Lessons 22-25: Struck by Lightning

In French, éclair means lightning bolt. But let me tell you, the process of making these cream-filled pastries is nothing like a quick flash of electricity.

The dough used to make them, pâte à choux, demands a careful attention to detail. It is used for a huge range of classic pastries: éclairs, profiteroles, croquembouche, Paris-Brest… But first, I had to perfect making it. Step one was boiling water with butter and adding flour, and then stirring it a lot in a pot over the stove to cook the starch and dry out the dough. Then, we mixed it to cool and began adding eggs one at a time, until it reached the perfect consistency.

Once it was just right, we filled our pastry bags and piped the dough onto sheet trays. And then finally the dough is baked in the oven, poofing up into empty puffs of dough. While they were baking, we prepared sauces and fillings for our profiteroles and éclairs. It sounds easy to poke a hole in dough and fill it up with pastry cream. But I found it pretty challenging — a pastry bag and tip can be unwieldy. I used Chef Nicole’s tips (pardon the pun) and was able to get through my batch. Then we made croquembouche, a traditional French wedding cake. The towering cream puff structures are held together with a wonderful crunchy caramel (croquembouche means “crunch in mouth”), but before it hardens, it is like molten lava. I must have burned myself a dozen times, maybe a baker’s dozen.

This week was also interesting because I experienced Career Services at ICE as a student. Our workshop with our advisor, Amy Quazza, and Management Instructor Tara Berman was a 4-hour lesson that I have led many times. But this time, I came with resume in hand, ready to role play different job pitch scenarios and begin the discussion of securing an externship. It was an opportunity to hear more about our career goals in the industry and the ways we should go about making contact with prospective externship sites and employers. But we also got to know one another outside of the kitchen (just like our field trip last month). As a student, I was learning more about my fellow classmates’ personalities than I anticipated, as well as my goals in externship. By the end of Module I, I was ready for my first Pastry & Baking Arts written and practical exam. I was so nervous that I spent the weekend practicing crème anglaise and chocolate soufflé, ensuring that I knew exactly how many spoons, prep containers and bowls I would need and envisioning myself going through the steps in the classroom.

After completing our written test, we began making our anglaise and prepping the soufflé. I was second on the list to present my finished dishes to Chef Nicole. Given this timed challenge, I felt the adrenaline kick in and I quickly started putting together my ingredients, watching as my crème anglaise thickened and my soufflé rose, just as I had envisioned (and hoped) they would. I walked my tray with both dishes over to Chef Nicole and as she inspected and tasted both, I saw the smile I had hoped to see. Success! Next up: Module II, our introduction to breads, begins today with Chef Instructor Scott McMillen!

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