Tuesday, September 6, 2011

comfort me with apples

In case you weren't sure, fall is here. And fall means apples. Apples of all shapes and sizes and colors...my tastebuds are singing just thinking about it.

When I was younger, we went apple picking to celebrate the end of summer, the start of apple season, and just to get outside and enjoy the air and sun. I was so overjoyed then, when, during my senior year of college, I went with a group of students (cheers alliance française!) to indulge in that again: roaming between the trees, looking for apples to pick, breathing fresh air and enjoying the company of friends.

But I never knew what to do with my apples, beyond just eat them. There has only been one true apple pie recipe that I ever liked and so I would munch munch munch to my heart's content, or at least until the apples ran out.

This however, was all before I came to pastry school. A few weeks ago, when we were wrapping up our plated desserts unit, we made a warm apple charlotte, and I fell in love. We had been tasting individual desserts for weeks but this was the first one I gobbled up; it was that good.

A charlotte is loosely defined as a molded dessert. From there, a lot of varieties exist, but I'll spare you the lecture. This charlotte was made in a cupcake pan with a basic apple compote, and toast-you can't get much simpler than that.

Biting into it, I felt like I was home. It was warm and sweet, and all around comforting.

Later this week, I'm going to don the hat of the baking babysitter and teach my girls how to make this, but I'm too eager to wait to share it with you.

Instead of giving you a traditional recipe though, I'm going to walk you through the steps. The trick of a compote is that...you don't really need a recipe-it's all to your liking, and because of that, it feels funny that such a basic pastry staple is so...imprecise and free.

You will need:
Clarified butter (more on that later)

Additional spices/flavor: the recipe we used at school called for calvados, or apple brandy. In the past, I've used some vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, but it's up to you/what you have in your cupboard.

Cutting board
Vegetable peeler
Apple corer or melon baller
Pastry brush
Parchment paper
Cupcake tin
Sheet pan

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Peel, halve and core your apples. Cut them however you'd like- in thin wedges, tiny cubes-just keep the shape uniform, so that the apples cook at the same rate. How many apples do you need? I'd say go for 3, to make enough for 6 of these. If you're concerned, make more. There is nothing wrong with having apple compote leftovers!

2. Place apples in the pot, with a little bit of water-you don't want the apples swimming, but if you add too much water, it's ok-you can fix it later. Add your sugar and flavorings to the water and apples. Again, how much sugar? Go with... 1/4 cup. Less is more, since there is natural sugar in your apples, but again-feel free to experiment. Cover with the parchment paper, which should be cut to act as a lid (just a circle shape that can fit inside the pot) with a hole in the center for steam to escape through. Make sure the parchment paper is pushed down to be directly on top of the apples, not just hanging out in midair. Place over medium heat.

3. Let the apples cook. Check them to make sure you haven't made applesauce, and to see that the liquid has evaporated. This compote will be done when the apples become translucent, but can still hold their shape, in that they won't turn to applesauce mush when you go to taste them. If you feel like your apples are done but that there is too much liquid left, take the parchment paper lid off and let the water evaporate out.

4. While you are letting your apple compote cook and then cool, prepare your charlotte molds. Make the clarified butter by taking unsalted butter (let's say two sticks: it will be too much, but clarified butter is definitely a good thing to have in your fridge), and placing it in another pot, and bring it to a boil. From there, pour it into a clear heat safe container, and let the milk solids settle to the bottom. You can really use any heat safe container, but with a clear one you can see the milk solids settle.

5. Cut your bread so that for each cupcake mold, you have two circles (about the size of the bottom of the mold) and a strip of bread to go around the sides of the mold. The width of the strip depends on the depth of your cupcake tin. Using the pastry brush, brush each piece with the clarified butter, and line each cupcake mold with the bread, in the following order: circle at the bottom, strip around the sides, apple compote in the center, circle on top. Make sure to fit the last circle snugly inside the ring of bread around the sides.

6. Bake the apple charlottes in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. The bread should begin to brown-imagine the perfect piece of toast. About halfway through, or whenever you start to see the bread brown, you can unmold the charlottes onto a parchment paper lined sheet pan, and continue to let them toast up. Serve warm, and enjoy!

Monday, August 15, 2011

when life gives you lemons

Forget lemonade--I make lemon curd. I make it in honor of a lot of people: for my grandmother, for my best friend, for past love. Even though I never made this for them, or even with any of them, this custard in particular just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, as if I have all of their love scooped into every spoonful. There is something about the sweetness of a lemon that cuts through the sharpness to create a really nice, bright hybrid flavor. It reminds me that no matter what happens, there will always be a ray of sunshine peeking through, and if I'm not feeling that sunshine-I make it myself.

It's also pretty versatile, but as a pick me up, I prefer to eat it just as it is: no frills, no fuss. Simple done well trumps all for this one. It has a wonderfully smooth texture that hits the spot when I need a smile.

I don't have any lemons now, but I can assure you I'll be picking some up later today. It's been a while since I made it last, but it's long overdue.

This particular recipe is taken from the Epicurious app, but there are many incarnations out there.

3-4 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 stick of butter, unsalted

Cutting board
Pot& metal bowl, or double-boiler
2 additional bowls (of any kind, large enough to hold the lemon curd though)
Mixing spoon
Fine sieve/strainer

Begin by setting up a bain-marie, or a pot of water with a metal bowl sitting on top. A double boiler would also work. Keep the stove set to medium heat, no higher. Cut the butter into cubes, and place inside the bowl/top of the double boiler-in order to melt the butter while you prep the rest of your ingredients.

In another bowl, zest your lemons by grating just the yellow of the peel (no pith!). Then, cut your lemons in half and squeeze all of the juice out. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar to this bowl, and crack your eggs in here as well. Whisk together immediately, to avoid "burning" the eggs with the sugar.

Once combined, add this bowl to the melted butter bowl, and stir occasionally. You will feel the custard get a bit thicker, and in order to test for doneness, take a spoon, dip it into the custard, and draw a horizontal line across the back of the spoon. If that line holds (as in, if the custard doesn't drip down immediately) for at least 5 seconds, you're all set. If you're concerned about temperature, you can also ensure that you cook the custard to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carefully remove the bowl from the pot, and strain out the lemon zest into an empty bowl. This step will also remove any bits of yolk that may have  been over-cooked or burned by the sugar.

You can eat this while still warm, or let it cool before digging in. It always comes down to a question of patience for me-whether I want to wait for it to cool or not.

Bon appetit mes chers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

state of the blog update!

ok kids, here we go!

I didn't fall off the face of the earth, but I have fallen behind blogging, and for that I apologize!

I had been in the process of moving when I last posted, and finally did, only to lose all Internet access I previously had. Additionally, I changed jobs (again) and all of that life rearranging has taken its toll on this rabbit!

I have some good news though!

For those of you who are interested in little tastes of dessert and my goings on, you can follow me on twitter! Photos of classwork and quick updates are shared there, and that could help fill the void until posting can resume.

And on that note, more regular posting will resume ASAP. I should be getting Internet access within the week, and will have a computer that will let me use that very Internet shortly after that.

Thank you for bearing with this unintended summer hiatus, and I hope you're staying cool with some sweet summer treats!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

have i told you lately...

…well, anything? i’m sorry for the long gap in posts! you know how life goes, and the second that you think you’re ahead, you fall ten paces behind. i’ve experienced this in class, at work, all over the place. is there anything i can do to make it up to you?

(caution, after the jump, picture heavy!)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

my espresso life

as i wrote in the intro to this blog, this is a space for me to share not only what i'm picking up in school, but also my experiences beyond the classroom. i'll be the first to admit that there is a lot that i still need to learn; i have too many firsts untasted, unseen, and unknown for my liking. but i digress. for now, i'd like to share with you what my "off days" look like.

i'm in class only three nights a week, but that doesn't mean that i'm sitting doing nothing the rest of the time! quite the contrary, actually.

almost two months ago, maybe a little less, i was roaming around on the web, looking for jobs, because even though i already had two AND school on my plate, i wouldn't be able to sustain any sort of life, let alone pay the rent, on what i was making. and then, during my search, i got distracted on twitter.

but this distraction ultimately proved useful, because a tweet from @goodfoodjobs is what essentially led me to my rent-paying, "off-day" job as a barista. and i should add, my first real food related job. for those who don't know, goodfoodjobs.com is basically a job search website compiled of listings of openings ONLY related to food. any and every aspect of the food biz is represented, but the food&drink focus is definitely there. no more searching and finding completely useless, unrelated jobs--this is a useful site, and it's free to join! (which makes it even better).

anyway, back to the job. i found the listing and gave it a shot. but remember those food firsts i'm severely lacking? i applied for the job and was immediately petrified, as i am no gourmand de café (i barely drink it), i know very little of wine (it's also a wine bar) and again...since this would be my first food job, i have absolutely no prior industry experience.

somehow the stars aligned and my "i know i have a lot to learn but i am totally willing to learn it the right way-your way!" attitude got me the job. maybe the fact that they needed the help and i was a body willing to do the job and not quibble about pay also helped my cause. but i quickly found that the process of getting the job...was the easy part. i've been learning and reading all i can about different coffees and espresso-based drinks, since my training was espresso style at best: a rush of information over a very short period of time. since i started working though, i've gotten through the "uh oh they just ordered a ____ and i've never made that before!" jitters, and have gotten the tips to prove that. coffee people are a very specific breed-when it's not done right, you know, and i'm happy that i've made the progress i have.

this learning curve hasn't been without its share of laughs (thank goodness!). it was tough at first to contain my excitement of getting my first macchiato right for example, because that's not the sort of thing you should tell a customer. so i just smiled like an idiot when he took a sip and was happy, since he was relatively unaware of the internal monologue i had going. there was also the time that i tried to make iced coffee...without having previously set up a pitcher of coffee in the fridge...haha, oops.

but more than funny stories, this job has also given me tools for the future. (cue inspirational, lifetime movie music).

on tuesday, i went out to work as usual, and had a relatively productive day. i made one of those guinness cakes, and had the place happily humming along as the day came to a close. and then, a half hour before i was supposed to close up shop, a regular came in with her daughter. they came in, ordered lunch, and sat down together on one of the couches in our seating area. and once served, it felt like something changed. i almost felt like i was intruding when i was clearing their plates; they exuded such peace, and were both enveloped in a blissful calm together that i would have hated to interrupt. and so i didn't. if there was one more thing i could do for them, it was going to be to not ruin the moment.

the mother, upon realizing that i had kept the shop open longer just for the two of them, thanked me profusely. i said it was no problem, luckily i didn't have to run off to class, and quickly cleaned up once they left. and i wasn't saying that to be polite, either. i felt like i had gotten just as much out of the dining experience as they did. i had seen their looks of satisfaction, i felt their happiness, and i knew what i needed to do to satiate my own hunger. i knew that i wanted to capture that moment, and that one day, with my food, that i wanted to create that feeling (and then some!) for those indulging in just a bite, or more. every so often, i find myself wondering if doing any this was right, and it's moments like this that give me the affirmation i need. and that's some food for thought i'll gladly take seconds of.

Friday, April 8, 2011

extra extra, read all about it!

here we are. another month, another unit, another exam. how is all of this time passing by so quickly!

as this blog continues, and its readership grows (hello everyone!) i'm working on not only adding to the archive, by posting, but also further developing the blog itself, and hopefully making the framework better as i go along. to that end, i'd like to highlight a few things!

i've added a technical dictionary, and am working on a product reference guide, so that when i refer to something that we've made, or i talk about a technique we learned about in class, you'll understand what the heck i'm saying! i'm going to keep adding to and refining each as i go through the program, so the dictionary you see now, and the reference guide you will see (soon!) are very much just my way of shoving my foot in the door, as opposed to a finished product, but it's a solid start, no?

on that note, if you have any questions, about what i'm doing, about anything about pastry school in general, or what have you, feel free to ask! you can leave a comment on any of the actual posts, or you can contact me directly at bellenanasansbanane@gmail.com.

from sending e-mails to receiving them, you can now "follow" this blog via e-mail! i personally prefer using google reader, if i don't actually plan on checking the site itself, but here is another option for you to get a hearty helping of belle nana sans banane! for those interested, it's on the right hand side of the page, underneath the archive tab.

now that i think about google reader, my lovely blogger friend The Culinary Librarian actually wrote a piece about it, for those curious about rss feeds. and speaking of her, let's shed some spotlight on a few other foodie blogs!
  • The Culinary Librarian: big apple foodie friend. wonderfully insightful, and one mean macaron artiste.
  • The Accidental Vegetarian: another friend of mine, this time, from my undergrad years. a refreshing take on healthy (wallet AND stomach friendly!) food and home cooking. yum!
  • Baking It Til I'm Making It: not actually a friend of mine (i just don't know him), but how i found his blog is actually a funny story. i was looking for a photo reference of a dessert for a friend of mine when i came across this blog, and it turns out that he's a student at my school! for a sneak peak of what's to come for me in school, check out his blog! 
now i can imagine what you're thinking. why did i have to look elsewhere for a photo reference for an item that was undoubtedly sitting in my fridge? the answer mes chers, is not a good one. it is all because of batteries. for my camera, that is. i kept meaning to pick some up, but only remembered at inopportune times. see? not a good answer, but it's the truth. but earlier this week i picked up LOTS of batteries, so from now on i will be teasing your tastebuds with photos of my classwork and more!

i want to thank you for reading, and welcome again those new to the ride. i'm sure that by next month, there will be new features, more updates, and changes to the blog that i'll be filling you in on. and now that i think about it, at just about this time next month i'll be experiencing the biggest change to my education so far--moving on to pastry level two!

until then mes chers, eat healthy, eat happy!

pâte feuilletée: written and practical exams

ta-da! an exam post that is only a DAY after the actual exam! i should be careful about setting that sort of precedent though, it's like what i've told my classes (i teach swim lessons): the problem with doing a good job is that you keep having to do so! and knowing my schedule, i got lucky this time.

read more after the jump!