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Fyre

Cheesecake Factory- a few facts

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Hi. This is my first post here. I saw a bunch of posts about the Cheesecake Factory - specifically in Hackensack, NJ- and saw things like the food comes frozen and wanted to point a few things out and shed some light on some of the myths and urban legends of the super-hyped disneyland of a restaurant that is the CF.

I consider that job to be one of the most horrible places to work of all the jobs I've had in my waitressing career, so what I say I consider to be unbiased.

1. The food is extremely fresh and every single thing is made when you order it. Very little is pre-prepped. Nothing is frozen or microwaved. In fact, they will not even press down on a steak with weight like they do in any other chain restaurant to speed the cooking time, that is a fireable offense. So, if you order well, you are going to wait. They don't want the steak losing any of its juices -which happens when you weight down a steak. This is one of the reasons why your dining experience will be the longest in your life and you will sit an average of 2 hours or more at your table after waiting 1 to 2 to 3 hours. This also is what causes the 3 hour waits. When you order chicken madeira, for example, the chef reduces veal stock (the real thing, not instand bouillion or anything like that) and makes the madeira sauce ingredient by ingredient to order. When you order chicken fingers for your children thinking it will be fast, they do not flour them until they are ordered and your children will not eat for at least 15 minutes if not 20. If you order pizza, they roll out the dough then and there. It is the ONLY chain restaurant I have worked in where the cooks really cook and do not just mix together a bunchy of pre-prepped or frozen stuff. There are like 7 cooking stations, saute, broil, pizza, salad, fry, and I am sure something else I forget. Food will not go out unless the plate looks perfect to specification. Many times, they will make the cook remake something because something is not perfect. The cooks really cook everything just like a real restaurant. That is a reason for the "open kitchen" so that you can see them cooking everything and also so you know how clean and wonderful the kitchen is.

2. The waits are almost deliberate. That is why no reservations, no call-ahead. And, if in every CF there are 2 to 3 hour waits virtually every night of the week, why don't they build the place bigger when they open a new one? Because they want you to wait 3 hours, it is part of the hype. Before we opened the restaurant, we had many meetings with silly music (they actually played the music that they call basketball players to the court with and said while all of the management and training staff ran down the aisle: Meet your new kitchen manager.. meet your new server manager. They had motivational speakers. It was dorky and I felt like I was in a freaky cult). Anyway, they shoved it in our heads many times that "people wait over 3 hours!!! to get into "our" restaurant. They want people to come in and think the place must be so fabulous if there is such a crowd waiting and dying to get in. Makes it almost exclusive-like, sort of. Why don't they try to figure out how to get food out faster and get people out faster? Because they don't want to! Too much actual cooking many, many different dishes for a restaurant that size takes a lot of time. Ticket times sometimes reach 45 minutes for appetizers. The most disorganized organization is what I called that place. They had exact procedures for everything, expeditors and at least 5 food runners per shift, managers walking around with head sets, yet food goes to the wrong table constantly, cooks make things wrong and somehow special orders (lite sauce, no mushrooms, etc) are not heard or not communicated, things aren't ready for the same table at the same time so they send out 2 entrees leaving 1 person without food for 15 minutes on a table.... All this adds up to longer times that people sit at tables and why it takes so long for you to get a table.

3. The beepers work until Sharper Image in the mall. When I worked there, the customers were told that when they got their beeper; customers went to Houstons and got a beeper, and to CF and got a beeper, whichever went off first was the place they went. Then, they left beepers all over the mall. They cost A LOT of money to keep replacing. So, now they tell you you can't leave the restaurant. It's a lie.

4. The cheesecake is made in a factory in Texas and is frozen and shipped. It is then thawed. That is why sometimes they run out, sometimes they do run out, other times, the bakery waits till they are out of something and *then* tells a manager and then the manager gets it from the freezer and it has to be thawed to be served. I don't think it's a big deal, it tastes good anyway. Imagine though, you are a waiter/waitress, someone asks for a recommendation for cheesecake.. You sell them on the Oreo cheesecake. You put it in the computer. You go to the bakery to the area where you would pick up your cheesecake for said table. There are several pieces of cheesecake, none are yours. "Run desserts, people. Don't just stand there." is shouted at you. So you run a few, come back and check and still no dessert for your table. The bakery staff is working on the line of people going out the door and no one is working on the desserts for tables. So, you go do something else for another table. "Run food. Let's go, food in the window! Let's get it out" is shouted at you. You are now in the weeds... You are sat 2 tables and they are looking around for a waitress. But, you dutifully run food. Go to 2 new tables. Both are not happy, one asks for kid's menus. We don't have any. Not happy. One table has no idea what to get, as they peruse the menu while you stand there fidgeting thinking about the other table's cheesecake. You make several suggestions thoroughly describing each dish (because most people do not know what something like Thai Chicken Pasta entails and everything has to be described and I must say whether or not I like this dish). This table decides they need more time. Phew, on to the bakery to get my dessert. I see the table waiting and try not to make eye contact, but I know they are looking around very anxious and almost annoyed, wondering what in the world could take so long to get a dessert. Go back to bakery. Bakery staff person tells you, sorry we are out of Oreo cheesecake, we just put it into the computer. Great, I am so glad they put it in now as opposed to when they really ran out so when I ordered it 15 minutes ago, the computer would have told me! So, now, after all that time, I have to go back to my table and tell them that sorry the wonderful Oreo cheesecake I talked you into is out of stock. There goes my tip and this leads to #5....

5. I can not say how many times I heard: "you must make SOOO much money here" when I waited tables at CF. If I had a nickel for everytime I heard that, I wouldn't have to wait tables... Sometimes, yes the money can be good, but not that much better than some other restaurants. In fact, I work somewhere now where the food is so cheap, the customers are cheap and miserable and I make much better money more consistently than I did at the CF even though the food is pretty expensive (a check for 2 people can be $75 EASY) and the clientelle supposedly a bit higher class. A. They made us tip out a minimum of 27 and a half percent of our tips, but more like a third plus some. So, on a Saturday night, if you have $150 in your pocket, you hand about $50 out to the busboy, foodrunner (even though you are constantly yelled at to run food no matter how busy you are and how long your tables are sitting there before you can get to them), and bar. B. People who wait 3 hours for a table are miserable and crabby and miserable, crabby people are usually miserable tippers. And, trust me I gave GREAT service and rarely scewed up. In addition, all the screw ups that happen due to the size of the place as I mentioned previously, cause mistakes to happen to your customer's food and then you get screwed on tips. C. Since every table has appetizers which can take 1/2 hour to 45 mins sometimes, and then the dinners take forever, and EVERYONE has dessert, you have no turnover. You can get 25% tips from all your tables, but you make more money if you can turn your tables faster. It is definitely quantity of tables versus quality of tips except in rare cases that makes a waitress money. D. If you work in smoking in the bar, the middle high-top tables are first come, first serve... people waiting for tables park themselves there and order drinks from the bar and take up your table while you make no money from them at all and there is nothing you can or are allowed to do about it. All of those factors add up to sometimes you make good money, sometimes not - when you bust your ass on very long shifts and deal with a lot of hostile, not so happy people and sometimes a very stressful work environment- it was all not worth it! The most I ever made was on a 14 hour straight through double with a 5 minute break while I shoveled food in my mouth sitting in a corner on a milk crate with someone yelling at me that I should hurry as it is unfair to the person watching my station; I felt like I was in a war zone by the end of the night- beat up and disheveled. I've made more at my job in a 'dive' now in a 7 hour dinner shift than that double.

6. They make the wait staff wear all white because the owner is superstitious and thinks white causes people to be hungry. That in addtion to they think it is very neat and clean looking and makes peole think everything is neat and clean. All white would be ok if you didn't have to touch any food, but when you are sometimes almost elbow deep scraping out a dressing container or you stack plates with sauces on your arms and go the other side of the Earth with them trying to not get bumped into as you weave through crowds, white sucks. I burned holes in my clothes from all the bleach!

I don't know any recipes, everything is top secret. We had to know the key ingredients (like what is in tex mex eggrolls) and everything on the menu thoroughly, but we never saw recipes. We even had to sign a confidentiality contract.

The only way I know of to get a table faster: sometimes when I was in smoking, people would bribe me to give them tables. Yep! I did it! By the time the hostess passed the table to check if it was "open" like they do, someone was sitting and they didn't know it was someone not from their list; no one was the wiser and I was $10 or $20 richer. Nope, no guilt for it either. If you are desperate, I would try that.

I eat there myself nowadays, but not so often because I want appetizers, salad, entree and dessert and I end up with a huge check. But, I don't wait more than 45 minutes so I go later in the night after prime dinner time.

Tip 20%. www.tip20.com

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I know nothing of the Cheescake Factory, but have to say thats an awesome first post.Welcome to egullet

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Welcome Frye,

Great post. I have always been fascinated with Cheesecake Factory's operation and how they manage to do so many types of dishes. The menu is huge.

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welcome.

i'm not sure how many people who read/post on egullet actually go the the cheesecake factory though. sad, but true. it's just not worth the time/money, regardless of positive/negative posts about it.

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Welcome!

That was a great 1st post. I look forward to more...


"If we don't find anything pleasant at least we shall find something new." Voltaire

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Welcome, what a great post!

I know a guy who used to wait tables there...he was named Employee of the Month once.

Next month, he stole the safe! :laugh::laugh:

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great posting. i've only been to CF once & thought it was pretty good, but was amazed at the time people were happy to wait for a table for a chain restaurant! everytime you go by the one in Riverside Square, it's mobbed. it's like a cult. it's good to hear that the food is real & cooked to order, but why anyone would want to sit there for 3 hours is beyond me. thanks for the insight into CF.


www.cookstour.netMy Blog

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Yow! A glimpse inside the dark Satanic cheesecake mills... Welcome, fyre!

The beepers work until Sharper Image in the mall. When I worked there, the customers were told that when they got their beeper; customers went to Houstons and got a beeper, and to CF and got a beeper, whichever went off first was the place they went. Then, they left beepers all over the mall. They cost A LOT of money to keep replacing. So, now they tell you you can't leave the restaurant. It's a lie.

Why don't they just take a driver's license as a deposit?

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What an interesting post into the inner workings of this chain. I'm amazed at the beeper thing and the three hour wait... I've seem people freak at grocery stores if the wait was too long..it seems unimagineable to me that anyone would wait that long for a meal. It's like they are under a spell!

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I've seem people freak at grocery stores if the wait was too long..it seems unimagineable to me that anyone would wait that long for a meal. It's like they are under a spell!

and bribe someone for a table! i love it.

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..it seems unimagineable to me that anyone would wait that long for a meal. It's like they are under a spell!

I couldn't agree more!

When I used to ride the bus home in Atlanta, I'd pass right by a Cheesecake Factory. Every single night it was mobbed, every table full, and scores of folks milling about the entryway. I could never understand what the draw was.

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I couldn't agree more!

When I used to ride the bus home in Atlanta, I'd pass right by a Cheesecake Factory.  Every single night it was mobbed, every table full, and scores of folks milling about the entryway.  I could never understand what the draw was.

all of those places have lines. olive garden, outback, et al. the appeal, i suppose, is consistency. of course, they're all horribly mediocre, but most of america doesn't like surprises.


Edited by tommy (log)

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What's the difference between waiting three hours for a table, and making restaurant reservations a month or more in advance? Because I wouldn't do the former, but I do do the latter. I'm not sure that my behavior is any less zombie-like than the CF's patrons'.

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What's the difference between waiting three hours for a table, and making restaurant reservations a month or more in advance?  Because I wouldn't do the former, but I do do the latter.  I'm not sure that my behavior is any less zombie-like than the CF's patrons'.

But the point was made that even if not allowed to roam the mall, they are still waiting, inside or right near the CF, for a table..when making your reservation, you have invested the 10 minutes on the phone obtaining it ( assuming its not the FL! :smile: ) and have that month, weeks, days and hours free right up to the time you need to leave to get to your restaurant destination. These folks are food prisoners at CF!!

I guess my point, as a rather over scheduled person, is that I understand why they might like the food ( as Tommy mentioned, no suprises) but I don't understand who these people are who value their time so little that they would surrender three hours waiting for a table. I am a person who values time..I could accomplish a lot in three hours...what exactly do they DO while they wait? Do they bring a book? Laptops? Play charades?

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We love the CF and eat there regularly, and I was so pleased by your post explaining how fresh everything is. I think the food is great-- there's just so much of it that we end up taking home half the meal in order to have cheesecake.

We go early to avoid the wait. We have lunch there a lot at 11:30 or 12, or eat at 5 or 5:30 because my Picky Eater won't wait anywhere. We also found a new CF that opened in downtown Ft. Lauderdale without any fanfare, and for weeks after it opened no one knew about it and we could get in right away.

Neil


Author of the Mahu series of mystery novels set in Hawaii.

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But the  point was made that even if not allowed to roam the mall, they are still waiting, inside or right near the CF, for a table..when making your reservation, you have invested the 10 minutes on the phone obtaining it ( assuming its not the FL! :smile: ) and have that month, weeks, days and hours free right up to the time you need to leave to get to your restaurant destination.  These folks are food prisoners at CF!!

I guess my point, as a rather over scheduled person, is that I understand why they might like the food ( as Tommy mentioned, no suprises) but I don't understand who these people are who value their time so little that they would surrender three hours waiting for a table. I am a person who values time..I could accomplish a lot in three hours...what exactly do they DO while they wait? Do they bring a book? Laptops? Play charades?

I'm making the assumption that, dire warnings to the contrary, people do spend their three hours wandering the mall. So they get there early, take a number, then go shopping. If you like going to the mall, then it's not such a bad use of time. And you can do it in a relatively spur-of-the-moment kind of way. If at lunch you decide you want CF for dinner, you can have it.

Whereas when I make a reservation a month out, not only do I have to wait a month, I also have to know that I'll be able to eat that night, at that time. For overscheduled people, that can be even tougher.

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What's the difference between waiting three hours for a table, and making restaurant reservations a month or more in advance?  Because I wouldn't do the former, but I do do the latter.  I'm not sure that my behavior is any less zombie-like than the CF's patrons'.

Andrew , it depends on the restaurant. If u are making reservations for a "Cheescake Factory" type place a month in advance then there is a problem.

Another difference is that when you make reservations you are not actually waiting, sitting on a bench or walking aimlessly in a mega-mall waiting for the all sacred beeper to go off so u can satisfy your hunger.

great post Fyre and welcome to e-gullet

FM


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I guess my point, as a rather over scheduled person, is that I understand why they might like the food ( as Tommy mentioned, no suprises) but I don't understand who these people are who value their time so little that they would surrender three hours waiting for a table.  I am a person who values time..I could accomplish a lot in three hours...what exactly do they DO while they wait? Do they bring a book? Laptops? Play charades?

it boggles the mind. think of all the posting a guy like me could do in those 3 hours.

i have somewhat of an unwritten rule: i don't wait in line for dinner.

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II'm making the assumption that, dire warnings to the contrary, people do spend their three hours wandering the mall.  So they get there early, take a number, then go shopping.  If you like going to the mall, then it's not such a bad use of time.

I guess you're right...I'm not too familiar with the place, but from the comments from some of these posts, there was so many mentions of crowds and people milling around, I thought they waited at the restaurant itself. I'm going to stick with making reservtions, myself. :cool:

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II'm making the assumption that, dire warnings to the contrary, people do spend their three hours wandering the mall.  So they get there early, take a number, then go shopping.  If you like going to the mall, then it's not such a bad use of time.

I guess you're right...I'm not too familiar with the place, but from the comments from some of these posts, there was so many mentions of crowds and people milling around, I thought they waited at the restaurant itself. I'm going to stick with making reservtions, myself. :cool:

i thought i read that they're not allowed to leave the restaurant?

and some of them aren't in malls to begin with.

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Andrew , it depends on the restaurant. If u are making reservations for a "Cheescake Factory" type place a month in advance then there is a problem.

Well, I intentionally didn't make any comparisons as to the kind of food, because I don't think that's relevant to the discussion. Some people like one kind of place, others like another: what's at issue is the wait.

Another difference is that when you make reservations you are not actually waiting, sitting on a bench or walking aimlessly in a mega-mall waiting for the all sacred beeper to go off so u can satisfy your hunger.

And again, if you like going to the mall, what's the problem with walking around? And if you're sitting on a bench talking to your dining companion, is that so bad? Shouldn't we be happy for a chance to just sit and talk for three hours?

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And if you're sitting on a bench talking to your dining companion, is that so bad? Shouldn't we be happy for a chance to just sit and talk for three hours?

Three hours of talking is fine, in a nice atmosphere, a glass or two fo wine, perhaps on a lovely patio or an intimate setting or a funky coffee bar...but, and I don't profess to know a lot about the decor of the CF, I'm assuming its REd Lobster /Olive Garden like decor, which is mostly benches in the entrance foyer, and a few bistro tables at the bar.

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Yeah, I don't really know what the decor is like, either. My point is just that you always hear about how busy people are, what with the overwork, the taking the kids to soccer, yada yada yada... It's probably hard for lots of folks to just sit and talk at home, without turning on the TV or doing some chores; and it's also probably tough to schedule time to sit and talk at a restaurant, bar or patio. An enforced situation where you have nothing to do but talk, even in sub-optimal conditions, isn't such a bad thing.

Though I still suspect you could just go shopping with beeper. How would they stop you?

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Yeah, I don't really know what the decor is like, either.  My point is just that you always hear about how busy people are, what with the overwork, the taking the kids to soccer, yada yada yada...  It's probably hard for lots of folks to just sit and talk at home, without turning on the TV or doing some chores; and it's also probably tough to schedule time to sit and talk at a restaurant, bar or patio.  An enforced situation where you have nothing to do but talk, even in sub-optimal conditions, isn't such a bad thing.

I'm all for talking, so I'm with you there, Andrew.

But if I required enforced situations like the one we're discussing, I'd choose not to talk.

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      "Cuiz" my chocolate cookies to make the "dirt" for my pots. And......

      start dusting my flowers and leaves with luster dust to add a little depth and realism to them. For this project I just made "whimsical flowers" in that they really aren't any particular flower....they're just cartoonish and colorful. Well, the roses are, well, roses.....gotta have a few roses. In the background there, you can see sort of how I did the gumpaste umbrella. I happened to have a dessert cup at home that was well suited for it. I filled out the top with gumpaste and added "ribs" with gumpaste, then put some saran on the top of that and put a gumpaste disk on it. I then cut out the rounded parts between the ribs.....and voila....umbrella! This was the first thing I made because I wanted it to have the maximum amount of drying time. Now if I were really smart, I would have made not one, but two or even three umbrellas because stuff always breaks. Always. No matter how careful you are. Especially in a commercial kitchen.....not only do you have to worry about yourself but everyone else too. I make more flowers than I need because I always manage to break quite a few. But, as it was, I only made one umbrella since I was so cocky and sure of myself. Turns out I was lucky......this time! Ok, time to roll out some terra cotta colored fondant!

      Dust the table liberally with cornstarch and roll away. I've done this so much I can just eyeball how much fondant I'll need to cover a certain sized cake. When rolling out fondant, waste no time from the time you're done rolling til you get it on the cake, because it starts drying out right away. Drying out means yukky little cracks, and me no likey little cracks! So I race to walk-in, retrieve cake, and cover it quickly.

      Then I take my trusty little pizza wheel and cut the excess away. This excess will get kneaded back into the remainder of my fondant so that I'll have enough to cover the other pot. So I take the rounded pot out of the walk-in, and, after washing my hands like a surgeon, I use the warmth of my hands to smooth the buttercream out so I have a perfect surface on which to cover with fondant. I tried using latex gloves for doing smoothing, but they are too much of a barrier to my body warmth. I need that warmth to lightly soften the buttercream for the proper smoothing. And here we have a nice smooth surface for the fondant:

      Into the reach-in it goes to set up while I roll out my fondant.......and here it is covered, with the excess trimmed away. Notice that I trimmed off my plastic wrap quite a bit before I covered it. Otherwise I would have gotten into a wrestling match with it and the fondant.

      So back into the walk-in they go to stay firm while I take me a little breaky:

      This is the view out the back door of the kitchen. We look over the Kai-Tai Lagoon and the Olympic Mountains. Unfortunately you can't see the Olympics in this picture because it's cloudy. But man, on a clear day......it's outstanding. Off to the right, beyond the trellis thing, is a large garden full of culinary things....a la Chez Panisse. We've got rosemary, bay, basil, fennel, oregano, chervil,onions, squashes (in the fall), thyme, decorative flowers, arugula, and more. Whenever we need herbs....just go out back. We get most of our produce from local farmers who come to our back door. One of the things I LOVE about Tinytown. It really beats the in-city large mass produce vendors. As I look out the back door, I sip on a latte that I made myself from our aging and undependable espresso machine. Luckily, today, I managed to pull a pretty good shot. Ok, break time over! Back to work! My next step is to turn my pots over. I will turn the larger pot over first. I slip my offset spatula underneath the saran wrap and lift the cake off, and set it aside on the table. An important thing to note: If I'd used a mousse, curd, or jam filling, I wouldn't have been able to do this so easily. With a refrigerated buttercream filling, the cake doesn't flex at all as I lift it. I managed to nick a little of my polyfoil covering with my spat when I went to lift the cake. Nuts. Oh well, I'll cover that with a flower later. I melt some white chocolate and smear some in the center of my board. I need to anchor the bottom pot so it doesn't slip around.

      I flip the bottom pot over, place it on top of my melted white chocolate, make sure it's centered, and peel the saran wrap off.

      My next step is to mark where I'm going to place my top pot, then insert straws within that area to support the weight of it. I decided to place the top pot slightly off center, and traced a circle with my paring knife to mark it. For most cake supports I use straws. They're easy to cut to fit, cheap, and they work. The only time I use wooden dowels is when there is an UNGODLY amount of weight or a weird center of gravity involved. I used to use regular heavy duty bar straws, until I discovered.......bubble tea straws! They are super heavy duty and very large.....they have to be for people to suck up that lovely bubble tea. I don't really think that fad is going to catch on here much in the states, but as long as I can get the straws I'm happy. I get them from an asian novelty wholesaler in Seattle. I think it's Viet-Wah, but can't remember for sure.

      Anyway, I insert the straw, mark it with my thumb where it's flush with the top of the cake, then pull the straw out and cut it. I use that straw as a measure to cut the rest of my straws. In this case I will use 5. One in the center and four around.

      Now I'm all ready to place the top pot on......oh, wait, except for a swirl of buttercream on top of the straws to anchor it a bit. Next, I use my melted white chocolate to adhere an appropriately sized round cardboard on the bottom of my top pot.

      Once that's set, I flip over the top pot, and place it on my bottom pot.

      Voila! Now, I really have to make sure that the top pot won't slide around, so I stick a few bamboo skewers down through the middle and through the cardboard til it hits the bottom board. I use the side of my needlenose pliers to pound the skewer down through. Now starts my very favorite part of this whole thing.....details! I figured that using my silicone lace impression molds will make great detailing on the pots. Here's the one I'm going to use to detail the bottom pot:

      I dust the inside of the mold with cornstarch........then roll out a quick piece of fondant, and roughly press it in:

      Then I place the top piece of the silicone impression on top, and roll it like crazy with a rolling pin. With the top part of the impression still in place, I pull off as much of the excess as I can.

      Then I remove the top piece, and pull all the ragged edges back in......

      Then I brush a little water on the back of the piece, and adhere it to the pot. I keep making them until the pattern has gone all the way 'round.

      I use a different lace mold to make a pattern on the top pot. Now it's time to do the rims. When I did the lace impressions around the pots, I used fondant, because I needed the stretchability of it to conform easily to the shape of the pot. A little stretchiness in this case is good. But when it's time to do the rims, I don't want ANY stretching going on whatsoever.....I want uniformly thick and perfectly straight strips, so for this I'm going to use modeling chocolate, which of course has been colored the same color as the fondant. See the neato embossing on my strip? I found that little embossing wheel at Seattle Pottery Supply, believe it or not, and it was cheap too. The embossers are interchangeable and it came with about 10 different patterns! I rolled out my strip, then embossed the pattern twice (one next to the other) then used my pizza wheel to cut nice straight even edges. I made two top strips and two bottom strips....the bottom strips are just plain.

      And here are the pots with all their details.....

      These guys are going into the walk-in for a while while I work on the other details. Gotta make the baby! First I start with a styrofoam core. The reason for this is for stability and less weight. There was a time in my career when I thought I shouldn't use ANYTHING that wasn't edible, but talk about making life hard. I've made things out of solid modeling chocolate, but they were very heavy and hard to support. Then over the years, I realized that people really don't eat the decorations anyway (except for a few overzealous kids), so I decided to reduce my chocolate expenses and weight by using styrofoam to bulk things out more and more. I pat out a disk of flesh colored modeling chocolate, and place my styrofoam ball in the middle.

      Then I bring the edges up around the ball and squeeze the chocolate together so that no seams show. I stick a couple of skewers in it so that I can hold it in one hand and model it with the other. Then I manipulate it in my surgeon-scrubbed hands to model the face, add a little nose, eyes, mouth, ears, hair and of course, a dimple. The baby head needs to go somewhere while I work on other stuff.....oh, here's a good place.....right in the edge of my equipment box.

      I've been so good about taking pictures at nearly every step! But here's where I fail you.......when I get "in the zone"......meaning that I'm so intent on my little details....I sort of forget about the camera! Here's what I did in between this picture and the next two:
      *made the baby's shoulders and neck and arms out of modeling chocolate
      *sprinkled my cookie dirt inside the pots
      *dusted the centers of my flowers with luster and color, made the calyx's (sp?) and mounted *them on my green skewers
      *rolled modeling chocolate onto a skewer to form the umbrella stem
      *made the bottom banner and wrote on it
      *made the baby's flower bonnet
      I modeled the baby's neck and shoulders, then stuck that right on the top pot. Then I cut the skewers that are coming out of his head to the right length and pushed it down through the neck and shoulders.

      I placed the arms and formed the hands. I stuck my umbrella stem through the arm and down into the cake so there would be adequate support......but darn, I wasn't watching carefully, and the skewer came out of the side of the pot because my angle was a bit off. Oh well, I'll cover that up with a leaf. At least you can see where the umbrella stem is on the skewer. On top of the umbrella stem is a little half dome of modeling chocolate, to support the gumpaste umbrella. I dab a bit of melted white chocolate on that, and stick the umbrella on top. Now all I have to do is place my flowers, mount the banner, and put his little bonnet on.

      And here we have the finished product. It's sort of hard to read the banner....it says, "May Showers Bring Adorable Flowers". One thing I always seem to to do.....I'll shoot the picture of my finished cake and I'm always tired.....so I'm too lazy to find a good backdrop. Then I curse myself later when there's that yukky kitcheny background. God, in one picture I took, my cake had a dirty mop bucket behind it! All I can say is, thank god for Photoshop......I can always "fix" it later.
      It took me 8 hours to put this together and that's not counting all the prep I did the whole week prior. I don't think a whole lot of people realize the time that goes into this stuff.....and it's also why you don't see it very often.
      Anyway, the girl that's getting the baby shower has NO IDEA this is coming. Surprising her is going to be the best part!
      Fast forward to the next day. My boss's wife and I are bringing the box inside the house, then removing the cake from the box. Kids are dancing around us....."is that a CAKE? Is that a CAKE?" People gather round, and the girl who's getting the shower sees it and starts crying. She gives me a big hug and says "I don't know how to thank you!" I told her she just did.
      The shower went on, presents were opened, food was eaten, champagne was sipped.......and then.....it was time......the part that the kids almost couldn't wait for.....time to eat cake! Which of course, means, time to cut cake. And guess who gets to do it. Yep. Me. I don't have to cut my own cakes very often, and that's a good thing. Usually I'm nowhere in the vicinity when my cakes are cut and consumed.....I have only the memory of a photograph and my labor. This time I also do the deconstructing.....and I gotta say it was bittersweet. Especially since knowing it took me 8 hours to build it and only 15 minutes to take it apart. May I say.......wah? Yes. Wah. Luckily I'd had a couple glasses of Mumm's so my "pain" was numbed a bit.......
      Hope you all have enjoyed this bit of cake sculpting. Now back to our regular programming.......
    • By Nn, M.D.
      I'm very excited to share with you all a recipe that I developed for a double crust apple pie.  I had been inspired a few weeks ago to come up with a series of 3-ingredient recipes that would focus on technique and flavor but still be simple enough for the unseasoned chef.  I decided to make an apple pie as a challenge to myself--never having made one before--and as a way to show those who might find pastry intimidating how easy and adaptable it can be.
       
      Basic Shortcrust Pastry
      Ingredients:
      - 300g flour
      - 227g salted butter, cold
      - 2 lemons, zested with juice reserved
       
      1. Cut butter into small chunks.  Beat butter, zest of the 2 lemons, and flour together with an electric mixer OR combine with pastry blender OR rub together with fingers OR blitz in a food processor until it resembles sand.
      2. Add just enough water to bring the mix together into a dough (about 20g for me).  You'll know your pastry is ready when you can press it together and it stays in one piece.
      3. Divide dough in two and wrap tightly with plastic.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
      4. When ready to use, roll out each portion to 13 inches in diameter. (I do this between two sheets of parchment paper.  Don't worry too much if the parchment sticks to the pastry. I periodically placed mine in the freezer to help keep everything cold, and the butter will separate from the parchment when frozen.)
      5. Take 1 portion of rolled dough and place it in a 9-inch tart tin with a removable bottom.  Gently press into the sides to ensure even coverage.  Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Freeze the other portion of dough in-between the parchment pieces.
       
      Apple Filling (and Assembly)
      - 1 kg apples (I used about 7 apples for this recipe.)
      - 220g dark brown sugar, divided
      - 1 egg, separated
       
      Making the apple butter: 
      1. Cut and core 500g of your apples, but do not peel.  Add cut apples, juice of the one lemon, about 100g or so of water, and 170g of sugar to a large saucepan.
      2. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cover.  Let the apples cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
      3. Remove from heat and blend until smooth.
      4. Return puree to saucepan and simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for an hour.  Color should deepen and the mixture should thicken slightly, but do not allow it to scorch.
      5. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cool.
       
      Apple filling:
      1. Peel, quarter, and core the remaining 500g of apples. Slice on a mandolin to about 1/8th inch thickness. Place sliced apples in a large bowl of cold water while slicing remaining apples.
      2. Once apples are sliced, drain water and add the juice from the remaining lemon, as well as the remaining 50g of sugar, over the apples. Stir to coat.
       
         
       
      Assembly:
      1. Remove pie base from the freezer.  Dock with a fork and brush on egg white.  Place back in the freezer and allow to set for for about 5-10 minutes.
      2. Pour the entire recipe of apple butter into the pie base and even out with an offset spatula.
      3. Arrange apple slices over the apple butter.
      4. Remove remaining pie dough from the freezer and cut designs in while still cold. Transfer to the surface of the pie and seal overhanging edges.  Trim excess dough.
      5. Brush top pastry with egg yolk (beaten with any remaining egg white) and bake in a 365˚F oven for 60-70 minutes.  Crust should be shiny and golden brown.
      6. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from tin.
       
      Some notes:
      The reason for using salted butter is I think the flavor incorporates a little better into the mix than if I were to use unsalted butter and added salt.  That being said, you could do that instead, though your recipe would then have 7 ingredients The addition of apple butter here takes the place of the normal apple pie filling, which is usually thickened with cornstarch and is typically quite sweet.  By using the apple butter, I push the flavor of apple forward beyond what you would find in a typically apple pie.  Also, the apple butter acts as a glue of sorts so that my slices are always clean, so no need to resort to adding thickeners or extra sweeteners. I'm always looking for a way around blind baking, and using an egg white seal has worked out very well for me. The egg white creates a water-tight layer between the crust and the filling, so no matter how wet my filling is, the crust will always bake crispy and won't get soggy for as long as the pie is around. Feel free to change this up as you see fit.  Obviously you can spices to this (I recommend cinnamon, clove, and cardamom) but the beauty of this pie is that it's really not necessary.  Although at first blush it may seem one-noted, the harmony between the flaky, almost savory crust and the bright and refreshing filling is one that doesn't need any help, in my honest opinion.  

       
      So there you have it! My 6-ingredient apple pie, sure to become a go-to for me, and hopefully for you as well!
       
    • By ResearchBunny
      Posted 6 hours ago Dear EGulleters,
      ResearchBunny here. I've just found you today. I've been lolling in bed with a bad cold, lost voice, wads of tissues, pillows, bedding around me. I spent all of yesterday binge-watching Season 2 of Zumbo's Just Desserts on Netflix from beginning to grand finale. I have been a hardcore devotee of Rose Levy Beranbaum since the beginning of my baking passion -- after learning that she wrote her master's thesis comparing the textural differences in cake crumb when using bleached versus unbleached flour. I sit up and pay attention to that level of serious and precision! While Beranbaum did study for a short while at a French pastry school, she hasn't taken on the challenge of writing recipes for entremets style cakes. That is, multi-layer desserts with cake, mousse, gelatin, nougatine or dacquoise layers all embedded in one form embellished with ice cream, granita, chocolate, coulis. After watching hours of the Zumbo contest, I became curious about the experience of designing these cakes. Some of the offered desserts struck me as far too busy, others were delightful combinations. I was surprised that a few contestants were eliminated when their offerings were considered too simple or, too sophisticated. So I'd like to hear from you about your suggestions for learning more about how to make entremets. And also, what you think about the show. And/or Zumbo.
      Many thanks.
      RB
      ps. The show sparked a fantasy entremet for my cold. Consider a fluffy matzo ball exterior, with interior layers of carrot, celery, a chicken mince, and a gelatin of dilled chicken broth at its heart!
    • By TexasMBA02
      After batting about .500 with my previous approach to macarons, I came across Pierre Herme's base recipe online.  After two flawless batches of macarons, I've been re-energized to continue to work at mastering them.  Specifically, I want to try more of his recipes.  My conundrum is that he has, as far as I can tell, two macaron cookbooks and I don't know which one I should get.  I can't tell if one is just an updated version of the other or a reissue or what the differences really are.  I was hoping somebody had some insight.  I have searched online and haven't seen both books referenced in the same context or contrasted at all.
       
      This one appears to be older.

       
      And this one appears to be the newer of the two.

       
      Any insight would be helpful.
       
      Thanks,
       
    • By pastrygirl
      Anyone have a favorite recipe for chocolate cake using semisweet chocolate?  My usual chocolate cake recipe uses cocoa, but I have some samples of chocolate I want to use up for a workplace party.  Yes, I could make brownies or ganache frosting, or chocolate mousse or chocolate chunk cookies, just feeling like cake this weekend ...
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