Monday, June 27, 2011

Going Pro

A little over a year ago, I began my journey into the pastry world. I made a few tarts for a bridal shower last spring, which turned into making a few hundred mini desserts for a wedding last summer, which then turned into my first wedding cake in the fall. Now, a year later I am halfway through pastry school and just finished my biggest baking accomplishment yet. A four tiered wedding cake for two of my best friends. Four flavors of cake, 200 macarons, and one amazing wedding weekend later, I have come to the realization of how much life has changed in just a few months. 

For a long time, I was insistent that baking and cooking was just purely a hobby, and that no, I would not be pursuing it professionally. As a food blogger, I am sure we all get it in our heads at one point that we would love to make our hobby into a career, but always hearing and believing that it was not realistic. Just because you write about food, and love to bake, that does not make you a professional. This is true, but why should that stop you from turning baking/cooking from something you do in your free time, to a fulfilling and satisfying career? I heard an interview with funny man Conan O'Brien a few weeks ago and he said something along the lines of 'turning the thing you love into a career is like playing with fire'.  It's true there is a chance that even though you love it, you may not be good enough at it to turn it into a profession. There is also the chance that if you start doing what was once fun and relaxing as a job day in and day out, it may turn into just that, a job that you no longer look forward to, and then you may have lost a hobby. 

Well, I am taking that risk. Life is too short to be trucking along on a career path that you don't love. It's rare that people can find something that they enjoy and can make a living at, and if you happen to stumble across that, I think you have to go for it. This week I was offered a job at an amazing bakery working for an incredibly talented pastry chef, and I didn't even have to think about my answer. The calm and collected energy in that bakery and the attitude of the owner and the other employees there, made me instantly feel ready to jump in. I am so excited to start this new chapter in my life, because if I get to make things like this cake EVERY week, I think I will be one happy camper. 

Now, about that cake and those macarons! All of the flavors turned out great, and they all kept their intense moistness even after a twelve hour journey up to northern Minnesota. Here are the recipes I used for the cake:

I also made about 200 macarons, in four different flavors. Pistachio macs with white chocolate ganache, yellow macs with lemon curd, orange macs with peach marmalade buttercream, and my favorite, Earl Grey macarons with a orange buttercream. 

If you follow this blog at all you know that I have attempted macarons many times, and have been getting pretty close to getting them perfect. Each time I make them they get better, but I made two key changes this time that I think have made all the difference. First, I am using a different recipe that I found at Not So Humble Pie, I found that it works better for me in my kitchen than the one I had been using previously. Secondly, and most importantly, I left my stand mixer in the cupboard and used my hand mixer for the meringue. Previous to this change, my meringue never got that shiny smooth firm peak that you are supposed to achieve when making the macs. It's a wonder they ever turned out at all before this. 

Earl Grey Macarons with Orange Scented Buttercream
adapted from Not So Humble Pie
yields about 60-70 shells

120 grams almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
100 grams egg whites
35 grams granulated sugar
tea from 2 earl grey tea bags
black food coloring

Line 3 baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. 

In your food processor, combine the powdered sugar, almond meal and early grey tea, and pulse a few times to combine, until tea is ground finely. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl beat the egg whites on medium high speed with your hand mixer until foamy, then gradually add the sugar and beat until a nice glossy meringue forms. This should take a minute or two on a medium high speed. It should look like shaving cream. Add your food coloring, and mix on low speed just until incorporated. 

Add half of the powdered sugar/almond mixture. With a large spatula, quickly fold the egg whites over themselves to let some of the air out, combining with the almond mixture. Add the rest of the almond mixture and fold gently until your batter has come together, no more than 50 strokes or so. You want a batter that if you let a clump fall off your spatula, it will spread and meld back into itself within ten seconds. If it stands up and does not spread at all, give the batter a few more folds until it does. My best advice here is to test it frequently when you think you are starting to get close to the end product, this will help you to not over mix your batter.

Spoon batter into a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip (one with a fairly large opening). Pipe 1 1/2 inch rounds, evenly spaced, onto your baking sheet. Once all the macarons have been piped, pick up your baking sheet and drop it from about 6 inches above the counter. This impact will bring any air bubbles to the top of the macarons, and help them spread evenly. Do this a few times, then let the macarons sit at room temperature for about an hour before baking. This will create those nice crispy shells and will help prevent the tops from cracking while baking.

After the shells have rested, preheat oven to 290 degrees F, place one rack on the top shelf, and set an empty baking sheet on the rack. I have found this helps them not get too brown before they are done baking. Bake the macarons one pan at a time in the middle of the oven for about 18-20 minutes, depending on how big you piped them.

Honestly the best way to tell if they are done, is to sacrifice one of your shells, pop it off the parchment and break it open. If it is gooey inside, bake for another few minutes, if it is done, take them out. If they are overdone, not to worry, after filling them and letting them age in the refrigerator for a day or two, they will most likely still be delicious.

Let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then using a small offset spatula if needed to assist, gently pop them off the silpat and let them cool completely on a cooling rack. 

Orange Italian Meringue Buttercream

4 oz egg whites
8 oz granulated sugar
2 oz water
12 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 large orange

Place your egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 

Heat the sugar and water in a small sauce pan over high heat. Using a candy thermometer, bring the sugar to a boil and continue cooking until it reaches 230 degrees F. When it hits that temperature, turn your stand mixer to medium to begin mixing the egg whites until they are foamy. When the temperature hits 240 F, remove from heat and slowly pour into the egg whites on a medium low speed. As soon as all of the sugar is in, turn the mixer to medium high and mix until the meringue is cool to touch. Add the butter a few tablespoons at a time and whip until thick. Add the orange zest and mix to incorporate.

Pipe about a teaspoon onto half of the macaron shells, and sandwich with another shell. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before consuming. You can also freeze filled or unfilled macarons for a few weeks, just thaw filled macs in the fridge overnight. 

***Thanks to Mad Chicken Studio for the beautiful pictures of the cake and macarons, and to La Petite Fleur for the lovely flowers***


Amrita said...

Gorgeous macs and cake! Congrats on your new job! I love the quote about playing with fire, and it's true, I feel the same way about blogging and baking. I wonder though, if you love something enough, then you should be able to improve and be good at it, at least to some extent.
I'm still pursuing a completely unrelated degree because I'm almost certain that I can't make baking into a career, but there's still a small part of me that would give up a lot to do it anyway :)

yasmeen said...

Your cake and macarons are absolutely beautiful. If I were on the market for a wedding cake, it would (really) look like that. Simple, elegant, decadent.

Also, GO YOU for pursuing your dream. Life is way too short not to live in your element.

Nicole B said...

Congrats Bria!!

JC said...

Can I ask which bakery you will be working at? You are SUCH an inspiration Bria. You have no idea how many random food or design people I have told about you and your blog. Anyway, congrats!

Tracy said...

A new path in life—how exciting! Best of luck with all of your endeavors. The cake and macarons look like perfection to me.

Bossy Chef said...

Gorgeous.... now I want to make macaroons.

crystal.blanche said...

So wonderful that you're taking the plunge into full time baking, congratulations! And the cake is stunning... what did you use to smooth the icing? I hear some people use bench scrapers?

Hungry Dog said...

Wow! Congratulations on following your dream! That is wonderful, inspiring news! Good luck to you!

Bria said...

Amrita & Yasmeen- Life IS too short. I am glad I am figuring this out now, and am still young and stupid enough to abandon my degree and go for it :-) I greatly admire the people in my class that are in the 40's or even close to retirement and are giving it all up and joining the pasty world. Even if you can't bake for a living, at least we get to do it as a very, very satisfying hobby!!

JC- it is called Dream Cakes Chicago, it is actually in the suburbs, they have a big account with Whole Foods in the chicago land area and also do specialty wedding cakes and other fondant cakes. The head chef there is amazing, I cannot wait to learn from her! Thanks for the kind words, there is nothing like compliments from your peers!!

Crystal-you can absolutely use a bench scraper, I actually use a trowel from the hardware store, it is made for dry-walling or spackel-ing or something, but it has a really thin edge which makes it great for getting a nice smooth surface.

Thank you to everyone for such praise and encouragement, honestly if is wasn't for this blog and all my amazing followers, I would have never had to push to follow my dream.

Jennifer (Delicieux) said...

Congratulations on your new job. It truly is wonderful finding a job that you truly enjoy.

Your cake and macarons are both beautiful. I love how simple and elegant the cake is.

Stacey said...

Those are such beautiful macaroons! Just found your blog via @sprinklebakes... what a delightful discovery!

Sabrina-eat.drink.and be merry. said...

absolutely gorgeous!

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