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Posts Tagged ‘cooking school’

before the “jump” or “cut”

Puff the magic pastry is flaky as can be.  And frolics in the oven’s heat in a land that’s buttery.

So I found an online baking group, which you may have noticed the link on the left, called the Daring Kitchen.  They have a cooking side and a baking side; I obviously chose the latter.  Every month, a challenge is set.  And my first challenge was vols-au-vent.  The recipe can be found here.

I have never made puff pastry before, nor was it high on my to-learn list.  Not because it isn’t delicious, because I think we all agree that it is.  But because of the high fat content (1 pound of butter!).  Nonetheless, I am not one to back down from a challenge.

The recipe to follow was put up and it went completely over my head.  Something about a lot of butter, and making turns, and fold the dough like a book… what???  Thank God for YouTube.  I found an excellent video on making puff pastry from two girls who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

I figured out how to incorporate the butter with a series of six “turns,” and to fold the dough in thirds like a book, keeping the butter cold the entire time.  This process keeps the flour mixture and the fat layered to achieve maximum rise in the oven.  What genius came up with that?  Brilliant!

Once the dough was made and well chilled, I rolled some out and cut them in circular shapes to make my vols-au-vent.  A little docking here and a little egg wash there and they were ready to rise to fame and glory.  I found myself watching through the window in the oven and cheering them on like a sports match.

The puffs puffed perfectly (try saying that 5 times fast) and didn’t deflate like my failed chocolate souffles.  Not only did they turn out great, but they were actually really fun to make.  I may not want to eat a whole lot of it (actually I do, but I must practice willpower so I don’t puff up too), but I can foresee making many batches of puff pastry in the future.

The vols-au-vent weren’t finished until they were filled.  Rather rushed, I put some melted chocolate on the bottom inside of the shells and topped with chocolate whipped cream.  I also put a dollop of vanilla icing on the tops to adhere chocolate designs to.

The pastries were buttery and flaky and reminded me of France, but the cream was a little subtle.  I froze half of my puff pastry dough to make millefeuilles, or napoleons, another day.  Mmm.. millefeuilles.  I drool like Homer Simpson when I think of those.

September Daring Bakers Challenge:  A

Make sure to stop by at the end of October for another baking challenge.

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Since my last post, I’ve been traveling a bit and working a lot.  And Cookie Kelly actually had cookies baked FOR her.  That’s unprecedented!  A very nice gesture indeed, it certainly won some “brownie points.”

Things have slowed in the kitchen, but they’re about to pick back up.  I have a couple of exciting lessons planned, all new and never been attempted before.  You don’t want to miss this!

Good pitch?  I hope so.

This last week, I took it fairly easy.  But I had a craving for banana pudding.  I also wanted to make one of my favourite recipes from my Irish cookbook for potato and leek soup.  –Did you catch the “u” in favourite?  —  So imagine me (and when you do so, please imagine me in an adorable Nanette Lepore dress with Christian Louboutin shoes, and maybe 15 pounds lighter), stirring potato and leek soup with my left hand and whisking vanilla pudding with my right.  Now that’s multitasking!

I noticed the vanilla pudding get to the thicker stage and decided that it was much needier than the soup, so I focused my attention on that.  The lumps that were starting to form were fortunately repairable.  But the pudding was a little thicker than I wanted it . . . must have been the dash of cornstarch I put in it.  But what’s a pudding without cornstarch?

I layered the pudding with the ‘nilla wafers and bananas and voila!  My first banana pudding.  It would have been better with a meringue on top, like my mom always makes, but the soup was starting to fuss.  You know how it is.  Once one gets attention, you have to give it to the other one too.

That was really the extent of my baking week:  two craving’s satisfied.  And it’s getting harder to imagine myself 15 pounds lighter while doing this baking project.  Help Wanted:  Taste testers in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area.  Unpaid.

Banana pudding grade: B+ (needed the meringue and a thinner pudding)

Banana pudding

Banana pudding

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I say, you say, we all say, “Souffle!”

Yesterday, I looked in my cabinet and saw two bars of gourmet chocolate, 60% cocoa and 85% dark.  Combined, they’d make the perfect chocolate, right?

So I remember watching “Because I Said So” with Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, and Mandy’s character was making chocolate souffles.  They made it look all hard and then she messed them up when she was having a bad day.  Okay, well I was having a good day (Hell!  Any day when I’m off from work is a good day) so these should be easy as pie.  Ooh pie!  I’ll have to make one soon.

Anyways, I looked up a recipe on my favorite site, All Recipes, and reviewers raved how good and easy they were.  Alton Brown says their difficulty is exaggerated, and I know I’ve seen Curtis Stone (he’s tasty!) whip them up on “Take Home Chef.”  This should be no problem.

I got all my ingredients out and prepped.  Eggs were separated, lemon juice was squeezed, and chocolate was finely chopped with a fork (I didn’t want to wash a cutting board too).

I melted the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler and then whipped up the egg yolks and hot water.  I was told to whip them until ribbons formed, but after five minutes, the ribbons were more like the ones with wire in them that can be bent and shaped, and they were bent to look like peaks.  Hmm…

After folding the egg yolk “ribbons” into the chocolate, I moved on to the 7 egg whites and 1 tablespoon water (Alton told me to!), added a half teaspoon lemon juice, and let Mr. Kitchenaid do his thing.  When it got a bit foamy, I added the sugar…. well, you know how meringues go.  They formed beautiful stiffies (peaks, that is) and then I folded them into the chocolate mixture as well.

The ramekins were waiting patiently in the freezer, lubed and coated with cocoa powder.  I filled them up to the brim, leveled off the tops, and even ran my thumb around the sides creating a ditch like Alton told me to do.  They went in the 400F oven and the kitchen became quarantined, nobody in or out.  Yes, a bit superstitious, but I wanted these to turn out.  And like a certain black labrador looking out the window all day, I watched through my little oven window as the souffles rose, cheering them on all the while.

After about 21 minutes, the mighty souffles and I deflated.  I didn’t want to undercook them, but I also didn’t want to open the oven door.  I was warned against doing that.  But I took them out and dusted them with powdered sugar and they weren’t that bad… that is until about 5 minutes later.  I successfully made chocolate craters.

I’ve never had a souffle before, but I thought they were supposed to be kind of gooey.  Mine weren’t.  The fall, the dryness, I believe all were caused by over-cooking.  I probably should have removed them when I didn’t think they were done.  Isn’t that like most things?  You’re told not to over-mix, but… but… what if the ingredients don’t get properly incorporated?

I suppose I should give the recipe another go, master it before I move on.  These are expensive buggers to fudge (get it?) though, $6 on the chocolate alone.  Actually, they tasted pretty good.  The bigger ramekins weren’t as overdone and reminded me of rich brownies.

Before these get another chance though, I spot spotted bananas on the counter and a banana bread recipe from Alton Brown that also needs another take, this time with sugar.

Chocolate souffle grade:  C-

forked chocolate eggs separated folding egg whites into chocolate

ditched souffles rising souffles powdered chocolate souffles

puffed souffles deflated souffles

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Okay, after the last failed lesson, I decided to revisit primary school (in the baking sense) and redeem myself, and Alton Brown, with peanut butter cookies from his book “I’m Just Here For More Food.”  This time I had all the ingredients and a day off from work.  Back to basics.

I weighed all the ingredients, even the peanut butter which Alton highly encouraged, but opted not to get out my food processor to sift the dry.  One thing you should know about me is that I really dislike washing dishes.  The less I use, the better.  And until someone comes up with disposable food processors, or I hire a dishwasher, I will refrain from using one to sift.

I’m happy to report that no problems arose, but the cookies did.  Alton created a good balance of ingredients and leavening.  Though not a huge fan of peanut butter cookies (definitely not part of a low fat diet), they turned out not too hard and not too soft.  The smell alone provoked massive amounts of drool to issue from my black labrador’s mouth.  Of course, he gets peanut butter in his kong every day and considers it to be one of his favorite treats.

Reassured with this last success, I’m ready for another challenge.  The grade?

A

IMG_3993 IMG_3991

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For the last few days, between calls and during my breaks, I’ve been studying Alton Brown’s book “I’m Just Here For More Food” where he explains some of the science behind baking.  I’d really like to make my own recipes, therefore I need to know how ingredients react with eachother.

One morning I woke up a couple hours before work and decided to put the old banana’s on the counter to use.  Due to limited time, I took Alton’s recipe for banana bread and made banana muffins.

After weighing the flour (Alton hates measuring cups; measures everything in grams), I realized that two bananas weren’t going to be enough for the recipe, so I cut the recipe down a third… in my head.  I’m good at math, but didn’t feel the necessity to get a calculator out for exactness.  Well, I’m sure you know what happened next.  I forgot I was scaling the ingredients down and didn’t cut down the baking soda.  But phew!  I caught my mistake before I ran the food processor (Alton’s favorite method of sifting) and pinched out some of the soda.  I also didn’t have oat flour, so I figured I’d just toss in some oats.  They’d become flour in the “sifting” process.

With the batter spooned into the silicon muffin pans and in the oven, I jumped in the shower, where I do my best thinking.  Many grand plans have been formulated in there.  No brilliant ideas this time, but I realized that there was no sugar in the muffins.  I know Alton likes his muffins not too sweet, or he’d just label them cupcakes.  Well, I’m sure Alton knows best.

Muffins out and cooled.  Okay, time for the test.  I broke one in half to inspect the crumb.  And just like the picture in the book with a big X through it, there was my muffin with worm-like holes in it.  That is what Alton believes happens when the batter is over-mixed.  But I purposely stopped mixing earlier than I thought I should.  And I’m sure I tasted some of the baking soda in the taste test.

Disappointed and hungry, I trudged off to work.  I really don’t think it was Alton’s fault.  I scaled down the ingredients carelessly and made some substitutions.  And looking over the recipe again while typing this blog, I see “sugar” in the ingredient list.  How did I miss that?

The lesson?  Make sure all ingredients are there and don’t bake before work.  In the rush, mistakes will be made.  The grade is…

F


bananamuffins bananamuffincrumb

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