Allow me to lend you some advice and share a few parlor tricks to save time and eliminate stress in the kitchen. Learning these techniques may take a little practice but it is well worth the effort, as you will see them used over and over again in all types of pastry recipes.
Mise en Place
Literally, “putting in place,” mise en place is the act of having all your ingredients and equipment measured and at your disposal before starting to execute a recipe. I cannot stress enough the importance of mise en place when in the pastry kitchen where timing, temperature and precision are of the upmost importance. It is recommended to read through the whole recipe, then scale your ingredients and get your equipment handy, and finally, create your masterpiece.
Using a Piping Bag
Using a piping bag is a simple technique but if not done correctly it can leave you with a big mess and unflattering results. Follow these easy steps:
1. Select the right sized bag. For ease of handling, you will only want to fill up the pastry bag 2/3 full. Use larger bags for filling up molds and smaller bags for detailed decorations.
2. Insert your piping tip inside the bag. Pull it down tight at the bottom until it is firmly stuck it the bag.
3. Use your thumb to push the part of the bag just above the tip into the tip so nothing can leak out while you fill the bag.
4. Hold the bag in the middle and roll the top edge down over itself, like your rolling up your sleeve.
5. Fill the bag 2/3 full, scraping the mixture off your spatula on the inside of the fold. You can do this while holding the bag or you can place the bag in a tall plastic container with the folded part over the container’s edge to balance it while you fill.
6. Unfold the top of the bag and twist it so the end is closed.
7. When piping, only apply pressure with your dominate hand around the end of the bag. Use your other hand to lift up the tip and guide it in the right direction. Never squeeze the bag with both hands.
8. Always keep your piping tip in the air, letting the mixture fall in place. Never touch the dessert or drag your tip through it.
Making a Paper Cone
Cut a triangle from a piece of parchment. Hold the straight longest edge up with a corner pointing down. Curve the two side corners toward you and cross them, like they are giving someone a hug. Keep wrapping them around themselves until they are all the way to the back and all three corners meet at a point on the bottom. Fold the point towards the inside of the cone to secure it.
Only fill the cone a third full. Once full, fold the top two corners towards the center at a diagonal and then fold the top open end down to two times to close it. Snip the end off the tip to pipe.
Many recipes in this book will require you to temper one ingredient with another. With this technique you are bringing two ingredients to the same temperature very slowly so as not to have an adverse effect on one or the other. A perfect example would be combining hot milk and egg yolks. If you simply dumped all the eggs into the hot milk or vice versa, you could accidently cook the eggs instead of incorporating them. By pouring the milk slowly into the egg yolks while stirring, the eggs will slowly warm to the same temperature as the milk and be perfectly incorporated. Another example is incorporating melted gelatin. The liquid to be combined with the melted gelatin should be slowly poured into the gelatin while stirring constantly or the gelatin may set up before the liquid is fully incorporated.
The same application applies to cold ingredients. When combining cold whipped cream to melted chocolate, you must do it little by little or the chocolate will get too cold and harden up into chips before it can be incorporated with the cream.
Meringue recipes will tell you either to whisk your meringue to soft peak or stiff peaks. A meringue at soft peak is mixed for a shorter period of time. Finished, it will curve over slightly when you pull some out and hold it atop your finger. The French call this stage “bec d'oiseaux” as it ressembles a bird's beak. A meringue at stiff peak will stand straight up in a peak on your finger. Meringue should be used immediately after it is made within the hour it is made for best results. After time it becomes crumbly versus supple, so it’s harder to fold into a mousse or batter nicely and won’t hold its shape as well when piped.
There are three main types of meringues, each with properties that make it suitable for certain applications but not necessarily for others.
French meringues are used to lighten and give volume to cakes and batters that will be baked. It can also be baked on its own to create crunchy meringue pieces.
Basic Procedure: Whisk egg whites on high speed until foamy. Add half of the required sugar and continue to whisk. When the eggs are starting to take on volume and the color turns white, add the remaining sugar. Continue to whisk until the desired consistency it reached. For recipes with very small amounts of sugar it is fine to add it all at the first addition. It is recommended to turn the mixer off for a second when adding the sugar so it doesn’t stick to the side of the bowl.
How much sugar is in a French Meringue will determine its strength. Each large egg white can hold up to 50g per sugar. When the recipe contains a high proportion of sugar to whites, the meringue will become stiff and glossy and there is little chance that you will over whisk it. This type of meringue is great for piping on its own. However if the proportion of sugar to whites is low, the meringue will not be as strong. When folding this type of meringue into a batter you must be very gentle so it does not lose its volume. It is imperative that you keep a close eye on a meringue with little to no sugar as it finishes in the mixer. If you overmix it the meringue will become crumbly and will not incorporate well into the rest of your recipe.
In an Italian meringue the egg whites are cooked by pouring hot sugar syrup into them. It is very strong and durable. Since the whites are cooked by the sugar syrup it can be used in mousses. It can also be baked in the oven on its own or piped and caramelized with a torch, like it is often done on lemon tarts. While this procedure requires a bit of skill, after some practice you’ll prepare it with ease.
Basic Procedure: Cook sugar and water together on the stovetop. After you start cooking the sugar, place egg whites in a mixing bowl with the whisk attachment. When the sugar reaches 221°F (105°C) start whisking the egg whites on high speed. The goal is to bring the egg whites just to stiff peaks at the same time the sugar syrup reaches 245°F - 250°F (118°C - 121°C.) When the syrup is in the correct range and the egg whites are at stiff peak, turn the mixer to low speed. Slowly pour the syrup down the side of the mixing bowl and into the meringue, being carefully not to pour it on the whisk. Once all the syrup is in, continue to whisk the mixture on low speed until cool.
This is another form of meringue where the egg whites are cooked on the stove top. It is stronger than a French meringue but doesn’t have quite the strength of an Italian meringue. We do not use Swiss meringue in this book but this is a brief introduction.
Basic Procedure: In a mixing bowl over a bain marie, whisk together the sugar and egg whites. When the mixture reaches 122°F (50°C,) remove it from the heat and continue to whisk until cool.
Whipped cream is easy to make as long as you know when to stop the whipping. If you are making a sweetened whipped cream (Crème Chantilly in French) that you will pipe for a decoration, whisk your cream to stiff peaks. However, if your cream will be incorporated into a mousse, stop whisking when you reach a very soft peak, if even, so the cream resembles more of a thick potato soup. It is very easy to overmix cream if you are not paying attention towards the end. If you over whisk your cream just by a little bit, you can usually stir (not whisk) in a bit of liquid cream to loosen it up. It is often said to make whipped cream you must make sure the cream is very, very cold and to place your mixing bowl in the freezer ahead of time. Really not necessary. Really.
Caramel comes in many forms – hard like glass, soft like fudge and in varying degrees of liquid stages. Caramel is made by cooking sugar until it melts and changes color and flavor. If you let that sugar cool it will become hard like glass. If, while the caramel is still hot, you add liquid (usually cream) the caramel will be soft or fluid depending on how much liquid is added. Butter can also be added at this stage for flavor.
It is recommended to use pure cane sugar when making caramel, as beet sugar tends to burn quickly. Cooper pans retain heat well and are great for making caramels if you can afford one. If you will be adding liquid to your caramel, choose a deep pot to use, as the liquid will bubble up when first added. Make sure your liquid is hot so it will incorporate. Otherwise the caramel will seize up. If this happens return it to the stove and cook over low heat until it dissolves. Always have a container of ice water next to you when working with caramel. If some gets on your hand immerse it in the water immediately.
When making caramel it is important to watch the color. Always test the color of the caramel on a white surface such as a piece of parchment paper, as it can be hard to determine the color in a pan, especially a copper one. A caramel that is too light will taste sweet without complexity. A caramel cooked too dark will taste overly bitter or even burnt. Just like Goldilocks – you want it just right!
Some caramel recipes tell you to add water to your sugar in the beginning. While this may help prevent burning, it takes a lot longer to caramelize because you first must evaporate all the water before the sugar will caramelize.
Basic Procedure: Place one fourth of your sugar in a saucepan on medium heat. When you see the edges start to melt, stir briefly with a wooden spoon and allow the edges to melt again. Stir again and repeat until all the sugar is melted. It will have a light, opaque caramel color. Add the rest of the sugar, one fourth at a time, and follow the same procedure. If your sugar starts to clump up or take on a lot of color before it is completely melted, continue to stir it off the heat to slow down the cooking. If making a hard crack caramel, cook the sugar until caramel in color and opaque. Continue stirring off the stove until the desired color is reached and the caramel looks transparent instead of opaque. You can always take it back to the stove if more heat is needed to reach the desired results. If the caramel is cooking too fast you can slow or stop the cooking by placing the bottom of the pan on a wet towel and stirring the mixture. For caramels involving cream, right when the correct color is reached add the hot cream little by little and bat the rising foam back and forth with your spoon until it resides. Then add more cream.
Most people think of mayonnaise or salad dressing when emulsions come to mind but they happen very often in the pastry kitchen as well. Prime examples are ganache and flavored buttercreams. An emulsion is the coming together of a fat and a water-based substance, two things that normally don’t mix well, to create a smooth, homogenous mixture. Temperature and agitation play a key role.
Chocolate Ganache - Care must be taken when making a ganache to prevent it from separating. There must be a balance of fat (coming from chocolate, cream and butter) with any liquid (coming from cream, milk or flavorings.) Usually when a ganache splits it is because it is agitated while too cold or it simply contains too much fat. When adding cream to melted chocolate, do it in two to three stages, creating a satiny, smooth mixture while whisking briskly at each stage before adding more cream. Once your ganache is made it is recommended to use right away, as it can be difficult to reheat without separating.
Buttercream - Buttercream is often flavored with water-based fruit purées or alcohols. When flavoring buttercream, first bring your ingredients to room temperature. Place the buttercream in a mixer with the paddle attachment and beat it on medium high speed. Wave a propane torch under the bottom of the bowl to soften, but not melt, the buttercream. When touching the bowl, it should be neither hot nor cold. Once the buttercream is at room temperature and smooth you can add your flavoring, a little by little, letting each addition fully incorporate before adding more. If your flavoring is cold and you see the buttercream stiffen up you can take the torch to the bottom of the bowl again.
The microwave can cook, steam and heat at a variety of heat levels. Because it does not involve direct bottom heat you can use it to make pastry cream and lemon curd without stirring and without the risk of burning. It’s magical! Simply take all your ingredients in a bowl, blend with an immersion blender and cook. Then immersion blend again. (Make sure you wash the immersion blender between mixing the raw cream and the finished cream.) The microwave is also the easiest way to temper small amounts of chocolate. You can use glass, plastic or stainless steel bowls in the microwave. (C’est vrai!) For stainless steel bowls, make sure they do not touch the sides of the microwave.
* Make sure you wash the immersion blender between mixing the creams and the finished creams.
Pastry Cream Basic Procedure: Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe container. Blend with an immersion blender and then place in the microwave and cook on high power until the pastry cream is set and jiggles like jello. Mix with the immersion blender once again, scraping down the container and blending again. . If, after blending, the cream is still very runny and has not thickened, continue to cook and blend until you have the consistency of pudding. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Lemon Curd Basic Procedure: Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe container. Blend with an immersion blender and then place in the microwave and cook on high power until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Check the curd after two minutes and every 30 seconds after. Every time you check, first blend with an immersion blender, as the mixture will not look smooth (but its fine, trust me!) When you draw your finger through the curd while holding the spoon vertically (its edge facing up) the curd should not move.
Rolling & Baking Tarts
Always make sure you roll tart dough in a cool ambient temperature with the dough chilled. If it is too warm the dough will stick to the rolling surface. Also use plenty of flour on the surface but not so much as to change the recipe! When dusting your rolling surface with flour pretend you are skipping stones to scatter the flour evenly in a fine dust over the rolling surface versus sprinkling it in small piles. When rolling the dough always start from the center of the mass and roll away from it. Roll towards the top. Roll towards the bottom. Then turn 90 degrees and repeat. With every turn lightly dust the rolling surface as needed so the dough does not stick. Roll the dough to a thickness of .5cm (.2in.)
To line a tart mold or ring of any size roll the dough about 4cm (1.5in) larger in size than the mold. It is recommended to spray molds with pan release and to flour gently to prevent sticking. Place the dough over the mold and gently sink it down into the corners. If using a ring, place it first on a piece of parchment that can be lifted onto a half sheet pan. Then, using a paring knife or your finger, cut the excise dough from the mold at an angle with a downwards motion towards the outside of the mold. Press your index finger along the inside corner of the mold to make sure the dough goes up the side in a 90 degree angle with the bottom. Trim the top edge again as needed. The top and the sides should be uniform in thickness.
Scraps from most rolled doughs can be recombined and rolled a second or third time. After that, they become heavy and not as flaky when baked and it is recommended to discard them. Chill and rest the dough after lining tart shells or rings.
Before baking, place a piece of plastic wrap loosely over the top of the tart with extra overhang on all sides. (You may need to use several sheets in opposite directions.) Top the plastic wrap with flour to snugly fill the cavity of the tart. Then, bring the plastic wrap edges to the center and twist together. Bake the tarts with the plastic wrap and flour. These will act as weights on the bottom and sides of the tarts to hold their shape. And no, the plastic won’t melt. These flour pouches can be reused many times.
When your tart shells are cool, use a fine plane zester to delicately level the top rim and sides so they are perfectly flat and even.
Everyone knows how to stir - be it in a soup, pâte à choux or a cocktail. You go round and round and round. Just like a record. “Like a record, baby, right round round round.” (Dead or Alive, 1985) Folding is not stirring. We don’t go round and round. We go under and over over and under. Then turn. Under and over. Over and under. Then turn. It’s like a fancy dance move from the 80’s! Folding incorporates ingredients as gently as possible. It is often used in batters and meringues where we have created volume in one portion of the mixture and want to incorporate that into another part, keeping everything light and fluffy.
Basic Procedure: Pour all components into a very large, shallow bowl. Use a plastic bowl scraper that can easily scrape the bowl bottom and lift large amounts of mixture at a time. From the furthest side of the bowl, pull the bowl scraper down under and through the mass, scraping the bottom of the bowl and coming up on the other side. While doing this you are pulling batter from the bottom and folding it over the top of the mixture. Turn the bowl 45 degrees and repeat until your mixture is homogenous.
Sometimes when combining a meringue into a very stiff batter it is recommended to “sacrifice” some of our meringue. In doing this, we take about a fifth of the meringue and stir it into the batter to lighten it. While we have lost the volume of that small portion of meringue by stirring and not folding, the remaining meringue will now be easy to fold in.
When unmolding cakes baked on sheet pans granulated sugar is sprinkled on the top to prevent it from sticking when inverted. Since these cakes are very thin they can often tear when removing the silicone baking mat. One way to prevent this is to freeze the cake. Another way is to use the edge of a wire rack to apply pressure on the silicone mat, folding the mat over the rack and pulling it towards you.
Basic Procedure: From about 12in (30.5cm) above, lightly dust the cake top with granulated sugar. Cut around the edges to break the cake away from the sides of the pan. Place a piece of parchment over the cake and flip it upside down. Remove the silicone mat slowly, starting at one corner and pulling the mat not up, but almost parallel to the mat itself in the opposite direction.
Desserts that will be covered in glaçage or a glaze containing gelatin or pectin should be frozen first so the glaze will set up upon contact with the cake. Bring the glaze to the recommended temperature. Then, pull your dessert from the freezer, remove any acetate from the sides and place it on a wire rack. Pour the glaze generously over the top and sides of the cake quickly. Use an offset spatula to push the extra glaze from the top off the side. Pick up the frozen cake with the offset spatula and rub the bottom in a circular motion on the wire grid to remove excess glaze before placing it on a platter or cake board. Any glaze that runs off the dessert can be scraped up and reheated to use again.
You don’t need a tempering machine. You don’t need a bain marie. You don’t even need a thermometer. When we talk about tempering chocolate we are talking about the crystallization of cocoa butter. All chocolate contains cocoa butter and therefore needs to be “tempered” to set up in a stable state. Cocoa butter can set up or crystalize in many states but only when it solidifies in a state containing beta V crystals does it retain its shine, retract from molds and gives a snap when bitten. When chocolate is melted this crystal structured is destroyed. If the chocolate is then simply allowed to cool and solidify on its own, it will be grainy, grey and will not have the properties of contraction that allow it to be unmolded.
The easiest way to temper chocolate is to simply not melt it all the way. Chocolate bars and pieces are perfectly tempered before they leave the factory. That means they contain stable cocoa butter crystals. When you melt a portion of the chocolate and stir it with unmelted chocolate, the stable crystals will spread and grow in the melted portion.
Basic Procedure: Place chocolate pieces or chopped chocolate bars in a bowl and place in the microwave on a low heat setting. As soon as you see the chocolate getting soft in certain areas, remove the bowl and stir. Continue to warm until about half of the chocolate is melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and continue to stir the chocolate letting the residual heat melt the remaining solid pieces. Place back in the microwave briefly if solid pieces still remain after a couple minutes. Stir again and test for proper crystallization – place a small amount of the chocolate on the tip of a knife and wait three minutes. If the chocolate sets up without any streaking, success! If the chocolate does not set up or sets up with streaking, add a small amount of finely chopped chocolate and stir to melt without heating in the microwave. Retest and continue to add more chocolate and stir until you have a nice hard, glossy test sample.
Note the temperature of your environment. If it is above 75°F (24°C) you will have difficulties getting your chocolate to set up correctly. After using the tempered chocolate, pour any remaining onto a piece of parchment. Once cooled, reserve it for baking or ganache.
Chocolate curls are great for adding a bit of elegance to your desserts. You can add them one by one or keep them grouped together for different effects. You will need strips of acetate that you can cut out of larger sheets or purchase already cut. Chocolate transfer sheets cut into strips can also be used.
Basic Procedure: Temper a small amount of chocolate in the microwave. Place a piece of parchment on a perfectly clean, flat counter. Space out three strips of acetate on the parchment. Cover the acetate with a thin layer of chocolate using a small offset spatula. Run a pastry comb toward you through the chocolate. If the chocolate is still quite warm and flows back together, run the comb through a second time. As soon as the chocolate loses its sheen and starts to set up, peel the acetate off the parchment and curl it in your hands into a perfect cylinder with no overlap. (If your hands are warm try not to handle the middle as much as possible.) As the chocolate sets up it will hold its shape. Allow the chocolate to sit for at least 10 minutes. If you remove the acetate too early it will not have the shine that it should. Once set, carefully peel off the acetate. Break off the ends if they are connecting the curls. Carefully unwind the curls one by one.
For perfectly round curls you can slide your acetate into a paper towel or PVC tube while still flexible, to set up.
Chocolate can be sprayed on a frozen dessert to create a unique, velvet looking outer shell. The chocolate must be mixed with added cocoa butter to make it exceptionally fluid and reduce the chances of it clogging in the sprayer. The dessert must be frozen so the chocolate spray sets up on contact.
You can purchase a special sprayer made for chocolate or you can buy any small, handheld electric paint sprayer and dedicate it for food use.
Spraying chocolate is relatively easy as long as the chocolate stays warms and you work quickly. If you load the sprayer and let it sit for a couple minutes the chocolate in the gun could solidify and no longer spray. If that happens you will have to empty the chocolate out of the sprayer and run very hot water through it before starting again. You made need to increase the pressure to help remove the clog.
Basic Procedure: Set up an empty cardboard box on the counter, open side facing you, to contain the spray. Run very hot tap water through your sprayer to make sure it is working. Dry the container and place it in an oven that was turned on briefly and then off so it is just barely warm. Prepare the chocolate spray by melting equal parts chocolate and cocoa butter. Strain the chocolate into the sprayer’s container using a small fine mesh strainer to avoid any unmelted chocolate that could clog the sprayer. Set the pressure to about 25psi and test it by spraying into the sink or garbage. If you can regulate the flow, open it up as much as possible.
Place the frozen dessert on a wire rack and place in the box. Immediately spray the dessert with a thin layer of chocolate from a distance of 30cm (12in) turning the rack as you go. Cover with another thin layer and repeat until you can no longer see the sides. Avoid getting too close or spraying too much at a time in one spot or the chocolate will not have time to set up and you make get shiny drips instead of velvet.
To make spraying easier and more uniform, spray the dessert on a lazy susan or rotating cake stand.