Friday, March 30, 2012

Crème Brûlée

You know how sometimes you manage to learn 99 ways how not to make something? Welcome to Amanda vs Crème Brûlée. Sounds easy right? 5 ingredients, a little time and a blow torch...In the past four days I have heard 101 ways to make the perfect Crème Brûlée and none of them have produced perfect results yet, but let me tell you, I am getting very very close.

Lets talk about eggs and science. Crème Brûlée, being a cream and egg custard, is very temperamental. When heating the cream, notice that only half of the sugar is incorporated. The other half is whipped into the egg yolks before tempering. This is like a seat belt for the yolks for when the hot cream is added, lessening the chances of them curdling. But do not add the sugar to the yolks too early! Add this right before tempering as sugar is hydroscopic and will suck the moisture out of the eggs, leaving a layer of hard yolk on the surface.

Justin's Crème Brûlée

If the eggs are not tempered properly in the beginning, they will scramble and give the dessert a sulfur taste and smell, as well as an undesirable texture. Once they are placed in the oven, there is another chance of overcooking, resulting in, in extreme cases scrambled eggs, or brûlées with oil droplets on the surface. The first should be discarded while the latter is still delicious, it will just take some finesse to brûlée, as egg proteins brown before sugar.
Here are a few tricks I have learned so far that will help you get closer to the perfect crème brûlée:
  1. Do not scramble the eggs when tempering them.
  2. Portion them out to the exact level that you want, they will not rise. They won't shrink, so aim accordingly.
  3. Blowtorch the bubbles out. Yeap, take that blowtorch to the top of each little dish before baking so that all of the bubbles come to surface and pop. This makes for a perfectly smooth top.
  4. Watch them! Close! They go from perfectly custardy to overcooked in a flash. That is not to say that you cant eat them if they are a tad over. Unless you cook them over by 15 minutes, they will not be scrambled, instead the eggs begin to squeeze out all of their oil, which float to the surface, making brûlée-ing way more complicated.
  5. Cool them to room temperature, then refrigerate them until cold.
  6. Dab the tops dry with paper towels until dry. Any excess moisture will cause the sugar to burn.
  7. The sugar varies with the doneness of the crème brûlée. If you happened to overcook them, which is evident by tiny oil drops on the surface of the brûlée when you take them out of the oven, use coarse sugar, like Sugar in the Raw. If they are perfect, do a happy dance, and use Superfine Sugar. Note: this is not powdered sugar.
  8. Don't hold the torch too close to the crème brûlée, and don't keep it in one spot. Keep it moving!
So, after all that, lets get to the recipe!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Springtime Strawberry Flambe

One of the most exciting things about dining at a white table cloth establishment is table side service. Nothing makes a guest go wow more than a waiter catching something on fire right next to you. So, I've decided to share this with you so you too can impress everyone at your next gathering, but please do this with caution. I wouldn't recommend flambeing the berries of you do not feel comfortable-- the flambe can always be omitted and the strawberries will still taste delicious, without the flame.

There is a few cautions, though, before you go lighting things on fire all willy nilly.
  1. Do not pour alcohol onto the pan when it is on the burner. A fireball is likely as well as the flame traveling up the stream, into the bottle, spraying hot alcohol and broken glass everywhere.
  2. Keep the hairspray to a minimum that day, it is flammable.
  3. Make sure the fan is on over the stove.
  4. Lastly, make sure everyone is aware of what is about to happen. The last thing you need is pandemonium breaking out mid show.
So lets get to it. Here is the demo that professor gave us in the dining room:

Here is the recipe we use to create the Strawberry Flambe with Olive Oil Cake and Basil Gelato. Aside from the cake and gelato, the recipes are for 2 portions.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What is This Spoon For?

One of the most common questions people have when dining in The Escoffier Room at The Culinary Institute of America is: "What is this spoon for?".

With white table cloth, fine dining restaurants, far and few in between in America, it isn't hard to understand why the vast majority of people don't know what all of the silverware is for. So, I've made you a little field guide to fine dining. So, next time you're planning on dining out at a top of line restaurant, you will be ahead of the game...and look trés soigné.

 This cute little guys are COCKTAIL FORKS. They are usually used for shellfish or amuse bouches. Their little tines are great for getting into those shells and grabbing tiny things.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's Getting Cheesy

One thing I love about going to culinary school is how interesting class can be, as if serving the public isn't interesting enough, instead of lecture today, the class and I were escorted to The Rec Center for a Wisconsin Cheese Presentation. The whole room smelled like cheese, which made perfect sense seeing as there were nine Wisconsin brand cheese placed at each seat by Sarah Hill, a CIA alumni of '76. Wisconsin alone accounts for 25 percent of all American cheeses made, and is the only state which allows for a Master Cheesemaker License (similar to the CMC test, each person must demonstrate that they are indeed a master of each individual type of cheese before becoming certified in that cheese). She made a lovely presentation before sending us back to class with full tummies and a folder full of goodies.

From the Raspberry Clockwise: Marscapone, Brie,
 Havarti, Prolovolone, Extra Aged Cheddar, Parmesean Regg,
 Blue, Pasturized, Upland's Pleasant Ridge Reserve
All From Wisconsin.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Champagne and White Linens

I have moved on from my first restaurant on campus to my second, and last, restaurant here at The Culinary Institute of America. I am currently a server at Escoffier, a white table cloth, French restaurant, offering a bistro style lunch menu. This is the first time in about a year that The CIA has opened this restaurant for lunch, which is causing quite the commotion around campus. Out of all the restaurants in America, only .08% are white tablecloth, fine dining locations. This number dropped drastically after the decline of the economy a few years back, so I feel privileged to be able to learn this style of service.
The first day of service, which was a Saturday, was quite...interesting. The servers have a lot more responsibility than we are used to, such as opening wine table side and placing out 456361.1654 different types of silverware. Actually there are only 17 pieces of silverware. I say silverware because this restaurant is the only place on campus where actual silver plated flatware is used. There are certain pieces of silverware that most people have no idea what to do with like a fish knife or a sauce spoon. It is kind of mind boggling to think that someone woke up one morning, cut a notch out of his (or her) spoon and then proceeded to use it to scrape all of the sauce off of their plate. Who thought of that? Really? Who thinks to do that? Anyway, here is all 17 pieces of silverware and all 13 styles of glassware.

Demo of Flatware and Glassware

My Study Guide for the Silverware

The menu items look really good--I have tried the French Onion Soup, and it was delightful and choc-ful of onions (but not nearly as good as my grandmother's). Chef Rapp, my garde-manger teacher before I left for externship in March of last year, has taken over the kitchen bringing lighter fair to the once heavy menu.

Entree Line Up Before Service

If you're in town, check it out. It's worth the drive.

What is the fanciest restaurant you've ever been to?