Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking Classes 10-12: Cakes

Chocolate Rum Ribbon Cake With Edible Gold Dust

Chocolate Roll Cake with Praline Buttercream

Lemon Coconut Layer Cake

Devil's Food Cake with Fluffy White Icing

Friday, July 31, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking Class Nine: Chocolate

Unlike Cammi who is a certified chocoholic, chocolate is one of those treats that I savor in very small quantities and on a rare occasion. Class Nine of the Introduction to Pastry and Baking at Institute for Culinary Education opened my eyes and piqued my curiosity. 

Milk Chocolate "Spicy" Truffles, Earl Grey Tea Truffles Enrobed in Coconut, White Chocolate and Cocoa Truffles
Perhaps the mystery and romance of chocolate, the variety of desserts it can be used in and the care that needs to be taken in melting and forming it coupled with the complexity of culture, politics and terroir of cultivating cocoa beans in Africa and South and Central America ignited my interest. 

Tempered chocolate cashew clusters topped with toasted coconut
I've made chocolate desserts at home -- mousse, cookies, and my signature Frozen Peppermint Ice Cream Torte with Fudge Topping and Chocolate Cookie Wafer Crust. I've even made savory dishes with chocolate: a Mexican Chocolate Mole Poblano Sauce, a peppery chocolate sauce served with chicken and rice.

Butter Almond Crunch Bars Topped with Chocolate and Almonds
But, nothing prepared me for the surprise and delight of making chocolate candy in class tonight. 

Cammi and Sandy piping chocolate ganach for truffles

Chef Drobbins Enrobing Earl Grey Truffles in Tempered Chocolate and Toasted Coconut

Milk Chocolate Truffles Seasoned with Cardamom and Ginger Enrobed in Chocolate and Cocoa Powder

Introduction to Pastry and Baking Class Eight: Cookies

In class eight of Intro to Pastry and Baking with Chef Faith Drobbins, we made lots of different cookies and had a cookie swap with our classmates. Cammi and I made Checkerboard cookies, Amaretti Macaroons, and Chocolate and Walnut Biscotti.

Each recipe had a different technique. After mixing:
Checkerboards were: Chilled. Rolled. Measured. Cut. Formed. Egg Washed. Baked.

Amarettis: Piped. Baked. And Sugared. 

Biscottis: Formed into three logs. Baked. Cooled. Cut. Baked Again.

Petit Chocolate and Vanilla Checkerboard Cookies

Amaretti Cookies, an Italian Macaroon dusted with Swedish Pearl Sugar
Crispy Chocolate and Walnut Biscotti Dipped in Double Espresso Coffee
Classmates make Grande size Checkerboard Cookies
Chef Dobbins Taught Us to Write with Chocolate
And, my Corny but Fun Visual Play with my Nikon D7100 and macro lens

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking Class Seven: Puff Pastry

Baking relaxes the soul and most definitely can scare away a bad mood. So can the kindness of a classmate. After my car broke down on the George Washington Bridge and I was an hour an a half late for class seven of our pastry class at the Institute for Culinary Education, I was delighted to learn that a fellow classmate had rolled out all my puff pastry dough for me so that I could hit the ground running. 
Cheese twists with parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper
I made a pear tart, cheese straws, almond twists, and palmier cookies (aka "mouse ears" for small ones and "elephant ears" for large cookies). Each pastry, beautiful and magical in appearance and taste, gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment and gratification.
Palmier cookies made with puff pastry, and rolled and dipped with sugar
Cammi made a gorgeous mille feuille (a "thousand leaves" French pastry similar to a an Italian Napolean) made with puff pastry, pastry cream, whipped cream, and strawberries and then topped with fondant and chocolate icing.

Mille Feuille topped with fondant and piped with chocolate
Simple pear tart with frangipane, pears poached in wine, nappage apriocot glaze, almonds and powdered sugar. Crispy and golden brown palmiers.  Twisted puff pastry dough with parmesan/cayenne and also with almond/sugar fillings.
Pear Tart with Frangipane, Apricot Glaze, Almonds and Confectioner's Sugar
The kindness of the classmate who rolled out my dough and the sweet smells coming out of the oven were enough to crowd out the stress (and trauma) of breaking down on the interstate and getting towed from New Jersey back to the city. Baking really does relax the soul.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking Class Six: Cheesecakes

Cammi and I made two types of cheesecake: one had cream cheese and lemon juice;  the other was 50/50 sour cream and cream cheese. Hands-down, the favorite was the 50/50 cheesecake made with sour cream -- it was shinier, didn't crack on top, which is often a problem with cheesecake, and had the familiar New York Cheesecake "aka Jewish Cheesecake" look, mouth feel and taste that grandmothers dream about.
A small sliver of cheesecake is all you need -- I savor each bite.
Both had a browned disc of pastry crust -- pate sucre -- at the bottom and were cooked in a water bath in the oven for over an hour. Actually a custard, the in-oven water bath keeps the cheesecakes from cooking too quickly and allows the filling to transform from a creamy egg-rich and cheese-rich liquid to a wiggly gelatinous custard with a light tan top that firms up nicely overnight in the fridge.
Fresh strawberries and a simple glaze made from strawberry jelly top a rich New York Style cheesecake
Topped with a glaze made with strawberry jelly and the freshest looking strawberries I could find. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking Class Five: Pastry - Pate Choux

First impressions are the most lasting including when it comes to desserts.  Beautifully crafted puffed pastries made from pate de choux baked to perfection and filled with a simple, yet buttery and flavorful pastry cream, are the quintessential eye candy (and dessert) in my book. 

Eclairs filled with pastry cream and dipped in chocolate glaze
@ChefMelanie made it look easy to pipe the dough for perfectly round cream puff pastry shells and long and symmetrical eclairs. But when Cammi and I took a go at it we ended up covered in wet pastry dough with a gooey mess all over our baking pan. 

Paris Brest almond ring filled with praline mousseline
Cammi dipping stuffed eclairs in chocolate glaze
Rather than live with the sloppiness we created, we scooped up the dough from the pan, relined the half sheet with parchment and started over.

Hot pastries just out of the oven

In baking as in life, if at first you don't succeed try try again.

Cream puffs filled with pastry cream and dipped in chocolate

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking Class Four: Tarts and Pies

Communication in the Pastry Kitchen is key. Quarters are tight, the heat's turned up and knives are sharp. Working 5-6 hours at a time, parent and child together, night after night has its challenges and its rewards. Did I mention it's also exhausting?

New words in our baking vocabularies this past week include tonight's featured ingredients: Pate Sucree, frangipane, and nappage. 

Apple and Almond Tart
Just like the beautiful tarts that you buy at the bakery, this apple and almond tart is made with pate sucree pastry dough, frangipane, which is that yummy pastry filling made with almond paste, butter, sugar, flour and eggs, and apples seasoned with cinnamon and sugar. 

So much easier to work with than the flakey pate brisee dough, our tart, baked to perfection and glazed with an apricot jelly nappage, came out shiny and "perfect" as did our communications. 

Pecan Pie (Southern Style)
Chock full of pecan halves, and bubbling hot gooey filling made with corn syrup, sugar, butter and egg, this pecan pie is baked until dark and crisp. Tastes great (even without the shot of bourbon in the recipe). 

"Pastry is different from cooking because you have to consider the chemistry, 
beauty and flavor. It’s not just sugar and eggs thrown together….
You have to be challenged by using secret or unusual ingredients."

Ron Ben-Israel

Monday, July 20, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking Class Three: Flaky Pastry Dough

Bread is forgiving. Pie dough, not so much. 

Working with flour is challenging. When done with the proper tools, accurate measurements (take weight and volumes seriously), and just right temperatures (various hot, warm and cold temperatures) the results are amazing. Time and patience are important ingredients. So is understanding your mistakes and learning the science. 

Fresh Berry Tart With Pastry Cream and Pate Brisee Dough
Lessons Learned: Don't overwork the dough. Shape the dough in a nice round circle before refrigerating.  Keep cold overnight for the best results. Take your time rolling the dough -- not too thin and not too thick. Refrigerate the dough in the pan for at least 15 minutes before baking.

Apple Pie with Cooked Filling and Pate Brisee Dough
Lessons Learned: Cooking the fruit ahead of time allows you to cook off the liquid so you don't have a soggy crust. When baking move the pie around the oven to cook evenly. Most people under cook their pies - let the crust turn a golden brown before removing from the oven. Let cool for an hour for a perfect warm pie -- no need to refrigerate. #neverservepiecold

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking: Class Two — Shaped Bread

“If you learn something new every day, you can teach something new every day.” Martha Stewart 

“The three W’s of baking: wheat + wet + work makes gluten” 
Reeni Aragon 

Shaped Bread Class: Knots, Swirls, and Braided Dinner Rolls
Cammi and I started cooking and baking together before I married her father back when she was six or seven years old. For those who know us, we are a good team in the kitchen and have catered some large cocktail parties and dinners together (she’s saved me on more than one occasion). Not only is Cammi a natural but she’s also a smart and fast worker.

Egg Wash on the Large Challah Breads
Our roles have been clearly defined, or at least until now: she’s the baker and I’m the cook. Now that we’re taking the Institute for Culinary Education’s 12-class Introduction to Pastry and Baking together, not only are we learning about techniques in the pastry kitchen, we are having to learn how to work together as a team and not just as each others helper.

Sliced Challah Bread
In our second class with Chef Reeni Aragon, who was substituting for Melanie Underwood, the class made shaped breads, traditional challah bread and braided/knotted dinner rolls. We made both of these eggy breads using the same dough, a "soft dough" which was made with 100% high-gluten flour, lots of eggs and slightly different proofing techniques.

Fougasse is a traditional Provencal Flatbread Similar to Focaccia
We also created a Provencal flatbread called fougasse, which looks like a tree.  

Fougasse Just Out of the Oven 
And, sesame seed flatbreads. Both the fougasse and flatbread were made from the same one-step bread dough that called for 50% all-purpose and 50% high-gluten flour.

We took turns measuring, mixing, kneading and shaping and both kept tracking of which dough was in the proofing box and when to pull each of the breads from the oven.

Twelve Braided Dinner Rolls

Perhaps, most importantly, we each took turns teaching each other and being taught. 

Shaped Dinner Rolls: Snail, Braid and Knot

In class three, we will move on to Pies and Tarts with Flaky Pastry Dough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Introduction to Pastry and Baking: Class One - Bread

Baking bread takes time, patience and care. 

Perfect White Pan Breads with an Egg Wash
Cammi, my stepdaughter, and I are taking a 12-night intensive pastry and baking class. She loves loves loves to bake. When she told me that she wanted to improve her skills it didn’t take long to decide that taking a class together would be a really special mother-daughter activity.

Pan Breads and Focaccia Just Out of the Oven
Under the guidance of Melanie Underwood at the Institute of Culinary Education and the curriculum and recipes created by Master Baker Nick Malgieri, we baked two “perfect white pan breads” and an olive oil, rosemary and salt focaccia.

We learned the vocabulary of bread baking: fermentation, deflation, retarding, rounding and bench proofing. We weighed, mixed, kneaded, and waited. We used an egg wash to make our loaf bread shiny and pretty. 

Bread is forgiving. If you over knead it let it rest. If you under knead it, knead it some more. Too dry? Add liquid. Too wet? Add flour. It takes time to rise. And more time to rise again. Butter and oil prevent sticking.

Like baking bread, raising children is part art part science and a lot of trial and error. It takes time, patience and care. And, homemade, with love, is sooooo much better than store bought. 
Rosemary Focaccia with Sea Salt

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Charleston Insider: A Taste of the "New South" (Locavore, Of Course)

From the warm welcome of the wrap-around porches and hospitality at Husk, a “new Southern” locavore restaurant in a beautiful 19th century building, and melt-in-your-mouth Southern fried chicken skins, on our first night in Charleston to the last bite of shrimp, sausage and grits at Magnolia Restaurant before catching a flight back home on Sunday, my husband and I had a extraordinary long-weekend in this charming and historic city that, like many American cities, has undergone a renaissance. 

We’ve wanted to visit Charleston for a long while – it’s one of the many locations we are “shopping” as we consider where we want to live during our retirement years (some time in the 2020s).  On a freezing cold night in February, when I was reading the latest copy of Food & Wine magazine, I saw an advertisement for Charleston Insiders' Weekend, a three-day series of food and cultural tours and events (including a golf outing on a world-class course) organized by several of Time Inc.'s lifestyle magazines --- I jumped on reservations immediately. 

Despite the high standards of this New York City native and my New Orleanian husband, Charleston and the surrounding area did not disappoint. Neither did the Lowcountry food or Southern hospitality. It felt like “home”. 

Thursday, April 30th Dinner: 
Husk Restaurant, 76 Queen Street
The chalkboard in the lobby that lists 40 or so ingredients and the name of each purveyor tells only part of the story.  The other is the out-of-the-box creativity in preparing meals and do-it-yourself ingredients that burst with flavor and are visually delightful.  All the beef, pork, chicken, game, and seafood are from South Carolina and Georgia, so are the fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy, and grains and flours. Peanut desserts, locally sourced "benne cakes" (made from a heritage seed from Africa used in South Carolina cooking for centuries), country hams and pickled foods and beverages -- including some delicious cocktail "shrub" recipes from times past -- are made in-house. We had strawberry soup, fried chicken skins, pork marinated in cider for dinner, and a delicious peanut butter pie with chocolate sauce for dessert. 

Sean Brock, IACP and James Beard Award Winner,  and Husk Restaurant Are Leading the Food Renaissance in Charleston's Downtown with Its Locally-Sourced and House-Made Ingredients and Creative Cuisine

Husk's "Southern Fried Chicken Skins with Honey and Hot Sauce" -- Addicting and Uniquely "New Southern" 

Strawberry Soup with House-Pickled South Carolina Shrimp is Visually Exciting and 100% Local
Husk's Daily Special: Heritage Pork Loin and Its Belly, Raised in South Carolina, With In-Season Grilled Asparagus, Snow Peas, Tomatoes and Ramps
Husk's Pickling Closet Just Outside the Ladies' and Mens' Rooms on the 2nd Floor

Friday May 1st Morning Coffee: 
Gaulart & Mallet Fast and French, 98 Broad Street

We discovered this adorable and old-fashioned counter-only restaurant from a "best coffee in Charleston" listing online. Indeed, I had the best house roasted coffee of my life -- it was made in a French Press.  After breakfast, we strolled through cobble stone streets, past tourists on horse and carriage rides, and visited the City Market rich with arts and crafts, handmade grass baskets, food and cookbooks, paintings and photographs. 

Lunch on Friday: 
167 Raw, 289 E Bay Street, Charleston

Seafood tacos, po' boys, salmon burgers, and catch of the day ceviche. We got there at 11:50 in the morning -- by noon there was a line.  There are just 12 bar stools in this casual downtown jewel box seafood joint that hails from New England (the first 167 Raw is in Nantucket). The fried sea scallop po' boy with a spicy sauce on a fresh roll that was lightly buttered and then grilled knocked the shoes and socks off of my New Orleanian "po' boy and bread snob" husband. Crispy oyster and shrimp tacos were equally delicious - also with a spicy tingle on the tongue. Don't miss the fresh guacamole served with homemade, direct from the fryer corn chips, and friendly New England/Boston service. 

Fresh, fun, fast, friendly and delicious seafood at really good prices. Restaurant and fish market. 

Friday Dinner Was The Official Start of Insider Weekend: 
Charleston Grill, 224 King Street (one of five restaurants in town hosting "Insiders")

Charleston Grill is an upscale, elegant dining experience. The restaurant is beautiful with wood paneling and white table linens and top notch cuisine and service. The food is fresh, delicate and flavorful -- the menu has dishes that are a contemporary spin on old world Southern as well as Continental favorites. We had a four-course meal co-hosted by Coastal Living magazine editors Tracey Minkin (Travel) and Ellen McGauley (Home): Octopus salad with tomatoes and petit mache, a very crabby grilled crab cake with lime, and prime beef tenderloin with baked potatoes, truffle butter, bourguignon sauce and horseradish. Dessert was a lemony cake topped with tart lemon curd and strawberries. 
Charleston Grill's Chef Michelle Weaver's Octopus Salad Tossed with Heirloom Tomatoes

Saturday, May 2nd Breakfast: 
Callie's Hot Little Biscuit, 476 King Street
Buttermilk biscuits and jam and a cup of hot coffee -- a perfect way to get myself going "in 'da South". Callie's is around the corner from the Charleston Visitor Center where I met up with fellow Insiders and picked up the Gullah Tours van for a cultural tour. My husband spent the day at the golf course on Kiawah Island with some of the marketing team from Departures and Travel & Leisure magazines and only got to hear about these awesome biscuits. 

Callie's Biscuits Are Legendary: Sharp Chedder, Cream Cheese, Pimento are just some of the many flavors. Served at this tiny take-out restaurant with four counter seats and local parties. A large assortment of products are available via mail order at their website
Tender, buttery, flakey -- handmade, hot out of the oven and served with blackberry jam on a fine china.

Saturday, May 2nd, Lunch: 
After a humorous (and scholarly) drive around Charleston with Alphonso Brown, owner of the Gullah Tours Company,  who shared the cultural history of century's old South Carolina's African-American Gullah culture -- language, beliefs, and foods -- and showed us beautiful wrought iron gates and a blacksmith shop,  I rushed off to join a Pop-Up Lunch of Gullah Cuisine and Butcher & Bee Menu Items Hosted by Dana Cowin, Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief at Le Creuset's Test Kitchen. We ate a six-course meal consisting of small plates - the menu is below -- at this "South Takes On The World" lunch.   
Chef BJ Dennis is recreating "Gullah" Cuisine, the traditional foods of African settlers in South Carolina's  Lowcountry. Somewhat reminiscent of Creole and Cajun Louisiana foods found at Jazzfest in New Orleans this time of year, the Sweet Potato Pone that Chef Dennis made - a quick bread, casserole-type dish made with grated sweet potatoes lots of butter and seasoned with cinnamon and sugar -- is a vintage Lowcountry Gullah recipe that soothes the soul. 
Mediterranean Butter Beans Salad and a Soft Boiled Egg created by Butcher and Bee, one of Charleston's Hottest Sandwich Joints Known For Helping Elevate Charleston's Food Scene in the National Rankings
Local artisans maintain the traditions of "poet ironworker" and "national treasure" Philip Simmons who created some of Charleston's most beautiful and iconic wrought iron gates, and balconies. 

Swirly curly elegant shapes define the work of Philip Simmons' iron work. We saw dozens of examples like this one on the Gullah Tour with Mr. Brown. The piece in this photo is a work in progress at the Philip Simmons Foundation and Workshop. 

Saturday, May 2nd, Dinner
We attended the "Biscuits and Jam" outdoor pig roast and seafood boil with live folk music -- Canary in the Coalmine and Houndmouth -- hosted by Southern Living magazine in Mt. Pleasant, just over the uber-modern looking bridge on the waterfront. It was fun to run into "old friends" and meet some new ones at "the Jam". 

Sunday, May 3rd, Brunch
Magnolia Restaurant, 185 East Bay Street
Considered one of the original creative restaurants serving "new Southern" cuisine, Magnolia is 25 years old this year. Great vibe and awesome meal. We had the shrimp and grits and a cuban pulled pork omelet topped with a beautiful salad and hot peppers for our last meal in Charleston. 
Quintessential Louisianan Spicy Shrimp, Sausage and Tasso Gravy Over Corn Grits at Magnolia Restaurant
Interior of Magnolia Restaurant 
We'll be back (soon, I hope). Until next time, y'all.