Cupcake burnout. Is that even possible? These little treats had been my focus since the beginning of this year and I’m really happy with what I have developed, but now I feel it’s time to turn my attention to tarts and layered desserts. Pouring through my baking books would only result in a longer learning curve and time is at a premium. I need to learn it now and I need to learn it fast.
So I enlisted the help of a dear friend. I hired the services of Helen – the force behind the gorgeous blog, Tartelette. I asked her if she could design a curriculum that would cover pies, tarts and layered mousse cakes in a compressed schedule of two days. Helen said “Heck, ya!” and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. The plan was to fly her in on July 9, so she can also be here for some festivities (my birthday!) the “Hungry” Hubby and I have planned for the weekend.
On the way to the airport last Thursday, HH kept asking me if I knew what Helen looked like, and I assured him I did! It is the first time I would be meeting her in the flesh…two years of emails and half a year of French lessons on the phone, and now I finally see her…walking towards me from the long stretch of airport corridor. She is beautiful – just go check out White on Rice Couples’ Portrait of a Gourmand…… and annoyingly skinny. I mean come on, why is every pastry chef I meet as slender as a reed?!
Before we headed home we made a quick stop at Whole Foods for some eggs and cream but we especially needed plums for the tart.
We basically hit the ground running. After settling in for just about 45 minutes or so, Helen was ready to get rolling. Flour, butter, eggs and sugar were taken out to start the first dough: Pate sablee – a sweet tart dough. Helen graciously shared the recipe from her up and coming book. This type of tart dough is frequently used for sweet tarts and can be notoriously finicky to roll out. After forming the dough, we let it rest in the refrigerator. We immediately proceeded with the Pate Brisee, which is your basic pie crust. With this type of dough, whose flakiness and tenderness is often a delicate balance of the ingredients, working it quick and fast is of prime importance. This also joined the pate sablee in the refrigerator for chilling. The frangipane (almond) cream was up next. I just received a box of simply flawless Meyer lemons from Mary, of Alpineberry, who tweeted that she had a harvest of 20 lbs. and asking if any of us would be so kind to take some off her hands. Helen suggested we zest some of fragrant citrus skin into our almond mixture. I admitted to Helen that I was pretty naïve in slicing fruits suitable for dessert presentation (ever wondered why I always used raspberries or blackberries?) so she did the job of prepping the plums for the tart. She did compliment us for our sharp knives.
The pate sablee was taken out of the refrigerator to be rolled onto 3-inch tart rings. Helen showed me how to lay them in and pack them nicely with the thumb. I managed to tear up some but this dough is pretty forgiving and very suitable to patch-up work. It is essential to maintain a floured surface underneath the dough that is being worked into the tart ring or it might stick to the surface. Equally crucial, is making sure that the edges of your tart rings are free from dough and any remnants of it should be neatly scraped at the top and the bottom of the rings to ensure easy release after baking.
We had plum frangipane tarts after a dinner of Vietnamese cuisine. We also rolled, cut-out and baked the pate brisee discs to be used to build a fig mousse tart later. We then proceeded to make Michel Roux’s rough puff pastry. It is different from a regular puff pastry because there is no butter block. The pieces of butter are mixed into the flour just like a regular pie crust except they are in cubes instead of thin strips. This was when Helen lectured me about handling the flour-mixture too gingerly. She said I have to get my hands in there to work quickly and decisively – not be afraid of it. Helen proceeded to do a couple of turns of the dough plaque and said that my French rolling pin is not really French – they actually use the ones with handles back in France (I made a mental note to get that type).
Those who know Helen is familiar with her habit of visiting blogs and twittering at 2 am in the morning. Well, I’m often in bed by 11 pm but I did manage to stay up until midnight :).
Day 2 of the pastry bootcamp was more of a blur and I do not remember the exact sequence of baking events. We made the genoise, the caramel mousse using Bavarian cream and the fig mousse using the Pate a Bombe (egg yolks beaten with sugar syrup). Helen also did the final turns for the puff pastry and cut them into 4×2-inch pieces. As we were baking them to make mille feuilles, we layered a baking sheet on top of the rolled-out pieces part way in its baking time so it did not puff too much and remained flaky. She also showed me how to assemble mousse cakes in rings and baking pans. At around 3:30 pm, we had to clear the area so HH could do his prep for the kebab party for Saturday.
We all went to Can Can for dinner to take a break from all the kitchen activities but even then Helen, HH and I were plotting to make ice cream out of the figs and Meyer lemons in the fridge. It was 9 pm by the time we ramped up into baking mode again however the HH was already in shutdown (beer and the heat can do that to you) but I forced him to squeeze and zest the lemons for the ice cream – after all he would be its main beneficiary anyway.
Later, mille feuilles pieces started disappearing from the production line and Helen and I started pointing fingers at each other as to who was eating them. I also ended up with a runnier strawberry mousse and when I asked Helen about this she said “Well you made them, my pistachio mousse looks fine!” Well! (It really was just good-natured ribbing y’all. )
The recipe for the pistachio and strawberry mousse can be found at Tartelette, except we substituted the mascarpone with cream cheese. They were an outstanding combination to layer into a mille feuilles.
We also prepared the base for the two ice cream flavors of Meyer lemon and figs. Helen is a stickler for the no-waste movement. Any leftover scraps were recycled into something else. For example, the leftover genoise scraps, together with the leftover strawberry mousse were used to make verrines; the leftover puff pastry was sprinkled with parmesan and oregano and twirled to make appetizer sticks.
Saturday morning, the only task remaining was to churn both ice cream bases. HH brought out the ice cream maker I won from David Lebovitz –Helen couldn’t believe I’ve never used it yet. HH was entrusted with ice-cream duty while Helen and I drove off to Anthropologie for much needed retail therapy.
So for my birthday celebration, as the guests arrived, I informed them to pace themselves with dinner as we have quite the dessert spread. The guests were visibly stunned as we paraded one dessert after another: plum frangipane tart, caramel mousse cake, pistachio and strawberry mille fueilles, strawberry verrines, fig mousse cake, meyer lemon ice cream and fig ice cream. Majority loved the caramel mousse cake including me, but I so loved the plum frangipane tart too. The Meyer lemon ice cream was a scene stealer though, it was remarkably refreshing as it was offered at the end of dessert (we were debating whether to share it with the guests actually) and everyone continued oohing and ahhing with every bite. In fact I have tasked the HH to squeeze and zest all the lemons so I can freeze the juice to make more ice cream in the future.
Okay, to those of you who are wondering if I ever got to show Helen around Richmond, VA with so much baking going on- well, I didn’t … because we decided to go shopping instead at Anthropologie, Sur la table, Crate and Barrel and Trader Joe’s. Kinda reminded me of the first time I went to D.C. when I ditched the visit to the Air and Space Museum to go shopping at Tyson’s Corner.
Anyone serious about learning pastry and would love great one-on-one instruction, I encourage you to try out this Pastry Bootcamp customized and designed by Helen. I had so much fun and I’ve learned shortcuts, tips and tricks that can be gleaned only from years of working in a restaurant kitchen. I believe she also offers lifetime support. I would have loved to keep Helen longer but I think her hubby would have something to say about that!
Caramel Mousse Cake
recipe by : Helen of Tartelette
1 egg white
5 oz sugar
½ tsp salt
3 oz cake flour
3 oz flour
2.5 oz melted unsalted butter
Heat the eggs, egg white, sugar and salt to 110F over flame. Whip until cooled. Sift flour over. Fold. Add the melted butter and fold being careful not to deflate the batter. Divide over 1/3 sheet pans and bake at 400F for 7 minutes.
4 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
½ vanilla bean
1 tbs. powdered gelatin, sprinkled over 3 tbs. water
1 cup heavy cream
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale. In the meantime, in a large saucepan set over medium heat, bring the milk and the vanilla bean (split open and scraped over the milk) to a boil. Slowly pour the milk over the yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan over medium low heat and cook until the cream coats the back of a spoon. (as if making crème anglaise). Add the softened gelatin and stir until melted completely into the cream. Let cool to room temperature.
½ cup sugar
¼ cup heavy cream
Heat sugar on medium until a uniform amber color is attained. It helps to shake and redistribute the sugar. Add the cream, the mixture is going splatter and seize but you can melt it over medium flame.
Fold in the Caramel cream to the Bavarian mixture. Whip the remaining heavy cream from the Bavarian recipe to stiff peaks and fold into the Cream-Bavarian mixture. Again, you have to move quickly before the gelatin sets.
Assembling the Caramel Mousse Cake
Cut the genoise to fit the dimensions of your pan. Line your pan with saran wrap making sure you have enough overhang on all sides so you can lift the cake out. Lay the first sheet of genoise, cover with half the caramel mousse. Lay the other layer and top with the remaining mousse. Smooth with a spatula. Chill until set before decorating and adding the glaze.
¼ cup water
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp gelatin dissolved in 1 tbs. of water
Bring the water, lemon juice and sugar to boil. Add the gelatin until dissolved. When cool, pour over the caramel cake.
Lift the cake out of the pan and cut in 2.25 inch squares.
Click for a printable version of the recipe.