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Posts Tagged ‘pastry chef’

Just like me, this months Daring Bakers Challenge over at the Daring Kitchen had many layers.  But once you peel back those layers, my friends… that just made me think of a line in the Ugly Truth.  Love Gerard Butler.  What was I saying?  Right, layers!  This months challenge was making baklava with homemade phyllo dough.

T-minus 24 hours until the challenge was due and I still hadn’t read over the recipe fully.  I glanced at it so my kitchen would be stocked with the necessary ingredients, however.  But motivation, or lack thereof, was my problem.  The challenge was great.  I love baklava.  But I’ve gotten used to being lazy since all I could do for the last couple of months was sit around and nurse a fractured foot, which I finally saw a doctor about three days ago.  He confirmed that yes, it is fractured, in two places in fact, and prescribed 4-6 weeks in an orthopedic boot.  And apparently I will be good at child bearing since I have a high tolerance for pain, so my x-ray technician said.  But having skived off last months challenge, I knew I needed to do this one.

The phyllo dough was quite easy to make, thanks to my awesome kitchen-aid stand mixer.  Still the greatest kitchen invention ever.  Set it and forget it.  Well, at least for 10 minutes while it kneaded the dough for me.  Then the dough had to rest for a couple of hours which worked out well since I had some errands to run.

Upon my return, I employed two friends to help with the baklava.  They prepared the filling while I rolled out the sheets of phyllo.  Then I quickly assembled the layers and boiled the liquid it would soak in once baked and out of the oven.  I am a great hostess, making my guests work and then sit around while I’m busy in the kitchen.  And after all that, they couldn’t even try it seeing as how it needed to sit out overnight to drink up the liquid.

Quite a fun challenge, all in all.  I enjoy making pastry dough.  It’s such a simple thing but most people just go to the grocery and buy pre-made.  I still haven’t tried the baklava since it’s not drunk yet, only tipsy.  I shall try it later today once it’s had it’s fill of the sweet, sweet nectar.

    Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

 

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This is the exciting lesson I was talking about in Lesson 8; lots of firsts.

First of all, my fondant cherry, nicely colored red and made out of sugar paste, has been popped.  Secondly, there is a first and last time for everything, and fondant may be on the latter list.  I won’t discount it completely, but I’m not too fond of fondant.

To fill you in, my grandpa’s birthday (a big one, but I won’t reveal age) was approaching and my mom came to me to discuss how we would make it extra special.  My grandpa, I’m sure, would rather skip his birthday entirely, just delete the day from the calendar.  Though I sympathize, he is not old and therefore a birthday celebration cannot be bypassed.  My grandparents are probably more active and in shape than a lot of people my age are!

My aunt Kay suggested that I make a bull cake.  Hmm… an idea.  But I couldn’t just make the head, it would have to be the bull standing up.  Or upon further thinking, my grandpa watches the western channel all the time.  Maybe I could make a TV cake, complete with antenna and remote, with a sugar printed image of John Wayne.  But the winning idea, straight from the left side of my brain (or is it the right side that houses creativity?), was a golf bag cake with a stand so that it would lean.

This cake was to be special in two ways.  One:  I wanted my grandpa to really enjoy it, have it be something that he remembers and causes him to recall good times with family.  Because the best aftertaste of a cake is the memories of whom it was shared with.  Two:  I was going to attempt a cake in which I had never tried before.  In the words of Duff Goldman, I was going to “make it bigger, make it badder, make it awesome.”

After hours spent of studying, which means watching a lot of Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, Challenge, and Ultimate Cake-Off, I was ready to put my idea into motion.  A sketch was drawn up and the pantry was stocked.  I decided to go with the good ol’ chocolate cake and yellow cake recipes that my mom and I use religiously.  They’re delicious and I didn’t want to compromise flavor.  Normally, big cakes are made with pound cake, or any other kind of cake that could, literally, take a beating.

The portion of the cake that I decided to trust the masters on was the icing and frosting.  This cake would be too large to store in the refrigerator the night before it was served, so I needed a frosting that would be okay in room temperature.  In addition to multiple hours glued to Food Network and TLC, I bought a couple books on cake decorating.  The Culinary Institute of America, one of the best culinary schools in the world, had a book of recipes and techniques.  I’ve self-studied one of their books on baking science (basically chemistry on ingredient reactions to eachother) and thought it was excellent, so I put my trust in them again and was not disappointed.  They provided me with the recipe for buttercream frosting and modeling chocolate.

The cakes were made Tuesday and Wednesday (3 1/2  batches) and frozen for a few days.  I did the other prep work on Friday, which involved cutting the cardboard rounds to size and cutting the cakes accordingly, and also making fondant from scratch, using Wilton‘s recipe.  Those who know me know that I NEVER use pre-made or boxed mixtures.

I put my blood, sweat, and tears into that fondant.  Not literally of course, but I sure was sweating and swearing profusely.  After spending about half an hour mixing up the ingredients (including disgusting things like glucose, glycerin, and powdered animal bones, AKA gelatin, which I think is one of the nastiest things ever), I kneaded that damn thing for over an hour and a half.  And because the cake was going to be so large, I doubled the recipe, making it even harder to knead due to its size.  Even after all that time spent on it, I couldn’t get all of the 4 pounds of powdered sugar incorporated in.  I just hoped it would be good enough and not too sticky.

Saturday morning, my day to sleep in, I got up at 7:30 am.  The night before was just like Christmas Eve.  I was restless with excitement about decorating the cake.  I whipped up the buttercream (1 1/2 recipes of vanilla and 1 recipe of chocolate, totaling 2 1/2 pounds of butter, which caused major drooling from my golden retriever) and split each cake in half, preparing them to be stacked.  All together, the cake had three tiers, same in diameter but separated so that they wouldn’t succumb to gravity and sink, which amounted to 14 layers, alternating between chocolate and yellow cake, chocolate and vanilla buttercream.  I cut dowels and placed them in the bottom two tiers for support.

Once all the tiers were stacked, the cake stood an impressive 13 inches tall.  I crumb coated it with vanilla buttercream and prepared the fondant by kneading it some more (I have a theory that Popeye didn’t get strong from spinach, but by kneading fondant) and colored it blue.  My hands were also colored blue in the process and I flashed back to that episode of Ramona, based on the books by Beverly Cleary, where she dyed her hands blue.  I thought it was with liquid detergent or something, but I can’t remember.  I’m sure my sister knows what I’m talking about.

Fondant was just as hard to roll out as it was to knead.  It was dry and cracked.  After two unsuccessful attempts to roll it out large enough to cover a 13-inch tall cake, I did the unthinkable and added some water to the fondant.  Yes, water dissolves sugar, but rubbing a little vegetable shortening into it wasn’t helping.  And you know what?  Water totally helped!  I rolled out a piece, deciding just to roll out the back and front separately in hopes that I could smooth them out without too much notice, and draped it over the cake.  I managed to cover it with two pieces but it wasn’t very pretty.  But after all the work, and money on ingredients, my fondant was going on the cake, dammit!  (Shhh… I also smoothed out the cracks and pieces with water, which again proved to be very helpful).

That concluded my Saturday.  Doesn’t seem like a lot, but splitting the cakes, cutting the dowels, filling, refrigerating, stacking, and covering was very time consuming.  I had my work cut out for me on Sunday.

First thing I did the next morning was make the modeling chocolate.  They had to set up in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Then I looked at the cake and was not too pleased with the cracks and disfiguration of the fondant.  Everything is fixable, so my solution was to paint the fondant which would conceal some of those flaws.  I got out my new paint brushes and painted it with food coloring gel paste in an argyle design.  I also put my parents to work.  My mom was in charge of making the royal icing and washing dishes (I told her it was because I didn’t have time to wash them, but I just really dislike washing dishes).  My dad was in charge of making the bull headcover once I made the rice crispy treats.  That was a little trick that I learned from Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes.  The treats would be covered in modeling chocolate.  It’s not cheating since they’re still edible (and they were my brother’s favorite part to the cake).

Time out.  You may be wondering why one of the edible golf clubs would have a bull headcover.  My grandpa is nicknamed “Bull” because my sister couldn’t pronounce his real name, Bill.  Bull dislikes birthdays and getting older, and being called “Grandpa” definitely made him feel old.  I also put the name “Bull” on the cake.

After the cake was entirely painted and the golf clubs were molded out of rice crispy treats and covered in modeling chocolate, I realized that I had an hour and a half before party time.  I went into hyper mode, running around the kitchen and multitasking like crazy.  The cake stand wasn’t even constructed yet.  I tore my dad away from his computer games and brought out the power tools.  We made the cake stand out of some scrap wood that the employee at Lowes gave us for free and some wooden dowels.  I had my mom inside coloring the royal icing green.  I really felt like I was on Ultimate Cake-Off.

I got the cake on the stand and prayed that it was leaning enough to let gravity take over and hold it back in place.  Then I covered the “legs” of the bag with modeling chocolate.  And other visible wood on the stand was covered with royal icing.  I finished just as my grandparents car pulled in the driveway.

Bull walked in and looked at the cake, really examined it, and was speechless.  It was probably the best reaction I could have gotten.  He was so happy with it and it really set off the celebration.  Of course I’ll remember the cake, I’m really proud of what I accomplished, but what I’ll remember most is a wonderful day with family, laughing, joking, and being merry.  Too sweet for you?  Too bad!  This is a baking blog, it’s supposed to be sweet.

Golf bag cake grade:  A+

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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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Sunday morning, after dreams of sugarplum faeries dancing in my head all night, I woke up to the clock reading 6:30 am.  I am not a morning person (yet I want to be a baker!), but I thought about those nice, spotted bananas on the kitchen counter and figured I’d get up and attempt Alton Brown’s recipe for banana bread/muffins again.

You’re probably thinking that I was off from work and had all the necessary ingredients this time, right?  Wrong!  Do you not know me yet?  I never learn… which in a self-study is probably not a great quality.

One and a half hours until work, I whip out the metric scale to weigh my ingredients and find that there are no eggs.  At this point, I was already in baker’s mode, and I even got out of bed early for these damn muffins.  So eggs or no eggs, I was making banana muffins.

Then, a light shone down from above, and the florescent refrigerator glow illuminated a clear tupperware containing four egg yolks, leftovers from the previous chocolate souffle lesson.  Score!  Alton Brown says you can substitute 1 tablespoon water per egg white.  Well, I don’t think he exactly meant that you could replace egg whites with water, but that was essentially what I was going to do.  And maybe throw in a bit of cream of tarter for good measure.

I didn’t take the dry ingredients for a spin in the food processor this time cause I wanted the least number of dishes to wash as possible.  Didn’t have enough time to bake AND wash a ton of dishes before work.  And without those razor sharp blades, I substituted the oat flour for more all purpose flour.

I pretty much followed the rest of the recipe the same way, but this time I had enough bananas where I didn’t have to scale down ingredients and mess up the math.  I also remembered to add the sugar.  I wasn’t going to forget that again.

A couple other things I did differently this time:  I used a hand whisk to mix up the batter, which for whatever reason, I didn’t use last time, and I grated fresh nutmeg though the recipe didn’t call for it.  I’d never used fresh nutmeg before and had been wanting to use the stuff since I bought it last week.  The hand whisk was very effective.  The nutmeg, not so great.  Maybe I just don’t like nutmeg.

The muffins baked nicely, and the crumb test proved to be very successful.  No weird worm-like holes.  I forgot to add the cream of tartar in, which was my own idea anyways, but the egg substitution seemed to turn out fine without it.  And I was able to throw the muffins in a ziplock, wash dishes, and make it to work, this time with my stomach satiated.

The only mystery behind muffins that I want to figure out now is why they get a bit sticky and wet the next day.  They’re like the equivalent of weeping meringue.  I know most baked goods are best the day they’re made, but there’s got to be a way to keep muffin skins looking fresh the morning after.  No walk of shame for my muffins!

Final Project:  A- (good use of substitutions)

banana muffins take 2 muffin crumb

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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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