Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cream Puffs, Eclairs, and More! (class at the International Culinary Center)

sprinkling cheese on unbaked gougères
     Happy Sunday! A few years ago, I tried making my own croquembouche a few years ago (a mini, chocolate one, granted), and it was delicious, but it wasn't great. It also didn't look all that wonderful, and as I'm starting to get more into the culinary world, I know presentation is super important. I figured what better way to improve my choux pastry technique then to take a class at the International Culinary Center! Living in New York, I'm lucky enough to have access to wonderful culinary schools, but this was my first time taking a class here.
gougères and profiterole shells, ready for the oven
    The school's "Cream Puffs, Eclairs, and More" class was overall a great experience. We weren't able to make everything that was in the little recipe booklet we were given at the start of class, but we were taught the basics needed to recreate all the recipes.
piping the filling of the Paris-Brest
     The class started off with an introduction to choux pastry and the basic chemistry behind it - leavening, flavoring, etc. Our head instructor was Chef Christopher Ciresi, who has worked as the pastry chef at the Plaza Hotel. He was great at explaining and started with the real basics, without assuming we had done this kind of thing before. He then demonstrated how to fill a Paris-Brest, gave us a pre-baked one and some hazelnut praliné pastry cream, and we each got to fill our own to take home.
         He then demonstrated how to make choux pastry and explained flavoring techniques. We split into partners and got to make it ourselves - we piped half of the dough into plain puffs to be used later on, and the other half we flavored with gruyere cheese, salt, pepper and paprika to make gougères. Chef showed us how to pipe the right way to get perfect dollops.
my finished Paris-Brest
      Once our puffs were in the oven, we were split into 3 groups to make éclairs. We were given pre-baked choux pastry, pastry cream and fondant for topping them, and each group was assigned either chocolate, vanilla or coffee as flavoring. This part of the class was more about the technique behind filling and glazing, rather than the actual making of the pastry or pastry cream.
    We then had a demonstration on how the pastry cream had been made, in addition to instruction on how to flavor it with extracts, liquors and fruit purees. Finally, we got to snack on our gougères and plate our plain puffs with some crème anglaise ice cream chef had made (he also demonstrated how to make this). The rest of the pastries were then divided up into bakery boxes for us to bring home.
some of the éclairs I brought home - vanilla, coffee, and the barely-visible one is chocolate
    Overall, this class was a lot of fun and I learned a lot from it. It is true that you don't get to make everything you bring home, but you get the foundations to replicate it, and you do get to assemble everything. I even came home with a bag full of unfilled cream puffs (we never actually made cream puffs, just the shells, which we used for profiteroles) and a wrapped-up bag of gougère dough I had made, for me to bake when I want to.
     I really liked that the chef wasn't only there to do what the description of the class stated - he taught us some extra tidbits, like how to make the chocolate sauce for profiteroles, and discussed the pastry industry with us quite a bit. He gave us his opinion on pastry school and internships, which are really helpful for somebody like me trying to get started in the industry.
   International Culinary Center, I'll be back! :)

*disclaimer: I didn't take most of these pictures - I got them from my baking partner during the class, because my phone ran out of battery just as I started taking pictures (just my luck, right?!)

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