Sugar overloaded
Saturday, October 8, 2011

This past week has felt like a long one. On Tuesday, our kitchens were taken over by French expat chefs from around the world. The guest chef for our class was Eric Bédoucha, from Financier Pâtisserie in New York. A lot of us, especially the Americans, found it odd that we were learning how to make brownies in France. The best brownies in the world, as Chef Eric calls them.

For the workshop, both Anglo classes were crammed in one kitchen almost half the size of our usual space. There were too many people doing different things in an unfamiliar kitchen so it was a bit chaotic at times. We were also lacking ingredients, tools, and equipment.  At the end, we did manage to finish all the mise en place (preparations) for the brownies and mascarpone & berry mousse.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try the finished product because they will be glazed and cut the next day before serving. So I still don’t know if they really are the best brownies in the world. I do have the recipe which I will try once I get around to calibrating the oven at home.

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we made an assortment of candies and lots of it. This includes pâtes de fruits (fruit jelly), nougat de montélimar (soft nougat), guimauve (marshmallow), caramel, hard candy, sugar art, gianduja (chocolate with praliné), fondant, and modeling chocolate. I learned that candy making requires quite a bit of precision and a very watchful eye. Even with the same ingredients and recipes, everyone’s product turned out differently each time.

Ingredients for strawberry pâtes de fruits include sugar, strawberry puree (we used frozen), slow setting pectin, glucose, and tartrique acid. The acid and sugar react with the pectin to set the mixture and turn it into candied jelly.

To make the pâtes de fruits, we bring the strawberry puree and glucose to a boil. Then, we add the sugar and pectin (mixed together to prevent lumps) little by litte as we whisk. Once the mixture reaches 106°C, we add the tartrique acid, whisk, and pour into a frame on a Silpat sheet. Chef taught us that more acidic fruits can be cooked to a higher temperature and the result will be a slightly harder jelly and visa versa for sweeter fruits.

Once the mixture cools, it will set and the frame can be removed easily. Now it's ready for cutting.

To cut the pâtes de fruits, we use a tool called a guitar to cut into even small cubes. It's basically a metal frame with thin metal wires across that slice through your block of pâtes de fruits.

Using the guitar gives you very clean slices quickly and easily! We also made passion fruit and apricot pâtes de fruits which is shown in this picture.

After cutting, they are rolled in sugar and left outside to dry for a day.

While we were cutting, we all went around eating each other’s pâtes de fruits. I felt that the strawberry one was too sweet and the strawberry flavour hidden while the passion fruit apricot one was a perfect combination of tart and sweet.

The ingredients for lemon caramel are sugar, butter, chocolate, and lemons. I made vanilla bean caramels which uses a vanilla bean and heavy cream in replace of the lemons and chocolate.

To make the vanilla bean caramels, we started by heating cream just until a simmer. Then, we added the vanilla bean seeds and the pod to the cream to infuse the flavour. Meanwhile, we cooked the sugar and glucose until a light golden colour. To this, we added the warm cream while stirring and poured into a buttered frame on a Silpat sheet.

Unfortunately, my friend and I forgot a very crucial step which was buttering the frame. We learned our lesson because it was impossible to remove the caramel from the frame without distorting it. We ended up sacrificing the edges and cutting along the sides.

Vanilla bean caramels. On the first day, they were a perfect chewiness combined with excellent flavour. I think these might be some of the best caramels I've ever eaten, outside of Paris. But then the next day, they became a little too hard and too chewy. This was a result of cooking the sugar until past the soft ball stage (118°C).

The chocolate caramels reminded me of Tootsie Rolls from Halloween, except with quality chocolate. These had a softer chew and stayed the same the next day.

After caramels, we made nougat de montélimar (soft nougat). The basic ingredients for nougat are the same as for caramel, but with the addition of honey and egg whites. The procedure is similar except now we are adding the cooked sugar syrup to egg whites as they are whisked. The roasted nuts that we used inside the nougat was a nice balance to the sweetness.

Contrary to caramels, the nougats were chewier on their first day rather than the next. Our Chef says part of the reason is that we did not wrap them immediately and the moisture content of the air. Also, everyone's nougat came out with a different chewiness. Again, it was a result of cooking the sugar syrup to different temperatures.

Following the nougat, we made guimauves (marshmallows). Guimauve is made the same way as nougat, but with the addition of gelatin to the cooked sugar syrup right before adding to the egg whites.

The warm marshmallow mixture is poured into a frame on a Silpat sheet dusted with a 1:1 ratio of cornstarch and powdered sugar. After setting, we just cut with a knife and dust some more.

My mint marshmallows. I was hoping we could make chocolate marshmallows and then I could make them with half of each flavour but Chef said no. These were my least favourite of everything we made this week. They were too soft (almost like a dry mousse) and a bit too sweet.

On Friday (today), we started by making delicious gianduja, which uses the praline we made on Monday mixed with dark chocolate. We melt the two ingredients together, pour onto a marble surface and work it with a spatula to induce crystallization in the cocoa butter.

Pouring the melted chocolate and praline onto a marbled surface to be worked with a spatula. In the beginning, you have a shiny, smooth mixture.

After working on the marble surface for 10 minutes, you get a thick paste which you can pipe. We all found it hard to control the amount of 'working' necessary. If you overwork chocolate mixture too much, it becomes too thick to pipe. If you don't work the chocolate enough, it's too liquid and can't be piped either.

My batch suffered the former problem. It was too thick and we couldn't pipe it so we had to reheat it, but then it became too liquid again. The ones in the picture are Chef's. They are the size of half your thumb, with a toasted hazelnut hidden inside, like a ferrero rocher.

After making the gianduja, we began experimenting with sugar art. We started with flavoured hard candies. This is the simplest recipe of all the candies we’ve made this week but the most difficult to work with. We just boil sugar, glucose, and water until 155°C, add colour and flavour, boil until 158°C, and pour into your mold.

Bergamote flavoured candies. After pouring into a square mold, we take a knife and make markings in the candy when it's warm and almost set. Once cooled, you can easily break it along your markings like a bar of chocolate.

Playing with sugar. I learned that if you pour your sugar into a mold and it does not set perfectly, you can put it in the oven at 70°C for 30 mins and the sugar will melt and fix its surface imperfections.

Here's Chef showing off. He added edible copper powder to his green candy and poured into a mold to give that marbled shiny appearance. While it was hot, he put the Silpat sheet (with the leaf onto) on top of cans to give it shape.

Finally, close to the end of class an accident happened and I am now suffering the aftermath of it. While boiling the sugar syrup, I was testing the temperature with my fingers, as our Chef taught us. It’s usually no problem but today, when I dipped my finger into the syrup, it splashed back and burned the top of my finger and hand. I didn’t think it was so bad but an hour later, the blister swelled up like crazy and I got worried and went to the nurse.

The nurse was really nice. She wrapped my hand nicely after disinfecting my wound. Don't worry, it looks a lot more serious than it really is, I hope.

It’s going to be a pain over the next week when I’m in the kitchen. I guess I could wear a glove and duct tape it around my wrist? AND, I’m still on dish duty next week. I guess it can’t get worst than cleaning burnt caramel and solidified candy on pots x30 every day we make candy. It hasn’t been my best week but I survived!


Well? Let me know what you think. Write me a comment below!