The proof is in the boudino

On paper, it looked like a busy day. Chef Janine demonstrated 4 recipes in our morning lecture—chocolate malt panna cotta, coconut lime panna cotta, orange almond bread pudding, and torta di ricotta. She threw them together effortlessly with time to spare. For our afternoon in the kitchen, the packet of recipes was hefty and ambitious. There was chocolate mousse, lemon cheesecake (with lemon curd and candied lemon peel), chocolate cheesecake, mixed berry pavlova, and maple boudino. Would we be able to tackle such an array of custards and mousses in a single afternoon? Would our cheesecakes crack under the pressure?

 Individual cheesecakes with lemon curd and homemade graham cracker crust

Individual cheesecakes with lemon curd and homemade graham cracker crust

With whisks in hand, we broke into teams and gave it a shot. First up was the maple boudino—a baked custard thickened with lots of egg yolks and sweetened with concentrated maple syrup and brown sugar. The individual cups were baked in a covered water bath until just barely set. Any longer, and they would become curdled (look up syneresis). Despite the overwhelming sweetness (I would omit half the sugar) ours turned out nicely.

Smooth and creamy boudino, check. Next up, cheesecake. Since the recipe involved several components, we divided and conquered. Eager to practice my new knife skills, I volunteered for the candied lemon peel. I removed the rind in strips and made sure there was barely a trace of the bitter white pith. Then 1/4-inch strips were boiled in several changes of water before being simmered in simple syrup (sugar and water). The final result was translucent, lemony curlicues. And as an added bonus, the infused sugar syrup can be stirred into cocktails or lemonade.

 Little tastes of chocolate mousse made from Julia Child's recipe

Little tastes of chocolate mousse made from Julia Child's recipe

My group cruised through the cheesecake and lemon curd so it was on to the pavlova and chocolate mousse. We dolloped billowy clouds of meringue onto parchment paper and set them to bake in the convection oven. Cream was whipped while raspberry sauce was mixed and strained. We were on fire! Before I knew it, the final folds of beaten egg whites were disappearing into the chocolate mousse.

All that was left to do was taste.

My favorite by far was the pavlova. Unlike the other creamy desserts, it had the most variety in texture, color, and flavor. The merinque was simultaneously crisp and chewy, the fresh berries were bursting with sweetness and tang, and the mellow whipped cream gave that luscious, rich mouth feel. The maple boudino, in contrast, I found overly sweet and too one-dimensional. The first bite was great, but I couldn't imagine eating an entire serving.

 The cooling meringues for Pavlova

The cooling meringues for Pavlova

Everyone felt a bit sick from the afternoon dessert orgy, but thanks to Janine's sense of organization and planning, we had done it. We made it through our thick stack of dessert recipes without covering the kitchen in custard. And we even had time to spare.