Chef Kathryn Gordon, chef instructor in ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program, has been named one of Dessert Professional Magazine’s 2017 Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America and inducted into their prestigious Hall of Fame. We’re ecstatic, we’re proud and we’re breaking out the bubbly — and serving it with Chef Kathryn’s elegant and celebratory pomelo and cantaloupe calissons. For those of you who haven’t heard of calissons, they’re a traditional almond candy that can be found in sweets shops throughout Provence, France. Chef Kathryn adds her personal, summery touch by sprucing them up with pomelo confit, candied cantaloupe and marbleized orange blossom glaze. And, of course, served alongside a chilled flute of champagne with a couple spoons of fresh, bright cantaloupe granita.

celebratory summer cocktail

Chef Kathryn’s Celebratory Summer Cocktail

Pomelo and Cantaloupe Calissons
Yield: Makes 40 (1-inch dome) calissons

Ingredients:

1900 grams blanched almond flour
100 grams powdered sugar
1 gram fine sea salt
60 grams pomelo confit (recipe below), drained well
60 grams candied cantaloupe (recipe below), drained well

Preparation:

  • Place the almond flour, powdered sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 30 times, stopping and scraping the sides of the bowl every five pulses to ensure ingredients are mixing smoothly.
  • Add ¼ of the pomelo confit and pulse. When a dough starts to form, hand knead in the remaining pomelo confit and candied cantaloupe. Press mixture into 1” flexipan molds. Let air dry for two days. Unmold and place on a glazing rack.
  • Glaze with orange blossom glaze and air dry.

Pomelo Confit

Ingredients:

Peel of 1 pomelo and cold water to cover
Pinch of salt
200 grams granulated sugar
150 grams water
25 grams glucose syrup

Preparation:

  • Cut the pomelo peel (with pith) into ¼-inch dice. Place the peels in a small non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel or tin). Add salt and enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and blanch for five minutes. Pour the mixture through a chinois and rinse in cold water. Repeat the blanching process four more times, without adding additional salt.
  • Stir together sugar and 150 grams water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once the mixture is boiling, add glucose syrup and blanched pomelo peels. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Chill and reserve syrup for cocktail.

Candied Cantaloupe

Ingredients:

200 grams granulated sugar
50 grams orange juice, freshly squeezed
Flesh of 1 medium orange-fleshed cantaloupe (about 1200 grams), cut into ½-inch dice

Preparation:

  • Stir together sugar and orange juice in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add diced cantaloupe. Turn off heat and let cool for one hour. Reserve syrup and extra fruit for granita.

Marbleized Orange Blossom Glaze

Ingredients:

20 grams orange blossom water
15 grams water
200 grams powdered sugar
Pink, egg yellow and orange gel food coloring

Preparation:

  • Stir orange blossom water and water into powdered sugar. Divide into three bowls, and stir in pink, egg yellow and orange colors, respectively. Place each color in a disposable pastry piping bag. Cut a small hole in each and place those three pastry bags in a fourth pastry bag. Cut a hole at the bottom, straight across. Squeeze out the glaze, and swirl over the calissons on the glazing rack. Let set one hour before removing with a small offset spatula.

Canteloupe Granita

Ingredients:

Reserved syrup and fruit from candied canteloupe

Preparation:

  • Puree in food processor. Place in shallow pan in freezer. Break up crystals around pan perimeter every half an hour until frozen and slushy. Keep frozen until time to serve cocktails.

Celebratory Summer Cocktail

Preparation:

  • Fill chilled champagne glasses to one-third with reserved pomelo syrup. Spoon in cantaloupe granite until halfway filled. Top with champagne or sparkling wine. Serve with pomelo and grapefruit calisson.

You, too, can study pastry & baking arts alongside Chef Kathryn — click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

The Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS) at ICE is designed for current industry professionals looking to expand their skill sets. These single- and multi-day continuing education workshops are taught by master chefs and critically acclaimed artists from around the globe. 

ICE is excited to welcome back Karen Portaleo to teach the upcoming CAPS course Carved Cake: Ballerina Pig on June 2. Karen is a celebrated cake and chocolate artist who creates fantastical cakes at Highland Bakery in Atlanta, Georgia. She has appeared on numerous television shows including Food Network’s Cake Challenge and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and her work has appeared in various publications like Cake Central Magazine and National Geographic. Karen’s client list includes Sir Elton John, Usher, Jane Lynch, T-Pain, Demi Moore, AMC’s The Walking Dead, CNN and The W Hotel.

ballerina pig

photos courtesy of http://www.karenportaleo.com/

In anticipation of Karen’s class, we chatted with her about her work in the pastry world and what she has in store for students in her cake carving class at ICE.

You’ve worked as a jewelry designer, a clay sculptor and a set designer — what inspired you to enter the world of cake?

Originally, it was desperation that motivated me to begin working with cake. I was recently separated and a newly single mom. The prop and set design company I had run for 17 years was suffering from the effects of a bad economy and shrunken budgets. A friend opened a bakery and I decided to ask if I could decorate and sell cookies there. This would give me the flexibility to stay home with my young daughter. Initially they said no, but persistence paid off. Soon I was frosting cupcakes, then cakes and it all took off from there. I call it my accidental career. But it just goes to show: opportunity can show up in very unexpected places.

What would you say is your signature style when it comes to designing a cake?

I would say my style is whimsical and very sculptural. I rarely make tiered cakes anymore — I’ve paid those dues already! My work is often described as “dark,” but that’s not my general aesthetic. I think my work falls into the category of cakes that don’t look like cakes.

If you’re given “carte blanche” to create a cake, where do you look for inspiration?

Usually I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head and am just waiting for a paying customer. There’s not always a rational explanation for the inspiration. For example, I woke up a few weeks ago and thought it might be fun to make a Humpty Dumpty cake. While I wait for an event, I get to dream up all the details and structure to make the piece exactly as I want it to be.

Tell us about the most challenging project you’ve worked on recently

I recently travelled to Palm Beach to create a very large cake for a client. As is sometimes the case, I can’t disclose the name of the client or details about the cake. However, I can say that it involved 40 full sheets of cake, 120 pounds of buttercream, 110 pounds of fondant and 64 pounds of modeling chocolate. There were a number of challenges with this cake. For one, the structure was very complex. Also, when creating a huge cake, you still have to bear in mind that it has to fit through doorways and into a van. This often means that the cake is made in big sections and then assembled onsite. Every large event involves a bit of chaos in the hours immediately preceding it, so showing up with large cakes that need to be assembled can be stressful for everyone. That’s why a lot of planning goes into the structure, as it must all fit together well and quickly. Not to mention, the cake needs to be fresh, moist and delicious, so this usually means a few sleepless nights of mad stacking, carving and fondant work. Delivery is always a tense time and this cake, in all its pieces, had to be carried quite a distance over walkways, stairs and ramps. But one of the most challenging things about this cake is that for all the planning and hard work, I can’t share any pictures! Still, it was pretty fabulous.

Karen Portaleo

Karen with one of her whimsical creations

What would you say are the most important skills for your craft?

I think the skills I rely on most heavily come from my background in art. I went to art school and have had many previous careers in the visual arts. My grandfather was a pastry chef and I grew up in bakeries, but I have no specific culinary training. My reputation springs more from the visual aspect of the cake than the cake itself. That being said, I’m extremely demanding about flavor and quality. I encourage my students, especially those who are in culinary school, to spend some time in art classes as well. Understanding how to successfully sculpt a three-dimensional object, as well as a solid understanding of color theory, are a few really valuable skills in today’s cake world.

What new techniques can students expect to learn from your upcoming course at ICE?

In my course, students will learn to create a structure for a seemingly gravity-defying cake. They will also learn to make and sculpt with modeling chocolate, how to create “clothing” with fondant, painting on chocolate, painting on fondant and creating small details that add a higher level of visual interest to a cake. I encourage my students to get creative with the design of their piece. I will be teaching the skills, but I like my students to create their own design using their own vision. I believe that this encourages a higher level of learning and creativity, as students need to do a bit of problem solving on their own. I’m a firm believer that taking risks and figuring out how to execute certain details is an excellent way to really learn on a deeper level.

Because CAPS classes require individual attention to each student’s project, class sizes are limited — click here to reserve your spot today.

By Michael Laiskonis

Much of my day-to-day work at ICE — in its kitchens and in the Chocolate Lab — revolves around unraveling the inner workings of ingredients, recipes and the finished preparations that result. This is an important aspect that all cooks consider on some level. Whether seeking to create inventive new dishes or perfect the classics, a pinch of food science will always help us achieve our goals. As a pastry chef, one might say that I’m already hard-wired to think a bit deeper about the composition and function of ingredients. I like to say that the primary difference between a pastry chef and his or her savory counterpart is that success often relies upon some measure of predicting the future. While a soup can be tasted and tweaked from start to finish, you can’t take a cake out of the oven halfway through the bake to add a bit more leavener. Cakes aside, it was my quest to better understand ice cream several years ago that led me down the path toward a more precise understanding of the many ingredients and processes a pastry chef seeks to master.

coffee ice cream

Coffee Ice Cream

The words “food” and “science” no doubt conjure images of lab coats and beakers, or perhaps they evoke notions of “modernist” dishes with avant-garde flair. Yet on a far more practical level, every act of cooking involves countless physical or chemical reactions that rely on time, temperature and the composition of ingredients. Accordingly, we can all benefit from a bit of simple kitchen chemistry. Not only does such insight lead to better cooking skills, but it also helps us fix mistakes when they inevitably arise. Though often a skill elusive to most cooks, a better understanding of these reactions can indeed lead to new creations. For me, it also became a new lens through which to view every ingredient and recipe I set out to execute. Eventually, this way of thinking ultimately arms a cook with the ability to write a recipe from scratch, rather than merely rely on or follow someone else’s recipe.

My deep dive into ice cream on a technical level — through complex textbooks and scientific papers as well as working directly with a noted food scientist — greatly improved the quality of the ice cream I began to make. With just a grasp of dairy composition, the properties of various sugars, freeze point depression and the physical mechanics of freezing, I am able to fine-tune a recipe to make a finished product with optimal flavor and texture. Milk itself, what for many is simply a ubiquitous ingredient used without much thought, suddenly becomes a fascinating substance when broken down into its constituent parts. Its water, fat, proteins and sugar play important and specific roles — not only in frozen desserts, but in every preparation it is used. And suddenly that knowledge base expands to other products derived from milk — cream, butter, cultured products and cheeses — and the myriad ways they function in our recipes.

Whipped Cream

Whipped Cream, Soft Peak

I am lucky to share these specific insights with every student enrolled in the Pastry & Baking Arts program at ICE. During a guest lecture that I conduct in the early days of the students’ journey, I break down dozens of dairy products based on their composition and function. We taste them all in order to identify their similarities and their differences. We conduct whipped cream exercises, in which I encourage students to imagine themselves shrunk down to the size of a tiny milk fat particle, to better understand how liquid cream transforms into a light fluffy foam and then, eventually, into butter. We make soft caramels, which demonstrate the effects of Maillard reactions, the dark and delicious result of milk proteins, lactose and heat. Though I present a mountain of technical data on dairy products, the numbers and charts aren’t what’s important. The real goal is simply to get students thinking about their ingredients in this new light, along with a better understanding of the cause-and-effect of our cooking methods. This mindfulness can then be applied to anything — eggs, flour, sugar, chocolate, fruit and more.

So, yes, I am a certified dairy nerd, and a few times each year I get to bring these obsessions to a wider audience with single subject classes that zero in on milk, eggs, ice cream and more general aspects of baking “technology.” Just in time for warmer temperatures, I will deconstruct frozen desserts in Introduction to Ice Cream and Sorbet Technology this week, followed by Composition and Structure: The Humble Complexity of Milk in June. Later in the summer, I take on other vital aspects of food science and pastry applications with A Hydrocolloids Primer, Baking and Pastry Technology and Composition and Structure: A Scientific Approach to Cooking. Happy cooking — and learning!

Take your understanding of baking to the next level — click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts. program

By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

The act of cooking is, at its heart, a solitary one. Of course, a restaurant kitchen requires coordinated effort and teamwork — many hands executing and assembling tiny parts of a greater whole. Each brief task in isolation, however, is a personal communion of skill and ingredient. Each step of mis en place presents an opportunity to contemplate, and a challenge to refine and better understand what we do.

Dough

My cooking career began at a tiny bakery in the outlying suburbs of Detroit almost 25 years ago. What started as “just a job” quickly became a compulsion: in cooking I found the satisfaction of manual labor and making something from nothing. Before long, I was offered an overnight baking position. At first, I merely worked my way down a checklist of standard items to mix and bake: a trio of basic breads, some viennoisserie and coffee cakes, muffins and cookies, and then the delicate chiffon layers that comprised the buttercream- and fondant-coated birthday and wedding cakes. I worked hard and I got better, and I took on more and more responsibility. Eventually, if the cases were full at 7:00 am when the shop opened, I pretty much had free rein to bake as I pleased during these solo shifts.

I often began each evening just as the bakery locked its front door at 6:00pm, and I rarely left before 8:00am the following morning. It was the first job I’d ever had where I didn’t watch the clock (and, come to think of it, I haven’t had one since). I found a nightly groove, a rhythm fueled by black coffee and a tape deck blaring the likes of Superchunk and Sonic Youth. As a former art student, I instantly recognized the meditative shift into right-brain mode, where intense concentration makes one oblivious to external stimuli and the linear passage of time. My time-sensitive dough, and not the clock, set my schedule, as items cycled in and out of the ovens.

Fresh Baked Bread

Though the bakery was well off the beaten path I filled its shelves and cases with lofty ambition, as if the sign outside bore the names of Parisian pastry temples Poilâne, Fauchon or Lenôtre. I was naïve, for sure, but driven. It felt as if I’d entered a kind of undergraduate phase of pastry study, and an ever-growing library of books became my syllabus. Among them, a multi-volume set of professional French pastry books; it was a good thing I ate virtually all my meals at work; each of those six volumes set me back nearly one hundred dollars — a sizable bite out of my paycheck back then. These books were already outdated to some degree even then, but the classics never die. I methodically worked my way through each, from brioche, fougasse and pain de siegle, to pâte brisée, pâte feuilleté and pâte à choux. I continually refined my baguettes, croissants and genoise. I also took liberties in experimenting with my own creations, many of which ended up not in the front of the shop, but in the dumpster out back. I compensated for my lack of formal training by challenging myself to learn at least one new product each day.

My nights at the bakery resembled the quiet, creative solitude I’d enjoyed while working many hours alone in the dark room in the days before digital photography. Prior to cooking, much of my time was devoted to photography, developing strips of black and white film, manipulating prints in all manner of ways. The mixing, shaping and proofing of dough is not unlike developing a negative, cropping an image and adjusting exposure. Bread goes into a hot oven to fully transform into its full potential, just as a sheet of light-sensitive paper in a bath of chemicals slowly reveals the image burned onto it. I often compare pastry with photography — highly technical to some degree, though what ends up on the plate or within the frame could perhaps be called “art.”

Today, my work in the Chocolate Lab and pastry kitchens at ICE takes on a similar solitary aspect. With several projects on my plate at any given time, my daily prep list follows no linear rhyme or reason. There are fewer deadlines now, but surprisingly, a whole lot of dishes to clean afterward. No longer confined to the schedule and structure of a restaurant kitchen, I now find those quiet hours where I can think one thought through to its completion. And I still enjoy the hours flying by, alone with my mis en place and my own thoughts. But the results nowadays go beyond personal gratification — the fruits of this solitary refinement now feed the minds of hungry students.

Refine your craft in the kitchen classrooms of ICE — click here for more information on our Pastry & Baking Arts programs. 

A native of Toulouse, France, Chef Eric Bertoia has a resume that boasts a host of impressive hotels and restaurants on both the old and new continent, among them the Ritz Hotel Escoffier in Paris and Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group restaurants. Today, as technician pastry chef of Paris Gourmet, he shares his expertise with professional pastry chefs across the country. In anticipation of his upcoming CAPS course at ICE on April 30thEntremets and Plated Desserts, we asked Chef Eric a few questions about his current role, his experience working for Daniel Boulud and his recommended food destinations.

Chef Eric Bertoia

Can you tell us a little bit about Paris Gourmet?

Established in 1983, Paris Gourmet is a leading specialty food importer and distributor of gourmet and pastry ingredients from all over the world.

The Paris Gourmet Education Center conducts continuing education classes for chefs and restaurant staff, and researches and develops products in pursuit of quality and innovation. Paris Gourmet is also extremely active in trade events and chef competitions.

What do you do in your role as “technician pastry chef” at Paris Gourmet?

At Paris Gourmet, we have an education center and test kitchen. We have classes for groups and one-on-one classes for professional pastry chefs working in hotels, casinos, restaurants and catering. As technician pastry chef, my primary focus is teaching these chefs how to use our products and demonstrating techniques. We conduct demonstrations in our kitchen and all over the United States, and very often work with restaurants and hotels to change their menus. Every month we have new products with which we create and test new recipes. We also host the annual U.S. Pastry Competition and lend support and advise Pastry Team USA for the Pastry World Cup in Lyon.

Tell us about your experience working for Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group, Dinex Group.

I was the corporate pastry chef for Dinex Group, managing and supervising the pastry departments of 15 restaurants and the two retail stores. I was overseeing operations in New York, Palm Beach, Miami, Las Vegas, Montreal, Toronto, London and Singapore. Every restaurant in the Dinex Group has a unique concept: bistro, brasserie, gastronomic, Mediterranean, plus catering. As corporate pastry chef, I was rotating between each site and was responsible for creating menus for launching new locations — organizing the department, training pastry chefs and staff and explaining the company’s expectations.

What do you miss most about working in restaurants full-time?

What I miss the most is that all the restaurants had a different level or theme of gastronomy, from the bistro to the retail store. The task of creating a concept and menu for each made it challenging.

Eric Cake Ice 4 1

What do you find to be one of the biggest challenges when teaching techniques on plated desserts versus other types of desserts?

One of the biggest challenges is to maintain consistency, in terms of plating, aesthetic, texture, temperature and, most importantly, taste. An emphasis on the freshness of ingredients is another important point in my classes.

Can you offer some food destination recommendations for our students and readers?

In New York, the bakery products are all well done, from viennoiserie to bread. Minneapolis has the classic American comfort foods and it offers global cuisine like Greek and Vietnamese, plus high-quality pastry shops like Patisserie 46. Lima, Peru — amazing seafood, quinoa, beef and others specialty products. Berlin, Germany — here you can find great local restaurants and Turkish/Middle Eastern cuisine. In Singapore, you can find Chinese, Malaysian and Indian food that’s representative of the ethnic diversity of the local population, as well as European and American cuisine.

Don’t miss the opportunity to perfect your plated desserts with Chef Eric – click here to register today!


By Gabby Guarino,
Student, Culinary Arts ’17 

Gabby is a student in ICE’s Culinary Arts program and our newest student blogger. She’s been cooking since before she was allowed to use the stove — making “soup” by using hot water from the sink to “boil” pasta and then throwing in some spices. Before culinary school, she received a bachelor’s degree in communications and human resources management from Rutgers University. She worked in marketing for a stint before launching her blog, “The Semi-Healthy Foodie,” and in October 2016, she finally decided to pursue her dream of going to culinary school and enrolled at ICE. For her first blog post, she takes us through a daunting pastry lesson: Danish dough. 

GabG_1

Tackling Danish dough was one of the most challenging things I’ve had to take on in culinary school so far. When I think of a Danish, I think of buttery, flaky crust with a cheese or fruit filling. I think of the beautiful layers and the soft, chewy dough. Before culinary school, I casually enjoyed a Danish now and again, not thinking much of it. Now that I know the time and effort that goes into making that perfectly layered dough, I have a new appreciation for pastry chefs (and their Danishes) everywhere. There is a certain technique and process that’s essential to get the dough just right. Have you ever wondered how all of those buttery layers of dough are created? It may seem daunting, but with some time, patience and good instructions, it’s totally possible.

Apple Danish

For starters, Danish dough is considered a laminate dough, which means that there are layers of fat encased in dough and each layer remains separate. The laminate dough process is tedious but so rewarding. Before I explain the process, here are a few key words to know: beurrage, detrempe and paton. The fat component of the dough is called beurrage, the dough component is called the detrempe and the act of making the dough and encasing the fat in dough is called paton. Okay, enough with the fancy words — let’s get to it.

  • First, make a basic dough with yeast, sugar and cinnamon, and let it rest for about an hour.
  • Next, make sure your butter is very cold and cut it into thin blocks. Flour the butter and line up the blocks of butter into a rectangle. Pound them together with a rolling pin until they form a sheet that is about 10-12 inches wide.
  • Roll out the dough into a rectangle about one-third longer than your butter sheet. Place the butter sheet on the dough and fold into thirds like a letter. Roll the dough out, turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat the folding and rolling process. Rotate the dough again and repeat.
  • Next, refrigerate the dough for at least an hour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, roll it out and cut into 4×4 inch squares.
  • When ready to bake, you can fill Danish dough with different fruits, jams or pastry creams.

Once you break down the steps, the process is quite simple and the result is the flakiest Danish. Those layers of butter and dough create the amazing structure that made the Danish famous. With this pastry lesson, not only did I master Danish dough, I also stepped out of my comfort zone, challenged my inner baker and acquired a new appreciation for Danishes and laminate doughs.

Apple Danish

Ready to challenge your inner baker with professional culinary training from ICE? Click here for more information.

This St. Patrick’s Day, try your hand at an Irish-inspired sweet — no baking involved! Chef Sarah Chaminade shares her boozy take on cheesecake, with a buttery, chocolate cookie crust and a creamy filling accented by Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Baileys_Cheesecake_edited_300dpi-1

No-Bake Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheesecake
Yield: One (nine-inch) or four (four-inch) cakes

Ingredients:

200 grams chocolate wafer cookies
100 grams unsalted butter, melted
200 grams heavy cream
150 grams Bailey’s Irish Cream
10 grams powdered gelatin
500 grams cream cheese, softened at room temperature
150 grams sugar
50 dark chocolate pearls

bailey's cheesecake

Preparation:

  • Process the chocolate wafer cookies in a food processor until they resemble fine crumbs.
  • Transfer crumbs into a large mixing bowl and stir in melted butter. Mix until combined. Press the mixture into the bottom of a parchment-lined cake pan or ring molds, and place them in the freezer while you prepare the filling.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or with an electric hand mixer, whip the heavy cream to medium peaks and set aside in your refrigerator.
  • In a medium bowl, add the Bailey’s Irish Cream and sprinkle the gelatin over. Set aside for two to three minutes.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Over a double boiler or in a microwave, heat the gelatin-Bailey’s mixture slowly until gelatin is dissolved and liquid is smooth. While still warm, pour the gelatin mixture into the stand mixer bowl with the cream cheese mixture and mix together at low speed until combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream, reserving a small amount of whipped cream for decoration (see next step).
  • Fill your prepared cake pan or molds with filling to the top. Using a piping bag filled with reserved whipped cream, pipe rosettes of whipped cream around the edges of the cake and top with chocolate pearls.
  • Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least four hours or preferably overnight before serving.

bailey's cheesecake

Master baking with Chef Sarah in ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program — click here for information. 


By Caitlin Raux

Students enroll in our pastry arts program for many reasons — for some, it’s to mix flour, eggs and sugar for the first time and launch a budding pastry career. For others, it’s to hone their skills and enhance their existing experience. Diploma (and whisk) in hand, our pastry grads set out on a range of career paths — from recipe writers to startup chefs to educators and more. Here’s a snapshot of the many possibilities of what you can do with professional pastry training from ICE:

Pastry Arts alums

  1. Boost your kitchen confidence and enhance your resume as a food writer or editor like Lauren Katz, Associate Recipe Writer at Blue Apron.
  2. Run the pastry program at LA’s most ‘gram-worthy resto with a “major cult following,” like Meadow Ramsey, Pastry Chef of Sqirl.
  3. Conquer the world of cake like Elisa Strauss, chef instructor in ICE’s Cake Decorating program, who started a boutique cake company and a cake design consultancy (not to mention, penned a few cake cookbooks in her spare time).
  4. Use the skills and discipline learned in the pastry arts program to launch your own business… be it bar or bakery, like Ben Wiley, co-owner of five bars in Brooklyn: Bar Great Harry, The Owl Farm, Mission Dolores, Glorietta Baldy and Cardiff Giant.
  5. Follow in the footsteps of one of your pastry chef mentors and go on to lead the pastry kitchen in an acclaimed NYC restaurant like Thea Habjanic, who, after being hired at Le Bernardin by Chef Michael Laiskonis, went on to become Executive Pastry Chef at the restaurant where Chef Michael designed the dessert menu, La Sirena.
  6. Help train the next generation of pastry chefs like Andrea Tutunjian, ICE’s Dean of the School of Pastry & Baking Arts and Director of Education at ICE.
  7. Join the dynamic world of startups like Michal Shelkowitz, Pastry Chef of the San Francisco-based meal delivery service, Munchery.
  8. Flex your restaurateur muscle like Zoe Nathan Loeb, who co-owns several popular California eateries: Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen, Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery, Cassia and Esters Wine Shop & Bar.

Ready to embark on your career in the pastry arts? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

I began what I refer to as my first “real” cooking job 22 years ago this spring. Looking back, stumbling into a modest restaurant called Emily’s was perhaps the smartest move in my career, setting a tone that still guides me. Situated in a hundred-year-old Victorian house in the sleepy Detroit suburb of Northville, that kitchen was my school, my hobby, my life. In those early days, I could have ended up in any run-of-the-mill, turn-and-burn establishment, but at Emily’s I found out what real cooking was all about, the refinement and the passion, and a little about the business as well. Describing the kitchen as tiny would be an understatement — there was barely enough room for three cooks. The chef and owner, Rick Halberg, became my first important mentor. While I learned a lot from Rick — taste, technique, respect — I learned the more crucial lessons by simply standing back and watching him work.

Laiskonis Chocolate Hazelnut

Rick cooked with a certain sense of economy — not in a financial way, but with an economy of movement and energy. To this day, I enjoy watching seasoned chefs cooking — not on television, but real chefs and real food in a real kitchen. The best seem to convey an intimate relationship with their tools and the ingredients as if they were extensions of his or her own body. While he worked, Rick had this extraordinary sense of calm and fluidity that amazed me. He was relaxed but also attentive and laid back without losing that sense of urgency. It was a small kitchen, but Rick appeared to glide through the requisite motions, from the reach-in to the pan, from the oven to the pass. I don’t think I ever saw him wear an apron, yet he never had a spot on him, even at the end of the busiest service. In those early days, Rick worked the two-man line with the sous chef every single night. With two decades of hindsight, I’ve come to realize his carefully measured movement was a manifestation of both an extremely organized head and the inner happiness of “just cooking.”

In this business, such economy is vital. The physical nature of the work, the repetition and the multitasking all require some form of internal and external management. But it all begins with mental organization. I’ve had my off days, where my actions aren’t as precise or deliberate, probably because my brain is all over the place. Those of us who work in kitchens probably know a perpetually disheveled cook or two (or have been one themselves). It’s true that behind a sloppy demeanor there usually lies a cluttered mind. I was once given the advice that to find the most efficient way to complete a task is to ask a lazy person. Perhaps there’s a kernel of truth hidden in that, but not in the sense of trying to get by with the minimum effort. To me, economy is more about vigilance, planning and trimming excess energy. It’s a tough concept to teach someone, but so is a sense of urgency. We need both skills in order to be an effective cook.

Personal economy also informs the bigger picture of how we execute service, set up the kitchen or even conceive a dish. Our method of constructing a dessert with building blocks of several components should eventually shift toward thoughtful editing, the reductive act of taking away the superfluous. As a young cook, I too often felt the need to show the world everything I knew on every plate. As I matured and left that ego behind, I learned the value of focus and a less-is-more approach. The essence of economy has informed how I approach making chocolate in the ICE Chocolate Lab. When working with just two or three ingredients, the decisions made at each step of the process become all the more apparent.

Profiterole

I recently had the opportunity to come full circle, back to the spirit of those formative years as a cook and pastry chef at Emily’s. Though the restaurant closed several years ago, Rick is still cooking and I jumped at the opportunity to return for a reunion of sorts, bringing together not only former front- and back-of-house staff, but a room full of faithful regular diners as well. It was just like the old days— the two of us weaving in and out of each other’s way in the confines of a tight kitchen as we prepped our courses for the meal. Sure, I’ve picked up a few skills since learning lessons from him. But what he probably didn’t notice was that I still have my eye on him, still taking cues on how to cook from a place of purity, with economy and intention.

Ready to learn from our acclaimed chef instructors? Click here for more information on ICE’s pastry & baking arts program.


In a new video from ICE and Direct Eats, Chef James Distefano, former executive pastry chef of the acclaimed Rouge Tomate, delves into baking with alternative butters. First, he shares the recipe for a mouth-watering maple butter crepe cake. Then, he shows us how to whip up blondies made with cashew butter, with an added touch of yum from chocolate chips and salted cashew brittle — delicious and (sorta’) nutritious. Finally, for those of you with peanut allergies, Chef James has a new best friend for you — sunflower butter, a great alternative for recipes calling for peanut butter. He uses sunflower butter to bake his sunflower seed financiers, a light, airy and peanut-free sponge-cake with just a hint of vanilla. Grab a whisk and check out this inventive butter exploration, then scroll down for the complete recipes. 

Cashew Butter Blondie
Yield: Makes about 18 1½” x 1½” squares

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 cups cashew brittle
1½ cup chocolate chips
6 ounces unsalted butter, lightly softened
⅓ cup salted cashew butter
2 cups light brown sugar
2 cups sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Stir together the all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • Combine about two tablespoons of your dry mix with your salted cashew brittle and your chocolate chips in a separate bowl and set this aside as well.
  • Place the lightly softened butter, cashew butter and both sugars in to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to medium speed and allow the mix to blend sufficiently until it is light and fluffy and well mixed. It should not look waxy.
  • Combine the vanilla extract with the eggs.
  • Turn the mixer down to low speed and slowly add the eggs to the mixer (one at a time) making sure the egg is fully absorbed into the sugar base. Repeat until all of the eggs and vanilla have been incorporated.
  • Add all of your dry ingredients (not including the brittle and chips) and mix on low until barely combined.
  • Turn the mixer off, add in the bowl containing the brittle and the chips and turn machine back on and mix until no flour is visible.
  • Spread blondie batter onto your prepared baking tray. Be sure to spread the batter evenly.
  • Bake the blondie for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the blondie is firm to the touch with a golden brown color.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to fully cool (overnight is best) prior to cutting.
  • Cut into small 1 ½ x 1 ½ inch squares and store in an airtight container for up to three days.

For the salted cashew brittle:
Yield: Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
¼ stick unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1⅔ cups cashews, toasted (toast for 7 minutes at 350°F)
½ teaspoon baking soda

Preparation:

  • Line a baking tray with a nonstick silicone mat.
  • Place sugar, light corn syrup, water, butter and salt in a medium sauce pot. Gently stir to combine.
  • Bring syrup to a boil over low to medium heat. Be sure to wash the sides of your pot down to prevent the sugar syrup from crystallizing. To do this, dip a pastry brush into a small container of water and apply the wet brush to the sides of the pot.
  • Once the syrup comes to a boil, insert a candy thermometer and allow the syrup to cook until it reaches 300° F. Once it reaches 300° F, turn the flame off and remove the pot from the stove. Be sure NOT to stir the syrup as it boils.
  • Stir in your vanilla extract and the toasted cashews.
  • Wait about 30 seconds before stirring in the baking soda. The addition of the baking soda helps aerate the brittle and gives it a more delicate bite.
  • Pour the hot brittle on your prepared baking tray and, working quickly, spread the brittle as thin as you can with a buttered spatula.
  • Allow the brittle to cool sufficiently before breaking it apart into small, bite-size pieces.
  • Store the brittle in an airtight container for up to two days.

 

Sunflower Seed Financier
Yield: Makes about 15-18 3” cakes

1½ sticks unsalted butter
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
½ tablespoon salt
1¼ cup egg whites (about 8-10 eggs)
4 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
⅔ cups sunflower seeds, toasted (toast for seven minutes at 350° F)
3½ cups powdered sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¾ cup dried cranberry

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. (If using a convection oven, lower your temperature down to 325° F with low fan.)
  • Prepare your molds or baking tins with cooking spray, or butter
  • Place butter, vanilla bean and salt into a small pot and begin to melt over a very low flame.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together your egg whites and sunflower seed butter to form a smooth paste. Set aside.
  • Combine the toasted sunflower seeds, powdered sugar, all-purpose flour and the cornstarch in the bowl of a food processor process until the sunflower seeds are finely ground.
  • Place the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  • Add the egg white-sunflower paste and whisk to evenly combine and form a stiff batter. Turn the speed down to low while you check on your melting butter on the stove.
  • Increase the flame on your melting butter and continue to cook the butter until the butter begins to turn a deep golden brown and gives off a nutty aroma. Whisk the butter to incorporate the toasting milk solids at the bottom of the pot and continue cooking until it foams. Once the butter is a dark, amber brown, turn the flame off.
  • Turning back to the stand mixer, increase the speed to medium and steadily pour the browned butter into the bowl containing the cake batter.
  • Once all of the butter has been incorporated, turn the mixer on high to thoroughly blend all of your ingredients.
  • Turn the machine off and using a piping bag or spoon, divide the batter into your prepared molds.
  • Garnish the individual cakes with some dried cranberries.
  • Bake the cakes at 350° F until they are golden brown around the edges and gently spring back when lightly touched.
  • Allow the cakes to cool in their molds for 15 minutes before unmolding on to a clean tray or plate. Cakes will last up to one day in an airtight container.

Maple Crepe Cakes
Yield: Makes 1 cake

For the crepes batter:
Makes about 30 crepes

Ingredients:

⅞ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup oat flour
1½ teaspoons sea salt
⅓ cup sugar
1 tablespoon maple butter
1⅓ tablespoons maple syrup
1½ cups milk
5 eggs
¼ stick butter

Preparation:

  • Crack the eggs and whisk them together with the whole milk, maple butter and maple syrup. Reserve in a pitcher and keep cold.
  • Combine your dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, oat flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  • Create an opening in the center of the bowl and begin to slowly pour your liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients a little bit at a time to avoid any lumps from forming. The batter will be very stiff initially; however, as you incorporate more liquid it will begin to thin out. Use all of your liquid, making sure to avoid any lumps from forming.
  • Melt the butter in a small pot then whisk the warm butter into the crepe batter. Stir to evenly combine.
  • Strain the crepe batter through a large mesh strainer making sure to remove any large lumps in the process. Store the crepe batter in an airtight container for up to two days.

To make the crepes:

  • Gently heat a nonstick pan or a cast iron pan over low heat. Allow the pan to sufficiently warm up.
  • Spray pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Using a small ladle, add some crepe batter to the pan and quickly rotate the pan to evenly coat the bottom in a thin layer.
  • Cook the crepe until the batter has set and it begins to curl up around the edges. Flip the crepe over (you can use a small rubber spatula for this) and cook the other side. The whole cooking process for one crepe is roughly two minutes.
  • Place crepes onto a parchment-lined baking pan in a single layer, cover with another sheet of parchment paper and repeat until all of the crepe batter has been used.
  • Wrap the crepe-filled baking pan with plastic and refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

 

For the pastry cream:
Yield: Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

2 cups milk
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
4 egg yolks
½ stick + 1 teaspoon butter
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation:

  • Whisk together the cornstarch and the sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Place the milk into a medium pot and slowly bring to a boil over a low flame.
  • Whisk the whole eggs into the cornstarch mixture, then whisk in the egg yolks.
  • Pour one third of the boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to thoroughly combine. Return the remaining milk mixture to a boil.
  • Whisk the egg mixture into the remaining boiling milk. Make sure to whisk and stir with a spatula until the pastry cream comes back to a boil. Maintain the boil for another minute, whisking and stirring continuously with a spatula to avoid any scorching.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract.
  • Pour the pastry cream onto a plastic wrap-lined baking pan and spread it out into a thin layer. Place another piece of plastic wrap directly touching the hot pastry cream so it doesn’t form a skin. Poke a few small holes with the tip of a small knife in the plastic to vent out some of the steam.
  • Place the pastry cream in the refrigerator until it cools down and feels cold to the touch.

To assemble the layered crepe cake:

  • Place a crepe on a clean flat plate.
  • Spread enough pastry cream onto the crepe to evenly coat it without it being too gloppy or overly thick. There should be just enough pastry cream on there to thinly and evenly coat the crepe.
  • Place another crepe on top of the pastry cream and gently and evenly press down to “glue” the crepes together.
  • Repeat steps two and three until you have used 17 layers of crepes and 16 layers of pastry cream.
  • Once the layered crepe cake has been built, wrap with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight so it can set firm. When ready to serve, top with maple-glazed bananas (recipe below).

For the maple-glazed bananas:
Yield: Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

2 sticks butter
2½ tablespoons maple butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
⅓ cup maple syrup
¼ teaspoon sea salt
5 ripe bananas

Preparation:

  • Melt the butter in a 12” sauté pan over a medium-low flame.
  • Stir in the maple butter, vanilla extract, light brown sugar, maple syrup and the sea salt.
  • Bring this mixture to a boil and allow to boil for one minute.
  • Peel the bananas and cut them into half-inch slices.
  • Immediately place the bananas into the maple-butter mixture and glaze the bananas for one minute in the hot mixture.
  • Remove the crepe cake from the refrigerator and generously spoon the maple-glazed bananas on top of the crepe cake, allowing the maple glaze to run down the sides of the cake.
  • Cut the cake into wedges and serve immediately.

Ready to master pastry & baking with Chef James? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.