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.