Archive for the 'Lessons' Category


The Pieman

Simple Simon met a pieman

Going to the fair;

Says Simple Simon to the pieman,

“Let me taste your ware.”

Says the pieman to Simple Simon,

“Show me first your penny.”

Says Simple Simon to the pieman,

“Indeed I have not any.”

I recently came across a write up in a publication from the mid-1800’s about the sellers of street foods in Victorian London, England.

Apparently the street pie trade had been one of the oldest of the street callings in London. By the mid-nineteenth century the trade had been almost destroyed by “pie shops.” Summer fairs and other large outdoor gatherings seem to have been one of the few places a pie-man could make a go of it.

The piemen would wander the streets with a portable tin oven getting business wherever they could. This often meant stopping in at the local public houses. Apparently business was pretty poor, and street piemen didn’t have the best reputation for quality goods. According to one meat pieman:

“People, when I go into houses…often begin crying ‘mee-yow’, or ‘bow-wow-wow!’ at me, but there’s nothing of that kind, now.”

Piemen bought their meat from the same places as sausage makers. They wouldn’t care about the flavour because they would use pepper to mask the taste of the meat. You could tell the quality of the meat by how little or how much pepper was in the pies.

Often a pieman would drum up business by calling out “Toss or buy! Up and win ’em.” Which basically turned the sale of the pies into a coin toss. You win the toss, you get a free pie. Loose a toss, and you’d better be able to pay for one.

That certainly sheds a new light on the old nursery rhyme.

And this…



Coffee Truffles

I recently received a request from a friend:

Hey Jeremy! I have a request because I know that you know alot about chocolate!! I need a recipe of a soft ganache filling that I can flavour with coffee to pipe inside a chocolate mould to make truffles with runny centers do u know what I mean???

The following makes quite a bit of ganache for piping into shells. You can divide the recipe in half, if you don’t need that many.

For the ganache:

700g whipping cream,

1000g milk couverture,

20g glucose,

This is a good starting point for a pipe-able milk chocolate ganache. As for the coffee flavouring, you can either whisk an instant coffee into the cream just before adding the chocolate, or use a shot of espresso if you have access to an espresso maker. You can also go the coffee flavoured liqueur route, and add about 50g before adding the chocolate.

The strength of the coffee flavour is dependant on personal taste, so feel free to experiment. I’ve also made cappuccino truffles by using white couverture, and increasing the amount by 100g. To use the above recipe for a dark truffle, the cream and dark couverture should be 900g each.

you can change the flavours all you want, but try not to toy too much with the composition. There is a delicate process involved in the recipe formulation that keeps the ganache from separating. Keep in mind that oil and water don’t mix.

Bring your liquids to a boil, then carefully dump in the chocolate. Don’t whisk it at this point! use a rubber spatula to make sure the ganache is blended together, but try to avoid mixing air into it. From here on out, air is the enemy.

Set the ganache aside to cool, and cover with plastic wrap. Make sure there is no air between the wrap and the ganache, you don’t want bubbles. The reason you don’t want air is that air pockets inside the truffle allow space for mold to grow. Being diligent in keeping air out will give your truffles a longer shelf life (they should be good for about 2 weeks).

Once the ganache has cooled to room temperature, it is ready to be piped. Keep it covered if it’s not going to be used right away. Once piped into shells, allow ganache to set, then cap them with tempered chocolate, roll them, and decorate as desired. 


The Ten Commandments of a Chef

1. Thou shall not work with dull knives.

Every kitchen I’ve worked in has had a large knife rack. The only kitchen I’ve ever worked in that didn’t make keeping those knives sharp a priority, I didn’t stay at for very long. In my opinion, if you use a tool all day, every day, you should keep it in top working condition. Hone that edge.

2. Though shall not work sloppy.

Keep your work area clean and well organized. If your space is sloppy, so is your mind. This goes for counter space, as well as the fridge and floor around you. If you don’t work clean, you also don’t work safe, and may injure yourself or others in the kitchen.

3. Honour thy master

Make sure you work only for the best people. If you work for the best, then do what you are told. Learn from their years of experience. Listen to what they have to tell you. Stand on the shoulders of giants. There is usually only room enough for one ego in the kitchen, therefore if you are there to learn, respect your superiors. Although I have moved on and worked at several other kitchens, I still have great respect for my first master, who helped me build a strong foundation from which I was able to build my career.

4. Thou shall not waste.

Use everything. Use all parts of the animal. Have a recipe that calls for only egg whites? Use the yolks for something else, like creme brulee. Leftover cake or bread? Dry it out and grind it up. Use the resulting filler in place of a little flour in a recipe that needs just a little dryness. All of the world’s great cuisines have many examples of economical uses for the whole product. Use everything.

5. Honour thy classics.

No matter what your culinary background, honour the classics of that cuisine. The classics are the building blocks you should use to perfect your technique. Once your technique has been perfected, then you can start to modify and create.

6. Write it down.

Each kitchen I’ve worked at has had a seperate set of recipes they work from. When you learn a recipe write it down so you don’t forget how you did it years down the road. Also, When you try something new, and it works for you, write it down so you’ll remember what made that recipe work.

7. Thou shall not ignore the world of food.

It can be tempting to put on blinders when learning a specific cuisine, but don’t block out other areas of food just because it doesn’t fit what you are learning right now. A pastry chef who learns charcutterie (meat) will be able to produce superior savoury pastry. A French Chef who studies the flavours of Asia will be able to use them to tweek the classics of his cuisine and create something new and unique.

8. Honour thy tastebuds.

I don’t trust a cook who doesn’t taste his own cooking. Only by tasting can you guarantee the best results everytime. Learn to season things properly. If it doesn’t taste right, don’t send it out to the customer.

9. Honour the fire

I have already written a post about the use of fire in cooking. Master the use of fire, and respect the properties of heat. This is what transforms quality ingredients into amazing meals.

10. Thou shall not ignore criticism.

Criticism, as long as it’s constructive, can be a great creative force. A lot of ego and emotion goes into cooking, so it’s easy to get angry at a critique, but if you are able to learn from it and use that knowledge the next time around, you be sure to get good results. Back in commandment one I mentioned the kitchen with dull knives. The head chef there was very insecure, and wouldn’t accept input from customers or co-workers. He would just get angry. This attitude doesn’t solve anything. It creates an environment of hostility and indifference in the kitchen. If you ever find yourself working in such a place, get out. It makes it impossible to follow commandment #3 if you don’t.



As should be evident throughout my site, I am a big fan of a number of specific food and drink products. Among my favorites are coffee, wine, and artisanal baking. Having said that, there is only one singular ingredient that, at least for me, has created a type of fanatacism. That ingredient is Chocolate.

Chocolate has several similarities to many of the other food products I’ve already listed. It begins as an agricultural product, requires fermentation, and roasting, and produces a product based off of a very minimal number of ingredients that have an infinite number of unique flavour and creative possibilities. The ultimate outcome is based on the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the craftsman.

Much has been written on the subject of Cacao production (within the industry, cacao refers to the agricultural process and product of that process, the cacao pods. Cocoa refers to the products produced from the pod). Although I feel it is important to have an understanding of this process, the average home-based chocolatier will never be involved in this process. Just know that cocoa powder and cocoa butter are two by-products of the refining process, and chocolate is the combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. I may write more about this in a later post.

Chocolate production for most chocolatiers begins with selection of the chocolate they will use. Again, quality is key, so don’t skimp out. Chocolate (commonly labeled as couverture) contains certain percentages of cocoa solids, sugar, and fat content, usually provided by cocoa butter and/or milk (hence the term milk chocolate). There is a product called chocolate coating, which many small chocolate shops (at least in my area) try to pass off as real chocolate. Coatings can not legally be called Chocolate, and contain products not found in real chocolate, such as vegetable fats, bulking agents, and wax. Coating chocolate is used by some places because it is cheap, requires no tempering, and therefore little skill on the part of the chocolatier. If you are familiar with couverture, and how properly tempered chocolate should look and taste, you can spot coating chocolate right away.

On selecting chocolate, there are several different brands available. You’ll find that some people swear by one company, while other people swear by another. Like wine, I think it should come down to personal taste as much as anything. If you like Valrhona, use it. If you prefer Callebaut, use that instead.

Reading the labal on the side of a box of couverture, you will see something like this: 60/40/38. This means that there is 60% cocoa solids, 40% sugar, and 38% total fat content. This would be a dark chocolate. An average milk chocolate example would be 36/42/38. These numbers are important to understand, because the first tells you roughly how dark the chocolate will be, the second will tell you if it’ll be bitter or sweet, and the third will give you an idea about how viscous it will be to work with. The higher the fat content, the more viscous. Keep in mind that it is possible to add cocoa butter to chocolate to thin it out more while working with it. Cocoa butter has a very low melting point. If you put a flake of it on your hand it will melt right away. 

White chocolate, which I haven’t yet mentioned, should be beige or off-yellow. If you come across white chocolate that is snow-white, it’s coating chocolate. The reason for this is because white chocolate contains no cocoa solids, and is therefore mainly cocoa butter and sugar. It takes on the colour of the cocoa butter.

It’s good to keep all of this in mind while working with chocolate. Dark chocolate tends to be much more forgiving while tempering than white or milk due to the higher percentage of cocoa solids, and lower amount of fat and sugar. Because of this, dark chocolate tends to set harder than the other two. When making a multi-layered mousse, for example, you want to have the darkest mousse at the bottom for structural stability.

Selection of chocolate for eating is, in my opinion, another personal choice. If you prefer milk chocolate, eat it. If you are a die-hard dark chocolate fan, that’s fine two. At one shop I worked at, we had a guy who always wanted the darkest chocolate we had, and even then it wasn’t dark enough. We ended up getting some 90% couverture from Michel Cluizel , which to me tasted like cocoa powder. It was sooo bitter, no sweetness to it at all. The guy loved it.

I have also been fortunate enough to catch one of Jean-Pierre Wybauw’s chocolate workshops . This turned out to be a great event for meeting other chocolate professionals in my area. I have remained in contact with a few of the people I met there, and even had the good fortune of working with one of them for nearly a year. As it turns out, she lives two doors down from the house I grew up in. I haven’t lived in that town since I was 17 (which, I’m sad to report, was quite some time ago.) It’s a small world, I guess. – great site for chocolate molds


Leaveners, a baker’s secret weapon

One of the most important and misunderstood concepts of baking is the ability to take a dough (which can be as simple as flour and water), and make it rise. This is done by a process known as leavening. The main purpose of leavening is to build the structure of the baked good. In other words, without a leavener of some sort, your baking will be very limited.

There are three basic categories of leaveners – organic, chemical, and physical.


I include all varieties of yeast in this category. Yeast is a tiny living organism that must be alive to do it’s job (hence the reason I use the term organic). It is very important to keep this in mind as you work with yeast. When learning how to work with yeast doughs, my mentor told me “treat it like you would treat a girlfriend, handle it gently, don’t slap it around. Keep it warm and well fed.” Although I’m not sure this is the key to a good relationship, it certainly works for yeast.

Yeast requires moisture, takes in sugars, reproduces, and gives off carbon dioxide. It is this process, when the conditions are just right, that makes breads rise. The ideal temperature for raising yeast is between 60 and 90F. Keeping the yeast cool is a process known as retardation. It won’t harm the yeast, but it will give you time to make your baking schedule a little more flexible. Using this process to your advantage, it’s possible to store dough overnight in a fridge without worring about it growing too rapidly. Yeast is destroyed when baked over at temperatures over 200F.


This category includes baking soda and baking powder. They rapidly rise a baked good when combined with moisture and heat. Baking soda also needs an acid. The chemical reactions that take place in the baked good produce gasses, which in turn make bubbles. Think back to grade school science fairs. There was always at least one baking soda and vinegar “volcano”. That’s exactly what goes on in your baking.


This category includes steam and air. Steam is released when moisture in a batter, supplied by butter, eggs, or another liquid gets heated. The steam forms air pockets and allows the baking to rise. Good examples of this are evident in choux pastry (for eclairs and cream puffs), and puff pastry. Air is also used as a leavener through creaming butter or whipping egg whites and carefully folding them into a batter. The air bubles get trapped and dried out as the product bakes in the oven. A good example of this would be a souffle. has some informative information on yeast.