By Michael Laiskonis, Creative Director and Instructor, Advanced Pastry Studies

On the surface of things, there were no overt signs that I would ever become a professional cook. I’ve only come to appreciate any early, subtle triggers in hindsight. So many of our tastes and habits stem from the rituals we participate in at a young age, especially those that involve food. For many chefs, these rituals act as catalysts, informing their career paths. These memories are so strong that we are constantly looking to feed a hunger for nostalgia, both for ourselves and for those we cook for. In particular, as a pastry chef, I’ve come to appreciate the subtle and not so subtle roles sweetness plays in our lives.

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No offense to my well-meaning parents, but I didn’t grow up with much exposure to the wonders of gastronomy. I had no revelatory, life-changing encounters with caviar, oysters or foie gras at a young age. Nor was I some constant, curious shadow lurking in the kitchen, an ever-present tot tugging at my mother’s apron strings. Mealtime was always an important family gathering, but the food at the heart of it tended toward the utilitarian. We ate from a steady rotation of modest middle class fare: pot roast, spaghetti, meatloaf and casseroles of all kinds. My mother was a good cook, but the budget never allowed for much beyond the basics, and dining out at restaurants was a rare luxury.

Of course, coming of age in early 80s suburbia didn’t set the stage for much culinary adventure. The average supermarket chain was still barren of the bounty of fresh ingredients we take for granted today—exotic fruits, fancy cheeses, or any semblance of authentic ethnic or seasonal fare. Though both of my parents grew up on farms, the cultural turbulence of the 60s and the transition from rural to suburban life nearly severed that connection within one generation. By the time I was born, both sets of my grandparents had all but sold off their land in northern Michigan.

Only later, as a cook, would I truly appreciate the agrarian tradition in my not-so-distant past. I eagerly soaked up any stories I could coax from both sets of my grandparents before they passed away. (My father grew up with several dozen head of dairy cattle and a modest egg business supplied by nearly 400 laying hens. As a youngster, his chores included feeding the newly born calves twice a day and gathering eggs. As soon as he was old enough to manage the wheel of a tractor, he spent summers in the fields—some 150 acres his father planted with soy, corn, buckwheat and string beans.) I wanted to know when my grandfather, Stanley, planted the winter wheat, and the detailed laying cycle of his hens. I treasure the amusing tales told of cattle breeding mishaps and his rather unscientific experiments in homemade hooch and dandelion wine. When I was eight years old, I stood squeamishly by my grandfather’s side as he quickly scaled and gutted a tiny bluegill—the first fish I ever caught on my own. It was an important rite of passage. Neither of us could have known at that visceral moment that I’d one day work at one of the world’s most renowned fish restaurants.

One of Michael's many experiments with gelatin-based confections.

One of Michael’s many experiments with gelatin-based confections.

The colder, shorter days that descend with the slow creep of autumn always brought special associations. Until I was old enough to know better, I believed that the true purpose of Thanksgiving was that my birthday always lay within a few days of our traditional family gathering. Thanks to Geraldine, my paternal grandmother, I still associate pumpkin pie with birthday cake. The lavish holiday spreads she produced—seemingly out of thin air—catered to every taste at the table, though I appreciated most the special attention she paid to my own particular likes and dislikes (whatever they were at any given time of my adolescence). Geraldine also curated a secret cookie drawer, packed so full it barely opened and closed. Upon every arrival and departure from the house, my sister Amy and I always had free reign to whatever we could hold onto or stuff into our mouths. Though today I might incorporate sophisticated gelées into decidedly adult desserts, the history of my competitive nature is also linked to gelatinized desserts—by way of Jell-O “races” I challenged my great uncle to. A quiet mentor to me throughout my adolescence, Uncle Ed always made sure I won, though I rarely made it through a full bowl without forfeiting to giggle fits.

Another annual ritual would take place a few weeks later, perhaps some snowy afternoon in December. The four of us—Mom, Dad, my sister, and me—would pore through the dog-eared collection of cookbooks and handwritten recipe cards in the cupboard, and we’d each choose our favorite cookie recipes. Then we’d commence production: Dad measured, Amy and I mixed, and then Mom navigated the endless trays of dough in and out of the ovens. As a half dozen or more varieties cooled on every available inch of counter space, the windows would begin to fog, and the whole house was awash with the scent of all that freshly baked goodness. Over the coming days these cookies would be divided into parcels to be delivered to friends, family and neighbors. With any luck, our own personal stash would hold out until at least Christmas Eve. Even amidst the rush and clatter of a professional kitchen, I occasionally channel that feeling of anticipation and collective effort when reflecting upon an oven full of pastry.

While pastry chef at Le Bernardin, I always looked forward to the annual holiday party for the staff and their families, held on a Saturday in mid-December. Setting aside the sophisticated sweets served in the dining room, it was the one day of the year our pastry kitchen turned out simple classics like cream puffs, brownies and even sugar cookies in the shape of snowmen. Over the years, a clear favorite from that repertoire emerged among the cooks, waiters and their children alike: my triple chocolate chip cookies. Comprised of a cocoa-enriched dough packed with milk and white chocolate chips, these humble, nostalgic cookies evoke the essence of my own roots and family rituals.

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Triple Chocolate Cookies

Yield: 700g or about two dozen medium-sized cookies

  • 130g all purpose flour
  • 50g cocoa powder, Dutch-process
  • 4g baking soda
  • 110g sucrose
  • 55g dark brown sugar
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 1 whole egg
  • 100g milk chocolate chips or chunks
  • 100g white chocolate chips or chunks
  1. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda. Set aside.
  2. Separately, in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine the sugar, brown sugar and butter. Beat with a paddle attachment until smooth and creamy. Add the egg, mixing until combined.
  3. Slowly add the sifted dry ingredients, mixing just until combined, followed by the chocolate chips.
  4. Divide the dough into roughly 25g portions and arrange on prepared parchment or Silpat-lined sheet pans.
  5. Bake the cookies in a convection oven pre-heated to 320°F (or 350°F in a conventional home oven) for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking process.

Interested in taking classes with Chef Michael? Check out his full range of Advanced Pastry Classes at ICE.

By Michael Laiskonis, ICE Creative Director

Preparations are well underway as ICE staff and students anticipate the move from our 23rd Street facility to Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan. As construction hums away, the lines set down on paper blueprints are turning into reality, revealing an immersive, state-of-the-art atmosphere for cooking and study. In addition to dedicated rooms for culinary technology, charcuterie, mixology and wine studies, I’m excited to announce that the new facility will contain an artisanal chocolate studio, complete with a full range of “bean to bar” equipment.

13. Finished Bar

The vision for the 550 square ft. studio is to approach chocolate from a holistic perspective. Truly unique in the realm of culinary education, this chocolate studio will provide knowledge and inspiration across a broad spectrum of hands-on applications—for our career students and recreational cooks, as well as for established pastry chefs and professionals seeking to learn the finer points of artisanal chocolate production. An underlying spirit of research and development into the technical science and the mystical art of chocolate will drive the wide array of program offerings.

1. Raw Beans

This past summer, I had the privilege of visiting Cacao Cucina, the facility producing our bean-to-bar equipment. During our visit, ICE’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brian Aronowitz, and I had a chance to test drive these machines over the course of two days. In a field dominated by equipment that serves either small micro-production or large commercial factories, Cacao Cucina provides tools for the “just right” middle ground required at ICE. Preparing batches of roughly 20 to 30 pounds of chocolate will allow us to provide educational opportunities both broad and highly nuanced during each stage of the bean’s transformation. Our processing line will include a roaster, winnower, hammer mill, cocoa butter press and a ball mill refiner.

Roasting beans and winnowed chocolate "nibs"

Roasting beans and winnowed chocolate “nibs”

 

The process begins with raw, fermented cocoa beans in the roaster, which is a finely-tuned convection oven with a rotating drum that provides an even roast. This important stage of flavor development depends as much on science as it does on experience and taste, as there exists no industry standard for optimal roasting time and temperature across all bean types. Quickly cooled, the roasted beans are then fed into the winnower, which first cracks the bean and then separates and sorts the “nibs” from the papery skin by means of screens, vibration and a vacuum. The nibs then undergo an initial grinding phase in the hammer mill, which pulverizes them into a thick paste, passed through three progressively smaller screens. At this point, though bitter and coarsely textured, we have what is referred to as chocolate “liquor.”

5. Chocolate Liquor

Perhaps the most exciting piece of equipment we will install is the cocoa butter press. When submitted to 75 tons of pressure, the chocolate liquor produces cocoa butter and the resulting “presscake” is further refined into cocoa powder. This additional capability will allow us to make true single origin chocolate, with cocoa butter prepared from the same batch of beans. The final stage of the process takes place in the ball mill—a temperature controlled agitator containing hardened steel balls that acts as a “universal,” which means that reduction in particle size and final flavor development occur simultaneously in the same machine. As the gently heated liquor passes through the ball mill, forced air helps remove undesirable volatile aromas. It is during this refining stage that other ingredients are added: sugar, vanilla, milk powder, cocoa butter, etc. Moreover, two additional quality and safety measures are built into the system: upon extraction of the finished chocolate by vacuum pump, the product passes through both a magnetic trap and a fine sieve before tempering.

Extracted cocoa butter and filtration of chocolate liquor

Extracted cocoa butter and filtration of chocolate liquor

Our lab will be outfitted with a tempering unit and enrobing line from Selmi, as well as molds and other confectionery equipment from Tomric. These tools will help us process our finished chocolate into bars, bonbons and other candies. As the day that we run our very first batch of chocolate quickly approaches, I can’t wait to share the outcome with our students, visitors and other industry professionals. Stay tuned for announcements of the many chocolate-related programs we will offer in the space. Once we are up and running, I encourage everyone to stop by ICE for a glimpse of the process and, of course, to taste our efforts!

Interested in studying with Chef Michael? Click here for his upcoming Advanced Pastry Studies classes at ICE. 

By Carly DeFilippo

While many of us grow up with parents, siblings or friends who dabble in cakes and other pastries, how many of us have ever seen chocolate bars, bon bons or gummy candies in the making? Candy historian and artisan Beth Kimmerle is not only one of the most talented confectioners in the contemporary candy game, but she’s also one of the industry’s most knowledgeable consultants. In anticipation of her upcoming workshop (Sept 17-18) at ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies, we caught up with Beth to discuss her passion and unusual career path.

candy-jewelry-woman-300What inspired your interest in candy?
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, which was—and still is—a real candy and chocolate mecca. I also lived briefly in L.A., where I became very aware of See’s Candy (a major candy manufacturer, founded in the 1920s). My career in confections began in product development, buying and marketing for a large candy company called Fannie May Candies. With 250 stores, they were the largest candy retailer in the U.S. and their candy making factory was located next to my office. We manufactured classic American candies: caramels, nougat, buttercreams, marshmallow and hard candy. It was there that I learned how to make candy from some of the best in the business.

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A collection Beth curated from the Sweets & Snack Show

How did you start learning about candy history?
Back then, candy was sort of a step-sister to baking or chocolate work and not many culinary programs offered lessons in candy making. As I studied and collected vintage recipe books, I became intrigued by the history of confections. Today, I consider myself a confectionery historian, as well as a futurist. I study the past to understand the present. I understand the present to inform the future. And I continually work toward being a confectionery culinarist by honing my culinary and science knowledge.And you also share that knowledge with others, as a consultant.

Yes,in addition to being an author, I spend much of my time as a marketing consultant for companies. That often means developing a recipe or formula for a product, but I also work on branding and marketing plans around chocolate and candy products. I just got back from a packaging show and research trip in Italy and I’m preparing for a 2-week professional course in the science of candy making.

Moreover, I am trained in sensory evaluation and am currently developing a program that will help non-food people understand the science behind taste. In addition, I am working on a candy-themed exhibit that will be featured at the California State Fair. I really enjoy travel, as it allows me to explore factories and sweets from other cultures. In fact, I still feel like Charlie Bucket when I get an invitation to go into a candy or chocolate factory.

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Shane’s Confectionery, Philadelphia

What do you see as the greatest candy-related challenges to the industry?
Commercial sweets are continually challenged, most recently with consumers reviewing labels and becoming adverse to chemical sweeteners and sugar. However, that has opened up a world of opportunity for artisanal candies and has the “candy cousin” category of nutritional bars exploding.

It’s amazing to see what has happened to chocolate recently. We seem to hear about a new bean-to-bar or boutique chocolate company every day. Now, more regions than ever are growing great cacao and more consumers are demanding better product and origin information. As a result—much like the recent revolutions in wine and coffee—the entire system of chocolate production and distribution is changing. Sweets are always exciting!

Click here to sign up for Beth’s class and learn more about advanced pastry studies at ICE!

 

 

By Casey Feehan

Five decades may have gone by, but Nutella remains as sweet as ever. The beloved chocolate-hazelnut spread celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a nation-wide, 16-city food truck tour. In light of the tour, ABC News turned to chefs across the nation, including ICE’s own Director of Culinary Development, Chef James Briscione, to develop iconic Nutella desserts that celebrate the local culinary culture of each of the truck’s 16 stops. James chose to reinterpret Bananas Foster, a classic New Orleans dessert invented in the 1950s. It’s difficult to imagine caramelized bananas and rum leaving room for improvement, but a whipped Nutella cream transforms the dish into a celebration-worthy stunner.

Nutella 50th Anniversary - Banana's Foster Tart with Nutella Mousse - James Briscione / ice.edu

Bananas Foster Tartlet with Nutella Cream

Yield: 4 servings

For the Frangipane:

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup finely ground hazelnuts or almonds
  • 1 fl oz dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Instructions:

  1. Combine the sugar, salt and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the egg, vanilla and rum; continue mixing until fully incorporated.
  3. Add the ground nuts and flour and fold together until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Excess frangipane may be stored refrigerated up to 2 weeks.

For the tartlets:

Ingredients:

  • 4 (4-inch) rounds puff pastry
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • Granulated sugar, as needed
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup Nutella

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F
  2. Place the rounds of puff pastry on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread the frangipane on the dough, leaving an approximately ¼ inch border. Bake the tart until the crust is risen around the frangipane and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on the pan.
  3. Thinly slice the bananas and tile over the tarts. Spread a thin, even layer of sugar over the tart and brûlée with a torch.
  4. Pour the cream into a chilled bowl and whisk to soft peaks. Place the Nutella in a separate bowl. Whisk half of the whipped cream into the Nutella. Add the remaining cream and fold together until smooth and lightened.
  5. To serve, place the brûléed tart in the center of a plate and top with the Nutella cream.

 

By Virginia Monaco

ICE Pastry & Baking Arts Chef-Instructor Vicki Wells brings an enormous amount of experience with her into the kitchen. She has worked in some of the country’s finest kitchens, including Sarabeth’s, Hotel Plaza Athenée, Maxim’s, Montrachet, Le Bernardin and Trattoria Dell’Arte. In 2000, she took over the pastry department at two of Bobby Flay’s restaurants—Mesa Grill and Bolo—and later, Bar Americain. Vicki also served as Bobby Flay’s sous chef for all five of his victories on Iron Chef America. After working with Bobby, Vicki held the title of Executive Pastry Chef at Buddakan before eventually joining ICE as a Chef-Instructor.

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When Vicki was first starting out in the industry, pastries were French by default. It wasn’t until she had gained some professional experience and started traveling that she became interested in the sweets of other cultures. Being ethnically Italian, Vicki was particularly interested in studying the flavor profiles and techniques used in Italian sweets. Unlike French pastries, Italian desserts tend to be strongly flavored with espresso or gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut paste) and are much more free-form and organic. Her culinary trips to Italy with fellow ICE Chef-Instructor Gerri Sarnataro inspired Vicki to become co-owner and Executive Pastry Chef of L’Arte Della Pasticceria, an Italian-inspired pastry shop in Ramsey, New Jersey.

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The transition, however was far from a “cakewalk”. Chef Vicki experienced a steep learning curve as she went from plating elegant restaurant desserts to filling the display cases at a pastry shop. She quickly learned that success in a walk-in style setting such as L’Arte Della Pasticceria requires a much different strategy than at a sit-down restaurant. First, most pastries need to be sold the day they are made or they will quickly lose quality. This means you often need to get inventive and repurpose unsold treats. For example, Chef Vicki often crumbles mocha cookies to form the crust of a cheesecake, a delicious way to use left-over cookies that are starting to harden.

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Secondly, Chef Vicki discussed the importance of changing up your pastry display case frequently. She says she is constantly designing new and interesting ways to present her pastries in the display window to entice customers to buy. Lastly, Chef Vicki pointed out that all pastries and food sold at a shop like L’Arte Della Pasticceria must be made available to-go. Consequently, she reworks traditional recipes so that they can either be held in-hand or fit beautifully in small to-go cups.

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After her talk, Chef Vicki treated the audience to a flight of small Italian sweets, including torta caprese al limone, chocolate ricciarellis and gianduja cheesecake. All three were both delicious and distinctly flavored. Although these desserts were made using universal pastry techniques, their classic Italian flavors and more rustic presentation made their Mediterranean origins clear.

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Chefs Vicki Wells’ path to specializing in Italian pastries is proof that education and innovation never stop in the pastry and baking industry, even for the most skilled veterans. It was a true treat to hear Chef Vicki’s insights and taste her inspired sweets. Without a doubt, she will be wowing our taste buds for years to come!

By Shay Spence

In culinary school, there exists a great divide that all comes down to one crucial distinction: are you savory or sweet?  Here at ICE, students fall into one of these categories, dependent upon whether they choose the culinary or pastry career track.

As a Culinary Arts student for the past five months, I can tell you that the differences between us boil down to a lot more than just sugar and salt. Pastry students are refined. They are meticulously detail-oriented. They are studying a science. We culinary students tend to be a little more…“rough-around the edges.” We deviate from recipes. We like to get creative.

Pretzels

They eased us into pastry with savory pretzels on day one

When Module 4 came around this January and my fellow culinary arts comrades and I were faced with pastry classes, we were all a little bit concerned. A group of savory-loving cooks embarking on a month-long journey of baking and sweets is like unleashing a pack of rabid hyenas on the Westminster Dog Show. Something was bound to go horribly wrong.

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Chef Gerri gives a demo on tempering chocolate

Fortunately, we all managed to behave ourselves and actually learn a thing or two. While we all spouted the typical “I’m not the ‘baking’ type” excuse at the beginning, we soon realized that this was a cop-out. To be a well-rounded cook, you must know the fundamentals of pastry. After all, it’s not just sweets that fall under this umbrella; our curriculum included pretzels, bagels, pizza dough, focaccia and a multitude of other savory concoctions that every chef should have in his or her repertoire. Plus, we got to play with chocolate, which is super fun.

While our pastry days were definitely enjoyable, they were not always a “piece of cake.” In fact, whoever came up with the phrase “piece of cake” has obviously never tried to ice a layer cake with a chocolate ganache frosting. I won’t even burden you with a picture of that grand disaster.

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Here is my beautiful lemon meringue tartlet, instead.

By the end of the module, our class may have been a little sugared-out, but we certainly felt accomplished. We had experienced how the “other half” lives, ventured outside of our culinary comfort zone and didn’t fail miserably. To me, that is pretty sweet.

 

By Liz Castner

 

While the chocolate section of the Pastry & Baking Arts program is certainly a highlight for most students, it was truly transformative for a candy-lover like me. While I love to bake, there’s nothing quite like crafting beautiful, delectable little candies from scratch. However, prior to beginning the chocolate portion of the pastry program, I had yet to spend much time making chocolate candies. Little did I know, my candy-making horizons were about to expand considerably.

My and Amy's chocolate showpiece

Amy and my chocolate showpiece

I have always been a stalwart fan of See’s Candies (a chain in California that makes delicious old fashioned chocolates), but more recently, I’ve been inspired by the modern candy-makers of Brooklyn’s Liddabit Sweets. Liddabit recently published an amazing cookbook that contains truffles, chocolate bars, fruit candies, marshmallows, honeycomb, caramels and toffees; you name it, they’ve got it. And while Liddabit Sweets confections are carried in stores all over Brooklyn, the owners recently opened a store in Manhattan at Chelsea Market.

My salted caramel chocolate bar

My salted caramel chocolate bar

While I continue to be a fan of both See’s Candies and Liddabit Sweets, my 11-day chocolate foray at ICE has expanded my candy horizons considerably. Over that time, I learned key components of chocolate creation that make or break a chocolatier’s success. Number one: chocolate tempering. We used tempered chocolate in every recipe we made, from chocolate clusters to truffles and molded chocolates, to our chocolate showpiece. (All of these pieces have been saved and will be displayed at our graduation ceremony, which will take place December 9th!)

A variety of class chocolates

A variety of class chocolates

Tempered chocolate is chocolate that has been guided through a series of temperature changes and agitations, resulting in a product composed of stable crystals. These allow for the chocolate to set uniformly and provide a satisfying snap when chewed. To temper chocolate, one must first melt chocolate over a bain marie (a double boiler with the chocolate placed in a bowl over a pot of simmering water) up to a certain temperature. Each type of chocolate has a different temperature that it should be heated to – dark is 120 °F, milk is 115 °F, and white is 105-110 °F. The chocolate be stirred the whole time, which aids in the formation of stable crystals.

A classmate's framed chocolates

A classmate’s framed chocolates

After the chocolate is melted, it is removed from heat, stirred vigorously, and (using the seeding method) unmelted chocolate pistoles (small, disc-shaped pieces of high-quality chocolate) are added to the bowl and melted in. The chocolate should then be cooled to 85 °F. This is the typical cooling point for most chocolates, although certain types require higher cooling points. Once the chocolate is brought to the proper temperature, it is considered tempered (though you should test it to make sure), and should remain at that temperature for the entire time you are working with it.

My Shabby-Chic Matcha Green Tea Filled Chocolates

My Shabby-Chic Matcha Green Tea Filled Chocolates

The truffles and the filled, molded chocolates were my favorite candies to make (and the tastiest!). To make molded chocolates, the first step is painting the insides of the chocolate molds with different designs and colors. After painting the inside of the molds, you pour tempered chocolate inside and turn the molds upside down over the bowl, scraping out the excess to insure a thick coating. Once the chocolate sets inside the tempered, painted shell, you can add fillings such as Matcha green tea, salted caramel, and gianduja (hazelnut goodness). The final phase—known as “capping”—requires pouring tempered chocolate over the top of the cooled, filled molds, and scraping off the excess. The chocolate is then chilled for the final time and covered with acetate, creating a smooth bottom. The final product—an artfully crafted and perfectly shaped little morsel—is as beautiful as it is delicious!

 

Clearly, chocolate making is no small task. However, the end result is so lovely and delectable that it’s entirely worth it. While being a chocolatier is not necessarily my future career path, I love making chocolates, and honestly can’t wait to make more for my friends and family while I’m home in California for Thanksgiving. I’m thinking of creating a Pie Trio – pumpkin pie, apple pie, and pecan pie truffles! I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

 

By Grace Reynolds

 

On Tuesday, October 8th, ICE welcomed Guittard Chocolate Company’s Regional Sales Manager, Laura Tornichio-Vidal, and Harney and Sons’ Vice President, Michael Harney, to teach participants the art of a unique pairing: tea and chocolate. While some might deem these two an unlikely couple, an afternoon spent at ICE with Vidal and Harney would convince any skeptic.

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Selection of six Guittard chocolates, six Harney & Sons teas, and one control chocolate

Tea and chocolate, much like wine and cheese, can complement and enhance each others’ flavors when properly paired. Vidal and Harney lead the crowd through an interactive tasting, which consisted of pairing six different chocolates with six different teas, clearly showcasing the brilliance of the tea-and-chocolate tango.

 

Vidal came bearing the best the chocolate the world has to offer from internationally renowned chocolatier, Guittard, including chocolate derived from beans grown in Sur del Lago, Madagascar, Ecuador, and Machu Picchu. Harney came equally well-equipped, wielding a multitude of tea varietals from Harney & Sons–one the most highly respected tea blenders across the globe–including whites, greens, blacks, and oolongs.

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Guittard Chocolate Company’s Regional Sales Manager, Laura Tornichio-Vidal

The first pairing set the stage for an incredible, taste-budding-opening afternoon. In what proved to be an ingenious match, Harney and Vidal chose to pair a white tea, Bai Mudan, with a Sur del Lago 65% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate (a hybrid of the Criollo and Trinitario cacao beans). The delicate, floral notes of the Bai Mudan married perfectly with the smooth, consistent sweetness of the Sur del Lago. Despite its high cacao content, the Sur del Lago had no bitter aftertaste, as many dark chocolates do. Similarly, the Bai Mudan, as is characteristic of many white teas, lacked the acidic bite of its green tea cousin. The result: a tea-and-chocolate match made in gustatory heaven.

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Freshly brewed tea to pair with matching chocolate

As we continued with the tasting, Harney and Vidal drew our attention to the importance of smell to our overall enjoyment of the chocolate-tea experience. Harney pointed out that we are able to smell with far more complexity than we can taste. In other words, while our palate can generally only recognize five different flavors, our noses can detect a wide variety of smells. Further, smells immediately register in the main brain, whereas tastes register in another area of the brain and take longer to process.

 

Harney demonstrated the power of scent with one of the teas he brought—an organic peach black tea. One whiff and images of fresh peaches immediately came to mind, but the taste of peach was far subtler.  Vidal recommended we couple the peach tea with a delicate white chocolate to enhance the flavors. The peach tea not only accented the subtle sweetness of the chocolate, but actually conjured up the sensation of biting into warm, juicy peaches topped with fresh whipped cream–truly a full sensory experience.

raw bean

Raw Cacao Bean, from which chocolate is derived

The two guest speakers also shared some little known facts about tea and chocolate, even for the self-proclaimed aficionados in the room. Ever wonder why tea contains caffeine? According to Harney, caffeine in tea leaves serves as a defense mechanism against bugs. Once a bug bites into a tea leaf, it immediately gets a boost of energy from the caffeine, which encourages the bug to move on.

 

There is also a misconception that chocolate contains caffeine. According to Vidal, chocolate, and the cacao beans it stems from, are completely caffeine free.  However, if you find yourself a little energized after eating some chocolate, you aren’t imagining things; Vidal explained that chocolate has components that act like caffeine in the brain, hence the common misconception that it contains caffeine.

 

While it was difficult to reach a group consensus on a favorite tea-and-chocolate-match, an afternoon spent pairing the two certainly convinced us of one thing: this high-powered couple could make a serious splash on the culinary scene.

 

 

 

By Carly DeFilippo
 

On the path to becoming one of the nation’s authorities on Pastry & Baking Arts, Chef Michelle Tampakis has taken some fascinating and unexpected turns. Born in the Bronx, Tampakis grew up in the New York City suburb of Teaneck, NJ.  She took and interest in the kitchen at a young age, with family as her inspiration.  Says Tampakis, “My dad would cook a lot while I was growing up, and he always encouraged me to get into cooking.”

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TV and movies would have their influence too.  Tampakis would often watch Julia Child on TV, thinking, “She made everything look so scrumptious, like you could smell it through the TV”.  The movie Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? sealed the deal. “I wanted to be a glamorous pastry chef, just like Jaqueline Bisset!”

 

After high school, she studied Hotel & Restaurant Management at a nearby community college, but was completely drawn to the kitchen.  Her first kitchen job was at the Moonraker Restaurant in New Jersey.  “I had no experience, but told the manager that I was smart and fast. And I loved it.”

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She quickly decided that culinary school was the way to go and attended the Culinary Institute of America from 1980-82, studying culinary arts. “I volunteered for everything, all of the clubs. I loved being involved.”  Culinary school was an integral experience for Tampakis, who feels that “it’s increasingly becoming a requirement to go to culinary school.  It’s just not as easy for those who don’t go [to school] to be successful”.

 

As a student, it was her externship at the Vista Hotel that led her to connections that would shape her future. She could work all of the cooking stations, but was pulling closer to pastry every day, leading to her hire as Assistant Pastry Chef at just 22 years old.

Chocolate-060Her connections from the Vista led to her next big break as Pastry Sous Chef at the glamorous Windows on the World, where she met Executive Pastry Chef Nick Malgieri. When Malgieri left the restaurant to develop a baking instruction program with culinary educator Peter Kump, Tampakis eagerly filled his vacant role. She had stayed in touch with Malgieri – a good thing for all of us, as he later offered her a position at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School as a Pastry & Baking Arts instructor.

 

While teaching at Peter Kump’s – which became the Institute of Culinary Education in 2001 – Michelle has stayed active in her professional pursuits beyond the classroom, participating as both a competitor and judge in pastry and chocolate competitions throughout the US and Europe. She is a regular judge for the annual Pastry Live National Showpiece Championship, and a frequent participant in the New York Chocolate Show, creating the most non-conventional showpieces imaginable, including fashion and costume attire. Among her other accolades, including numerous appearances on Food Network and with Martha Stewart, Michelle’s unique talents in crafting chocolate showpieces led her to being named one of Dessert Professional’s Top Ten Pastry Chefs. Her enthusiasm and passion for all things pastry have helped her develop relationships with some of the world’s greatest pastry chefs, who today, she proudly invites to teach at ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS).

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Then, in 2007, Tampakis was diagnosed with Celiac disease. For a pastry chef to have a medical condition which prevents them from exposure to gluten-based products – most notably, wheat flour – is a challenge to say the least. Fortunately for those with gluten sensitivity, Tampakis overcame this hurdle and has wholly embraced gluten-free baking techniques. Since then, her research has developed many successful recipes, which have become the foundation for Tampakis’ latest venture: a gluten-free bakery. Today, in addition to teaching a full schedule at ICE, Chef Michelle is the founder/owner of Whipped Pastry Boutique, where she proudly employs three ICE grads.

 

By Virginia Monaco

 

Everybody loves chocolate, but what do we actually know about one of the world’s most popular sweets? At a lecture with world-renowned expert Chloe Doutre-Roussel, ICE students, alumni and industry professionals had the chance to refine both their palates and their understanding of contemporary trends in chocolate.

An assortment of the world's best 70% chocolate bars.

An assortment of the world’s best 70% chocolate bars.

To start, Roussel clarified that she was discussing fine chocolate—not candy bars, bon-bons or other treats which contain shockingly little actual chocolate. Until very recently, chocolate was available in white, milk and dark with very little information on the label, but over the last 10 years, the industry has changed dramatically. The first change was that chocolate makers decided to emulate the labels of fine wine, listing the beans’ country of origin and producing single-origin bars with distinct flavor profiles. But even then, very few chocolatiers actually made their own chocolate; rather, then would blending purchased chocolate and re-label it. It was actually in the United States that a movement called “bean-to-bar” was launched, where beans are curated and purchased abroad but roasted, processed, blended and packed by the producers. This movement has since been defined by the production of (usually) single-origin beans, processed delicately in micro-batches by entrepreneurs such as Rogue and Mast Brothers. (Interestingly enough, Rick Mast of Mast Bros is an ICE alum!)

Roussel presents her findings on bean-to-bar producers to ICE students.

Roussel presents her findings on bean-to-bar producers to ICE students.

While the quality of chocolate has increased with this movement, so was the breadth of the market, making the purchase of chocolate bars a confusing task for consumers. The generation of new labels has produced claims including Fair Trade, Organic or Raw. While these labels may hold a specific meaning, they don’t speak to the level of quality of the product. meaning a $10 bar of chocolate might still be poorly made. In fact, Roussel argued that the Fair Trade label may distract conscious consumers from quality, allowing a mediocre product to sell for a higher price—potentially overshadowing exceptional bars produced with well-grown beans that boast no special labeling. To explore this argument, Roussel hosted a blind tasting, helping attendees discern their favorite chocolates, free of the bias of pretty packaging and distracting labeling.

Students and professionals tasted 15 different chocolates in a palate training exercise.

Students and professionals tasted 15 different chocolates in a palate training exercise.

Attendees discussed and tasted 15 chocolates from around the world, all around 70% cocoa, which allows the true chocolate flavor notes to shine. (70% actually means that a bar is 70% cocoa solid and butter, 30% sugar. It does not, however specify the proportion of cocoa solid/butter, allowing producers a significant amount of leeway and variation.) Much like wine, such side-by-side tastings allowed us to discover a world of remarkably nuanced flavors. For example, some chocolates displayed a distinctive smoky taste, while others were bright and floral. Our students left with a new found appreciation for fine chocolate, and I’m sure we’ll all think twice when choosing bars to buy in the future.