Baking and Pastry week 10

The first quarter of this culinary journey is complete! The last two weeks of class garnered some of the easier, every day breads and treats. In week nine, we made challah bread, fougasse and baguettes. We also snuck in an ice cream treat because the ice cream kitchen was finally available. I’m still enjoying my pistachio white chocolate ice cream – I actually can’t believe I still have some left.

The last 2 classes focused on how to use leftover ingredients – namely, an extra challah loaf and baguette we left behind from the week before. We turned them in to an amazing chocolate bread pudding and croutons, respectively. We also squeezed out some toffee, brittle and pretzels, which just like all the breads before it, was laborious, but worth the effort.

On the very last night of class, I had my very first total recipe failure. We were making truffles and I over-poured the cherry liquor and my ganache never set up enough to roll into truffles. Lesson learned, when the chef says not to use more than 1.5 ounces of liquor and you accidentally pour 1.8, don’t shrug it off and say “it will be ok”. I actually intended to take a sip to try the liquor on its own, but totally forgot as I started throwing things together. Alas, no truffles for me. But, like any good chef, I can improvise – the cherry-chocolate sauce will be great over my pistachio ice cream!

I was much more successful with my toffee and spicy pecan brittle. Both were a hit at the office, I personally like the brittle the best.

The past ten weeks have been a blast – I’ve had fun and I learned a TON. I’ve been able to work in a professional kitchen where there are awesome tools like blast chillers, Hobarts that are so big they need to be wheeled out on a cart and had access to a pantry full of goodies to please any palate.

Out of everything I’ve made, a few items stand out as my favorite: tiramisu, French macarons, panna cotta, quiche, and pastry cream which has a million different uses.

I have a break for the next three weeks, and when class starts up again, I’ll be going back to basics – knife skills, stocks, sauces and soups. I’ve heard that breaking down a whole fish and boning Cornish hens are on the syllabus – eep!



Goat cheese and caramelized onion crostini

caramelized-onion-crostiniWeek nine of baking and pastry yielded lots more bread – 3 baguettes, 2 challah loaves and a pint of ice cream to be exact! I selfishly took everything home and now I have more bread than I know what to do with…until I thought of crostini.

I whipped this up for an afternoon snack. If you’ve never caramelized onions before, the trick is to be patient and make sure you have at least 45 minutes to let them simmer. You can’t rush the process, otherwise you won’t get that perfect, yummy caramelization. Bon Appetit has some great tips here.


  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced (I used Vidalia)
  • 1 baguette
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 5 tbsps butter
  • ½ c olive oil, plus more to drizzle on the bread
  • 1/4 white wine, red wine or balsamic vinegar

Heat the butter and olive oil in a 12” skillet over medium heat until the butter is just melted. Add the onions and stir to coat with the oil and butter. Keep the onions on the heat for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally until well caramelized.

Once the onions are well caramelized, deglaze the pan with the wine to reincorporate the fond that has formed on the bottom of the pan.

While the onions are cooking, slice and prepare the bread. Turn on the broiler to low when there are about 5-6 minutes left for the onions to cook.

Coat the top of the bread with olive oil, then spread a good amount of goat cheese on the bread and top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Place in the broiler and broil for 3-4 minutes until the cheese is heated through. Top the crostini with the onions and serve.


Caramelizing the onions
Caramelizing the onions


Prepping the bread
Prepping the bread


All done!
All done!

Baking and Pastry Week 8

The final result: my impatient Danish.
The final result: my impatient Danish. Worth every single minute of effort.

It’s Labor Day today, so I’m not going to labor too hard over this post. I actually started my draft on Friday, but over the long weekend, it’s been hard to do anything other than sit outside, nap, read my book or indulge in a nice glass of wine and dinner out with Terry.

In our second series of bread making, the focus was on laminated and sweet dough. Or as I like to call it, “I’m glad I learned this in class because I’ll never make it again.” As I’ve mentioned before, some nights, I am just low on patience and these breads all take a lot of time. I’m also not so adept with rolling out and shaping dough, so that’s been we’ll say, “fun” to have to deal with. However, for whatever frustrations I have while in the kitchen, it’s always 100% worth it when I get the first bite. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually made these things. I will forever have respect for professional bakers. Thank goodness there are people that choose to do this all the time.

Maple-pecan sweet rolls
Maple-pecan sweet rolls

Wednesday night started off with our sweet roll dough. Once we got that together, we went to work on the Danish pastry dough. This one is pretty high maintenance. It’s not so much mixing the dough that’s a big deal, it’s the rolling and folding that takes forever. With Danish pastry, you first roll it out into a rectangle and once the butter has warmed up enough (or, as it’s called in the industry having “plasticity”), you then slather two-thirds of the dough with it. You’ll go through an ungodly amount of butter, but it’s a necessary evil because that’s pretty much the only reason Danish taste so delicious.

Once the butter is “locked in” (which is the term for the first fold to encase the butter), you move on to your first “fold”. After the first fold, the process of turning begins. For each “turn”, you fold and roll the dough again. Then it’s back into the cooler to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes between turns. You do this 2-3 more times, and there goes your entire day.

More Danish!
More Danish!

Because our class is only 4 hours long, we only did one turn on Wednesday and completed the rest of the turns on Thursday. I admit to just wanting to get it over with and did not roll out my dough as thin as I should have, and that’s why I call my final result an impatient Danish. Had I done it all perfectly, I probably would have had better end results, but the taste was still pretty darn good.

As for the sweet rolls, they were filled with a maple-pecan spread and topped with a yummy cream cheese icing. Nothing exactly a photogenic dish, but tasted pretty darn alright to me.

Whatever you’re doing with your long weekend, hope you enjoyed it and ate something yummy!

Two more weeks of baking and pastry, then a short break and in early October, I start with stocks, sauces and soups!

Baking and Pastry week 7

bread27 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!

So much bread!
So much bread!

Baking and Pastry Week 6


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.

Continue reading Baking and Pastry Week 6

Panna cotta with raspberry coulis

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.

Coulis (Recipe from Food Network)

  • 2 cups raspberries (about 12 ounces), rinsed
  • 3/4 cup simple syrup, recipe follows
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch


  • 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.

Simple Syrup

  • 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.

Desert assembly

Plate the panna cotta and drizzle with the raspberry coulis. Garnish with one or two whole raspberries and mint (optional).

Baking and Pastry Week 4

eclairTo 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.

Continue reading Baking and Pastry Week 4

Baking and Pastry Week 3

If I can summarize baking and pastry week three in a few words, it would be “no more pie crusts!!!” I think all I did for 8 hours this week was make pie crusts. I don’t want to do it again anytime soon. While the crusts themselves were SUPER delicious, making, and more specifically, rolling them out was a pain in the rear and a skill for which I don’t have enough patience to perfect.

Yummy quiche with spinach, cheese, mushrooms & tomatoes. Crust was a pate brisee.
Yummy quiche with spinach, cheese, mushrooms & tomatoes. Crust was a pate brisee.

First, we made dough for a quiche, the recipe for which I will post at some point. Now, I like a good quiche, but never did I think I’d be the creator of something so We made a quiche on Wednesday night, I took it home, cut a slice for Terry to taste, took a bite and decided immediately that we’d be keeping this entire dish to ourselves.

Also on the menu this week was a fruit tart made with pastry cream. I really liked the process of making the pastry cream because you have to be pretty concise – you have to constantly mix the ingredients in order to make sure the eggs are cooked enough without curdling. It’s a great upper-body workout for sure. Not to mention the pastry cream tastes like heaven.

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Baking and Pastry Week 2

macaronWeek two of baking and pastry was pretty sweet. (See what I did there?) I’m getting my routine down, getting around the kitchen better and we’re getting into more technically difficult dishes. This week was chocolate chip cookies, banana bread and the best thing so far – French macarons. I was looking so forward to the macarons. I’ve wanted to try them for a while and if I had done it on my own, there’s no way they would have turned out as good as when I had instruction from a professional chef. We also worked on some cookie bars that we’ll get back to this week now that they’ve been frozen and will be easier to cut. I bet they’ll taste good – the filling is pears, cream and currants with an oatmeal crust and struesel on top.

At orientation they said that we’d be totally turned off to desserts while in this class. I’m already there. Aside from taking a bite to taste how things are, I really don’t want to eat any of it. I figure I’ll get past that once I’m done with this class. I definitely have a much deeper appreciation for the work that goes into creating even the simplest of desserts. I definitely do want to try the macarons again on my own. If I can get those nailed down, I’m set for any party I need to bring a dessert to.

Continue reading Baking and Pastry Week 2

Culinary school: week 1

All suited up and ready to go!

What a whirlwind in this first week! Twice a week I will head to school where each class starts with a 20-30 minute lecture and the rest of the time is spent in the kitchen. I was very interested in the lecture topics, but I was so tired I found it hard to give it 100% of my attention. I think it will take another week or so before I am totally adjusted.

The program doesn’t normally start with the baking and pastry class. I had a small number of people starting with me so we joined an in-progress cohort. Next quarter, I’ll go back to the basics – stocks, sauces, knife skills, etc.

There are 7 people in my class, and in the kitchen we buddied up to do our mise en place for our recipes for the night. I was the odd man out, so instead of having a partner to help set things up, I had the honor of setting up for myself AND the chef’s demo table. This task, on my very first day, my very first time setting foot in the kitchen. No pressure!

Tonight we’d be making cranberry-orange scones and savory biscuits. I looked at the ingredient list and totally froze. Yep, those things are over on the table there. But how do I get over there and get them? And everything had to be measured in ounces and grams, not tablespoons or cups like I’d been used to and on a scale I’ve never used before, let alone had enough time to put the batteries in. (I only received my knife kit and uniform the night before.) Yeah. Ok, let me just hurry up and get you all set up, Chef. I bumbled my way through it, the chef gave her demo and we all finally moved on to making our own dish.

By the time everyone was done baking and the kitchen was cleaned up, it was almost 11:00 and I had been awake for 17 hours. I got home, peeled off my uniform, took a shot of vodka and went to bed wondering how the hell I was going to do it all over again the next day, let alone for the next year.

Continue reading Culinary school: week 1