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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mini!

We had a little bit of a hectic day today, I think we all had a little confusion about what was supposed to happen in terms of graduation, etc. We were all anticipating that all the dessert we made today would be saved for graduation and served only then, unfortunately, I don't think Janine knew our plans so it was a little difficult to communicate what needed to be done at a different stage when Janine was anticipating everything to be done today.

That being said, we still got it all done and had a good amount of dessert ready and waiting for us by time prep for graduation came around. Keeping in theme with yesterday's bite sized treats, today was all about mini pastries that were small enough for you to eat fourteen without a second thought--dangerous but good. Each group was also to make every single recipe (with slight variations, of course) which was certainly possible in the time, but didn't help with the confusion already taking over the class.

As a final ode to trios, Potter, Catherine and I paired up one last time to do the pastries and considering the three of us are rather undisciplined when it comes to measuring and timing, it can be hard for us to work together on something more precise like baking, but there you have it. I started in on the mini-cheesecake while Catherine made the dough for the chocolate-coconut tartlets and Potter began work on the mini-brownies (with chiptole, of course).

The crusts, while made of a basic mix of butter, sugar and graham crackers was very complicated because of the way they needed to be formed in the shells. Janine's technique, which she got from someone else, was to use plastic wrap between the crusts and the baking tray so that the cheesecakes could be lifted out uniformly and easily without affecting the appearance too much. It worked well, in the end, but the process of getting there wasn't easy.

Janine suggested that for every row we use a different piece of plastic wrap, mostly so we didn't lose our minds trying to make it work with just one large piece. We sprayed the entire sheet with PAM and started trying to line every cup with the wrap as cleanly and with as few wrinkles as possible. This really did prove to be difficult because every one that you worked on would inevitably dismantle the one previous, it was a strange little exercise in physics and patiences, but I at the end of this course, I'm finding that all of cooking is a strange exercise in science and patience.

Once everyone cup and row was neatly taken care of, the extra wrap needed to be trimmed away with scissors before the crusts could start being filled, which again would require a great deal of patience since the motion of the cutting was enough to pull out the entire strip of plastic wrap. The crusts were a breeze, in contrast, with each one requiring just barely a teaspoon of crumbs to form a solid and compressed crust shape. I was looking forward to this immensely, they were already looking precious (in a good way).

The lemony cheesecake filling was easy enough, a very simple creamy filling that was just enough to make about 40 cheesecakes. I had originally come up three cakes short, but Janine said to make them up with some from each cake. It actually helped them all come out much better because they it gave them a better finish and less sink in the middle. Lesson of the day, under fill cheesecakes just a touch and they'll come out much better. Once they had baked up (in a water bath), they were left to cool in the molds while we made some white chocolate lemon curd to top them with and some lemon confit for garnish.

Catherine, meanwhile, had baked off the chocolate tartlet shells and wrapped them carefully to be saved for graduation, with the rest of the class. Potter's brownies were also done and ready to be packed away for finishing closer to Saturday, so both of them pitched in and helped me get finish up the curd and confit for the cheesecakes.

Once they were all cooled (cheesecakes, curd and confit), it was time for assembly. Janine showed us how to place all the elements together, taking a little cheesecake and putting a fluffy dollop of the curd and topping it with two perfectly trimmed pieces of lemon confit. They looked fantastic and not overwrought (like yesterday's mushroom-filled crepes), but oh MAN they were just delicious. Perfectly lemony without being too tart or too sweet to compensate for the naturally tart lemon-ness. It was just so good and creamy and ideally sized. I think it would be hard to replicate such a well-balanced flavor profile on a larger scale so I was really impressed that Janine's recipe didn't just taste good but it really utilized the shape and size well to maximize the potential of both. I think if I made a full-sized cheesecake with the same idea it could be too much, especially in terms of the curd and the confit, but when talking about a small bite-sized treat it was a really good balance of cheesecake and curd. Really beautiful.

This idea of using portion sizes to your advantage is something I've really been thinking about more and more lately, especially when I think about Thomas Keller and his application of the law of diminishing return in food. The first bite is always the most enjoyable, and then it progressively becomes less and less enjoyable. Keller's approach to it is to only give two or three bites, always leaving the eater wanting more and never tiring of the food. It derives maximum pleasure because of the residual longing.

I'm definitely going to keep this idea of the perfectly balanced bite in mind for the future... maybe even tomorrow for my final project.

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