Category Archives: Confection

The Alchemist’s Hand Pipes Buttercream

Specters of pastry kings flaunt towers of pate a choux, buttressed of European-style butter, fondant and cream…

IMG_6430French almond macarons, Paris-Brest and petits fours are three seductive pleasures I’ve always associated with the best European bakeries. Macarons,IMG_6431 the most-royal orbs of tender flavor and color, occupy three dimensions in a pastry shop window like no other confection. Paris-Brest, the French IMG_6436idolator of Italy’s mascarpone, never excuses itself as the best breakfast companion. Petits fours were the visual emblem of my childhood, each the perfect little package of intense, jammy sweetness. Et voila!

With an alchemist’s hand, Advanced Baking at OCI came to a close, the execution of these gems the act preceding intermission.

The second act, Intermediate Pastry Arts, has as its entre a fantastic carrot cake with coconut, crushed pineapple and walnuts, a silky IMG_6440marbled cheesecake, a goddess-like tiramisu, Charlotte Royale and lemon buttercream roll cake.

Buttercream… The memory of the first Viennese Dobos torte I made 30 years ago is etched indelibly in myIMG_6451 psyche. The day I made it was one of those turning points that sneaks up and screws itself into your consciousness in a way that can never be undone. The shape of the traditional torte is round, and I remember spreading the batter thinly on the back of a 9″ pan. Seven times. Thin layers of chocolate buttercream inside and out. A beautiful layer of deep golden caramel as the crown.

These desserts are not naive. They reverberate the names of their creators and those courageous enough to be their current standard-bearers.

Each day a new skill or technique or solution is carved out of rigorous practice. The lineage of great pastry chefs of the past lives on in the next scored torte, the next filigree, the next perfect rosette.

The Sophistication of Goo

 A dispassionate tear of glucose, the refugee of macaroon mischief…

Six months of management classes at the Oregon Culinary Institute are successfully completed at a GPA I must admit I’m pretty happy with. I have a set of core business courses under my belt that will serve Essential Confection well.

The hammer is down. I’m now immersed in what I came here for, management classes notwithstanding. Baking and pastry, the creative love of my life for more than 40 years, is under way. Immersion, indeed.

Two to three recipes per day, ingredients scaled a day ahead. I’ve elected to come in an hour early each day to work ahead.

Macaroons, a super-slight crunch sheltering the sweet succulence of coconut. The texture of a great macaroon is a viscid al dente goo offset by the shimmer of a crunch.

Macaroons have an elegance undoubtedly arising from their French, Italian and Belgian origins where ground almonds were, and are, commonly used in place of coconut.

Instead of glucose, heavy, dense and very tacky, our formula called for corn syrup which has glucose as an ingredient but is lighter and a bit easier to handle. A simple recipe and technique that yields a brilliant result.

IMG_6201

Coconut Macaroons

6 oz sugar

6 oz macaroon coconut

1 oz corn syrup

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp pastry flour

1 pinch salt

3 egg whites (1 oz per egg white)

Combine all ingredients and warm over simmering water to 120 degrees F. Allow mixture to cool. Stir before use. Scoop portions onto parchment-lined sheet pans. Bake for 12 min at 350 degrees F. Piping the dough into beautiful little pointed stacks is an option.

Opera to Aria, the Sweet Song of Cream

A constellation of cocoa, a meteoric flash of vanilla…

The Candy Book, referenced in a previous post, holds several of the confection  secrets I’m interested in unlocking. As for the book itself, the binding’s a bit tattered, and the fragile pages  are supple and soft from many years of wear.  I love scouting out the old and imagining it in the present, in books and in confection.

I can’t remember the first time I had Putnam’s Opera Creams as a child in Cincinnati; however, the luscious texture of the silky vanilla cream center as it oozed out against the bite, juxtaposed with its dark chocolate exterior has lingered indelibly in my memory as a seductive pleasure. I can still see the shimmery silver box.

Simple ingredients in alchemy. Sugar, cream, glucose, vanilla extract. What will they bring? I decided not to commit chocolate to the process until I knew the center was stable.

At least the recipe was standardized, the mixture cooked to 240 degrees. Vigorous beating and kneading alternated with active waiting and watching. The cooked mixture rolled successfully on a confectioner’s-covered surface. It scored. We, the opera cream and I, waited the requisite 24 hours for it to set.

IMG_6172

Enter the worst knife skill I’ve exercised in 30 years. Certain the proclivity for safety in knife handling was long ago put in place, I
IMG_6167took my eye off the ball [blade]. In trimming the scored mixture, I did the unthinkable… I motioned the knife toward me instead of away.

I had just had my knives professionally sharpened. The result was a slice (not an edge tap of the blade) out of the little figure on my left hand, which bled profusely.

The balance of the evening was spent in the ER. Three stitches. Big lesson.

So… the opera cream. Not quite as gooey as the opera cream of my youth, but equally tender and delicious. I believe the intention of the recipe was for the product to be cut and served individually. What I made makes a great center, but its delicate texture as a stand-alone confection is still a question mark.

An education on all fronts.

There is Definitely a Candy Goddess

I wish to taste the sweetness of life; I wish to have the sugar speak for me…

No historical recipe interests and challenges me more than Cream Candy.

In a previous post I alluded to its lure: provocative in texture with a fineness of interior.  What went unsaid is the utter madness I feel in trying to perfect it… hell, in just trying to execute it… without failure.

Not every failed recipe attempt is my fault, though it feels like it’s my fault. The cream candy recipe I first came in contact with was completely non-standardized. Three ingredients cooked to some nameless temperature, the successful texture of which could only be vaguely described as a blob sinking or swimming in a cup of cold water with some sort of visual appropriateness. No blame on my shoulders here; old recipes had no standardization, and I knew that going in.

It gets so much worse. When I then have the courage to pour the nameless, formless, colorless mass out onto a marble slab or a frozen sheet pan (did I mention without touching or stirring), I stare at it in guarded horror as if it might either take wing or eat a hole through the table. That’s because I know what’s next.

The candy-in-waiting must be pulled and pulled until one moment before my arms fall off. Preferably in cold weather. With zero humidity in the atmosphere. In Portland. There is definitely a Candy Goddess, and she’s laughing her ass off.

At this stage, one of two things happens. Either the pulled candy mixture seizes without the slightest warning which is my most common outcome, or it doesn’t which means I still have at least one more chance to ruin it.  In the confectioner’s playbook, I’m supposed to pull it into strings of similar circumference, then cut it into bite-sized pieces to “cream” overnight. Only once have I gotten that far. It was the time I had first degree burns on my fingertips from picking the hot mixture up too soon, so I was salving my fingers as I congratulated myself.

If the end product weren’t so damned good, so exceptional, so unlike anything else in the marketplace, I’d have long ago dropped it like a prom dress.

Anyway, simplicity does not equal success. Effort does not equal success.  I’ve also noticed that whining and swearing have not yet equaled success.

So, this is a great little recipe to chronicle. I can promise you (and myself) a roller coaster ride, but I’m determined to be crowned Cream Candy Lady. I guess aloe vera can be considered a business expense.

I wish to have the sugar speak for me…

The [Re] Coronation of the Turtle

Chocolate, caramel, pecans.

The memory of my first chocolate Turtle lingers long.  I was a teenager in an era where neighborhood confectioners were common.  Ice cream parlors of this ilk were confectionery companies, as well.  Often family-owned, multi-generational businesses of quality and longevity.  Marble floors, mirrored walls, two-seat wrought-iron chairs and tables.  To this day, I have the memory of walking past the glass case and spotting those soft, deceivingly nondescript beauties, and can remember clearly the sensuous feel of the candy in my mouth.

Now, the Turtle has high order on the Essential Confection table of re-creation. Essential Confection models and honors great confectioners of the past.

As a new confectionery business owner, I’m attempting to understand the universe into which I’m stepping.  In so doing, I feel a little like the person who stroked the elephant while blind-folded.  Arms outstretched, flailing in the dark, trying to determine what’s in front of me and what it is I’m feeling.  The exercise causes me to recognize 1. how little I know and; 2. that feeling one part of the animal cannot a determination make.

Yet, steps must be taken.  Skills must be refined and perfected.  Courage to tackle the perils must be mustered.

IMG_5989Wearing the hat of the technician, the hat that likely got me headed toward the confectionery business abyss in the first place, I refine recipes until I have products I can confidently present to the world.  The Essential Confection sugar & cream Caramel, the EC salted chocolate, anise, orange, chocolate espresso and cinnamon caramels. Creamy, dreamy and voluptuous. Done.

My desire to inaugurate recipes of the past with a contemporary crown is a core theme of the business.  Helping people restore the memories of that which they loved, and reintegrating those memories into this moment.  The Turtle Trio, chocolate, caramel and pecans, still wins.

Through much experimentation, I’ve discovered techniques to enhance the depth of flavor and texture of each component.  A little chocolate tempering guidance from my Oregon Culinary Institute (OCI) pastry instructor, and confidence in my product is percolating.

What memory do you have that’s tied to a confection of your youth?  Were there chocolate or fruit or citrus candy recipes in your family or neighborhood confectioner, the memory of which still seeds your awareness?  Was the confection attached to holiday celebration? What was most memorable?

Quality.  Simplicity.  Intensity of flavor.  Today’s Essential Cinnamon Turtle can again be restored to its rightful place of sovereignty.