Posts Tagged ‘pastry

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.

20
May
08

Honey, Straight from the Farm

Having been a farm kid, I like to check in on  http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com every now and then to remind me of my roots. Today I was pleasantly surprised by this article, and just had to share.

http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/bee-keeping-intro/#comment-2455

Growing up on the farm, we had bees, and I had my own suit and hive tool.  I loved the smell of the honey extracting in the garage.

We only ever had a few hives, so when my high school guidance counsellor told me I should become an Apiary, I laughed at him and said I couldn’t make a living at that. Maybe I was wrong, or maybe sweet just runs in my blood and that’s why I became a Pastry Chef. C’est la vie.

24
Mar
08

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.

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.

24
Feb
08

Practice, practice, practice…

Chocolate bags, originally uploaded by adelphos24.

When I was doing my apprenticeship, the pastry pictured above was the one that gave me the most difficulty.
The inside is a cake called a chocolate marquise. It’s a very rich, dark chocolate mousse with a flowing white chocolate ganache center. The outside is a paper thin shell of chocolate, formed by hand, with split second timing and precision.
I had a lot of frustration trying to get this dessert to work for me. The pastry chef who taught me made it look so simple. He could whip up 50 of these in no time, while I struggled with four.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the most useful skill I learned while struggling with this was patience. I worked at it for quite a while, and then one day it just seemed to click. My skill improved drastically after that.
This pastry was one of the most difficult things I had to learn how to do, but it’s now one of the things I’m most proud of.

23
Feb
08

Improvisation is key

So the other night I tried out a recipe for an onion and egg calzone. I had never tried it before, and had no clue as to how it would turn out. I figured best case scenario, it’d be really good. Worst case scenario, it would end up in the garbage, but I’d be wiser for having made an attempt.

As I followed the recipe, I realized that I would have way more filling than I needed. I improvised by putting the leftover mixture into some tart shells I keep in the freezer.

The result? The calzone pastry worked out very well. The inside, not so much. The mini-quiche made with the extra, however, didn’t have time to cool before they had vanished. What can you take away from this? There were several points during this recipe where things could have gone horribly wrong. By taking a relaxed attitude in the kitchen, and being able to improvise on the fly, disaster can be averted.

Here’s the recipe for the Calzone pastry; I’ll let you be creative and come up with a filling of your own.

pastry

400g plain flour, plus extra to dust

100ml olive oil, plus extra to oil

1 egg, beaten

100ml dry white wine

salt

Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add a pinch of salt, the oil, egg and wine. Slowly mix together with the flour to make the dough. Add water if necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put in the fridge while you preheat the oven to 200c and prepare the filling. After about half an hour, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. You want to end up with a large flat(3mm) circle. Place this on an oiled baking tray and dump the filling into the center. Fold the pastry over to enclose the filling. press the edges together to seal, and brush with egg. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.