Sunday, February 28, 2010

Baking Science & Theory wk7

Enriched Yeast Doughs

      This week we had the opportunity to make Jumbo Cinnamon Buns, Pecan Sticky Buns, and Cream Scones.  
          I was most excited about making the scones, and they were my favorite product by the end of class. 
          Beforehand, the instructor said they should be lightly sweetened, and have an almost biscuit like texture like a quick bread.  We were also advised to use a variety of mix-ins to create different scones, such as fruit, nuts, and chocolate chips. 
         Our team chose to add fresh blueberries and dried cranberries to our scones. They were critiqued to be very nicely done; they have a nice texture and flavor without being overly sweet.  They were the clear favorite.
          The cinnamon rolls were quite unlike the cinnamon rolls I have made in the past. This recipe called for double the number of ingredients than I'm used to;
with ho hum results. 
          True to their name, these rolls were quite large, and seemed to almost grow out of our sheet pan.  This made the product less appealing to me, since it was more difficult to eat. Also, to apply the filling, we were instructed to use melted butter in the filling.  In the future, I will continue to use softened butter, which will give the rest of the filling something to hold on to as the dough is rolled together and cut into sections.
          Despite my harsh  review, our finished product was critiqued to smell good, and to have a very good flavor and texture.  Our first batch of dough was a team effort, and was combined in a stand mixer.  It did not come together very well. We set the first batch aside, and helped to complete the dough for the sticky buns. After which, I elected to remake the cinnamon roll dough by hand.
          I very carefully combined and sifted all of the wet and dry ingredients together, and kneaded the dough together by hand, taking great care to not over mix it.  I  believe this was the best course of action, and produced superior results.
Unfortunately, the sticky buns did not turn out as favorably. 

          I did elect to mix the dough by hand for this as well, which gave it the desired texture, but some oversight by some or all of our team did result in the dough being far too salty for consumption. 

         This also led to a problem with the dough's ability to rise properly. 

If that was not bad enough, I broke my nails trying to scrape clean the topping off our sheet pan!

I do not imagine I shall ever desire to give another attempt to this particular recipe...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Baking Science & Theory wk6 Midterms

            We have made it to the interim of our class load for this course, and reached Midterms.
This was a wonderful opportunity to use the culmination of our skills learned to date.  In addition to the written exam, our team was tasked with a creating four products that would reflect each of the different baking subjects covered to date. 
Our menu included: Chocolate Chip and Walnut Cookies, Classic Poppyseed Bread, Yeast Rolls, the Foolproof Pie Dough, and a Pumpkin Pie with Brown Sugar-Walnut Topping filling. 
I would really like to commend my team for this week. 
With the continued exception of the doneness of our Pumpkin Pie filling, all of our products were executed perfectly, cleanly, and in a swift, efficient manner!  We have learned how to work well together, and how to communicate the various tasks. 
Also, each team member stepped in to select tasks which played to our strengths.  We also helped and encouraged each other along the way, as well as helped to keep track of items baking, and reminders of previous critiques to improve our finished products.

The cookies looked nice, with a nice spread to them. They were critiqued to be a little light, and could have browned a bit longer. But, they were proclaimed to taste really good.
The Poppyseed Bread was by far my favorite product on this menu.  It was judged to look nice and have a good texture. 
I made the pie crust for our pie this week, and was able to get my crust into the pie pan on the first try this time.  I also gave the crust a fairly thin bottom for quick baking, and a strong fluted crust around the edge; which kept its shape and did not break upon slicing! I was also more practiced with this recipe's saturation factor, and was not caught off guard by the extra pliability to the pie dough. 
Despite ample bake time, and the employ of a different oven with perhaps a more reliable thermostat, our pie fillings continue to come out underdone.  This problem seems to continue to plague many of our classmates as well. Our pie was, therefore, critiqued to still be a little soft in the middle, and could have baked for a few more minutes.  I do not know how many more minutes it would have taken for that pie to set up correctly.  But its flavor was well balanced, and the crust was golden brown and delicious. 
The pronouncement that the rolls looked nice may have seemed a bit anticlimactic at that point, but at least they were not underdone!
Overall, I think this week was a huge success! 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Baking Science & Theory wk5


This week we learned how to make a “Foolproof Pie Dough”, “Chocolate Cream Pie”, “Lemon Meringue Pie”, and “Pumpkin Pie with Brown Sugar - Walnut Topping”.
 We were advised that the Foolproof Pie Dough would be much wetter than what we are used to because of the Vodka used to make the dough pliable.  That was a gross understatement!  The pie dough was wet, sticky, and a completely new experience for my whole team! But the finished product seemed to get the job done. 

The Chocolate Cream Pie was very rich, and more dense than the kinds I have sampled in the past.  The Pumpkin Pie turned out as expected. But the topping was an unexpected addition, and reminded me of something I would find on a Dutch Apple Pie. 

I focused on the Lemon Meringue Pie.  I have made several of these in the past, but from a store mix. This was a wonderful experience for me.  The flavors were aromatic and robust, and the finished product was delectable.  The filling thickened well on the stove, but seemed to thin as it came to rest while waiting for the pie shells to bake. Our instructor indicated we needed the mixture to come to a boil on the stove, to allow the starches to release to their full potential. This greatly affected our finished product. 

Our Meringue was mixed by hand by our team.  This was a very significant experience! I have always used an electric hand mixer for this in the past.  Our first meringue was beaten until smooth and glossy, but it did not peak. This happened because the sugar was incorporated before the egg whites had been beaten to a full soft peak stage. We made a second meringue, which reached a stiff peak and was smooth and glossy. We garnished our pie with some well placed Lemon Zest Curls.

Our team was critiqued to have done a nice job on the meringue.  The chocolate pie's crust could have rolled a bit thicker and browned a touch more, but it tasted good. Also, our pumpkin pie was pronounced to be fine.
Overall, I enjoyed the pie making. However, I expect to continue to use my butter and lard pie crusts as opposed to this Vodka version.  Not only would I prefer it because I am opposed to alcohol in general, but I am more familiar with its quirks and know what to expect. Still, I appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to different recipes and techniques, and know they all have their place in the pantheon of the Pastry Chef's Pantry!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Baking Science & Theory wk3

Cookies and Brownies
The menu items for week 3 were comprised of: Ginger Almond Snaps, Brownies, Blondies, and Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Dried Cranberries!  The lack of chocolate chips available for baking from our pantry afforded the students the opportunity to cut up and weigh out chocolate from the large blocks of baking chocolate which were substituted for the absent chocolate chips.  This was a wonderful opportunity for me to work with the digital scales to carefully weigh out the product required for our Brownies and Blondies.  There was also a great deal of discussion on the topic of altering a recipe to suit personal taste; for example, the exclusion of walnuts. This prompted a very correct lesson from the instructor to point out that, as workers in the food service industry, it will be our duty to prepare food based on the desires of our patrons, and the structure of our menu, not on our own taste preferences.  I think this is valuable insight that is appropriate to adjust to early on in my culinary career.

            The menu choices for this week were an education for me, as I was not only unfamiliar with the recipes, but the desired outcome for the different products was a mystery to me.  I learned that Brownies should be more fudge like than cake like; that Blondies should look like a dense Brownie; that Ginger Snaps should be crisp, require pressure to break, and have a satisfying pop as they are snapped, and that Oatmeal cookies should not spread too much, and not brown for long.  

            The critique given for our products included that they were a bit under done.  The Ginger Snaps were not brittle and the Blondie tasted like cookie dough.  We were praised on the outcome of the Oatmeal cookie, but it was a bit too brown around the edges. The Brownie tasted good, but may also have been slightly underdone.  This may have been attributed to the optional chocolate chunks which were added late in the baking process, and therefore, adding that melting sheen to the top of our Brownies. 

            I agree with the rawness of some of our products from this lesson.  But I found that I personally prefer the Ginger Snaps to be more of a chewy cookie than a brittle cracker.  That may be something to consider when preparing my own menu items. But I will strive to get the proper snap from these Ginger treats next time.  I will also work more diligently with my team mates to help regulate the cooking time for our products, and not allow myself to be continually relegated to the clean-up crew. 

            It is quite frustrating to not have run of the kitchen or control of these baked goods from start to finish. But, the ability to work with other chefs on the same menu is an absolute must in the culinary world. The confidence I must find to intervene for the betterment of the outcome of our products will be a life skill that would be of great benefit to my culinary future. And, the ability to also help my fellow workers to hone their own skills along the way, will be a good tradition to help me lead my own team of bakers one day!