Friday, June 19, 2009

Week Nine: Savory & Sweet Breads

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 tĂȘte 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.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Week Eight: Baguettes, Bread Sticks, Soft Rolls

I feel like this week, our class was one big protest of the Atkins diet.  Tuesday and Wednesday were focused mainly on baguettes: 40 baguettes on Tuesday and 20 more on Wednesday.  The dough was not particularly easy to work with and shaping the baguettes was somewhat difficult.  There are few things in life that are quite as comforting or tasty as baguettes still warm from the oven.  Our instructor brought in apricot preserves for an extra special treat.

We had a substitute instructor on Thursday evening and it was interesting to compare the different teaching styles.  We made bread sticks, pizza dough and braided soft-rolls between Chef Chad cracking jokes and talking about his family.

The rosemary bread sticks were delicious, but my partner and I ended up scraping the salt off, as it was a bit too salty.  They reminded me of the bread sticks they serve at The Trellis.  I remember being fascinated with them during a special dinner with Grammie and Pa when I was much younger.  I pretended to be Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' with her long, elegant cigarette holder.

The soft roll loaves baked to such a beautiful golden, brown color.  The bread was good alone, but was even better used for an egg sandwich with a spicy sauce on Friday morning.

The class schedule for breads is quite different from the first module and it has taken some time to get adjusted.  Each class in fully centered around the process of the bread rising, shaping and baking - which leaves lots of down time between the next step.  When we were on our feet and busy for the full four hours, it was more difficult to realize just how tired I am by the end of the week.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pastry Art & Design "Top Ten Pastry Chefs" Awards

No classes were scheduled to meet last night, as a faculty development day was planned.  This break happened to line-up with Pastry Art & Design holding their annual 'Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America' awards ceremony at ICE.  The administration asked for volunteers and I jumped at the opportunity to work alongside the accomplished pastry chefs that evening.
Each of the ten chefs had a table set-up in one of four kitchens, where they were to present a plating of one of their desserts after the awards ceremony that evening.  I ended up working with Chef Alfred Stephens, who is the head pastry chef at Olive's at the W Hotel in Union Square (NY).  

While some of the other chefs were extremely uptight and did not want any students near their desserts, Chef Stephens welcomed help from the volunteers as he blared 80's music from his orange iPod.  Brushing chocolate onto hundreds of plastic plates was not as tedious with Journey and Guns 'N Roses to hum along with.

 Chef Stephens allowed us to help plate every part of the dessert he was presenting, trying to give everyone helpful tips along the way.  The dessert looked wonderful: hazelnut semifredo with Fruity Pebble popcorn, sour cherry sauce and malted ice cream on chocolate cookie crumbs.  As the rush slowed, he asked if any of the volunteers had tasted it yet.  No one had tried it, not sure if we were actually allowed to try the desserts.  "Well, dig in!" he laughed.
It was incredible.  Reading or hearing the description of the dessert may make it seem fussy with too many flavors, but the taste was simple and well executed.
We eventually walked around to taste all the desserts, some were interesting, some were wonderful and more than one was terrible.  It was a really incredible evening to be part of; a truly unique experience.

Be sure to check out all my photos from the event by clicking on the "Photo Gallery" link on the right!

New York Mini 10K

I was torn on whether or not to register for the NY Mini 10K.  It was a race I wanted to run purely for the significance it has in the history of women's running.  But it fell the morning after the surprise party I was planning for Mike's birthday.
In the end I decided to do it because I was having trouble mustering up motivation to hit the treadmill during my lunch hour.  The weekend runs I once craved started becoming somewhat dreaded as I tried to catch-up on sleep from the previous week.  But having a race on the calendar always seems to put things in perspective for me.
I woke up Sunday morning, still exhausted from the stress and excitement of pulling off the surprise party the night before.  I winced at the sunlight when I stepped outside.  I knew I couldn't ask for a better day for running: high 60's, partly sunny, not too humid.  But I really just wanted to crawl back into my cool, cozy bed with the blinds drawn tight.
The race started on 61st and Central Park West and I yawned the entire way over.  I sleepily entered my corral and made a half-hearted attempt to stretch.  I love running in women-only races, the atmosphere is much friendlier and there aren't as many people to trip over.  But the nervous-energy and chatter of all the females around me was a bit much to handle when I was so tired.
Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of NYRR, stepped-up to the microphone to give her usual pre-run motivational speech.  I usually do not listen too closely, but something she said really caught my attention.  In talking about how much women's running has changed in the 38 runnings of the race, she congratulated all of the 4,300 women standing on Central Park West that morning, "Ladies, today we are here to celebrate you, to celebrate that you manage to fit running into your busy lives."
Despite how tired I felt, I killed the first 5K of the race, clocking all my splits under 7 minutes and 30 seconds.  Running felt effortless and easy.  But as soon as I passed the 5K marker, the hilly paths of Central Park started reminding my body that is was exhausted and worn-down.  My pace slowed and I seemed to be fighting my legs to stay on the course and not start running towards the apartment.
The second half of the race was definitely a mind-over-body experience.  I kept looking for landmarks, kept thinking of how I could sleep all afternoon if I wanted, kept thinking about what I was going to eat for breakfast.  I crossed the finish line in 48 minutes 39 seconds, just one second shy of my PR for a 10K.  My split times were saved by my speedy first half, averaging out to 7 minutes 50 seconds per mile.
It was a tough run, but sometimes those are the most special.  It was a true reflection of fitting running into my very hectic schedule: half the time it's easy and free, half the time it's tough and painful.  But finishing each run and each race gives me a sense of satisfaction and pride that I cannot seem to find anywhere else.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Week Seven (Part II): Introduction to Bread

Wednesday evening, the stress of the previous night's exam was evident from the look of exhaustion on every one's face.  But we moved ahead to begin the second module of our program which is focused on two different types of doughs: bread and pastry.

We began with a semolina bread, learning the techniques of the straight dough method and kneading.  While the bread was proofing and baking, we discussed concepts and terminology of breads.  The kitchen smelled delicious with all the loaves of baking bread.

I used the semolina bread for my sandwich on Thursday.  I was not totally impressed with the taste of the bread, as it was very commercial tasting.  

We used the second method for breads, the sponge method, in Thursday's class.  Teams prepared a fougasse and either American black bread or olive bread.  I worked on the fougasse, which is similar to focaccia - a thinner, quite herby bread.  This recipe called for cooked bacon and the residual bacon fat to be used in the recipe.  I could hardly wait to bring home the finished product to Mike - hopefully a nice treat for his stressful week.

Luckily, the fougasse had cooled enough by the time I got home for sampling.  Mike was a bit skeptical at first, but I think it was love at first taste.  I was forbidden from taking the loaf to work.

The American black bread was not my favorite.  Our instructor informed us that the taste was very similar to a Northern European rye bread, which made me tentative from the beginning as I am not partial to the overwhelming taste of rye.

It was fun beginning a new subject, especially one which with I have no previous experience (excluding cinnamon rolls).  As I was enjoying kneading the doughs, I thought of Mum talking of how Nana Newman used to make fresh bread every week, out of necessity more than anything.  I don't remember her very well and I found myself wishing I could spend a day with her in the kitchen, asking every question I had about her techniques, tips and secrets.

Funny how the smell of freshly baking bread can make you miss family and home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Week Seven (Part I): Pate a Choux and Module I Final

We wrapped up the last lesson in our first module on Monday night.  The material was continued from the Thursday before, but with different uses of pate a choux.  We assembled petite croquembouches, a traditional French wedding cake.  I spun caramel angel hair to put a special touch on mine.

We also made gougeresprofiterals and Paris-Brest which we filled with lightened pastry cream or creme mousseline.

Module I concluded this evening with an examination.  The examination consisted of two parts: a ten question written exam followed by a practical.  The practical consisted of three parts: knife skills, chocolate piping skills and preparing a perfect flourless chocolate souffle.  

Our final score was an average of the two parts.  I received a 99%.  I would be lying if I said I was not slightly disappointed in being so close to a perfect score.  But I am happy to have my first exam behind me and to have finished the first module with a 4.0 GPA.
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