeat until all four halves are on the plate and have been soaked and covered with jam (except the top layer, which will receive no jam).

Using an offset spatula, cover the whole cake in meringue.  The easiest way to do this is to not bother with making it smooth.  Instead, cover the sides with sliced almonds, then use a spoon to cover the top in spikes and waves.  This will make the cake look cooler when you brown the top with a blowtorch.  After browning, garnish with fresh fruit however you like.  Cut and serve like a normal cake, preferably with coffee or tea.

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For more information about our Pastry Arts Program, contact our campuses.

1.866.552.2433 Austin Campus

1.877.249.0305 Boulder Campus