Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brunch and Bread

This morning we hosted a little brunch with my friends and fellow canners. I wanted to make a coffee cake that I developed during my pastry classes - the honey lemon almond cake I made on butter cake day. To scale it up to bundt cake size I tripled the recipe, so it used 12 ounces of butter and a whole dozen eggs! In addition, it used 9 ounces of honey, which used up all the honey I had in the house that wasn't from my own hive. (As you might imagine, I don't really want to bake with that honey, not only is it a denser consistency but I don't have all that much of it!)

For the topping, I had some white chocolate lime ganache which I spooned it over the top and then I sprinkled the cake with chopped, toasted black walnuts. These were from last autumn's foraging out on the bike path. It was a nice way to top off this cake. We all loved the cake, and everyone had seconds, so there is less than 1/4 of the cake left.

Also this weekend I made more bread, a whole wheat with molasses instead of honey or maple syrup. I had to do it by hand again. I can't wait for the Kitchenaid mixer to come back! It should be here in about a week. From the sound of it, they are replacing almost all of its insides.

Tonight I'll make yogurt and let it grow overnight. Because I've been working so much lately I haven't had time to do a lot of things in the kitchen and I've fallen behind on the things I try to do regularly. I should be catching up things and having more time soon.

And to my friends, thanks for coming over and all your generous gifts!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Graduation!

Monday night we had our graduation ceremony for school. It was held at a restaurant across the street which has close ties with the school, The Elephant Walk. It's a place I've always liked and don't go to often enough!

We all got our certificates, a chef's hat, and a saccharometer. I'm rather excited about the latter, as I can experiment with sorbets over the summer.

Chef told me he hoped I'd gotten what I wanted out of the course. I most certainly did. I wanted to learn how to scale up and make large quantities of pastries, and how to function in a professional kitchen. Now I'm closer to understanding that, although I'm sure I have a long way to go. Our class learned to work as a team, to move around each other and with each other with the complicated choreography of a busy and not very large kitchen. That was most obvious with our practicum as we were all doing different things and had to not get in each other's way.  My piping skills are better (again, there is still work to be done here) and decorating isn't quite so difficult. The class definitely made me better at the things I wanted to improve. There is always more to learn.

Another big part of this, for me, was that elusive thing known as "work-life balance." It's pretty obvious if you read back in this blog that when I worked in the ER I worked WAY too much. I had started to learn how to say "no" but by the time that happened I was already too far gone. With this class, I spent a few days a week at work, a few days in the kitchen, and it felt right. It made me happy. It still does. The challenge now is to figure out how to fit all this into my life in a way that continues to feel right. Changing jobs was a huge step to achieving this balance, but now I have to connect more of the dots: family, work, baking, beekeeping, canning, being outdoors... There are a lot of dots!

Am I glad I took this course? Absolutely. I am sad it's over. So is everyone who received little white boxes of pastries over the last four months. I think everyone is going through withdrawal a little bit.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Dartois

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!

Yesterday I thawed the puff pastry I brought home from school and today we went to my parents' house and made a brunch dartois. Sweet Italian sausages were grilled, eggs were scrambled, and the puff pastry rolled out, turned, and rolled again. Ultimately I made two with sausage, eggs, and cheese. After I assembled them they rested in the fridge for half an hour and then were baked. YUM. My mother served them with every fruit she could have possibly bought: blackberries, raspberries, pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, apricots, kiwis, oranges, and grapes. We are so incredibly full.
But, not too full that I couldn't make a batch of jam when I got home! Apricots were on special this week; this is one of the only fruits I can't reliably get locally. I bought a whole bunch yesterday and used all but six of them to make jam. Nine jars of apricot jam are currently in the canner.

Oh, and the whole wheat bread turned out great - it fermented faster than expected so last night I set it up to proof. This morning, before anyone else got up, I baked all the loaves and we brought one for our brunch. The elderchild was very happy to have whole wheat bread and I'm glad to have introduced a little variety to the breadmaking ritual.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bread

Since I brought Legion home, at the beginning of March, I have not purchased a loaf of bread at the store. It's become part of my weekend, every weekend, to make bread. I've learned that breadmaking isn't something I should be stressed out about. After all, the yeast do most of the work. I just need to carve out 10 minutes at the beginning and again about 12 hours later, and then enough time to bake it at the end, just a little over an hour. One batch makes 3-4 loaves depending upon how big I want them and generally that's enough for our family for a week. I've made the same recipe every week, until today.

The elderchild was requesting whole wheat bread, so I substituted 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat flour. I also decided to use maple syrup as the sugar in the bread this time. Tomorrow around this time I'll be able to see how it came out, as it'll ferment from now until the morning and then proof all day. We do have to time the baking around our Mother's Day festivities and seeing the new Captain America movie but I'm sure I can manage it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Springtime in a Jar

Yes, it's that time of year again - violet season!

My friend with the large and violet filled yard went the extra mile this year and brought me 2 cups of violets last week. Knowing I didn't have time to make the jelly, I steeped them in 2 cups of boiling water and then kept the whole concoction in the fridge. That was six days ago and today I was able to make them into jelly.

I strained the violets, topped off the liquid with water to 4 cups, and then added 1/2 cup of lemon juice. This and a package of Sure-Jell pectin was brought to boiling and then I added 5 cups of sugar. When the jelly was done I had about 8 cups, which is two more than last year. Not sure what was different but sometimes that happens. I am canning 13 4-ounce jars and have the rest in a small container in the fridge for us. The 11 year old loves this jelly.

And, with that, I have started the gift stash for this season.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Days 31 and 32: Final Practicum


Yesterday and today were spent in a stressed out haze. At least until I completed my dessert and turned it in.

This morning was our practicum exam. Each of us were to draw a card and then make what it said. As this was technically the mid term we were given the ingredient list and had to write out the method. Once Chef corrected it, we were to go into the kitchen and make it for presentation to the two tasters. There were eight cards and we knew what they were but we selected our actual card at random. Ahead of time, in addition to studying the methods, I thought about how I would plate each one.

On a whim, I bought stainless steel martini glasses. Just in case I drew the macaron card.

I drew the macaron card.

Yay! The card stated that in addition to making three different flavors of macarons - coffee, lemon, and raspberry - we were to make an ice cream of our choice. Planning ahead again, I decided that a pear cardamom ice cream would go well with each flavor. That had to be made first. I made an ice cream base with pear purée, cardamom, and some pear brandy. While that chilled, I worked on the macarons and sautéed pears in butter, sugar, and more brandy. When it was time to put the ice cream in the maker, at the very end I churned in the cooked pears. It was lovely.

The macarons came out better than they had any right to as we had some oven issues (the opposite problem compared to home, the ovens were too hot. Even though we set them 25˚ lower than usual). The tasters noted they were a little dry. I guess they crumble too quickly. Each one had a matching ganache.

For plating, I chilled the martini glasses and put a scoop of ice cream in each. I had made mini macarons and stuck them on the ice cream. I made sure each macaron was between mini macarons of different colors - pink between yellow and brown, yellow between brown and pink, and so on.

Ultimately, I did well on the kitchen part and I don't have the tasting grade yet but the comments were mostly positive. Now we only have the final written exam left!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Birthday Chimeras

This year's birthday theme for the (now) 11 year old was mythical beasts. Dragons, Gryphons, and Unicorns.

Demonstration cupcakes
I dutifully made cupcakes with different color paper cups, different frostings and, with gum paste, various add ons. Wings, horns, beaks, tails.

Sadly, my buttercream wasn't as smooth as I wanted it to be, but the kids did not care. However, despite the absolute cuteness of my demo-cupcakes, they refused to be constrained by tradition and created a variety of chimeras. Gryphicorns. Draggryphs. Unigons. Whatever.
Then they unleashed the sprinkles.