Sunday, July 26, 2009

Breakfast of champions

I will never cease to be amazed by popovers. You pour a lumpy, watery batter into a pan, you close the oven door and in about a half an hour you get this light, eggy, fluffy and impossibly tall pastry. Popovers are a great way to start a fancy brunch. Serve them at a luncheon, like a bridal or baby shower. Make these for that special someone for a romantic breakfast in bed.

There are some who will insist that you must have a popover pan in order to properly produce this finicky pastry. "Nonsense," says I. I have always used a muffin pan. A popover pan has cups that are about the same volume as a regular muffin pan, but the cups are taller and skinnier.

I used a new recipe this time. I worked out so well that I'm giddy with excitement! See for yourself!

Popovers. Homemade jam. Does it get any better than this?


4 eggs
2 cups of milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Grease a 12 cup regular sized muffin pan. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Whisk eggs until light and uniform in color but not fluffy, about a minute or two. Add milk and whisk only until incorporated. Measure out flour and dump it in the bowl all at once. Dump in the salt on top of it. Then stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour has been moistened and incorporated. Batter will be lumpy. Pour into prepared muffin pan, filling cups almost to top.

Place pan in very hot oven and bake for 30 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. Once pan comes out of the the oven, poke the tops with a sharp knife to let the steam escape. Let rest for 5 minutes then turn out of pan. Serve with butter, jam, or flavored butter of your choice.


Eggs should measure 1 cup. You may need more or less egg depending on size you have on hand. I made a half batch this morning. I only needed 2 cage-free nest eggs to get 1/2 cup, but I used the two larger of the four eggs I had.

My friend, M., likes these with garlic and cheese in them. I've never done it, but I'll definitely try it! I'd start with a half of a cup of grated cheese and a clove of minced garlic mixed in after the milk but before the flour.

Don't whisk or stir this batter too long. You really don't want to add any air.

These need to bake with the oven door closed and for exactly 30 minutes on 450. You do have an oven thermometer, don't you? Be sure to check your oven thermometer and set the temperature dial accordingly. I am super lucky to have an oven that is spot on in temperature. Most folks are not. You DO NOT want to use a convection setting if you have it.

Thank you, sir. May I have another?

The North Carolina General Assembly recently passed a change to tuition prices for the Fall 2009 semester which begins in three weeks. This increased tuition for me from $42 per credit hour to $50 per credit hour. This resulted in my having to pay another $112. Don't get me wrong, it's still a bargain. It really is. However the college did not send me anything either via email or snail mail stating there was such a change. Had I not logged on today to drop my golf class registration, I would not have known. Thus I could have potentially lost my registration. It's hard for me to have to pay another $112 right now considering I just paid for books and uniforms as well as school supplies. I just have to remind myself that this is significantly cheaper than my other options and I can afford to pay for this.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Brandied Cherry Pie, or I finally found the cable for my camera!

Earlier this week, I made pie. It had a homemade crust, a homemade filling and tastes divine. I know know the origin of the phrase, "easy as pie."

For the crust, I used the Pate Brisee recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. This book is fantastic! I highly suggest you add this to your collection. If you already have it, let me know what recipes you've made! I picked this book up the other day for 50% off at Williams Sonoma. Score! As I sat down to read it, I wondered why I didn't already own it. It has a lot of excellent basic recipes with pictures. Ever want to make your own puff pastry? Martha shows you how! It's an amazingly comprehensive book.

As for the filling, I was just winging it. A homemade pie filling is deceptively simple. No magic or pixie dust required. You need to taste it a few times, but otherwise it's crazy easy. I bought a bag of nice, ripe dark cherries at Kroger. Once I pitted and halved them, I added them to a bowl. I poured on 1/8 of a cup (or 2 TBSP, or 1 oz.) of brandy and let soak overnight stirring well. I actually had on hand a small bottle of Mt. Gay Sugar Cane Brandy from a trip to Barbados a few years ago. It's quite lovely! I try to use it only for cooking and special occasions since I won't be able to get it again in the US. The next day, I added about a half of a cup of sugar to which I had mixed in 3 TBSP of sifted cornstarch. This was the first time I tried cornstarch in a pie filling rather than just flour. I think it worked much better. I sifted the cornstarch to get out the lumps. I added the filling to the bottom crust, covered it with the top crust, made my super cute star-shaped vents and baked. I baked it on 350 degrees just as long as it took for the crust to get a nice golden brown and the filling to be visibly bubbly. Voila! We have pie.

You can see here that no filling fell out or leaked all over when it was cut. Okay, a little is falling out here, but that's because I put it in a bowl first then realized a plate would be easier for photographing, but trust me, nothing fell out until it had been moved several times.

The cornstarch worked beautifully here! The brandy really adds a richness to the cherries. I am not going to post a formal recipe here because there are just too many variables. My cherries were pretty sweet on their own and didn't need too much sugar. Your might need considerably more or even none at all. Shoot for about 2 pounds of cherries here. Taste them. Add the sugar gradually. Start with a third of a cup mixed with the 3 TBSP of cornstarch. Taste again. Needs more sugar? Add a little more. Trust your tastebuds here. Once you put it in the oven, pay attention. Give it 40 minutes on 350 then peek. Is the crust golden? Can you see the filling bubbling? No? Then give it another 10 minutes. Repeat as necessary. This is not the time to sit down to a movie or call your mother. As long as you measure carefully and follow the rules, baking is not hard.

I even had enough crust left over to make a few pocket pies with some fresh raspberries I had on hand.

Here is my pie warmed up with french vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bean to bar craft chocolate and life altering decisions.

School begins in less than a month. I am excited about classes beginning. The only part of my new adventure that makes me nervous is the internship I'll have to do next fall. I've started thinking about what kind of an internship I'd like to do, and once I've decided that I will start thinking about where I'll do it. For me, I've narrowed it down to three choices. Restaurant Pastry Chef, Patisserie Pastry Chef, and Candymaker. I can make an excellent argument for each of these three options. A few options I know I am definitely not interested in are cake maker/decorator and bread baker. To strictly make bread, I believe I would feel very limited. I do not, personally speaking, think I would find bread baking as challenging as working as a pastry chef in a restaurant or bakery. As far as cake decorating goes, I don't feel it's about baking. It's about art and sculpture. If you watch Ace of Cakes and listen closely, most of the folks who worked there were trained as artists, not bakers. Look at the gallery on their website! They are amazingly beautiful creations.

Last week, I attended a lecture at the NC Museum of Science. The topic of the lecture of was Bean To Bar Craft Chocolate and it was given by Hal Parson, one of the co-founders of Escazu Artisan Chocolates here in Raleigh. He spoke at length about sourcing the chocolate, the equipment used, and the processes involved. We had samples to taste. It was fascinating and it got me thinking. My great-grandparents owned a candy store in Pittsburgh, PA. I've always had in the back of my mind that I might like to make candy one day. This lecture really got me thinking. Were you aware that there is a big craft chocolate movement in the US? Think microbreweries, but chocolate. There's a big farm to table movement going on the the food world. It only makes sense that chocolate should be a included.

Over the past week, I've been thinking hard about my choices. It is with careful consideration that I cross chocolatier off my list at least for now. I made a cherry pie the other day. It was damn good. (I promise to do a post on it soon. I can't find my cable for my camera. I put it away because Elvis was playing with it and now I forget where I stashed it.) After I made this pie, I shared it with some friends. Giving away my pie was just as enjoyable as making it. It made me remember why I am going to pastry school. I am not contented to make pies and cookies at home. I want to share these creations with friends, relatives and customers. Eating a piece of homemade cherry pie or brioche or cake can make someone really happy. If only for a few minutes, it can right all the wrongs in the world. I want be a part of that experience. I want to make pies and cakes and croissants. I want to feed people my creations and make them happy. Working with dough is a remarkable experience. I prefer to knead my dough by hand rather than with machinery. I always have. This isn't something I want to do so much as it is something that I need to do. I have to do this. I'm not sure I could be fulfilled with chocolate alone in the same way that I could not be fulfilled with bread alone.

Where I go from here is still up in the air. We have a number of James Beard Award nominees in the area and a few spectacular bakeries as well. I have a lot of options. I will continue to think and research but I think I'm a lot closer to a decision. I've included a list of Bean to Bar chocolate makers in the US. If you know of any others, please let me know and I'll be happy to add them here.

Bean to Bar Craft Chocolate in the US
Amano Artisan Chocolate in Orem, UT
Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, MO
DeVries Chocolate Location Unknown
Escazu Artizan Chocolates in Raleigh, NC
Mast Brothers Chocolate in New York City
Patric Chocolate in Columbia, MO
Taza Chocolate in Somerville, MA

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Murder She Baked

A few weeks ago, my friend, C., from high school sent me a message through Facebook. She had found an author she thought I'd like. The author's name is Joanne Fluke. She's a mystery writer. Her main character is named Hannah Swensen. She owns a bakery in a small Minnesota town and on the side, she solves murder mysteries. Now, I love a well written mystery. I am happy to say I had read and loved every Sherlock Holmes story Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. Most of the time, he'd leave out important clues so it was rare the reader could figure out who was the culprit. I also don't like a mystery writer who gives you so many clues that the reader figures out who did before they even did it!

The Hannah Swensen mysteries are very well written. There are enough clues so that you might figure out who was the murder, but maybe not why exactly, or she might give you enough information to second guess yourself too. There are 11 books to date, plus a mini-novela mystery, plus a 12th book on the way. So far I've read through the 9th book, Key Lime Pie Murder. Each of these books it titled with a baked good, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, Cherry Cheesecake Murder, Blueberry Muffin Murder. The featured baked good is always involved in the murder somehow, ie. in the first one, the dead guy is holding a chocolate chip cookie, in another one, the dead guy is found face down in a strawberry shortcake. There's suspense and humor in the books. The stories are well written, including a cast of supporting characters and evolving story lines.

I think my favorite part of this series is the recipes. While reading, you'll find the characters talking about, for example, the Peanut Butter Melts a lot in a chapter. At the end of the chapter, there you go. A recipe for Peanut Butter Melts. I think it's cute! I also like it because as I'm reading I'm thinking, "wow, those Peanut Butter Melts sound really good!" Each book has an index of recipes in the back. The recipes sound great too! The website is Murder She Baked. I'm really enjoying these books that include two of my favorite things, a good mystery and pastries!

If you're in the mood for a good summer read, check them out. Your public library should have them, but beware! If it's anything like my public library, there's a crazy long waiting list for them! I highly recommend them! Thanks to C. for telling me about this too!

Three column blog!

I got a number of good suggestions about setting up a three column blog. Thank you, one and all. I was poking around Wordpress when I had an a-ha! moment. Why didn't I think about this before? I googled "how to add a third column to Blogger template." This was at the top of the Google results:

Three Column Blogger

Since my current template is called Washed Denim, I chose the Denim Tutorial. I am not kidding when I say it was freakishly easy. All I had to do was change a couple numbers and copy and paste some pre-written code a couple times and voila!

Thank you, Dear Three Column Blogger! I love it.

Ps. I am working on my knife lecture. I also have pie to show you. Except I seem to have, uh, misplaced the cable to attach the camera to the computer. Once it is located, we shall discuss pie.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In which I begin the transition from dilettante to pastry student

Classes begin on August 17. I am almost ready to begin. Amazon is working on shipping textbooks to me. A website called Chef Uniforms is shipping my hats, neckerchiefs and aprons. I have my 4 coats and with any luck, my mom will be willing to use her fancy sewing machine and embroider my name on them. I am also waiting on a local store to order 2 more pants for me. Knives have been sharpened, measuring tools have been bought. I feel like a six year old who knows she's getting a pony for Christmas.

Culinary school is expensive. It's not like a regular academic college where you roll out of bed, look around for a pen and notebook and skip off to class. In addition to the books and regular school supplies, I need uniforms. Uniforms that are expected to be freshly laundered and pressed before every class. I need chef coats, chef pants, hats, neckerchiefs (ugh-I hate these), aprons, shoes, and new socks. I also needed the following supplies:

Chef’s Knife
Paring Knife
Honing Steel
Instant Read Thermometer
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Vegetable Peeler
Bench Scraper
Bowl Scraper
Kitchen Shears
Microplane Zester
Pastry Cutter

Luckily I already have a very nice set of knives. I only needed to pay $7 to get them sharpened and $20 for a snazzy new red knife roll, and not the $300 or so for new knives. A good knife, when properly cared for, will last a lifetime. I will do a post on choosing and caring for knives in the future. My uniforms will cost me almost $200 all together. My shoes, Birki Professional clogs, were $90. My books are going to be somewhere around $300. If I add it up correctly, the cost of les acoutrements will actually have cost more than the semester's tuition of $675. Crazy, huh?


A side note on this blog:

After a brief flirtation with Typepad, I have decided to keep this blog. I found I wasn't able to set up the Typepad blog as easily as I would like. I couldn't figure out how to add page elements, like my class schedule. My only beef with this blog at the moment is not being able to have three columns. Does anyone know if that's possible with Blogger? I'd like one column of page elements on each side of the center column of blog posts. If you can help me figure this out, you will be rewarded with cookies.

Moving forward this will be my only blog and the focus will be food and culinary school. I will also continue to post recipes, reviews and what-not. Thanks for sticking around. Thanks for being patient with my hiatus.