Whether if you are majoring in pastry arts or any other major, food culture and trends are heavily appreciated and have such a tremendous impact on us as Americans. While the job of a chef is tedious and was often not readily as renowned as it is now, it has become this phenomenon. Everyone wants to own their very own restaurant and establish their own style on the culinary or confectionary scene. It has become this career choice that became an easy venture as it opens huge possibilities from a business standpoint, in that you can readily market anything. Before the days of rainbow bagels and extravagant over-the-top milkshakes, there was a food trend that started a dessert war all on its own due to this new innovative idea…the cronut. Dominique Ansel of the Dominique Ansel Bakery created this amazing dessert in his New York City shop. The cronut was a hybrid dessert that was a cross between a croissant and a donut. The dessert has since been trademarked although many other franchised bakeries have tried to mimic the readily famous dessert.
His dedication as a pastry chef has shown throughout the years as he continues to stun the pastry world. After the extended success of the cronut, Ansel has experimented and had other popular desserts as a part of his dessert menus around the world. Another innovative dessert being his cookie shots which are chocolate chip cookie dough shaped glasses that are served after being filled with milk. It serves as a new-age spin on the classic pairing of cookies and milk. But the latest dessert from Dominque Ansel creates the façade of a kiwi fruit while having the appearance of a Klondike ice cream bar. Its innermost layer is a Tahitian vanilla ice cream that is enrobed with a layer of kiwi sorbet and then covered with a layer of milk chocolate and cocoa powder to create that fuzzy outer layer that a kiwi has. This once again proves the talent that is Dominique Ansel as he constantly challenges the dessert world with new ideas and provides a whole new spectrum of flavor concepts readily involved in desserts.
One of the most amazing things, no matter what career that you partake in, is to always stay updated and to try to create something new or innovative that has not particularly been created beforehand. As I work towards being a pastry chef, I hope to challenge myself constantly in order to create new recipes and taste combinations for new desserts. I wish to create my own food trends by way of my ideas to influence the pastry world. I believe that we as humans should always push ourselves to be relevant and create a brand within our talents. No matter who you are and regardless of whether you have your entire future planned out or not, you should always be aware of how talented you are and acknowledge the fact that there is only one version of yourself which makes you already unique as well as what you have to offer this world.
As autumn settles in and summer has come to an end, it becomes time for the colder weather to take hold…for the holidays to roll around…for the winter clothes to be taken out of storage…for the beauty of Indian summer to overcome nature. I love autumn as well as the winter…I find that it is the most beautiful time of year. Around this particular time of year, everyone gets so crazy about pumpkin spice everything…it’s in fragrances, car air fresheners, lattes, et cetera. But I hardly get interested in this trendy nonsense instead this season brings on other memories. No matter who you are or the life that you lived, we all have that one person…that one important person in our lives who always made us feel special, cared for, and loved. That person could be a family member or a close friend but someone who has always stuck by you despite life’s difficulties. And as the holidays are coming soon, I found myself thinking of all the people that I appreciate in my life…every single person who has made my life better.
When I was younger, my grandmother would always purchase gifts for me and my sisters on her way home from work. It could’ve be the most inexpensive thing but it meant the world to me…just to have her think about getting me something special…something that she knew I’d appreciate. We weren’t exactly the most financially stable family so there was no Christmas tree or any gifts…and we weren’t even ones to really celebrate the holidays altogether. Still, my grandmother would try her very best to shower us with as many gifts as she could…fulfilling this traditional role of a grandparent and trying to spoil us as much as possible.
My grandmother really fought for us…even as her grandchildren, she did everything in her power to keep us happy and to ensure that we had a good childhood. There is one gift that for some reason topped the rest…it has always held a greater value for me. Being a writer, I always had an interest in books and because I was the middle child…I always wanted to be like my older sister. I was so quick to things, I wanted to learn my alphabet and then to read. My grandmother had purchased this children’s book for me and my sisters titled, “Sweet Potato Pie” by Anne Rockwell. It was a short book that describes how a family was so busy…they each had their own jobs, tasks, and responsibilities but the grandmother always had a way of getting the family together by way of her homemade sweet potato pie. I still love this book just the same and it is by far the best thirty-two pages that I have ever read. This book has held such a great impact in my life and every time that autumn comes around…as the holiday season slowly approaches; I am captivated by the thought of sweet potato pie. Much like the book, my grandmother is a phenomenal baker and has made plenty of pies for the holidays especially sweet potato pies. My grandmother holds such a matriarch title in our family that she unites us as one multi-generational family by way of both her baking and her peaceful spirit. And to quote the most pivotal line of this children’s book, “Everybody’s happy. Why, oh, why? Grandma’s baking…sweet potato pie! That’s why!” (A. Rockwell, Sweet Potato Pie, Feb. 1996).
There is so much going on in the world today…natural disasters have affected so many regions, the recent political issues that have faced America, the constant struggle of racial injustice, the strife that life tends to naturally bring, and trying to find a perfect balance between college as well as a social life. This is a whirlwind of craziness that has wreaked havoc on America. So for today, I decided to go for a lighter subject to counteract these difficult happenings currently occurring in the world right now. As someone who aspires to be a pastry chef, people often assume that I am always well-inclined to all things in the pastry world but the truth is that I don’t really know everything in the pastry world. There are many things that are still unknown to me…things that I am still inexperienced in, yet I push myself to have a greater sense of those things in order to become more well-versed as a pastry chef. But as I share and post my experiences with the confectionary arts world and write about up-and-coming food trends, I realize that there are still many questions that I face on the daily basis in terms of baking.
There is one question that I still have…that often follows me around when I am baking and in all four years of college, I am still faced with this question. What is the right or wrong side to use for aluminum foil? Should the shiny side be facing up? Or should the dull side be facing up?
My misconception was that you interchange the foil sides for specific cooking purposes…so the shiny side conducts heat better so if you looking to get something crispy then shiny side up but if you are looking to lock in moisture then use the dull side. But regardless, both sides can be used interchangeably…there is no difference between each side of aluminum foil. While the shiny side has more reflection which creates more radiation…the only thing that matters when baking is convection and both sides of the foil conduct the same amount of heat. The truth is that both sides of foil are exactly the same and the reason that the foil visually appears differently between a shiny and dull side results from the manufacturing process in which the way that the sheets of aluminum is rolled out, the side that is in contact with the rollers comes out shiny while the other side does not.
To me, this is still a mind-boggling notion and honestly, it is one of those things that haven’t changed much for me since understanding this information. I understand that both sides are the same logistically yet I still, when faced with the decision of how to place aluminum foil for baking purposes, I believe my standards as I still somehow believe that the shinier side is more important in holding and conducting heat. But I still wanted to share this and hope that it helps fellow day-to-day bakers.
If you are like me, then you have had your fair share of cakes…whether it be a Black Forest Cake, an Angel Food Cake, an ice cream cake, or the traditional birthday cake. The first thought that enters my mind when I think of cakes is the layered cakes with overly sweet American Buttercream wedged in between the layers of cake that may have a sentimental message written on top of the cake to commemorate a special event such as a birthday as well as a specific amount of candles to represent the age in which that person is turning on that particular day.
The French word entremets literally means “between servings” and would usually consist of a small dish between courses in French cuisine. It would mark the end of a serving of numerous courses. Now, it is a term that is readily used in the pastry world, an entremet is a cake that is multi-layered mousse-based with various texture contrasts and varying complementary flavor concepts. There are entremet cakes that are traditional to the French pastry cuisine but it varies significantly from the cakes that are readily available in America.
The most important element of entremet cakes is the proper use of food pairings in which the contrasting textures and flavors being utilized still correlate to one another so it will offer a well-balanced mouthfeel. These food pairings can vary from coconut and mango, passionfruit and white chocolate, or chocolate and raspberries.
Entremet cakes are visually appealing as they can take on a myriad of shapes such as domes, pyramids, squares, rounds, et cetera. Typically, the different combinations involved in the production of an entremet cake include a balanced taste concept such as sweet but tangy in flavor but it also means a textural difference which consists of a mousse layer or gelee layer paired with a praline layer or meringue layer to have both a balance of crunch and smooth textures to better satisfy the palate.
I had the amazing opportunity of creating my own entremet cake, to be able to concept the flavors and textures that I wanted to pair together in order to create a well-balanced cake. I decided to make an entremet cake that had a bottom layer of a dacquoise meringue which is a typical egg white based meringue with chopped almonds and hazelnuts combined into it; that was then topped with a hibiscus coconut mousse that was then topped with a thin layer of genoise cake that was soaked with a coconut rum simple syrup. This was then topped with a layer of mango gelee and coconut mousse and then a thin layer of raspberry gelee. The entire cake was delicately wrapped with a joconde cake which is an almond based cake that was patterned with pink stripes.
I can easily remember the days in my childhood where pancakes were served as breakfast. It was amazingly delicious…nothing was quite as delicious to me as pancakes, at that time. I loved being able to help with making the batter and learning how or when to flip the pancakes. The way in which the sweet aroma of pancakes would instantly fill the room would only make the breakfast experience that much better. Pancakes were such a treat to me as a kid. It was one of those meals that I never got tired of eating and I still am a fan of this food.
As I got older, I began making my own pancakes for my entire family and myself. And every single time that I do, it reminds me of my childhood. Now, I’ve become so much more experienced in that now I create my own syrups and fruit compotes or coulis to pair with my pancakes rather than the traditional maple syrup or the more commercial brand of imitation maple syrup.
And just as in America, how the popularity of pancakes continues to exist as we have continued to enjoy pancakes…there are other variations of pancakes in a bunch of other countries. One that is widely popular is the French version of a pancake as well as others like the Italian crespelle, Jewish blintzes, Russian blini, et cetera. The crepe has been savored for years and can be prepared to be either sweet or savory with respective fillings. As I learned in my advanced pastry arts classes, the literal meaning of crepe is translated to pancake in French. And while it can be used for breakfast just as pancakes are…crepes are more versatile in which they can easily become a dessert such as with crepe suzette which is sweet crepes that are cooked with sugar and usually has Grand Marnier (Orange liqueur) poured over it in order to ignite it. This allows the alcohol within the liqueur to evaporate which results in a caramelized sauce.
Now, crepes have become even more popular as with the creation of the crepe cake which is layered crepes with a variety of fillings wedged in between each crepe layer. It is a tedious process but is simply delicious. It all starts with the crepe batter and then it is poured onto large cast-iron hot plates then it is spread with a rozel and flipped with a spatula. After all the crepes are prepared, then the filling is made which can range from ganache or caramel to fruit curds or whipped cream. The crepes are then stacked with the filling thinly spread in between then it is ready to be eaten.
As a kid, all you care about are the sweeter things in life, like the candy and all the other sugary delights that you can get your hands on. You might have formed a strong love or addiction for chocolate…an overwhelming intense need for it in any form whether a candy bar or morsel chips in a cookie. Chocolate is everywhere, there are restaurants that cater their entire menu to chocolate lovers such as Jacques Torres and Max Brenner. Chocolate is an ingredient that can easily stand-alone but can also be accompanied with many other flavor concepts. I have such a strong interest in chocolate, its history, its creation process as well as how it has always been popular in both the culinary and confectionary world.
There is dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate but there is a new chocolate version on the horizon, pink chocolate. Yes, you heard me correctly–pink chocolate. There are typically only three different varieties of chocolate which consists of Criollo, Trinitario, and Forastero. The higher quality chocolate is the Criollo and Trinitario beans which are the more expensive varieties as it isn’t cultivated as much and has a higher concentration of cocoa within the bean. These beans tend to be more robust, with a more potent flavor and bitterness. But the large-scale chocolate that is readily sold around the world for wide consumption is created from the Forastero beans. The cocoa bean itself is a fruit that is usually dried and fully fermented before it can go through the necessary processes to become chocolate.
With the exception of white chocolate, which is only created from cocoa butter and not the actual cocoa bean. This amazing creation was invented about eighty years ago, but today, the production of white chocolate is old news. Now, everyone has a newfound interest in pink chocolate. It has officially become the newest type of chocolate in the world. Ruby chocolate has a reddish-pink hue which comes from the Ruby cocoa bean and its flavor concept is not bitter or sweet but it has flavor notes of fruitiness and a smooth mouthfeel. Despite the popular debate, there are no berries, flavoring, or coloring added to the chocolate. The history of this chocolate is still unknown but has taken many years to have been developed. And now, gone are the days of a cheap Hershey’s candy bars… Here’s to welcoming the new-age innovation of gourmet chocolate.
If anyone knows me then they will know how thoroughly obsessed I am over ice cream. I am the type of person that will eat ice cream all year round. Ice cream is my ultimate favorite dessert, I appreciate the variance that it can offer as well as the mouthfeel. It is an amazing creation that enables flavors to be so prevalent even in a frozen state. Ice cream reminds me of some of my best memories in life…it takes me back to fun memories in my childhood or great times spent with close friends. But as time evolves, ice cream trends are constantly changing from the simplicity that most of us are readily accustomed to. There is Thai rolled ice cream, liquid nitrogen ice cream, mochi ice cream, and gelato. Overall, the range and variation in which ice cream is prepared has expanded. The debate about what constitutes as ice cream based on its percentage of fat has also broadened.
The beautiful thing about New York is that it has so many amazing ice cream places integrated into it but unfortunately many are unknown to others. Personally, I prefer the sanctity of ice cream…the simplicity of traditional styled ice cream. Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain is located ideally close-by to the college which makes for a great and fun lunch spot. They offer many menu options from soups and sandwiches to egg creams and ice cream sundaes. They even seasonally offer student discounts on meals, desserts, and drinks as long as you have a valid student identification card.
Over the summer, I had the greatest opportunity of visiting this awesome restaurant which is a short walk from the school. It looks quite small from the outside but it has a quaint amount of seating inside. The restaurant offers the option to either dine in or to take out…and I decided to dine in since I was strongly looking forward to laying my hands on one of their handcrafted sundaes as well as quenching my thirst with one of their house-made drinks. I had the maple egg cream which was robustly delicious as well as an almond joy styled sundae which was seasonally available when I visited the restaurant. The sundae was absolutely delicious and everything was made in house. The restaurant itself has an old school vibe which is interesting given the modern flavors of ice cream that is offered. I would recommend that everyone try this little ice cream shop that is neatly tucked into the heart of Brooklyn.
I am finding that as my skills as a pastry chef improve, I am gaining a better appreciation for the bakeries and small shops that are in New York. Not just the most popular but the small places that you appreciate as important in your life…that are popular in your life even if they are not widely franchised. One of the most appreciated desserts in America is donuts because they are viewed as a breakfast food as it is usually paired with a cup of coffee or can even be a dessert. It has become such a centrical part of America’s confectionery world.
Aside from the readily franchised shops, there are so many other doughnut shops that are considered mom and pop shops as they are not franchised which makes them more unique. There are so many Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme’s, but I further enjoy small shops that are not so widely franchised which allows the quality of the product to taste better as it is being freshly made instead of mass produced. And fortunately, New York is home to many mom and pop shops especially for something as delicious as doughnuts. There is Doughnut Plant, Dough, but my personal favorite is in Brooklyn named Donut Shoppe but is also known as Shaikh’s Place. It is located near the southern end of Brooklyn on Avenue U and is a 24-hour shop. The story behind the name is that the current owner who is named Shaikh Kalam was once just a native of Calcutta before moving to America to better himself by attempting to receive a college education. When he began working at this coffee shop called, Donut Shoppe with the original owner of the shop, Carlo Radicella. Kalam became so invested in his job role that he began to be a baker in the shop and was working long hours to reinvent a way to make better tasting doughnuts that were less dense and less oily. He somehow created a foolproof way to make doughnuts that were light and airy in texture with a balanced level of sweetness. He was able to adjust his recipe by changing the amount of time that the dough proofs before being fried as well as the temperature of the frying oil that the doughnuts are fried in. When the original owner had a stroke and his health declined, he promoted Kalam to be the head baker and eventually he took over the shop in the 80’s.
There are so many flavors to choose from such as Boston Cream, Glazed, Powdered, Jelly filled, Vanilla Sprinkled, Chocolate Sprinkled, Strawberry Sprinkled, et cetera…the flavors serve such a variety to the customers. The prices are so affordable and are inexpensive. When you purchase a dozen of doughnuts, you receive a baker’s dozen which costs a little less than eight dollars. The doughnuts are absolutely delicious and I would suggest anyone to go to Shaikh’s place to eat a great doughnut. It is the perfect balance of doughnut as it has both the chewiness of the dough as well as the crumble of a cake.
After we had a great time in Union Square, enjoying delicious drinks of bubble tea and a great dinner of sushi…next on our adventure was dessert. We had such a long process of trying to figure out what we would have for dessert until we decided to keep the Asian cuisine theme going and wanted to have an Asian dessert. My sisters deliberated on Japanese crepes which I had never really heard of as crepes are typically only viewed as a French dessert. We finally landed on a great location for Japanese crepes which was blocks away from Union Square which made it ideal for a short walking distance, it was a small shop called T-Swirl Crepe.
Their crepes vary greatly from the other typical French as it is made differently and with differing ingredients. Normally, crepes are made from wheat flour to allow it to have more stability to not rip when filling are added to the crepes. Crepes are a diverse type of food as it can be either a meal with savory fillings such as ratatouille, salad, eggs, steak or vegetables; or a dessert with sweet fillings such as whipped cream, custard, ice cream, or fruit. While the Japanese crepes have similar fillings, they are more Asian inspired which incorporates more seafood options in the savory fillings like shrimp or smoked salmon with typical Asian flavors such as Thai chili sauce or peanut dressing. And the sweet fillings include well-known Asian flavors like lychees and matcha infused ice cream or custard. But the crepes are made differently as they are made from rice flour instead of wheat flour which allows the crepes to be completely gluten-free.
The Japanese crepe was absolutely delicious as the one that I had ordered was the Mango and Raspberries which is a sweet crepe that is filled with fresh raspberries, sliced fresh mangoes, slivered almonds, chocolate sauce, vanilla yogurt, vanilla pastry cream, and chocolate pearls. It was utterly delicious and one of the best crepes that I have ever tasted. Although, we were enjoying the dessert versions, there were savory options available as a meal. It was a fun occasion to be so immersed into an Asian culture in terms of food. I find that it is always enjoyable to try new things and to learn about other cuisines. This was the first thing that I had eaten that actually was new to me, just as much as it was for my grandmother. All in all, it was a great trip to Manhattan. It was a good experience filled with some amazing eatery choices. A simple trip of spending time with my grandmother and my sisters turned into an expansive culinary event. My grandmother loved trying all the new foods but most of all; she enjoyed spending time with us as we have been so busy that we haven’t really had the chance to have quality time.
The spring recess had somehow provided us with this exceeding lot of time in which we were able to essentially do whatever we wanted, while enjoying spending time with our grandmother. But as we walked through the crowded streets of Manhattan, our hunger began to build and eventually we were looking around for a decent place to eat. Being that we were trying to make the day as eventful as possible for our grandmother, we began deliberating the type of cuisine that we had wanted to eat. Our grandmother eventually said how she had never tried authentic sushi, she explained that she had wanted to at least try it once…to acquire the whole experience. Because we had been vegetarians for so long, it did not truly allow for us to eat exotic dishes like that of sushi or some readily recognized comfort food such as fried chicken. It kept us to a strict diet of fruits and vegetables as well as the incorporation of all sorts of different sources of protein such as legumes, vegetarian meat substitutes, and endless amounts of tofu. So over the years, we had gained such an appreciation for the Asian culture as it had aided so much in our lives as vegetarians. But sushi was an uncharted territory, there is no such thing as tofu sashimi or a spicy tofu roll…sushi was an unknown that had never been divulged.
So here we were looking for sushi in what I consider the heart of Manhattan. My sisters began a yelp search looking for the highest rated sushi restaurant in the area. And finally we landed on a place…one that was only a short walk away. We were on our way to eating sushi, our grandmother was elated…she was finally going to try sushi for the very first time. When we arrived at MI-NE Sushi Totoya, we were seated by the bar as we did not know that for this particular restaurant, we should’ve made proper reservations. But the staff was so attentive in explaining the menu and giving suggestions. We all enjoyed the sushi…we each made our own selections and then shared it all so we could try everything. The funniest part of the whole sushi experience was how much my grandmother struggled with using chopsticks. She tried her best to hold them properly but she always seemed to drop sushi because it was too difficult to carry the single roll from the plate to her mouth. But we encouraged her and told her that it takes lots of practice which only means she needs to eat a lot more sushi.
After that delicious dinner, I couldn’t wait for what was next on our culinary adventure which would be dessert. Although, it was a time to relish in the relaxation of spring recess…to spend quality time with my grandmother, it became so much more than that. I was able to share new cuisines with her as well as new foods and that was far more special.