Baking with the CIA: Day 3

Three words:




We started Day 3 by eating the scones we made yesterday. I expected them to be good, but after eating them I can declare them the best scones of my life. They possessed that distinctive scone crumbliness, yet were moist enough to eat without washing them down. The crust, specked with large-grain sugar, shined in particular.

And then came the chocolate, today's sole focus. We began with a brief discussion of making a ganache. A ganache is pretty much any preparation in which chocolate is melted and then emulsified in a liquid, often cream. We made a variety of these today, each with different concentrations of chocolate and for a different purpose. The first baking session of the day produced:

1) A simple chocolate tart. We poured a simple ganache of dark chocolate into a pre-baked pie crust and chilled it. It came out quite good, though if I were making it I would pour in less chocolate and add a layer of fruit to the tart.

2) A flourless chocolate cake. I prefer to think of flourless cakes as "egg cakes," because that's why they get to be flourless. We whipped eggs to a thick froth, mixed in another simple ganache of melted chocolate and butter, and baked it. Since flourless cakes remain liquefied at high temperatures, you have to use a thermometer to gauge doneness rather than any kind of sampling. I enjoyed the eventual results, though I would like it better as a complement to other dessert components rather than a base component itself.

3) A mint chocolate torte. If (like me) you weren't sure of the difference between a tart and a torte: a tart is a filling poured into an open pie-like shell, while a torte is actually a variety of cake that's usually thin, dense, and often containing ground nuts (in this case almonds). We used a ganache containing crushed mint to flavor the cake batter, and carefully mixed chocolate with water & mint liquer as an icing. Chocolate and water, of course, don't always get along, but with careful mixing and proper temperatures you can get them to mix quite happily. This icing stunned me with its lightness and taste, though the cake itself proved a little boring.

At one point, the baking class in the other side of the room burst into applause after a demonstration by their instructor. Our instructor, Chef Stephen, said half-jokingly that he felt a bit outshined because we had yet to spontaneously burst into applause. I wouldn't expect much in the way of spontaneity or excitement from our class, which is composed of 5 older women, 2 mid-twenties tech professionals (Tiff & I), and a fresh graduate of Chico State who's planning on entering culinary school and is in this class for a head start. A pleasant crew, but completely unmemorable (as I'm sure I am to them). If Chef Stephen feels a little underwhelmed by the group, he hides it well.

Tomorrow we begin the 2 days of bread baking, under a different chef with intimidating credentials. Eight years ago an organization in France launched Le Coupe de Monde de la Boulangerie, a prestigious baking competition between 3-man teams from each competing country. Last year the Americans won it for the first time, and our instructor for tomorrow, Robert Joren, was one of them. I feel more than a little honored, and only a teensy bit intimidated.

But back to today. After the cakes, We returned to the classroom to discuss chocolate in all its varieties. Today's keywords are "courveture" and "compound" chocolates. Both contain chocolate enhanced with extra fat; in the former extra cocoa butter is added, while the ladder merely gets vegetable shortening. Think "premium baking chocolate" vs. "Hershey."

For our other key technique of the day, we learned to temper chocolate. To temper chocolate, you melt it, then add in some blocks of solid chocolate and melt them while keeping the temperature within a narrow range. The resulting product contains microscopic crystals organized into long chains, and when dried has that crisp, snappable property that you want in chocolate that's going to coat or decorate something else. It's one of those techniques that I'm sure goes back centuries, but which can only be explained by 20th century science.

We put this technique to use to make truffles. We prepared various ganaches, one of milk chocolate, one of dark chocolate, and one of white chocolate. We formed each into balls (hard to do right) and dipped those in tempered chocolate (even harder). As I was trying to clean some dried chocolate off the workspace, Chef showed me a shortcut: run a torch over the chocolate to quickly melt it! Using a torch for cleaning! I'm having fun already. The truffles came out lovely, thank you very much.

Lastly we tasted some of yesterday's projects. The chiffon cake was even better than before, after being flavored with syrup. The Genoise cake was moister at least, but the syrup's flavor wasn't well distributed. Neither could hold a candle to the tiramisu, which I'll have to re-evaluate as a "boring" dessert choice in the light of the mind-bendingly good Mascarpone sauce.

Though it's been wonderful, I'm definitely ready to leave desserts behind and start tackling the more substantial breads. I may be ready to eat dessert again some time next week, but for now bring on the starch!

Posted by patrick on January 15, 2003 | TrackBack

mmmmmmmmmm oh that all sounds so good. you made me think of the scharfenberger factory.

you do get to bring home samples, right?

Posted by: heather on January 15, 2003 9:46 PM

oh please oh please oh please...


i can't wait to taste what you're going to cook up here when you get back!

Posted by: mo on January 16, 2003 1:03 PM

We cook in professional-sized quantities, and there's usually plenty left over. So samples aren't a problem, though getting them home might be. So far I've snagged some cake and some truffles, and if the bread we baked today hasn't gone too stale tomorrow I'll bring some of that as well.

Posted by: patrick on January 16, 2003 1:52 PM

Hey, your bread teacher was teammates with Sheila's brother Jan Schaat when he won that Coupe. Small world!

Posted by: heidi on January 16, 2003 4:40 PM

"We cook in professional-sized quantities"

No kidding! I was surprised when Tiff first mentioned that the recipes you guys use measure eggs in pounds (well, by weight) rather than by count. But it makes much more sense than trying to count out 18 or 27 eggs.

Posted by: evan on January 17, 2003 10:41 AM
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