Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cake anyone?

I've resurfaced to share with you the various delights I've been working on.

Over the past few months I've made a lot of cakes, pastries and various sweets. Some of which I shared with friends and neighbours. I've been doing a lot of that lately. Sharing. You see, I have a sweet tooth and it's beginning to show.

Strawberry shortcake

 learning to mask a cake -
we used whipped topping (Nutriwhip) bleh!

 Black Forest cake

 learning to decorate a cake with Italian buttercream 
and using the various sugar flowers I've made

 inside view of above cake with mocha buttercream

 more cake decorating with buttercream -
I can say without hesitation that Italian buttercream is delicious!

 seriously delicious Swiss jelly roll - we made two of these
one with lemon curd and the other with raspberry jam

 Fruit Flan with pastry cream flavoured with Triple Sec -
we used Triple Sec often for flavouring our desserts

Napoleon Mille Feuille with strawberries

I've also made bread. I like making bread. It's so satisfying. Tastes much better than store bought supermarket bread. I wanted to register for the bread making course but it was full. Oh well, it'll have to wait until September.

 Irish Soda (yeast-free) bread
Cheesy herby monkey (aka pull apart) yeast bread

A while back, I also entered a culinary student competition. Unfortunately, I didn't make it as a finalist. Even so, it was a great learning experience and I found it challenging when it came to making up my own recipe using pears as a main ingredient.

For my submission to the competition, I made this Caramelized Bosc Pear and Butternut Squash soup. I also made Bosc Pear and Pecorino cheese biscotti. The savoury biscotti was delicious! Piquant and cheesy. The soup was scented with thyme and sweetened with roasted Cipollini onions.

I'm still taking courses and learning a lot. French pastry class is running up until May. I have learned to make puff pastry from scratch. What a bicep developer making puff pastry is. Especially when it's part frozen. Apple strudel, strawberry-rhubarb turnovers and other delicious buttery pastries like Palmiers (elephant ears) have been made and consumed.
Hello hips!

Next month on my agenda is a pie-making course.
Then I'm stopping with the baking courses until September because...

1) it's Summer and I need a break;


(insert drum roll)

2) I'm now working as a part-time production pastry chef at a local bakery making pies, cookies, and tarts and helping the head pastry chef with cake decoration. Yeah!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Keep on keeping on

As you can see, I've been busy.

Lately I've made English tea biscuits with currants and bran muffins with raisins and walnuts in my baking class. A standard recipe with standard ingredients. However, I did learn that before filling the muffin liners with the wet batter, we should allow the batter to sit for half an hour to thicken. I questioned that duration of time for the batter to sit, but the chef told us it's necessary for the ingredients to meld together and the bran to swell. It's also easier to scoop the batter with the ice cream scoop.  Yes, we used an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin tins. This allows for evenly baked muffins. One full scoop per tin. My muffins definitely were identical.

In my cake decorating class, I've also been making various decorations with royal icing such as shells, a variety of borders, and of course roses and rosettes. Making roses is quite the ambidextrous skill. Piping icing with one hand while turning the rose nail with the other hand can lead to hand cramps. But I think I'm getting the hang of it.

As much as I enjoy my tooth achingly sweet desserts, eating a sugar rose made with royal icing is actually sickeningly sweet. Too sweet for me even! It is made with plenty of icing sugar, meringue powder, cream of tartar and water. Food colouring and vanilla flavour can be added after.

There are 2 months left until these set of classes are over. I'm already thinking about what classes to take next....Healthy Desserts? The Art of Bread? Breakfast Cakes?

I've learned all kinds of great skills, tricks and techniques and I'm eager to learn more. I can't wait to sink my teeth into the chocolate eclairs we'll be making soon!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's just pie but it's good.

Yesterday I made this pie in my pastry arts class. Today it's half gone. Was it good? You bet!

Although I won't post this pie recipe, as it's a pretty standard pie recipe, unless you REALLY want it posted, in which case I will.  Instead I will share some tips and tricks for creating a flawless pie.

The course instructor encouraged the use of Tenderflake (lard) instead of butter. It's supposed to be a good stand in for real butter while keeping the costs down. Of course you can also use half butter and half Tenderflake if you prefer a more pronounced buttery flavour.
It was also recommended not to use vegetable shortening because of the water content. Apparently, it makes pie crust shrink in the oven.

Also a must is to use pastry flour to make the pie dough, but to use all purpose flour for dusting and rolling surfaces.

We used Cortland apples as they are apparently one of the best apple choices for making apple pie. Also important is to use a good vegetable peeler to prevent bruising. The apple pie filling called for lemon zest and juice in it as well as cinnamon. The lemon added a lovely subtle tang to the apple pie filling. I think the filling could have used a tad more cinnamon. But I always like to increase the amount of cinnamon in recipes anyway. 

The final touch was to use any leftover dough for making cut-out leaves and apple shapes to "glue" (with egg wash) onto the top of the pie. These add-ons are not mandatory but can, in addition to adding some aesthetics, easily patch up a hole or tear in the crust.

In terms of the egg wash, we added some water (50ml) to a beaten egg to create a seal for the edges, as well as to glaze the top of the pie. Also a must is the hole cut into the top of the pie. This prevents the pie from splitting open and thereby allowing all the pie juice to ooze out.

I've made pie before but never with such great detail and with such scrutiny. This course is forcing me to move slower and take notice of things I otherwise would not be concerned with like neat edges.

I also have a tendency to cut away too much of the apple with the peel or core. It was brought to my attention in class that I should refrain from doing this. I definitely learned a lot during the pie-making process. I probably gained some weight too in the pie-eating process (lard sure makes a good crust) but that's another post altogether.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pastry 101

Happy New Year!

This year I'm embarking on an adventure in the culinary world.

Stay tuned as I highlight delicious things made with sugar, butter, and cream. My weaknesses.

Salted butterscotch pudding!

And here's a photo of some delicious butterscotch pudding that I made a few weeks ago.  I ate 4 bowls of it but not in one sitting. The taste was wonderful. The texture was a bit chalky though...perhaps it was the corn starch?

Did you know that there is a baker's product, a butter scented extract, which gives desserts a butter aroma? I just found that out this past week!  Who would have thought? Anyway, I just thought I'd share that bit of info with you.

If you have a sweet tooth like I do, then you are in for a surprise. Maybe I'll even show you a photo of me wearing my full chef's uniform, checkered pants and all. I said maybe.

Stay tuned!