Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mousse cakes overloaded!

raspberry silk copy

Perhaps one of the unspoken perks of attending a pastry school is the amount of pastries we get to bring home almost on a daily basis.

Last week, I brought home 3 cakes. The nougat mousse cake, in which the photos were poorly lit; a chocolate hazelnut mousse cake and a coconut passion cake, which I need to retake the pictures before telling you more about it.

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The prettiest of the bunch, in my humble opinion, is the Raspberry Silk Cake. Made with almond dacquiose, raspberry gelee, royaltine layer and white chocolate diplomat mousse, the flavor took me by surprise and little did I expect that I would fall in love with this cake. When I first saw white chocolate in the mousse recipe, I thought I wouldn't like it. I never like white chocolate; in fact,I have been shunning away from white chocolate in all my baked goods. It just taste too milky for my liking! But when all the elements in this cake come together, it tastes great. The flavor of the raspberry gelee and the royaltine layer take over the center stage and the white chocolate mousse plays a good supporting role. It provides the creaminess and smooth mouthfeel that completes the final product.

Looking at the raspberry silk cake makes me very happy, perhaps it's the constrasting color. We eat with our eyes first, no? :)

004 copy

The Chocolate Hazelnut Cake is love at first sight. The kind of cake I know I would love even before I tasted it. Eating the final product only confirm my assumption. It is nice, but a little too predictable. Having said that, it is probably the cake that I have eaten the biggest portion. See, I am pretty predictable too!

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For those who wonder what I do with the cakes: I give away most of my share to my classmates! And only this morning, while I juggled the raspberry silk cake and a cup as support on one hand and my camera on the other to take pictures outdoor; the maintenance guys came. I offered them the nougat mousse cake in the freezer and they walked away pretty happy. I love to see people happy, which in turn make my day!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Lunar New Year!

lunar 09

It certainly feels like yesterday, when OCT and I flew home to celebrate Chinese New Year with our families! And in the blink of an eye, another new year arrives without us realizing.

Most of my friends flew back to Malaysia/Singapore to be with their loved ones during this time of the year and I am a bit sad that I couldn't join in the festivity. I miss the reunion dinner on new year eve, when everyone comes home no matter in which part of the world they are working; The firecrackers, which children and kids-at-heart let off once the clock strikes 12 in the midnight. The festive but cheesy chinese songs that flood every shopping malls; and the pineapple tarts, bak gua, love letters, prawn-crackers, nian gao and other new year goodies we serve our visiting guests. Most often than not, the goodies are consumed by ourselves way before the festival begins.

I went to the Chinatown in Chicago this past weekend in search of traces of Lunar New Year festive ambience which my friends back home told me is ubiquitous in every corner of Asia. I came back to my little studio after an hour of strolling, with disappointment and a pair of numbed toes and none of the described atmosphere.

Having said that, I got myself a tray of nian gao, a kind of traditional chinese glutinous rice cake, which is sweet and has a chewy texture made with brown sugar and glutinuos rice flour among other ingredients. Dipped in beaten eggs and lightly pan-fried, it's one of my favorite treat on Lunar New Year.

Chinese New Year Goodies

If I were home, I would also make a few trays of crispy golden daikon/radish cake, my beloved pineapple tarts and horlicks animal cookies. But I am contented with the store-bought turnip cake for now. And tomorrow, on the actual day of Lunar New Year, I am bringing some to school for my classmates. I can't wait to see their responses. Especially my Mexican classmate- Fernanda, who winced slightly when I described nian gao to her last Friday.

For those who are celebrating the festival, here's wishing you a healthy, prosperous and wonderful Lunar New Year! Gong Xi Gong Xi!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

My first cake in school!

nougat mousse cake

I brought home a cake yesterday! It was the first cake we made in French Pastry School and it was delicious. :) The cake in the picture above however, is the chef's cake. The poor lighting in my dungeon-like studio is impossible for photo taking without artificial light source. :(

Unlike the cakes that I am used to bake at home, the preparation of the various elements in the cake takes days. This nougat mousse cake for instant, took us 3 days. We made the dacquoise on the first day,the apricot gelee and nougat mousse on the second, and final glazing on the third day. I love that we are making all the elements from scratch and seeing the final cake taking shape day by day.

nougat mousse cake

In the cake classes, we arebeing introduced to many professional products like glucose, trimoline, gelatin sheets, cocoa paste etc that are only used in the professional kitchen. It is going to take some time before I can decipher the nuance of using them in my baked goods as opposed to the normal baking ingredients I have at home.


We are lucky to have 2 highly accomplished chefs as our instructors for cake classes. While imparting the techniques and skills in class, they also injected great sense of humour that make learning so much more enjoyable.

More cakes coming up soon!


Friday, January 16, 2009

First 2 weeks in FPS!

Everyone agrees that time flies when one is busy or happy, or both. That pretty much sums up how I feel about the first 2 weeks in class.

First week, we went through the orientation, Servesafe classes, test and theory on baking. I enjoyed myself listening and learning from chefs about eggs, cream, butter among other things. Not so much about the servesafe classes, which talks about foodborne illness, bacteria, allergy etc. I am not saying sanity in kitchen is not important though....

knife skill

Second week is when all the kitchen works begin!We started with knife skills and practice with piping. Here's a picture of my 2 apples, peeled,cored, and cut into different dimensions.

butter piping

Piping is never my forte. It's sad that the Wilton courses I attended didn't make me any better. My friend Heather on the other hand,is insanely good at that.

Apparently, she could decorate more than 60 cakes in a day when she was the cake decorator in Sam's club. I think her next challenge would be to do piping with both eyes closed. Or could she do that already? Hmm....I need to ask her about that.

tart dough cookies

The first edible product I brought home was these cookies made of sweet tart dough. Unlike the soft and chewy cookies that many are accustomed to, these cookies are baked until really golden brown and crunchy. The dough was rolled and cut with cookie cutter, and after the second rolling and cutting, the dough was discarded. Being the frugal girl that I am, I couldn't stop thinking about the wasted dough in the bin. It could turn into some great fruit tarts, together with the pastry cream we made and brought home the same day. And speaking of the tub of pastry cream, I was too worried about what to do with it, since it had a short shelf life; I gave it to my classmate before tasting any myself. Silly me! The torturing thought of fruit tart with the wasted dough and pastry cream accompanied me into dream land that night.

piping french meringue

The second edible product I brought home today- Piped french meringues. The picture above was when they were still raw.

We have Chefs Sebastien Cannone and Dimitri Fayard for cake class today. The chefs shared about the thinking process of building a cake. The various elements that are in play and a demo on whipping cream to make butter! When OCT asked me how chef did it, I told him it's like centrifuguring the cream (centrifuge is a high spinning machine in the lab) to separate water from the fat, and bringing all the small fat molecules into one big glob. It feels like a chemistry experiment, except it's something that I can relate too.

Speaking of chemistry experiment, it brings a smile to my face everytime we do scaling for recipes. It was exactly what i did when I was trained to be a chemist many years ago. And when Chef Laura showed us how to scrape everything off the bowl, I remembered Dr Wang, my ex supervisor in the pharmaceutical plant. We scraped off everything from the instruments we were using, because every drop of drug active ingredient mixture translated into a few bucks. I think chemists can be very good bakers! ;)


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How I almost died

oreo cheesecake

From embarassement, that is. It all began on a snowy Saturday morning when I decided to make a pilgrimage to Vanille Patisserie, owned and run by my teacher to be- Chef Dimitri Fayard and his wife Chef Keli Fayard. By the time I got down to the nearest bus stop,which is another 5 minutes walk to the patisserie, the snow was ankle deep and a thought of turning back flashed through my mind.

"Everything is a test", I reminded myself of what Chef Jacquy Pfeffeir mentioned in one of our class session and persisted. I felt like a little penguin walking down the quiet and snowy street. Determined that nothing could stop me from getting to my final destination.

As I got there, I ordered some entrements, a macaron and a cup of cappucino. I also took the opportunity to introduce myself to Chef Dimitri, who was at the counter. Everything was cool and chef went on to prepare my drink.

And then, the unimaginable thing happened. I couldn't find my wallet! I must have put it in another bag when I went out on Friday night. My face was flushing and I stammered out what had transpired to chef and promised to come pay in the next day.

What a way to make an impression. That is certainly not a positive one. Although Chef Dimitri was nice about it, I tracked down the same trail later that day to pay.......

oreo cheesecake

Embarassement aside, the 2 entrements I bought were awesome. They were not overly sweet, but so full of flavors. I would highly recommend Vanille Patisserie for anyone visiting Chicago and have a craving for desserts. I tried to take pictures of the entrements, but the poor lighting in my room didn't do them justice.

As I was eating the first entrement in my tiny studio, the electricity went off. I couldn't even see my fingers, but I was strangely calm and satisfied. I continued to eat the remaining half of the entrement in dark and went straight to bed after that.

The mini oreo cheesecakes you see in the pictures are not from Vanille Patisserie. They were something I made for our post Christmas party before I came to Chicago. I used the leftover Trader Joe's peppermint jo-jo, which was only available around Christmas time.I used this recipe but incorporared oreo style cookies in the batter.You can put as much or as little cookies as you wish; But here, I separated the sandwiched cookies and used half of them as the base of the mini cheesecake and crumbled the remaining to mix in the batter. The mini cheesecakes turned out a tad dry for my liking, probably because I substituted one block of cream cheese with the low fat variety. Or I could have overbaked them, while trying to multitask at the same time.

As long as you don't repeat the mistakes I made, you will be rewarded with delicious mini cheesecakes which take a lot less time to prepare than a conventional one.

Vanille Patisserie
2229 N Clybourn Ave Chicago, IL 60614


Monday, January 05, 2009

Novice baker goes to school!

Just a short note to let everyone know that I have safely arrived in Chicago and just started my new life as a student today!

It's going to be an interesting 6 months here, and I can't wait to learn from some of best pastry chefs in this country! I am tired after waking up 6 something this morning and there's a 7 a.m class for the rest of the week! Arrgh.... I will leave you with a picture of my silly self and part of the tool kit that I brought home today.

part of the tool kit

With school starting, there will be some changes in this blog. This space will be a chronicle of my life as a pastry student and may or may not update as often as I'd love. No recipe from school will be provided.(school policy- I think it makes sense) But I will try to take some pictures of what I make. There's no guarantee on that as well, as I am a really shy person. :p Taking out a camera to take pictures during classes is just awkward to me. I am sure you will understand. :)

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