Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Baking class. Uh-huh. (and lemon curd tarts and tartlets)

That's right: I'm in a baking class.  It's super fun.  I've been waiting to sign up for one of these since the summer when I was in the thick of my dissertation and had absolutely no business even thinking about signing up for a baking class.

Turns out, getting into baking class isn't easy.  This school is so popular, you've got to sign up even months in advance to get a spot - at least, if you can't go to any of the classes given on weekday mornings and need to hold out for an evening or weekend one.

I really like baking class.  The first week we learned to make cream puffs.  One of the students in my class made these gorgeous cream puff swans.  You can see the cream puffs I made in the back.  They're the round ones with white icing drizzled over the top.  That's amaretto icing, by the way. 

The next week we made tarts and pies.  These lemon curd tartlets were what appealed to me.  Here's some of what I learned.

Things will be amazing for you when you use a microplaner to create lemon zest.  
I have a little lemon zester that I usually use to zest.  The little pieces of zest are often still a bit too chunky for baking, so I end up mincing up the zest quickly.  This microplane zester was AMAZING, however.  Got to get myself one of these at some point.

You can make use of this and that around the kitchen for juicing without an actual juicer.

And then I learned this really cool trick for juicing lemons.  You get some tongs, like the ones I'm holding here, squeeze them together, and sort of jam them into the center of a lemon half.  Then you move it around in a sort of circular motion until you've gotten as much juice out as you can.  Pretty cool.

I actually don't think I have any tongs at home, but I'll bet I could improvise, maybe with the round top of my corkscrew, or by holding two spoons together, convex sides facing out.

You can make the pastry even flakier by "fraisage"ing the pastry dough. 
I got to learn some new techniques for making pastry.  I'd seen a video about one before but it was incredibly helpful to have it demonstrated right in front of me, and then have a teacher there to ask questions of.

The method involves incorporating the water into the butter and flour mixture in a series of movements, first making the butter and flour into a shallow well, drizzling the water through the center of the well, then "fluffing" the mixture together, as the recipe below describes.  (I believe this technique is referred to as some form of the word, "papillon," French for "butterfly".)

The other very cool thing was to learn the fraisage method of handling the dough, in which I sort of smooshed the dough out with the heel of my hand, creating flaky layers of butter in the pastry.  I'd read something about doing this before, but definitely needed to see a demonstration of it before I understood how to actually do it.

After I rolled out the dough and put it into the tartlet tins, I refrigerated them for a bit.  

Go slowly when you're cooking custard.  But you can still sort out the good parts from the mess, even if it's not perfect the first time.  

Kind of like a lot of life, right?  It turns out, making lemon curd requires more eggs than you'd think.  I used nine in the ones you see here.  Nine.  I put the lemon and butter and eggs in to the saucepan and kept stirring on what I thought was low enough heat, but before I knew it there were flecks of cooked egg in what should have been a delicious, lemony concoction.  I thought I'd really screwed up.

But not really!  Turns out, you can put the cooked up, imperfect lemon curd through a sieve to strain out any visible egg parts, along with chunks of lemon zest that would upset the smooth texture of a delicious lemon curd.  Really!

You can make some very delicious pastries out of that so-called leftover pastry dough.

You really can.  The Medici restaurant in Hyde Park (Chicago) used to make these amazing cinnamon buns, using pastry dough rather than the traditional yeast bread, and I was thinking about those when I rolled up these little dandies.  I just sprinkled cinnamon sugar on top of a strip of dough, then wrapped it up into these little rolls, and sprinkled even more cinnamon sugar on top.  I liked these almost as much as I liked the tarts.

Blueberries and lemon are a beautiful and delicious combination.  

There's a lot you could do in terms of garnishing these lovely tarts.  I went with the simple, but delicious, fresh blueberries.  I just arranged them around the border of each tart.  And I'd do it the same way again.

Yum, yum.  Time for dessert. 

Lemon Curd Tartlets
Reprinted with permission from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts

Lemon Curd
5 lemons, zest and juice
5 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, cold, cut into tablespoons

Place the juice, zest, eggs, yolks, sugar and butter into a saucepan.  Which until smooth over medium heat until the mixture is thick and the temperature reads 175 degrees F or steam rises off the surface.  Pour into a bowl, cover, and chill.

Prepare the pastry and chill.  Roll out the tart dough for tartlet pans as demonstrated in class.  Chill.  With pie weights, blind bake for approximately 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees F or until the edges are golden brown.  Remove the pie weights and return the tart shell to the oven to complete the baking.  Cool and fill with lemon curd and garnish as desired.

Garnish I used here was just simple, fresh blueberries arranged around the edge of the tart.  The recipe also suggests using mint, candied violets, or lemon slices.

Pate Sable (the dough used for this tart)

2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. confectioners sugar
1 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter2
1 egg +1 tsp. vanilla + 1 Tbsp. ice water (+ more ice water if needed).

Combine the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt on a countertop.  Make a well, add the butter cut into 1" pieces.  Rub the butter and flour between your fingertips until the mixture resembles cornmeal.  Mix the egg, vanilla, and water together.  Toss some ice cubes with the water before measuring to make sure it is as cold as possible.  Add the water and egg mixture a Tbsp. at a time and fluff with your fingertips until large lumps form and the pastry is blended.  Add additional water if necessary.  Gather the dough into a ball and flatten the dough using the heel of your hands, spread the dough in different directions to create layers (fraisage).  Repeat twice.  Refrigerate a minimum of 30 minutes.  


  1. WOW!!! I've taken a class there with Clifton once and it was great. We should do one together. I am looking for some extracurricular activities to do...

  2. Mmmm.... love lemon curd :) Gotta get myself one of those microplaners myself. I pretty much do the same thing you do, mincing it finer myself.

  3. Mags, I would love to team up for some more cooking classes. There is one section in a cooking class called "Knife Skills," which in itself, I think, is awesome.

    Lindsay, if you're into lemon curd, I wonder whether you would like a strawberry curd I recently saw written up at the blog, Cosmo Cookie.