Sacher Torte: Cakes Part 2

For our second day of cakes in baking class, we journeyed to Austria to pay homage to Austria’s most famous dessert, the Sacher Torte (pronounced “soccer”).  Legend has it the Sacher Torte was invented in 1832, when sixteen-year-old cooking apprentice Franz Sacher stepped in for an ill chef to prepare a special dessert for Prince Metternich and his stately guests.  The dessert became a hit in Vienna, and “The Original Sacher-Torte,” a carefully guarded recipe, has been tauted as the most famous cake in the world (though I admit I had never heard of such a cake until I made it the other day).

Le Cordon Bleu, obviously not privy to Vienna’s trade secret recipe, must have reverse-engineered the recipe provided to us.  And I will intern provide the adapted recipe to you, Sacher Torte recipe.  Caution: this isn’t your run of the mill cake.  It takes quite a bit of time to prepare, but is not difficult and the end result is pretty darned good.  The chocolate cake is surprisingly dense and light all at the same time, and the oozing apricot jam center complements the chocolate like honey to apples.  The double layer of chocolate frosting packs a rich punch.  The torte is traditionally served with whipped cream, though I sent it off to Big N’s work sans creme.

After making my torte in class, and having no special event on tap to tote my torte, I let Big N bring it with him to be devoured by his work colleagues.  As luck would have it, a fellow foodie blogger was able to sample my torte (my first review!).  Here’s what The Princess Gourmet had to say about yours truly (well, my torte, at least):

“A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! Light, not too dense. Subtle sweetness. Apricot jam in the middle added a nice layer of flavor. It’s supposed to be served with unsweetened whipped cream (didn’t miss it) but on its own, it’s wonderful. It’s one of the best sacher tortes I’ve ever had.”

Not too shabby, right?  Sacher it to me baby!  (How could I resist?!?)

Enjoy sacher torte

Next up: creme brulee and the elusive souffle.

Sacher Torte

Serves 8-10
Prep time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 2 hours
Meal type Dessert
Region European

Ingredients

Cake

  • 4.5oz Butter, unsalted
  • 5.75oz Sugar (Baker's (super fine) works best)
  • 4oz Egg yolks (about 4)
  • 6oz Egg whites (About 4)
  • 1 1/2oz Cake flour
  • 1 1/2oz Cocoa powder (good quality)
  • 1 3/4oz Almond meal (finely ground in food processor)
  • 4oz Apricot jam (no chunks)
  • 4oz Simple syrup ((instructions below))
  • to tasteVanilla or brandy (to flavor simple syrul)

Chocolate glaze

  • 8oz Semi-sweet chocolate
  • 6oz Butter, unsalted
  • 1 tablespoon Light corn syrup
  • Semi-sweet chocolate (Reserve some to write on the cake)

Note

Read through all of the instructions before getting started

Directions

1.
Cream the butter and just 3 3/4 oz. of the sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg yolks until incorporated. Place this mixture in a large mixing bowl and wash out the bowl to your stand mixer.
2.
In a separate bowl, sift all dry ingredients together. (The almond meal may not go through the sifter as it is thicker than flour, that’s ok, just dump the rest in).
3.
In your stand mixer, make a meringue by beating the egg whites until foamy on high speed with the whisk attachment. Add the remaining 2 ounces of sugar and continue to beat until medium stiff peaks form. (To test your peaks: take the whisk out with a little egg white stuck to it. Invert the whisk, and if the foam falls off completely it’s not stiff enough. If the foam crests like a wave you’re there. If the foam stands up straight, that’s stiff peaks and you’ve gove too far). Do not over beat.
4. Carefully fold the meringue into the creamed butter/sugar batter, one third at a time until just incorporated. Do not overwhip your egg whites or your cake will be too dense, save as much air in those egg whites as you can when folding. Then carefully fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
5.
Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Add the batter, and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees until set in the center (until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean), between 20-30 minutes (test it to be sure). Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack and remove torte from pan to finish cooling.
6.
When cooled, carefully slice the torte in half horizontally so you have 2 layers using a serrated knife. Make a simple syrup by combining 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Heat on stove until sugar is just dissolved. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon of brandy to the syrup for flavoring. Using a pastry brush, brush the simple syrup on the top and sides of each layer so it moistens the torte. Be generous with this. You want a lot of moisture on the torte.
7.
Using a spatula, spread the apricot jam thickly on the bottom layer. Put the second layer on top so you have a two layered torte.
8.
Next make the chocolate glaze. Combine the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (double boiler) to melt these together, stirring frequently until melted.
9. Divide the chocolate glaze: put 1/3 of it in a separate bowl and set aside. Keep the remaining 2/3 in your original bowl and place this bowl over an ice bath (water and ice) to cool the glaze. Whisk it the whole time while cooling. If the chocolate freezes on the sides of the bowl, take out of the water bath, keep whisking to incorporate, and then put it back in the water bath to whisk some more. After about 3-5 minutes the chocolate will get nice and thick as it cools and will have the consistency of spreadable frosting.
10.
Place the torte on cardboard. Coat the entire torte with this frosting and make it smooth with your offset spatula. If you can't get it smooth enough, run your spatula under warm water to help you slightly melt the frosting and get it smoother. Chill for 10 minutes. Trim around the cardboard if necessary so it is the same size as the torte.
11.
Place the torte with the cardboard cut to fit on a wire rack that is sitting over a sheet tray that is covered in plastic wrap (to catch the chocolate you're about to pour). Reserve a small bit of the left over chocolate sauce (to write on your torte later). With the remaining reserved sauce sauce, pour it right over the center of the torte and let it drip down the sides. Try to coat the entire torte and get the sides smooth. If you run out of chocolate sauce before the entire torte is covered, pick up the plactic wrap where the sauce dripped on it and pour the sauce over the torte again. Let the chocolate set on the counter, do not refrigerate or you’ll lose all that cool shine on the chocolate.
12.
Optional: with the last bit of your reserved chocolate, place melted chocolate in a pastry bag and cut a small tip off it. Write “sacher” on the torte (traditional); or write whatever you want (modern). Serve the same day. Congratulations.

Beginner Cakes: Part 1

It’s clear that I’m no “Ace of Cakes.”  I have a hard time icing a cake without leaving a trail of visible crumbs in my frosting and I can’t pipe rosettes to save my life.  So when I heard we would spend a week in baking class on cakes, and would need to produce a celebration cake for the final, I wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels.  But I powered through and picked up some new cake skills here and there.

So far we’ve made three cakes: a yellow butter cake with royal icing, a devil’s food cake with chocolate mousse icing, and a Sacher torte.

Making the cake is the easy part.  Mix, pour, bake.  Decorating it takes patience and finesse and I’m admittedly lacking in those virtues.  The decoration on my yellow butter cake came out so so.  We had to write a message in chocolate on the cake and working with chocolate is messy business.  First, I made a cone out of parchment (“cornet” in French) and filled it with chocolate, cut the tip off, and wrote with the chocolate dripping through the bottom in a steady stream.  Of course my chocolate splattered out the wrong end and drenched my cake in a messy pool.  Not to worry, I popped it in the freezer, the chocolate hardened, and I chipped it off with the tip of my knife.  But writing in chocolate takes a steady hand, and I haven’t written in cursive since about the 4th grade.  Plus I’m left-handed so by definition my writing sucks.  The result: Bleh.  This cake went into the freezer.  I think it wants to be my son’s “smash cake” for his 1st birthday party.  What do you think?

Yellow butter cake finished

Cake No. 2 was the devil’s food with chocolate mousse icing.  I chose to do 4 delicious layers.  The mousse came out great, except I didn’t quite make enough of it.  You need extra frosting because the first layer should be the “crumb coat.”  If it gets crumby, no problem, because the second layer will be nice and smooth.  I didn’t have enough for the smooth layer.  Oh well.  I also didn’t practice hard enough with my flowers because they look dreadful.  I told my instructor I wasn’t going for “rosettes,” but more like avant-garde carnations.  I think she almost bought it.  This cake went into the freezer too (I’m nearly out of freezer space).  Cakes freeze well.  The cake told me it wants to be a mini-present for my nephew’s second birthday because he hasn’t seen that many cakes in his young life and won’t know the difference.

Devil's food cake decorated

Now the Sacher torte, that was a thing of beauty if I do say so myself.  I’ll explain what the heck a Sacher torte is in Part 2.

 

Pie Day: Quiche au Fromage and Lemon Tart

Two thirds of the way through baking class and I finally made something I could serve for dinner: Quiche.  Of course, because I made it in baking class my quiche was still scary fattening and still loaded with butter, heavy cream, cheese, and of course, ham.  Whatever.  Butter and cream = delicious.  And since I’m giving myself a pass until I get through this baking rotation (I’ve now gained 2 whole pounds thank you very much), I ate 2 slices.  HA!

Baked quiche

As you can guess, pie day arrived in baking class and we made 3 types over the course of 2 days: blueberry (no pics, boo), quiche au fromage (I added the ham after I got home so it became a Lorraine post facto), and a lemon tart with Italian* meringue.  The quiche was simple, and I highly recommend trying one out if you’re having a fancy schmancy luncheon or garden party and want to serve something fun, albeit rich and fattening. ( Quiche recipe below)  I also recommend making your own pie dough from scratch because it makes a nicer quiche.  (Pie dough recipe follows quiche recipe)  Serve it with a simple salad with champagne vinaigrette and a champagne spritzer and you have one classy lunch.  Just like they do in Lorraine, I imagine.

pie-day-1-of-1

Our lemon curd tarts were a bit more complicated and required multiple steps.  First, we made Pâte Sucrée (sweet dough), rolled it, and blind baked it (weighed down with pie weights) in our tart shell.  Next, the lemon curd, made with sugar, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest.  The eggs help it thicken on the stove, then the curd is strained, cooled, and added to the shell.  The Italian meringue is where the finesse comes in.  Start with corn syrup, water, sugar, and boil it to a precise 240 degrees (soft ball stage).  Whip egg whites, and slowly pour your sugar water into the egg whites, cooking the egg whites.  They end up stiff and shiny.  Fill a pastry bag with a star tip and pipe rosettes on top of your lemon curd (practice a few on parchment paper until you get the wrist action first).  Then the best part: blow torch the tips of your meringue to give it that bruleed finish look.  Voila.  If you want the recipe, leave me a comment and I’ll post it.  But be warned, it’s pretty time consuming.

I served my tart at a family brunch over the weekend.  It was a hit, though my family might be biased.  But it was good, objectively speaking, of course.

Here were are in class showing off our tarts.  (Those are my mini blueberry pies hanging out in back.)

Baking class

Next up: cakes.  Yikes.

*Note: lesson for the day.  Meringue comes in 3 types- French (raw egg whites), Swiss (partially cooked), and Italian (cooked egg whites).  Italian is the stiffest sturdiest kind, plus it burns nicely.

Quiche au Fromage & Quiche Lorraine

Serves 6-8
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 50 minutes
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Region French

Ingredients

  • 1 Mealy pie crust ((Crust recipe follows below))
  • 4oz Gruyere cheese (grated)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Heavy cream
  • 6 oz Whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 pinch White pepper
  • 1 pinch Nutmeg
  • To taste Herbs (I like thyme and chives)

Optional

  • To taste Bacon, ham or pancetta (finely diced)
  • 1-2 Leeks (Depending on thickness, green parts removed, rinsed well)

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe packet

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough until it is 1/2 inch thick and line an 8 inch pie pan.
2. Fill with pie weights (or dried beans or rice) and “blind bake” crust for about 15-20 minutes until it starts to brown lightly. Remove weights and bake another 2 minutes. Remove crust and let cool.
3. In a bowl, whisk eggs, cream, milk, and white pepper and nutmeg until well incorporated.
4. If using leeks, cut in half lengthwise, then in 1/4 inch slices. Rinse well in water and dry. Saute in a little butter for about 6 minutes until soft. Sprinkle grated Gruyere, bacon/ham, and leeks if using (for Quiche Lorraine) in the bottom of cooled pie shell. Pour in egg/cream mixture.
5. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes until the quiche is set (no longer jiggles in the middle and golden brown on top).

Basic Pie Crust: Flaky and Mealy

Serves 2
Meal type Dessert
Misc Freezable

Ingredients

  • 20oz Pastry flour (All Purpose flour will work but your dough will be tougher)
  • 7oz Vegetable shortening
  • 7oz Butter, unsalted (Make sure it's very cold)
  • 2 teaspoons Salt
  • 1/4 cup Ice cold water (Add 1 tablespoon at a time, you might need less)

Directions

1. Sift flour and salt together. Cut in shortening and cold butter using a pastry blender, or using 2 knives, or using your food processor, or your hands, whatever works. You want your butter to be in the size of little peas.
2. Add cold water, 2 ounces at first and gently incorporate into your dough. Add another 2 ounces, up to 6 ounces until the flour is just incorporated. It should still be mealy. It will stick together when pressed but will still have bits of flour and butter that flake off. Do not overwork. You’ll still see lumps of butter in your dough, that’s good.
3. Separate your dough into 2 parts. Flatten each into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. For flaky dough, stop here.
4. If your pie or quiche will have a lot of liquid in it, you want mealy pie crust to hold all that moisture and not get soggy on the bottom. To make mealy pie crust, remove chilled disc of pie dough, roll out with rolling pin. Fold in thirds. Chill again. Do this one more time. Now you have mealy pie crust.
5. Yields two crusts.

Pate a Choux : G-d Bless You!

Eclairs may just be the perfect French treat.  Crisp flaky pastry shell, sweet cream center, healthy dose of chocolate topping.  Not too sweet, not too filling, just the right amount of indulgence.  Even health fanatic Big N can’t resist the alluring eclair.

Baking an eclair is fairly simple, though a little time consuming.  Start to finish you’re investing about 3 hours, but when those 3 hours are up you’ll look at your 1/2 dozen eclairs and which you’d doubled the recipe.

Eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, and gougeres (cheesy puff balls) all start with a French basic, the Pâte à Choux (gesundheit), which roughly translates to “cabbage paste.”  I believe the French call it cabbage paste because cream puffs look like little cabbage rolls after they’re baked.  Don’t ask me why, I didn’t name it.  Funny name aside, pâte à choux is a fairly versatile dough to have in the arsenal and not that complicated to make (no rolling, turning, chilling, rolling, turning, chilling, like other French pastries).   Pâte à Choux recipe follows.

What you do with your pâte à choux is up to you.  (You like all this rhyming?)  Stuff it with Chantilly Cream and you have cream puffs.  Add strawberries (and basil?) or blueberries (and lemon zest?) and you have a more exciting puff.  Add pastry cream and loads of chocolate on top and you have an eclair.  Add hazulnut flavored pastry cream and some almonds and you have a Paris-Brest (created and named in honor of the famous bike race from Paris to Brest, France).  Add some gruyere to your dough and you have gougeres, which make a nice pre-dinner roll.  Lots of possibilities.  Pastry and Chantilly Cream recipe follows (for cream puffs and eclairs).

My eclairs were delectable and my cream puffs divine.  More butter straight to my thighs (only 3 more weeks of baking class, then back to the treadmill).  But don’t take my word for it.  When Big N took the rest of my cream puffs to work (we can’t eat all this sweet stuff or we’d go mad!), here’s what a lucky taster had to say:

“The blueberry pastry was fantastic!  This was as good or better than the best I’ve had in Europe or the best restaurants in the US.

It had a perfect texture, was not too sweet and very pleasureful to eat. Perfect treat!”

And he speaks French! High praise indeed.  Compliments make me beam. :-)

Eclairs cream puffs and espresso

Next up: Quiche! Blueberry pies, and lemon curd tarts! Oh my.

Pate a Choux: Eclair & Cream Puff Paste

Serves 12
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hours, 15 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 6 oz Bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 4 oz Butter (Unsalted)
  • 8 oz Water
  • 10 oz Eggs ((about 5, but best to weigh out))

Directions

1. Combine water, butter, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a rolling poil.
2. Remove from heat and add flour, all at once. Stir quickly until dough forms a ball in the bottom of the pan. You’re ready when the dough coats the bottom of the hot pan and starts to stick, about 2 minutes.
3.
Transfer the dough to a mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix on low (setting 2 on the Kitchenaid) until the steam stops rising and dough has cooled slightly. Turn mixer on medium (setting 4) and add eggs one at a time until each egg is mixed in.
4.
Mix until dough becomes a smooth paste and passes the “finger test.” Put a little dough between your thumb and forefinger and start to pull apart slowly. If your fingers can separate and the dough still remains together in a line, you’re ready and it’s elastic enough. If it splits apart before your fingers spread apart, keep mixing.
5.
Place dough into pastry bag and pipe in shapes: 3 inch long rods for eclairs (moving pastry tip in a circular motion to create a thicker rod, see photo), and 2 inch circles for cream puffs (moving pastry tip in rising "pinwheel" motion).
6. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the oven and bake at 375 until the puffs are well browned and crisp, close to 1 hour.
7. Fill with desired filling.

Pastry Cream: Eclair Filling

Serves 12
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 20 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Sugar
  • 32 fl oz Milk (Whole)
  • Melting Chocolate (Use chocolate that hardens, like tempered or chocolate wafers)
  • 1/2 oz Vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped)
  • 2 1/2 oz Corn Starch
  • 2 oz Butter (Unsalted)
  • 4 Egg Yolks
  • 2 Eggs

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. In large sauce pan, heat 4 oz (half) of the sugar and the milk until it scalds (small bubbles up sides of pan and a little foamy on top).
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks, corn starch, and the rest of your sugar until it’s smooth.
3. Temper the hot mixture with the cold: add the hot milk liquid to the egg and corn starch mixture a small amount at a time so it doesn’t cook your eggs. When the mixture is warm enough you can add the rest.
4. Put the mixture back in your sauce pan and on medium heat, continue stirring until it thickens. Do not stop stirring or it will burn. After about 5 minutes the cream mixture will thicken and boil. When it looks thick enough, remove from heat.
5. Place in separate pan, cover with wax paper (so it doesn’t form a crust on top) and cool until ready to use.
6. To fill eclairs: cut out small round hole in bottom of eclair (save the piece you cut out). Put cooled pastry cream in a piping bag fitted with a medium round tip (Ateco # 804 or smaller). Put tip in hole you cut out and squeeze to fill eclair. Stick the piece you cut out back in the hole (the sticky cream will hold it in place).
7. Melt tempered chocolate or chocolate wafers over a double boiler until just melted (do not burn and be careful that your bowl and all utensils are dry because water makes chocolate "seize" and that's bad). Turn the filled eclair over and dip top in the melted chocolate. Let dry until the chocolate hardens.

Chantilly Cream: Cream Puff filling

Serves 12
Prep time 5 minutes
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

  • 12 oz Heavy cream
  • 2 oz Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. In an electric mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.
2. Using the whisk attachment, whisk on low, then gradually increase to high. Whisk about 2 minutes until stiff peaks form but do not over mix. (Stiff peaks: take your whisk attachment out and turn it upside down. If the cream left on the whisk falls over and looks like an ocean wave, you’re at medium peaks. If it stays in a little point like a little snow capped mountain, you’re there.) Chill until ready to use.
3. To fill cream puffs: take a serrated knife and slice off the top third of each cream puff (make sure you keep the pieces you sliced off together with their bottoms so you remember which top belongs to which bottom). Fill pastry bag with chantilly cream fitted with a star tip. Pipe cream in concentric circles until you have a nice mound of cream. Add berries or other flavorings if you wish. Put cream puff top back on. Dust each cream puff with powdered sugar.

Butter overload: Croissants and Danish

I may have mentioned that since becoming a culinary student, butter and cream have become my new best friends.  For my 6-week baking rotation, butter and I are now attached at the hip (literally, ha!).  The love affair continued last week with our latest patisserie adventure: the croissant and the danish.

Butter block

If you enjoy your weekly daily croissant with a double shot of espresso, you might want to hit the back button on your browser because my forthcoming description of how these delectable flaky puffs of dough are made may just ruin it for you, especially if you share any concerns about having working arteries by the time you’re 50.  If you’re like my husband and share his motto “everything in moderation, even moderation itself,” then read on fellow caution-to-the-winder.

Rolling croissants

So, croissants.  Those paper thin flakes of crescent shaped dough (hence the name) are created by layering dough with butter, hundreds of times.  We baking people call this a laminated dough.  How the layers are accomplished requires patience and a good rolling pin.  First you mix together your yeast dough mixture and then let it rise.  While your yeast is working, you take a pound of butter, yes a pound!, and flatten it out to make what the French call a beurrage, a butter block, then chill.

Next, roll your chilled dough into a rectangle, and drop your 1 pound beurrage in the middle.  Fold the top and bottom thirds over the butter to create your first few layers.  Chill.

Turning your block of dough lengthwise, roll out into another rectangle and fold in thirds.  Chill.  Do this 4 times.  Each time you fold, you create more and more layers of dough with a thin layer of butter in the middle of each layer.

Rolled croissants

When all your turns are complete, you roll out the dough in a rectangle, and cut it in long isosceles triangles.  Roll up your triangles and fold into crescent shapes.  Wanna get really crazy? Fill with chocolate (pain chocolat) or ham and cheese.

Next, place your rolled crescents in a proofer (warm moist environment to let the dough rise).  Brush the tops with an egg wash and bake.   The heat and the steam permeats all those little layers in the oven, creating a light flaky buttery piece of heaven.

Tres magnifique!

Croissants!

For our danishes, we made Blitz Puff Pastry, which is a faster version of your traditional puff pastry.  No yeast this time, but lots of lots of butter and lots of rolling, turns, and chilling.  We filled our danish with bear claw almond mixture, cream cheese, and fruit fillings, then practiced rolling in various shapes (bear claw, pin wheel, frames, etc.).

Danish prep

My croissants came out flaky but not as buttery as I would have liked.  My mistake was letting my dough get too warm while I was doing all that rolling.  The butter started to melt by the time I put my rolled dough in the proofer, which meant it melted out in the oven a little early.  But they puffed up nicely and were pretty flaky.  My danishes weren’t too shabby, though some of my shapes didn’t stick together and unravelled a little while rising in the oven.  All in all, not a bad first attempt.  Big N took the loot to work and my creations were gobbled up in the lunchroom in minutes.  Who wouldn’t go for free pastry?!?

No recipe this time, but if you have about 2 days to kill and a pound of butter to spare on your thighs, you can try croissants using this tutorial, which comes pretty close to what we did in class.

Croissants and danish

 

Nothing finer: fresh baked baguettes

Kneading dough

Other than your basic quick breads (zucchini, banana nut, etc.), never in my life have I attempted to bake real fresh bread.  And though my kitchen is stocked with nearly every useful and useless gadget invented, I do not have a bread machine.  I’d love to blame this deficiency on the whole “low carb” trend, but the fact is that is carbs and I get along quite well.  I’d rather carry a pound or two of extra love around the middle than to banish rice, sweets, and dinner rolls from my life.   Plain old laziness could be the real reason why I never attempted to bake bread, or maybe it’s fear, perhaps both.  Suffice it to say I was pretty excited and a little intimidated when baguette and sourdough day arrived in baking class.

Baguettes pre-baking

Determined to get this one right, I watched the chef’s demonstration, carefully taking notes about the various kinds of yeasts, how they react, rich dough vs. lean dough, and the “right” and “wrong” ways to knead my dough.  When it was our turn to bake, I dove right in, weighing and sifting my flours with expert precision and dissolving my fresh yeast slowly in perfect room temperature water.  The chef allowed us the option to cut our kneading time in half by using the dough hooks on our commercial Kitchenaids, but I scoffed loudly at the thought of taking any short cuts and kneaded my dough by hand for the full 10 minutes (the “right” way, of course: left heel of the hand, right heel of the hand, turn back, again).  After letting the dough ferment to allow the yeast to work its magic overnight, we scaled (divided) our baguette dough and shaped it into 2 baguettes and one “epi,” which is meant to resemble wheat.  Baguette recipe below.

Baxter oven

The shaped dough then went into the proofer (a warm humid box) so it could rise, then it was  slashed and given an egg wash to promote browning.  Next we baked our baguettes in the colossal Baxter oven.  For a first attempt, my baguettes weren’t too bad.  My epi colored nicely, but I skimped a little on the egg wash on the baguettes and they didn’t brown as well as I would have liked.  My baguettes did achieve a crumbly exterior and a somewhat bland but soft white interior.  We’ll be tested on baguettes for our first practical exam so I have one more chance to get them perfect.

Next we attempted sourdough, using a starter (a sludgy yeast mixture that gives sourdough its signature flavor) that’s been around LCB for at least 5 years.  Yeast is alive, so if you feed it flour and water it will survive indefinitely.  I decided to make a whole wheat sourdough as opposed to a generic white sourdough.  This was probably a mistake because the wheat versions didn’t respond well to overnight refrigeration and most of them ended up resembling small UFOs.  My bread tasted nice, but not as “sour” as I’d hoped.  I think the recipe on which we relied might need some tweaking.  Sourdough and dinner rolls

All in all I was pleased with my first attempts.  I’m pretty sure this won’t be my last foray into the world of artisan breads, but I doubt I’ll be the Suzy Homemaker of breads every Sunday either.

Baguettes anyone?

Fresh baguettes

French Baguettes

Prep time 2 hours, 30 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 3 hours
Meal type Bread

Ingredients

  • 14 oz Water (Room temperature)
  • 3/4 oz Fresh yeast (or 3 tsp active dry yeast)
  • 24 oz Bread flour
  • 1/2 oz Salt
  • 1 Egg

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

These baguettes have no preservatives so will only stay fresh for 1-2 days max.

Directions

1. Add yeast to water, stir slowly to dissolve, about 5 minutes.
2. Sift the salt and bread flour onto parchment paper.
3. Add your sifted flour/salt to the yeast/water one third at a time, using a wooden spoon and then your hands to work it in. Once the flour is mixed in, turn it out on a floured surface and knead gently for 1 minute to incorporate.
4. Using a mixer on the 2nd speed with the dough hook, knead dough for 3 minutes. Rest for 2 minutes, then again for 3 minutes. If you’re kneading by hand, knead for 10 full minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. It should pass the “window” test: tear off a 1 ounce piece of dough and gently stretch it into a 2 inch square- the glutens should hold the strands together and not break apart in the middle of your “window”. If they break apart, keep kneading.
5. Place dough in very loose plastic wrap and let rise overnight in the refrigerator, or place it in a lightly oiled deep bowl loosely covered with plastic wrap, in a warm spot in the kitchen until it doubles, about 90 minutes.
6. Separate dough into 3 11-12 ounce portions. With each of the 3 portions, roll into a ball, pinching the bottom of the ball together and let it rest for 3 minutes with the pinched bottom facing down. Then using both hands on a lightly floured surface, roll into a long caterpillar shape about 20 inches long, keeping the pinched seam down. Place your 3 long rolls into the oven (without the heat running) and let them rise again. Your unheated oven should be about 80 degrees. If the air is really dry, spritz some water in the over before adding the bread. The bread needs a moist warm area to “proof.” The loaves will rise and soften and look a little like marshmallows after about 10-12 minutes.
7. Take the loaves out, then preheat oven to 450 degrees.
8. Using scissors or a sharp knife, make 5 diagonal slashes across the top of each loaf, evenly spaced. In a small bowl, whisk the egg thoroughly, and brush the tops and sides of each loaf.
9. Bake until golden brown in the center of the oven, about 30 minutes. To ensure proper texture, put a baking dish filled with water in the oven as it preheats, then remove to bake the bread.

 

 

Spreading Joy with Quick Breads: Cookies, Muffins, Brownies

We spent the last two days finishing off our survey of quick breads with muffins, cookies, and Betty Crocker’s favorite, brownies.  Though I’m not yet a patissier, I’ve already learned a couple of valuable lessons.

Blueberry muffins and brownies

First, don’t trust a partner to measure your ingredients.  We worked in pairs to prepare an entire sheet pan of brownies.  While I was off carefully melting our unsweetened chocolate and butter mixture, my partner, who is ordinarily pretty Sharp and is one of my culinary buddies, measured our dry ingredients.  Professional bakers measure by weight on a scale, not by volume in cups, so it’s a little trickier at first.  Somewhere along the way we messed up, because our brownies were dense and dry, not the gooey chocolatey goodness they were supposed to be.  Personally I think he added too much flour but it’s still a mystery that not even our instructor could unlock.  Sorry pard’ner, I’m blaming you for this one.

My blueberry muffins, which I did all on my own, turned out fluffly, light, perfect.

Chocolate chip cookies

Yesterday we moved on to cookies, where I learned my second imporant lesson.  Cooking in a professional kitchen is not like cooking by myself in my kitchen at home where I control everything.  For one thing, it’s about 30 degrees hotter in LCB’s kitchen.  That means your butter melts faster, a bad thing when it comes to cookies.  More often than not we need to stop to chill our batter before baking.  For another, I need to share an oven with about 5 other people.  We haven’t yet mastered working together to put our trays in at the same time so oven doors are constantly opening and closing, letting the precious heat escape.  Cookie rule number 1: when you put your cookies in an oven that’s not up to temperature, this happens:

Peanut butter cookies for evaluation

Spread.  Oh death.  (Side note 1: I don’t know why, but every time I think about spread this song pops into my head, replace “sprawl” with “spread.”  Could be because I LOVE that song, it’s a personal mantra of sorts.)  If spread has happened to you, you know how frustrating it is.  (Side note 2: the divine David Lebovitz, a blogger favorite, has a helpful post detailing why cookies spread and how to prevent it, here.)  My chocolate chip cookies otherwise turned out fine, and upon tasting them my instructor gave me a thumbs up despite the dreaded spread, which happened to nearly everybody on cookie day.

By my second batch of cookies, peanut butter, I had learned my lesson, and waited patiently until others chose their ovens before I found one that everybody else forgot existed.  And wouldn’t you know it, perfect!  I’ve never been a fan of peanut butter, but if you are, then this one’s for you: Peanut butter cookie recipe below.

Peanut butter cookies and milk

Today in baking class: yeast breads (baguettes!).  How French!  More soon…

Peanut butter cookies

Serves 12-20
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 12 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 12 minutes
Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 12 oz Butter, unsalted (Cold)
  • 8 oz Brown sugar
  • 8 oz Granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Salt
  • 12 oz Peanut butter (Smooth is preferred)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla extract
  • 16 oz Pastry flour ((you can use all purpose too))
  • 1 teaspoon Baking soda
  • Extra sugar (to top cookies)

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. In a mixer, add cold butter in chunks along with and brown and granulated sugar. Mix on low until butter is creamed together.
3. Add peanut butter and mix until just combined.
4. Add eggs and mix on low until just combined.
5. In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt, and baking soda together.
6. Add flour mixture in thirds to sugar mixture, mixing on low speed to incorporate 1/3 at a time, or by hand until just combined. DO NOT OVER MIX (or your cookies will spread).
7. Chill the batter for 20 minutes (important to prevent spread).
8. Scoop out 1/4 cups of batter and roll into balls. Roll the balls in some granulated sugar until they are coated with a fine dusting of sugar all around. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat and press down lightly with your palm. Take a fork and press into the batter slightly once with the tines, then change direction and press twice to get a cross hatch pattern on the top of the cookie. Sprinkle the top with a little brown sugar or sugar crystals if you have them. Place prepared cookie sheets in the refrigerator again and chill for 30 minutes (again, to prevent spread).
9. Bake for 8-12 minutes until cookies are lightly browned.

Baking Begins: Jalapeno Cheese Biscuits

My baking rotation has begun and I’m so excited I’ve allotted 2 pounds of weight gain for this next six weeks (I’ll work it off when I start my next culinary class, I’m sure).  My new chef instructor is Susie Norris, author of Chocolate Bliss.  She left her job in television to become a pastry chef and instructor at LCB so I think we may have a few things in common (though I’m just on hiatus from my job at the moment).  I’m anxious to learn my way around pastries and to take a break from the frantic pace of drill sergeant instructor’s class.

We started our class with quick breads, specifically biscuits and cookies.  In general, quick breads use chemical leaveners (baking soda or powder) and, as the name implies, don’t take too much fuss, so it was a good place to begin at the beginning.  Day 1: cheddar and jalapeno biscuits.  A little ho hum but we’re just getting started.  In my culinary classes we usually made just one portion, which I got to take home but it was rarely enough to feed Big N and me.  In baking, however, I make lots and lots of everything and take my loot home in a cake carrier.  I think I’m going to be making some new friends with all my giveaways.  My father, who has the most developed sweet tooth I know, has already planned a few extra visits to Pasadena to take home goodies visit his grandson.

Cheddar Jalapeno Biscuits

I’ll spare you the details about how I made biscuits, other than to tell you mine rose like they were supposed to and came out light and flaky, just like they prefer them in the South.

Baby squash

That evening I wanted to serve my biscuits for dinner but didn’t have any chicken to fry or collard greens to braise, the preferred accompaniment to biscuits.  So I made do with some lamb loin chops, and these beautiful baby squash that I brought home from my weekend trip to Lake Arrowhead.  The lamb I sprinkled with my famed dry rub and had Big N grill them while I steamed my squash with some garlic, lemon, salt and pepper.  But my lamb needed a sauce, what to do?  I remembered I had some cherries in the fridge.  So I pitted them and threw them in a pot with a generous pour of balsamic vinegar.  I let the vinegar reduce with the cherries, added a little olive oil (rather than butter) at the end and voila, simple sauce.  The tanginess of the cherries and balsamic complemented the lamb.  Not the best pairing with my biscuits but hey, it’d be a shame to let biscuits go stale just because there’s no chicken to fry.

Lamb with Cheddar Jalapeno Biscuits

Next up in my baking adventures: muffins and cookies.  I feel my waistline expanding already.

Foundations III Final: Final Feast

Eggs Pommes Anna

I cooked my way through my third and final Foundations course at LCB and it ended with a bang, or more like enough food to feed a 50 person wedding.  First things first.

For finals, I cooked three mostly successful plates.  Scallops

1) Breakfast cookery- eh, could have gone better.  My pommes anna didn’t brown as evenly as I would have liked, but at least they held their shape when I flipped them, a plus.  The yolks in my eggs over easy didn’t break, thankfully, because it’s a fail if they do, but my pan was a little too hot and I had air bubbles in them.  My sauteed spinach was fine, and my hollandaise came out perfect.  I put the hollandaise in that ugly yellow cup because we’re required to serve food on hot plates and the sauce would have broken.  This plate, ugly as it is, was about technique, not presentation, obviously.  It’s a B at best.

Grilled chicken

2) Scallops- nearly perfect.  My scallops were cooked to perfection, not overdone or chewy, and my beurre blanc sauce didn’t break for probably the first time ever.  The glazed carrots were my downfall.  They were slightly too crunchy and my tourne cuts could use some work.  Likely another B.  Boo.

3) Grilled chicken- nailed it.  Chicken was perfectly grilled and still tender and juicy inside.  Sauteed brussel sprouts were cooked right.  Sauce Grand Mere was perfect “nappe” consistency, and risotto milanese was creamy but still “toothy” as we like to call it.  Should be an A, unless drill sergeant instructor docks me for some unknown reason.  Hmm. [Read more…]

Cephalowhat??: Squishy squid

Le Cordon Bleu wants us to be well-rounded cheflets, so they try to expose us to as many ooey gooey things as possible.  This week: cephalopods.  In the cephalopod family are squid, cuttlefish, and my personal favorite, octopus.  I’m sure you’ve ordered fried calamari once in your lifetime, but I doubt you’ve given much thought to what those seemingly harmless white rings looked like before they were breaded and fried and served with marinara sauce.  If you didn’t want to ponder the mystery, too bad, because feast your eyes on this:

150 squid

In this hotel pan are about 150 of the little suckers.  Cleaning them is messy business.  Let me enlighten you: first you separate the head from the body and remove the sharp beak from the head.  You can save the tentacles if you’d like.  I think they’re tasty so I served them up.  Then you take off the purple skin and the fins.  Next you remove the “pen,” which is shaped like a feather but looks and feels like clear plastic.  The pen supports the squid’s shape.  Finally, you squeeze out all the internal guts (there are lots of guts) and rinse him out.  Now you’re left with the hollow body that you cut across horizontally to get the rings.  Fun right?  I had to clean and de-gut 10 little squid.  Here you see my work space: squid on right, guts on left, edible bits in the middle.

Cleaning the squid

I breaded and fried my squid in our gigantic deep fryer, and made fresh tartar sauce and spicy marinara for dipping.  I scored the first order up window so I was majorly pressed for time and underestimated how long each little squid took to clean and prep.  This explains my shoddy presentation.  At least the squid were nice and soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.  Drill sergeant instructor said mine could have used a bit more color, so they didn’t receive perfect marks.  Boo.

Fried calamari with marinara and tartar sauce

I hope this lessen teaches you to better appreciate the squid de-gutter guy next time you order your favorite happy hour snack.

This week: finals!