7 weeks down, 3 more to go. This week was all about bread. We learned about the 10 – 12 (12 if you count cooling & storing) steps of bread making, which included things like benching and punching, and I’m not talking about things you do at the gym. Bread making takes an incredible amount of patience. Something that for me, can be on short supply after a long day at work, so I went into class last week reminding myself to be ready for a long night.
We started out with some basic breads, egg bread, milk bread and focaccia. On Wednesday night we did the first few steps – scaling ingredients, mixing the dough and setting it up for fermentation which we slowed down by letting it retard in the cooler overnight. On Thursday, we took to the final steps – folding, punching, shaping, benching, panning, proofing and finally baking.
All of the dough was quite easy to work with. And we used instant yeast, so that helped too. With the egg and milk dough, I spent quite a bit of time rolling and shaping the loaves and rolls. It felt like I would never get done. The focaccia was much less high-maintenance. You don’t have to work it as much; it’s a little more forgiving because you really want those air bubbles on the inside so you can skip the punching phase.
I was actually surprised at how many things we could do with the dough we made. I thought that we were just going to have a bunch of plain old bread rolls, but that definitely was not the case. I made cinnamon roll bread, and a few different styles of knots and topped them with sesame and poppy seeds.
My favorite by far was the focaccia. I made half jalapeño cheese and half tomato basil. Second runner up was the cinnamon bread. The egg and mild bread made great toast for breakfast this weekend. I don’t see myself replicating these recipes any time soon, but they were approachable enough for the home baker that’s looking to try some bread making.
Up next week: laminated breads, also known as Danish pastry and cinnamon rolls!
Crepes are one of my favorite things to make. They’re something so simple but can deliver pretty complex flavors when done well. They’re versatile enough to eat for every single meal of the day. From sweet crepes for breakfast or brunch to savory crepes for dinner, you can do pretty much anything you want with them.
I learned how to make crepes in a class at The Chopping Block about a year and a half ago. The trickiest thing to get right is getting the batter to cover the entire bottom of the pan and not using too much batter because crepes are supposed to be extremely thin. I stumbled quite a bit trying to get the technique of swirling the pan with my left hand while ladling in the batter with my right hand. If you’ve ever tried rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, that’s how awkward it was for me.
Eventually I got it down well enough that I moved on to trying to flip the crepe by just using the pan. Another step in which more than a few crepes suffered from poor technique. I also turned to none other than the master Jacques Pepin for some tips on making crepes. Of course he makes it look as simple as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but that’s why he is the master.
I built this recipe knowing that I was going to try a new peanut sauce that I’ve had bookmarked for a while. With peanut sauce as the main driver, I figured Asian would be the best way to go, so what better than to make a simple stir fry to fill the crepes with. Once I had that in mind, I immediately went to thinking about how I would plate the dish. Sometimes I make decisions on what to cook by starting with the type of presentation I want to do. Is that weird? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, presentation can really amplify a dish, so I’ve always got that in mind.
If you noticed, I skipped posting anything about week 5. I’m more than half way through this quarter and have dealt with way more sugar, eggs and flour than I ever thought was possible. I am still having fun and learning a lot, but I’m reaaaally ready to move on to the savory side of things.
Week 6 was all about cakes and was actually one of my favorite weeks. We made tiramisu and strawberry bavarian cream cake. Both were equally time consuming but the end result goes to the top of the list for visual appeal. The tiramisu was ah-mazing. I’ve been pretty good about not eating too much of what I make but I wasn’t going to let that go without having a slice. I brought it into work and I think it was demolished by 9 a.m.
I have a few technical things to improve on when I make tiramisu again. My cakes weren’t completely soaked through with the coffee, which meant that there were some dry parts of the cake. The sponge cake on its own is pretty bland and flavorless, so it’s really important to make sure the cake is soaked all the way through. However, there was plenty of the mascarpone filling to make up for it.
There are few things I look forward to getting in the mail as much as my food magazines. Last week I came home the newest issue of Food & Wine and didn’t even have to open it up to know what I was going to make for dinner over the weekend.
The cover recipe was a beautiful tomato soup with Greek salad garnish. The recipe is ridiculously easy to make and the payoff is huge. The flavors are amazing – especially the onions. Cooking them down tames the flavor a little bit so you won’t end up with dragon breath when you’re done. And because the base is just pureed tomatoes and nothing more, it’s extremely light. You could serve a good sized portion of this without it ruining your appetite for the main course.
Five weeks into the baking and pastry course and I’m super-ready to move on to the savory side. You’ll notice that I didn’t post a “week five” of culinary school because I’m kinda sort of over pastry. However, I really did enjoy the kudos doled out by my colleagues when I brought in the devil’s food cake with coconut-vanilla buttercream frosting. Yep, that was pretty good – I even had a small piece.
This weekend, I was really ready to get back to cooking what I love the most – savory foods. And what better to make than a season-appropriate risotto? I was anxious to try the Arborio rice I picked up from Eataly a couple weeks ago and this seemed the perfect opportunity to take advantage of it.
I love risotto because you can pretty much do anything with it. There are ingredients that will work with every season of eating and it’s a hearty dish, that when made well, can even work as a light summer dinner. Tonight’s recipe is no exception. Everything that went into this one was acquired at the local farmer’s market and was super delish.
Risotto can’t be rushed, so make sure you allow yourself at least 30 minutes cooking time (more to prep your ingredients) to pull this together. It will be well worth the time investment!
Bring broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat to low and keep hot.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat then add shallot and garlilc, season with salt and pepper, and then saute until tender, about 3 minutes.
Add rice then stir to coat in butter. Add wine then stir until nearly absorbed by rice. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth then stir constantly until broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed before adding more.
When there’s 1/3 of the broth remaining, add zucchini, season with more salt and pepper, then continue stirring. When there’s 1/4 of the broth left, add corn then continue stirring. Add the tomatoes with the last batch of broth then stir until absorbed.
Take risotto off heat then stir in parmesan cheese and basil. Add more salt & pepper to taste then serve.
This panna cotta is probably one of the easiest things I’ve learned to make so far in school. I sorta missed that the chef told us to make a half recipe which meant I wound up with twice as much as I should have. Woops! Not such a bad thing though – we’ve been enjoying this all weekend.
Since I had so much leftover, today I decided to dress it up with a raspberry coulis. PS, don’t throw away the leftover raspberry mixture. If you can handle the seeds, there’s plenty leftover to use for a jam on you breakfast bagel or English muffin.
I recommend making these in the following order: panna cotta, because it needs the most time to set, then the simple syrup because it needs to be completely cooled before using, and finally the coulis. All of these can be made a day ahead of time should you want something easy and impressive to serve at a dinner party. The flavor is amazing and it’s a surprisingly light dessert despite being composed of some heavy ingredients.
Makes 6 3 to 4 oz servings; more or less depending on the size of the mold you use.
Panna cotta (Recipe converted from Professional Baking, 6th edition by Wayne Gisslen)
Pre-conversion amounts in parenthesis
1 ¼ cup milk (10 oz)
1 ¼ heavy cream (10 oz)
½ cup sugar (4 oz)
1 tsp agar plus 4 tbsp hot water*
1 tsp vanilla extract
*You can use gelatin. For a softer texture and if you’re going to be serving this in the dish it sets in, use 1½ tsps. For a firmer dessert and if you will be taking it out of the mold for plating, use 2 ¼ tsp.
Heat the milk, cream and sugar in a sauce pan until the sugar is dissolved and a light film appears on top of the liquid and there are small bubbles along the side of the pan.
While the milk, cream and sugar are heating, combine the 4 tbsp water and agar and bring to a boil. Don’t skip this step, the agar has to come to a boil before being put into the mixture.
Once the agar has boiled, add it to the milk and cream mixture and stir until dissolved
Stir in the vanilla until all ingredients are well combined
Pour mixture into molds and chill until set, about 6 hours.
Bring the raspberries, syrup, and lemon juice to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the berries are very soft, about 8 minutes.
Sprinkle the cornstarch over 2 teaspoons cold water and stir to dissolve. Pour into the simmering raspberry mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes.
Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl; discard the seeds. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Freeze any leftover coulis in a plastic container for up to 1 month.
Combine ½ cup water and ½ cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Pour the syrup into a container and refrigerate until completely cold, about 45 minutes. The syrup can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Plate the panna cotta and drizzle with the raspberry coulis. Garnish with one or two whole raspberries and mint (optional).
To my delight, this week’s assignments were quite easy and might just be my favorite thing so far. (Aside from the French macarons). We made pâte à choux, a dough that is not only is super easy to work with, but is also super fun to say.
We learned about 5 different types of choux pastries, the first two of which would be our focus for the night, the éclair and cream puff. Then we learned about paris-brest, which is a donut shaped pastry. There’s also St. Honoré, named after the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. Who knew there was such a thing? The French think of everything. The St. Honoré is composed of cream puffs with a hard caramel around the top. It’s filled with waves of vanilla and chocolate diplomat cream and is assembled to look like a crown in honor of St. Honoré.
The last item we learned about, which also happens to be another fun one to say, was the croquembouche, which translates into “crack in mouth”. This is made from pastry balls stacked to look like a tree and commonly served at weddings, baptisms and communions.