By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry Arts Student
In many ways, kids are brought up with the ironclad knowledge that their scholastic life begins and ends with tests. You’re tested in school, you’re tested on the state level, you’re tested in high school, and you take tests to get into college. Every test is more important than the last, and every last test can break you in ways you can’t even imagine, but you’re assured are horrible.
I went into Pastry School with this expectation, and let me tell you, the tests are intimidating. There’s a lot to remember, there’s no talking, there’s never enough space (there’s plenty of space, but try and explain that to someone that’s panicking because they forgot to write down how many eggs go into a pastry cream)…the list of stresses go on and on. It’s easy to freak out and have a breakdown.
The focus at Escoffier is your work ethic, not your test-taking abilities.
One of the great things about this school, however, is that it’s patterned less after the school experience we all know and is more patterned after what you can expect in the industry. Rather than make-or-break tests that hang overhead like the sword of Damocles, the majority of your grade is based on showing up, being prepared, getting along, and working hard.
This sounds like it would make the school a cakewalk, but in reality it’s much more difficult than it seems—especially at the start. You don’t know where anything is, you don’t yet know how to be efficient, you don’t know your instructors (who care about you more than you realize), and you seem to just sprint nonstop for six hours straight.
And while it eventually becomes second nature as your efficiency steps up, you never really stop working your behind off. You just don’t want to slack because it means your classmates (your best friends now) have to work even harder to make up for you. This isn’t to say prospective students don’t have to take the tests seriously, since they are a decent-sized chunk of your grade after all. But the focus at Escoffier is your work ethic, not your test-taking abilities.
As an example, for my Pastry final, I decided to up my own difficulty level and make a cheesecake with dulce de leche mousse, two sauces, citrus jellies, and lime fizz. This, as it turns out, was not the best idea, as my mousse fell, my sauces were runny, and you could hardly see my lime fizz. I had taken on way too much and was running around frantically for the entirety of the test and produced a good tasting but ugly dish. But because I had worked so hard and gotten such a large percentage of my ugly dish right, I wound up getting a decent grade.
For the record, here’s what I should have done (with the cheesecake, anyway). It’s a recipe I found online that I adapted for the test.
For the Crust
3 Tablespoons melted butter
16 graham crackers worth of crumbs
Assemble a 9 inch springform pan. Cut out a circle of parchment paper the size of the bottom. Grease the bottom, put the parchment inside. Cut out a strip of parchment the length of the circumference of your pan. You’re trying to make a cocoon of parchment so depanning doesn’t wreck all your hard work.
Mix the above ingredients well and then press into the bottom of the springform pan. This creates about a quarter inch of crust (which I like). If you want less, you’ll want to reduce it down to about 12 crackers worth of crumbs and one egg. It’s also worth noting that you can flavor these crumbs however you like. Try a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half of cardamom if you’re having trouble thinking of anything.
Par-bake for about ten minutes, or until the crust is hard. Then set aside and let cool completely. Once cool, wrap the bottom in aluminum foil so that water won’t leak through when baking.
For the Cheesecake
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup ap flour
2/3 cup milk
1 Tablespoon orange extract (or the zest of one large orange)
1 Tablespoon lemon extract (or the zest of two lemons)
1 ½ cups white sugar
32 oz cream cheese (about four packages)
In a separate bowl, mix the sour cream and the ap flour together until completely incorporated.
For blender people:
I like to do the rest in a blender. It leaves less bubbles in your batter, which makes it easier to work with. That being said, this produces a little over 50 oz of batter, so make sure ahead of time that your blender is big enough.
Blend milk, eggs, extracts, and sugar together in the blender on its lowest setting and let sit ten minutes. Slowly incorporate the cream cheese into this bit by bit until totally smooth, also on lowest setting. Then add sour cream and flour mix. Let this mix sit for at least an hour (preferably overnight, but this recipe already takes a long time). The bubbles will rise to the top and pop, and so won’t expand with the heat of the oven and cause your cheesecake to rise. Remember, this is New York style, so you want it to be dense.
Pour mix into completely cooled springform wrapped in aluminum with the crust par-baked inside. Lightly jiggle and vibrate to get even more bubbles out. Then set the whole thing inside a larger pan (I use our thanksgiving turkey roaster) and pour warm water around the outside of the bowl until it is roughly two thirds of the way up. This manages the heat, preventing the crust from burning, and it creates a nice moist environment to prevent your cheesecake’s surface from cracking.
Bake at 350 for about 90 minutes, or until the sides have puffed just slightly and the inside of the cheesecake still jiggles. Leave the oven door closed and turn the heat off. Let sit like that for at least six hour, or overnight. Then you can take your cheesecake out, being careful not to get water on the surface, unlock your springform and depan. Even though you lined everything with parchment, there’s a fair chance something will stick, so go slow and be careful. Run a sharp knife between the pan and anything sticking.
Honestly, I like my cheesecake plain, but I also top it with caramel, chocolate, or whatever fruit sauce you like. Jelly works too, but what you top it with doesn’t really matter. It’s important, however, that when you’re cutting your cheesecake, you use a very sharp knife and to wipe the blade clean after every cut. Otherwise the blade will stick and you’ll wreck your hard work.