Monday, May 26, 2008

Gone fishing

When asked to make a salmon birthday cake by a family of avid sports fisherpeople, I was excited but slightly nervous about the challenge. Wanting to be as anatomically accurate as possible, a great deal of time was spent researching the five different species native to the waters of British Columbia. Which species should I make? Ocean or spawning form? Male or female?

Having more silver edible metallic colouring than red on hand, I chose the ocean form of coho and began construction of this lemon flavoured salmon birthday cake merely using one single well-loved 9" x 5" x 2.5" loaf pan. My coho ended up measuring 24" from nose to tail, although the actual cake only started at its gills. After several unsatisfactory attempts to shape the coho's head out of fondant, I gave up and opted for styrofoam instead.

As always, the most enjoyable part of creating this coho salmon cake was the little details. Each scale was marked by using a small round piping tip. Its mouth was given white gums and a black tongue along with some teeth, staying true to the coho species. Finally, I did take the liberty of giving my coho more of smile than found in nature because this was a birthday cake!

Monday, May 19, 2008

More monkey business

Back in January, I made a Curious George birthday cake and was asked to make another recently for a little boy named Matthew. This George was slightly larger and filled with vanilla cake, coconut mousseline, and of course, caramelized bananas. It gave me an opportunity to try a new toy that I bought myself, a power sprayer, normally used for paint! Having used a power sprayer at pastry school and work for bon bons and entremets to achieve interesting finishes with chocolate spray, I wanted to give Curious George a velvety texture instead of glossy ganache glaze. Using melted chocolate thinned with cocoa butter allows a fine mist to be sprayed onto a frozen item, instantly solidifying into a suede-like matte finish.

In fact, hardware stores can be a gold mine of useful pastry equipment. Cut metal piping become ring molds, four metal bars make an adjustable ganache frame, a graining tool can make chocolate look like wood, and the list goes on. My industrious German pastry school teacher taught me these important lessons. Not only are hardware stores more ubiquitous, but also the prices are usually far cheaper for the same tool that works equally well than when sold as a "pastry" tool.

Can you tell that I'm frugal? In case you haven't, I used the excess coconut mousseline as filling inside some profiteroles that were brought to a family dinner. Easy and delicious!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Feeling nutty

I recently started making my own granola as an accompaniment to my daily breakfast helping of yogurt. As a result, having extra flaked almonds and dried berries in the pantry led me to crave florentines, those nutty crispy cookies that I must admit, were unknown to me until my foray into pastry. Traditionally, florentines are thin and lacy caramelized discs, with one side combed in chocolate, served at Christmas. I figure May is close enough and in Paris, I did buy a Flexipan half-sheet for florentines that was begging to be used.

Two deviations from the classic florentine were made. First, the florentine mix was baked onto discs of pâte sucrée and second, a texture sheet was used to pattern the dark chocolate rather than a comb. Many recipes I found use candied citrus peel or candied fruit but since I had a leftover bag of mixed dried cherries, strawberries, cranberries and cape gooseberries from Famous Foods , they went into my florentines.

Of course, Eric and I could not possibly (or rather, should not definitely) eat all two dozen florentines that came from the oven. Unless my product yield is purposely small, most pastry items produced in my kitchen end up being distributed to friends and family and are strategically chosen to use up leftover mise en place. I am blessed to have the time and resources to bake and create at home, a weekly activity that brings me great joy and fulfillment. Photographing and writing about it on this little blog is an extension of the creative process that ultimately benefits me and my need for a creative outlet, regardless of whether anyone actually reads my blog! But to those who do visit my blog regularly even though it is not a traditional food blog and sometimes resembles more of a online career counselling diary, thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


A wonderful thing happened this week. It has been three years since my overdue departure from ophthalmology. Throughout this time, I have developed a better sense of myself and have attempted to negate any external and internal judgment and self-doubt by immersing myself in my new chosen profession. Despite these efforts, I still do not consistently feel at peace with my decision, partially because of the enormity of the transition and anxiety surrounding how others may view my choice. But after reading this article (thank you Judy), my psyche is eased by the knowledge that someone else has had this unique experience. Being able to communicate, share, and receive true empathy from a fellow physician-patissier about the ups and downs of our often misunderstood career change has been comforting.

Thus, I do not feel so strange and alone today. In fact, having met a nurse, several engineers, and now an OB/GYN who have followed their passions to pastry, I am honoured to be in their company.