A month ago on a Monday, I was going through the posts on my Fooderati Arabia group. Who are they, you ask? Read about this fantastic group of foodies over here. Living in the capital means you aren't going to be a part of the fabulous meetups, both impromptu and otherwise, attended by food enthusiasts in Dubai. This has been added to the ever-growing list of how much I miss living in the city I grew up in. Imagine my delight when I read that a pastry workshop is being held in Abu Dhabi at the newly opened Holiday Inn. Aquarius Magazine had organized a pastry session titled 'Something Sweet' for its devoted readers. They had invitations for food bloggers based in the city to attend and we were allowed to bring a guest. 2 phone calls and 5 emails later, I confirmed my attendance with my friend Her Highness Red Heels, Saman Sheikh.
We arrive at the venue at 2pm sharp and make our way to the mezzanine floor. We spot the Aquarius magazine banner and make our way to the designated hall. Taking our seats we chit chat, watching fellow attendants trickling in. The lovely Louisa from Aquarius magazine played the perfect host and checked on each of us, asking whether we had helped ourselves to refreshments. The clock reads 2 25 pm and we begin. The audience is introduced to Pastry Chef Anubhav and Chef de Partie Adnan. The pastries and desserts served at all the restaurants in Holiday Inn are prepared in the Central kitchen, headed by Chef Anubhav. For the workshop he was going to demonstrate two desserts, the Aztique Cake and the Gianduja Mousse.
Chef Anubhav started briefing us about the fundamentals of chocolate. Chocolate is composed of two parts - cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It is classified on this very basis, the ratio of solids to butter. The content of cocoa solids determine the bitterness of the chocolate and the percentage values we see on chocolate bars tell us the ratio of the same in the chocolate. It's a simple one. Higher the percentage, the more bitter the chocolate. Now this is a fact I'm sure most of us already knew. He then went on to the chemical properties of chocolate. Cocoa is made up of 5 different types of fat crystals. Each of these crystals has different melting points and setting time ranging from 28 degrees Celsius onwards. Throughout his explanation, Chef Anubhav was bombarded with questions from the group and he entertained each one with patience and a smile. The first pastry he made was named by Chef Anubhav himself. He pays a tribute to the founders of the chocolate and call his pastry the Aztique cake. The Aztecs were an aristocratic society of the Mesoamerican culture. Cocoa was considered a luxury and was reserved for royalty, the rich and the nobles. They valued the bean so highly that they used it as their currency. He proudly announces that chocolate is healthy and begins making a brownie base for his cake. I watch as he begins melting 56% Dark Callebaut Chocolate (not available commercially) and butter on a double boiler. He whips sugar and eggs to an airy fluff and folds the chocolate mixture into it. He folds in flour and walnuts and pours the batter into a square pan and sends it off to the kitchen to bake.
He then moves on to making his ganache. He uses an induction plate to boil cream which he then pours over chopped chocolate. He stirs in butter, allowing it to melt and speaks at length about the textural properties of ganache. We are finished with making the components of the cake. It is time for the second dessert demonstration which is the Gianduja Mousse. I first heard this term while watching Everyday Italian on the Food Network by Giada de Laurentis. Pronounced as Jhe-yan doo yah, it's a confection made of 30% Hazelnut paste and chocolate, native to Italy. A popular variety of Gianduja is the chocolate hazelnut butter used as a spread. I'm sure everyone has guessed the popular timeless commercial brand of this spread. It's only been a week since the Dubai Municipality warned residents about illegal chocolate 'shots' being sold in syringes. Serious Eats says chocolatiers coined the term in the 17th century when they began combining hazelnut with chocolate to accommodate the shortage on cocoa beans during the Napolean blockade. Chef Anubhav allowed us to try a block of Gianduja chocolate. It was rich and had the most delicate flavor of roasted hazelnuts and it had me in a chocolate trance.
The first step is to make the custard. Chef Adnan had soaked gelatin leaves in cold water for the mousse. Chef Anubhav begins boiling milk, whipping egg yolks and sugar furiously and (phew) explains the easiest way to a failed custard - scrambled eggs. The temperature of the eggs is much cooler than the milk and should you add the eggs into it you can watch the liquid seizing up into clotty lumps. To prevent that, you temper the egg yolk mixture. Tempering is done by adding a third of the heated liquid into the egg yolk mixture to warm them up. This lowers the chance of eggs scrambling when you add it into the remaining heated milk. Chef Anubhav uses a thermometer throughout the tempering process. He says eggs cook at 80 degrees Celsius. A mere 2 degrees more and we have the dreaded egg lumps. He adds that good technique to check whether the custard is ready is to check the back of a wooden spoon. If the batter coats it, your custard is ready.
On cue, we watch Chef Anubhavs' mixture scramble. On a normal day he isn't teaching a boisterous audience the nuances of tempering eggs. He jokingly adds that this, too, is a part of today's demonstration.
In no time, he whisked a fresh batch of yolks, tempered it with milk and a stirs it into a perfect custard. Having mixed the gelatin leaves into the custard, the mixture is poured over the gianduja to make a smooth ganache. Chef Anubhav recommends using a hand blender at this stage to ensure the ganache is blended smoothly. He rests the ganache to allow it to cool to room temperature and begins whisking cream. He advises to look out for a semi-whipped texture as this is ideal for a mouse. He beats a third of the whipped cream into the chocolate till it is smooth. This mixture is then folded back into the cream, gently, in order to incorporate air. The mousse is a flowing consistency and is ready to be set.
Chef Anubhav pipes the mousse into tiny glass moulds. Perhaps I was the only one who was closely watching his piping technique as the audience was noticeably distracted by the Aztique cake bites on the glass platter. This could only mean that we had come to an end to the afternoons' workshop. Once I was done photographing my share, Saman and I sat to enjoy our dessert. The Aztique cake was unassumingly rich for a small portion. Dark chocolate lovers, like myself, would love the depth of chocolate one could taste in both components of brownie and mousse. If you like your dessert a bit sweeter, you will have preferred the Gianduja Mousse. Unfortunately, the refrigerator was housing desserts for the evening and the batch that was prepared beforehand for us to taste, could not make it in time to set. With apologies, we were requested to have the mousse that was just piped out. Technically, that is Gianduja custard cream. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful dessert and I could only imagine the cloud like texture it could have been. Once again, I'm sure I was the only one thinking about this as I watched everyone lapping their desserts without a care.
Hats off to Chev Anubhav and Chef Adnan for a wonderful demonstration and for entertaining all the questions we had. A big thank you to Louisa Wilkins, from Aquarius magazine, for the opportunity to attend the wonderfully organized event and of course, for our bright pink Aquarius Magazine goody bags with a complimentary copy of the May issue of the magazine, a gift certificate for a brunch at Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi and recipe cards for the desserts made in the pastry workshop.
Here are some photographs I took while everyone else was enjoying their desserts ;)
Have a good food day.