Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Half-a-teaspoon: custards and icings class


I was lucky to make it to the custards and icings class at half-a-teaspoon, which turned out the last one Алена Спирина taught this year. I'm so crazy about custards in general that the topic itself turned me on immediately. I enjoyed the class a lot and got deeply sad I'll have to wait till next autumn for more classes.


It was quite general, about confectionary creams. Maybe I'm not exact when I use these two words, I'm still struggling to find an English equivalent for the topic. However I call it, we looked at several things, including custards and fruit curds, ganaches, butter creams, meringue based creams and whipped cream or course.


As is normally happens when Алена gave a theoretical introduction to the class she sorted out a lot of mess in my head about the topic. I made all of these before, but never looked at the subject systematically. That's one of the bad things about the fact I never really studied pastry. I wish I'll once take one more year off and go spend it in a good pastry school.


Coming back to earth, first we made chocolate ganache. It is a chocolate based icing or filling for short pastry. You make it by diluting chocolate with cream. So you can make it thick (1 part of heavy cream for every part of chocolate). Then it holds shape well and you can use it to squeeze out pretty roses on your cakes. Otherwise you can make it thinner (2 parts of cream for every part of chocolate) and get a soft and reach filling for, say, tarts.


I love the process of making ganache since I worked in the Coffee House pastry kitchen. You pour the boiling hot cream into the chocolate chips, wait a bit, then take a whisk and work till the thing gets even and glossy. I can't tell you how beautiful it is when just made. However before you can use it you normally have to chill it.


Then we made the ordinary creme patissiere, vanilla custard mostly used to fill whatever you find fillable (tarts and pies, choux pastry pieces (profiteroles, eclairs etc.). Once again I got amazed by how tasty it is when properly cooked. It seems to me that there are two crucial things about it: natural vanilla and patience needed to get the proper silky texture.


There was lots of discussion in the class around how you get it, especially while we were standing around the stove, whisking the custard on low heat. Should you pour the milk into the egg yolks, sugar and starch mixture or should you boil the milk with the starch in it and then mix in the egg etc. To me the first (and most traditional) way works fine. Important is only that you don't overheat the creme. You patiently stand there next to your stove and whisk it all the time, never stopping, at looow heat till it thickens.


In this sense fruit based custards (curds) seem to be more labor efficient. We made the lemon curd in class (that's what you find inside the lemon meringue tart). You just mix the lemon juice, zest, starch, egg yolks, sugar and water and bring the thing to boil (yes, you need to whisk). No sophistication.


Then we went to make butter creams, which I do not really use. It was quite sophisticated and involved making Italian meringue and mixing it with creamed butter.


Mousseline cream, which is creme patissiere mixed with creamed butter.

My favorite creme anglaise we didn't make as we were running out of time, but I'm fine with making it myself. All the three hours of the class I kept wondering around other people making delicious things and stealing teaspoons of this and that cream. There was no single pan that would escape me leaking out all the leftovers. Now I'm really looking forward to September when Алена is planning to launch the course from the beginning. I missed many things I would love to attend.

Related posts and pages:

Half-a-teaspoon: how to make meringues
Half-a-teaspoon pancake baking class

Creme anglaise
Italian spicy custard

Moscow cafes and bakeries guide