Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The end of the beginning.

Well, its been almost a year since I posted here last. Quite a bit has happened since then, the most momentus of which is my graduation from culinary school. I now work at a fine dining restaurant as a pastry prep cook. All of my peers are envious and I am constantly told how wonderful an opportunity I have been given. I would tend to agree, apart from the fact that I don't find myself very happy. Sure I am learning a lot, but that does not seem to offset the pressures of the job. I find I am not suited for the restaurant industry, especially the hotel restaurant industry. Unlike the line cooks and my pastry chef boss, I am not drawn to the "excitement" of to order food preparation, nor the necessity to multitask for 8 to 10 hours a day. Nor am I particularly enamored of the late hours and the working on nearly every holiday, for which I am constantly rewarded with fewer hours and the neverending threat of shortenned shifts due to "saving labor costs". I keep telling myself I need to stick this out for a year (which would leave me about 9 more months at least) in order to make it look good on my resume. A voice in the back of my head keeps warring with that common sense, however. This whole adventure has been about following a dream, not because it looks good on a resume, but because it feels right in my heart. Something about this job doesn't feel right in my heart. I am not drawn to the work. But I feel trapped. If I leave now, I may burn bridges, not to mention the poor economy and the fact that I am lucky to have a job at all. And I do actually like my boss. He is incredibly talented (although a bit OCD.... I wonder if the two don't probably go hand in hand). So I am faced with the prospect of finding a part time job in order to save this job and my name.... damn you life and your complexities.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pâte Brisée and Crème Pâtissière

I am now a baker for Wink Cupcakes here in Seattle. With a new job and unemployment payments finally kicking in, I am feeling the financial noose finally beginning to slacken. As a reward I splurged and purchased a new book I have been eyeing at Barnes and Nobles for quite some time. "Pastry: Savory & Sweet" by Michel Roux is mostly a listing of recipes with a smattering of information on technique and ingredient selection. But, oh, the recipes. Everything from the simple apple tart to rabbit pate en croute (a rabbit pate wrapped in a raised pastry dough) to croissant baguette with pesto. I am not sure who this guy is, apart from the knowledge that he is French, apprenticed at age 14 in a French bakery, has held a 3 star Michelin rating at his restaurant in England for 23 years, and has written a couples of books, one on eggs and one on sauces. Whoever he is, his recipes seem, to me, a cut above the normal fair you get from Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, et. al.
With this afternoon off I figured I would take some recipes for a test drive(with adaptations in consideration of a certain vegetarian I know and love). So here is what I came up with:

I started with the pate brisee (pat bree zay) recipe (there are supposed to be accents but for some reason I cannot cut and paste from the bit map into the composition field, so I apologize in advance to all perfectionists out there reading this. Haha, like anyone is reading this!) This is the first recipe I made on the first day in the bakeshop at school. I think I will always love it for that. Below is Chef Roux's version:

Pate Brisee (adapted from Pastry: Sweet & Savory by Michel Roux):

1 3/4 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (150g) butter, cut into small pieces and slightly softened
1 tsp (6g) fine salt
pinch of superfine sugar
1 medium egg
1 tbsp (15ml) cold milk - I needed a splash more

"Heap the flour on a counter and make a well. Put in the butter, salt, sugar, and egg [btw, you do want your butter softened a bit, I didn't and it was a pain!]. Using your fingertips, mix and cream these ingredients together.

Little by little, draw in the flour, working the dough delicately until it has a grainy texture.

Add the milk and incorporate gently with your fingertips until the dough begins to hold together.

Using the palm of your hand, work the dough by pushing it away from you 4 to 5 times until smooth. Roll it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill until ready to use."

There is a recipe in the book for Cornish Pasties. It calls for chuck steak, potatoes, rutabaga, and onion in a clamshellesque pate brisee shell. I substituted Quorn "Chik'n Tenders" for the chuck steak and peas for the rutabaga and added curry and cumin in an attempted samosa-type filling. The result? Not bad!

I had some extra pate brisee and some fruit, so I decided to practice creme patissiere (pastry cream) with the recipe in Chef Roux's book:

Creme Patissiere (Adapted from Pastry ; Savory & Sweet)
makes about 1lb. 10oz (750g)

  • 6 medium egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp (125g) superfine sugar [take table sugar for a ride in the
    food processor]
  • generous 1/4 cup (40g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (500ml) milk -- [this is 1 pint or 1 lb of milk btw]
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise [I just added the imitation stuff after the
    final boil]
  • a little confectioners' sugar or butter [you won't need this btw, unless you
    really want to follow the recipe letter for letter]

"Whisk the egg yolks and one-third of the sugar together in a bowl to a light ribbon consistency [er..kind of hard to describe this. Basically whisk it until it turns a pale yellow, thickens, and starts to "pile" on itself in a ribbon pattern when you pour it.] Whisk in the flour thoroughly. [btw, at school we use corn starch in place of flour. It thickens much faster, but I actually enjoyed the flavor of this recipe far more].

In a pan, heat the milk with the rest of the sugar and the vanilla bean. As soon as it comes to a boil, pour it onto the egg yolk mixture, stirring as you go. [If you are using the vanilla bean, I would remove it, scape the seeds, and return them to the milk before pouring it on the egg yolk
mixture. Oh, and pour the milk into the yolk mixture slowly. You don't want to cook the eggs.] Mix well, then return the mixture to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously with the whisk. [Seriously, stir the bejesus out of it or it will burn. Make sure your pot is large enough for vigorous stirring and make sure to get into the corners. I want to try this in a saucier to see if it helps..] Let bubble for 2 minutes, then pour into a bowl.

Dust the creme patissiere with a veil of confectioners' sugar to prevent a skin forming as it cools, or dot small flakes of butter all over the surface. [Or skip this entirely and just put plastic wrap right against the surface... its much easier] Once cool, it can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 days. Remove the vanilla bean before using."

With this creme patissiere, the left over pate brisee and some fruit, I was able to make some dessert for Sarah and I. They were very tasty if I do say so myself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A tight ship

About two weeks into the new semester now. My first rotation is breads. This time around, as second quarters, we are in charge of the bread rotation. We are responsible for directing the first quarters and for getting the breads out on time. To do this, we have had to come up with a schedule. This may sound easy, but then you have to take into account the proper methodology of bread making, at least as my chef and our book describes it, which looks something like this:

1. Scaling - As I said in my previous post, most professional bakers scale their ingredients as it is more accurate and easier. You might also call this Mis en Place which is French for "everything in its place" or something to that effect. It basically means that you gather all the ingredients before you start on the procedure.

2. Mixing - Just as it sounds. Read the directions though, each recipe has its own way to mix. Some want the water in the bowl first, some will add preferments after the autolyse, some want the salt last, etc. If you don't know what autolyse is, go ahead and google it.

3. Bulk Fermentation - As my chef says, this is the second of the 5 fermentations that your bread undergoes. "Wait, what happened to the first one" you ask. The first would be what we call "pre-ferments" such as bigas, poolish, sourdough, levain, pate fermentee, etc. These you would prepare as part of your mis en place. They usually require 12-18 hours of fermentation time. You can begin to see how scheduling becomes essential. Anyway, back to the bulk fermentation. This varies with the recipe. For most breads we prepare at school, the full bulk fermentation time is 90 minutes. Some breads, however, such as pain au levain, take 2-3 hours. Read the recipe.

4. Punching - This is a bit misleading. I don't know why they call it punching, because the actual action you take is more like folding. For us, most 90 minute bulk fermentations have this step 60 minutes into the fermentation. Some breads are different, such as ciabatta, which you fold every 30 minutes. Punching, or folding if you prefer, does several things. It relaxes the gluten for more final stretch. It distributes the yeast throughout the dough. Gasses are released and temperatures are made more even throughout the dough. All of these are important for the final volume and quality of the bread.

5. Scaling - Basically, you are chopping up the dough into the size of the final bread. For instance, for rolls, you would divide the dough up into 1.5 ounce pieces. For baguettes we general scale out 1# (lb) of dough. Larger loaves can be anywhere from 1 1/2# or larger. I think a third quarter scaled her miche at 5#. The idea is that by scaling your doughs, your loaves will be of uniform size. We actually use an antiquated looking balance scale for this, although a digital scale would be just as fine.

6. Rounding - When you scale your bread, it tends to activate the gluten strands in the dough and makes forming the final dough a bit tough. As an intermediate step we round the scaled dough into balls or oblongs called "boules" (French for ball). These can be tight boules or loose boules. You would use round boules for round loaves or for flat breads such as focaccia. You would use the oblongs for baguettes or batards.

7. Benching - you know how I said that scaling (and rounding) activates the gluten strands of your dough? Well benching is basically a resting period in which these strands relax enough for you to be able to form your dough into its final form. Benching generally takes 15-20 minutes but you want to feel the dough to make sure. Poke it. If it feels soft and the indent doesn't spring back immediately, you can move on to

8. Make-up - or forming if you prefer. This is where you form your boules into their final form for the oven. Make-up varies a lot for different breads. I won't even try to describe them all. Usually we just ask the chef. If you want, you can check out some baking books or try YouTube for some different make-up techniques, although you might get videos on applying eye-liner or something. In any case, make-up is important to the final bread results. If your make-up is incorrect or you don't place your seems in the right places, you can end up with some odd shapes in your final product.

9. Proofing - The second to last fermentation step for your breads. Proofing varies by what you are making but basically you put your finally formed breads (in couches or in banetons - google away!) in a warm humid area and let them ferment so they are not squishy when you poke them. Kind of the opposite of what you are looking for when benching, the indent (by the way, don't poke them hard, be gentle with your doughs once you start the proofing process) should spring back or the dough will sort of resist indenting. You will have to feel the dough to know exactly what I am trying to describe here. So much of bread baking is feel...

10. Baking - Once the proofing is done you have to GENTLY transfer your bread to however you are baking it. We have a cool deck oven with a huge gurney-looking device called a loader that delivers the bread into the oven. Here is a video of a similar loader:


If you watch the video you can see a guy doing something to the tops of the breads. He is scoring the dough (very quickly) which is important for "oven spring" which is the rapid expansion of trapped gases and the final fermentation of the yeast which will die once the temperature hits about 140 degrees F. Oven spring is also aided by the introduction of steam which keeps the crust of the bread from pre-maturely forming and reducing the final volume. Steam also helps add more color to the crust as it bakes (for more on this google maillard reaction). There are also other reactions that occur as the temperatures rise in the dough, which is quickly transforming into bread. Proteins coagulate and starches gelatinize between 140 degrees F and 160 degrees F. For more info on what goes on in the oven see this article :


11. Cooling - As it sounds. In order for the structure of the bread to harden into its final form it must cool adequately. In other words, you have to wait a bit to eat it if you want it right.

12. Storing - This seems like a cheap "step" to include in baking, but its important. A process of "Starch Retrogradation" occurs as soon as you take the bread out of the oven. As the bread cools, molecules in the bread that have liquefied during baking, start to recrystallize in the presence of the moisture in the bread and turn the bread crumbly or "stale". This is exacerbated by cold temperatures in a refrigerator but halted in a freezer (the water molecules are frozen and therefore cannot react with the amylose and amylopectin molecules in order for them to form crystals..yay google!). So, long story short, don't refrigerate breads, freeze them. Or just eat them right away. Once they are cooled anyway.

So as you can see, with these steps in mind, it becomes a bit of a trick juggling all the steps when making, say, 4 different breads. Below is a link to a typical schedule in the breads rotation:


So it is not as easy as it all sounds. We have had some failures but mostly successes. Most importantly, I have learned a great deal, and I still love it.