Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Confectionary Art & Special Occasion Cakes

Today was the beginning of a new class for me: JOY! I have been waiting a loooooong time to get to this part: all the fun stuff!

Chef C started off our early day with a lot of demos and lectures on how she runs her class. We will have five projects to get done in a matter of days, each being graded only on completion. She said she doesn't grade based on talent because most of us haven't worked with 95% of these mediums. Thank goodness!

Our first lecture was on pastillage (PAHS-tee-AHJ): a sugar-based dough used to make edible decorations. I had never heard of this before! It has incredible strength and durability. You can color the dough, marble in the color, or paint it or dust it on. Once it gets direct contact from water though, it will dissolve! Our first task was to make up some of this dough. The components we used were confectioner's (powdered) sugar, water, and something called gum tragacanth. What is that?! Gum tragacanth is derived from a tree sap and is used as a binder in this medium. We had to make a box using various shaped cutters and let all the pieces dry, which we will fuse together later with royal icing. It was a little bit challenging because it started to dry very quickly. Here is an example of a pastillage showpiece (not by me, obviously!):

Next, we watched Chef C do a demo on sugar pulling. I was so amazed! We'd had one chef last year who did a quick demo on sugar pulling, but that was it. Chef C set up a station that was rigged with a heat lamp to keep the sugar warm enough to handle. She cooked the sugar doctored with an acid (to keep it soft and easy to handle) and when it was the right temperature, she poured it out on the marble. Then she continually folded it up on itself with a scraper to let it cool evenly. When it was cooler but still pretty hot, she put on some gloves and went to work. Sugar that has been cooled this way gets a lot of air worked into it and that lightens the color. You can also add food coloring if you wish or marble two colors together.

First, Chef C showed us how to leaves. There is a basic technique that requires some good handling of the sugar. She kind of spread it out fan-like and then gently eased the spread part out of itself and cut a piece off, then used a silicon mold to put the leaf grooves onto the piece. It seemed pretty easy.

Next, Chef C showed us how to make roses. Wow! These are going to be a lot more work than making them out of marzipan like we did before. The same technique of pulling was done, but the petals must be worked with quickly, otherwise there is a lot of heating up and going back forth happening to get the petal to be the right consistency to stick onto the base.

Chef C also demonstrated sugar blowing. This is done with the use of a hand pump, hose, and metal pipe. The hand pump is the same as you would see for a blood pressure cuff system. The shape or animal that Chef C demonstrated was a swan. A golfball-sized piece of sugar was attached to the end of the metal pipe. Air is slowly and gently forced in and the ball is shaped by the air and your hands. It looks like it takes a lot of finagling. It also looks similar to glass blowing, but at least you can use your hands here! Wings were made similarly to the leaves and then attached. Voila!

Next up was the sugar straws. These are absolutely incredible! I will have to post some pictures once I get them off my camera. These straws reminded me of something you find in a cave, like crazy crystals or something! The sugar is pulled and folded, pulled and folded, and air pockets are carefully formed. If you squeeze too hard, the air pockets will collapse. Once the sugar is completely cooled, you break it in half and then the air pockets are revealed! So cool!

Last up was the sugar ribbons. By folding, cutting, and layering, one can create a striped pattern. Small pieces are then pulled and cut off, then shaped into loops or running pieces.

For the next two days, our class will be split in half and we will work on different projects. I will be working on a chocolate showpiece for the next two days! I am a little nervous about getting it done, only because I haven't tempered chocolate in awhile, and that process can sometimes take a long time. Then on Friday and Monday, I will tackle the sugar piece. Eep!

It was nice to finally be back in the kitchen today. The familiar smells, the ridiculous chefs' outfit . . . I got assigned the table where I finished my last segment of the practical, so many months ago! Look how far I've come! I walked past some students today who just got out of their first day of orientation. I remember how boring that was and how eager I was to begin classes. Now, I am at the best part of my schooling and I am still just as excited and eager! Woohoo, bring it on!
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