Pastry School Update: Tarts and Cakes

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Having completed the petit fours unit, it was time to move on to tarts, with Chef John Kraus. We had a little bit of experience making tart doughs and rolling out tart dough from the tartlets we made in the petit fours unit, but I still have a difficult time rolling out some of the doughs. The key is to have the dough really chilled, a well-floured surface to roll the dough, and to keep the dough moving. This is an area I still need to practice on…

Photograph (right): Chocolate tart topped with nougatine crisps

In the tarts class, we made two types of lemon tarts. The first was a lemon cream tart that was topped with French meringue shells, the other was a lemon curd tart topped with Italian meringue. They were beautiful tarts. We also made a very rich, seductive looking chocolate tart. A chocolate nougatine crisp was made and broken in pieces to adorn the top of the tart, as well as give it a some texture and crunch.

Photograph (below):  A slice of chocolate tart with nougatine crisps


Photograph (below): Lemon cream tart topped with French meringues and granulated almonds


Chef John also had us make some fruit tarts using almond cream, and he taught us how to make puff pastry dough. With the puff pastry dough, we made mille feuille and St. Honore, which is basically a heart attack of puff pastry, pastry cream, and salambos (cream puffs dipped in caramelized sugar).

Puff pastry dough is similar to croissant or danish dough in the way that it is rolled and folded. I love the way puff pastry dough feels, it is almost velvety.

Photograph (below): Nougat mousse cake: pistachio dacquoise, apricot-passion fruit gelee, and nougat mousse


Photograph (below): Pithivier (almond galette). Almond frangipane encased by flaky puff pastry


After the conclusion of tarts week, we moved on to European-style cakes with Chef Dimitri Fayard. Chef Dimitri has his own patisserie in Chicago that he runs with his wife, also a pastry chef, called Vanille Patisserie. This unit has by far been the most difficult for me because everything must be extremely precise.

Many of the products require a careful incorporation of air or folding motion that can make or break the resulting product. Nevertheless, this has been my most enjoyable unit because I loved learning the different components and styles of cakes.

Photograph (below): Hazelnut chocolate cake coated in chocolate mirror glaze


Photograph (below): Nougat mousse cake layers


The cakes we’ve made are European-style cakes, not the American version of layer cakes that are as tall as your head. The layers complement each other and when experienced for the first time, are incredibly impressive.

We made four main cakes: nougat mousse cake, coconut passion cake, chocolate hazelnut cake, and raspberry silk cake. The nougat mousse cake was my favorite, it was layers of pistachio dacquoise with apricot-passionfruit gelee and honey nougat mousse studded with dried fruit and nuts. It sounds odd, I know, but the flavors together were great.

We also made pithivier, a French dessert of puff pastry and almond cream.

Photograph (below): Raspberry silk cake: almond dacquoise, raspberry gelee, hazelnut crunch, and white chocolate diplomat mousse layers. The top is coated in a colored white chocolate spray.


Photograph (below): A slice of hazelnut chocolate cake: hazelnut dacquoise, carmelized hazelnuts, hazelnut mousse, chocolate mousse, and chocolate biscuit layers


Photograph (below): A slice of pithivier


Our class finished a bit ahead of schedule, so Chef Dimitri generously gave us the recipe to his “Sophia” cake sold at Vanille and let us each make it to practice our cake techniques further the last two days of the unit.

This is a phenomenal cake, probably one of the best I’ve ever had! It is several layers consisting of chocolate cake, hazelnut crunch, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, vanilla cremeux, chocolate mousse, and then a milk chocolate glaze. Surprisingly, everything is just right, so it’s not overwhelming or too rich to enjoy.

Photograph (below): Sophia cakes courtesy of Chef Dimitri


Photograph (below): Sophia cake slice. Heaven on a fork.


With that, we move on to gumpaste flowers and wedding cakes…and it’s hard to believe I am halfway done with pastry school and my time here in Chicago…

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There Are 5 Responses So Far. »

  1. I would love to have the recipe for The Sophia cake or any of the beautiful pastries you have photographed. Your confections are so perfect!

  2. Hi there, would like to know if it is possible to get/buy a copy of the sophia cake recipe?

    please could you contact me by email.

    many thanks

  3. Hi! I too would love to get this recipe if able! I just stumbled upon your site 2 days ago. I LOVE it! You are doing an amazing job! Keep up the great work!

  4. Hello!

    Just beautiful!

    Would love it if you would share the recipes.


  5. Please, please may I have your recipe for Hazelnut Mousse.


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