Graduation Day

This was day one! Feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago.

Today, I graduate from pastry school! 6 months has come and gone way too fast for my liking, but you know what they say: "time flies when you're having fun." Ain't that the truth because it sure as hell was fun.

So here we are, 6 months later. What's different now then prior to this, you ask? I'll tell you. Lets bullet point it up and cue this song because no one likes an awkward silence.

• First and foremost, I have a TON of more hands on pastry experience under my belt.
• I've made dozens and dozens and dozens of new recipes I've never dared to try before.
• I've worked in a professional kitchen that happened to be one of my favorite bakeries on the planet.
• I'm more confident in my culinary-pastry skillz.
• I'm <politely> bossier in the kitchen with non-industry people, sorry not sorry. I can't help it! My sense of urgency has followed me.
• I've made 11 new friends! <cue awws>. I can't wait to see what each of these ladies do.
• I feel like a new and improved version of myself. Not that I've changed drastically, but that I've definitely grown for the better.
•  I still have SO much more to learn and I'm hungry for more! #nailedthatpun Lets keep on keeping on!

One of the best things my chef said to me that I won't ever forget is: "just do it with confidence!" I remember the time she said this vividly. It was early into the program and I needed to flip over a large and in charge dessert. I was hesitating and expressed my fear of screwing it up. Her response was that very line so I followed her instructions, committing to it, whether I'd screw it up or not. Even if I did fail in that moment, (which I didn't for the record <brushes dirt off shoulder>), that advice can be used with anything in life, really. I'm grateful for it and all the other priceless advice my chef gave me.

I will miss San Francisco Cooking School and wish I could Groundhog Day this experience. It's been one hell of a ride from inspirational guest chefs, field trips to local amazing bakeries, baguette sword fights, tempering chocolate for days, making up a song for the 3 weeks of bread, pants fitting tighter than usual with no regrets, laughing at Graham's laugh, packing my freezer full of all the pastries, dancing while throwing flour, piping macarons until I wanted to gouge my eyes out, feeling like a boss with my classmates on bakery day, to surprising myself, but feeling very humbled while working at Tartine.

Hugs to all my supporters along the way. Now lets go raise a glass and eat some dessert!

Bakers Wake Up Earrrly

What are you doing up at 4:30 in the morning? Baking scones and gougères? Oh wait, that's me. Yes, I wake up at the same time I used to go to sleep on a Saturday (that's a lie, but just go with it) so people like yourself can have their hot buns at 7:30am.

I've been externing at the kick-ass Tartine for just over a month now and it's been going swimmingly. I've been working on a few different stations: cookies/bars, shelling (lining/baking pastry shells for tarts/quiches) and the morning bake team which is either "quiche side" or "scone side" as they call it. Each station has been stellar and I've loved all the variety. Hell, I've even enjoyed working the 4:30am shift, who knew?! Those days actually fly by and the kitchen is less chaotic the first half of the day, due to the fact that there's usually only 5 of us there in vs 20+.

So one of the things Tartine is known for is it's line, due to it's popularity. Lines are the worst, but there's a reason for it. The food is legit guys! I can attest to this because I've tried most of the menu by now. #patsonbuddahbelly I actually think it's kind of exciting that people are willing to wait in line for Tartine's goodies. Yes, perhaps people are just in line because of the hype, but I'd be a liar if I said that the hype isn't justified and the line isn't worth waiting in. DO IT, or even better, holler at me when you're coming and I'll buy you a warm croissant to keep you company in line.

Surprises so far? The amount of heavy labor! Tartine is cranking out a ton of products for the masses so the yield is always LARGE. These LARGE yields need to be chopped, stirred and folded by hand sometimes which is, frankly, a workout and a half. For example, I break a sweat every time I make gougères (which requires vigorous continuous stirring by hand) and I have a gougère calluses on my hand to show for it.

Another surprise, that has nothing to do with any of the above, is I've become a biker! Not the Hells Angels kind (I'm certain that's what you were imagining), but the bicycle kind. My sweet ride is from junior high, so it's real hip. At least I don't have to worry about it ever getting stolen...

Back on subject again, here are some solid things I've learned so far while working at Tartine:

Lift with your knees, not your back! I've been aware of this tip, but it's an important one to recall when you have to lift a 50lb bag of flour. Those bags are no joke! It seriously feels like I'm carrying a large child through the kitchen.

Hands and arms make fantastic tools! Bowl scrapers and spatulas are nice and all, but sometimes ya gotta get in there with your hand or even your arm to get all the sneaky hidden spots. Also, folding brownie batter with your hand/arm is ridiculously fun.

Have one clean hand and one dirty hand. Love this one, but it's a challenge to follow sometimes. When you need to scrape down a bowl using either your hand or bowl scraper, that hand will likely get batter and such on it, so in turn it becomes your "dirty hand." The other hand, by default, is your "clean hand" and should be used to do "clean tasks" like turn the mixer on/off and raise/lower the mixer. This is especially useful for recipes that require you to scrape down the bowl several times over several rounds. In the end, having these clean/dirty hands will avoid more cleanup- making you more efficient! #winning

Refill the line if there's a lull. This is the new "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean." Sooo "if you've got time to lean, you've got time to refill?" Where's a poet when I need one?

Walking by a pot? Give it a stir sister! This kitchen multi-tasks like champions so the stove top is always full. If you find yourself passing by, why not stir that chocolate or pastry cream or apples for a hot second? Thaaaaanks.

Behind! Hot! Sharp! I hear the phrase "behind" at least 100x a day, "hot" about 40x a day and "sharp" a solid 10x. There's a reason for this- no one wants a run-in with 3 sheet trays of shells or a hot pot of bacon fat or perhaps get stabbed in the thigh with a chef's knife. That would make for a bad day.

Be efficient! Try to take as few trips as possible when gathering what you need- ingredients, tools etc. Also, try to re-use bowls, measuring cups and such when you're putting a recipe together. Work smart you dummy!

When in doubt, write it down! Pounds and ounces and grams, oh my! Perhaps if I had a photographic memory, I'd have no use for a notepad, but alas, my memory is more like a goldfisheseseses.

And lastly,
No one is awake at 4am except crackheads and bakers! When I bike to Tartine at this ungodly hour, I bike like zombies are chasing me (the fast "28 Days Later" kind of zombies, not the slow "Walking Dead" kind). I hope I don't come across humans (or zombies) because most likely they're up to no good and will surely steal my junior high bike and break my knee-caps if they spot me. #fact

This would be the part where I'd cue a song and show you all the beautiful things I've been working on, but sadly, I've got nothing for you. Pulling out your phone at work to take selfies and food porn photos are frowned upon- I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to have a photo shoot with croissants/cookies/cakes/bread/bars etc. Where's a Google Glass to take surreptitious pics when I need one?!

If you'd like to see me in action and eat all the pastries, come visit me! I've got only 3 weeks left!

image cred: theinfatuation.com

All Good Things Must Come To An End

And the next thing I know, 4 months of pastry school has come and gone. Did somebody fast forward my life because that sure as hell felt fast! Well, it's been quite the ride and I'm coming out of these 4 months feeling like I've been exposed to so much in the pastry world, yet, somehow I still lack confidence and feel like I have a truckload of things to learn and improve on. I suppose that's a good thing to feel, right? I'm actually glad that I'm not sauntering out of these 4 months thinking I'm the golden god of desserts. I'd have to slap myself in the face if so.

I started my 2 month externship at Tartine Bakery these last two weeks, and while I'd love to fill you in about that, you'll have to wait because you still haven't heard about the last 3 weeks of class! They were a memorable 3 weeks too so lets catch you up to speed shall we?

Week 14 - Plated Desserts
Ahhh a beautifully plated dessert. There's nothing more easy on the eyes than a beautifully plated dessert, other than a shirtless Ryan Reynolds of course (it's OK, my husband agrees that you can shred cheese on those abs). Plating dessert is a skill I wanted to improve on for awhile. Our chef showed us how to plate a variety of desserts; mashups that I would never think of putting together. We learned that plated desserts should have a balance of different tastes, textures and temperatures such as this killer dessert: Mango Custard with Roasted Pineapple, Coconut Sorbet, Coconut Snow, Kalamansi Gel and Micro Basil. We also learned that dessert should have the same style/size/vibe as the savory portion of the meal. Along with plated desserts, we had Nicole Krasinski, pastry chef/co-owner of the fantastic State Bird Provisions, pay us a visit to show us how to make a few of State Bird's desserts- SO so awesome. We ended the week with the fabulous Jeffrey Larsen, from our gluten-free workshop. Our final gluten-free project was due and Jeffery gave us some great feedback and critique on each of our desserts. My Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars weren't bad, but they were nothing compared to my classmate's gluten-free Triple Ginger Cookies. She nailed it. If I were an Olympic judge, I would give it a perfect 10.

Week 15 - Bakery Day Prep/Bakery Day
This week was all about prepping for our Bakery Day on Friday. Bakery Day was our final project where we got to invite a few friends/family to come to our school and be wined and dined on our behalf. We had a "pass" portion where we made/served food to them live and there was a "boxed" portion where they got to fill a box full of baked goods to take home that we made ahead of time. My classmates and I came up with these two menus together which took several rounds of narrowing down. Brutal cuts had to be made, such as any dessert involving peanut butter that I found only myself fighting for. I meannnn, who doesn't like peanut butter?! Sigh. So we came to a group consensus on the menus, each of us signed up for multiple items (mostly in teams) and planned out the to-dos for each day. My items were: Passion Fruit Caramels, Chocolate Caramels, Honey Lavender Macarons and Scallion Pancakes with Soy Dipping Sauce. My teammates and I banged out the caramels and pancakes, which had essentially no hiccups, but man oh man did the macarons ever. Those mac-attacks were real assholes. Firstly, they are labor-intensive to make, secondly, they just didn't want to cooperate. Long story short, we ended up having to make 4 batches until we got it right. Luckily in the end, they tasted good and looked pretty enough. Pro Tip: A topper of edible gold paint can take your macaron game from a 5 to a 9.

Bakery Day overall was a blast. We all wore orange bandannas which made us look like a cross between 2Pac and Rosie the Riveter, but we still looked cute in my humble. Shrug. All of our hard work leading to this day paid off- the decor and setup looked beautiful and professional, the kitchen crew killed it and the front of house foursome (myself included) made sure our guests were well fed and happy. It was so fun getting to meet all my classmates' people and see/hear how everyone was liking the food. It felt like a huge accomplishment and even though we could have improved on a few things, I was super proud of all of us. #goteam

Week 16 - Final exams & Field Trips
This week was a blend of low-key field trips and high stress test days - great fun for your blood pressure. Our field trips were to Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen, Guittard Chocolate and B. Patisserie. We started things off at good 'ol Williams-Sonoma! It brought me back to my old catalog life as I walked through the doors. It was such fun seeing this famous test kitchen in person. Fun Fact: The test kitchen ladies are the ones who judged the Chuck Williams Birthday Bake-Off (RIP Chuck) that I fatley lost in a few years ago. These ladies have a stellar gig: they get to test recipes for future catalogs. Hello dream-job. At Guittard, we got a grand tour of their facilities and got to see how they make their delicious chocolate - they are one hell of a well-oiled machine! We closed out the field trips at B. Patisserie where they make some of the best pastries I've ever had (their Kouign Amann is insane!) Eating their pastries would have been a fun field-trip in itself, but we got a chance to have B's kick-ass pastry chef, Belinda Leong, talk to us about her background and tell us her B. Patisserie story. Our last day at school was spent being fed by the lovely Culinary Arts class for their final project: Restaurant Day. They did a FANtastic job, to put it lightly.

The class portion of school is over, but all good things must come to an end. Now, I'm in the land of Tartine Bakery and that ain't bad. ;-)

Lets bring it on home with a photo montage from these 3 weeks! Cue song. Sidenote: I had never seen this music video before. Hello glam rock at it's finest. Cheers!

Carb Loaded For Life

Friends! It's been awhile. Like 4 weeks awhile. Lots of pastry school updates to be had, but lets start in reverse order, because I have exciting recent news.

We found out this week where we got placed for our externships. This is where we'll be working and spending all of our time for the last two months of the program, it's MAJOR. A few weeks ago, we all had a one-on-one with the founder of the school and ever since then, I've been anxiously-nervously-excitedly wondering where the devil I'll end up! On Wednesday morning, we were told that we'll all find out at lunchtime. Deep breath. Eeks magee. Lunchtime rolls around, and every one of us are silently on our phones, obsessively refreshing our email like a bunch of buffoons. And then, like dominoes, one by one, the emails start coming. Murmuring and smiles come next. I refresh my email for the 20th time and there it is. I open my email to see that I got placed at the same location where this journey began: Tartine Bakery! Motherf*&%ing Tartine! So SO excited. Want to know where everyone else got placed? Yeah ya do! NOPA, Chez Panisse, Quince, State Bird Provisions, Feve, Jane on Larkin, Little Bee Baking, Neighbor Bakehouse, Craftsman and Wolves, Della Fattoria and Cake Coquette. Bad. Ass. So excited for my pastry school peeps.

#photoshopskillzonpoint

Lets continue this Memento-like order recap in reverse, shall we?

Week 13: Breads 2
That's what it said in our syllabus: "Breads 2." Pretty self-explanatory <insert sarcastic looking emoji of your choice here>. We only had two days of class this week before Thanksgiving break and they were filled with "quick breads," mostly breakfast-type pastries. Waffles, coffee cake (best I've ever had), muffins, brioche to name a few and one of the BEST croissants I've ever had: a PRETZEL croissant! Yes, it's as good as it sounds. Actually, it's better than it sounds.

Week 12: Laminated Dough
Translation: CROISSANTS!! There was a lot of <under the radar> happy dancing and fist-pumps this week. Laminated dough is dough consisting of many thin layers of dough separated by butter, produced by repeated folding and rolling. Fun Fact: Croissants have 81 layers, while puff pastry typically has about 1000. #mindblown We had chef Brian Wood from Starter Bakery come in to show us how croissant making is done. He's the king of all things croissant, and also, you haven't lived if you haven't eaten his kouign amann. #lifechanging Chef Brian also kindly participated in a "Last Supper" photo you can get a glimpse of below. He makes an excellent Jesus. We finished out the week with a visit to the kickass Craftman and Wolves facility. Chef William Werner gave us a personal tour of the digs and his soon to be expansion. It was beautiful, spotless and I noted that they had pretty much one of every tool and machine a pastry gal could dream of. Chef William really impressed us. Confident, business savvy and smart as a whip. I want to be like him when I grow up.

Week 11: Breads 1
The first installment of bread. This week was eye-opening. We made more of your classic loaves and baguettes this week. Guest chef Michael Kalanty joined us for a day to show us his way of making some classic breads like pan au levain and San Francisco sour dough. He takes the cake for my favorite guest chef. He's not only hugely entertaining and hilarious, but he's a fantastic teacher. Sign up for one of his classes, and thank me later. Other notable things we made: bagels, pretzels and babka, oh my! We closed out the week with a field trip to Central Milling in Petaluma. Nicky Giusto was our fabulous host who took us on a baguette making adventure. Chef Nicky is competing in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris (a.k.a. The World Cup of bread baking), representing for team U.S.A. He's that good!

Week 10: Ice Cream, Gelato, Frozen Desserts
Yes, yes and yes. Guest chefs Bill Corbett, former pastry chef of Absinthe, and Patti Dellamonica-Bauler, pastry chef at One Market, paid us separate visits and taught us their style of ice cream making. Chef Bill is all about the science angle of ice cream making utilizing emulsifiers and stabilizers such as Cremodan 30 that give ice cream viscosity and also delays the melting of ice cream. Too much of this can give ice cream a chalky, gummy mouth feel though so watch yourself. Chef Patti's angle was all natural, sans stabilizers. Ironically enough, one of our freezers broke during this week. Reminded me of the good ol' Pottery Barn days when the printer broke at clutch times like before a film review. Figures. All in all, it was an ice cream-tastic week.

So you might have noticed that we had three three glorious weeks of bread. THREE! That's some serious carb-loading.

And now, while I start my bread detox, here's a photo montage of the last 4 weeks. Oh, and cue this song first because I said so.

Still Not Sick Of Dessert

I'm halfway through pastry school friends! Thinking about this makes me both a bit anxious and sad. Anxious because I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Meaning, when people ask me what I’d like to do after I finish school (which has been a go-to question since enrolling in school), I don't have an answer. I have a few ideas I've been mulling over, but it would be much easier if the answer hit me like a ton of bricks, or perhaps if it came to me in a dream…delivered by Matt Damon. Just sayin’. I’m hoping over time this will become more clear. Being halfway done also bums me out because I actually like going to school- hell, I even look forward to it! I mean, why wouldn't I? I get to make copious amounts of killer desserts daily, and I'm constantly learning something new. Everyday includes brand-spanking new recipes I’ve never tackled before, and that’s so exciting to me. It's kinda like opening gifts on Christmas morning, but filled with more dessert and less pajamas.

Some of the best things I’ve learned so far have become mottos that I repeat in my head all the time (I usually hear them in my teacher’s voice though). Here are a few golden nuggets for your pleasure:

Have a sense of urgency! You're going to get more done faster if you work quickly and efficiently. This also includes walking with a purpose, and if you don't, I'm going to mow your ass down! Sorry I'm not sorry.
If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean. Funny, yes, but damnit it's true too. Don't be a slouch and go wipe something down or put something away. I've used this line on my hubs recently...he wasn't amused.
Get your full yield! Translation: when you're doing any kind of product transferring from one container to another (i.e. measuring cups or a mixing bowl), scrape out as much of what's in there as you can. I’ve had those moments in the past where I'd shrug and say “good enough,” but there’s actually a lot more on the sides of that bowl than you think. It can effect your recipe and it’s a bit wasteful too, unless you're planning on licking the bowl, then I fully support that.
The oven light is your friend, use it. When you open the oven, the temperature drops 25 degrees! 'Tis a lot so stop opening that blasted oven and use the blasted light!
Keep your work-space clean. Done with the Kitchenaid? Put that sucker away! Got a pile of dirty bowls? Get that pile to a sink pronto! You will feel more organized and will work more efficiently if you clean as you go. It's a fact.

So mottos aside, I need to catch you up on these last three weeks. It’s been FULL and loads of fun.

Week 7 was all kinds of awesome. It focused on pastry doughs: brownies, blondies and cookies galore. Highlights? We made over 25 different cookie/brownie/blondie creations. Having to sample each of these goodies was hard work <said nobody ever>. By the end of the week, we made bakery boxes for our VIPs filled with our favorite desserts we’ve made thus far. This was a fun project because we had to really team up and work together in order to get these boxes done on time. My favorite thing in the box? The Candy Cap Pecan Cookies, hands down. Candy Cap is a mushroom, but alas these taste nothing like 'shrooms. They instead taste like a nutty maple buttery dreamboat. Other than the lucky VIPs, each of us were able to take a box of love home too. Another highlight was taking on a fun project: as a class, come up with our best version of a chocolate chip cookie. Apparently, a former pastry class tackled the same project and their recipe ended up being published in Bon Appétit! Hugely impressive and the bar has been set. Game on.

Week 8 was themed “advanced chocolate and confections.” Translation: we made a plethora of gourmet candy bars (i.e. Snickers) and other yum-tastic candy. Highlights? We spent one of the days at Feve Artisan Chocolatier learning how to decorate and shell chocolate. This was super fun because we got to get artsy-fartsy with the decorating by using gold dust, a spray gun and even just finger painting. It’s unreal how gorgeous chocolates can be. These chocolates that Feve make literally look like works of art. I'm almost inclined to say that they're too pretty to eat, but lets be honest, these beauties were meant to be pretty in my belly.

Week 9 was boot camp week- repetition and timed drills. Highlights? Other than being able to make 30 crepes in 10 minutes and dice 2 carrots into 1/4 inch squares (my own personal hell), we had a THREE HOUR cheese tasting workshop. It sounds amazing right? It really was, but towards the end of the last hour, I felt like a wheel of cheese in human form. Another workshop we did that week, was a gluten-free/food allergies workshop. We live in SF so this is great knowledge to have as the gluten-free population is strangely growing higher by the minute. We also made macarons! These are one of the most beautiful time-consuming cookies I've ever made before, but so worth it in the end. We even got to create our own version with a teammate- we made lemon poppy seed macs.

As for this week, it’s ice cream o’clock! More specifically, a week of ice cream, gelato and frozen desserts. My husband clearly is most excited about this week because after I told him, he did a happy car dance that lasted an awkwardly long time.

Want to stare at some pretty desserts now? Cue this song, enjoy and I’ll see you on the flip side.

Let Them Eat Cake! And Pie!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better than "Chocolate Week," we have "Cake Week: Part 1 and Part Deux." TWO weeks of cake?! And to follow that up, we have Pastry Doughs: Part 1 and Part 2. Is this real life?

Let me fill you in on these last 3 weeks.

The first week (week 4 into the program) was an intro to cake baking. Translation: we made a ridiculous amount of cakes, which meant, I ate a lot of cake. Morning? Lets try the cakes we cranked out from yesterday. Afternoon? Time to sample the next wave o' cakes. Night? Oh look, cake leftovers! I mean, I'm just trying to educate myself (right?) Cake gorging aside, I was introduced to a whole plethora of different cake varietals, techniques and flavor profiles. I was stoked to discover some fun creative recipes like the Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake. This was a light, fluffy vanilla cake covered in whipped cream and honeycomb. Oh the honeycomb. I can eat it like popcorn (and I did). Highlights? I learned how to make gourmet Ho Hos! But more importantly, I learned the art of leveling out your cake layers, which was knowledge that I seriously needed (cue my "leaning tower of fail cake").

The second week (week 5 into the program) focused on cake filings, assembly and decorating, which included a two-day cake workshop taught by the lovely Laci of Wind & Rye Kitchen. She taught us, in a nutshell, how take your cake game up to 11. We learned such things as how to pipe frosting into beautiful shapes and how to drape/decorate fondant. This was my first time working with fondant and man it's a process getting a layer of this onto your cake. There's rolling, draping, smoothing, trimming, and several more rounds smoothing. I dunno about this fondant. If it tasted less like sugary wax and more like that honeycomb, then maybe I'd be more supportive of it. Highlights? We came out of the workshop knowing how to construct a multi-layered 2-tiered cake! These beauties looked like they were ready to be served at the closest black-tie wedding!

This current week (week 6!) is Pastry Dough Part 1. We made 7 different pastry doughs- I didn't know that many variations existed! Each of these doughs had a different flavor and texture, but I didn't noticed a huge difference in taste. So...when there's copious amounts of pastry dough, what shall one do? Make copious amounts of tarts and pies obvi! My favorites were a lemon tart, salty honey pie and a rhubarb custard streusel pie. Yum.com

To top this week off, we had a guest speaker come in for an interview and Q&A session. Ruth Reichl, food writer extraordinaire! She's had some killer jobs, to put it lightly. She was a food critic for the New York Times, an editor in chief at Gourmet Magazine, has written several memoirs, a novel, and a few cookbooks. She's also co-owned a restaurant and has been the recipient of four James Beard Awards. I mean, the list goes on and on. Feeling a bit inadequate but in complete awe as much as I was?

If you've been following along, I've been in pastry school for 6 bloody weeks! My mind is boggled by everything that I've learned so far. This just in: learning is cool. Especially when you're 33. I don't think 23 year old Courtney would have been into this as much as I am now. Sometimes, life is all about timing eh?

Lastly, if you see me anywhere holding a cake box(es), ask me for a taster of whatever is inside and I will happily give you some. I'm not even kidding. I encourage you to even wait outside my door around 3pm every day with a plate and fork. I'm like Santa Claus, gone wrong.

From that note, I give you week's 4-6's recap via another photo montage. But first, play this song. Who doesn't love a little Rihanna backing up their montage?

Pastry School: Three Weeks Deep!

I'm three weeks deep into pastry school at SFCS! How the devil did that happen?! It's been whirlwindy, but in all the right ways. The first week felt like information overload, since everything was so new; my head was a bit spiny at times, but by the end of the second and even more the third week, I started feeling like I was starting to get the hang of things.

Lets start by answering some go-to questions people have asked me:
1.  Do I like pastry school? Hell to the yes. It's tough and I feel in over my head sometimes, but I get to bake everyday and learn new things about one of my favorite subjects- constantly! Also, I get to work alongside fellow dessert fiends <my people!> How awesome is that?
2.  How many people are in your class? 12 lovely ladies. They're bomb.com.
3.  Who's the teacher? The brilliant badass Nicole Plue. She's the real deal.
4.  Do you wear a chef's hat? Jah! I wear the whole getup, "chef's whites" if you will: hat, coat, pants, apron and kitchen shoes. I always carry a pen, sharpie and lil' notebook too. I look like the nerdiest nerd who every nerded...or maybe i look legit. Jury's out.
5.  What do you want to do afterwards? Any end game? No idea! But I'm hoping I will know in 6 months. Wait for it...! 

So far so good friends. Like I said, I'm learning SO. MUCH. It's insane how much I didn't know in the world of baking. My mind is being blown on the daily.

A couple valuable things I learned so far:
• Read through the entire recipe a few (or five) times before you begin. You could miss a step or a vital ingredient- gasp! You could be unprepared for the next direction and end up over-whipping your french meringue- double gasp!
Setup is key! Before you start a recipe, setup all the equipment/tools/ingredients you'll need, including your "dismount." We're not talking an Olympic dismount, it's where you're going to place your dessert after it's done cooking/baking/cooling/mixing etc. This entire setup, in the culinary world, is called your "mise en place" a French culinary phrase meaning "everything in its place." It sets you up for success and will make you a more efficient chef!
A baking scale is everything: I feel like such a buffoon because I used to rely on my measuring cups, heavily. Know what's faster and more accurate? Weighing shit! Do it. I'm a changed lady.
Don't just watch your water boil, do something! Translation: make sure you're ready for the next step in your recipe (and the step after that, and the step after that); clean, put things away...anything but be a useless yammo while you wait.
Listen to the teacher when she talks. Sounds simple enough, but I get distracted by shiny things sometimes. Listen intently and save it to your hard drive. That way you won't look like a dumb dumb when you ask a Q she already answered, 10 times. <insert awkward emoji face>

As an overview of pastry school thus far, week one was all about baking fundamentals, week two was all things eggs and week three was <dramatic pause> chocolate week. Yes friends, week three was as amazing as it sounds, and then some. What better way to recap these first three weeks than with a good old-fashioned photo-montage. <cue this song>

More updates to come! Looking forward to sharing my sweet <pun intended> journey with you.

Hey Guess What?

It's been crickets at Dessert Fiend, and here's why...I'M GOING TO PASTRY SCHOOL! Over the past month, I've been fully consumed in this venture. Excited? Heck yes. Nervous? Double heck yes.

Ever since I left my job at Williams-Sonoma, I've been not only thoroughly enjoying the free time, and then some, but I've also been trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I became stuck trying to answer that question, until a month ago, when I had a Dr. House epiphany.

You know when you have those overwhelming euphoric "clouds are parting" moments if life? Well, I don't really have those moments, except when it comes to food. It's magical. This kind of moment and epiphany happened when I was at one of my happy places: Tartine Bakery. As I waited in line, I had this profound itch to know what was happening on the other side of this bakery of the gods, behind the scenes if you will. It didn't look like a cake walk in the kitchen <no pun intended>, but I wanted to be involved in the action, badly, and wondered if and how and when I could make this happen. Wheels: turning.

The next thing I knew, I was Googling pastry schools that following week. I realized that going to school to learn all I can about one of my favorite subjects felt like the exact step I should be taking. After extensive research, I found a school that sounded just right: San Francisco Cooking School. That name doesn't fool around- it means what it says and says what it means. Days later, I had a fantastic phone conversation with the founder of the school and the more I heard about the program, the more I wanted to be a part of it. The following week, I went to their open house with my application in hand. I was sold. The space is seriously gorgeous (hello dream kitchen!) and their signature color happens to be orange (like my hair!) Meant to be I tell ya. I excitedly walked out of the open house with a bounce in my step. A few weeks later, I got the good news that I had been accepted into the fall program at SFCS. I was grinning like an idiot and actually teared up a bit out of excitement and relief.

So that's my little story friends. Dessert Fiend is going to pastry school! I know it's going to be A LOT of hard work and long hours, but if the outcome means I get to bake desserts that make people happy, then game on. MANY more posts to come as I embark on this journey <picture me on a row boat paddling my way down a chocolate milk river, a la Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory>.

Painting Dessert

I've been itching to get back into painting for quite some time, and last week, I finally broke the seal. My hubs and I took a painting class, but it wasn't your run of the mill painting class, it was a BYOB painting class. Booze and painting separately are pretty great, but combining those two is just plain brilliant. If you haven't heard of this sort of concept, let me fill you in. This company called "Beyond the Canvas" offers classes several times each month in which they provide you with painting supplies and more importantly, in depth step-by-step instruction on how to paint a particular subject, all whilst you sip on a tasty adult bevy.  

The particular class we chose was titled "BYOB Paint & Ice Cream Workshop." It couldn't have sounded more up my alley. Going into the evening, I only knew that we were going to paint dessert and drink some wine, but didn't know anything further than that. As we walked in, I looked up and immediately recognized Wayne Thiebaud's "Four Ice Cream Cones" painting projected onto the wall, a personal favorite of mine. This was the subject we were going to recreate, we were told. I was stoked because Wayne Thiebaud is one of my all-time favorite artists. Take a gander to the very top of my blog. Those paintings are all Wayne. #wayneismyhomeboy 

I first learned about Wayne early on in college. I was drawn to his work instantly. Firstly, he's crazy talented, secondly his use of color is fantastic (even his shadows are gorgeous, is that a weird thing to say?) and thirdly, one of his favorite subjects to paint is dessert. Mad painting skills AND he loves to paint dessert? Man after my heart! So the fact that we got to attempt to recreate one of his dessert paintings was pretty damn cool.

We were given roughly 2.5 hrs to tackle this painting, which was SO not enough time! It felt like a Top Chef quickfire challenge. About halfway through the class, when we were deep into Wayne's painting, we were served ice cream! I usually welcome ice cream interruptions, but now I had to multi-task the wine drinking, painting AND ice cream eating. The ultimate mission. My husband kept having to remind me to take a bite of my ice cream or to keep sipping my wine. I have never ever needed reminders for these two things in my life. I couldn't help it though, I was in the WT zone! So the next thing we knew, it was 10pm and we were the last ones there. It was time to go, even though I could have used at least another hour to work on my "masterpiece." 

Overall, I had a most excellent evening. Even my hubs, who hadn't painted since he was a tween, did a stellar job and enjoyed himself. He drank most of our bottle of wine, how could he not? I tip my hat to my man Wayne, I hope we did him justice.

2015 Dessert Resolution & Reviewing The Mill’s Toast

If I were to make a 2015 dessert resolution, I can firstly tell ya that it wouldn’t be to make a crapload of tarts, which was essentially my dessert resolution from last year. If you’re wondering, I only made 3 tarts...here's to trying again. This year I've decided to give this DR another go, but this time I'm going much broader with it: to review more desserts. I’d like to see what the world has to offer my belly. 

As y’all know, this blog developed from my deep love for dessert. It’s not just the fact that I enjoy baking, which I truly do, but it’s mostly because I just simply love eating dessert. Always. At anytime. If you woke me up at 3am with a cheesecake inches from my face, I'd be delighted. So, I’d like to try exploring what’s out there, but also continue baking and chatting about dessert nonsense, obvi. 

To start my reviews off, this morning I jaunted to one of my neighborhood coffee shops, The Mill, for a cup of Joe and to try a slice of their $3.50 hipster toast. The Mill makes their own bread (props) but this is the first time I sampled their toast- I had to see what this toast fuss was about. Toast has become very much a thing in SF and places like this sell it like hot cakes (read about the history of toast here). The Mill has a legit toast menu and I wanted to try the piece that comes slathered with homemade Nutella, but sadly some selfish yammos ate all of it and they were sold out. Humph. I went with my second choice which was, essentially cinnamon/sugar toast...$3.50 cinnamon/sugar toast. So, I sat down with my hipster coffee and hipster toast, snapped a hipster photo of my situation (which I planned to filter the shit out of later) and took a bite of my 1 inch thick slab o' toast. Thoughts? I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't tasty because it really was. Crunchy, warm, buttery and of course cinnamon-sugary. I appreciated that they didn’t skimp on the butter and the cinnamon/sugar layer. This toast also brought me back to my youth because I used to make cinnamon/sugar toast all the time as a dessertsnack. So, overall, The Mill did a solid job with this toast, I admit, but is it really worth the $3.50? Hells no. Will I come back to try their homemade Nutella on toast? Hells yes. Let's be honest, I've spent more on a beer before so I won't judge toast connoisseurs. 

As far as this toast phenomenon goes, if you feel inclined to dabble in a piece, give me a shout and I’ll gladly meet you at The Mill for a round o’ toast.

Overall Rating: 4/5 tartlets

Chuck Williams' Birthday Bake Off

image courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Inc.

Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma (where I work), turned 99 on October 2! Having a 99th burfday is no joke, so in light of this, the company decided to turn it up to 11 and spread his birthday celebration over 7 days. On one of the last days, they hosted a Chuck Williams Birthday Bake-Off, where any associate could enter. There was no question about whether or not I should compete. It would be a nasty slap to the face of this blog if I didn't enter...not to mention there were handsome prizes for the winners:

  • A KitchenAid Stand Mixer 
  • Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch bakeware and an electric hand mixer 
  • 7-piece Wüstof Classic Ikon knife block set 
  • Set of three Le Creuset cookware

Nice little line-up, eh? I was excited to get my baking on for Chucky-boy (he probably wouldn't like me calling him that). There were four categories for the contest: Best Tasting, Best Presentation, Most Creative; and Best Use of Chuck's Finds. To be honest, I didn't target any of the categories and instead chose desserts I have previously made that stood out in my mind. The rules stated that competitors could enter multiple desserts so I knew I'd at least enter a few to increase my chances of placing. I decided on these two crowd pleasers: Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting and Banana Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce. I thought these provided enough differences from the other but were still equally yumtastic.

I felt confident enough about my decision, until I arrived at the bake-off. While I excitedly set up my two delights, I immediately sized-up my competition. There were 32 desserts there, some looking rather average (sorry) and some looking pretty impressive. I gazed at my dessert friends one last time, gave them a good luck nod and headed back to work. After getting into the office, I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to make the actual bake-off due to <insert something important sounding that really isn't as important as the bake-off in my humble>. I was a sad panda, but whatareyougonnado?

 One of the judges judging my pretties

One of the judges judging my pretties

I wasn't able to get any information about the bake-off until the following day. I was eager to hear how it went and who took the gold, all while trying to keep my expectations low. An email finally went out with the lowdown. Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen chefs were the judges and apparently, Chuck Williams (in-the-flesh!) attended the bake-off as well at Tyler Florence. Whaaaa?! Amazing, right? The results weren't great for the Dessert Fiend though. I sadly didn't even place <insert frowny emoticon>, but here are the list of winners, in all their glory:

Most Creative:
Winner: Bannoffee Pie
RU: Yogurt Cheesecake with Passion Fruit Topping

Best Presentation:
Winner: Almond Buttercream with Meyer Lemon Curd
RU: Pavlova

Best Use of Chuck’s Finds:
Winner: Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake
RU: Chuck’s Tool Belt

Most Delicious:
Winner: Hazelnut Mocha Daquoise
RU: Almond Cake with Chocolate Mousse

There is, however, a big silver lining to my loss: the Bake-Off was featured on our company website and this very blog got a SWEET plug! Dessert Fiend will take a pimpin' wherever she can. Also, apparently my cupcakes were the talk of the town and several people wanted my recipe. At least I'm a winner in somebody's eyes! ;-)

Until the next bake-off friends!

Raisins Don't Belong In Dessert: A Rant

photo cred: bubblews.com

Raisins don't belong in dessert. They just don't. Some of you carrot cake or oatmeal cookie fans may disagree, but for me, a dessert experience is better without them. Raisins taste like blah to start with, the texture is downright weird and, lets be honest, they look like little turds. I'm cool with them on the rare occasion, like in a broccoli salad or when they come in other, better forms: grapes or wine, but keep those little rug-rats away from my dessert!

Raisinettes <gag>. Don't even get me started. The only way I'd eat those is if someone paid me to. Why would anyone spend good money on those over literally any other movie candy? Honestly! Who are these Raisinette connoisseurs anyways? Grandmas? Don't answer that.

This rant stemmed from a bread pudding dessert that was on the menu while I was dinning with my family. It was their "special of the day" and it definitely had my attention until the waiter read the description. As I recall, my dad and I made "stinky-faces" at each other after the R-word was dropped. Bad, very bad.

And this concludes my raisin rant. Sorry I'm not sorry.

My Family's See's Candies Tradition

The custom box. It is everything I want, nothing I don't.

Getting your very own customized box of See's Candies is a thing in my family. It doesn't happen often, which is good. I'm not saying that because I'd no doubt grow a chocolate buddah belly in 2.2, but because I wouldn't fully appreciate the deliciousness of a box of See's Candies anymore.

#maryismyhomegirl

Here's a little See's Candies history for ya. Mary See is the fabulous creator of these recipes, but the founder of the company is her son, Charles See. Thanks to him, this delightful company has been around for over 90 years– my family feeding our addiction for the majority of them. They use only the finest, freshest ingredients with no preservatives added and have over 100 different candies and chocolates. Each of their adorable shops feature an iconic black-and-white checkered floor, designed to resemble Mary's home kitchen (now how cute is that?) Every visitor gets a free sample when you swing by too- that's my kind of joint!

Get a load of this box of chocolate Forrest, Forrest Gump.
Photo cred: sees.com

My mom is the generous See's gifter, and she wisely keeps a running list of each family member's favorite flavors on her phone for easy access. On occasion, our list needs updating. Scotchmallow's, for example, used to be a beloved favorite of mine, but now they are long gone and were replaced with the decadent Cashew Brittle, a recent newcomer to my list. It's a 0.5 lb box, only so many candies can make the cut, so you've gotta make some heart-wrenching decisions sometimes.

We are given this happy little box on Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter. By the time Christmas rolls around, it's been a long, See's Candy-deprived wait and we are chomping at the bit to get our hands on our boxes. Each of us are typically several candies deep before 10am on Christmas morning.

My husband thought we were all a bit cuckoo about our See's boxes when he first heard about our tradition. Once he partook in a customized box of his own, it didn't take him long to put on the "chocolate diva hat," having my mom update his running list bi-annually. "Mrs. Thompson...what the DEVIL are these Toffee-ettes doing in my BOX? I specifically told you to replace the Toffee-ettes with the Peanut Butter Patties <chucks Toffee-ette at my mother's frowning face>!!" <that conversation may or may have been dramatized for your reading pleasure...or ever happened at all>

Probably the same length of line my mom patiently waits in for our custom Christmas.boxes.

This is one of the many dessert traditions in my family and continues to be a favorite of all of ours. There's really nothing like a hand-picked box of these beauties. It's everything. Don't be shy friends and go get one for yourself to see what all this nonsense is about!

Baking at Altitude

My baking ego took a few blows this weekend. I'm OK guys, don't worry. I'm confident I know why it happened and who the culprit was to blame. His name is altitude and he's a real a-hole. A group of friends and I were spending the weekend in Tahoe and all I wanted to do was satisfy them with a few tasty treats, but altitude had another thing coming: failure. Am I being too hard on altitude? Perhaps. Or perhaps he's 99.9% to blame.

So yes, apparently baking is a bit challenging when you're six-thousand feet up. I knew this, but thought it only really affected the baking time and temperature. Nope. Couldn't have been more wrong. After bombing two of my desserts that a few of my friends choked down as a courtesy, I had to redeem myself before I gave this blog a bad name (too late). I did some research the next morning on baking at altitude and found an abundance of confusing, frustrating information. Every kind of item you bake, whether it be cookies, cakes, bars, pies, etc. have different "rules" and suggestions. For example, if you're making cookies, one source says you need to:

• Decrease butter or shortening (2 Tbsp to 1/4 cup) if cookies spread too much
• Decrease sugar slightly if cookies spread too much (amount depends on size of batch and other ingredients)
• Increase liquid by 1 to 2 Tbsp only if dough is too dry and cookies don’t spread
• Increase flour (starting with 1 or 2 Tbsp) if cookies spread too much
• Increase bake time by 1 to 3 minutes
• Decrease bake time by 1 to 2 minutes

Huh??

My studies concluded to this: baking in altitude is a complete crap shoot and you need to set aside a day for trail and error. I unfortunately didn't have the patience for this nonsense, nor did I have the time. I had to nail my next dessert on the first try.

Enter food blogger: Katie Goodman of Good Life Eats who lives at altitude. This dear has already done the hard part for me. Katie, thank you for saving my dignity and the tiniest (non-existent) reputation that I had. I made her Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting and luckily, they didn't suck.

Vanilla on Vanilla

Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from Good Life Eats
Yield: 18-20 cupcakes

Ingredients – Cupcakes
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 large egg whites, room temperature
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ingredients – Frosting
Side-note: this makes a ton frosting so don't be shy with it
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract (to maintain the bright white color)
1 ½ pounds (24 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions – Cupcakes
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the racks in the center position. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.
2.  In a large bowl combine both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.
3.  In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, sour cream, and egg whites. Set aside.
4.  Fit a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or use a hand mixer. Add the butter, sugar and vanilla to the bowl and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes, or until light. Scrape the sides as necessary.
5.  Add the vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture while beating on medium speed, again scraping the sides as needed. Beat in half of the sour cream mixture. Alternately add the remaining flour mixture and sour cream until all the wet and dry ingredients have added, beating until the batter fully incorporated and smooth.
6.  Use a large scoop (about 3 tablespoons), evenly divide the batter between 18 lined muffin tins filling each about 2/3 of the way full.
7.  Bake for 15-24 minutes (Pro Tip: Mine took 13 mins), or until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Directions – Frosting
1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the butter and vanilla bean seeds. Beat until fluffy. Turn the mixer to low speed and slowly add the confectioners' sugar while continuing to beat.
2.  Once well blended, add in the vanilla and 4 tablespoons heavy cream or milk. Mix on low speed until well combined and moist. If desired, an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk until your desired consistency is reached. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

And that my friends, is why it royally blows to bake at altitude. For those of you who want to try it, I recommend "cheating" and finding a recipe that has already been tested successfully. If not, I hope whoever you're feeding enjoys piss-poor desserts. : )

Dessert Guilty Pleasures

Dessert guilty pleasures. We've all got 'em. Sometimes they originate from childhood, sometimes they sprout out of no where. I'm talking about that one dessert you're embarrassed to love. You may or may not feel shameful about it, but it exists and you're mostly ok with it.

What's mine? I've gotta go with ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins (or as I like to call it, Raskin Bobbins). The first time I had it was probably at one of my single digit birthday parties at the local bowling alley. I probably brattily insisted that my slice had to have the pink rose in it too. My favorite flavor is Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Cake. Last year, my hubs got me this exact cake for my birthday and I just about died. Kept it cool on the outside of course, but was as giddy as a school-girl on the inside.

Time to out some people's DGPs (dessert guilty pleasures). Lets start with my sister's: vanilla Costco cake with vanilla frosting, more specifically, the corner piece because it has the most frosting. I admit, it's pretty tasty, if you like average cake. My other sister's is Ding Dongs. I literally just saw a pack of these on her kitchen counter yesterday. #noshame My husband's DGP is Betty Crocker's yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Not bad, but not good. My coworker's is chocolate/vanilla Costco frozen yogurt. The irony is that she doesn't have a membership but has somehow managed to get her fro-yo on. She told me she was denied only once for lack of a membership, which drove her to tears. Apparently it had been a long, bad day and all she wanted was a happy little $1.25 Costco fro-yo. Long story short, she ended up driving to the next nearest Costco, which was an hour away, and was luckily able to fulfill her hankering.

A few others I've heard: Nutella by the spoonful (ok, but who hasn't done that), Hostess Powdered Donettes (craptastic!), Nutrageous (hello 80s candy bar), and lastly a friend insisted that all dessert is a guilty pleasure <shakes head>.

Ok, now that I've shared mine, and outted several people's, what's YOUR dessert guilty pleasure? I promise not to mock you...much.

A Very French Holiday

Photo Credit: thecooksatelier.com

This year for Christmas and New Years, my hubs and I decided to ditch 'Merica and go to France! It was a lovely lovely trip that involved road trips through the French countryside, village hopping, putting regular gasoline in a diesel car, and copious amounts of bread, foie gras, cheese, bread, dessert, wine and bread. I did a top-notch job of carb-loading. After spending Christmas in Paris, we made our way down to the small town of Beaune and partook in a cooking class taught by The Cook's Atelier (The Cook's Attic). It's run by a mother/daughter team who are absolutely adorable. We heart them. They celebrate the connection between the farmer and the cook through their hands-on cooking classes. Their story, in a nutshell, is they both used to live in the states, but moved to France after the daughter fell in love with the country and a Frenchman. The mom is a trained chef and pastry chef (a girl after my heart) and the daughter is trained in viticulture a.k.a. wine (again, a girl after my heart). After gathering our ingredients at the local market, we dove into cooking. I knew the dessert was going to be something special (did I mention pastry chef?!) and it did not disappoint. We made something I've never tackled before: an apple tart. So French, right? It was a several step process, but not as challenging as I thought it would be. Simple ingredients and not overly sweet. They kindly let me make most of the dessert, after I told them about my dessert-fiendness, It was fun and looked so pretty, as French tarts often do. Their delicious recipe follows. I can't wait to make this again!

Photo Credit: my hubs

French Apple Tart
Recipe from The Cook's Atelier
Yield: Pâte Sucrée makes enough for 2 tarts; Apple Filling: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients – Pâte Sucrée (pastry dough)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter
Whisk the cream and egg yolks together in a small bowl.

Ingredients – Apple Filling
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced into even 1/8-inch slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

for the apple purée
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled cored and diced
1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Directions – Pâte Sucrée
1.  In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt and butter on medium speed until you have a coarse meal. Gradually add the cream and yolks, and mix until just combined. Do not overwork the dough.
2.  Transfer the dough to a large work surface and bring it together with your hands to incorporate completely. Divide the dough in half, shape into a 1-inch-thick discs, and wrap one of them to freeze and use later.
3.  If the dough is too soft, put in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up a little. If the dough is manageable, place it on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle a little flour over the dough, and roll it out into a 1/4-inch-thick circle, flouring as necessary.
4.  Starting at the one side, roll and wrap the dough around the rolling pin to pick it up. Unroll the dough over a 10-inch tart pan. Gently fit the dough loosely into the pan, lifting the edges and pressing the dough into the corners with your fingers. To remove the excess dough, roll the rolling pin lightly over the top of the tart pan for a nice clean edge, or work your way around the edge pinching off any excess dough with your fingers. Chill for 1 hour.

Directions – Apple Filling
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2.  Line the tart pan with the pâte sucrée. Prick the bottom with a fork and line the shell with parchment. Fill the lined tart with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 15 minutes until the edges are set and lightly browned. Take the tart out of the oven and carefully remove the parchment paper and dried beans.
3.  To make the apple purée, put the diced apples, vanilla bean pod, sugar and butter in a saucepan with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Cook gently, stirring often until soft, adding more water if necessary, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Using the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean, then discard the pod.
4.  Transfer the mixture to a food mill or mash with a fork until smooth.
5.  Heat the butter in a sauté pan and gently sauté the apple slices to coat them in the butter until just softened.
6.  Spread the purée evenly in the partially baked tart shell. Carefully arrange the apple slices in a neat circle around the edge. They should be tightly overlapping but not squished together. Depending on the size of your tart pan and the apples, you can repeat to create an inner circle or just fill in the center in a decorative pattern. Sprinkle over a tablespoon or two of sugar.
7.  Bake in the preheated oven until just browned and tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of crème fraîche or Calvados spiked whipped cream.

Photo Credit: my hubs    •    Sift powdered sugar over each piece for a pretty presentation.

From this...I declare that this year will be the year of the tarts! First step is to buy a tart pan. Wish me luck.

Thanksgiving Desserts Part One and Deux

My apron of choice.

One of my family's Thanksgiving traditions is to make a crap-load of desserts. I'm talking, at least 7 desserts. Fo real. We don't mess around either, my mom and I team up and we conquer the desserts, one at a time. You should see us in action. We start first thing in the AM, tie on our aprons in sync, cue the Christmas music (it's acceptable this close to December) and it's go-time. She kindly takes on the roll of the reliable sous-pastry-chef and dishwasher while I take on the role of pastry chef diva.

This year, I jetted to Boston first to celebrate Thanksgiving early with my in-laws. They've adapted nicely to my dessert fiendness and happily join in on the dessert making. This year, we made PB Chocolate Chip Bars (see previous blog entry for the recipe), Mini Pecan Pies, Grandma's Special- Pistachio Whipped Cream Angel Food Cake Heath Bar Parfait (there's gotta be a better title for that), Croissant Pudding with Whiskey Sauce, Pumpkin Ice Cream, Vanilla Heath Bar Ice Cream and Apple Crisp. They were all delish, but the standout was, in my humble opinion, the Croissant Pudding! That recipe had me at "croissant." This is basically bread pudding, but better because it's with croissants. I've never made bread pudding before- for some reason, it always seemed very daunting to me. Luckily, it was far from that. Honorable mention goes to my mother-in-law's Apple Crisp. I'm such a sucker for it.

Croissant Pudding...hello lover...

Croissant Pudding with Whiskey Sauce
Yield:
8 servings

Ingredients – Pudding
6 large croissants, sliced in half lengthwise
8 large eggs
1 cup granulated white sugar
3 cups cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ingredients – Sauce
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup Irish whiskey or bourbon

Directions – Pudding
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan.
2.  Layer the croissants in pan, making sure entire surface is covered, with no space between the slices.
3.  Whisk eggs and sugar together, and blend well. Whisk in the cream and vanilla.
4.  Slowly pour cream mixture over the croissants, allowing the bread to absorb the liquid. Push down the croissants with the back of a spoon so they absorb more of the liquid.
5.  Set baking pan into a larger shallow pan or baking dish, and pour hot tap water into the outer pan, until the level reaches halfway up the side of inner pan.
6.  Place on center rack of oven, and bake until pudding is just set, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, and remove the inner pan from outer pan.

Directions – Sauce
1.  Beat the egg yolks and sugar in large bowl until pale yellow. Add whiskey and beat until well combined.
2.  Transfer mixture to the top of a double boiler, or a heatproof bowl set over simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium high heat until the mixture is thick and creamy.
3.  Whisk just before serving. To serve, place a slick of the pudding (warm or chilled) on a plate, and drop with sauce.

My sister-in-law's husband modified the drizzle recipe or, some would say, he went rogue (he simply used melted vanilla ice cream) but it was darn tasty. I'm definitely making this recipe again.

Thanksgiving Desserts Part One

My adorable nephew sous-chef

The setup is key!

Next up, Thanksgiving Part Deux at the Thompson household. My mom and I, as I mentioned earlier, did our thing and made 6 of the 7 desserts: PB Chocolate Chip Bars (appetizers), Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake, Classic Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting, Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Pumpkin Cheesecake and Apple Pie. My hubs made the 7th which was another round of the Vanilla Heath Bar Ice Cream, but this time with a hot fudge swirl. Such a damn showoff. Everyone's favorite, of course, was the husband's dessert (PISH POSH!). Honorable mention goes to the Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe from All Recipes & Martha Stewart
Yield: 24 cupcakes

Ingredients – Cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup white sugar
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant butterscotch pudding mix
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients – Frosting
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions – Cupcakes
1.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 24 muffin cups, or line with paper muffin liners. Whisk together the flour, pudding mix, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, cloves, and crystallized ginger in a bowl; set aside.
2.  Beat the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until light and fluffy. The mixture should be noticeably lighter in color. Add the room-temperature eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla and pumpkin puree with the last egg. Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups.
3.  Bake in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Directions – Frosting
1.  In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy.
2.  Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

Overall, 'twas a successful dessert Thanksgiving. The only flop we had was that we didn't grease the pan well enough for the chocolate cake so half of it decided not to come out (see below). We tried to patch it together with the frosting, but it was a hot, hot mess. Luckily, it still tasted good and, in my humble opinion, that's all that matters.

Happy Holiday baking friends!

Thanksgiving Desserts Part Deux

Our Wedding Cake

A little over 3 weeks ago I partook in the best day of my life. No, not a day spent at an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet (great guess), it was my wedding day <cue awws>.  While I could easily talk (write?) your ear off about the wedding, I instead want to hone in on the wedding dessert highlight: the cake. I posted awhile back about the cake tasting, courtesy of the lovely Amy, that knocked my ankle boots off and holy cow did Amy deliver on the wedding cake. When I first laid eyes on the cake, it was, frankly, love at first sight. I mean, check this beauty out.

The two flavors we chose were: (top two layers) chocolate espresso cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and (bottom layer) golden yellow cake with orange zest with vanilla buttercream frosting. Needless to say...I had 3 slices throughout the night.

Amy, thank you again for making us a stunning and ridiculously delicious wedding cake

Had to be done. You can see the slight guilt on my face.

Story: The Laaaast One!

I'm about 4 here, but you get the gist of what 3 year old Courtney looked like. I'm holding my very tolerant cat, Smudgie.

When I was 3 years old, I did something very, very bad. Lets take a trip back in time, shall we? It was a few days after Christmas and I was super jealous of what one of my sister's gave the other sister: a shoebox full of all of her favorite candies. My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree (pun intended) when my sis opened the lid for the first time. It was like this forbidden treasure that I wanted in a bad way. My sister's knew this of course, so they decided to keep this box o' heaven well out of my T-Rex 3 year old reach: on top of their bedroom bookshelf. You know, it would have been a great hiding place if I didn't see where it lived whenever they generously shared a piece of candy with me. Suckers.

A couple days later, when they were babysitting me and my bro, I gingerly (pun intended) snuck away with one thing in mind: IT'S CANDY O'CLOCK! I don't know how I did it, but I scaled that bookshelf like a ninja and snagged that shoebox like it was nobody's business. After making my way back to solid ground, I bolted to my bedroom, dove under the bed and settled in for a nice little snack. When my sisters noticed I was missing, they started looking and calling for me for the next hour. They passed my room several times, but I wasn't about to reveal my hiding place and what I was up to. My sister's recall this next part very clearly. When they walked past my room at one point, they heard a tiny voice call out "the laaaaaasst one!" They looked under my bed and I was popping the last candy in my mouth while sitting in a sea full of candy wrappers. They were both a tornado of anger, to put it lightly.

I'm just now having this realization, well over a decade later, MAN do I owe my sister a shoebox full of her favorite candies. Alas, Christmas isn't too far away, is it? Too soon?

People Who Don't Like Chocolate

www.100redflags.com

Whenever I encounter someone who doesn't like chocolate, I can't help but instantly judge them. I meannnn...WHO DOESN'T LIKE CHOCOLATE? Perhaps they're missing some enzyme like people who don't like cilantro.  Boggles my mind I tell ya. I also have a buddy who doesn't like peanut butter, however, he enjoys peanuts. HUH?

And now I have a hankering for chocolate dipped in peanut butter...mmm.