Sunday, December 11, 2005

Lessons Learned

I spent the better part of my day teaching another class. The title of this class was "Miniature deserts for your holiday buffet. The photograph on the left shows 3 of the 4 deserts that were featured in the class. On the left is a small apple turnover, in the back is a cream puff filled with chocolate cream, and in the front is a bite sized lemon cheesecake on a shortbread cookie. Not pictured is my favorite, a spoon served creme brulee. These deserts are all great because the bulk of the work can be done ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

The turnover is made from a flaky cream cheese crust and a caramelized apple filling. To make the filling, I cooked the apples in butter over a medium flame. The apples are covered in sugar as soon as they are put in the pan so the sugar mixes with the butter and released juices, and slowly caramelizes while the apples cook. When the apples are very tender they are mashed in the pan, mixed with the caramely buttery goo that they cooked in, and doused with apple brandy for the last 2 minutes of cooking. The flaky cream cheese crust is my favorite pie crust, but any pie crust recipe will work. It is rolled in a square, egg washed (for glue), and the filling is dropped by tablespoon in a grid. A second layer of thin pastry is laid on top and pressed down. This is very much like making ravioli. The turnovers are cut with a fluted wheel, and baked for about 20 to 25 minutes. They make delicious little hand held apple pies.

The cheesecake is a great idea I found in Gale Gand's "Just a bite" book. She suggests lining mini muffin pans with plastic wrap and filling them with cheesecake batter. They bake at 300 for 20 minutes, and no the plastic wrap doesn't catch on fire. These can be made days ahead of time wrapped well and refrigerated, then assembled last minute on a cookie of your choice. I chose to make a lemon cheesecake on a lemon shortbread cookie, but any cheesecake recipe should do fine. The great thing about this method is the crust is a crisp cookie rather than the crumb crust that can get so soggy, and because they are made in mini muffin tins, you can make quite a few of them with minimal effort. Dusted with a little powdered sugar, it's quite a gem and can be finished in two bites.

The chocolate filled cream puff is a lighter version of the pastry case delights. Instead of making pastry cream, I filled them with a rich chocolate whipped cream. The cream is made with semisweet chocolate melted into sweet scalded cream which is chilled before whipping. It whips up very thick and dense, more like a mousse than a whipped cream. The cream puff is made from Pate a choux, which takes its name from the French word for cabbage. Indeed, they do look like little cabbage heads. I enjoy their rugged exterior because they always hide something luxurious inside, a diamond in the rough so to speak. The nice thing about pate a choux is it's ability to be frozen. The little mounds of batter can be piped and frozen, then baked off at a later date. This means you can do all the (messy) work on a Wednesday night, and bake them just an hour before you want to serve them on a Saturday. A piping bag fitted with a small tip inserted into the bottom of each puff fills each "cabbage" discretely, and they require minimalistic garnishes like a quick dip in melted chocolate or a dusting of powdered sugar.

Finally, my favorite of the class, creme brulee served on a spoon. No picture exists because they were gobbled up before I could get my camera out. The method is very simple and can be applied to any recipe. Instead of breaking the custard up and baking it in individual molds, a shallow layer is baked in a large casserole dish. After the custard has chilled in the refrigerator, it is scooped onto a serving spoon. The rough scoop of custard is smoothed with a hot dry palette knife (or butter knife). This is dusted with sugar and brulee'd just as usual, and because the spoon has a long handle, you can use your gas oven's broiler if you don't own a torch. The custard can be baked days ahead of time, stored with plastic wrap on the surface in the refrigerator, and scooped just before serving. It's nice for the buffet because it has all power to impress that creme brulee does and the guests can enjoy it with out much commitment. There is no ramekin to hold onto, it can be eaten with one hand and a drink in the other, and is over in just a few bites.


Anonymous Mike said...

Love it! First time reader, first time commenter.

About the brulee spoons - when you talk about a serving spoon, I envision something like a teaspoon or tablespoon and not a large serving spoon (like for a buffet). When you talk about smoothing out the scoop of custard, do you mean flattening it down so it fills the bowl of the spoon with a level top (like in measuring dry goods like flour), or is the brulee like a mound of custard in the middle of the spoon and the goal is just to clean up the rough edges?

Awesome stuff, keep it up!

December 11, 2005 9:49 PM  
Anonymous Nicky said...

Hi Dana,
I love everything bite-size ;) If it's dessert - even better! About the plastic wrap: I read about it on various blogs (e.g. covering chocolate cake during baking), I always thought it would melt or leave a horrible smell to the food...? Is it a special foil?

December 11, 2005 11:12 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Mike- the custard was like a mound, with the edges smoothed. And yes, it was just a regular tablespoon, not a giant buffet spoon. Thanks for reading!!

Nicky- I too have seen and been suspicious of recipes that called for plastic wrap in the oven. But then I saw the sous chef I work with covering her flans with a sheet of plastic wrap to bake in the oven. It's hard to believe, but it just regular old plastic wrap. It becomes a bit stiff in the oven, but doesn't melt onto anything and is odorless and tasteless. I wouldn't suggest covering a saute pan, but in the oven it seems to be fine.

December 12, 2005 8:01 AM  

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