Thursday, January 31, 2008

Student Diary: Advanced Pastry Arts, Day 2

The highlight of Friday’s class was dropping a sugar bomb over half the kitchen.

But first, the other stuff! Even though it’s only Chef’s second class, he’s managed to put together the most effective and entertaining slide presentation I’ve ever seen. The cracked us up, gave us a lot of info (and he didn’t read his slides to us, which I’d always hated), delivered great visuals, and moved at an effective pace. Kudos!

Chef put us into teams, and I like mine. One’s a transfer from the MCC program (a fairly new culinary program), and I was relieved because I had to give her a tour of the kitchen and teach her how to use a beam scale, a bakery standard. All this relieved me because I wasn’t sure if the kitchen was still laid out the same way (it was) and because I use a digital scale at home and wasn’t sure if I remembered how to use a beam scale (I did!).

The task was to bake 9 cakes (three for each of us), 10.5 lbs of Italian buttercream, and 5 lbs of American buttercream (though a paranoid part of me thinks we were supposed to make 15, so I may mix up another 5 lbs at home). We charged through our cakes with little trouble (except for when we discovered we had no milk), and started in with our Italian buttercream. Italian buttercream is cooked sugar stirred into a meringue. We were doing fine until I discovered that, between the three of us, we hadn’t actually made a meringue; we had wonderfully whipped egg whites, but without sugar added, it was just meringue. We added our cooked sugar to our egg whites and made a sort of meringue, but … effectively, what we ended up making was marshmallow. The class loved us because, apparently, everyone had a hankering for marshmallows. Starting again, and with no clear sign of leadership, I decided to gently delegate tasks to put us back on track. I put one partner in charge of cooking the sugar and told her to crank it up; it has to heat up to 240, but can’t get hotter. I told the other to get the egg whites ready while I measured out the dry sugar we’d omitted the first time. Unfortunately, the only liquid egg whites we had was frozen, so we had to crack out egg whites from whole eggs. We cranked down our sugar, which was already quickly heating up, and started separating eggs (17 of them). Unfortunately, once sugar starts to heat up, it’s almost impossible to stop it, so we unintentionally made caramel and had to start our sugar again. Luckily, our classmates also wanted caramel. And no, we didn’t combine it with our marshmallows. So! We started the sugar again and cranked down our meringue. Finally, we got it all to come together, and we had a huge tray of Italian buttercream.

Finally, and behind the rest of the class, we started to crank our American buttercream—basically shortening with powdered sugar. I creamed the shortening with some salt and water, turned off the mixer, dumped in the powdered sugar, and turned the mixer back on. Now, when I say mixer, I mean one of our kitchen’s three 20-quart mixers. I dumped 10 pounds of powdered sugar in and turned it on. The moment I did that, I had an image in my head: “3”—high gear. The mixer was set to high gear.

Mushroom cloud!

Earlier in the night, I’d complimented a classmate’s snazzy uniform (we don’t have assigned uniforms—we just need to have a chef’s coat and closed-toed shoes). She had a red pastry chef’s coat and black pants. I joked with a teammate that if I wore that, it would be pink and gray by the end of the night, covered in flour. Note: when such an outfit is situated to close to an exploding sugar bomb, say, two feet away, it just really becomes a fully speckled red and black. Have any of you non-locals ever seen a dust storm roll over desert flatlands? Now imagine this in a wave of powdered sugar. Another note: I wear a white coat and khakis in baking classes. So much sugar was thrown up in the air, I was brushing clumps of it off my coat. A third note: Powdered sugar isn’t just fine sugar—it’s mixed with cornstarch to prevent clumping (unless it’s landing from a great height). Anyway, you can smell the cornstarch when the powdered sugar is airborne. I hate the smell of cornstarch. And I think I went over my ideal carb intake with how much I inhaled.

Finally, I got the American buttercream made. I asked my partners what they thought at the end of the night, and they thought it was all great! Hell—we got our tasks done and had fun, and that’s what matters! Now, our buttercreams and cakes are in the fridge and freezer, respectively, and next class, we’re to start building our first wedding cake! Hopefully, my story won’t be as tragic, or if it is, it will be just as amusing! =D Read more!

Student Diary: Advanced Pastry Arts, Day 1

Two weeks ago, I started my only class this semester, Advanced Pastry Arts. I can't promise I'll post my diary here every week, but I'll at least post the non-sensitive material. In other words, you won't, nor will you ever, catch me kvetching in this blog, since it's not in line with my ethics. ;D


It’s going to be a fun class! Three of my friends are in it, as well as a few former classmates. The class is right after a class that my old French Cuisine chef-instructor teaches, so I'll get to see him once in awhile.

My chef-instructor, a C(ulinary) I(nstitute) of A(merica) graduate, is the pastry sous chef at one of the top resorts in the Valley, and the textbook, also a CIA textbook, is excellent!

My fellow students all either have a lot of professional experience baking, several with pastry emphasis, or took the chef-instructor’s Classical Desserts class this past fall. They’re also incredibly energetic and ambitious. And competitive!

In class, we’re going to build two wedding cakes, a chocolate showpiece, a sugar showpiece, some “spa desserts” (desserts with health considerations in mind, i.e., gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.), and a final showpiece or cake of our choosing.

Am I nervous. Hell yeah—at least a few of my classmates do pastry professionally, and I haven’t been in a commercial kitchen in 9 months. I expect to thoroughly get my ass kicked, so I don't intend to try to be competitive. Hell, I need to make sure I still remember how to use a baker’s scale. I just want to sponge up as much info and technique as I possible can. Oh man ... WOOT!

On another good note, it seemed I was the only one in class who went to to buy my textbook, and the only person who paid $35 for it instead of $70. Read more!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Daring Bakers, January: Lemon Meringue Pie (LMP)


It's Daring Bakers (DB) time! Every month, the DB host issues a challenge recipe to all the DBers, who must follow the recipe as written, with any allowances determined by the host. At the end of the month, the DBers post their results of the secret recipe on their blogs! This month's recipe was hosted by Jen at Canadian Baker, and the challenge was Lemon Meringue Pie! Up until this recipe, I'd never met a lemon meringue pie that I liked. Usually, they were just too sweet or too tart and just didn't taste ... right. But you've never had a lemon meringue pie until you've had a freshly baked lemon meringue pie! I used Meyer lemons, and they were awesome in this recipe! Not too acidic, but lemony and aromatic! I liked every aspect of this pie. I botched my first attempt, but liked the taste enough to give it another go, and I'm glad I did!

Julie Versus Lemon Meringue, Battle 1

lemon meringue pie

Crust ... where my pie's appearance starts to deteriorate. It's the hunchcrust of notre dame!
lemon meringue pie

Filled ... I had some trouble transferring my pie crust into my pie plate, so it stretched a bit. Luckily, it didn't shrink after I baked it; stretching your crust often causes it to shrink back during baking. I let the pie cool with saran wrap pressed to the top to prevent a film from forming.
lemon meringue pie

Look at my creative and wondrous piping masterpiece! It's abstract. Jackson Pollock would be proud. Or confused.
lemon meringue pie

Yeah, I didn't like that meringuey mess, either, so I just peaked it out and browned it in the oven. Many of my fellow DBers had trouble with runny filling, so I thought I'd try to avoid that by pulling my pie from the oven as soon as the meringue was brown. It turns out the problem is likely caused by underbaked meringue!
lemon meringue pie

Flood! Would you like a straw with that?
lemon meringue pie

It's a meringue slide! Shucks, the first slice never comes out quite right, and I even did the "cut two slices" method to try to keep things tidy. Still, once the "wet stuff" drained out, it wasn't too bad. And it tasted so good!
lemon meringue pie

Julie Versus Lemon Meringue, Battle 2

Dough setting up.
lemon meringue pie

Dough rolled into disks.
lemon meringue pie

The free-form tarts and ... um ... formed tarts.
lemon meringue pie

It's a mountain of meringue!
lemon meringue pie

A clinical tart autopsy shows exactly what I want to see--no weepage!
lemon meringue pie

And in a real-life scenario? Yes, it all set up just fine this time! Woot! Soft, fluffy meringue, sweet-tart, melt-in-your-mouth lemon card, and crisp, buttery, tender crust. So yum!
lemon meringue pie

I really loved the pate sablee, so I made sablees (cookies) from the leftover crust!
lemon meringue pie (sablees)

I liked the look of the mini tarts.
lemon meringue pie

But I wanted to dress it up a little.
lemon meringue pie

To the nines, even!
lemon meringue pie

Check out the Daring Bakers blogroll to see other LMPs!!

The particulars:
Lemon Meringue Pie
(from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver)
Daring Bakers Challenge #15: January 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Daring Bakers Extra Challenge: Free-Style Lemon Tartlets
(from "Ripe for Dessert" by David Lebovitz)

Prepare the recipe as above but complete the following steps:

To roll out tartlet dough, slice the dough into 6 pieces. On lightly floured surface, roll each circle of dough into a 5 inch disk. Stack the disks, separated by pieces of plastic wrap, on a plate, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To bake the dough, position rack in oven to the centre of oven and preheat to 350ºF (180ºC). Place the disks of dough, evenly spaced, on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely.

To finish tartlets, first place oven rack in the upper third of the oven and increase heat to 425ºF. Divide the lemon filling equally among the disks, mounding it in the centre and leaving a 1-inch border all the way around. Spoon the meringue decoratively over each tartlet, right to the edges, in dramatic swirling peaks.

Return tartlets to oven and bake for about 5 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown. Read more!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Trio of veggies

Roasted carrots and Brussels sprouts, and broccoli casserole--winter comfort food at its finest!
Roasted/baked veggies! Read more!

Friday, January 25, 2008

I failed the yogurt poppy seed cake

This potentially great cake was not good after I got through with it ... It was okay ... but it would've been better if I'd added some zest or extract of some type. Alas, I'd run out of any of that. Still, it was soft and moist, and those prime factors make this worth repeating.

poppy seed yogurt cake

poppy seed yogurt cake

I found the original recipe on Alpineberry’s wonderful blog.

Preheat the oven to 350. Parchment out your baking vessel (I used a 10” cake pan): spray, parchment, spray.

3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest (crucial to maximum yay-tastiness)

Just incorporate:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp poppy seeds

Mix in and stir until well combined and batter is smooth:
1/3 cup oil

Pour the batter into your pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until your cake tester is clean and the cake springs back when lightly touched.

Cool in the pan on a rack for about 15 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on the rack.

Glaze I would’ve made and spooned over the cake, had I lemon juice.
Combine :
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup powdered sugar Read more!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Small Batch of Bittersweet Chocolate Cranberry Shortbread

What I did for The Kitchn's Bittersweet Chocolate Baking contest.


Bittersweet is having chocolate, but only an ounce. Bittersweet is just a little taste of tart and tang and sweet, but just a little to cut the bitter. Bittersweet is having a batch of shortbread, but only a small batch. Bittersweet is cookies that look like something you’d use to build a wall ... a sweet wall to keep the bitter, bitter world out. Okay, now I’m stretching. ;)

I wracked my brain for something bittersweet—my favorite brownie recipe (ATK’s classic brownies) uses bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate, as does a chocolate white chocolate chunk coffee cookie recipe I love. Then there are chocolate hot pots or chocolate cakes for one, baked in soufflé dishes. I could do something with beautiful plating or with a comforting taste ... I decided instead to do something that I thought might not get any air time but that I love to eat—shortbread. It’s not the prettiest shortbread I’ve ever made, but I didn’t want to priss it up too much. I also wanted something that was almost masculine, since it’s usually my guy friends who love bittersweet, where my gal friends go toward dark, or semi-sweet. Thus, I decided to forego the traditional wedge-shaped shortbread and just cube these up. And there ya go!

bittersweet shortbread
Chocolate buttah!

bittersweet shortbread
It looks like ice cream ... now I want ice cream!

bittersweet shortbread

bittersweet shortbread

bittersweet shortbread
Bite me!

Oh yeah—bittersweet is also dipping your shortbread in your coffee for a moment too long … rats. You can have your cookie and drink it, too!

Small Batch of Bittersweet Chocolate Cranberry Shortbread
Makes 16 little cookies—just double the recipe for more

1 stick of unsalted room temperature butter with ¼ cup of powdered sugar

Mix in:
¼ tsp baking powder
1 oz melted, slightly cooled bittersweet chocolate*
1 Tbsp of cooled coffee sludge (half boiling water, half instant coffee or espresso)**
¼ tsp vanilla extract

Stir in, just to combine:
1 cup AP flour
¼ cup dried cranberries

If dough is sticky, mix in 1 to 2 Tbsp additional flour—dough should be tacky and soft.

*Going to try adding more for a more chocolatey flavor.
**Contemplating adding less, as it seems to be the dominant flavor before trying with added chocolate.

Form dough into a disk on parchment and let rest in fridge for at least 1 hour. Alternatively, add filling to sandwich bag and roll to ¼ inch thickness, rest in fridge for at least 1 hour (cool Dorie/ATK/Alton trick). While dough rests, place oven rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. If dough is bagged, cut bag off and cut dough into shapes. Gently prick dough with fork so that there are prick marks about an inch apart from each other to prevent possible buckling and shrinkage (because that can suck, unless you like buckling and shrinkage).

Place dough on parchment on cookie sheet, and bake for 18-20 minutes. Cool before serving. If you’re feeling better about the world, dip cooled cookies in melted chocolate. Or just tease yourself and drizzle it on, maybe just dip half. Or use the melted chocolate as mortar for your brick wall. Read more!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Public Market, January 19, 2008

The Public Market is thriving in the cold (granted, cold here is nothing like cold in, say, Wisconsin or Nebraska, where it's been in the negs). I'm glad there's a plethora of root veggies, and that not all of them are white potatoes, and I'm glad that leafy greens are abundant, because chard is delicious wilted into tomato sauce with turkey sausage.

One Windmill Farm, lotsa produce

One Windmill Farm, radishes

This was the only chocolate vendor I'd yet to visit. Thank you for the wonderful conversation ... I always have the best conversations with chocolatiers! Here we have truffles ...
Belle Fleur Chocolates

Truffles ...
Belle Fleur Chocolates

And more truffles!
Belle Fleur Chocolates

My haul. It's been so much easier to lug it around since I started bringing two tote bags to the market, but I may have to dig up another one soon!
1/19/08 market haul

Rainbow Valley Farm eggs

Eat the rainbow!
One Windmill Farm, produce

Planetary turnip (not the official title, just the sheer size!)
One Windmill Farm, turnip

One Windmill Farm, onion

Sweet potatoes, grown by a friend of Sapna (the Pierson St Ecohood, and gifted to me because she had extra (thank you!). I also picked up a delicious vanilla honey tea with lemon to warm me up, but I didn't photograph it.
Sapna's sweet potato gift

This week's Bread Basket Bakery treat--a cinnamon roll the size of the torso I wish I had ...
Bread Basket Bakery cinammon roll

And of course I bought truffles!
Belle Fleur Chocolates' truffles

Peanut butter crunch. Peanut butter and chocolate are an easy favorite combo for me, so it was the first I chose.
Belle Fleur Chocolates

Arizona buckwheat honey--sweet, earthy, nutty, floral honey combined with dark chocolate. This was my favorite--I've decided that honey and chocolate are too rare.
Belle Fleur Chocolates

White chocolate raspberry, because I love raspberry with chocolate. It had a nice, smooth, light sweetness to it.
Belle Fleur Chocolates Read more!

Friday, January 18, 2008

How I keep extra tomato paste

As pats in a bag because I don't feel like fussing with an ice cube tray that I don't have room to store, anyway.
freezing tomato paste

These slip right out of the bag whenever I need them.
frozen tomato paste

It may seem fussy to smear pats out of the can and carefully place them into the bag, but of all the tips I've read and tried (ice cubes, ice blocks you saw off of, etc.), this one has worked best for me. =) Read more!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Salads and Soup and Sweets party (SASAS?), featuring many veggie soup, couscous curry salad, tepary bean hummus, and flourless chocolate torte

This month's SAS was a nice spread, but as is the case when I combine cooking and blogging, cooking dominated, and I didn't photograph much.

Many Veggie Soup, impromptu style

Start by softening onions or leeks in hot oil, then adding some garlic. Next, add the carrots and celery, and let them release some of their liquid into the pan. Add as much water or stock as you need, along with some celery leaves, fresh thyme, parsley, sage, basil, and a bay leaf or two. Bring to a gentle boil and start adding your veggies, starting with the “hard stuff”—cubed root veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and parsnips. Cook that for 20-30 minutes until tender, and then add the medium-hard stuff—green beans, broccoli, lima beans, summer squash. Cook for 5-10 minutes until they have just a bit of bite left, and then take off the heat to add the soft stuff—leafy greens.

If you’re going to fridge the soup and reheat it the next day to serve, as I did, to let the flavors come together, then reserve the soft stuff and some of the medium-hard stuff until the reheating to freshen the soup.

To quick-cold the soup for the fridge if you're antsy about letting it sit out in the danger zone for too long: Once the pot has cooled to the point where you can touch it without melting to the metal, rest it in your sink or a cooler full of ice and sink some water bottles full of ice into the pot--super cool! Then, fridge it!

Veggies for soup
soup start

Some butter and oil
soup start, spoon clip

Delicious many veggie soup
veggie stew

Couscous curry salad
Curry couscous salad

Mike's wife's tepary bean hummus was delicious! It did taste a little little bit more like a white bean than a garbanzo bean, but I could barely taste the difference, and really couldn't it all when it was on something. I served it with pita chips, green beans, and celery.
tepary bean hummus

I'm out of piping practice, and the fact that I was using a plastic baggie and had cut too big a piece off the corner didn't help. As for the flavor, the taste was okay--rich and chocolaty, but I didn't like the texture--too dry! I think I should've pulled it from the oven a bit earlier, treating it more like a pan of brownies than a cake.
flourless chocolate torte Read more!