Saturday, February 13, 2016

Summer Baking: Italian Night {Class 11}

This summer I completed the Culinary Lab: Baking course as part of my graduate program - the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy at Boston University. For six weeks I spent two nights a week in the professional kitchen learning all about baking. The course required students to keep a journal of the experience and I decided to record my adventures here on the blog. I hope you enjoy! You'll get the calorie-free version of my decadent baking experience.

The last night! Wow! In just 6 short weeks I feel like I’ve gone from occasional home baker a little intimidated by fancy desserts to a baker ready to throw a fancy dessert party. I’ll have to keep up my skills by baking more often, but I’m sure that my friends, family, and co-workers won’t mind sampling the output.

Tonight’s class was all about Italian desserts. A some traditional and some a little different. We had a lot of components to pull together. It’s been a blast working as a team over the past few weeks. Tonight we donned our chef jackets, headed into the kitchen and got to work cranking out our Italian sweets. After a read through of our recipes and agenda for the night we dove right in. My team had three people and we divvied up the task throughout each recipe fairly evenly. We each whisked a custard until our biceps started burning, we took turns watching the mixer spin egg whites and sugar into soft peaks, and we ‘expertly’ turned off the mixer before our whipped cream turned into butter. On the first night we called the chef over to check on us a lot. Tonight I felt that we knew what we were doing and asked for confirmation, rather than direction. Each component of our desserts tonight were like a mini-test, confirming that we had been paying attention all along.

The tiramisu definitely did that for us. We made a light, melt-in-in-your mouth sponge cake as the base. Next, a boozy espresso simple syrup for soaking the cake. If that wasn’t enough, we also deftly whisked our way to a perfect zabaglione mousse. And no dessert in this class is complete with either additional whipped cream or sugar on top. This called for a sweetened whipped cream on top for good measure.

The star of the night for me was the lemon almond cake. The taste of this cake was amazing. Dense, moist cake in the most beautiful shade of lemon yellow. The addition of a generous amount of almond paste made it rich and nutty. For good measure the top of the cake is covered with sliced almonds and a brush of limoncello (lemon simple syrup for the kids). This cake would be perfect for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dessert, and midnight snack. It is that good. It would make beautiful cupcakes for a party or a loaf for a brunch.

For the magic trick of the evening, luscious lemon curd was whipped and folded with whipped cream and transformed into a semifreddo. The flavor is tart and tangy and perfect with a few toasted almonds and fresh berries on top. What a fun and relatively easy dessert to know how to make.

The last, and most unique, dessert of the night was brutti ma buoni – “ugly but good” – cookies. These fascinating little cookies are made with almonds and hazelnuts and a meringue dough. Egg whites are whipped with sugar until they are a beautiful, marshmallowy white color.

They are poured over a saucepan full of chopped almonds and hazelnuts. After a little heat and time the mixture turns a beautiful shade of beige. It is important to cook this over the right temperature, too low and the nuts will roast before the meringue is thick. Too hot and the mixture will cling to the sides of the pot.

These are baked until firm. The finished texture is crunchy and chewy and the flavor of the roasted nuts shines through. Ugly, but good!

I hope that you have enjoyed this whirlwind trip around the world of baking! I’m looking forward to a little break from overindulging in sugar, but am excited to add these new skills to my repertoire.

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