As Lovescool’s self-appointed west coast correspondent and the one responsible for Kelli’s dessert gene, I figured it was time to test my skills and take a dessert class of my own. I picked up a schedule from the Westlake Culinary Institute in Westlake Village, California and selected “The Art of Plating Desserts,” taught by professional pastry chef, Natasha MacAller. It’s the first time I have ever taken a class of this type and wasn’t really sure what to expect from this two night event. With Kelli in New York, I tried to convince my youngest daughter to come along so I wouldn’t be alone in this venture, but no luck. After paying the enrollment fee I received a list of class recipes for various cakes, tortes and sauces, and off I went.
I arrived at the classroom and sat among ten other women who had all previously attended other classes taught by the institute. They were much more attuned to the world of gourmet cooking, but since there was chocolate at stake I wasn’t going to be easily intimidated. I listened carefully to Natasha as she explained the recipes we would be preparing and watched eagerly while she showed us many “how-to” tips and tricks of the trade.
Once it was our turn to make some of the sauces she so carefully demonstrated, we were asked to select a partner and were turned loose on the kitchen. At first I felt uncomfortable being in “someone else’s kitchen” and was unsure about their help yourself, free-for-all style, but the staff showed us around and I was soon opening cabinets and finding the ingredients as if I were at home. I was tasked with making the Berry Sauce and my partner made Passion Fruit Sabayon (a sauce made with eggs, cream and a fruit puree of your choice; we used passion fruit). The other teams’ culinary creations included Caramel Sauce, Milk Chocolate Sauce and Tuille Batter (which would later bake into thin, delightful and decorative cookies you can shape). The sauces and tuille chilled overnight and were used to complete the desserts on the following day.
The second night started the same as the first night, with a detailed demonstration. We learned such things as how to “pull sugar” for sugar cages, make piping bags from parchment paper, and create chocolate “fences” by simply melting chocolate chips. Natasha, a former professional ballerina, certainly used her creative side to bring the various cakes, pies, tortes and sauces made during the class together beautifully on the plate. Her style is simple and free flowing, often inspired by the art of Japanese flower arrangement. She made it all look so easy, and then handed the proverbial dessert plate over to us.
Again, we were loose in the kitchen and had a great time grabbing a plate, any plate, and creating. We swirled chocolate “fences” and various sauces, added just the “right” torte or cake, and finished it off with a touch of fresh berries, cream or even a fresh flower. When we were done it all looked too good to eat, but after all it was dessert, so I came prepared with a spoon in hand! I even created a few desserts on paper plates that could be brought home for others to enjoy, too. All in all it was a fun couple of nights and I would recommend this class, and the school, to anyone interested in broadening their cooking and dessert horizons.
Sour Cream Chocolate Lava Cakes
by Pastry Chef Natasha MacAller
4 oz bittersweet pastilles or chopped chocolate
4 oz European style unsalted butter
1 tsp coffee extract, optional
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch kosher salt
3 large yolks
3 extra large eggs
½ c. plus 1 tsp sugar
¼ c. plus 1 tsp all purpose flour
¼ c. sour cream
Place butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and melt together until smooth. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Add coffee extract and vanilla. Add sour cream.
Whip eggs and yolks in kitchen aid with whip attachment until pale yellow. Add sugar in a slow, steady stream and continue whipping until light and fluffy and nearly to the top of bowl. Sift flour and salt and mix into eggs alternating with the chocolate mixture until well combined. Pan spray ramekins and add ½ c. batter to each. Place broken chocolate piece or truffle into center of batter. Bake at 350 degrees (convection for 13 minutes until edges are set and tops are almost set. Allow to stand 3-4 minutes before unmolding.
Passion Fruit Sabayon
by Pastry Chef Natasha MacAller
6 large yolks, room temperature
½ c. sugar
1/3 c + 1 tsp passion fruit puree
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
2 T. orange liqueur (or try champagne for a festive occasion)
1 T. vanilla extract
A few drops of food color, orange preferably (or something consistent with fruit puree, ie., red for strawberry)
Place yolks in a bowl of a double boiler over barely simmering water & whish until well combined. Slowly add sugar, puree, ½ c. cream and liqueur then vigorously and continuously whisk about 10 minutes until light yellow and fluffy. Have an ice bath ready. Transfer bowl to the ice bath (to immediately stop the cooking), add additional cream and vanilla and a few drops of food coloring and fold into the egg mixture. Chill and use a generous spoonful on the plate. Use within 3 days.
Westlake Culinary Institute
4643 Lakeview Canyon Road
Westlake Village, CA 91361