After the teaser post from a few days ago, I am finally able to sit down and share with you the deliciousness and (for me) gluttony that was ice cream week. I absolutely love cold desserts, probably more so than any other sweet treat, except a warm and fresh doughnut or chocolate chip cookie straight out of the oven. However, both of those things require effort and proper planning. Eating good ice cream, gelato, mousses and other chilled or frozen delights often do not. So it was hard to resist the many, many (many!) things that we made this week.
Enough with the blabbering. On to the good stuff! Tuesday began with work on granitas and sorbets, as a bit of an intro into some of the science behind frozen confections. In our teams, we each chose a vegetable to use in our granita (basically a high-end, lower-in-sugar shaved ice) and any fruit purees to come up with a sorbet. I was paired up with Megan, and we had a lot of fun figuring this all out!
In making the granita base, we used maple syrup instead of simple syrup, and added some ground cardamom. The mixture needed to freeze solid for at least a few hours, before we’d scrape it with a fork to give it its signature texture (and presentation/serving form).
Because every fruit and vegetable has its own varying natural sugar content, it’s important to use a refractometer to measure the total sugar content after you’ve added in your sweetener – whether it’s simple syrup, honey, maple syrup or something else. Granitas are meant to be between 16-19% sugar, where sorbets fall between 25-32%.
On Wednesday, there was a lot more work to do before Thursday afternoon’s ice cream social. There were all manner of accompaniments to make (like cones and toppings), we had to spin our sorbets and some ready ice creams in the ice cream machine, we had new ice cream and gelato flavors to make, and we had to taste some of what we’d already made. Partners were switched up and Marni and I worked together on this busy day.
As if we didn’t have enough to do, Chef also introduced the concept of semifreddos and popsicles to us. Semifreddo, in Italian, means half-frozen and that’s what all these desserts were: recipes similar to ice cream in some ways, but directly frozen into molds and never spun or otherwise mixed in a frozen state. Not sure I got any pictures of us working on these, but we spent some time on a salted butter semifreddo, as well as yogurt berry popsicles.
Jeni’s is my new favorite ice cream and Chef had us try a variety of it, due to how differently she makes it. Unlike most ice cream bases, which are cooked and use egg yolks in the custard-like base, Jenn replaces the egg yolks with cream cheese. Everyone in class agreed that this was indeed a splendid ice cream, as her company’s name indicates!
We were able to test a few more that we’d made, but most needed to wait until the next day to harden enough. With a full belly I headed home, but only had a few hours before dinner with my visiting cousin, Lu Ann. I hadn’t seen Lu Ann for more than twenty years, but we reconnected through my dad, who stays in touch with her, and knew she was coming to the San Francisco area to give a talk. She was a long-time investigative reporter on the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia, has survived two battles with cancer and is now writing books about her experience(s) and booking speaking engagements.
She was up for any type of food, so I picked a Japanese place from the Michael Mina restaurant group: Pabu. Despite being a bit full from the ice creams and sorbets, we went for the chef’s tasting menu. Over a wide variety of courses, Lu Ann and I filled in the gaps of the twenty-plus years and had a wonderful evening, before she headed off to the airport for her return home.
Lu Ann and I discovered we each have a great love for food, and she invited me to come check out the food scene in Philadelphia. I have had a few Philly places on my to-do list from over the years, and will happily accept her invite some time after school ends! In the meantime…more ice cream awaited on Thursday.
Before we could get started on our ice cream endeavors, we had to take the written exam for the end of our second “semester” in class. Unlike doing it at the end of the day like last time (where it hung over our heads), we knocked it out first thing and could focus on our big tasks. I was thrown off a little by the first question on the test (about pate de fruit) but felt good enough about the rest. Luckily, the thought of all the ice cream in my immediate future helped me get past any lingering doubts about my test performance!
Unlike the traditional rectangular sandwiches, filled with vanilla ice cream, we punched circles and made two sandwich variations: one with Jeni’s raspberry ripple and another with a Vanilla Condensed Milk variety that Chef had found. She said that it was intended to taste like Carvel (anyone remember that place? I do!) and we thought it was a perfect filling for these old-school cookies. Out of the scraps, we did cut out some small versions of the old rectangle shapes and filled them. We also snacked a bit. 🙂
Our semifreddo, which was a malted milk chocolate one called kulfi (an Indian take on semifreddo), tasted good but not amazing. My favorite was a peanut butter one that Yamina made.
All of these were great, as well as the avocado and toasted coconut ones that came out later.
We then decided exactly how we were going to set up our social with the culinary students – the toppings, the drinks (signature root beer floats, anyone?), where to place everything, who would man every station and more. We had so much stuff to share with them – it was no surprise that there was plenty of leftovers!
I had dinner plans with my cousin Erin that night at a new place in the Mission, called AL’s Place, opened by a chef (Aaron London) who had worked in some big San Francisco restaurants before opening this new, veggie-centric spot. I was enormously full and really didn’t need to eat again until breakfast, but didn’t want to cancel on Erin. Luckily, she wasn’t too hungry either after a late lunch and this place’s small plates were indeed small.
I had a sunchoke curry with black cod, as well, and it was tasty – but it was good I wasn’t hungry. The servings were small and pricey, and if I’d come with a big (or even normal) appetite, I might have been disappointed. Nevertheless, we had a fun evening and then I went back home to do some final studying and prep before Friday’s three-hour practical exam.
Unlike the first practical exam, in which I’d gotten a preferred slot in the first group (8 am), I was part of the late group this time (11:30). I took that as an opportunity to check out the quickly-becoming-legendary Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. They are famous for their pastry hybrid, the cruffin. It’s croissant dough, baked in a muffin tin, rolled in sugar and filled with a flavored pastry cream. They are such a crazy sensation right now that it’s impossible to get a cruffin any day of the week (but especially on the weekends) without waiting in line for 45-60 minutes, but someone actually broke in recently and stole their recipes – nothing else! (The New York Times even picked up the story.)
I walk by this place some days, as it’s not far from where I live and – depending on how the lights work in my walking favor – it can be part of my route to school. They open at 7 am but cruffins don’t come out until 9. That means I can never get them on a weekday…unless it’s an exam day! So I let my pastry-loving friend Ken know I was free, and we met up there to wait in line and get treats.
I have said before that I think Tartine Bakery here in SF has the best croissant I’ve ever had (or on par with the top one or two from Paris), but Mr. Holmes’ was right up there. Truly delicious – and flaky and buttery and messy the way a perfect croissant should be. The doughnut was delicious too – soft and pillowy, clearly made from a brioche dough. Yum! This kept us sated until 9 am, when the line started moving and we could head inside to get the cruffins (and anything else we wanted).
I actually bought two cruffins, with the intention of saving one for my pastry school classmates after our exam. And…despite being tempted to eat it, it lasted. I would say the cruffin is VERY good and well worth waiting in line for. Once. But the other pastries there are so good (and there are a bunch I didn’t get to try), that I am happy to go in the morning and not wait in line and just eat some of their other stuff. Danishes, cookies, almond croissant, chocolate croissant and more. I look forward to returning there.
As for the exam, I thought it went just OK. No major screw-ups, but little things on each project that I wanted to do better on. We had to make a pie we’d made before, the lemon-lime tart from Mustard’s in Napa. It is truly a delicious pie and one I will definitely make for friends in the future – but I thought the blind-bake of my crust could have been a little better, I slightly overcooked the filling, and the brown sugar meringue topping was presented to Chef a little early (it wasn’t cooled down enough). Instead of making dragees (chocolate-covered caramelized nuts, like we’d done before), we caramelized corn flakes and tossed them in just one round of melted chocolate. This I was pleased with…but forgot to refrigerate at the end after it was spread out on a sheet. All little stuff, but preventable. With six things to finish or present to Chef during three hours, my brain was racing a bit.
However, I didn’t do anything tragic, finished with enough time left to calmly complete the last two tasks, and that was that. Having only had pastries so far that day, I – and my friends – were starving. I suggested burgers and everyone loved the idea. And that was how ice cream week ended.