Monday provided the opportunity to cross into the more savory side of pastry, as teams created classic focaccia bread and individual pizzas. My partner and I began with the preparation for the focaccia dough, as it would go through the typical process of fermentation, punching, shaping, proofing and baking while we worked to prepare toppings for the pizza. We had several classic focaccia types to choose from, but as my partner didn't care which version we made, I was happy to decide on rosemary, as it is my favorite type.
The four teams were assigned one pizza which had to be completed before we were able to come up with our own flavor creations. We were assigned a double-spinach pizza, which involved sauteing wilted spinach with garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper. After this was completed, we began preparing the other ingredients to be used by the class later in the evening.
The focaccia dough was very easy to work with and shape and despite a slight catastrophe with the olive oil, the bread emerged from the convection oven as golden, textural and fragrant sheet. Teams allowed the focaccia to cool as we got down to business with the pizza dough and toppings.
The consistency of the pizza dough and techniques employed were much different than the quick version I usually make at home. Our instructor taught us how to shape the dough into various-sized round forms. I saw lots of different shapes throughout the evening, but very few actual circles.
In my readings I have learned that Sicilian pizza is actually an American invention; after working with the pizza dough, I would have to imagine American's created this shape because it is relatively easy to create a rectangle out of the dough.
I made a total of five individual pizzas using a combination two or three ingredients, including: tomato sauce, red peppers, cheese (fresh mozzarella, goat cheese or Parmesan), spinach, sausage and prosciutto. As they emerged from the oven, the crusts crisped nicely, I sprinkled some freshly torn basil on top. The fragrance was magnificent.
By the end of the evening, I was over the thrill of shaping pizza doughs and was just ready to eat them. Teams were supposed to sample their assigned pizza flavors, although one one other team besides mine actually did so. The other flavor was carbonara pizza - which I am anxious to make at home, although I hope to control the saltiness a bit more.
Each team handed out a sample of their focaccia bread, which were actually about half the size of a regular focaccia loaf. I tried a bite of each of the four versions: sage, onion, rosemary and cheese. The rosemary was my favorite, although I already knew I was partial to this flavoring. The cheese was tasty, but reminded me more of an asiago bread than true focaccia.
I had been looking forward to the Tuesday night lesson since we began this module: bagels and pretzels. But before we could begin, we had another quiz. I am pleased to report I received a 100%, meaning I still hold a 4.0 GPA in the program.
The bagel recipe in the curriculum is ridiculously simple: within fifteen minutes of beginning the dough, the bagels were shaped, poached, sprinkled with toppings and in the oven to bake.
I could hardly wait for the bagels to cool once they were out of the oven. I had never had a freshly-baked bagel still warm from the oven, much to Mike's disapproval. While the other class members slathered their bagels with cream cheese, I chose to eat it without any toppings - and it was amazing!
I toasted them for breakfast Wednesday morning and they were still tasty, but nothing close to fresh from the oven. Because the recipe is so simple, I cannot wait to make and share these with other people. I'm thinking of debuting them next week during my trip to Florida.
I was disappointed with the pretzels as they were quite doughy, even after baking to a golden brown color. As they came out of the oven right as I was leaving class, I taste tested them at home with Mike. We both agreed we would have enjoyed something a bit crunchier.
As much as I had anticipated Tuesday's class, I was not looking forward to Wednesday's lesson: doughnuts. I am the only person I know who does not like doughnuts. This worked to Valerie's advantage when we were younger because she always wound up with double the sprinkled doughnuts (at least until Dad caught on and started getting me muffins instead).
My partner and I were assigned a chocolate sourdough doughnut. We made up the dough and chilled it while we kneaded the Brioche dough, which was to retard overnight and be baked during Thursday's class.
The problem with the doughnuts was the inability to control the oil temperature on our induction stoves. We did not have deep fryers at our disposal, so the oil temperature could not be held at exactly 375 degrees.
In our case, the oil stayed too hot, even after turning off the heat completely, rendering the outside of the doughnuts burnt and the inside still doughy. You could taste the grease in all four types of doughnuts. Most people, including myself, did not take any doughnuts home.
The bright spot of the evening was my whole wheat sourdough bread. We have been caring for our sourdough starters for the past two weeks - allowing wild yeast to develop, as no commercial yeast was to be used in the bread. I was pleased with my shaping technique and even happier with my improved slashing skills (no doubt due to freshly sharpened knives).
The loaf was rustic and hearty looking as it cooled. When I got home, I sliced off an end of the bread to find a beautiful crumb structure, one of which I feel I have reason to be very proud of. The texture and taste was equally as delightful: crunchy crust with a soft, flavorful crumb. The taste was not as overwhelmingly tangy as commercial sourdoughs, which was a welcome surprise.
There were three things on the table for Thursday night: brioche, cannoli dough and sfogliatelle dough. We began with shaping brioche a tête and then divided the rest of our brioche dough to create one sweet and one savory bread. The savory brioche included garlic sausage while the sweet incorporated toasted walnuts with an almond frangiapan.
As our brioche proofed and baked, we worked on creating the dough for the two Italian pastries we will be creating during Monday's class: cannoli and sfogliatelle. The dough was not particularly difficult to create, but after the dough was chilled, it had to be quartered and then rolled smoothly through a pasta maker 12 to 15 times each. At that point, the cannoli dough was finished for the evening; it was placed into the refrigerator to keep fresh over the weekend.
But this was just the beginning of the sfogliatelle dough. After the initial stretching through the pasta machine, the incredible smooth dough was rounded and returned to the refrigerator.
Once the dough finished resting, it was time to coat the tables with an emulsion of butter and lard. The dough was then stretched paper-thin and placed very gently on the table. We carefully brushed the butter-lard on the top of the dough and then stretched it even thinner - 12 inches across. The long, thin dough was then rolled into a log.
This process was repeated for the remaining three pieces, leaving plenty of time for me to wonder how this recipe came into being. Who had enough time on their hands to think up this many processes involving so many delicate parts? I'm hoping all the work will be worth it Monday night once we bake and fill these interesting pastries.