By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry Arts Student
I got to interview a brewer this weekend about a collaborative brew day she was taking part in. The brew day was in support of Project Venus, which encouraged women brewers to collaborate on “Unite Pale Ale,” a base recipe that would be tweaked by every group in order to produce dozens of variations on the same beer. She spoke of the group’s desire to leave their mark on this event by coming up with the most interesting but also most uncomplicated variation they could imagine and settled on a certain amount of rye added to the mash.
I couldn’t help but think about pastry school and recipe development. One of the skills necessary to be a pastry chef or baker is the ability to take classic recipes and tweak them in new and innovative ways. Sometimes this is exceedingly difficult, requiring entirely new recipe creations. But sometimes, as I learned in the interview, the simplest alterations can make the most profound difference. For example, take the cheesecake recipe from last week’s blog and trade out the citrus extract for two teaspoons of mint extract. Sprinkle in some chocolate chunks before baking and suddenly you have a Mint Chocolate Chip cheesecake.
I mention this because, after a while, school can become a bit routine. You come in, you get everything ready, you bake the recipe, you eat, you clean, you go home. Creative types (or, almost everyone in pastry school) may start to get antsy, and these minor tweaks are a fun way to keep yourself interested without having to ask for a brand new curriculum every time you get bored.
This becomes even more important the farther into the class you go, as creativity in plating becomes a major part of your skillset. While we were in international baking, I was tasked with making an Italian torta that included some orange juice and zest. As the recipe was written, it would taste good but just be a lump of brown cake, which didn’t promise to be all that impressive on the plate. So I decided to add a garnish of candied orange peel, hit the cake with an orange soaking syrup, and use Italian meringue instead of whipped cream. Three small changes not only pumped my torta up so that it looked great but made it my own.
There are a great deal of hands-on skills that develop as you go through pastry school—knife skills, chemistry, kitchen techniques, etc. But at Escoffier, you can also hone your creative abilities and learn to leave your mark on the classics.
Torta di Arancia
For the Candied Orange Peel:
Peel from one orange (see below)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
Peel the zest of the orange with a paring knife similar to how you’d peel an apple. Try to keep as much of the pith off your peel as you can off your zest, but some is unavoidable. Use a spoon to scrape that pith away. Cut those zest peels into strips.
Dissolve sugar in water then simmer orange peels for two hours or until the peels have become bright and semi-translucent. Remove from water with a fork and let cool on parchment paper. Reserve the sugar water with orange extract for later.
For the Torta:
1 1/3 cup AP flour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
½ cup orange juice
2 t orange zest
1/3 cup olive oil
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat to 325. Grease and line one 9” cake round
Sift flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt together. Combine ½ cup sugar with egg yolks, orange juice, zest, olive oil and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Add to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
Whip egg whites to very soft peaks. Add remaining ½ cup sugar and whip to soft peaks. Fold into the mixture from step two. You want to be careful at this stage not to overwork the egg whites. They’re your primary leavener so you don’t want to pop too many bubbles.
Pour into your cake pan and bake until it springs back from your finger in the center. If the outside starts to brown but the inside still jiggles, reduce the heat to 225 and check it every ten minutes or so. The bake time varies on this recipe more so than most I’ve used, so I can’t really give a “cook time.” Just be vigilant.
Cool upside down on a wire rack until you can touch the pan. Then depan and let cool. Then, with a pastry brush, dap the orange/sugar mixture from making candied peels around the surface of the cake. Be liberal with it, but do it slowly so your cake doesn’t start to melt on you.
Presentation can go however you like of course. I like to use Italian meringue around the outside of the cake, torch it, and then sprinkle the candied orange peel over top