The honeymoon phase of pastry school came to a screeching halt during the 6th week in the kitchen. Gone were the casual days of working at a relaxed pace, with a gentle “slap on the wrist” for mistakes. My class wasn’t performing up to expectations and our chef instructor made it extremely clear that our lackluster performance would no longer be tolerated.
I had often disregarded the disciplinary lectures thinking that they didn’t apply to me. I always listened intently during lecture and didn’t make mistakes on my mise en place. After all, I had been successful, consistently producing good quality products. Until the 6th week, when I struggled, and struggled a lot.
Vanilla Genoise with Italian Buttercream
Like many home bakers, I’ve been part of the crowd that believed butter + shortening + powdered sugar = buttercream. And while this formula does make a fluffy, white buttercream, albeit shockingly sweet, meringue based buttercreams are certainly worth exploring. The appearance is a striking, glossy white which is quickly upstaged by the silky texture.
Italian Meringue is made by heating sugar and water to the soft ball stage (240°F) and then streaming the hot sugar into whipped egg whites. My heart was racing as I slowly poured in the piping hot sugar into the soft egg whites, scared of deflating the whites and the possibility of incurring a sugar burn. I finished adding the sugar, let out a deep sigh of relief, and continued to whip the mixture to cool it off. The simple addition of cubes of room temperature butter transforms Italian meringue to Italian buttercream. My buttercream was shiny and voluminous, just the way we wanted.
We separated the genoise (from last week) into three layers, which were moistened with simple syrup and stacked with raspberry jam and our Italian buttercream. I was pleased with how my cake turned out; it was slightly domed in the middle but had fairly even levels and a nice sharp corner.
With its use as a filling for cakes, tarts, and pâte à choux, and as a base for ice cream and souffles, pastry cream is something that every baker must master. I was eager to get started with my first attempt at pastry cream. I prepared my station with all of my tools, measured all of my ingredients, and jumped right in. Just after I tempered my eggs, the chef instructor appeared at my side, yelling…loudly. Just then I realized the magnitude of my mistakes- using the ingredients for pastry cream but following the method for crème anglaise. Yes, the honeymoon phase was certainly over.
Amid listening to the chef instructor, trying to explain my mistakes, and continue whisking, I burned the so-called pastry cream. I continued as best I could, but the pastry cream was completely ruined. I labeled it “gross pastry cream”, put in the refrigerator, and tried to press on with the day.
Crème Bavarois, or Bavarian Cream, is one of my new favorite desserts, featuring one of my most liked flavors, vanilla. Bavarian cream is similar in texture to a mousse, but is typically a molded, sweet dessert. Mousse, on the other hand, can be molded or free form, savory or sweet.
To make Bavarian cream, we thickened crème anglaise (vanilla sauce) with gelatin, and lightened it with whipped cream. Working quickly, we poured the mixture into small molds and chilled them until set up. The following day we completed them with a raspberry mirror glaze, flavored whipped cream, and a fresh raspberry.
After an arduous day in the kitchen, I was relieved to be done. I felt tired, drained, and defeated. I worked out my frustration with a long run, and in doing so gained a good perspective about the day’s lessons. I reeled in my dramatic response to my mistakes, and understood that this is part of learning and growing as a pastry student. I am in school to learn, and that is exactly what I did. And, I know that I’ll never confuse crème patisserie and crème anglaise again.