Sugar: My Final Culinary School Project

I can hardly believe that my time at Le Cordon Bleu has come and gone.  Our final project in class was our sugar piece.  With the freedom we were given in class, I desided to do less of an abstract piece and make a more cohesive design.  For some reason I really wanted to make a bird with a beautiful tail of feathers.  I wasn't really sure how to accomplish this and Chef Smith herself said that she had never made a bird out of sugar before so I was pretty much on my own.  Sugar is tricky because of the temperature at which it must be kept in order to manipulate and form it into the shapes you want.  After three days of experimenting with the materials I finally managed to pull of my design--completing my last project at school.

Blue Bird Sugar Piece

Closer Look at the Faux Flowers

Closer Look at the Feathers

It's on to bigger and better things now.  For the next six weeks I'll be working for The Los Angeles Times food editorial.  Keep posted...


Another Wedding?

Well, not quite.  I haven't stopped baking, friends.  We've been flower making and arranging.

Our Assignment: Create a three-tier fondant wedding cake including at least three wired gum paste flowers.

Winter Wedding Cake

Winter Wedding Cake 2

Winter Wedding Cake 3

Taking a Look Back

Let me take you back to September of this year.  Remember my sister's wedding cake?  Five-tier.  Chocolate Spice Cake.  Buttercream.  Hand designed fondant appliques with intricate royal icing piping to mimic the lace of Penelope's gown.  It was a beautiful cake, but I have to confess--I spent countless hours teaching myself how to do the things I had never done before.  So, needless to say, I was utterly thrilled to be making another wedding cake, only this time, under the direction of a chef instructor.

Ivory and Gold Floral Lace Wedding Cake
24 September 2010

I can get lost for hours creating a design for a wedding cake.  Originally I wanted to do something completely off the wall--a Chinese-themed cake using deep reds and striking oriental flowers.  I would have gone through with it had we been given a bucket of red fondant.  The thought of spending hours dying the pounds of white fondant we were given horrified me, so I decided to stick to the white as my base color.  Desiring a different feel for my fourth wedding cake I decided to use an icy silver and aquamarine combination to complement my base and create a stunning wintery wedding cake.  I made a rough sketch and started on the flowers and filler--white poinsettias, hydrangeas, sweet peas, jasmine, dogwood, rose buds, frosted berries, dusty miller leaves, mini-cattails, and icy twigs.  Now, you're probably thinking--I thought the assignment called for three flowers.  Well, it's true; but I was determined to do it all after taking a trip to Michael's Craft Store and playing around in the silk flower section for who knows how long.

The Flowers

The flowers are no where finished, but I thought I'd snap a handful of pictures to keep you all posted on the progress.  Kudos to those who can recognize all of the flowers.


The Croquembouche

What a bouche-full eh?  Croquembouche is a traditional French wedding cake that could really be described as a cream puff topiary.  We started off by making the cream puffs from none other than our classic pate a choux recipe.  We stored them in the freezer as we moved on to the nougatine base.  The nougatine was made from scratch and rolled to about 1/4 of an inch--quite a process!  The nougatine would immediately start to harden so we had to go back and forth in and out of the oven to keep it pliable enough to manipulate.  We cut the nougatine into two 8-inch rounds, a six-inch ring 3 three-inches tall, and 18 rounded triangle ("teeth").  We constructed the base by gluing each piece together with caramelized isomalt.  After the base was constructed, we piped royal icing string-work in between the nougatine teeth.  That afternoon, I spent a little bit of time crafting some marzipan and fondant flowers and leaves.  I also piped some royal icing butterflies and filigree designs for the base.

On the final day of production I attached my filigrees and flowers to the base before starting to build the cream puff tower.  I melted more caramel and attached each pate a choux ball--building a large topiary-like cone.  We actually made cones out of cardboard which we covered with aluminum and used as a guide to for the structure.  After the edible cone was built, we removed the inner cardboard and tinfoil leaving nothing but a hollow cone cream puffs.  I set the pate a choux on top of the nougatine base and used my remaining flowers and butterflies for decoration.

Marzipan and Fondant Flowers and Greens

The Top of the Croquembouche

The Center of the Croquembouche (Royal Icing Butterfly)

Royal Icing String-work

Handcrafted Nougatine Base with Royal Icing Filigree Design


A Cake Fit for a Princess

Before the end of the week, we finished our Princess Tortes--noted to be a traditional Swedish cake.  It is furnished by the layering of yellow fluid flex cake (which we flavored with Madagascar vanilla bean) and raspberry Chantilly cream.  It is then coated with Italian buttercream and covered in marzipan.  Traditionally, this cake is tinted pastel green and garnished with pink marzipan roses.  I used a little peach coloring in addition to the pink to pull away from overbearing pink color.  Chef Smith taught us how to make the marzipan flowers.  I decided to make three small roses and two shades of leaves to dress the Princess Torte.  It is truly a beautiful cake.  Oh, and another plus--it tastes fresh and delicious.

Marzipan Roses

The Princess Torte


Ritzy Recital Cake

The Assignment: Create a child's theme cake using chocolate fondant and containing a cocoa painting on pastillage, a 3D object created out of chocolate, and at least two borders.  Oh, and it must be completely edible!

The Edible Topper

Now I know that some of your are thinking that classical composers and musical instruments are ill-fitting for such an assignment--child's theme cake; but don't the interests of children expand beyond characters on animated television shows?  I must confess, when we were initially given the assignment I immediately thought of "Bob the Builder," my nephews' favorite show; but for this cake I wanted to make something that reflected one aspect of my childhood.  I can remember spending countless hours as a six-year-old pounding on the 88 black and white keys of my family baby grand piano.  So there it was, the inspiration for my cake.

The Cake: We made a chocolate butter cake and spread rich ganache in between the four layers before icing a thin coating of Swiss chocolate buttercream around the entire cake.  Before placing all of the decorative elements, we covered the entire thing with rolled chocolate fondant.

Pastillage:  I had never used let alone heard of pastillage until we were given this assignment.  For those of you who have no idea what it is, think Altoid mints without the minty flavor.  We mixed the pastillage dough and rolled it out to about 1/8 of an inch thick.  From there, we cut our desired shapes and left them alone to dry and harden.  For the cake, I made an oval for my composer's portrait and a six-inch circle for the base of the decorative elements.

Cocoa Painting:  Thinking back to my childhood piano books, they always had old portraits of the famous composers.  Although Rachmaninoff is my favorite composer (I can spend hours playing his music), I decided to paint Frederic Chopin on the basis that he is more well known and the more attractive choice between the two composers.  Painting with a mixture of cocoa butter and cocoa powder was rather tricky.  The portrait was 2 x 2 1/2 inches small so it was difficult to make very intricate details even with a fine brush.  The cocoa hardens and doesn't work as pleasantly as watercolor.  I also painted the circular pastillage piece going for a wooden floor look--similar to the floors at a concert or recital hall.

3D Object: I didn't know whether I could actually mold a piano completely out of chocolate (in fact I was encouraged not to by my instructor), but I knew I wanted to try.  It was fun to build and manipulate the clay-like material into something recognizable.  Molding chocolate works much like clay but temperature plays a significant role on the pliability of the chocolate making it more difficult to handle.  I hollowed out the inside and filled it with a layer of edible gold.  I added gold details on the inside of the cover, the stand, the hinges, and the pedals.  The keyboard was furnished out of gumpaste and the keys were painted with a deep eggplant petal dust I had left over from Penny's wedding.  My absolute favorite part of the entire cake would have to be the accompanying piano bench piece.  I made a cushion on top with faux cloth gathering at the buttons.  Definitely the most adorable part.

Borders:  I kept the borders simple to hold true to the overall minimalist elegance of the cake.  I added a simple ganache beaded border around the wooden floor and painted gold dots to tie in with the gold on the piano and on the portrait's frame.  I also added gold detailing to the bottom but nothing too fancy to distract from the velvety smooth look of the chocolate fondant.

This was definitely not my favorite creation, but I learned so much in the process of using materials I've never used before and pushing myself to new and more difficult endeavors.

Ritzy Recital Cake


Finals: "Rocque" then Roll

Today was my last day with Chef Rocque--truly a sad day.  I learned so much from this man.  He created a learning environment that was fun, positive, and effective.  He gave us the freedom to experiment, create, and challenge ourselves.  Above all, he knows how to teach!  He is a talented, knowledgeable chef and I am thankful to count myself among the lucky students who have had the opportunity to learn under his tutelage. 

For our final we had to make the following:

24 vanilla macaroons
12 petit fours
Dobos torte
Gateau St. Honore
Original chocolate box
12 chocolate bonbons

It was quite an intense final!  Since I had made and photographed all of these items before, I gave everything away except for the petit fours which I took home for the nephews.  I took a quick shot of one of them before letting the boys have at it.  Now I'm rolling on to my final class with Chef Smith.  I can hardly believe my time here is almost over.

Petit Fours


Give Me S'more Chocolate, Please?

I had some extra time to experiment with chocolate.  After making the delicious truffles last week, I could help but think of the different kinds of chocolates I wanted to learn how to make--mint and caramel being at the top of that list.  Chef gave me some mint oil and allowed me to create my own mint hand-rolled truffles.  I tempered milk chocolate and used it to coat the delicious truffle filling.  The result?  Incredible mint chocolate truffles.

Mint Chocolate Truffles

For the bonbons, I brushed copper luster dust in the mold before pouring in tempered dark chocolate to create a somewhat reddish hue.  Using the salted caramel made the week before, I piped it into the molds and added more dark chocolate to seal the caramel within.  These chocolate were quite satisfying as well.

Salted Caramel Bonbons

Chocolate Giveaway Winner!

Oh Fudge!

With Halloween already trailing in the dust, it's time to prepare ourselves for the winter holidays.  We made white chocolate fudge adding pistachio nuts and dried cranberries to add a little holiday flair and unique flavor.  We used Valrhona so for those of you who know your chocolate, you can imagine how incredible it was.  For those of you who have never heard of Valrhona, you'll have to trust me on this one.  This is the trick to good fudge--use good chocolate.  Aside from the particulates (nuts and berries) there are only three ingredients in this recipe--chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, and butter.  No more grainy fudge, no more soupy fudge, no more rock hard fudge.  What we have here is perfect fudge made with a simple combination of ingredients and accompanied with the greatest wow-factor fudge could ever posses. 

White Chocolate Fudge

Close up (YUM!)

Hazelnut Brittle

I feel guilty posting pictures of the hazelnut brittle we made in class; but only because I know how much it will pain my mother.  She LOVES nut brittles--especially hazelnuts--and sadly, she is not here in Pasadena to enjoy this.  Talk about an easy dessert people!  Sugar, water, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, salt, baking soda, and hazelnuts.  One pot on the stovetop and you've got some brittle.   Oh, and you get to smash it into pieces.  If that's not therapeutic then I don't know what is.

Hazelnut Brittle



You are cordially invited to take part in a chocolate giveaway!  Get two people to follow* The Unexpected Culinarian between now and Monday, 1 November and your name will be entered into a random drawing for a box filled with Jonathan Wing's original truffles!

Click the FOLLOW link above and start following!

*Winner must be a public follower of The Unexpected Culinarian and have referred two new public followers. Submit your entry by posting a comment which lists the names of the two newly referred persons. A winner will be drawn from a mixing bowl on 1 November.


Forgotten Cake and Homemade Marshmallows

For some reason I failed to post this picture of my Angel Food Cake.  It wasn't on the syllabus, but Chef Rocque taught us the proper technique to making a delicious airy Angel Food Cake.  With a little bit of fresh cream and strawberries, this light dessert truly is heaven sent (ahem).

Angel Food Cake

In class, we made fresh marshmallows.  They are actually made with gelatin, sugar, corn syrup, and various flavorings according to preference.  I didn't want to get too fancy with my marshmallows so I simply used Madagascar vanilla bean and a hint of cayenne pepper.  For an added crunch, I added cocoa nibs to half of the recipes, just for the sake of it.  The process is rather simple, although, I must say that when the 240 degree sugar is added to the bloomed gelatin, it gives off this horrendous odor!  I'm talking wet nasty dog/zoo smell.  Not cool.  I was rather pleased, however, when the smell dissipated and all that was left was a fluffy, flavorful marshmallow cream which was piped and then cut into one-inch pieces which were tossed in cornstarch to finish them off.  I couldn't wait to get home and make some hot chocolate!

Spicy Vanilla Marshmallows

Vanilla Cocoa Nib Marshmallows


A Box of Chocolate

For the past three days, we have been working on creating a variety of truffles and an original design chocolate box.  Take a look at these stunning desserts!


Semi-Sweet, Bitter-Sweet, Milk, and White Chocolate Box
The box started with a preliminary design and homemade stencils. With the help of textured acetate sheets, I was able to incorporate textures along with my design.  I decided to replicate a two tone wall-painting job, by brushing tempered dark chocolate in deliberate strokes across the acetate.  I then poured tempered milk chocolate over the settle dark to create an interesting combination of texture and color.  I designed a box with an opening on the top to create a peekaboo effect.  I used golden pearl dust to enhance the white chocolate trim and added bittersweet chocolate embellishments about the edges.  At the right-hand corner of the opening I created a white chocolate magnolia.  Each petal was created by dipping three different sized balloons into tempered white chocolate.

Another View 
Close up of the Detail and Texture
Truffles Inside


The Mix of Truffles

Chocolate Orange
In all honesty, I have never fancied the well-loved chocolate orange combination.  I blame the gross, waxy chocolates that come out during the winter holidays.  My dislike lingered through the years until this week--the day we learned to make our own chocolate orange truffles.  In place of the Grand Marnier, I increased the amount of orange zest and infusion time.  The result was fantastic--life changing, really.  It was as though my lifelong dislike of orange chocolate completely vanished as soon as the smooth, rich texture graced my tongue with its incredible flavor.  For the exterior, I used dark chocolate with a golden bronze luster dust. 

Chocolate Orange Truffles

Passion Fruit
Our recipe packet included a truffle filling using cassis (or black currant).  In demonstration Chef used passion fruit puree which was so wonderful, I had to follow suit.  The exterior is dark chocolate which provides a nice balance with the tartness of the passion fruit.  The bon bon is only slightly brushed with a gold luster dust to provide a somewhat aged and aesthetically beautiful look and feel.

Passion Fruit Truffle

As I was creating the passion fruit truffle filling, the thought of substituting strawberry and lemon in place of the passion fruit came to mind.  I finished the passion fruit filling and asked Chef whether I could make another batch using strawberry and some fresh lemon (to offset the intense sweetness of the strawberry puree).  With his permission I made the extra recipe.  This truffle is coated in tempered white chocolate that is brushed with a super pearl dust mixed with a little bit of pink luster dust.

Strawberry Truffles

Chocolate Coconut
The chocolate coconut truffle was supposed to be a Port truffle.  In place of the alcohol, I mixed in coconut puree which added a subtle flavor highly less offensive than that of mounds or almond joy chocolate bars.  These truffles were rolled by hand and hand dipped in dark chocolate.

Chocolate Coconut Truffles

For the hand-cut and dipped coffee truffles, I used a coffee substitute so I guess it would be more accurate to say these are pseudo-coffee truffles.  Ha!  I'm sure the substitute mimics the correct flavor; but whether it did or did not, the taste was impeccable.  It combined white and dark chocolates and was hand dipped in bitter-sweet chocolate after in was cut into small rectangles.  A multi-colored transfer sheet was used to add a unique garnish.

Chocolate Coffee Truffles

Needless to say, this was a perfect end to a great week!  Oh, here's one more pictures of the truffle fillings.  Utterly delicious, my friends!

Truffle Fillings
(Chocolate Orange, Passion Fruit, Coffee, Strawberry, and Coconut)


Le Seul Arbre

Our major written assignment for this six-week module was the creation of a dessert menu including the designs, recipes, and directions.  It was so much fun to create original desserts and creatively express our work on paper.  I made up the name of my restaurant "Le Seul Arbre" and designed a logo.  Spending hours reviewing notes and pulling from the depths of creativity, I eventually decided on four fine dining desserts--each containing about seven recipes.  With reach recipe requiring quite a handful of ingredients, you can imagine that it took quite a bit of time to create the whole project.  In the end, there were approximately 40 pages to the menu.  Yeah, it definitely wasn't your average menu.  Thanks to Yolanda and Hunter's instruction on Adobe InDesign, I was able to format the project in a professional way.  Another bonus to this project, Hunter taught me how to saddle stitch the little booklet menu.  All in all, the project probably took more time than it required, but I learned may new skills in the process.  The result, a pretty neat book containing the directions to create four of my original desserts.

What good are these recipes without sharing them?  Click below to download my assignment.  If you get to trying any of the recipes, be sure to snap a picture and send it my way.  Happy baking!

Le Seul Arbre Menu

Yes, I took pictures of the menu.  Ha!  I only did this because Chef Rocque asked to keep the menu to show future classes as an example.

 The Menu Cover

The Dessert Menu

Seasonal Dessert Design

A Little Peek at the Directions

The Last Plated Dessert

Our Challenge: Create two identical plates employing tempered chocolate, chocolate banded Japonaise and Chocolate Bavarian (yes, the same dessert from the last post--just wrapped in a different manner), and two sauces.

It was a pretty slow day, mainly because I was running on three hours of sleep; but somehow I was able to come up with a pretty good concept and flavor profile for this dessert.

   Dark Chocolate band pre-brushed with Gold Luster Dust
   Creme Chantilly flavored with Orange Zest
   Tempered Chocolate garnish with Cocoa Nibs
   White Chocolate Creme Anglaise
   Orange Gastrique

The Plated Dessert (can you see the gold on the surface of the chocolate?)

Close Up on the Delicious Sauces