Pastry: Class size and Cookies

(Also posted on http://students.nwcav.com)

After successfully completing the Professional Culinary program, I have moved on to the Pastry kitchen to complete the 2nd part of the full year professional program. There is nothing as comforting as folding ingredients together and baking it in an oven. An initial worry coming back to class was the size of the pastry class – it is huge with 16 students (compared to 9 students last term). Extra tables were brought in for extra stations, there are less space to move around, and having 3 sinks plus one hand wash station can cause a line up during a clean up session, but after the first week of settling in, there is appreciation in having extra people man the dishwashing station and extra hands with helping to scale recipes, the opinions and experiences from everyone is wide and varied and we have learned how not to bump into each other. 16 students works.

There is no doubt that the world of pastry will be defining for me. One of my first impactful moments from class was with our cookie menu development – learning the basic formula for a basic cookie (3 part flour + 2 part fat + 1 part sugar) and the 16 different types of cookies each of us in class came up with. Just a week before class started, I was attempting to make a chewy vegan chocolate chip cookie but instead it turned out solid as a rock. I realized the different type of flours, sugar, fat and ratio of each in the recipe plays a role in how a cookie develops.

My inspiration for the cookie menu development was the Chinese Almond Cookies that is served after a banquet dinner. The crumbliness and texture of the cookie is something I have never attempted at home before.

Here’s my recipe:

300g Cake Flour
100g Almond Flour
267g Lard (or shortening, but lard tastes better)
1/2 t Baking Powder
1/2 t Baking Soda
pinch of salt
140g Sugar
3 egg yolks
2 t Almond Extract
almond slivers to place on top of each cookie before baking
egg wash on each cookie

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. Cream together the lard and sugar, beat in the egg yolks and almond extract.

3. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until incorporated.

4. Shape into 25g balls, flattened slightly with the back of a spoon or fork, space the balls 2″ apart,  top with almond slivers and egg wash.

5. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 minutes, rotating half way, until golden.

One thing I would change for next time is use 1 whole egg instead of just egg yolks to see if that would a less yolky tasting product, but I was pretty happy with this recipe.

Monica-AlmondCookies

Chinese Almond cookies

Monica-2015ClassCookies

The 16 different cookies developed by each of us in class.

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Pastry school: Week 1 – Week 3 in review

Pastry school is flying by faster than I have imagined! Three weeks have already gone by before I got a chance to post a blog on it! My classmates do comment on how much happier I now look in class compared to last term, but I’m a pretty smily person usually so I only imagine that my smile is reaching ear to ear right now. We are in a room with flour and sugar which I cannot imagine not being about to smile in. Every day there is something smelling awesome coming from the ovens.

Unlike the building blocks in the culinary curriculum where we would revisit each foundation learned in the early weeks, the pastry program is more modular. The first week we focused on cookies, during the second week we spent a day on quick breads, another day on creams and custards, another day on Pate a Choux, then we moved into 4 days of laminated doughs, and then 3 days of pies and tarts and a trip to Terra Nova farm to round off week 3. As we were making checkerboard cookies for the 2nd time during week 3, I can barely remember how we have put it together in week 1!

<insert at least 50 of the last 360+ photos I have taken in class in the past several weeks 😛 >

(One thing I would actually like to do more is to take more photos in class, especially the step-by-step process which would help to remember the steps in putting together the checkerboard cookies. It is *kinda* hard when your fingers are covered in dough, but I’ll try to.)

You can only imagine the number of products that we are producing in class. From what me and my partner makes, we get to bring home 1/4 each and the remaining half goes to the food bank. You can also imagine the weight I’m putting on in Pastry and we are not yet into Chocolate week yet!

A few things I’ve been looking forward to (since I have been spying on pastry since last term) – Entremets (cakes! Coming up on week 6/7); Chocolate (week 9/10); Sugar Art (week 11); Alternative Baking (Week 11).

Student blogs from school can be read at http://students.nwcav.com. I’ll be posting there, too, from time to time, minimum 3 blog posts.

So you’re thinking of culinary/pastry school: Whisking and your arm

As I’m writing this post, my right shoulder is a bit stiff, which is why I’d like to point out a few tips to prepare you to start culinary or pastry school about your arm muscles. Having completed culinary school and now almost 20% complete in pastry school I am very well aware of the physicality and stamina needed to be comfortable in the kitchen. As a student you are taught to use your hands when whisking rather than using a machinery to do the job, this is akin to an automotive technician apprentices to use hand tools rather than power tools. Using your hands allow you learn and feel when your product is at the correct stage, stiffness, texture, colour, etc. When you use a food processor or an electric mixer, the changes are very high for the student learner to overmix.

You will whisk … a lot. A few things that whisking is involved: mayonnaise, hollandaise, sabayon, meringues (macarons), whipping cream, souffles – it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is one of those things that you may be making at least once a week, or more. We made an Italian meringue in class today and luckily it was something that would be impossible to do by hand so we broke out the KitchenAids.

Italian meringue on lemon sabayon tart (Lemon sabayon tart with Italian meringue)

The proper technique when whisking is to loosely hold the whisk in your hands so that it is not a tight grip, relax your shoulders, and allow the wrist action of moving back and forth to do the job. You do not want to be whisking so hard that you are clanging the sides of the bowl loudly – doing so would result in a metallic tasting product as you are rubbing off metal-on-metal. But you do not want to be whisking slow in which no air and texture is build up, or in case of sabayon, that the eggs end up cooking in the bowl over the bain marie. You can switch from your dominant arm to your less dominant arm. Practicing on your less dominant arm will give you a boost when you can be ambidextrous in the kitchen. And make sure you have a strong core – stand comfortably but firmly, straight back/not arching/not leaning, and engage your core muscles.

So as you are prepping for culinary school or pastry school make sure you get in several push ups and pull ups each day — you’ll thank me for it. 😉

Things I’ve whisked by hand so far:

Mille Feuille/NapoleonCheese souffleCrispy salmon with bernaise, gnocchi and pesto sauceMy canapes for menu devmacarons