Vegan Dessert

Talking amongst friends today about my disappointing vegan chocolate spice cake, I realized how futile the whole process was. In doing this vegan dessert, I’m being forced to take out two of the best baking ingredients – butter and eggs. And replacing them with silken tofu and vegetable oil.

My first attempt did fluff up nicely. It looked and smelled delicious. One bite later and it felt like I had a void of emptiness in my mouth. Strange that the cake was so bland but I think the tofu just sucked all the potential for flavor out of the cake. Second attempts with more cocoa powder, cinnamon, and chipotle puree are on the horizon for the near future…

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Having my cake, eating eating it too

I’ve been at a crossroads for a while now.  Should I fully commit to this pastry stuff? Easier hours, significantly less stress, potential for more money. Or should I go back to what got me into this in the first place, savory cooking?

At my current restaurant, there’s a limited amount for me in terms of growth left for me.  Its great to have the creative freedom to do whatever with dessert wise, but I have no one there to help me with expand on those skills. On the savory side, I’m tired of cooking the same things day in and day out. More than overdue for a change, I took a line cook job at another restaurant.  I’m looking forward to seasonal menu changes and daily specials.

But back to having my cake and eating it too, I get to stay on at Alewife as the part-time pastry chef.  So no fear, I’ll still be making delicious cheesecakes and sinful doughnuts.  I still have the dessert version of the smoke burger on deck.

A fishy dessert

Snakeheads. The invasive species of asian predatory fish that has invaded Maryland waters and my life.

This summer my chef worked diligently to educate the people of Maryland that the only way to fix the snakehead problem would be to create a commercial market for them, and EAT THEM ALL! One of these endeavors was a collaboration beer dinner with two guest chefs and my chef showcasing a variety of ways to cook (and eat) the fish. Here’s where I come in….my chef asked me if I could possibly make a dessert with it. Umm sure, let me think about it.

Mulled over the possibility of making something with fish and vaguely recalled chefs on Iron Chef doing that and failing miserably. Remembered seeing a recipe in a Nobu cookbook about some sort of candied/crystallized salmon and thought about doing that. But since there would be only a limited amount of snakehead meat available, decided against that as well. I was running out of ideas, options, and time. My chef then suggested candying the skin so I took that idea and ran with it. Decided to do a mock fish dessert, and make coconut mousse which would resemble the fish in texture and serve it with the candied skin, ginger caramel, and tropical fruit salsa.

The day before the dinner, my chef and one of the guests chefs took over the prep kitchen to break down all the snakeheads. Which unfortunately included descaling them, since I needed the skin, making a hell of a mess. At the end of the dat, I was handed a fish bucket full of skin. The owner had a limited amount of faith in my ability to pull this off jokingly (I think) warned me that my job was on the line if I fucked it up.

Great….so the plan was to wake up early, get to the restaurant early, get everything done early and then breathe a sigh of relief before the dinner. Yeah none of that happened, as luck would have it, it would be the day our lunch cook severely sprains his ankle causing me to have to cook lunch, me setting the grill on fire nearly causing the ansel system to go off, and then (my favorite) an earthquake (which I thought I hallucinated). At this point its 3:30pm and I have done *absolutely nothing* for a dinner that starts at 7pm. I have to make a few adjustments to how I wanted to plate it. Originally I wanted to pipe the mousse out on each piece of candied skin between a layer of caramel and the top with the salsa. So it would resemble a piece of sauteed fish. But time was no on my side, so I ended up resorting to my ever faithful souffle cups as molds and focused on actually candying the skin.

I knew the first step would be to boil it down in simple syrup. A LOT of simple syrup since the skin is terribly bitter. While this was working it started microplaning some ginger for the caramel sauce and all the knifework for my fruit salsa. With the garnishes out of the way, it was time to deep fry the skin to make it crispy. Took a piece out of the simple syrup, deep fried it. And nervously brought it down to the owner/chef. Sorry to admit, but this first piece was absolutely disgusting. It was still soggy and bitter tasting. Added another pound (or two) of sugar to my simple syrup concoction, put it back on to simmer, and started to pray. This time to distract myself, decided to finish making my caramel, which involved flambing it with rum. Everyone was a bit wary of that since I’d already set the kitchen on fire once that day. But it was comforting to have all the other pieces of my dessert together.

Time again to try deep frying the skin, this time I came out with a perfectly crispy piece of skin that looked freaking awesome. If you held it up to the light, you could see the snake print on the skin that the fish gets its name from. Deliriously happy, and done just in time, to start cooking the first course of the dinner. The rest of the night flew effortlessly by because at that point, what else could possibly go wrong?

Behind you!

Quoting from a tweet….”kitchen language translated. “behind you” = “get the fuck out of my way” “behind you, hot” = “I will fucking burn u if you don’t move. Now””

A small rant…I sometimes feel the cooks I share kitchen space simply don’t get the delicate nature of pastry/baking. I try to make it in before everything else needs to be made in the oven and/or the oven needs to get turned up to hellish temperatures (500 degrees). I get that they don’t care when I put cheesecakes in the oven that I don’t appreciate that the also stuff it full of bacon that also needs to be cooked off so I get bacon scented, unevenly cooked cheesecakes.

But what I don’t get, is when I’m running up and down the line shouting behind you or open door, in the short window of time my kitchen is not pumping out food, they don’t get out of the fucking way. Nobody likes playing frogger with hot sheet trays or water bath hotel pans.

Also, stop freaking noshing on my desserts as snacks.

That’s it. Been a long few days and the frustration is starting to show.

It worked!!!

My chef’s suggestion to turn that cake into bread pudding worked! It worked out really well. Had it sitting on the cutting board to cool and portion and before I knew it my chef was helping himself to a piece. I scolded…wait you have to try it with the coffee cream I made. He didn’t seem to care and proceeded to shovel it in his mouth, grunting some sort of incoherent man-noises of approval. By then I successfully dragged the coffee cream out of the walk-in, plopped a dollop on the piece that was left and got his whole hearted approval.

Next step…figuring out how to reheat a warm dessert from the cold station of the kitchen. Hmmmm….