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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

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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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There are few things I like to start at the very beginning of.  Books and movies pretty much make up the list, though I do know people who read the last chapter of a book before the first.

Take piano.  Who wants to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb?”  Sure, I could play it perfectly in five minutes, or I could try my hands at Chopin.  It may take me a month to learn eight measures, but I’d be much more satisfied with that than “Chopsticks.”  And is it just me, or does one learn faster that way?

Therefore, in my recent desire to become a pastry chef, I have decided that rather than pay up the ass for classes, I would just teach myself the skills I need with books and the internet.  I’ve always done well with self-studies, so I’m pretty confident that this will have a positive outcome.

The first task I set out to conquer was pulled sugar.  Have you seen those guys on baking competitions with those gorgeous cakes glistening with crystal-like sculptures?  They’re shown furiously pulling lava-like sugar as if it were taffy, then blowing pieces through a tube to make spheres that they can then shape into animals and such, similar to glass blowing and sculpting.  Sure, I could have started with buttercream roses, but where’s the fun in that?  Sugar roses are way cooler.

It all started out well.  I found a few different recipes for the sugar syrup and kind of meshed them together to come up with my own balance of ingredients.  Corn syrup makes finishes shiny, but one cup of it seemed entirely too much.  Therefore, the final recipe after my modifications was:

5 cups granulated sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup corn syrup

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

I followed the instructions on: www.pastrywiz.com, stirring the water and sugar over low heat until dissolved, then bringing it to a boil.  I was then instructed to scoop out any foam to make the syrup more clear, however there really wasn’t a lot of foam.

I boiled that sucker and washed down the pan numerous times so sugar crystals didn’t form on the sides before adding the corn syrup.  Then when it reached 230F, I added the cream of tartar, jacked up the heat, and stepped away from the pot.  The instructions said to let it boil until it reached 300F and not to stir it anymore.  I immediately flashed back to a time a couple years ago when I tried to make a caramel sauce on the oven and severely burned the sugar so that it was a smoking lump that stunk up the house for days.  “Please sugar, don’t burn… please don’t burn” kept repeating in my head.

Alas, the sugar reached it’s desired temperature and was all hot and heavy, so I immediately plunged it in ice water.  Take that sugar!  Then I poured the very runny mass on a Silpat mat and crossed my latex gloved fingers that this would work.

I scraped the sides towards the middle until it wasn’t so runny anymore.  Then grabbed the lump and started pulling out, then back to center.  Other side . . . out, and back to center.  This shit was really coming together.  I might actually be successful at my first attempt.

Just like a sculptor, I rolled a bit of the sugar into a cone and then started pulling pieces like flower petals and put it all together.  One rose down, one large mass of hardened sugar left.  Damn, I probably should have gotten a heat lamp like the instructions said.  Eh, that’s what a microwave is for.  After nuking the thing twice, I was able to make another rose and some little twists to embellish them.

The remaining lump of pulled sugar sat on the Silpat looking defeated.  It was having no more of the microwave, so into the garbage it went.

The sugar roses were all decked out with no party to go to.  They would also end up in the trash a couple days later, after I admired my work each time I walked by them.

I’d definitely like to give the pulled sugar thing another go, maybe use a heat pad under the Silpat to keep it warm.  Next time, I’ll try for something a bit more difficult, like a shark, or the City of Lights.

Overall, I would say that my first attempt at pulled sugar was a success, despite a pair of burnt thumbs.  Therefore, I give this lesson a:

B+

Boiling sugar Hot sugar

Scraping sugar Pulling sugar

Drying a pulled sugar rose pulled sugar roses

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