Nov 16 2010

The Sweet Stuff

Published by at 10:10 pm under Cooking Classes,Dessert

I hate it when bloggers apologize for being MIA, so I’m not even going there. Suffice it to say that last week, culinary school became, well, school. I was faced with a practical exam (read: cooking a three-course meal under a deadline for my instructor to critique) and a written exam, rounding out the week with an oral presentation about a famous chef.

On the plus side, I now know the entire life story and philosophy of Zuni Cafe’s Judy Rodgers, which I’d be happy to relay if anyone’s interested. Bottom line: She’d advise you to go for the full brine this Thanksgiving.

In lieu of a play-by-play of my past week, I’ll just fill you in on the sweet stuff. We recently participated in an all-day workshop on making meringues, as you can see in the photo above. And though completely unseasonal, the Raspberry Almond Dacquoise made a very pretty picture.

A dacquoise is a meringue (egg whites beaten with sugar) baked with ground nuts, and usually layered with some kind of filling in between. In this case, the filling was simply whipped cream and fresh raspberries, with a mint garnish for color.

Another example is this Hazelnut Dacquoise, which is filled with an espresso-flavored buttercream and garnished with chopped hazelnuts. As you can see, you can make them in either large or individual sizes.

The secret to baking meringues is beating the egg whites and sugar for longer than you think is probably necessary, then baking them in a very low heat in the oven. It’s about drying the whites out, not actually cooking them — hence the low heat.

They’re also incredible delicate, so frosting and garnishing (and generally moving) these guys is no small task. I tended to feel like the proverbial bull in a china shop all day. But they do look pretty, right?

As adorable as these little basket-shaped meringues would be to bring for a baby shower, I have to admit the flavor disappoints. That is, unless you love the taste of pure sugar without any added flavoring, because that’s essentially what it tastes like: sweet. Nothing more, nothing less.

And for the health-conscious, my instructor also appropriately called them “sugar bombs.”

But not all was lost on the dessert front of late…

That’s a fairly basic chocolate cake, dubbed a Queen of California Cake by its creator, Alice Medrich. It’s filled with dried apricots and brandy and topped with a chocolate glaze and candied walnuts — and it’s every bit as rich as it looks.

My classmates and I each made one of these as part of an introduction to cakes, though our studies are ongoing. This Friday, in fact, I’m (0bviously) looking quite forward to a workshop in cake decorating. Good thing I spent all those years in middle school practicing my penmanship.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “The Sweet Stuff”

  1. Sharonon 17 Nov 2010 at 4:53 am

    SWEET!

  2. SHon 17 Nov 2010 at 8:01 am

    They are so pretty!!

  3. Jakeon 17 Nov 2010 at 10:31 am

    Those cakes look amazing — nicely done! It’s funny that you mentioned Judy Rodgers and whether to brine a turkey. We’re trying to figure out whether to brine or not ourselves for this Thanksgiving. On the one hand: no dry white meat if you brine. On the other: can’t make a gravy from all the super salty pan drippings (or, at least, can’t make a good one). Why does Rodgers say to brine?

    Also, semi-related question: we’re having someone who doesn’t eat dairy (but does eat meat) at our Thanksgiving. Wondering what to baste the bird with, if we can’t use butter. Worried something like olive oil will give it a weird taste.

  4. Livon 17 Nov 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Hi! Rodgers isn’t so specific about the brine (although I believe she does do that with the Zuni roast chicken), but it’s more about the seasoning ahead. If you go for a dry brine instead of a wet one, you may be able to get the flavor you want without sacrificing the drippings. You can season up to a day or two ahead and leave the turkey uncovered in the fridge for maximum diffusion.

    In fact, she said in her cookbook that she seasons her proteins immediately when she gets home from the market, then sticks them in the fridge to use later.

    Interesting dilemma about the butter. One alternative would be to use an animal fat (like duck fat, which we always save) and baste with that, because you’d get a great flavor from it. Otherwise, a blander oil like safflower or grapeseed oil would provide more of a blank slate than olive, which has a pretty distinct taste.

    Hope this helps!

  5. Sharonon 18 Nov 2010 at 1:29 am

    Incredible thats what I have got to say and Hazelnut Dacquois tops the list ..Every one of the sweets look absolutely amazing…

  6. Jakeon 18 Nov 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Awesome idea for basting — any idea where a guy could score some duck fat in the Bay Area?

  7. Livon 18 Nov 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Cook some duck breasts on the stove on very low heat, and pour off the drippings — this way you get to eat the duck, too! Never bought it at the store myself, but I may have seen some at Andronico’s in the Inner Sunset. I’d call first, but I bet you could get it at some gourmet grocery stores.