Monday, December 28, 2009

Equipment corner

As promised, I will talk about this today:

What, exactly, am I looking at you ask? Well that is my global 8 inch chef's knife in its new sheath from sitting upon my tool kit for school. I finally received this thing after some serious waiting (the guy at culi-tool apparently forgot about the order, but did refund money because of the wait. He seems like a fantastic guy and honest to boot.) and am very happy with it so far. It seems like the perfect thing for culinary school, but I don't know if it is too geeky to actually wear your knife on your belt. I guess I will see if they all laugh at me or if they are all jealous. It seems like a handy thing to me, so maybe I don't really care what they think.

Well, the idea here is to talk a bit about essential equipment. This is going to be a bit of an overview as anything in depth would be far too lengthy to read. Perhaps later in the blog I will give my opinion on cookware, knives, and other sundries. For now, I was thinking of just a list of things you should have in your kitchen. As for us culinary students, our kits look something like this:

Well, I have to say, my case is fairly unique. Most culinary students carry around something that looks more like this:

Mine is literally just a tool briefcase I purchased at Home Depot with some customization. Eventually I plan to rivet some other modifications into the darn thing, but I need to get a rivet gun first and work out what exactly I want to do. Anyway, the carrying case is a bit beside the point. What tools it carries is more important. As I am in the Desserts and Breads program, my kit is going to be a bit different than the standard culinary student's kit, so don't take my word as law for anything. As for the home kitchen, here is what I think you should have:

1. First and foremost to me in any kitchen is your chef's knife. If you are going to invest your money anywhere, invest it here. I have two 8 inch chef's knives, one by Global and one by Shun. In the past I have also owned an 8 inch Henckels chef knife which I liked at the time. The chef's knife is the most versatile instrument in the kitchen to me. I use it every day. Well, I could talk forever about this, so look for future posts on the topic. For now, suffice it to say that this is the heart of your kitchen. Don't skimp.

The rest of these are in no particular order. I find them all important and somewhat essential.

  • Tongs - yes, it seems simplistic, but I love tongs. Screw the fancy wooden salad fork and spoon gift set, give me a pair of tongs in a salad bowl any day of the week. Screw the stupid pasta fork thingy, give me the tongs. Screw the carving fork, give me the tongs. Skimp away here, by the way. A pair of tongs is a pair of tongs. No need for anything fancy.
  • Bench scraper - I love this tool. Strangely enough, I use it the most for cleaning, but its great for scooping chopped veg, or for cutting dough into portions, or for chopping butter. Again, nothing fancy is needed here.
  • Frying pan - Ok, I will probably also spend another blog post on cookware some time in the future, but I consider the most important cookware in the kitchen to be the frying pan. I guess the saucepan is also fairly essential as they do entirely different things. I will talk more about non-stick and all that later. This is one of those things I wouldn't skimp on by the way. There is a huge difference between the cheap crap you can get at Target and the professional cookware you get from restaurant supply stores. Spend the money, it matters.
  • Kitchen scale - I know, I know, it seems like something you can do without. Trust me on this, especially if you plan to do even moderate baking. A scale is essential. Get one that can convert between metric and imperial. Get one that can tare (this means you can reset the weight to zero as to add-on more items to whatever is on the scale). I have an Oxo Good Grips scale with a pull out display. It is fast and accurate.
  • Half sheet pan - You need at least one. If you have an oven that can handle a full sheet pan, I hate you and you should should get full sheet pans and half sheet pans. A couple of things to go with this - a cooling rack and parchment and/or a silpat.
  • Paring knife - You can't do everything with a chef's knife. Some things require a smaller blade. Don't go crazy. Something simple with suffice.
  • Bread knife - the one serrated blade I recommend in the kitchen. Get one long enough to cut through a 12 inch round cake.
  • Carving knife - ok, the last knife I will recommend for now. I would suggest one fairly long for the larger cuts of meat. I also recommend a graton edge to help while carving. Again, I will discuss knives more in-depth later.
  • Wooden spoons - Super cheap and great for stirring or scraping fond from your frying pan. I usually go cheap, but since I have broken a rubber scraper and a wooden spoon this xmas while stirring fudge, I think I will spend the couple extra dollars for a the stronger spoons in the future.
  • Rubber scraper - speaking of which, get a rubber scraper. I like the clear silicon ones for no particular reason other than they do not melt as easily and the stains are not so apparent. I can also see more clearly when they weaken and need to be replaced. Again, I will be looking for sturdier handles after the fudge debacle this year.
  • Measuring spoons, cups, etc. - While I like the scale for most applications these days, I still require at least a teaspoon measure, a cup measure, and a tablespoon measure. I would go stainless steal with sturdy handles. I prefer the deeper spoons to the shallow ones. Longer handles can come in handy.
  • Thermometer - you need this. You do. Get one with a range big enough for candies and frying (think -40 degrees F to 500+ degrees F). I recommend digital and perhaps one that doubles as a timer. I have a Thermopen which I adore as well as 4 others.

The not so essentials, but stuff I still love:

  • prep bowls - I have a ton of bowls in the kitchen. I have glass/ceramic ones of various sizes that are ok in the microwave. I have stainless steel ones that I can use either directly over heat or as double boilers. I recommend all sizes from as small as 1/4 cup to as big as, I donno, 2 gallons?
  • mixer - expensive I know, but I love my Kitchen Aid. I would go 6 quart (the one with the bowl that can be lifted and lowered, vs the one with the tiltable head). Once again, I would say skip this one unless you are willing to spend the money for the Kitchen Aid or better.
  • food processor - while we are talking electronics, I love the food processor. I can chop most things on my own, but the food processor is definitely a plus when it comes to making mayo or dressings or purees.
  • cling wrap - I know, not good for the environment. If you are uber conscious of such things, by all means skip it, but I use this stuff all the time for food preservation, for splatter guards while tenderizing, and as an aid when shaping certain things like barrages and my home-made pop-tarts.

Ok, so really this list could go on forever, but these are what I can think of now. I am undoubtedly forgetting some essentials, but this is a good start. I would ask for recommendations, but as of now, this blog feels very much like me spouting off incoherent blather to a limitless void. I wonder, sometimes, how Molly and Julia ever actually became noticed within the vast ocean that is the blogosphere. Ah well, if nothing else, it acts as an interesting journal to which I can return when I am feeling nostalgic. And perhaps some day someone will find some use of this all. You never can tell...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Croissant Xmas

Once again I have been remiss in my duties as writer... I apologize for both of you who read this, if you still do. It is Christmas day. Uhg, I hate typing that. As many who know me can attest, I am an avowed atheist (not quite strong, but leaning that way at least. If you don't know what this means, you probably don't really care. If you do, feel free to google "strong atheist" and you can probably find an explanation.) and while I love the festive atmosphere and revelry of the holiday season, I disdain the dogmatic reverie into which so many fall on this, the day appointed to celebrate the birth of Christ, albeit most likely not the actual day upon which the event occur ed. Xmas, then, as I find the popular name so guiling. It is Xmas Day. I started the day with utter failure. Endeavoring to show off my newly honed skills to friends who so graciously invited me to xmas dinner, I turned the textbook to Croissants. No mere rolls would satisfy this time! I was giving them the full monty! Well, culinarily speaking that is.
Professional Baking by Wayne Gissling pg. 198:


Milk - 225g (I use metric, as I find it much easier for conversions. The editors apparently don't as I will get to later.)
Yeast, fresh - 15g (note..I don't have fresh yeast. What home baker does? I use instant dry, which has to be converted at 33% instant dry for 100% fresh. In other words, 5g)
Sugar - 15g
Salt - 8g
Butter, softened - 40g
Bread flour - 400g (closest I had was AP. I figured the high gluten flour I have would probably not go over well with croissants)
Butter - 225g (this is for the barrage, aka the big pat of butter you roll into the dough and then fold)

Mixing: Straight dough method.
Scald the milk (ok,first of all, for those who don't know, scalding is heating the milk to 180 degrees F. I did this but ended up burning some of the milk on the bottom of the pan which then sent chunks floating when I stirred. I strained these, but in retrospect, I probably should have just started with new milk. I have this thing about wasting food; I can't stand it. Anyway, I don't think this is the reason for my failure, we will turn to that in a minute. As a fun side note, the reason you scald milk in bread recipes is because it destroys an enzyme natural to milk that inhibits gluten formation. Yes, folks, he can be taught!), cool to lukewarm, and dissolve the yeast (I skipped this, as I was using instant yeast. The dissolving part that is, I still cooled it, which took forever). Add the remaining ingredients except the last quantity of butter. Mix into a smooth dough, but do not develop the gluten. Gluten development will take place during rolling-in procedure. (And here is my mistake. I took "do not develop the gluten" to mean mix the ingredients until just combined. As it turns out, the "smooth dough" they talk about is more like 10 minutes into the mixing. At least I know what happens when a croissant dough is undermixed. Failure...that's what happens. For those interested, it means that the dough is incredibly stiff and will not easily roll out, unless of course you are stubborn as hell like I am and do actually get 3 turns on it and a final roll. The dough layers will tear easily and the butter layers which are supposed to remain separated will combine into a sloppy mess which is incredibly difficult to shape and which yields an end product destined for the din heap.)

Fermentation: 1 - 1 1/2 hours @ 75 degrees F
Punch down, spread out on a flat pan, and rest in refrigerator or retarder 30 minutes.

Rolling in: Incorporate the last amount of butter and give 3 three-folds. Rest in retarder overnight.

See page 205 (there are pictures on this page which depict how to roll out and shape the croissants. Basically roll out to 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick, cut into triangles and roll into croissant shapes. There are some technical skills here which would be hard to describe. Suffice it to say, don't smoosh the centers while shaping.)
Proof at 75 degrees F and 65% humidity (I think I messed this up too, not that it much mattered after the original mistake. I put them in my bathroom with the shower running to create steam for the proofing but it was too warm with too much moisture. Butter melts at about 85 degrees, so too high a proofing temp can lead to premature butter seepage mixed with a gelatinous outer crust. That just sounds nasty..). Egg wash before baking.

Baking 400 degrees F (at least I got this part right...)


Well, at least I had the instinct to realize something was amiss with my croissants. Previous incarnations had never been as stiff as this dough was nor torn so readily. I punted just in case and baked up a batch of fairly simple hard crusted dinner rolls. This would have been much easier at 6am this morning after two hours of sleep if the editors had bothered to check the metric measurements for the recipe. The recipe called for 750g of water to 625g of flour. I should have realized the impossibility of this for a hard roll dough, but like I said, I was sleepy. Apparently the editors had failed to catch that the conversion of 13 oz of water is not actually 750g, but 368.5 g. That is not just a little mistake, that is monumental. Luckily the soup that I had mixed from the original recipe was easily fixed by doubling the dry ingredients. Unluckily the new sized dough was too big for my 5 quart mixer so I was forced to split the dough and develop the gluten for both separately. All turned out well, however, and the rolls were a smashing success. I am sure the roaches at the dumpster will be overjoyed at the failed croissants. You and me will meet again soon croissants.... and next time, I am kicking your ass!

Next time I will talk about tools and this little beauty:

Merry xmas all!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

There will be bread

Well, no UPS job. It seems I was not the first to call back and so missed out. The immediate feeling of relief I felt at the news tells me it is probably for the best. Back to the quest I guess.

The start of my breads rotation was not auspicious. Our first task was to feed the levain. What seemed simple enough turned into disaster. For those who are not quite up on the terminology, a levain is a natural yeast starter similar to a sourdough starter. Basically you follow a procedure to build your levain "mother" and if you feed her and keep her happy she can produce for you indefinitely. There are claims by some bake shops to have levains or sourdough starters that are decades old. Anywho, to feed the levain you basically take a piece of the "old levain" and add water and flour to it and either use the remainder for bread or if it has acidified (become too sour) you discard it. Well, I weighed out the portion for our new levain and discarded the remainder in the compost while my partner weighed out the water. I then set about oiling a fresh container for the levain while my partner mixed the new batch. Checking in on her, she expressed some consternation at the consistency of the levain and wondered why it seemed so wet. Perhaps, she mused, I had not weighed the flour correctly? At this point I expressed that I had not weighed any flour at all, eliciting a face of greatest fear from her. Apparently she had grabbed what she thought I had set out as our weighed flour and what, as it turned out, had been someone else's flour...mixed with whole wheat flour...and salt...and commercial yeast...
At this point, the full gravity of the situation came crashing in on us, and our chef instructor. We had ruined the levain in the bowl (commercial yeast, and salt, and probably whole wheat flour will do that). The remainder of the levain was in the compost. Well, cover you eyes here all you squeamish folks. We pulled the mother from the compost. Yes we did. Sorry, I know its gross, but it would have meant a week, at least, without product. The chef washed it off and thank goodness it was on the top of the pile and not completely smothered in who knows what.. There was thankfully enough to begin anew. The moral of the story:

1. Mis en place your own shit or at least check with any partner you are working with that all ingredients are correct.
2. Don't discard any levain before the new one is started. least there will be bread. Oh, and I got to stick my fingers into boiling sugar today. Flex!