(From May 26, 2016.)
Part 1: Sharing my recipe…?
My project experience facilitator Kate was able to watch today as I made a batch of my custard. It was interesting to get her opinion on each step of the process, and she was even bold enough to taste it at different steps along the way. I was initially apprehensive for someone other than my family to see how my dessert-making unfolds. However, she seemed pleasantly surprised and remarked that my dessert wasn’t as bizarre as I’d made it sound. I learned an important lesson today on letting other people “in” on your secrets and being vulnerable. I can’t deny that the ingredient combination has always seemed weird to me, and having someone observe me while I blend them all up in a food processor has had me thinking if I will be judged. But, as I learned today, having other people’s opinions is truly important when developing a product. You need someone other than yourself to objectively experience it. Kate and Guy were excellent people to have taste it, as their palates are pretty refined and they know what “real” and “good” food tastes like. Because they enjoyed it, I could breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not truly terrible after all! I’ve always liked how it tasted, but I knew that I may be biased because it’s my own creation.
Relaying the process to Kate made me realize how much I’ve mastered it. I was explaining to her the process as I went along, and peppered in with my instructions I’d include past observations when I’d tweak the recipe or add in something different. She wanted to know why I used the ingredients that I used and I was able to explain for each in detail.
Just because I’ve been doing this for a while doesn’t mean it doesn’t need changes. Kate said that it’s very creamy and rich, and probably doesn’t need as much thickening agent as I’ve been using. She likes the taste, so it seems. After some discussion I revealed to her my ideas of refining my custard making process: perhaps using vegan friendly ingredients, or using from more sustainable sources. She then told me that this shows that I am refining my craft—meaning I am well along my way in the experimentation and creation process. Rather than adding a ton of things in to my recipe like I did during the early phases, I’m starting to understand how my custard is made well enough to experiment with substitution or taking out an ingredient.
Part 2: Photography
I brought a separate pint each of my vanilla bean custard and my dark chocolate custard, pre-frozen. These would be used for a photo shoot that Guy helped me out with. Kate had me look at the different textured kitchen towels and place mats, and different slates and boards to serve as a background for my desserts. I also looked through her cabinets and drawers for bowls and spoons. As food photographers and recipe developers, they have so many.
Eventually, we settled on a few and now we had to be patient for the custards to thaw, so they were smooth enough to spoon out. This was a very long wait! My custard doesn’t melt, so the defrosting took longer than usual. In the meantime, Kate and I compared the different textures and colors of the props and decided on the lighting. I liked the simple and clean items, with some that might add a little bit of color. I was able to roast some cashews for the topping, have her sample the cherry jam I made and the date caramel. The custard at this point was still not thawed out, so I was able to take a lunch break.
After finally deciding to microwave the custard, it was eventually a scoopable texture. We laid out the vanilla bean custard originally on a gray ceramic bowl, topped with my date caramel and the chopped, roasted cashews. We set this bowl on a slab of black slate. Guy had difficulty photographing this one. It was awkward and the caramel looked grainy because coconut oil hardens when it’s cold. Kate and I both agreed that we should try to take another shot after putting the caramel in a double boiler and melting it down a bit. It was a success! We spooned more custard into a clear glass and layered it with the now melty date caramel and the roasted cashews. These pictures were much more appealing. Guy was explaining some of the tricks and techniques he uses to change the focus of the photo and the lighting, which creates different effects on the mood of the photo.
The second flavor, dark chocolate with cherry chia seed jam and brownie pieces, was a lot easier to photograph. We dished out two smaller servings into two small white bowls, added the toppings, and laid them out on a marble slate for a more organic yet minimal look. We sensed that there was something missing from the picture, so we added a violet table cloth on the side and some bamboo spoons. Something about these pictures was reminiscent about Valentine’s Day to me. And it was fitting, because I love them!
It was so amazing to see my desserts come to life. There is such a difference to be made when you have people helping you out that understand color, depth perspective, lighting, and aesthetic.
This was my vanilla bean flavor with roasted cashews and date-coconut caramel sauce!
And this was my chocolate with sweet potato brownie pieces and cherry-chia seed jam!
Thank you to Kate and Guy for these amazing photos! Be sure to stop by their website if you have the time, andweate.com !