Pastry School Update: Sugar Candies, Ice Creams and Sorbets, Plated Desserts, & Jam-Making

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Again, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted about school. I’ve never experienced such a period in my life where the days, and weeks…and months literally fly by. But I am back, and hoping to stay around a bit. I’ve got a zillion recipe ideas crashing around in my head and I want to try them out and post them.

Photograph (right): Vanilla chiboust with fresh red wild berries and honey-wheat tuile

Schoolwise: I believe my last post relating to school was when we were doing our wedding cakes and gumpaste flowers. Since then, we’ve had our second exam, Chef Nicholas Lodge’s visit/demonstration for a whole day, sugar candies, ice creams and sorbets, and plated desserts.

My classmates and I were fortunate enough to have the experience of learning more gumpaste and fondant/sugar art techniques from Chef Lodge, for free, during one of our normal school days. Chef Lodge is a highly skilled pastry chef who was once part of the pastry team in charge of Princess Diana’s wedding cake. He has two sugar art schools, one in Atlanta, where he is based, and the other in Tokyo, Japan.

Watching Chef Lodge demonstrate some of his cake decorating techniques inspired me to order his fondant and gumpaste kit. If people want me to make them beautiful cakes for special occasions, I want to be able to do it well. My reasoning behind this purchase is efficiency and personal improvement. I am eager to start “playing” with the kits once they arrive.

Photograph (below): Warm bittersweet chocolate cake with berries, honey ice cream, and chocolate decoration

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The sugar candies unit was next. I don’t have any pictures because the items we made aren’t the most photogenic. Not that they aren’t beautiful or anything, but it’s much easier to photograph a dramatic piece of cake or even a peach dripping with juice- than it is a bowl of wrapped caramels. The wheels in my head were definitely sent spinning though, there is so much one can do with candies like these, whether in flavors or packaging or used in a million other ways.

Photograph (Below): Apricot-passion fruit pate de fruit squares

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We made pate de fruit, a refreshing fruit candy that actually tastes like the real fruit flavor it is because it’s made with fruit puree, which isn’t that common in fruit candies anymore. We also made caramels, marshmallows, and honey nougat.

The nougat were studded with toasted pistachios and almonds, lending a pleasant crunch to compliment the chewy texture. This took place right before Easter, so I brought a bunch of the candy home with me when I visited for the weekend. It always amazes me when I see people’s reactions to real, honestly created food that doesn’t contain preservatives, fillers, or artificial flavorings.

Photograph (below): Poached rhubarb with rhubarb broth, banana crisp, strawberry sorbet, and spun sugar

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After sugar candies, my class moved on to ice creams and sorbets. Chef John Kraus worked with us on balancing the recipe equations for these frozen concoctions, which can be a lot more difficult than it sounds but nonetheless appreciated.

The end result is an insanely creamy texture and oh yes, mouthfeel. Lovely word. Each table was given two different ice creams and two different sorbets to make, and it was reminiscent of being in my favorite store when I was 7, Baskin Robbins.

At the end of the second week we used some of our ice creams and sorbets to make frozen desserts such as a bombe, vacherin, and protiferole tart.

Photograph (below): Hazelnut financier with white wine-poached pears, hazelnut praline ice cream, and pear chips

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You can see here that I put some of that ice cream, which currently occupies my freezer, to good use in this Chocolate Stout Milkshake.

Photograph (below): Chocolate ice cream

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Meanwhile, during this time, I had another stage experience at TRU, where Gale Gand is the executive pastry chef and co-owner. I staged with the pastry chef, Chef Meg Galus, who is a FPS alum. I was there for about eleven hours, until 1:15 am or so.

It certainly didn’t fit into my current sleep schedule where I’m up at 5:00 am every morning, but it did remind me of my bartending days in college- the heat, the rush, and then after cleaning you leave hungry and tired, but awake from a second wind. But back to pastry school. Our most recent unit has been plated desserts with Chef En-Ming Hsu. I continue to be amazed by all of our chef instructors, they are such brilliant and helpful teachers.

Photograph (below): Crepes Suzette

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We made a variety of product for the plated desserts unit, so that even with different recipes, we could understand the fundamentals and techniques to mastering them. My favorite plated dessert was a cappuccino creme brulee with chocolate cremeux, milk foam, and biscotti, because I loved how the components were assembled and I enjoy the whole coffee shop experience.

Chef Hsu made her cappuccino brulee in a fancy coffee cup, and then after caramelizing the sugar she topped it with a scoop of chocolate cremeux, a dollop of milk foam, and dusted it with cocoa powder and spices. On the side was a small piece of hazelnut-pistachio biscotti we made as well.

Another dessert that we made was poached rhubarb served in a rhubarb broth with strawberry sorbet and a banana tuile. I’ve never tasted rhubarb before and I really enjoyed its fresh, spring-like taste.

Photograph (below): Creme caramel with whipped cream and sugar cage

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The last two days of our plated desserts unit we also covered jam-making. We used IQF (individually quick frozen) fruit, since it’s difficult to find all of the required fruits in Chicago this time of year.

IQF fruit is picked when it is at its ripest, then frozen in a way that prevents large ice crystals from developing, and this prevents the fruit from becoming mushy and watery when thawed. In some cases, IQF fruits can be of better quality than what is available at your grocery store during a specific season.

I was assigned to make cherry jam, while some of my classmates made strawberry, raspberry, plum, fig, blackberry, blueberry, apricot, and apricot-almond jams. Another group made apple butter as well. Nothing conveys summer like fresh jam! I love the way it looks like molten stained glass on white bread.

Photograph (below): Cherry jam on French baguette

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Starting this week I will have my third exam over these past units. This will be my second-to-last exam and as much as I love being in school and learning everyday, I am certainly looking forward to life after school. I have so many aspirations, ideas, and goals.

Chicago is a fantastic city that has always been very good to me, but I am longing for some place where I can have my own yard, grow my own vegetables, and hear crickets at night.

Stay posted as I promise there will be more updates very soon!

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There Are 7 Responses So Far. »

  1. Hello Megan,

    Seems I’m the only Bloglines subscriber to your great blog. You do an amazing job in laying out your blog posts and you use great writing skills to express enjoyment with you course.

    Not into baking, etc. but who knows. Your blog will be 1st on my list of items to try.

    I learned of your blog through your Uncle Dave Kaminski. He gives amazing tips and lessons about using video.

    As I update my blog and add links to other things in life that golfers like I will include a link to your pastry blog.

    Thank you for great articles.

    Glen Osborne

  2. Megan, the pictures of your creations are making me hungry. You have incredible talent.Ana

  3. hi
    very cute and deliciuos dessert can do making for

  4. I just heard a rumor that you were submitted to be a contestant on a cooking show. How exciting. And What have I always said? MARTHA?

  5. […] gaze, baguette, luscious, […]

  6. How did you do the sugar cage?? I love how that looks! Did you pipe it, the lines are so clean!

  7. Very good, thank.

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