Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chiffon Cake with Swiss Meringue Butter Cream Icing

A classic light angelic cake!

     I really do not do much dessert cooking in my food blog, because I am borderline diabetic and I control diabetes by not eating sugar or corn syrup.  When I do eat a sweet dessert, I get sluggish and sleepy for a day.  I have been attending a baking and pastry arts class at chef school this term.  Most of the desserts that I have made at school have been given away to friends much to their delight! 
     I have done some dessert cooking and pastry chef work professionally as a chef during my career.  I was well trained during apprenticeship by some great chefs and pastry chefs.  It takes skill and talent to be a pastry chef.  I could have been a good pastry chef, if I could only stand to be working with sugar all day!
    Two things that a pastry chef must do, when making classic dessert recipes is to not take shortcuts and present the finished product in a fashionable way.  A professionally made dessert should look like it has an upscale shop price tag attached!
     I have never made a chiffon cake, till I made this one at chef school.  The executive pastry chef instructor at school is very talented and it was easy to learn the proper steps to make a great cake.  I always liked learning with a "monkey see, monkey do" style of teaching.  The teacher demonstrated how this cake was made and I nearly duplicated her finished cake on a first attempt!
     I do have to say, some students at school will take years to develop a high skill level of pastry chef work.  A few students do show some promising natural talent.  I am older than most of the students and more mature.  Distractive behavior seems to be the setback for many students.  It seems like many young student chefs place more importance on trying to be funny and making smart aleck comments during a cooking demonstration, rather than to focus on the task at hand.  Learn what you are supposed to learn and learn to do it well, before trying to be a class comedian is some good advice for students with attention deficit disorders!  
     Resentment and disrespectful looks from students who don't know any better are what I deal with every day at school.  Instead of trying to learn from someone with experience, many students seem to resent a student chef that knows what they are doing.  Head strong students that cook classic recipes with shortcuts and by personal taste seem to get in over their head quickly, when preparing a recipe for the first time.  When their own product does not turn out the way it should, students resent another student that has working experience and who continually turns out nicely crafted products.  
     Hey!  The teacher at a chef school does not grade on a curve, so why would students continually ignore the details that makes a student chef's food stand out from the rest?  I suppose petty jealousy is part of that negative behavioral pattern.  Mistaken perceived ideas of how things should be, does have something to do with that negative psyche.  As a culinary arts instructor, psychology also has to be applied to green students as well as teaching cooking methods.  This resentment experience at school will be an important lesson for me to remember, if I ever decide to go into the culinary arts instructor field of employment.  This is an area of student cooking psychology that may need to be tweaked through motivation guidance instruction techniques.  
     I didn't apprentice and work as chef for 20 plus years for no reason at all.  I was a good chef that made good sales numbers at restaurants by selling products that looked like they were professionally made!  I simply know how plates of food should look when served at every restaurant level from a diner, to a pub, to a casual restaurant, yacht clubs and fine ding restaurants that serve Michelin 1 star through 4 star cuisine.  
     Everything that a chef needs to know, cannot possibly be taught at a chef school.  Working experience in a professional atmosphere is where true cooking knowledge and leadership skills are developed.  That is why most chef schools have an externship program at the end of the school year.  Green chef school students learn to behave, cook and create in a professional restaurant kitchen under the guidance of a professional chef that has to make a profit from presentable food.  
     I did at least 2 years of culinary arts school student externship instructor duty as a chef in fine dining restaurants for the major chef schools back east.  Teaching timing and coordination at each cooking station to externship students was what I did best.  
     For a student, it is hard to fathom how to cook 30 different orders at one time and have the items for each separate table timed to finish at the same time.  That is a skill that takes time and working experience to learn.  A chef must have the ability to cook items in a precise order of what takes the longest to cook to be started first and to prepare the mise en place for the a la minute items that are prepared shortly before serving.  Learning how to prepare only enough food for the estimated projection of sales per shift is another skill that must be developed through working experience.
     Anyway, I hope this example of chef psychology and skill development regiment is of help to those readers who wish to become a great chef.  The negative items that I mentioned are only meant to be learned from.  I try to teach good cooking experience to those who want to learn how to become a chef, when I do teach!    
     Believe it or not, no students at school read my food blog.  Ah, the green student resentment problem and lack of motivation strikes again!  There is plenty for a cook to learn from what I write in this blog.  When I was apprenticing, I spent many hours each day in public libraries reading international cuisine cook books for self motivated research.  That was how I learned in the days before the computer age.  Nowadays, browsing good cooking information is easy on the internet, yet it takes an experienced chef to have the ability to filter the good authentic information from the bad.  
     I still do research on my own free will, to verify that I am correct, when writing recipes.  Research is a never ending way for a chef to learn in a culinary occupation that has endless amounts of cooking information.  Being a chef also means that you never stop learning!

     Chiffon cake is considered to be one of the classic styles of cake.  Chiffon cake was created by a California insurance salesman named Harry Baker.  He kept his recipe secret for many years and marketed his famous chiffon cakes to the Hollywood stars and through the famous Brown Derby Restaurant.  Chiffon cake has a combination of batter and foam cake techniques.  Perfect those techniques and you will have a perfect chiffon cake!
     I baked the chiffon cake in the pictures at Le Cordon Bleu chef school as required.  Like all Cordon Bleu recipes, copyrights must be respected, so I cannot post the recipe.  I can however give a few tips.  A Swiss meringue and softened chilled butter are combined to make the Swiss buttercream icing.  A Swiss meringue is started over a double boiler, so the meringue is fairly tight when finished, yet not as tight as an Italian meringue.
     First off, wipe and clean up as you go!  A clean work area inspires professionalism.  If you look at the pictures, the work area is spotless!  A messy work area is unsanitary and it usually results in a messy looking cake.
     A stiff peak French meringue is used as the foam for the batter and it cannot be over whisked or the air in the foam will escape too soon.  The egg yolks are used to make the batter and they must be creamed with sugar, till ribbons appear, so the batter has a light texture.  
     Oil is the key to a chiffon cake's light angelic texture.  Be sure that the measurement of oil in a chiffon cake recipe is exact!  Oil helps to create the baked batter's thin air pocket cells.  The amount of baking powder is also a key to making a great chiffon cake.
     The chiffon cake must be baked undisturbed, just like a souffle, or the cake will fall.  After baking, the tall chiffon cake must be cut with a thin bladed very sharp carving knife into 3 decks.  
     The rest is a simple assembly of layers of cake and Swiss butter cream icing.  The cake is also coated with a thin smooth layer of Swiss butter cream icing and simple decorative borders of the icing are piped with a pastry bag and a star tip.  The goal of icing this cake is smooth flat even sides and a smooth flat top.  A minimum of decorative icing should be applied.  Fondant icing white roses are a nice optional decoration.
     I am way out of practice as far as my cake decorating experience goes.  It has been over 15 years since I decorated a cake.  Even so, this chiffon cake turned out good enough to sell.  If you set your goal as making a chiffon cake that looks good enough to sell, then you have set a good goal to achieve!  Always think of tasteful simple ways to present a good dessert, instead of trying to over achieve on a first attempt.  Simple perfection is far better than a complicated mess!
     I gave thought to becoming a pastry chef during this baking and pastry term at chef school, till I became sugar sick from eating a large piece of peanut brittle that I made in the candy making classes.  I missed a day of school, because I was too sleepy to attend the class after eating a fair amount of sugar.  I refuse to become dependent on diabetic medicine, so again, my pastry chef career will sit on a back burner!  Back to cooking savory food in my blog!  Yum!  ...  Shawna    

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