Setting the goal

The term “annual review” doesn’t garner the same excitement as “staff party.” While I had attended staff parties with regularity throughout my career, I had honestly never had a real review until I came on board with One Off Hospitality in 2012 at Blackbird. I find the these reviews mildly exhausting to perform for my own staff of 7, I can only imagine the time and energy it takes to perform such reviews for an entire company. Which probably explains why I hadn’t really received reviews before.  At One Off Hospitality, each review begins with the reviewee presenting a list of goals for themselves inside and outside the restaurant, as well as for their department, and for their own teams. Then, one by one, each partner and chef speaks their mind, addressing the goals, and discussing points of improvement for the next year.

One of the most valuable tools I’ve received from this process is learning how to set a goal. I really thought I knew how. I’d certainly used the words before. But what I really knew how to do was dream up ideas, say “I really should” or “One day I wanna” or “I wonder” or “wouldn’t it be cool if” or even “if it were me I’d”. But these weren’t goals, they were just possibilities. I didn’t know I had to take a possibility and set it into existence by putting pen to paper to turn it into a goal. To bring it into the physical world, let it look back at me, and refine it in a way that is tangible and presentable to another person. I’ve come to realize, a goal can exist, floating around in my pastry life, dodging in and out of conversation, living on a cloud of possibility. But until I put it into words and set them into existence, these untethered goals are almost as useless to me as not having a goal at all.

I ran my early career, as many chefs do, on a wild cyclone of constantly spinning possibilities. I used to imagine my creative process like this. I would read and eat and talk and watch and smell and listen and absorb ideas. Each thing I absorbed became a kite with a long string, just blowing around in the gusty winds of my brain. When I needed to collect ideas for a dish or a concept, I would look up into the sky, and start pulling, holding a tangle of ideas by their kite strings. I’d let a storm rage in my mind, for weeks on end, grabbing one string with a “this kind of tasted like….” and another by thinking “I saw this one time I wonder…” releasing a kite back into the storm when I saw another possibility that tickled me more.

At first this process was invigorating, all that possibility swirling furiously around inside me fueled me with so much energy! Enough energy to propel me through the unharnessed system I had developed until finally after spinning possibility after possibility around in my head, grabbing ideas and letting them go, I managed to squeeze the tiniest something out into action.

At some point, this process began to drain more energy than it generated, and when that happened, anxiety and stress sunk in and became my new source of fuel. I spent each day forcing myself through the storm, pushing and pushing, grinding down my sanity, squeezing out these tiny little actions from a hurricane of possibility.

I had become so used to the stress, the grind, that I couldn’t see any other way. I often felt like I needed to quit cooking all together, like it was too much and I couldn’t hack it, then would feel guilty for feeling that way when I loved my job so much. When I’d become paralyzed by the constant motion of untethered possibility I’d lay on the floor in the private dining room at Blackbird, with a towel over my eyes to block out the world and forge the storm to grasp just one single idea to work with.

I don’t know when the simple yearly goal sheet my bosses had me put together started to seep into my daily creative process. But at some point, I stepped away from the stormy skies and found a shelter in One Off’s guidance. Pin a few ideas down. Take one action at a time. Use the limited time I have to grow each goal into maturity. Then move on.

So, when I sat down to my annual review this year, I had a list of goals, some small, some lofty, and suggested actions I can take to follow through. “I want to use more grains” changed from swirling thoughts of cornmeal and amaranth and flavor flours and ancient flat breads to “look through each of our existing recipes to find places where the flavors of grains would enhance the end product.” and “research and test grain recipes written by other authors.” and even “work with Greg Wade our head baker to source grains from the farms and millers he uses for the breads at Publican Quality Bread.”

Within two weeks of my review, the phrase I had uttered for 9 months “I would like to use more interesting grains in our baked goods” suddenly became a locally milled cornmeal muffin with michigan cranberries. The actions fell right into place once I set the goal, quickly bringing in cornmeal from a pair of mills, as well as using the small mill we have at the bakery to mill our own dried corn. We tested a few other peoples recipes, decided honey would add moisture and enhance the corn, and I consulted Greg the baker who suggested making a cornmeal porridge first before mixing the grain. Add a handful of the cranberries, and viola! Possibility had become reality.

The first few tries were dry, or crumbly, or nubby, or a little gritty. But one simple action after the next, and I was on my way to reaching my goal. This is a long term goal, bringing more grains into our desserts, something that we could do for years and years before the goal reaches maturity. And I relish this, energized the clear skies of my newer process and the real possibility that can come from setting a goal.

RECIPE: CORNMEAL CRANBERRY MUFFINS

 

 

 

A Long-winded Post on Pacojets

pacojet

If you want to start a lively debate, put a savory chef and a pastry chef in a room and bring up Pacojets.

Invented in Switzerland in the 1980s and made available to the U.S. market in 1992, a Pacojet is “a dynamic professional kitchen appliance that makes it easy to prepare high-quality dishes while saving time, labor and reducing food waste.” In most kitchens in this country, though, it is simply a $5,000 ice cream machine. Whereas traditional machines rely on a liquid base, a frozen chamber, and a sharp, horizontally rotating blade, a Pacojet vertically shears a frozen base into ice cream or sorbet.
The metal containers the liquid base is frozen in are referred to as beakers and each safely holds 1 liter of product. At $50 apiece, however, most kitchens freeze their base in plastic pint delis, then transfer the puck to a beaker when needed. N.B. If you ever find yourself on the phone with a representative from Pacojet, the answer to “do you only freeze your liquid base directly into the beakers?” is always “yes.”

It should be clear from the preceding paragraph that Pacojets are not practical for restaurants with high nightly cover-counts. If you’re blowing through 4 quarts each of several different kinds of ice creams and sorbets a day, a traditional upright machine is the way to go. Pacojets, therefore, have found a home around the world in fine-dining and tasting-menu-only restaurants.

The control panel on a Pacojet allows the user to select the number of “layers” of base they want to spin. (For reference, a pint deli of base knocked into a beaker usually reads as six layers, so one layer is roughly a third of a cup of spun ice cream.) In an enclosed kitchen, this means that the pastry station can spin ice cream to order, or nearly to order, and serve diners a product that is incredibly dense and smooth. And for kitchens with a minimal or non-existent pastry staff, there is no risk of over-spinning and buttering an ice cream base.

Both the older and newer Pacojet models have two settings for the amount of air they incorporate into an ice cream. On the older Pacojet, there is a small blue button that when held down while the product is spinning sets the overrun to zero. Conversely, if let alone and only used at the end of the spin cycle to release the built up pressure, the ice cream will by default be somewhere in the ball park—this can depend on how sharp your blade is, whether or not the blade’s RPM have started to slow down, and how rusted the machine’s shaft is—of 80% overrun (meaning 40% air). If you’re in a restaurant where the executive chef has a fetish for absurdly dense ice cream (so, most restaurants) and don’t want to spend the time mid-service holding down a button, there is a small hole below the pressure release that a paperclip or similarly thin/sturdy object can be inserted into to lock the machine on zero overrun.

I personally prefer ice cream and sorbet made via the common turbine method, but the Pacojet, like hydrocolloids or liquid nitrogen, is excellent for creating components on a dessert that can’t be achieved in any other way. The most well known example of this in the U.S. is probably Matt Tinder’s lime marshmallow from Coi. Back in 2012, Tinder developed a technique that involved making a gelatin-set marshmallow, blending it into a liquid with lime juice and salt, freezing the liquid in a Pacojet beaker, and then spinning on full overrun. He served this in a bowl with sorbet and used a white-hot piece of charcoal to singe the top. The dish, predictably, blew people’s minds. No one had ever eaten something that was the texture of marshmallow base before it set and also freezing cold. The Pacojet was an integral part of this dish, because the “marshmallow” had to be served within minutes of being spun, or the gelatin would re-set the mixture into a chewy puck. We’re doing a variation on Tinder’s technique at Smyth, replacing the marshmallow with a Swiss meringue and lime juice with yogurt. It’s delicious, and while it isn’t ice cream, it is something I just couldn’t do without a Pacojet.

Two other hacks I’d be remiss not to point out. First, for staff meal, Pacojets are excellent as instant-whipped-cream makers. Fill a beaker halfway with cream, spin, release the pressure, and spin a second time. Done. Second, Pacojets can turn a beaker of neutral ice cream base into a flavored one. Chopped fruit, herb purees, chunks of honeycomb—you can spoon a few tablespoons of almost anything onto a frozen beaker of base and spin it. (If you want strawberry ice cream on your menu I strongly suggest making a strawberry ice cream base, but on-the-fly this is a good technique to know about.)

This same fact—that a paco can paco anything—has led to a lot of ice cream and sorbet “recipes” that in no way, shape or form resemble traditional ones, but work within the confines of this specific machine. While staging I’ve come across sorbet bases stabilized entirely with gelatin or guar, ice creams that have such a high amount of brown butter emulsified into them that they would instantly break in bench-top machines, and all manner of recipes that were created “to taste” by savory chefs and have absolutely no regard for fat/sugar/milk solid ratios. “Keep adding xanthan,” is a line I’ve heard one too many times. But if it (a) tastes good and (b) spins nicely, it goes on the menu.

If you work with a Pacojet that hasn’t broken yet (it will), here’s a quick tutorial on remedying the situation. At some point your Pacojet will either a) process a beaker all the way to the bottom layer and then inexplicably stop or b) start processing a beaker and stop mid-spin. Both of these scenarios can happen because of the density of the product you’re spinning (too dense), the temperature of the base (too cold), or because the planets are simply out of alignment. First, grab a Philips head screwdriver and remove the four screws holding down the black plastic panel on top of the Pacojet. You’re now at the choose-your-own-adventure portion of this tutorial: you’ll be looking at a secondary metal panel, held in place by six screws. Five of these are visible—the sixth is covered by a small red piece of plastic. By breaking the red seal, you are voiding the owner’s warranty on the machine. I’m going to assume that you’re in a situation where you need to say “f*ck it” and go on with your day and have broken the seal and removed the sixth and final screw. Remove the metal panel. Below, among other things, are two gears that have a thick rubber band stretched around them. Remove the band and begin rotating the larger gear counter-clockwise. There’s also a white, rectangular piece of plastic above the gears—if for any reason this is spinning, hold it in place while rotating the larger gear (this is an RPM counter and letting it spin while manually bringing up the shaft is a bad idea.) Once the larger gear locks into place, your blade will be fully raised. Congratulations!

To prevent the above from happening for as long as possible, clean your Pacojet! Even if the restaurant you’re at decided to buy a used one that didn’t come with the cleaning parts (a green rubber seal that stands in for the typical black one, a plastic, three-armed blue brush apparatus) you can still go through the three part cycle once a day or week or month. First, paco a beaker of hot water. Second, paco a beaker of soapy water. Finally, paco one last beaker of hot water to rinse the shaft. Here’s the VERY IMPORTANT part: during all of these spins, you MUST hold down the blue pressure release the entire time. Any pressure that builds up in the beaker while you’re spinning a liquid will force that liquid up into the body of the machine, rusting everything it comes in contact with.

Over the years I’ve also seen chefs try a few techniques that in hindsight were just terrible ideas. You should not make large batches of chicken liver mousse, freeze it in pint delis, and then paco a deli each day for service. The smell and taste of the liver impregnates itself into the plastic Pacojet components and is almost impossible to wash out. You should also not fill a beaker with chopped scallops, freeze it solid, and then paco it three consecutive times in an attempt to make a spreadable scallop paste. On the third spin your Pacojet blade will lock up in the dense, frozen, sticky scallop blob you have created and will fry the machine’s hardware. Finally, upon returning from a trip to Canada, you shouldn’t paco a beaker of frozen water that has been doused in liquid nitrogen. Spinning this extra-cold ice one layer at a time will result in an edible powder that, once drizzled with maple syrup, may remind you of your snowy vacation, but will also break two Pacojet blades and cause the machine to scream while spinning at a pitch and volume that is legitimately terrifying (looking at you, Shewry).

Finally, this is my go-to Pacojet-specific ice cream base. Make it as you would any other base, cooking to 85 C, and the result is perfectly quenelle-able right out of the beaker. If you have a blast freezer, this base is best spun when it’s between -10 and -15 F. For sorbets, use any recipe you like, but make sure to check it at the end with a refractometer and adjust it to 28-30 brix, which I’ve found spins nicely and holds well during a single service.

 

2000 g          milk

700 g             cream

560 g             sucrose

140 g             atomized glucose

200 g             nonfat milk solids

360 g             egg yolks

No News Is Good News

Admittedly, it’s been a little quiet over here at The Pastry Department. A fact that can only mean one thing, we have been anything but quiet in our kitchens! I’ll give you a little update on the team here, as we have all been doing pretty wonderful things in our absence from this blog. Which literally translates to no news is good news!

Ron has opened an ice cream shop! It’s called Revival Ice Cream and it’s in Monterey, California. The flavors are unique, and thoughtful, with the touch of a seasoned pastry chef, like Bee’s Knees, an ice cream infused with beeswax before ribbons of burnt honey, bee pollen, and honeycomb candy are folded in. I’ve been stalking the menu since it opened! He wrote about it as he made the transition from employee to chef-proprietor, and then immediately started spending all his time making ice cream.

Danielle has taken a job as a pastry cook with a newly opened restaurant in Chicago called Bad Hunter. The restaurant has a strong focus on vegetables, with some meat and fish scattered through out the menu. Because if you were a bad hunter, you’d get some meat, but you’d also have to eat a lot of vegetables. At least that’s the story I made up in my head! What I didn’t make up is the delicious vegetable and herb focused desserts that are coming out of this pastry kitchen, helmed by Emily Spurlin, a young talent taking this unique angle to the next level. I recently had a root vegetable macaroon, similar to the coconut mounds we know and love, but with grated root vegetables standing in for the tropical flakes.

Harry has settled himself into an enviable position at Smyth and The Loyalist, a dual concept opened by Karen Urie Shields and John Shields in Chicago. With two pastry menu’s to learn from, Harry is helping make some of the most forward thinking desserts in the city for Smyth, and simply delicious desserts for the subterranean bar below it, The Loyalist. On my last visit, I tasted a perfect brooklyn black out cake, sliced and plated unadorned, as well as a striking dessert of an egg yolk soaked in salted licorice over a frozen yogurt meringue.

Leigh is just flat out killing it at Nico, and in her spare time between running the hotel and restaurant, has started putting together a pastry chef exchange, where she brings in another pastry chef to collaborate on dishes on her menu, and simultaneously they do the same with her on their menu. It’s an incredible opportunity for pastry chefs to expand their style to fit another space, and a wonderful way to connect two working pastry chefs, who otherwise might be isolated under mountains of croissant dough and never get to share ideas and passion.

And me? Well, we opened a new restaurant called Publican Anker, which has been a wonderful experience. It’s transformed my job from a small insular trio of buildings all on one block, running cookies across the street and borrowing cream from one another, to managing a menu offsite, and shifting the production model of our kitchen to look more like a commissary. We have gone from making 50 biscuits to 300 at a time, and my sous chef Amy laughed that 6 months ago the 50 biscuits used to freak her out, and now we are driving speed racks of biscuits around the kitchen. The dessert menu is ice cream heavy at Anker, which makes me quite happy, and the guests too! We are also in the process of getting  a dairy license and pasteurizer, so one day soon I’ll be able to safely, and legally put ice cream in pints for people to take home with them!

Speaking of ice cream, I’ve also spent the better part of the last 18 months writing a book about ice cream! It’s called Hello My Name Is Ice Cream, and yesterday I held it in my hands for the first time. Folks, it’s beautiful! Large part in thanks to the incredible contribution by Anna Posey, illustrator extraordinaire and fellow pastry chef (check out her brand new restaurant Elske!). And large part also in thanks to  Ian and the art department at Clarkson Potter, and my patient and talented editor, Francis.

The book will be released march 28 of this year! I’ve filled the book with everything I know about making ice cream, with a chapter for each style of ice cream; egg-rich custards, dairy-rich philadelphia-style ice creams, fruity sherbets, and tangy frozen yogurts. There are add-in’s up the wazoo, all formulated to be the perfect texture when frozen, but that work well as sundae toppings too! And an entire section on scoop-shop style composed scoops, with two or more flavors swirled together, or ribbons, ripples, and chunks layered through out.

Each chapter on ice cream opens with a blank slate recipe, the mother for all the recipes that follow it. My hopes are that anyone who wishes to be the inventor, can use these blank slate recipe to make flavors beyond my own limited imagination.

Oh yeah, there’s also an entire section on the science of ice cream, if you want to know what’s going on in your ice creams.

I wrote the book I wanted to find when I started making ice cream, one that would walk me through my first batches, then give me the tools I needed to start inventing my own flavors, and finally one that would tell me what the heck was going on so I could better understand how to make perfectly textured ice cream.

Now, I should finally have some time to sit down in front of this computer again and talk about the exciting things we are making in the pastry department,  and a few of the things we are talking about.

Unless the new and time consuming world of book promotion swallows me whole!

French Meringue

 

In the family of meringues, French meringue would be considered the most basic. Compared to its Swiss and Italian cousins that require you to apply heat before you make your meringue, French meringue is made with a simple addition of granulated sugar. The post here on Meringue describes the science behind French meringue in detail, eight of them to be precise.

 

French meringue is your go-to method for baked meringues cookies. When the meringue is baked, the sugar holds on to water molecules, allowing the protein structure time to coagulate into a permanent foam before all the water evaporates. This needs to happen slowly, at 200 degrees or lower. In the professional pastry department, I employ a dehydrator set to 180 degrees and leave them for 4 or more hours, depending on their size. At home, I set my oven as low as it can go, which is 200 degrees F. I bake them for 3 hours, turn the oven off, and leave them in there for another hour or two.

 

Baked meringues can be shaped as simple kisses, or fluted rosettes, piped and baked into individual nibbles. Spread your meringue into large disks, and you can layer meringues with mousses, whipped creams, custards, and fruits for a meringue cake. Little meringue nests can be created with a piping bag, or the back of a spoon, and filled with cream and fruits to make the classic French Vacherin.

 

French meringue is also used to make macarons, the colorful hamburger like sandwich cookies with entire shops and legions of fans devoted to them. There are those that live and die by using Italian meringue as the macarons base (link to Italian meringue). And there are those that prefer French meringue. Which one is best? That’s something you have to decide for yourself. I just so happen to prefer French meringue, and where most of my success with this fickle cookie has been found.

 

French meringue is also frequently used when folding meringue into a recipe. You’ll see French meringue used to lighten mousses, aerate cakes, and leaven soufflés, without exception. You’ll also find French meringue included in recipes on a case-by-case basis, if the author is looking for an added lightness. For example, while pancakes don’t require a meringue, I make ricotta pancakes for brunch that soufflé when griddled, all thanks to French meringue.

 

The recipe provided is written to create a vanilla scented meringue. The ingredients are balanced with the intention of the meringues being baked. As you move forward into your meringue-making career, you’ll notice differing rations when meringue is part of a recipe. So follow the recipe! But remember the details, they will remain the same no matter the ratio.

 

Since French meringue is responsible for the vast majority of the over all application of the egg-white foam, it is the first one worth mastering. It’s safe to say, when in doubt, make French meringue.

 

200g   egg whites room temperature

5g        cream of tartar

250g   sugar ultrafine

5g        vanilla extract (optional)

 

  1. Place the egg white and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Begin whipping on medium speed, 6 on a kitchen aid mixer. Continue whipping until the egg whites are thick, have grown about 8 times their original size, and are forming soft peaks. This could take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. When the egg whites are holding soft peaks, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons, about 25g of sugar. Let the meringue whip for 1 minute, then add another 2 tablespoons/25g of sugar, and again, let the meringue whip for 1 minute. Continue adding the sugar in 2 tablespoon/25g increments, letting the meringue whip for 1 minute between each addition, until all the sugar has been added to the bowl. This should take you over 10 minutes.
  3. When all the sugar is in the bowl, let the meringue whip for an additional 2 minutes, then check the texture of the meringue to see if it’s holding taut glossy peaks. To do this, remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and dip the whip into the meringue and extract it. Turn the whip tip-up, and watch the way the meringue behaves. Does the tip of the meringue fall over and disappear into the mass it sits above? You have soft peaks, keep whipping for about 4 more minutes. Does the meringue keep it’s shape, and the tip falls over on top of the mound? You’ve created medium peaks, you’re so close! Continue whipping for 2 more minutes. (If you were folding your meringue into a recipe, you’d likely stop here.) Is the meringue stiff and keeps a tall proud point on top like a stalagmite? Those are stiff peaks, congratulations, your meringue is ready to be shaped and baked! Does it break off into multiple peaks, and is kind of chunky? I’m so sorry, you’ve over whipped your meringue and you’ll have to start over.
  4. Working quickly shape your meringue into your desired shapes and get them in the 200 degree oven asap! Once the meringues are in the oven, throw the dishes in the sink, pause, and marvel at your molecular mastery. You’ve just successfully controlled two states of matter into permanent submission!

Italian Meringue

Italian Meringue made by cooking the sugar included in the recipe with water until it reaches 240 degrees, before you add it to the whipping egg whites. Because the individual sugar crystals are dissolved in water, all the sugar crystals are broken down into individual sucrose molecules before being added to the whipped egg whites. This means small additions of sugar, added slowly, are not necessary, instead, the sugar is added in a thin stream all at once. The sugars are now ready to start bonding with the water and proteins the moment they are added. The heat from the syrup also denatures the proteins more than agitation alone can achieve, creating stronger, more lasting bonds between them.

 

This strong glossy meringue is preferred anywhere meringue is served soft. You’ve likely had an Italian meringue mounded atop a lemon pie, it’s longevity preferred over French meringue for shop cases. Italian meringue also makes appearances wrapped around layer cakes. I knew it as “boiled icing” as a child when my grandmother would wrap layers of chocolate cake in it every year for my dad’s birthday.

 

Italian meringue is also used to make parfait and semifreddo, the French and Italian names for the same thing; a still frozen dessert with the flavor of ice cream and the body of mousse. Another frozen delight, Italian meringue encases ice creams and sorbets to make Baked Alaska before it’s browned in the oven and sent to the dining room ablaze.

 

In contemporary fine dining, Italian meringue is often applied directly to plates and torched as a toasty-marshmallow like component for plated desserts. Speaking of marshmallows, the lightest of them include egg whites, making them an Italian meringue. Unlike their jet-puffed American cousins, these French style marshmallows, called Giamauve, are melt-on-your-tongue marshmallow clouds.

 

One of Italian meringue’s starring roles is in buttercream frosting. The strong meringue is mixed with softened butter where it lightens the dense fat into a fluffy frosting.

 

Should you be so inclined, Italian meringue can also be used to make the French macaron, maintaining stability through the folding and piping process. Is Italian meringue better than French Meringue (link) for macarons? Depends on who you ask. Why not try your hand at both and become the expert!

 

 

200g egg whites

5g cream of tartar

100g water

250g sugar

10g vanilla extract

 

  1. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl and begin mixing on low speed, number 6 on a kitchen aid.
  2. Meanwhile, place the water and sugar in a small heavy bottomed pot and transfer to a stovetop burner set to medium high heat. Cook, stirring only enough that the sugar dissolves, until the syrup reaches a boil. When the syrup starts to boil, use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash any sugar crystals off the side of the pot as they appear. Continue cooking until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F.
  3. Ideally, the meringue will reach soft peaks at the same moment the syrup reaches 240 degrees. You’ll have to keep your eye on both items as they progress, increasing and decreasing the heat under the syrup if necessary to achieve this. If the egg whites reach soft peaks before the syrup has reached 240 degrees, turn the mixer to low speed, but do not stop it. Once you stop the motion, the proteins in the meringue continue to bond with each other, locking it in place, and will break when you begin whipping them again.
  4. When the syrup has reached 240 degrees, reduce the speed to medium low to prevent splatters of hot syrup flying at your face. Begin adding the syrup in a slow steady stream. Aim for the place where the whip and the bowl come closest to each other. Once all the syrup has been added, turn your mixer to medium high speed. This is in contrast to what is written in the article here (link), but we do this for good reason. The heat from the syrup will denature the proteins on contact, and will over cook them if we don’t start moving the mixture fast and grab as much air as we can.
  5. The Italian meringue will reach full volume and form stiff peaks, but it’s not completed until the meringue cools below 120 degrees, or is warm to the touch, but not hot. Just before it’s finished whipping, add the vanilla extract and whip until it’s completely incorporated.
  6. Fill the syrup-coated pot with water, set it aside, and bask at the glossy glow of your tall-peaked Italian meringue. Take your time, it’s not going anywhere for a little while. Once you’re done admiring your hard work, send it on it’s way to its final sweet destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swiss Meringue

Swiss meringue is made by combining sugar and egg whites in a bowl and stirring them over a water bath until the temperature reaches 145 degrees F. Once the egg whites are warmed and the sugar dissolves, the mixture is whipped to stiff peaks. The resulting meringue is dense like marshmallow fluff, as the early addition of air interferes with the capture of air bubbles.

 

Care must be paid when warming the egg whites over a water bath. Keep the water at a simmer, and move the bowl on and off as necessary to slowly increase the temperature. The protien in egg whites will begin to coagulate at 150, and grow firmer as the temperature rises. This is great for poached eggs, but bad for meringue. We want to bring the eggs to the brink of coagulation, then begin whipping as soon as that happens.

 

Another reason to heat the whites slowly is to give the sugar time to dissolve. Should your whites rise in temperature while much of the sugar remains in crystalline form, your efforts are in vain. Bring the two up together slowly, stirring with a spatula, until you have a clear egg white and sugar syrup that is 145 degrees F. Then whip at medium high speed.

 

We can ignore previous demands for medium to slow whipping- the warm proteins are loosey-goosey and uncoiled, and the sugar is dissolved. At the risk of adding large air bubbles, we want to get air in our meringue quickly!

 

This dense and stable meringue can be used in place of French or Italian meringues in most applications, should you prefer this method, so long as you are comfortable with the sacrifice in volume. However, generally speaking, Swiss meringue is used exclusively to make Swiss buttercream. Swiss buttercream is silky smooth, and thanks to the denser meringue, more pliable, making it ideal for the cake decorating. Swiss meringue doesn’t suffer loss of air, like it’s fluffy Italian cousin, when it’s gathered up, stirred, put in a piping bag, squirted into flowers and what not, squeezed back into a bowl, and stirred together again. The same goes for masking cakes, where Swiss buttercream spreads and spreads, staying velvety through out the entire process.

 

Swiss Meringue

 

200g egg whites

250g sugar

5g cream of tartar

10g vanilla extract

 

  1. Place the egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl. Find a pot with a mouth an inch or two smaller than the bowl you’ve chosen and fill it with 2 inches of water. Place the pot over medium high heat and cook until the water comes to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer, then place the metal bowl with the egg whites and sugar over the pot.
  2. Stir gently over the heat until the sugar has dissolved and the egg white syrup reaches 145 degrees. Take the bowl on and off the pot as necessary to keep the eggs from over heating, or to allow the sugar time to dissolve before the egg whites reach 145 degrees.
  3. Once the egg white syrup is clear and at 145 degrees, transfer it to the bowl of a mixer and add the cream of tartar and vanilla extract. Whip on medium high speed until the meringue forms stiff glossy peaks, and has grown about 5 times it’s original size.
  4. Congratulations, you’ve made the most obscure of all meringues! Give yourself a pat on the back, and go make Swiss buttercream! There’s a 99% chance that’s why you’ve chosen to make Swiss meringue.

 

 

Un été à Paris: Part two, on surviving your stage

Chapter Two: The Stage

We all know the stereotype: an imposing, mustachioed man outfitted in a crisp white chef coat, dumping all of your mise en place into the garbage while screaming obscenities. It’s almost comically cliché, culminating in a very subdued cook uttering a string of “oui chef“s before returning to the failed task, furiously concentrating on not fucking up.

It’s an industry-wide joke that the only real rule of professional kitchens is just that: “don’t fuck up.” Fortunately, I’ve managed to work in some excellent restaurants for chefs willing to trust their cooks and evolve beyond the brutality of old-school kitchen mindsets. Mistakes happen– it’s the nature of the job. Truly, the only real rule should be simply what all of my previous chefs have expected out of their cooks: be better.

So– this was my mentality walking into my first day of my stage in Paris.

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Simple

Recently I had the professional privilege of cooking with group of nationally celebrated chefs at a Friends of The James Beard Foundation dinner at The American Restaurant in Kansas City. The restaurant, the crown jewel in the Hallmark empire, was opulently designed by Warren Platner 40 years ago, borrowing stylistically from another of his restaurants, Windows On The World. The opening menus were written by none other than James Beard himself.

It’s rare that we get even a glimpse of a restaurant like this anymore, built for a service team that still prepared food table side for diners in jackets and evening ware. The cascading dining room, spilling into two story glass windows, glimmers with a regal formality almost entirely gone from haute cuisine. As I descended the sweeping staircase, passing the baby grand piano, I could practically see yesteryears dishes being set on the tables, gold rimmed china, the food upon them rigid in technique and precise, fanciful design.

As someone who recently left behind the world of fine dining, I had brought with me a dessert from the Publican, and was feeling anxious that it was going to be out of place, too simple. A variation of an Eton Mess, my dish was a mound of whipped cream folded with meringue and concord grape preserves. I’ve seen fine dining versions of this dessert which would have been right at home at The American Restaurant, deconstructed and reconstructed with 4 times as many components, and at points in my career I would have made that. But this weekend my dessert, dubbed the Fulton Mess for The Publicans street address on Fulton Market, was not to be one of them.

I started to doubt myself, worrying that my mess would stick out compared to the other chefs dishes. I consoled myself with the thought that after a long meal of heavy food, the diners would appreciate something light.

When the dinner began, my anxiety receded.

The first course was a decadent seafood risotto, who’s only flare was the dining room presentation, Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson ladling it from an oversized pot onto plates where it oozed into place as it was rushed to the tables unadorned.

Through out the meal, I saw Viet Pham serve Regal Springs Tilapia in an aromatic whey broth, a humble fish that has likely never graced the dining room at The American Restaurant before. Jeremiah Stone filled a bowl with side by side scoops of danish rye bread porridge and intentionally overcooked beans which hugged a generous lump of uni. And Alex Talbot served hand made pasta in pepperoni ragu.

The main course by Erik Bruner-Yang, a Cambodian style short rib, was composed by sight, but nodded towards Kansas Cities roots in down home, sweet, sticky BBQ.

If I’ve downplayed the food at all, don’t mistake me, it was all stunningly delicious. Some of the best in the country. By the time Fabian Von Hauske began piling a pistachio crumble to anchor a vanilla mousse served straight from a siphon, and dripped pistachio sauce, pickled celery, and elderflower granita over the top, obscuring it completely, I knew I was right at home.

Much of the haute cuisine of today has been stripped of it’s pomp, leaving just the circumstance; flavors of the moment, served simply in stripped down settings, to diners in comfortable attire.

After 40 years of service The American Restaurant will close it’s doors at the end of this 2016, and with it goes a bastion of the gilded age of American dining. It couldn’t have been more poingient, serving the simple, stripped down contemporary cuisine in this passing setting. Two moments in our dining history crossing for one of the last times.

I feel a tickle of sadness in my heart to see restaurants like these slip from our grasp. While they may not be relevant anymore, they are undeniably beautiful, and have honored cuisine and the dining experience in a way I am sad to see disappear.

How creamy can creamy be?

As a pastry chef, I tend to chase textures. Unlike a savory chef, who has a wide array of nature-made textures at their disposal, for example, the range of textures in fish and meat, or raw vegetables, pastry chefs have to create the textures they work with.

Where as a savory chef can use nuts, raw carrots, endive, potato chips, seeds, apples, lettuces, if they want something with a crispy mouthfeel, for the most part, we have to construct it. The ingredients we rely on, flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk, and cream, can’t simply be applied to heat and placed on a plate.

Instead, we begin the technique driven process of combining these ingredients in precise ratios and exquisitely practiced sequence to come up with a texture we desire.

You’ll often find me asking our cooks to stretch their brains when discussing texture- what’s nutty without being a nut, what’s creamy without being cream. And you’ll find us geeking out over that crispy element we can’t quite put our finger on in another chefs dessert. Is it feulletine? Puffed rice? Shattered caramel? We subtly ask, pry a little, or out right beg them to tell us. Years ago, stumped by a crispy fruit element on one of Brooks Headley’s desserts at Del Posto, he told me with a sly look, it was dried cantaloup rehydrated in versus, knowing I never would have guessed.

When developing desserts, we ask ourselves how crispy can crispy be? How creamy can creamy get?

Currently, I have chased a cheesecake to it’s creamiest by destroying it all together. It feels a little like the private joy of stomping on your own sandcastle, but when I pull a cheesecake from the oven, I immediately scrape it into a food processor and puree it into hot, velvety oblivion.

The molten cheesecake is then poured into a crust, where it sets in the refrigerator into the creamiest cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. This method started with ice cream, as I pureed baked cheesecakes to be added to ice cream bases. Once I tucked the cheesecake puree away in the refrigerator and inspected the resulting texture, it became clear this super smooth cheesecake could be so much more.

Over the years we have filled macarons and sandwich cookies with cheesecake puree, smeared it on plates, tucked it into mousses, layered it between cakes, and when no one is looking, spread it on the tail ends of banana bread for kitchen snacks.

This month, a Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie at Publican Quality Meats marries this pureed cheesecake with fall pumpkin and it’s requisite spices. Set in a brown butter-hazelnut pie shell this twist on the classic squash pie is mounded with whipped cream once set.

Over at The Publican, we are whipping pumpkin cheesecake puree with buttermilk, and nesting a brown sugar pavlova in it. Whipped cream sweetened with the caramelized goats milk called cajeta crowns the meringue, while a drizzle of Steens molasses and pecan toffee flurry about the plate.

I highly encourage you to partake in this method, carefully constructing a crustless cheesecake, then completely ruining it to watch the creamiest cheesecake you’ve ever tasted rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

 

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE PURÉE

Un été à Paris: Or, how to stage abroad (kinda)

There comes a time in every young cook’s life where they start to ask themselves bigger questions. What am I looking to accomplish in this industry? How much longer can I keep pushing myself so hard? What’s the next step? Or, in the case of myself and my friend Jane (also a pastry cook, working in the same restaurant as me at the time)– What if I went and staged in France?

All around us, we saw our fellow pastry cooks pursuing new challenges and began to feel restless. Our previous sous chefs were moving on to pastry chef positions. Former restaurant cooks were making the switch to high-end bakeries– or opening their own. Our friend and ex-coworker (hello, Harry!) decided to take a few months off to travel and stage across Asia. Suddenly, vague discussions of living and working in France changed into something more tangible, until Jane and I found ourselves at a neighborhood bar in Chicago, giddily buying plane tickets to Paris– the pâtisserie capital of the world.

For me, it felt like the perfect punctuation between an extremely formative position at Blackbird and whatever was next to come for me as a pastry cook. For Jane, the motivation was perhaps a bit more straightforward: “I just need to turn 27 in a foreign country.” Our common goal was simple: take some time off from the Chicago pastry scene, stage in a kitchen or two in France, and come back to the States with a better sense of the direction in which we wanted to take our respective careers. Easy!

Except, of course, not. I’ve formulated many different variations of this “post-Parisian-stage” blog post in my head, including everything from a how-to of getting a stage in France or a tell-all exposé of the many disappointments I encountered– both in attempting to secure a stage in a foreign country and surviving the day-to-day of a French kitchen once I did finally find myself in one. The reality is that I can’t really be completely transparent about my experience for multiple reasons, including the fact that I might’ve blurred some legal lines in actually getting a stage (who knew so much obscure paperwork was required?!), but I can offer a general picture of the experience– the comedy of errors that it was.

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