Sunday, May 6, 2007

Learning lessons from jelly

This week, my self-assigned project was to explore the world of gelées using gelatin, agar-agar, and pectin. Gelatin is a staple in the pastry kitchen and is vital in almost all mousses. I used Ganache Pâtisserie's mango-passionfruit-lychee gelée inside a coconut mousse dome. Agar-agar is derived from seaweed and I used a recipe from pastry school to create a rooibos tea jelly. Pectin is more often associated with making jams; however, a classical French confection called pâte de fruit also uses pectin and my favorite is raspberry pâte de fruit. These small sugar-coated cubes of intense fruity goodness are divine. In France, we saw huge displays of multitudes of pâtes de fruits in a rainbow assortment of flavors.

My first encouter with pâte de fruit was at pastry school but unfortunately, I never succeeded at making it correctly on my first 3 attempts. It was only during my practicum at Ganache that I learned why I had failed. The key to the perfect pâte de fruit is not to simply cook to a specific temperature, for example 105 degrees Celsius. Instead, learning to recognize the proper consistency as the endpoint, regardless of the temperature, is paramount. It taught me to not be so reliant on my digital thermometer (which was often inaccurate) and that the eye is just as powerful a tool, especially when cooking sugar. This lesson is applicable to everything in the pastry kitchen; without fully understanding why you are doing what you are doing in a recipe or what is actually happening to your ingredients, you will never be able to troubleshoot or know how to improve your product.

Meanwhile, next week's assignment is to present one product in three different ways as three separate plated desserts. For example, I could make a strawberry mousse and use it in an individual entremet, or in a clear sherry glass, or pipe it onto a meringue shell. My artistic skills have been somewhat dormant these days because I have been so focussed on production and efficiency rather than creativity. But I suppose, success in the pastry world depends on having both artistry and productivity!

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