Saturday, April 28, 2012
Last week, we learned to make a few traditional yeasted doughs, including brioches and flaky croissants. And, of course, we made them all by hand. No Kitchenaid to knead the dough for us. No sirree. Not in basic pastry. Turns out, the doughs are kneaded by slapping them down onto the counter and then scooping them up again. The process is repeated for as long as it takes to obtain a smooth, not sticky dough. Let me tell you, it's an aerobic workout. Do that for 3 hours and by the end you are out of breath and exhausted, just like after a workout.
The workout is totally worth it because look at how light and fluffy the brioche dough is if you work it enough. I was absolutely amazed by the texture of my baked brioche. I had never had brioche so light. And the most shocking part of it all: I seriously LOVED the slap/scoop motion required to knead the dough. I told that to my instructor at the end of class and he looked at me a little puzzled. I guess not too many students declare that they love to hand knead doughs, but to transform a gooey pile of yeasted dough into a perfectly smooth ball of bread dough was amazing to me.
I was so excited about making croissants that I ate them all over the course of a week-end. Now I understand why a recent Cordon Bleu graduate mentioned that I should be prepared for a 20-pound weight gain. But how could I not indulge? I made these from scratch, hand-kneaded, hand-rolled.... I'm full of excuses.
Here's a video showcasing how to hand knead bread dough the French way to give you a rough idea of the technique we learned to knead dough.
Monday, April 23, 2012
To unwind after a difficult week of school (with many flops), I dedicated last Friday night to Béatrice Peltre's gorgeous new book La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life. When I saw this book at the bookstore, I literally couldn't even make it to the cash register before cracking it open. I plopped down on an inverted milk crate in the middle of the aisle and dove right in.
Béeatrice Peltre's book is beautiful, just like her blog. The recipes and photography are drool-worthy and inspirational. The recipes in the book are gluten-free and health-conscious. But, don't worry: there's definitely butter in the baking section where it belongs. Without exaggerating, I want to make everything in this book, both the savory and the sweet.
I started with a recipe from the "Everyday Baking" section because after a few weeks of Italian meringue, génoise, and croissants, I just wanted an everyday recipe, and not a recipe that requires me to whisk eggs and sugar for tens of minutes over a double boiler until the mixture is in the ribbon stage (yikes!). Go figure, one of my favorite French treats, "financiers," is in the everyday baking section.
This pistachio financiers recipe is a fabulous twist on a classic, and perfect for those looking to make their first foray into gluten-free baking because it calls for only one gluten-free flour: rice flour. It's super simple and yields just the right amount of financiers without them taking over your life and every meal (the recipe makes just 8 financiers. Perfect!). They are moist and light, and most importantly, they taste fantastic: almost like creamy, sweet pistachio ice cream with delightful pops of texture from the poppy seeds and ground nuts. You really should check out Béa's blog, buy the book, and in the meantime, make these. They will bring a peaceful happiness to your Friday night baking, and an inspirational read.
Recipe adapted from La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life by Béatrice Peltre. Published by Roost Books, 2011.
- 90 grams (1/2 cup) shelled unsalted pistachios
- 100 grams (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 5 cardamom pods, crushed
- 1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out
- 60 grams (1/3 cup) white rice flour
- 1 tbsp poppy seeds
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) blond cane sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 large egg whites, beaten lightly until foamy
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line your muffin pan(s) with 8 paper liners. Set aside.
- Using a mini food processor or coffee grinder, grind the pistachios to a fine powder. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and continue cooking it until it turns light brown in color. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the crushed cardamom pods and vanilla bean and seeds. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes to infuse the butter, then strain it and set it aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ground pistachios, rice flour, poppy seeds, sugar, sea salt and frothy egg whites. Whisk vigorously to mix everything together, then add the melted butter and whisk the batter more to completely incorporate it.
- Divide the batter among the 8 muffin papers and bake the financiers for about 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of one of them comes out clean. Let cool completely.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Pastry school is hard. This is something that I was made very aware of when I was applying. I consulted a few pastry chefs in Montreal as I filled out all the applications, and I gathered advice and words of wisdom from those I admire. The warning was always the same: it will be very, very hard, and it will not be like home-baking. The question at the end of every conversation was the same: "Are you sure this is what you want?"
Baking is my passion. I love it, and it's a huge part of my life, and it's how I unwind and have fun. Baking is very important to me, along with the mountains of pretty magazines and cookbooks that come with it. Going to pastry school is a bit of a risk: the stress of it all could ruin my favorite activity.
My motivation every day at culinary school is completely different than that of my years of university. In university, I wanted to be the best, and in undergrad, I pretty much had the top marks in almost all of my classes. I wasn't there for the learning, I just wanted to be the best and have the top marks. In grad school, I was just surviving. My only motivation was to finish. It wasn't very pretty, but I dragged forward to the end. Now, in pastry school, I don't care about being the best or about finishing, I just want to learn. Today, I want to be better in the kitchen than I was yesterday. I want to understand. I want to learn the tricks. It's all for me. It's more personal.
So far, I've logged in about 15 hours of practical time at school, and there were definitely great moments where I rocked the recipes that day, and then there were other sessions where my work was a total flop. An organized, calm flop, but a flop nonetheless. At the end of every day of school thus far, I've still loved it. Don't get me wrong, I know I've just begun, and those days where I haven't done well at school definitely hurt a lot, but I still can't get enough of it all.
Every morning I walk to school with nervous anticipation, and I literally cannot believe that I am walking to a school where I am studying pastry. It is still so unreal to me that I am actually living in Ottawa right now and that I am studying pastry. I won't let the flops get to me. It's taken me so long to get here that, even when I fail, I'm excited because I'm learning.
My last week of school has been filled with tarts, tarts, and more tarts: tarte au citron (lemon tart), tarte aux pommes (apple tart), and tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart). I think the lemon tart is one of the recipes that will be among those I will be tested on at the end of the term. I am far from mastering it, but I will repeat it until I understand the recipe and its tricks, and until I know it like the back of my hand. The preparation of the Italian meringue by hand is one of the harder parts of the recipe for me because it requires so much whisking, and I find the whisking very hard. At this point, I just don't have the muscle/energy to get it right. Remember that scene in Julie & Julia, where Meryl Streep (as Julia Child) is chopping pounds and pounds of onions in order to master it (fast forward this clip to 1:24 for a glimpse of what I mean) ? My friend S says that the whisking for me is what the onion chopping was for Julia... Guess I better get practicing... Wish me luck!
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I've been in Ottawa for exactly one week now, and I still can't believe it. The move has had its ups and downs. On my second day in Ottawa, my car disappeared, literally, and I couldn't find it. It wasn't where I left it. I placed a confused phone call to the Ottawa police and opened with the statement "I lost my car." Turns out that my car had been towed and "awarded" a seventy dollar fine (fifty if I pay it early). Yay.
On the bright side, my multitude of dishes, cutlery and blog props seem to have made the trip to Ottawa in one piece, and I've unpacked almost everything (almost). I've stacked each and every one of my cookbooks in neat piles atop the now empty moving boxes. My cat is spending less and less time hidden in the dark back corner of my closet, and more and more time sleeping in "her chair." Things are looking up.
The number of cookbooks I brought with me is a bit ridiculous, but I couldn't bear to part with them, even if for just 9 months. And, the weirdest part for me is that there's not a chemistry textbook in sight in my new abode. So begins my new career, I suppose. The chemistry books are still in Montreal. For now, I'm happier focusing on the baking.
Since I've been so busy with packing and unpacking, and adapting to my new life in a new city, I've hardly had time to bake. I honestly still need to get used to my "new" oven's quirks, and unfortunately, none of the baking sheets I brought with me fit in my oven. I made a batch of this quick chia pudding to tide me over while I figure everything out. I was skeptical as I mixed everything together. It's just so... healthy! I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved this chia pudding. I was inspired by this recipe from Food & Wine magazine's March 2012 issue.
I tweaked the original recipe by using coconut milk instead of almond, and I used maple syrup as the sweetener. I topped the pudding with fresh raspberries and toasted flaked coconut, which I purchased at Market Organics in Ottawa (you can find it pre-packaged or in the bulk section of your local health food store, or get the shredded kind if you can't find the flakes). The flaked coconut is essential to reinforce the coconut flavor from the milk. On it's own, coconut milk's flavor is a little dull, but the flakes bring it to a whole new level. This pudding makes a great breakfast to perk you up in the morning, or a fresh, cooling dessert in the evening.
Coconut and raspberry chia-seed puddingServes 4–6
- 2 1/2 cups (625 mL) unsweetened coconut milk (I used So Delicious brand milk)
- 3 tbsp maple syrup, plus more for serving
- 1/2 cup (85 grams) chia seeds
- 1/4–1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- toasted flaked coconut to serve
- ~200 grams fresh raspberries
- Combine the coconut milk and maple syrup in a 1 liter container (or jar) that has a tight fitting lid. Close the container and shake it to mix.
- Add the chia seeds and lemon zest to the container. Close the container and shake it to mix.
- Refrigerate the container for about 4 hours (or even overnight), stirring every so often, until it "gels."
- Serve the pudding chilled, topped with a drizzling of more maple syrup, a sprinkling of toasted coconut flakes and a handful of raspberries.