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.

264833_10150235982214827_3789857_n

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.

cookies1

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 Sharon Ho, Pastry and Baking Arts Student

When people think about culinary school, they often think of a juicy skirt steak or a delicious bowl of fresh pasta. However, at ICE, the true magic happens in the Pastry and Baking Arts classrooms. Tucked away on the 5th floor, the sweet smell of freshly baked bread, cookies and cake fills your nose the moment you step off the elevator. No—it isn’t a savory soup or a meaty pot roast; it’s the sweet stuff.

Finishing Cookies & Chocolates-047

That was my experience when I first set foot in ICE for a tour. I reached the front desk and all I smelled was to-die-for freshly baked bread. Walking past kitchen 501, I couldn’t help but stand there and stare at the dinner rolls that were sitting on the kitchen table. I immediately made up my mind: I would enroll at ICE and eventually open a bakery that smelled exactly like the fifth floor of ICE.

It’s been two weeks since my classes started, and I have learned many of the basics so far. There’s been lessons in sanitation, safety lessons and understanding the uses of different ingredients. I have learned countless things I can create out of sugar, chocolate, milk and fruit puree. Learning that much this quickly can be quite overwhelming at times, but in the long run, it’s worth it. Classes are very hands-on, and Chef Kathryn is both an inspiration and an excellent teacher.

Finishing Cookies & Chocolates-045

The first time we actually made something on our own was Lesson 4: Gingersnaps. These cookies are simple, sweet and fragrant. We scooped the gingersnap cookie dough onto sheet pans with an ice cream scoop in order to maintain the size and shape of each cookie. While we were making the cookies, Chef Kathryn made us some hot chocolate. She brewed up two kinds—the American kind, made from cocoa powder and milk, and the European kind, made from actual chocolate and cream. She asked us to taste both and then decide which one we liked better. Of course, one was richer than the other. Can you guess which one was the clear winner?

We also worked on some basic math skills that bakers are required to know, mostly multiplying and dividing. There were some rounding exercises and a few recipe exercises, most of which to figure out how much of a certain ingredient would be necessary if the yield was different from the original recipe. It was definitely quite a bit to take in, but these skills are both useful and essential for bakers.

Pate de fruit

Pâte de fruit

Next came Lesson 5: the apricot pâte de fruit. These are essentially little jelly-gummy hybrid candies that taste like apricot. They are made with lots of sugar and some apricot puree. We made them in bonbon molds, then let them set while Chef Kathryn went over different fruit-related ingredients, such as fruit-based wines, syrups and extracts. She also spoke about jams and jellies. I never knew there were so many types of fruit wine or that so many different extracts could be found in my local supermarket.

So far, it’s been an enjoyable and educational two weeks. The ICE community is incredibly helpful and my classmates are very friendly. It’s nice to know we all have each others’ backs. I can’t wait to start my next class!

 

By Chef Victoria Burghi

Alfajores are to Latin American kids what peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are to American children: the preferred snack and a must-have in every child’s lunch box. These popular sandwich cookies can be made in many different ways, depending on the country they come from, but they always consist of two soft cookies with some type of jam.

Alfajores filled with dulche de leche and sprinkled with shredded coconut

Alfajores filled with dulche de leche and sprinkled with shredded coconut

In Peru for example, alfajores means two shortbread cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche and dusted with powdered sugar. In Argentina, every province has its own type, ranging from two cracker-like cookies sandwiched with quince paste (dulce de membrillo) or a softer style filled with sweet potato paste (dulce de batata) or dulce de leche. Some varieties are glazed with chocolate or royal icing.

In my home country, Uruguay, our popular pastry is made with a substantial amount of cornstarch—giving alfajores a very soft texture that crumbles in your mouth—and a creamy dulce de leche center. To finish the alfajores, the sides are rolled in shredded coconut.

Alfajores filled with quince paste

Alfajores filled with quince paste

Back in 2001, when I worked at Union Square Café as the pastry chef, Chef Michael Romano and owner Danny Meyer asked me to include some of my dessert recipes in their latest project: the cafe’s Second Helpings Cookbook. I was thrilled that one of my favorite home country recipes—including alfajores—as part of such an iconic cookbook. Many years have gone by and the original recipe can still be found on page 304 the cookbook, but below you’ll find an even better, updated version.

You can also learn to make this and other popular sandwich cookie recipes in my class at ICE on March 9th.

Alfajores   

Makes 24 sandwich cookies

Ingredients                                                             

170 gr soft butter
Zest  1  lemon
200 gr sugar
40 gr egg yolks
100 gr eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
312 gr cornstarch
140 gr All-purpose flour
12 gr Baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Dulce de leche
Unsweetened coconut

Instructions

  1. Cream the softened butter, the sugar and the lemon zest on medium speed for 6 minutes.
  2. At the same speed, slowly add the eggs, egg yolks and vanilla extract. Keep the mixer running until all the liquids have been completely absorbed and the mixture looks smooth.
  3. Sift all the dry ingredients and add them to the butter mixture. Mix until it forms a soft dough.
  4. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form a flat package. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Work with half of the dough at a time, keeping the rest refrigerated. Roll it out to ¼” thickness and cut 2 ½” rounds.
  6. The scraps can be rolled out and used again, however it’s best to refrigerate them at least 30 minutes before re-rolling the dough.
  7. Bake the circles at 275 for 8 minutes. The cookies should not have any color or they will become too dry.
  8. Once cooled, sandwich cookies around dulce de leche and roll the sides with unsweetened shredded coconut.

 

 

By Chef Chad Pagano

Many of my favorite holiday memories include making cookies in various sizes, shapes and flavors. The aroma of fresh baked cookies around the holidays triggers memories of the amazing Christmas celebrations I had as a child. Having grown up in a Italian American household, there was never a shortage of anise shortbread cookies, florentines and of course, all manner of biscotti.

cookie cran pistachio

Picture courtesy of Foodista.com

I loved when my mother would start her holiday baking in preparation for the neighborhood cookie exchange. My German neighbors made the most amazingly buttery spritz cookies, as well as the best linzer cookies I have ever had. My Jewish friends made delicious oil-based sesame cookie rings and scrumptious Mandelbrot. Oh, and I can’t forget the boring old Smith family, who only made the most incredible chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies ever created.

Today, I love baking cookies with my own children and sharing these treats with my neighbors. If you would like to start your own holiday cookie tradition, join me this December 23rd at ICE for a make-and-take holiday cookie class. Bring your friends and family to what promises to be the most festive, collaborative cookie-making party of the season! (If you can’t join us, you can still get started with my shortbread recipe below.)

Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread

Makes about 48 shortbread cookies.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl whisk the flour with the salt.
  2. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth (about 1 – 2 minutes). Add the sugar and beat until smooth and creamy (about 3 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Fold in the chopped pistachios and dried cranberries. (Make sure that the nuts and cranberries are evenly distributed throughout the dough.)
  3. Divide the dough in half. Place each half of dough on the center of a 14 inch length of parchment or wax paper. Smooth and shape the dough into an evenly shaped rectangle that is about 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. Then thoroughly wrap the shaped logs in the parchment or wax paper, twists the ends of the paper to seal the logs, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours, or up to three days. (The logs can also be frozen for about two months. If freezing, it is best to defrost the logs in the refrigerator overnight before slicing and baking.)
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with the rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Using a thin bladed knife, slice the logs into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick cookies. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until the cookies are just beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

chef scottThis month, in honor of the holidays, we’ve asked our Culinary Arts and Pastry & Baking Arts instructors to share their favorite festive recipes. Last week, Chef Kathryn Gordon shared an Australian holiday treat: mince tartelettes. Today, Chef Scott McMillen, one of our core Pastry & Baking Arts instructors, gets nostalgic about a classic American cookie.

My mom would make snickerdoodles once, and only once, each year. Every Christmas Eve we would leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. The crisp outside and soft interior highlight the sweet holiday spiciness that sticks in my memory. She used the recipe from her Betty Crocker Cookbook – one of the old ones with the recipe pages in a kind of loose leaf binder. Here, I adapt that recipe, substituting light brown sugar for a third of the granulated sugar, which makes the cookie chewier. Unsalted butter replaces the butter/shortening combination from the original recipe, and I use baking powder instead of baking soda and cream of tartar. A touch of freshly ground nutmeg also adds some extra flavor.

snickerdoodlesSnickerdoodles

Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 cups flour (345g)
  • 2 tsp baking powder (9g)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (3g)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter (225g)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (110g)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (50 g)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon (8g)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Beat the butter and sugars until light, airy and uniformly blended.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, waiting for each to be fully incorporated before the next addition. Scrape the bowl between additions.
  4. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg and stir it into the butter mixture until the dough just pulls together. Do not continue to mix past this point or the cookies will be tough. The dough can be refrigerated for up to a week at this point.
  5. Combine the additional 1/4 cup of sugar and tablespoon of cinnamon in a bowl.
  6. Form the dough into about 40 one inch round balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar until completely and thickly coated.
  7. Space them two inches apart on a greased or parchment lined cookie tray and bake for 8 minutes, or until the cookies’ surface starts to crack. (Bake for 10 minutes if you want a crisper cookie.)

This year, you can join the reigning Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella, for an exciting Valentine’s Day class at ICE that helps a very special cause.

Alyssa was named Miss USA in June 2011 and since then has been working as a spokeswoman for breast and ovarian cancer education, research and legislation — a platform that is close to her heart as it has personally affected a member of her family. In her free time, Alyssa also has a great love of cooking and baking and is enthusiastic about food. Earlier this January, Alyssa starred as one of the contestants on Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off (Did you catch our students in Episode 2?). Alyssa followed her interest in food into the kitchens at ICE to learn more, working with Chef Instructors Mike Schwartz and Anita Jacobson to master the culinary arts.

This Valentine’s Day, she will combine her passion for sweet treats and her charitable work by teaming up with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer founder Gretchen Holt-Witt to put those newly found skills to work in support of a good cause. Alyssa will host a one-of-a-kind cookie class with 100% of proceeds going to support pediatric cancer research. Whether you are planning a bake sale or simply looking to acquire some great cookie recipes for your personal repertoire, you will leave this class with new techniques — and the knowledge that you’re helping a good cause. More…

Inevitably over the course of every module that I teach, I share much of the same wisdom over and over. One of my most notable quotes being, “when you steal recipes don’t waste your time with the bad ones, steal from a great source.” Of course when I’m saying this I’m usually trying to express the idea that we have eaten the same foods over and over, for hundreds of years, because good food has staying power, it just gets revamped and hopefully improved over time. Like they say, “your parents hope you do better than they did,” so your recipes should be slightly better than the last version.

So of course with cookies, it would make sense to start with the best and go from there. I have my favorites, and as you might be noticing I am never shy to share an opinion. Dorie Greenspan is up there near the top. Not only did she spend time editing the books of some of my favorite pastry chefs, notably Pierre Hermé, but she has written many of her own, including her most recent, Around My French Table. When Dorie bakes cookies, it’s time to take notes as she has spent her life making every recipe better than before.

Dorie and her son and cookie-loving partner Joshua, will be selling their cookie wares at CookieBar, for 5 short days, February 7th through the 11th from 10am every morning until they run out. They are planning a larger bake than last year but I would suggest getting there early as last year I found out the hard way that those cookies go fast. Here is a preview at the menu (plus a recipe for one of Dorie’s cookies).

The Menu

THE SABLÉS
French butter cookies baked in our signature straight-sided rounds

SUGAR-TOPPED VANILLA SABLÉS — Crisp around the edges and just a tad tender in the center, these sparkly, sugar-sprinkled French shortbread cookies have the good taste of butter, butter and more butter, and pure, rich vanilla, too.

COCONUT-LIME SABLÉS — Lots of freshly grated lime zest rubbed into sugar, toasted coconut and a pinch of cardamom (impossible to place, but it ups the ante on all the flavors) give these cookies a taste of the tropics that makes them perfect for the dead of winter.

ESPRESSO-CHOCOLATE SABLÉS — A mix of butter, strong espresso and tiny hand-chopped bits of Valrhona Extra-Bitter Chocolate makes for a sophisticated cookie that’s as good as an afternoon pick-me-up as it is with a late-night drink. More…

My youngest son loves ribs. In fact, that is an understatement. Let’s just say he seems to have been born part caveman (definitely his father’s side). He will gnaw the life out of any bone as long as it’s dripping in some kind of barbeque sauce. He is also a bit of a “rib snob,” as he has barefacedly told a certain barbeque chef that he didn’t like his over peppered sauce. Needless to say, we have eaten at every rib joint in town several times over and Blue Smoke ranks up there as one of our family favorites. So when I heard that they had opened a bakery, I was excited, because as much as I like a good rib, I would much rather have a good slice of pie.

Blue Smoke Bake Shop, overseen by Pastry Chef Jennifer Giblin, is a cute little annex at the front of Blue Smoke. It is a cornucopia of classic American desserts with a daily selection of cookies, brownies, cupcakes and most importantly, mini pies, the true highlight of the menu. On my visit, I sampled the Bourbon Pecan, Pear Crumble and my favorite, the Tollhouse Cookie Pie. What can I say — to me, fruit is just a health food trying to pretend its way into dessert, but chocolate chip cookie dough pie, now we’re talking. The crusts are flaky and tender and at $3 a pie they are perfect to guiltlessly enjoy. The only thing that would be better was if you could get those pies à la mode. More…

Sometimes, Pastry & Baking Arts forces you outside your comfort zone. In my last posting, I expressed my less-than-enthusiastic feelings about making cakes. Of course, I do realize there are those that love making cakes and not everyone in my class shares my feeling. The point I’m taking away from this is that it’s nearly impossible to love every lesson. Some things you just have to learn, like preparing chocolate ribbon cake.

It started off as something different. In her dry, humorous way, Chef Kathryn instructed us to take a block of modeling chocolate and warm it up — in our hands, under our armpits or even sitting on it (with gloves and plastic wrap, of course). I thought, “Now this is fairly simple.” Once we warmed our chocolate into a pliable form and let it rest, we took out the pasta rollers and began what was for me, one of the most difficult class projects yet — pulling a pliable, but ready to crack into a million pieces piece of chocolate through the machines over and over again. On the second day of production, it got slightly easier when using a rolling pin. In the end, as I was painting on the 24-karat, edible gold on the edge of my ribbons, I did forget the frustrations of the previous day.

Cookies, however, are a different story. Chef Kathryn told us our cookie production days were going to be the closest thing in the curriculum to working in an actual kitchen. I was excited. Firstly, I love cookies and secondly, I absolutely love the energy of a true, working kitchen. We split into groups and worked out a production plan, ensuring we prepared our list as efficiently as possible, taking into consideration the time it would take to make doughs, shape and decorate cookies, as well as oven temperatures. More…