On the road to somewhere


Sometimes a life lesson comes along that actually makes sense.The road there may be rocky, even venomous snake infested and constantly raining, but a rainbow (double rainbow??) could be at the end. I don't know if I've found a rainbow or anything remotely that cliche, but I did get a chance to change my attitude. Let me explain. 

On day 1 of my cake assembly and custards class, we were moved 4 times to different kitchens, were not assigned a chef instructor, and were mostly in the wrong course. Not only that, but we were sandwiched with 20 other students beside our class topping off at a hefty 40 person class. We were like sardines. All said and done, classroom sorted out, we end up in a culinary kitchen, not a baking kitchen (different equipment and temperatures) with no hopes of leaving until the completion of this 6 week course. Aside from being thrown in another class, the kitchen was a nightmare. Tables so wobbly they could not be touched, no plugs, no mixers, ovens without windows, and worst of all, an internal temperature of about 85 degrees. "How will my buttercream stand up?" I was wimpering under my breath day after day, huffing and puffing leaving school. It is hot in there. I spent the first 2 weeks flustered over the issue, thinking about my tuition and I could do. Certainly I did not enroll for this cluster.

Convinced to find resolution I sought out the head of the pastry department who is a nationally accredited pastry chef. Even upon arrival, I felt silly in my seemingly whiny complaints, and instead of a verbal wake up call, the chef told me a story of her first experience in a 5 star resort where her work station was a trash can turned upside down with a sheet pan over it. She worked that way for 6 months. Our conversation took a more relaxed turn, and I eased when she told me the classes would get small again, but to remember that work experience is not like a classroom. This is a "duh" moment. However, when I was able to let go of how I thought things "should" be, I was able to relish in my accomplishments in a scorching hot kitchen turning out cakes within an hour. Today during our practical exam, producing whatever cake and buttercream recipe we picked from a hat, there was an awfully excessive amount of complaining from students because the room was 88 degrees. I was able to blow it off and accept the less than favorable, sweat inducing conditions and get an A on my cake. I smiled the whole way home, which I do often, partially because I like smiling, and also because today is the first day I have given thought to being a food stylist. Another note on that later. 

Here are a few cake close ups for your viewing pleasure. 
Carrot cake with a basket weave icing design and marzipan carrots in chocolate sprinkle dirt.

Ever had an Opera torte? Coffee butter cream, espresso simple syrup, ganache...

Black forest torte, full of brandy and kirsch

Almond Pound Cake

Devil's food cake with chocolate Italian buttercream and apricot preserve filling- pictured above too

I have three weeks left in this class and the rest of the time with be spent on custards and mousse. Our final project is to create a signature 3 layer stacked mousse with any 3 flavors except chocolate. I'm planning on spinning the concept of figs and honey into a mousse creation. I have a fatal attraction to fresh figs- even dried figs- send them my way.

...And in the world of music: 
If there was one song I could listen to on repeat right now, it's Architecture in Helsinki's "Contact High" remixed by Clock Opera. Don't bother with the original track- too 80s- and not in a good way. The melody is unassumingly familiar, making you mumble along before you know the words, or simply humming the chorus. It's a song I like to place myself inside because isn't music an escape anyway? I haven't had a real escape in awhile.


Sometimes, we cook.

I should say, sometimes he cooks and I dance around the kitchen relishing in not cooking.                      

A beautiful ahi tuna tower. Layers of fish roe, spicy sprouts, ahi, hoisin plum sauce, sticky rice, avocado and arugula. What would we do with the Asian market? Or the fresh fish market.. and so many wine stores. I had to pair this with a dry rose.

Simple yet... Wow. I still think about eating this days after it happened.

What did I make? Simple chocolate mousse, of course. I had to contribute something to the dinner and I had figs on the mind..and dark chocolate..and coconut..and coffee. I don't have a picture for this creation, but it is an elegant 10 minute dessert. I was inspired by Heidi Swanson's No Bake Chocolate Cake. I simply made a couple substitutions. Coconut milk for heavy cream, cinnamon for allspice, and topping the dessert with coconut whipped cream and fresh sliced figs. I like my version better, but until I have some pictures, I guess you'll just have to take my word for it.


Back at it and not in it.....

I love Hot Chip. I want to zone out in my imaginary perfectly stocked catering kitchen, baking oddly flavored (and of course, deliciously mindblowing) pastry confections.

This past weekend was the first time I got to "free bake." Free baking is what I do when I let my taste buds speak and jot down every possible combination with one main flavor. Coconut is where my head's at on this one. Not a fruity coconut, but a creamy and dense pound cake texture. And lime. And cream. And a simple color scheme. Where did I end up.....

Take a look.

Coco loco summer love.

I have to give credit where credit is due- a perfectly simple cookbook I found browsing at the library. Yes, I am a proud library card holder. And I would love to tell you the name of that cookbook, but it's in my car. (Will fix that later..)

Of course I added a few things, took a few things out, and made it my own. My cupcake creation was a coconut pound cake filled with tangy lime curd and topped with whipped coconut cream cheese icing. I accented with a touch of crystallized ginger and shaved coconut pieces.
Candied ginger is a spicy contrast to the cool coconut cream.
I would not be telling the truth if I said this recipe was a complete success. Was it irresistible after I took one bite? Yes. Visually, it did not match my sketches of what it should have been, but I guess I'm bound to fail once in awhile. I pictured tall swirled pillowtops of icing, while the actual icing would not tighten as it should. I blame the Florida humidity. I am so very pleased to give you a recipe after 3 months of just pictures of baking school.

Coco Loco Cupcake
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
7 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350. Line your cupcake tins. Cream together the butter and sugar in the mixer with a paddle attachment or by hand with a spatula. It should look like a paste. Add the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl (dry mixture). In a separate bowl, combine the vanilla and coconut milk (wet mixture). Alternate adding in the dry and wet ingredients, ending with the dry, until just incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Carefully fold the egg whites into the cake batter until just mixed. Use a scoop to portion into cupcake tins. Baking time varies.. give them a glance around 22 minutes. They should spring back when you touch the top and be lightly golden. Let cool completely. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Lime Curd Filling 
3 egg yolks
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup lime juice
zest of 3 limes
6 tbsp unsalted butter

In a bowl, whisk all ingredients except the butter. Place the bowl over a water bath on the stove. Whisk about 8-10 minutes, or until thick. When lime curd becomes thick, remove from heat and immediately whisk in butter. Strain in cheesecloth to remove all of the zest. Cover and chill overnight.
*Can be made in advance. I made mine 2 days in advance.

Whipped Coconut Cream Cheese Icing 
1 stick butter
8 oz cream cheese
8 oz cream of coconut
1 tbsp vanilla
4-5 cups confectioner's sugar
16 oz heavy whipping cream

Cream together the butter and cream cheese with a hand mixer until completely combined. Add the cream of coconut and vanilla. Mix. Slowly add the sugar while using the hand mixer. Be careful not to "antique" yourself. Icing should come together but still be a bit soft.

In a separate bowl, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into icing. Chill overnight.
*Can be made at least 2 days in advance.

Garnish with tasty bits. That's it. Coco Loco summer lovin cakes.