Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Famous S'mores Tarts!

Are on the Time Out Chicago's Eat Out Awards photos!!! I'm including a link below.

Eat Out Awards for 2013. Now you'll have to scroll over to the 4th photo, I think. And then they pop up again later in the slideshow. Kinda proud of these simple beauties!

Other than creating famous pastries, I'm training for my first 5 mile run on May 5. Yes, you read that right, I'm running the Cinco de Miler, baby! with my friend Jennifer. Then, on May 18, we're running the Zombie Shuffle. We plan to run another Hot Chocolate 5K in November, and I'm hoping to sign up for a run on my birthday. Interesting way to celebrate.

So, in order to see photos of my tarts, check out the link!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

You Bake Cakes All Day?

Yes, I bake cakes all day. I get to bake what I want, when I want. It's a lot like those Food Network shows, I'm all fresh and dewy, never sweaty or stressed. I never work so hard I can barely move the next day.

You think what I do is glamourous? Hahaha! Let me tell you some of the things that they don't tell you about what I do. When I see ads for culinary schools, and see culinary students, I want to stop them on the street and tell them that it's all bullshit. Whatever the admissions counselor told them ain't crap.

Nobody ever told me that my passion would be pushed aside by babysitting duties. Or that I'll have to teach the same people the same skills every day, and then, one day, before they've mastered the basics, or consistency (what's that?), they'll be asking for a raise because they've worked for you for x amount of months.

Or that my passion would be smothered by a pile of papers, emails, sticky-notes of reminders and recipe notes, and adjustments, ideas, thoughts, quick questions scribbled on scraps of paper only to be forgotten 45 minutes later.

They never tell you that you're dried up and too tired to create the new menu ideas that A. needs for her internal events and that they're all more special than the other clients.

Or new items for the Cafe.

That you'll come in one day and find that the same person didn't bake the blondies correctly. That an entire sheet pan will be lost because the bottoms are all raw. This is Baking 101, are you kidding me?

Nor are you told about last-minute changes, or guest increases until 24-2 hours before the event, so you feel like you're making the same mise en place all day long, because a few more people just decided to show up at the last minute. Or choose or change their menu at the last minute. And we need to make them happy so that they book their gala with us . . .

What? Nobody ordered that stuff you've been asking for for a week now? We're out of flour? Butter? Sugar?

The plates that you spoke about at that meeting last week-the one you have every week with catering managers, FOH, BOH, operations, so everybody is on the same page-those dishes never got ordered, so your staff has to wait around until they come in. Time and labor lost.

Party is running late, so you have to stay. You'll have to try to leave early tomorrow so you don't go past your 40 hours.

You go in on your day off to correct something that wasn't made right the first time. And try to figure out how to leave early, because there. Is. No. Overtime.

You have to cut your labor. Staff complains that they're not getting hours. Then you schedule them, but they can't work those hours. Suck it up. Either you work, or you don't.

You're constantly interrupted to take care of things for your staff, because they are your customers and you need to make sure their needs are met. You spend precious time goose-chasing, as someone tells you it's not their job, go see so-and-so. But I'm never allowed to say that it's not my job.

And that par stock information that you typed up voluntarily to help train the people who did the ordering before we hired the new purchasing manager? Can you please re-create that in Excel? By March? Thanks!

The constant meetings. Where you're told that more is expected of you.

Ah, yes, the General Manager comes by and tells you at the last minute that he needs 3 dozen cupcakes for his son's birthday. Add that to the list.

And yet another day goes by that I didn't get to test a recipe for an event. My to-do list is just re-written with more stuff added.

I'm tired. I don't sleep at night, and when I do, it's often work-mares. The latest one? None of my cooks showed up and there is a party for tonight we didn't have the information for and it's for 200 people and I have to make everything and nothing is working out. Cakes aren't baking, mousses aren't setting.

My dreams of being a pastry chef slip through my fingers like sand most days lately. Then, I'll get a so good magazine or look at my pastry books and am reminded of what I love about this industry. I marvel at others' talent and think about how far I need to go. I'll gain inspiration through these pastry masters, grab my iPad to record my ideas, and sketch my desserts and I feel hope in those quiet, fleeting moments. Or I'll have a great meal and am moved by what the cooks express through careful skill. Then I catch my 3 hours of sleep before heading into the trenches.

This is reality.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pastry Family Tree

One of the challenges that I face with my staff is that they tend to slow down and become nervous when given a new recipe, whether it is for something as simple a new cookie, or something a little more complex. For instance, I gave a recipe to one of my newer cooks, J. It listed the ingredients, listed cooking methods, and combining the components. When it came time to finishing the recipe, it said "Put the pastry cream into the robot coupe and add the chevre." She turned to me and asked if she had missed something. "Where is the pastry cream? It's not listed in the ingredients." she asked. I then had to show her that the first part of the recipe is making a pastry cream with the first few ingredients.

I suppose part of me knew that they are not aware of what they are making on a daily basis or why. That they just look at ingredients listed and methods and don't think about it. That they were just blindly trying to get through prep lists and go home. Just getting through the day.  Often I'm not really aware that others in the kitchen aren't like myself, constantly thinking through a recipe, no matter how many times I've done it.

So, in an effort to teach my staff about the whys and hows of cooking and pastry, I started having a one-on-one conversation with one of the most recently hired pastry cooks about the Pastry Family Tree.

Just as in savory, pastry has an intricate lineage running through our recipes that can be traced back to Mother Sauce(s). The most basic begins with Creme Anglaise. Being a custard, it is the matriarch of many of pastry's creations, from sauces, other custards, to bases for bavarians, or mousses. Changing the ratio of ingredients, and sometimes, adding other components, you can create a variety of items, as well as learn how changing the cooking methods are a way of getting those ingredients to react to one another differently to effect different results.

The Anglaise method is basically heating your liquids (milk, cream) and tempering it into a yolk and sugar mixture, returning this to your pot and cooking this mixture on the stovetop to 77ºC - 85ºC.

If you were to add cornstarch to the Anglaise - keeping the same method of cooking it on the stovetop - you have pastry cream.

If you temper the hot liquids into the yolks, strain, and pour it into ramekins and bake it in the oven in a water bath, you have creme brulee (and pots de creme, etc.). You have changed the cooking method to a baked custard.

If you add whole eggs and bake the custard, you have a flan.

If you spin your cold Anglaise in an ice cream machine, you have ice cream.

I was teaching E. about how to make Italian Meringue Buttercream. A recent graduate of French Pastry School, she has not had much experience in the field, other than baking for friends and family. While at the mixer, we explored the branch of the Meringue family tree.

Italian Meringue is basically egg whites, whipped until light and fluffy, then a sugar syrup (heated to a certain temperature) is added to stabilize it.

Add butter, and you have Italian Meringue Buttercream.

Add bloomed and melted gelatin, and you have marshmallows.

Fold your Italian Meringue into a base of almond flour, powdered sugar and liquid whites, you have French macarons.

Change the components of the syrup and the ratio of syrup to egg whites, and you have marshmallow fluff.

Now, if you marry Pastry Cream, gelatin, and Italian Meringue, you have a chiboust.

It's been interesting talking to E. about how these things are all interconnected and how changes create new things. I tell my staff, there is no "new recipe" but just the same methods, and often the same ingredients in different ratios.

Recipes are guidelines. They are reminders of how just much and what you need to make a particular item. Learning the actual methods and what to look for - "When is it done?" "When it's done!" - instead of sticking strictly to cooking time, for instance, you learn about the chemistry and the hows and the whys. You must always be present, aware, and you must think when cooking and baking. There are so many variables that recipes don't cover, such as an oven running hotter or cooler, gas versus electric stoves, and climate changes, that you need to learn to recognize what is going on with what you're making. The fact that so many family recipes are passed down the each new generation by learning with someone makes more sense than just inheriting a recipe box.

It's not always easy getting people to think and learn. It's not always easy to take the time to teach someone methods. Some days you spend putting out more fires than guiding your staff. Some people are actually just working for a paycheck, while others, like E., are interested in learning what's behind the written recipe. I'm looking forward to introducing the rest of my staff to the Pastry Family Tree and hope that I am able to reach them and teach them what I know. I understand that it is a process and that I have to learn to be patient with myself - many times the things that come easily to me, these things that I take for granted - won't come easily to others. And I have to be patient to those who are not as much of a pastry nerd as I am and try to find a way to reach them as well.

Next time you're making brownies, a cake, or even a soup, think about what's going on in front of you. If you have time - when you have time - experiment a little and see what happens. You may find a delightful surprise in a recipe you've used for years.