Posts Tagged ‘cooking

31
Aug
08

Three Cakes, One Day

So I worked as a pastry chef for a good chunk of my cooking career, and although I love pastry, I no longer do it professionally.

I currently cook for a major corporation and am attempting to further my education in food science. (I’m refraining from naming my employer because I’m not exactly sure of the legalities and implications that could be involved if I ever write an article about a topic closely related to what we do, and I’ve signed confidentiality agreements with some of our major corporate customers. In other words I wouldn’t want to lose my job or get sued.)

Needless to say, I don’t get the chance to flex my pastry muscles all that often anymore. However, I have been known to take on the occasional pet project for friends and acquaintances.

A few weekends ago a co-worker requested that I do a birthday cake for her niece. I figured little girl’s birthday cake, no problem.

Well, one cake turned into three, and a quick Saturday afternoon of baking became a late Friday night (2:30am) of prepping the cakes followed by an entire Saturday of finishing. Oh, and everything had to be done in rolled fondant. Oh, and only two specific colours per cake. Oh, and they each want a different flavour. Oh, and… you get the idea.

I’m pretty used to that, though. I think that sums up rather nicely the life of a pastry chef. Long hours and little creative input. Fortunately I’m fairly well set up at home to be able to accommodate these requests.

Anyway, here’s the result:

 

The cakes turned out great, but the pictures were taken in a bit of a rush, so I’m not so thrilled about their quality.

The most satisfying part is knowing that three little girls got exactly the cakes they wanted for their birthday.

Well, that and the nice cold beer I had on the deck when I was finished.

04
May
08

I’m Back!

My new deck

I’m hopefully going to be posting with greater frequency again after nearly a month away. I wasn’t avoiding posting out of laziness, it was just a matter of prioritizing life for the past month or so.

In March I got a major promotion and new training at work. The end of the month saw me becoming a father for the first time, which pretty much turns life on it’s head. The same week our family also lost a loved one.

In April we moved from the big city to a house in a small town. We’re loving it so far, but packing, moving, unpacking and getting settled, especially with a new baby, pretty much swallowed that month whole.

View from my computer.

Over the next little while I’m planning on doing a lot more cooking and baking so I have more content to post. I’ve also been getting a lot of questions lately, so I’ll try to respond to as many of those as I can. Please be patient as things around here are still a little topsy-turvy. I appreciate all the support and comments people have been sending me. I’m also willing to listen to any advice or suggestions any of you have about what you’d like to see posted. 

23
Mar
08

Elements of Cooking: Fire

The chemistry behind cooking and baking happens while following a recipe. Most of the chemical reactions that take place between ingredients happens during the initial mixing and blending together of those ingredients. The biggest difference I found between a pastry kitchen, and a restaurant kitchen is how fire is incorporated and utilised in the process of producing the finished result.

Fire in a pastry kitchen is utilised in two ways. The first, and likely the most obvious, is through baking.

Ingredients are mixed together, allowed to react to each other, shaped, and nearly finished before they are put in the oven to bake. The use of fire in this instance may or may not be direct, depending on the type of heat source being used. People traditionally think of baking as happening in an oven, however there are some instances where dough or batter is baked over direct heat. Many flat-breads are baked on a metal dome over an open fire, and pancakes, crepes, and waffles are poured into a pan or griddle over a heat source.

One of my favorite bread related memories happened on a three week canoe trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. We made bannock, a traditional Native American bread. We stuck the raw dough on the end of sticks, and baked it over the open flames of the bonfire. The finished result, when spread with homemade strawberry jam, was phenomenal. A raccoon even tried to get in on the action and scared the daylights out of my friend Jere.

The other type of heat generally employed in the pastry kitchen is direct heat in the form of boiling. Whether this takes the form of boiling sugar for confectionery work, boiling fruit for a puree, or boiling water for a bain marie, doesn’t really matter, since it’s the same general idea. Often boiling and baking can occur together in the same recipe, as in the case of a pie, where the filling is prepared by boiling ingredients together, and the crust is baked. 

Fire in the restaurant kitchen, on the other hand, is the nearly alchemical process by which a cook takes a single ingredient and transforms it into something different.

Roasting, braising, sauteing, poaching, grilling, broiling, sous vide, frying, steaming, all have their own unique purpose in the cook’s repertoire. Where a pastry chef follows an exact recipe to bring about a desired reaction, chefs use an exact cooking technique.

Through the application of fire, a cook is able to extract and reabsorb juices. They are able to reduce a liquid and caramelize an ingredient. Using these techniques allows them to concentrate flavours and reintegrate them back into the food.

How well you are able to heat, concentrate, and reintegrate through the use of fire will determing how good you are at cooking.

25
Feb
08

Top Five Most Useful Pieces of Kitchen Equipment

This is just a list of equipment that I personnally couldn’t do without in a kitchen. I’m sure others will have something to add to this list.

1. A good quality Chef’s Knife.

Proper knife handling technique is crucial in a kitchen, for safety as well as efficiency. A good quality chef’s knife is as important to a cook as a hammer is to a carpenter.

2. A digital scale (the one I have at home does metric and imperial).

Consistency is key when you are doing a recipe you make frequently. A digital scale ensures that you get the quantities right every time. I found that I use the scale more for pastry than cooking, but it makes setting up much faster. Many home recipes are in cups and tablespoons, but I even tend to convert them to metric so I can use my scale. All of my recipes from my professional life are in metric.

3. An imersion blender

Perfect for getting just the right consistency for puree’s and soups, without having to pour a hot liquid into a small blender. No other tool in the kitchen does quite the same job as efficiently, without making a lot more mess (and dishes).

4. A digital thermometer

I learned how to temper chocolate by feel, but there’s no way I’m sticking my finger into a pot of boiling sugar. Temperature is a vital component to getting the results you want, every time.

5. Parchement paper

Probably one of the most under-appreciated tools in a kitchen, it allows you to make a mess with minimal clean-up. Cheap and disposable, it can be cut to whatever size is needed, and rolled into a piping cone for many uses. Tip for the home cook: make sure to use parchement paper, not waxed paper. There is a major difference.