Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Apricot Pastries

I had my first taste of brioche one week ago today. It's this buttery, light bread that needs no spread to wash it down the throat. It's in a category of rich dough, along with challah and panetone, which are making my artisan bread class well worth the mess and effort. It was obvious Chef Mar thinks very highly of brioche while she's no big fan of most artisan bread (if you're in a bread class, loaf after loaf can get a bit drab). She said many patissieres are using brioche for Danishes and other rich pastries instead of puff pastry because the brioche can have a more complex flavor with the incorporation of a starter of sorts.

I signed up to make laminated brioche. Laminated dough is not, as one might guess, sending dough through a machine to adhere a plastic cover to its exterior. It is folding a piece of butter into the dough, rolling it, folding the dough again, rolling and folding. This laminating is what gives croissants and puff pastry its flakiness. In a hot oven, the dough is rising while the butter is evaporating. As the water from the butter evaporates, it leaves light delicious little pockets all over the croissant, or brioche in this case.
We were charged with filling our laminated brioche. Anything. At first I was thinking of a cream cheese or ricotta something. Chef Mar said something more sophisticated. Apricot glaze popped into my head, then apricot pastry cream and, of course, almonds. I liked the end result so much that I decided to make the pastry for Easter dessert even though it would take me up to 24 hours to complete considering that the brioche was supposed to rest in the refrigerator overnight.

I made the broiche, nearly overheating my little KitchenAid mixer as the dough hook rotated endlessly around the mass of flour, water, sugar and butter. I let it ferment and proof more than the recipe called for and even retarded some of the dough overnight like I was supposed to. And the pastry cream. Oh the pastry cream. It one of those things I would have never done before culinary school. Now that I know how to do it, it's simple, never to be less than sweet and smooth. But it's a daunting task for the beginner to boil the milk with sugar yet not letting the milk to scald, then slowly slowly pouring the milk into a bowl of eggs whisked with cornstarch to the point at which the eggs are certain not to scramble. Then the whole thing goes back on the burner to activated the cornstarch, which thickens near boiling point. Voila, a pudding that I stirred almond extract and apricot jam into and spread along the middle of the rolled-out laminated dough.
I tucked the pastry cream into the dough, braiding it down. After the pastry had proffed once more it was into the oven with it. It puffed up flaky and rich, with a lightness unexpected from something with that much fat in it.
Pastry Cream: from Tartine Bakery cookbook (this book has steered me wrong but once)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 large eggs
a couple tablespoons butter to finish
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavoring)

Mix the sugar and milk together in a small stock pot and bring to a light boil. Whisk together salt, cornstarch and eggs. Once milk is boiling, pour it slowly into the eggs while stirring constantly (this does require some agility). Place entire mixture on hot burner and bring to a boil while whisking constantly. Remove from heat once the cream has thickened to a pudding consistency. Flavor as desired to taste.

Laminated Brioche:
600 grams flour
15 grams salt
65 grams sugar
250 grams butter
30 grams yeast
50 grams water
6 eggs

Make sure all the ingredients are cold. Mix all ingredients except butter in a KitchenAid or similar mixer with the dough hook until you can pinch a piece of dough, pull it away and have it stretch but not break (that is full gluten development). Add the butter a tablespoon at a time while still mixing. Ferment an hour and retard overnight in the fridge.

400 grams dough
80 grams butter

Roll dough out into a rectangle. Beat the butter with a rolling pin until it is thinner and more pliable. Place the butter on half the dough and then fold the top half down over it. Roll it out. Fold it three times, roll it out. Fold it three times again and roll it out, resting the dough in between folds, possibly in the fridge so the butter doesn't melt.

Spread the pastry cream down the center of the rolled-out dough. Sprinkle with almonds. You can just roll the dough up like a cinnamon roll or I cut strips along the side and folded the edges in around the pastry cream. Brush with egg wash. Let rise for an hour or until fully proofed and the dough bounces back slowly to the touch. Brush with egg wash again and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Rye Non-start

Some days I think it might be best if I just stay in bed. Rye flour day in artisan bread was one of those days, except that I had a group presentation, which would have made missing class a little more costly. Actually the presentation was partly to blame for my mess of a morning. I set my alarm for 5 a.m. so I could turn no-knead bread (for the presentation) and then again at 6:30 to bake it. The bread came out just in time for me to hustle off to class with two sourdough starters, a steaming loaf, a necessary cup of coffee, my tool kit (see above) and my book bag. It took two trips to the car. I don't even take that many loads to the car when I go on an actual vacation.

One starter was for Jewish rye bread with a liquidy sponge starter, the other for a 70 percent rye with a soaker and whole wheat flour (that is what the book Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes called it, and I barely know what it means). I made my first haul of the bread loaf and book back into the class, set up a little cutting board and cut myself of my knife. I ran out to my car to get the starters because it was just a touch cool outside and I wouldn't want to kill off my bacteria/yeast culture or anything. Well, the lid of the Jewish rye starter had just popped off, and the soaker had pooled out of the container onto the seat of my car. It was like the blob moving in on the outside world, feasting on anything it could get. The sourdough starter has already adhered itself to my wallet, keys, kitchen floor, various sweaters, book bags and kitchen utensils (this stuff is like industrial glue). Well I introduced a hole host of new bacteria to the culture by scooping up what I could salvage with my hand and scraping it back into the faulty tupperware container. Frazzled I ran back inside before it started raining leaving my keys sitting on the center console of the car. Fortunately, I didn't lock the car and fortunately no one stole it.
Things did turn up in class. When I discovered I had messed up the starter for the 70 percent rye flour recipe (regular flour is not an acceptable substitute for rye), my friend Angie shared with me. Rye flour really soaks up a lot of water and makes this nice denser sandwich bread. Angie really got people excited (no one wants to eat rye bread plain, trust me) by pulling out some duck breast pastrami from her garde manger class and by making 1000 island dressing out of mayo, catsup, sweet pickles, capers, lemon and sriracha. We found some sauerkraut and really dipped into some reubens. Everything ends right with a full stomach thankfully.
Jewish Rye Bread:
96 grams bread flour
96 grams medium rye flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
345 grams water, room temperature

285 grams bread flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients for the sponge together. Let ferment for 10 minutes covered.

Saving 1/4 cup of flour, mix the flour with the yeast. Place the flour gently on top of the sponge, cover and let ferment 1 to 2 hours. Add the salt and caraway seeds and mix for 5 to 8 minutes to develop gluten. Bread should be shaggy and moist, but do not add extra flour. Ferment for 40 minutes. Stretch the dough and fold it over on itself. Ferment for another 30 to 40 minutes. Form dough into a round loaf. Proof until it has nearly doubled in size. Score the bread and bake at 450 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest for 24 hours before eating.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Field Day

My protein fabrication class took a field trip last week to two cattle feed lots, one in Henderson, Neb., the other in Grand Island. I honestly expected to feel bad for the cows who spend about five months in dirt pens fattening up, but it was more of a "huh, so this is where they live." I don't even know how to frame a response because all I have are random musings and more questions.

At Circle 5 in Henderson, things were managed on a smaller scale, catering more to prime and finer choice beef and including some natural food programs. But to me, it didn't seem all that much different than the feed lot with more than 20,000 cattle, which also ran a few natural and organic programs but made more money off volume than quality. In the car on the drive back from Grand Island, we compared the two companies with most people siding with Circle 5 (an opinion which may have been influenced in no small way by our cold greeting at the Grand Island feed lot). To me, things were just business--no matter how big you are, you still need to turn a profit.

Alan at Circle 5 was incredibly knowledgeable about beef and the business. He talked about government policy in the '70's that consolidated feed lots under just a few extremely large businesses. Evolving government regulations made it impossibly expensive for small farms to raise and then fatten cattle on their own land, so larger companies took over giving us the barren wasteland of pens that we have today. I can see why the government had to regulate the disposal of waste from farms, but it's easy to forget that everything has a consequence and that these perhaps well-intentioned rules have had a lasting effect on the food industry, whether for the better or worse is for another argument.

We also stopped by Henderson Meat Processors where they slaughter, age (see below) and fabricate meat. It was a great little operation, exactly how things should be where immense care is taken with even the smallest cut. I guess I left the trip with a feeling that meat is something to think about because it's this living breathing animal who dies so people can eat. That's it's purpose and it wouldn't be here if people didn't want to keep them. But we've got this great power over these species to regulate its diet and breed, I just wonder if it's the best idea.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pastry Elements

I go to school twice a week learning about all facets of food service--nutrition, sanitation, sauteing, baking, knife skills--but now I really feel like I know a few things. Amanda and I had another potluck last night. I made a clafoutis and some gourgeres. Right. What the hell are those?

Clafoutis is a baked custard, like creme brulee except spotted with whole cherries. I have seen the recipe and corresponding photos before, which are enough to make you jump right in, but I was too intimidated to give it a try. Intimidated in the way things are scary before you try them, like learning to ride a bike or drive a car. It's easy, you just don't know it's easy.

I warmed the milk, sugar, vanilla and almond extract on the stove, removing it from the heat just as it started to boil and poured it slowly while whisking into an egg and flour mixture. To make pastry cream, you just put the entire egg, milk, sugar mixture back on the stove until it thickens to a pudding consistency. But in this case, I pour the custard into my fluted tart pan with a removeable bottom, careful not to spill, which I of course did. Amanda had to help me emotionally and physically. I plopped the cherries into place and slid the pan into the oven at 425 for about 40 minutes until it had set. Only a bit of the custard ran out the bottom of the pan and burned in the oven. Somehow I popped the custard out of the pan without inflicting too much damage on the tender dessert. It sliced like a dream, little slivers of cherry-flecked cream. Smooth with a thick cherry syrup stuck in the cracks of the custard.
Then came the gougeres, which are a variation on pate a choux for eclairs and cream puffs. These morsels were piped onto the baking sheet with parmesan cheese and thyme blended into the paste. They puffed up in the heat of the oven, leaving gaping holes on the inside that could have been filled with cheese but which I left alone. I grated parmesan cheese on the top of the gourgeres that ended up flaky and light. Very easy, once you know what you're doing.
Clafoutis: from Tartine Bakery Cookbook
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 eggs
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
2 cups cherries
1/4 cup sugar for topping

Both recipes came from the Tartine Bakery cookbook, which has served as a nice resource since I got it a month or so ago. They wrote that baked cherry pits often have an almond aroma to them, so in lieu of pits I decided that almond extract would suffice (and be elicit fewer complaints). I might even consider topping a clafoutis with toasted almonds in the future.

Heat the milk, sugar, vanilla and almond extract on medium low in a heavy saucepan. Meanwhile whisk together eggs and flour until smooth. Once the milk comes to a boil, pour it slowly, while whisking, into the bowl with the eggs. Pour the entire batter into a 10-inch greased pan, leaving room at the top for the cherries to displace some custard. Arrange the cherries in the custard. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 425 or until set. Remove from oven and turn the heat up to 500. Sprinkle the clafoutis with sugar and bake until it has caramelized (or use a blow torch if you have one).

Gougeres: from Tartine Bakery cookbook
1 1/4 cup skim milk
10 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
5 eggs
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 egg
pinch salt
parmesan cheese

In a heavy saucepan, bring the milk, salt and butter to a boil. Whisk in the flour once it has boiled. Remove from heat and place batter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Once mixture has cooled slightly, add eggs one at a time beating to combine. Stir in the parmesan cheese, pepper and thyme with a spatula. Transfer the paste to a pastry bag and pipe 1-inch rounds onto a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until the gougeres are golden brown and dry. I ended up turning down the oven to 325 for the last 10 minutes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hello Lover.

So far nothing in my protein fabrication class has been too gross, until we got to chicken. I only jumped back and closed my eyes when Chef Garvey jabbed a skewer along the backbone of a lobster that was supposed to be in a trance but wasn't actually. And OK, I did yelp and sort of cry when we accidentally clicked on a rabbit killing video on YouTube, but the crying was more in shock, I swear. But the chicken really made me want to yack. Also, I will never buy another non-organic bird again in my life.

It wasn't the chicken that was gross. It was what they put in the chicken. At some point in the processing and packaging of the carcass, someone added saline implants to these chickens, and it was not pretty. Apparently, it's a pretty common practice. Injecting saline between the skin and the flesh adds moisture and flavor to a product, and these implants, something like the consistency and texture of mucus, are gross. Chef Garvey demonstrated how to take apart the chicken into legs, thighs, wings, breasts and tenders. We followed, immediately noting the slimy saline slipping out of from under the skin after the first incision. My guess is these chickens were never treated right and probably needed the extra juice when it came time to cook. The carcasses had obviously been jostled en route to the Institute. I don't think I pulled out one intact wish bone (although maybe that was me), and by the end of class, there was just slime and mucus and chicken juice all over everything.

At home, things went a bit more smoothly. This organic minimally processed chicken courtesy of Trader Joe's cost about $5 for the entire thing and did not with saline injections. The skin was tight, the meat taut. The wish bone came out in one piece, and it made a nice roast.

Instead of giving you all step-by-step instructions on breaking down a chicken, here's a link to a video of my teacher fabricating a chicken. It has great tips on general knife handling as well as help with the bird.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Warm Salad Nights

Up until my experimentations with pork tenderloin, I hadn't marinated anything since college when the farthest I went was to soak some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in off-brand Italian dressing--it needed the help. Now it's a whole new world of wine and vinegar with whole garlic cloves and rosemary with added honey to make a warm salad dressing. I made the whole tenderloin for myself in my quiet kitchen on a Wednesday evening last week. The days are longer making dinner come a little later. I used up the last of some autumnal butternut squash for the salad. Things will soon be fresh peas and salad greens.

On this last winter meal, I marinated that pork overnight. The red wine dyed the flesh dark purple, permeating deep into the meat. I love this trick of using the marinade or the leftover bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan (called sucs, if you want to know) to make a savory sauce. There's so much bang, and it's certain to pair well with the rest of the meal. It's so nice to have this: a quiet space to have dinner in the middle of another busy quarter of life.

Warm Tenderloin Salad with Squash: serves 2 from Epicurious
1 pork tenderloin
1 cup red wine
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 butternut squash, cubed
1/2 onion, julienned
salad greens

Pour the wine, garlic clove and rosemary into a bag with the tenderloin. Seal and let rest for an hour or overnight. Heat a saute pan on medium with a tablespoon or so of canola oil. Reserve the marinating liquid. Season the tenderloin with salt and pepper and add it to the pan. Sear the outside of the meat and then turn the heat down to medium-low and cover. Cook until the tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees or is just faintly pink on the inside. Remove from heat and let rest covered with tin foil for 10 minutes before slicing. Then add the squash and onions to the saute pan and cook until softened.

In another saute pan, bring the red-wine marinade to a boil with the vinegar, honey and red pepper flakes. Reduce in volume by half. Blend with a bit of olive oil and reserve as a warm dressing.

Serve the sliced tenderloin and warm vegetables over a bed of arugula and topped with the warm dressing.