Monday, January 30, 2012

Pear Tart and Panna Cotta

I'm just making a quick post to update with some photos of my most recent dessert platings. My baking production class has become quite time consuming, and with a bar mitzvah at work last weekend and a stage at the Grey Plume this weekend, I have had time only to work and watch an hour of television before I go to bed. I'm hopeful that this week will provide some respite from that schedule. I'll only be spending 9 hours at school today!

Last week, my desserts were featured once again at the Sage Bistro. I made a pear and almond tart and a coconut-mango panna cotta. In the end, I did come to love both desserts but it took time for them to grow on me. I was initially excited about them, but last Monday I was disappointed with the caramel sauce and the pastry cream filling. I tweaked them the next day, but it wasn't until I was plating them on Thursday evening that I really adored the tarts. I finally finally finally mastered the tart shells with a new trick (top secret). The panna cotta, once it set up, was just beautiful (if you ask me). I love the clean lines and the tuile top. It looks like it belongs at a black tie event. I am satisfied.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More Foibles in Plating

I have been forced lately to think about my personal aesthetic. In the past, I just buy or am gifted my style. I don't think much about it. For a while, I would follow fashion blogs and pull away ideas, but now I need to apply what little I know about design to what I know about food, and more specifically pastries, to present it in a visually pleasing manner. This is a challenge. I normally put on a plate as if there were TV-dinner compartments. One spot is for vegetables, one spot for meat and another for potatoes. Desserts go on small plates and are garnished with a large dollop of whipped cream. In many ways, I ascribe to the school of thought that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover. That saying can get one into trouble. While true, if a book has a beautiful cover but not substance it will be cast aside. However, giving no thought to exterior presentation at all shows a laziness which is fine when serving dinner for your family or friends but is not acceptable when you expect someone to be impressed or better yet to lay down money for a good or service.

So I've been thinking about my personal style lately. After contemplating my wardrobe choices on a very very long road trip I have come to a few conclusions about myself. I like simplicity matched with a bit of flair. I own a large volume of plain T-shirts in various colors, mostly short-sleeved, and with differing neck-lines--boat, crew, v-neck--to name just a few. I wear three pairs of jeans: skinny, higher-waisted flairs and white jeans. I have one jacket, with a herringbone pattern, that I wear all the time along with this one pair of moccasins (brown) and subdued gladiator sandals. All boring, except for this one element: a pin. I got the pin at a clothing exchange with friends. It is completely singular and must be handmade. It is an old pocketwatch with the workings removed. In its place glued, tied and somehow or another way affixed is delicate drapings of chain mail, small rhinestone daisies and a large and somewhat gaudy plastic-pearl clip-on earring. I put a safety pin through the top of the brass pocket watch and it has hung galantly on my jacket for two years now. That is the perfect point of style for me. Minimal and simple and then there's this one piece of intrigue. I like scarves, funky sunglasses, I tuck my T-shirts into my pants to show of a belt. I have this one necklace that I bought in Spain for 6 euros in 2004. It's black with gold etchings of birds and flowers chiseled out of it. So what I want to learn and to refine is how to present a dessert that is delicious while being simple with just a touch of flair.

I am discovering there are as many ways to dress a plate as there are to dress a person. For instance, there's flashy with too much going on:

There's skill with a lack of a focal point:

There's trendy to a point of silliness:

What I want is minimalism with a point of interest:
The shape is nice, flattering. The goods are well made. Everything is great about this outfit. Her skirt is the obvious focal point, but it all shows off the person--her hair, her great body (jealous) and her cute face. There aren't these beautiful pieces distracting people from how lovely she is. Here is a reinterpretation of a lemon tart. We can't actually taste it, but the elements look well executed. The lemon curd is creamy and lump free, as does the meringue. The crumb layer appears to add some crunch. It's a basic tart presented in a different way. If only I could come up with something like this.
Last week, I made chocolate pots de creme. My instructor was insistent upon them being chocolate--not mocha flavored, not chocolate-hazelnut or chocolate peppermint. Plain but rich chocolate. The challenge is how to present it in a way that exhibits fine technique and good ingredients. I ended up using Tartine Bakery's recipe--no surprise there--which was rich and bitter and perfectly creamy.

I started with a quenelle of creme fraiche on the suggestion of the bakery student manager. I liked the plating below--looks like the last pedal left on a flower. However, no one agreed with me. I do really like the whipped and sweetened creme fraiche. It's something I hadn't tried before but worked nicely--it had that bit of sourness to give it one more piece of flavor.
At the suggestion and with the help of classmates and the TA, I flooded the top of the pots de creme with caramel creme anglaise. I then added a garnish of chocolate sauce. I learned that garnishes should be present only if they add something to the dessert--an idea I love but which can make plating trickier.
I came back from break with an idea for a triple chocolate pots de creme with a white chocolate creme anglaise and milk chocolate sauce. My instructor thought flooding the top with plain cold creme would be better along with some chocolate shavings. I'm not too crazy about the chocolate shavings because thinking of garnishes and desserts as a whole it's not much, however, the plate was just so white without the chocolate. I don't have a photo of the final dessert, but I'm pleased and hope that my efforts will come more easily in the future.