30 November 2008

life is magnifique

i know, i haven't blogged in a while. My priorities were: health, life, school. then it became health, school, life. and now it is school, health, life. but, its okay - once this week is over + 1 final, i'm DONE! until next semester.

but i did want to take a moment to share my favorite photo this year. maybe not my all time favorite photo, but it is up in the top 5 - mainly due to content and where i am in life right now.

i present to you, an ad taken from a french newspaper...

it has. GORGEOUS dress. and PASTRIES. hanging on trees! life is indeed magnificent!
the moment i saw this photo, i asked the hotel clerk, "what do you do with the newspaper at the end of the day..."
and his reply was "it's yours, mademoiselle."

i taped it into my journal, and i will forever treasure it. there's nothing better when you see things that confirm your passions in life!

05 November 2008

La Religieuse à la Cathy

(small edit: I just checked out this month's Sugar High Friday at The Well-Seasoned Cook, and the theme is light and things that catch the eye! I'm going to submit my religieuse pastries, and I hope they fit with their theme.)

Cream puffs have a special place in my heart. When I was a child, I hated grocery shopping. And what I hated even more than regular grocery shopping was asian market grocery shopping. Smelly, dirty, no food I liked (I only liked American food when I was younger - mac 'n cheese, hamburger, etc.), and just plain boring! However, it wasn't always so bad because they had a bakery in the asian grocery, with all sorts of cakes and sweet pastries. They were all Vietnamese type of pastries, since the majority of asians in Arlington are from Vietnam. And we all know Vietnam's history with France. Which I suspect is the reason for their being cream puffs there. For one dollar, I could have three beautiful puffs of flour, eggs, milk, and sugar filled with a light cream. It was the only thing that made the asian store grocery shopping bearable for me. They no longer sell pastries at the grocery store, the section sadly is now a storage area, but I'll always remember that corner of the store for the happy memories it gave me.

Many many years later, I get sucked into the macaron craze. Which leads me to discover Laduree. Which leads me to France. Which leads me to this:

la religieuse, courtesy of Ladurée.

The religieuse. Isn't it beautiful? A giant cream puff with a baby cream puff sitting on it, connected by the color red, and physically connected by lines of white icing. According to Du Sacré au Sucré, a French food blog, yhe Religieuse came about around 1855. It was invented by Frascati, a famous Parisian patisserie and ice cream maker. At that time, it was a square of choux pastry, filled with pastry cream, and topped with whipped cream. Today, the form is much different thanks to the invention of the pastry tip. Without it, the shape would not be possible and we would not be awed by the religieuses of France! It's named apparantly so because the purple icing color of the religeuse matched the robes of the cardinal. (Though I much prefer the red colored ones!)

Now - I'm finally doing something I've been avoiding for the past 4 years. I'm bringing my art into my hobbies. I've already brought my hobby into art through my ceramics and metals work, but it is time to reverse it! (For metals, I made a jewelry cake. It'll be posted eventually, once I take some proper photos of it.) I always kept them separated because what I truly enjoyed - crafts and baking - are looked down upon in the art world. But then I realized it didn't matter, I just needed to do what made me tick.

Let's go back in time to Fall 2006. I signed up for Metals and had no idea what I was getting into. Our very first assignment was to take a found object and make a piece that used it. Here is what I ended up making:

foam bracelet, 2006

And then let's fast forward to Fall 2008, 2 years later. I decided to bring back the old, as I really enjoyed playing with the foam, but never had the time to go back and experiment more with it. So I began making these forms, with no idea how I was going to use them:

something poofy

turning it into a necklace

And then I saw the religieuse. And it all made sense. They were going to be part of a cake. Not just a decoration slapped on, but something that actually worked with the form of the cake. And the choux form was perfect for what I was going for.

And thus begins my adventures in making a choux puff (details on that near the end, just scroll to the end).

And many hours in the kitchen later, here is what emerged, my own take on the religieuse.

funfetti box cake with premade buttercream icing, failed mini choux with milk and powdered sugar glaze.

same as above, but adding a base to give it some height.

i'm still working on form at the moment, which is why I used so much premade stuff. i save the homemade stuff for when I really care. When I use "good" ingredients, there is a pressure to make it perfect since i've invested so much time in making things by scratch. But when I use "bad" ingredients, then I feel more free to experiment and play around.

simple butter cake, marshmallows, fondant

I really hate fondant. But who can deny how smooth and pretty it is? It's bought, but it still tastes nasty. i'm trying to either A) find a fondant that tastes good or B) find a good tasting icing that doesn't look messy.

top view

a choux puff on a choux ring, filled with cream

two stacked mini butter cakes

butter cake ball wrapped in fondant, surrounded by mini cream puffs.


top detail

marshmallows on stacked choux puff on two choux rings, filled with cream, and coated with pink white chocolate.


leftover choux puffs

The inedible ingredients consisted of brass, ribbon, copper foil, and make up remover wedges. I wanted to bring out the playful and happy nature of cake, as well as pushing the forms to help interact with the metal pieces. Cakes are associated with celebratory events, and are when given, always bring a smile to people's faces. I think that is one of the main reason why I love pastries, they are so simple but make people so cheerful.

Now let's get technical. Some tips for making choux pastry and choux puffs.

I first followed this recipe from foodbeam.
Let's begin with what not to do. The instructions on foodbeam says that after you bring the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt mixture to a boil, you remove it from the heat, add the flour, and place it back on the reduced heat, then stir it around to dry it out, then remove it completely and add the eggs one at a time. If you do that, it will work. If you don't, and you don't have a printer, and don't write it down, and don't remember it exactly, and add the eggs while the pan is still over the heat because you get too excited .... here is what will happen.

you will get a dough with lots of texture

your piped choux will be rough looking

after flattening the peak with a wet finger. at least it's ball shaped.

and when it comes out of the oven, it doesn't rise at all and looks like this.
However! The texture is just definitely not airy and light, but they still taste good.

smooth batter, the correct way!
if you don't do it right... re-read the instructions and try again!

another shot of what the batter should look like.

coneheads! but at least they are smooth and no longer chunky.

flattened, much more choux like now!

and they will grow once they are out of the hot oven!

hot hot hot
but be careful when you remove the pan from the oven, as these things do not stick and like to roll. my first time pulling them out of the oven, I was so excited that I took the pan out a little but too quick and two rolled to their deaths to the bottom of the oven.


dissected view so you can see the difference in texture.

Can you believe what a difference of not following one step made? So remember, add your eggs one at a time when they are far away from the stove!

Conclusion: I had a lot of fun learning how to make choux puff. Nothing made me happier when they puffed up correctly, especially after failing at first. But most of all, I am very happy to finally incorporate art and food! Bringing my interests into everything I do has only made my work stronger as well as made me more motivated. Food into art, or art into food, either way, they will only become closer and closer! And I'll figure out a way to weave in languages as well.

01 November 2008

J'ai reçu un paquet / I received a package / 我收到了一包信

Who doesn't enjoy walking out to their mail box, putting their key in, twisting it, opening the door while holding their breath in hopes that there is something there? Most of the time it is junk mail or bills, but occassionaly there is something special: a postcard, a letter, or the best yet, a package!

Today I opened up my mailbox to find this:

a large brown envelope from my mother

inside contained two bags of dried fruit and forwarded mail from my penpals! one from Taiwan, and one from France. love love love.



What's so special about these particular dried fruit? They're homemade by my mom! Ever since tasting dried kiwi in France, I had serious cravings for it back in the USA. Except that dried kiwi does not exist in stores here. I searched every grocery store, every speciality store - and zip, nada. So we got a new toy, the dehydrator. And I cannot wait to go home for Thanksgiving so i can start experimenting with it! My mom's already made beef jerky, kiwi (of course), apples, strawberries, persimmon... she's having so much fun, and I want to join in too! Soon, soon.