Field Trip: Taza Chocolate

Taza Chocolate, a local producer of Mexican-style artisanal chocolate, is now offering tours, and the school arranged a tour for students and staff. About a dozen of us took advantage of the offer.

Alex, one of the founders, conducted the tour. He studied anthropology as an undergraduate, and on a trip to Mexico he studied the tradition of making drinking chocolate. That gave him the idea for this company, which has grown from a small operation run from his kitchen to a small operation run from a small factory space in Somerville, Massachusetts. The production is as automated as it needs to be, but some of the work is done by hand. They buy their beans directly from growers who maintain organic farms in the Dominican Republic. Taza is apparently the only company in the world that buys directly from the growers and not from an agent; this means that what Taza pays for chocolate goes 100% to the people who do the work.

One of the interesting things about Taza chocolate is the process. It’s produced pretty much the way all other chocolate is except they skip the conching step. Conching makes the chocolate very smooth and creamy, but traditional Mexican chocolate isn’t smooth and creamy, and the traditional Mexican style is what Taza wants to produce.

The flavors are also a little unconventional, although the artisan chocolate makers are all producing unconventional flavors. Taza’s flavors include yerba maté, guajillo chili, and salt and pepper, which is pretty fabulous. We got to taste samples, and naturally we all bought some to take home.

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7B: Petits Fours Demi-Sec

Petits fours demi-sec are cookies, but they’re not quite dry. For example, madeleines are moist cookies and macarons are filled cookies.

Madeleine plaques come in two formats: tinned steel or silicone. The advantage of silicone is it’s nonstick and flexible, so you can just peel it off the cookies. The madeleines tend to stick to the metal pans unless you butter the pan ruthlessly. However, it’s better to bake madeleines in metal pans, not silicone, because you want the crust to be a little crisp and the crumb to be soft and melt in your mouth. If you use silicone, they’re just soft throughout, like cupcakes.

Macarons are French cookies that are especially trendy now. The cookie itself is meringue with almond flour folded in, piped in small rounds onto a baking sheet, and baked until they’re just set on the outside. These days they’re sandwich cookies, but originally they were just the one layer. They were purportedly invented by Catherine de’ Medici’s pastry chef, although naturally the exact origins are a little hazy. The two-layer sandwich became popular in the early 19th century, and the macaron as we know it was invented by Ladurée. The filling should have a stiff texture: It should not be runny, but it should not be hard. Ganache is usually good, and buttercream is good.

Financiers are little cakes that represent gold bars. They’re little sponge cakes made with almond flour and brown butter, which is butter that’s cooked until the milk solids turn dark and precipitates and the butter smells nutty.

In this class we also baked some of the dough we made in the previous petits fours sec class. By the time we were finished, we had a lot of cookies.

The class's output

The class's output

Pain turk (Turkish bread) are sliced almond cookies with a chocolate border. You form the almond dough into a block and sandwich that between layers of chocolate dough.

Pain turk dough

Pain turk dough

When you slice the dough into cookies, they have a chocolate border.

Pain turk sliced and ready to bake

Pain turk sliced and ready to bake

We also finished our checkerboard cookies, which we had started the night before. These sliced cookies have to be good and cold when you work with them. Checkerboard cookies are two kinds of dough, vanilla and chocolate, that are sliced into strips, stacked, sliced again, and stacked again so the flavors alternate in the checkerboard pattern.

Checkerboard cookie dough, assembled and ready to wrap

Checkerboard cookie dough, assembled and ready to wrap

Then you wrap the checkerboard block in a layer of cookie dough, either chocolate or vanilla; we used chocolate.

Wrapping the checkerboard cookies in chocolate dough

Wrapping the checkerboard cookies in chocolate dough

Then you slice the dough and bake the cookies.

I was keen to make the madeleines because I’m in a Proust reading group at the Boston Athenaeum. The cookies are shaped like scallop shells, and the ones everyone is familiar with are elongated. However, we also had a plaque that looked more like real scallop shells, and we had plaques that made tiny cookies, so we made some of each.

Assorted madeleines, cooling

Assorted madeleines, cooling

The scallop shell is a symbol of St. Jacques (St. James) and of pilgrimage. When Proust tastes the madeleine dipped in linden-blossom (also called lime-blossom) tea, he begins his pilgrimage in search of lost time.

Financiers are little tea cakes baked in pans shaped like gold bricks. Traditionally they’re decorated with fruit and swerved with ice cream.

Piping financier batter into bullion-shaped pans

Piping financier batter into bullion-shaped pans

Baked financiers

Baked financiers


We also made several kinds of macarons. The white ones are decorated with coconut and filled with banana.
Piping banana filling onto a coconut macaron

Piping banana filling onto a coconut macaron


If the batter is good and stiff and you let the piped batter sit for half an hour before you bake it, it forms a little crust that keeps the cookies from cracking (undesirable) and forms a foot as it bakes (desirable). These look the way they’re supposed to.
Baked (as yet unfilled) macarons with nice feet

Baked (as yet unfilled) macarons with nice feet


Finally, we arranged our cookies on plates for their close-ups.
A proper assortment of petits fours sec and demi-sec: pain turk, checkerboard, miroir, financiers, and seed tuiles

A proper assortment of petits fours sec and demi-sec: pain turk, checkerboard, miroir, financiers, and seed tuiles


Plate of assorted madeleines

Plate of assorted madeleines


Assorted macarons

Assorted macarons

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7A: Petit Four Sec

Petits fours are bite-size treats (specifically, no more than two bites). They can be sweet or savory and can be served as a snack (e.g., tea cakes), appetizers, or dessert. Anything you can do in pastry you can do in a small version and call them petits fours. Petits fours sec are crisp unfilled cookies.

Petit four translates literally to “small oven.” Historically, ovens were heated with wood, and the baking was organized by the temperature of the fire, so there were two ovens: the grand four and the petit four. Roasts, boars, pigs, and other things that needed high heat (and plenty of room) were cooked in the grand four (big oven). Small things that needed less heat were baked in the petit four, where the fire was less hot.

There are some rules for making petits fours and presenting them. Petits fours of a given type should be uniform in size and shape; consistency is very important. Petits fours should be no more than one or two small bites and should measure no longer than 2 inches. A selection of petits fours should include a variety of textures, flavors, and colors. The arrangement of the serving platter is important: People should be able to select several types of petits fours without reaching across the plate.

In general, there are five categories based on preparation, method, texture, or principal ingredients. Petits fours sec are fragile, crunchy, dainty cookies. Petits four demi-sec are small, cake-like or filled cookies, such as madeleines and macarons. Petits fours frais (fresh) are moist, filled with pastry cream (or similar), and often topped with fresh fruits; miniature eclairs and profiteroles are examples. Iced petits fours (petits four glacés) are what most people thing of as petits fours: small cakes that are usually made from a firm cake such as joconde, layered with fillings (buttercream, jam, or ganache), and classically covered with poured fondant. Glacé fruit petits fours are small fruits (e.g., grapes, strawberries) or pieces of fruit (e.g., citrus segments) covered with a clear sugar glaze.

In this class we made the dainty, crunchy cookies, dough for dainty, crunchy cookies, and Linzer cookies and Damier cookies, which some might consider petits fours demi-sec because they’re filled.

The dough tends to be pâte sablée or similar. The cookies that are clearly not pâte sablée are the tuiles. Tuile is “tile”: The cookies are thin and they’re pliable when they’re right out of the oven, and traditionally they’re curved in the shape of the red clay roof tiles that are common in the south of France.

Curved tuile cookies

Curved tuile cookies


You can also roll them up, like the Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes—or, more accurately, Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes are rolled tuile cookies.

Rolled tuile cookies

Rolled tuile cookies


Some of the dough had to be chilled, so we made some dough in this class and turned it into cookies in the next class. Here’s a selection of the class’s output, which fits the guidelines of how the tray should be laid out with a selection of sizes, shapes, and colors.

A selection of petits fours sec

A selection of petits fours sec

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ServSafe Exam

Over the last three weeks, the Tuesday seminars on food safety have been preparation for the ServSafe exam. ServSafe is a certification program administered by the National Restaurant Association. It’s based on the current FDA food code, and it’s updated every 5 years.

You can study on your own or take a test-prep course. The school brought in Maureen Lee to teach us what we need to know to prepare for the exam. If you pass the exam (minimum passing score is 75%), you get a certificate; the ServSafe certificate is a basic credential for restaurant management staff, and presumably it will make us more employable as well as safer in the kitchen at school. The certificate expires in 5 years, and because the FDA food code changes from time to time, you really need to get the latest test-prep book, and possibly take the current prep course, to study for the exam every time.

What you need to know to handle food safely in a commercial kitchen is more complex and more stringent than any home cook needs to know. At home if you wash your hands, refrigerate your leftovers, and keep your work surfaces and utensils clean, you’re fine. In a commercial kitchen, though, so many little things can contribute to making a customer sick. There’s a lot to know so you can make sure the food you’re handling is safe, and it’s good to make people who work in a commercial kitchen prove they know all that stuff.

The exam itself is one of these standardized things with the booklet with multiple-choice questions and a computer-scored answer sheet where you have to fill in the circles with your number 2 pencil. There are 90 questions, 10 of which are experimental and not scored. Of the remaining 80, you have to get 60 right. The problem is you don’t know which 80 are the real questions. I found four questions somewhat ambiguous, so I’m guessing they were experimental questions that will be edited for future use. Otherwise, I didn’t feel there were questions I couldn’t answer.

It takes a couple of weeks to get the scores, which are available online, so I’ll check there next week and see how I did. I have no doubt I passed, but it will be interesting to see my actual score.

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External Event: Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home is a fundraiser for the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund (CHAF). Pastry chefs from the Boston area give out samples of dessert, and people pay $50 to get in and taste everything. This was the third annual event. Most of the vendors this year were restaurants, but Toscanini’s ice cream had a table and the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts had a table.

Chef Sharon at the CSCA table

Chef Sharon at the CSCA table


I didn’t work on the dessert, but Chef Martha and some of her students brainstormed and made a bread pudding with apples and cranberries topped with a maple-orange sauce and candied pecans.
CSCA's bread pudding dessert

CSCA's bread pudding dessert


Most of the desserts were restaurant-style plated desserts. I should’ve taken more photos; some of them were really beautiful. The Hyatt, where the event was held, had a table with a warm dessert, which they heated on an induction cooktop. Most of the desserts were arranged in single servings on plates. Henrietta’s Table had pumpkin whoopie pies laid out on their table over a bed of pumpkin seeds and cinnamon sticks; that was my favorite display (no photo of that, either, unfortunately).
A couple of the 15 vendors

A couple of the 15 vendors


City Table at the Lenox Hotel also brought a bread pudding. Theirs was very pretty.
Bread pudding from City Table at the Lenox Hotel

Bread pudding from City Table at the Lenox Hotel


Students from Boston University’s hospitality school volunteered, basically doing anything that needed to be done, such as bringing us fresh plates and spoons.
You could spot the volunteers by their t-shirts.

You could spot the volunteers by their t-shirts.


Music was provided by The Love Dogs, who cover classic rock, rockabilly, and swing. You haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard a rockabilly medley that includes “I Wanna Be Sedated.” They were really good, and once people had sampled desserts, they burned off some of the calories dancing.
Eating desserts and dancing to The Love Dogs

Eating desserts and dancing to The Love Dogs


Early in the evening a volunteer came by and collected several of each dessert for judges to taste, and the people who attended were encouraged to vote for their favorites. Toward the end of the evening, the “Yummy Awards” were given out. CSCA won for best non-chocolate dessert!
Chef Sharon accepts the Yummy Award for best non-chcolate dessert

Chef Sharon accepts the Yummy Award for best non-chocolate dessert


This wasn’t entirely unexpected because many people who tasted it told us they really liked it. Quite a few people saw we had bread pudding and told us bread pudding was their favorite dessert.
Chef Sharon and the award (in the baking mold to the left of the pumpkins)

Chef Sharon and the award (in the baking mold to the left of the pumpkins)


On the other hand, plenty of people stopped, read the sign that described the bread pudding, and walked away; you could almost hear them thinking, “That’s not dessert; there’s no chocolate in it.” The award for best chocolate dessert was for something called “Chocolate Decadence,” but I thought it should’ve gone to Bergamot‘s chocolate pavé with pumpkin, which was delicious and beautiful and made with Taza chocolate.

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6B: Custards and Bavarians

In this class we made fillings to go with the extra meringues we made in week 5 and turned out two cakes.

The history of custards—no surprise—is long and complicated. Ancient Roman cooks recognized the binding properties of eggs; they made savory custards that included cheeses and meats and sweet custards that included nuts and honey. Custard as we know it dates to the Middle Ages, when it was eaten alone or used as a filling for pies, tarts, and pastries; in fact, originally, custard meant “to be encased in a crust.”

Custards using eggs were made in America and Europe. In England, Alfred Bird invented a custard made without eggs and using cornstarch as a thickener. He made this for his wife, who was allergic to eggs. When he realized the commercial value of his invention, he started a company, Bird’s Custard Company, which produced a powdered version. People liked it because, having no eggs, it didn’t curdle. (Bird later invented baking powder, which is baking soda plus an acid salt and cornstarch.) By the end of the 19th century, custard was promoted as a health food and marketed for its nutritional value for elderly persons and children. These versions contained arrowroot, instead of cornstarch, as the health-promoting ingredient.

There are two main types of custard: baked and stirred. Baked custards are made with whole eggs and are cooked in the oven, often in a water bath. Crème brûlée and flan are obviouslybaked custards. Soufflé, bread pudding, and pumpkin pie filling are also baked custards. Crème brûlée has lots of fat, so it’s creamy; flan has less fat, so it’s stiffer and can be molded. Flan is the most widely made custard in the world; similar recipes exist in Asia, Europe, and pretty much everywhere else.

Stirred custards are made with whole eggs or with yolks and are cooked on the stove, often in a water bath. Stirred custards vary in richness and consistency, but they are creamy and pourable and can be used as sauces. Crème anglaise is a stirred custard; English trifle is stirred custard served in a dish with cake and pieces of fruit. Curd fillings (such as lemon curd) are stirred custards.

The two cakes in this class used the meringue layers we stored for future use in 5A: Meringues. That was a good thing, because the cakes had components with components.

The Brazilian cake is assembled in a ring lined with ladyfinger. Inside that is stacked a layer of dacquoise, a layer of coffee bavarian cream, another layer of dacquoise, and a layer of chocolate mousse, and the whole thing is topped with coffee glaze.

First we made ladyfinger batter and spread that on parchment, ready to decorate.

Spreading ladyfinger batter onto parchment

Spreading ladyfinger batter onto parchment

There are two ways to decorate ladyfinger batter: with texture or with color. Jaimie and I wanted to try using a comb for texture.

Ladyfinger striated with a large cake comb

Ladyfinger striated with a large cake comb

The other group wanted to make a pattern with pâte décor.

Ladyfinger decorated with pâte décor

Ladyfinger decorated with pâte décor

Then we made coffee bavarian cream, white chocolate mousse, and coffee glaze.

Coffee bavarian cream

Coffee bavarian cream

We lined cake rings with strips of the ladyfinger and cut layers of dacquoise to fit.

Cutting a layer of dacquoise to fit into the lined cake ring

Cutting a layer of dacquoise to fit into the lined cake ring

That got topped with a layer of coffee bavarian cream.

A layer of coffee bavarian cream is piped onto the layer of dacquoise

A layer of coffee bavarian cream is piped onto the layer of dacquoise

Then another layer of dacquoise.

Another layer of dacquoise

Another layer of dacquoise

Then a layer of white chocolate mousse, which I didn’t get a photo of, and the whole thing went into the freezer to chill. When it came out, we applied a layer of coffee glaze and put it back in the freezer to set some more.

Glazed Brazilian cake

Glazed Brazilian cake

Finally, we heated the cake rings with torches, lifted off the rings, and voilà!

Brazilian cake, done

Brazilian cake, done

And here’s the crumb view.

Brazilian cake: the crumb view

Brazilian cake: the crumb view

We also made a Ruche cake, also called beehive cake. This one is assembled in a metal bowl instead of a ring. The layers are baked meringue, honey mousse, dacquoise, and lemon chibouste. All that is surrounded with lemon mousse and fresh meringue. To make the lemon mousse, we started by making lemon curd.

Whisking lemon curd

Whisking lemon curd

Then we whipped heavy cream and added it to the lemon curd to make lemon mousse. We lined a metal bowl with a layer of that, which went into the freezer. Then we made chibouste, which is pastry cream lightened with (in this case) Italian meringue. That got folded into the rest of the lemon mousse.

Then we made a honey mousse, which starts with a crème anglaise to which gelatin is added. While that cooled, we made another Italian meringue but using honey instead of sugar syrup. That got folded into the crème anglaise mousse base to make honey mousse. Then we made another enormous batch of Italian meringue, Chef Sharon made us some white chocolate honecombs (melted white chocolate brushed onto mini  bubble wrap and cooled), and Jay decorated some marzipan bees for us.

We got out the bowls lined with lemon mousse and started assembling the cake: some lemon chibouste, a layer of dacquoise, some honey mousse, and a base of baked meringue. Back into the freezer that went. When it had set, we torched the bowl to loosen it and try to get it out.

Torching the bowl to loosen the Ruche cake

Torching the bowl to loosen the Ruche cake

We had to use bowl scrapers to get it out of the bowl and onto the cake rounds.

Scraping the Ruche cake out of the bowl

Scraping the Ruche cake out of the bowl

We smoothed the lemon mousse so we had a nice round dome.

Smoothing the lemon mousse

Smoothing the lemon mousse

We piped Italian meringue over the cakes to give the impression of a beehive.

Chef Sharon demonstrates how to pipe Italian meringue onto the Ruche cake

Chef Sharon demonstrates how to pipe Italian meringue onto the Ruche cake

Then we torched the meringue.

Chef Sharon demonstrates how to torch the meringue

Chef Sharon demonstrates how to torch the meringue

We decorated our beehives with pieces of the white chocolate honeycomb and the marzipan bees.

At long last, the finished Ruche cake

At long last, the finished Ruche cake

And the crumb view:

Ruche cake: the crumb view

Ruche cake: the crumb view

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6A: Jams, Jellies, Preserves, and Spreads

In this class we canned delicious combinations of fruit and we made fruit candies (jellies). I vaguely remember my mother and some of the other women in the neighborhood doing canning, so that part wasn’t completely novel. The jelly candies were new to me, though. It’s a little late in the season for canning; that’s something you do in the summer, when the fruit is in season and perfectly ripe. You can make jelly candies any time, though, with frozen fruit.

Jam, jelly, and preserves originated in the Middle East, where fruits and cane sugar were abundant and were used extensively. The Romans also made fruit spreads, but they made theirs with honey instead of sugar.

Citrus fruits preserved in sugar syrup were imported to England in the 15th century. These were the forerunners of marmalade. The word marmalade probably comes from the Portuguese marmelo, “quince” (quince has the most pectin of any fruit). In another (probably false) etymology, the physician to Mary, Queen of Scots, is supposed to have invented marmalade as a seasickness prophylactic. In the court of Louis XIV, marmalades and jellies were delicacies served in silver dishes. In New England, in contrast, jam was a way of preserving fruit for the winter. Early European settlers preserved fruit with honey, molasses, or maple syrup and used apple pectin as a thickener.

By 1897, Jerome Smucker was making apple butter commercially in Orrville, Ohio. It was so popular, he began making other jams and preserves, too. By World War I, commercially made jam was extremely popular in the United States. Paul Welch received a patent for grape jam in 1917, and the jam was so popular with troops at the front that the U.S. army purchased his entire output and shipped it to Europe.

Fruit preserves, properly produced, keep for several months in a cool, dark place without refrigeration, so they’re a good way to have fruit throughout the winter. Preserves rely on the right balance of ingredients and the right amount of sugar; the proportions of sugar, juice, and pectin have to be right or the result is runny. Pectin is a water-soluble carbohydrate that occurs naturally in many fruits. Unripened fruits have a much higher concentration of pectin than ripe fruits have; riper fruit has more sugar and less pectin. Apples, quinces, and lemons are very high in pectin; soft fruits like cherries, strawberries, and kiwis contain very little pectin. Pectin is available as a powder that you can add to low-pectin fruits to make preserves.

To make preserves, you cook the fruit until it is very tender. This stage is essential to release the pectin; the action of pectin is aided by adding lemon juice because the acidity helps set the preserves. Once the fruit is cooked, you can add sugar. As a rule, fruits with a good source of pectin require an equal amount of sugar. Stir the fruit until the sugar is dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil, and stop stirring (if you keep stirring, the sugar will crystallize). Continue boiling until you reach the right consistency, which should not take more than 15 minutes.

Canning is easy to do but requires some care. The containers must be clean, sterilized, and warm. This is easily accomplished by leaving the jars in boiling water; you can fish out what you need as you need it. The lids come in two parts; the outer rings can be boiled, but you have to be careful with the flat lids with the rubber seal. Boiling them can damage the rubber, so you check the temperature and make sure they only heat to 180℉. In most cases, you can spoon the fruit into the jars as soon as the desired consistency is reached. You fill the jar to the correct height, put the lid on the jar, and turn the jar upside down.As the jam cools, the contents contract and the jar will seal. Then you just have to label each jar and store the jam in a cool, dark place.

Many pastries are finished with a fruit glaze, which is also a kind of fruit preserve. You can make a glaze at home with strained jam, possibly thinned with water; apricot preserves are traditional. Apricot glaze was also on our list of things to make in this class if we had enough time.

Most of the work involved cutting up fruit, weighing out our ingredients, and following the recipes. Jay, the assistant, got the jars going in boiling water for us.

Small jars in boiling water

Small jars in boiling water

We started by making the jellies. The mixture is pureed fruit with pectin and sugar.

Passionfruit puree for jelly candies

Passionfruit puree for jelly candies

The cooked mixture goes into two kinds of molds. One is a tray with little shapes.

Mold for heart-shaped jellies

Mold for heart-shaped jellies

When the jelly is ready, you spoon it into a confectionary funnel, which lets you drip the right amount into each compartment.

Mold filled with jelly

Mold filled with jelly

The other is a frame that holds the jelly as it cools. When it’s set, you cut the sheet into squares of candy.

Filling the jelly frame

Filling the jelly frame

Then you toss the candy with granulated white sugar and put each one in a little paper cup. Somehow I neglected to get photos; I’ll see if anyone else in the class has one. You can see what they look like here.

The jams and spreads were pretty quick and easy. You just have to be fussy about hitting your temperature.

Cooking the fruit to the right temperature

Cooking the fruit to the right temperature

Then you fill the jars and wait for them to seal as the jam cools.

A selection of the class's output

A selection of the class's output

We worked pretty efficiently, so there was time enough to do a batch of apricot glaze. Obviously that contains apricots, but it also contains apples; apples have a lot of pectin, and apricots don’t. I got to do this one on my own. You cut up the fruit and cook it.

Fruit and sugar starting to cook

Fruit and sugar starting to cook

Eventually the fruit gets soft and the sugar and juice make a syrup.

Cooked fruit in its syrup

Cooked fruit in its syrup

At that point, you transfer the fruit to the food processor and puree it, then pour in the syrup and give it another whirl.

Pureeing the fruit for apricot glaze

Pureeing the fruit for apricot glaze

Then you cook that some more.

Cooking the puree

Cooking the puree

The cooked puree gets strained.

Straining the puree for glaze

Straining the puree for glaze

Then it goes into a tub with a label. This is a lifetime supply for the home baker, but it’s a few weeks’ supply in the professional kitchen.

A tub of apricot glaze

A tub of apricot glaze

This wasn’t a real challenge, but I’m pretty happy with it anyway. It turned out well, and I feel competent.

Meanwhile, here we were making all this jam and had nothing to put it on. So Chef Louise, who sits in on Wednesdays, and Jay scrounged some brioche dough from the walk-in and made us some doughnuts.

Impromptu doughnuts

Impromptu doughnuts

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