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Archive for the ‘Pastry School’ Category

So, say you have $36,000 lying around and you were contemplating a career change. You can enroll in one of the fine culinary or pastry programs available in the tri-state area. I’d say The FCI dressed, brined, and prepped me pretty well for the hot oven that is this industry, EXCEPT for ONE THING: The art of quenelle-ing.

(I’d post a photo, but I’m having issues with wordpress. I will post one later.)

Quenelles are basically egg-shaped serving portions of anything (the root of the word and origin here), but in pastry they can apply to whipped creams, ice creams and sorbets, creme fraiche, or anything that can be molded with a spoon dipped in hot water. We never learned how to make them in class, and to this day I shake my fist at The FCI overlords.

At the restaurant where I worked at for a grand total of three weeks, the quenelles there were more relaxed, with rounded tips—a more classic egg shape, if you will. But the chefs are very particular about quenelles at my current workplace. They’re made with very pointy ends, which gives them a more modern feel. (Truthfully, I’ve no idea if that makes any sense, but.)

So I’m learning on the spot. A lot of it depends on your wrist motion and timing, but most of it is in confidence. Because we never learned it, even just hearing the word became a source of anxiety (death que-knell, if you will, cheesily), and my quenelles of creme fraiche and vanilla whip cream in the first couple of days looked like flaccid balloons because I’d be too nervous and psych myself out. So at the sous’s and my friend’s suggestion, I made some whipped cream, and practiced making them between tickets, lining them up on my cutting board like ducks in a row. By the sixth one, I’d kind of got it. Not perfect, but building up the confidence, and getting there.

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In honor of Obama’s 100th day in office, here’s a photo (courtesy of Billy K.) of a very impromtu cake (lemon cake with walnut buttercream filling) I cobbled together on election day, 11.04.08, with blue jellybeans I bought from a Tasty D-Lite and some raspberry jam spiked with kirsch(mmm):

The big O

The big O

You’ll notice there’s a yellow border at the bottom, and that’s because this cake was in the freezer for months after the dreaded Wedding Cake Final at school. This was actually the second tier of the cake, here:

Santorini Cake

Santorini Cake

The theme was Greece, and this was what happened when your ambition was clearly greater than your ability. I was envisioning recreating the vertiginous nature of Santorini, and the steps down to the Bay of Ammoudi from Oia. Alas, I wasn’t quite the engineer I had hoped to be. I ended up taking it home, actually thinking I’d play with it and make it look better, but I just ended up doling out pieces of the bottom layer to strangers on the street and the shopkeep at the leather goods store next door, and stuck the second and the top layer—as though it were from my own wedding—in the freezer.

Months later, the second layer’s reincarnation proved useful, and it occurred to me that I cried twice over this cake: the first time after the chefs told us to stop working and I clearly couldn’t finish in time, which led to the release of all the frustrations that mounted over three days and my PMS got the best of me; and the second time, because Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, etc., went to Obama, and I was elated and overjoyed at the prospect of not being mentally waterboarded any more.

And predictably, it tasted better the second time.

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