Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bagels, Bialys, Focaccia, and Breadsticks

If the rest of the semester is anything like today, than I'll probably be saying the following often: today was another excellent day of baking. Seriously, I can't even fully describe to you how much I am enjoying each class. I am learning so much, and I am learning the proper techniques which makes the experience so freakin fantastic.

In Artisan Breads today, we made Bagels and Bialys. Big shout out to the Polish immigrants who brough these delicious treats to the United States all those years ago. I'm a big fan in general of bagels and bialys, but bialys are often hard to find. Anyway, we made bagels in the traditional sense, with a water bath and the use of traditional flavorings. Original bagels were covered with poppy seeds and then seasame seeds. I made one with poppyseed, two with minced onion, three with everything, one with salt, and one plain. Here's the photo:

Bialys are like bagels but there are two distinct differences. One, bialys do not have a hole. Two, bialys are not made with a water bath. We made bialys with a traditional filling, which contains diced, sauteed onions and poppy seeds. I had one of these right from the oven today. Delish.

In Bakeshop this afternoon, the theme for this week is yeast breads so we made focaccia and breadsticks. I love focaccia, and it is such a versatile bread. Here's part of my loaf:

After the focaccia baked, we made breadsticks. I seasoned some of mine with salt, some with basil/oregano, and some with seasame seeds. Again, they were pretty darn good.

I mentioned last week that there are ten steps to baking bread. Technically, there are eleven (I had a quiz on this earlier), and the last stage is cooling and storage. One of the biggest points I've learned about breads thus far is that "bread is only fresh for the amount of time it took to make." For example, if a loaf of bread took 3 hours to make (from mixing through fermentation through baking), it is only technically fresh for the first 3 hours from which it came out of the oven. Now, as we know from experience, bread doesn't go instantly stale, but it starts to slowly go stale. I got to bring home some of my breads today. I am trying to save some of what I am allowed to bring home so Mom and Dad have something to sample when they visit in two weeks. I hope they are excited!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Apple Torte

Today in Cakes, we made an Apple Torte. While not a traditional cake or layer cake, the torte did have a few separate layers. Let me describe the layers to you.

On the bottom is a short bread dough. This has the consistency of cookie dough. We first baked this thin layer to give it form. The sides of the torte are also made from this short bread dough - we did this by pressing the dough onto the sides of the cake round. On top of the baked short bread, we slathered apricot marmalade which would help bind the short bread to a 1/4 inch thick layer of vanilla chiffon genoise (chiffon = light and airy; genoise = sponge cake). Next we layered on 5 lbs of a thick mixture which contained diced apples, raisins, and toasted almonds. We finished off the top with another thin layer of short bread dough, and we used a fork to give it design. We baked the torte for one hour. When finished baking, we glazed the top with apricot glaze and sprinkled crushed almonds around the edge.

Here's a photo to show the thickness of the cake:

Here's a photo of the top of the cake:

We didn't have enough time to cool and cut the torte, so I haven't yet been able to taste this, which is a total bummer! I also wasn't able to confirm if my torte fully stayed together on the sides. Hopefully on Wednesday I will get to taste it when I am back in that building for my Nutrition and Sanitation class. Overall, though, this torte was a long process. But the end product looks pretty good. I look forward to tasting it soon!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bakeshop: Quick Breads

This afternoon in Bakeshop, we made Quick Breads. Quick Breads include things like muffins, biscuits, Irish soda bread, and the like. Quick Breads use leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda. Today, some people made zucchini bread, some cranberry nut bread, and I made banana nut bread. In other courses, I have been using a digital scale to weigh my ingredients. This afternoon, I used a baker's scale, which was a new learning experience. Here's a baker's scale:

The scoop here is that I am much more comfortable with a digital scale and find them absolutely easier to use than the baker's scale. But knowing how to use multiple types of equipment is important, so you do what you gotta do even when it takes longer. So, nothing too special here, but these are my breads:

All in all, today was pretty spectacular. I can't even fully explain to you how excited I am to have survived the transition during this first week. I have already learned so much. It is quite incredible. I am already pumped for next week.

I hope you've enjoyed following my first week back in school. Please, become a follower of my blog! And write comments or email me! I'd love to hear more from you!


So, let me start by saying, today's Artisan Breads class was lightyears better for me than Tuesday's. I worked hard to make it that way, but a few key things happened. First, I found a really good partner to work with. In my first week of school, I have really realized how important it is to have a good partner. As I noted, we often work in pairs, sometimes more than that, so working together is vital and having a good partner is key. I am glad this has worked out for me now in each of my courses. The second big factor is that I was no longer as freaked out as I was on Tuesday. I knew what to expect today, and I personally challenged myself to execute better and work with more confidence. It's total cliche, but attitude makes a huge difference and it did for me today.

So, we made baguettes again. Something that looks so simple is so complex so we'll be making baguettes often. On Tuesday, we hand mixed our own batch of 3 lb dough and we used active dry yeast. Today, we worked with a partner and used the mixer to make 6 lbs of dough with fresh yeast. We'll be doing variations like this all semester. Today, my dough was really good dough. I know this because Chef used my dough to make one baguette in his demonstrations. On this picture, you can see three baguettes. The chef's is on the left; my two are on the right.

You can see, even before these are fully baked as shown in this photo, that Chef's has great stippling and my baguettes still need a lot of work in this area. I did a little better today, but I still have to work hard at getting better in this skill area. This is critical because all of the work you do with your dough up to this point (which is at least 2 hours of a process with fermentation) can go to crap basically if you don't have good slashes. So, I'm getting there. The inside of my dough and the general crust was good, which means I worked the dough well throughout the day. I just have to get that stippling down, so I can execute more fully. One day at a time.

Chef showed us another variation on the baguette. This is called pain d'epi and it is executed by using kitchen scissors. Epi is French for wheat, so this design is meant to mimick a stalk of wheat. It is a great bread to use when gathering with family and friends who can "break bread" by taking one piece off at a time.

Another amazing part of the class today was that Chef demonstrated how to fold in different ingredients into this dough. Today he used roasted garlic, fresh rosemary, black pepper, salt, olive oil, and onions to make this dough into rolls. Um, can you even imagine how amazing the bakeshop smelled throughout the day? I heart garlic, particularly roasted garlic. I can't wait to perfect this type of bread at home. The possibilities are endless. And because I know you're curious, here's a photo of those as well:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nutrition & Sanitation

Today's class was Nutrition & Sanitation. Because I already have a master's degree, it was recommended to me that I take these two topics as separate courses online; basically, take one online nutrition class and take one online sanitation course. This recommendation is made because people with advanced degrees tend to need as many lab courses as possible; I will finish 4 lab courses this semester regardless so I decided to remain in the course that meets on campus once a week, from 8:00-11:00am Wednesdays.

I did this for two reasons. One, it exposes me to another chef in person and another perspective. Two, I like the concept of this course - learning about sanitation and nutrition in the hands-on lab setting allows me to do more baking and even some cooking, and I figure I need all of the practice I can get. And of all of my courses, this will be the easiest to manage. And I actually like that it is on Wednesday - it will hopefully give me a breather between the craziness of Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I certainly need that.

And now it's time for homework. Is it strange that I am actually excited about my homework and reading?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


If you read my previous post, you know that my morning in Artisan Breads was really challenging and I felt overwhelmed throughout the class. We finished a bit early so I had some extra time to scarf down lunch from my lunch bag. You see, after Breads which ends at 2:00pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I grab lunch and head back to the same classroom for my 2:40pm class which is Bakeshop, or Introduction to Baking and Pastry. It meets until 7:10pm. As you can see, today was one heck of a long day, and I'm a bit spent. In general, I equate today to trying to get back into shape: day two was much harder than day one.

Unlike my other classes this week, Bakeshop's first day was very general. We didn't do any hands on work; just the basic introductory first day type of stuff. On Thursday, we'll get into it with some actual baking, but after the morning session, I can honestly say I enjoyed the slowed-down pace of the afternoon. Thursday will be more realistic, but at least by that point, I'll have a better overall sense of what to expect. As for now, I'm tired and need a beer.

Artisan Breads: The Baguette

Well, here it is. The worst best baguette I'll ever make.

Yes, you read that correctly. But let me repeat myself: The worse best baguette I'll ever make. It's true. It's pretty tasty, and it's definitely the best baguette I've ever made. In fact, it's the first "true" baguette I've ever made. But the truth of the matter is that it's actually a terribly executed baguette. I have a lot of practice ahead of me.

Let me give you a bit of info. On Tuesdays/Thursdays, I meet for Artisan Breads from 7:30am to 2:00pm. This is amazing for a number of reasons but here are the main three. First, it's Artisan Breads. I mean, true and authentic artisan breads. What's not to like about learning that? Second, my instructor is a true artisan - he's a younger chef who has studied and studied and studied artisan breads for over 15 years. He's a true craftsman. He's extremely energetic and passionate. I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from him. (He's originally from Philadelphia; he told me where I could get a good cheesesteak.) Again, what's not to like? And third, I'll get to learn how to make tons of different breads (with some other fun things sprinkled in). I'm not going to tell you all of the details now, because there needs to be some anticipation for you to continue to read. But I can tell you, it's going to seriously rock.

Well, if I can figure out how to get better at this quickly, that is.

So, let me bare all here. The honest to God truth is that all of the knowledge I had about bread, making bread, working dough, etc. won't even amount to 1% of the knowledge I need to succeed in this course. It's quite a challenge because it's not an introductory level course, but I am taking it along with my introductory classes. Therefore, I'm behind my peers and it is quite intimidating and overwhelming. There's no place to hide in a culinary lab, and my lack of skills is pretty evident. I have to go in there and try my best. And let me tell you, this morning's session was really hard for me.

It's also frustrating when you labor over a piece of work and it doesn't turn out very well. Of course I want my preparations to be successful, but I guess I've accepted the fact that I need to learn the hard way, and that starts from the ground up. Hence, the worst best baguette I'll ever make (hopefully).

So here's a few bits of information I can pass on to you. Bread baking is a ten-step process; it's hard to find a really good loaf of bread in any form because in the retail world, people tend to take a lot of shortcuts for a variety of reasons (time, cost, etc). So learning this craft is truly a gift, but I can easily understand now why some people won't even want to take it on. There's no exact formula. Yes, there are ten steps that you follow, but what works one day may not work the next and what tastes great one day may not taste great the next even if you did things exactly the same. Dough is tricky. You need to basically form a relationship with dough - work it, fold it, shape it - understand its texture and get an overall "feel" for what it is telling you.

Where does my bread need improvement? In a lot of places. The main thing you can see, the area that shows differentiation in color, is achieved through a process called stippling. My stippling is terrible. I didn't make my cuts deep enough or at the right angle. When this bakes, this area should open up much more when steam is added into the oven. Also, my overall color should be darker. Contrary to popular belief, a better bread is darker in color.

Like I said, it's not easy. I have my work cut out for me. I just hope that I can get better each day. In the end, that's really all I can do.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cakes Class: Linzer Torte

I survived my first class as a "Rookie Chef"!

My first class of the week is "Introduction to Cakes" and it meets on Mondays from 11:00am-5:30pm. And yes, that is a normal amount of time for one class in a week. Luckily, in the hallway before class, I chatted up a woman standing next to me, Sarah, and we hit it off; she and I partnered at a work station for the afternoon.

After the instructor reviewed the syllabus and course expecations, she informed us that each day there is a "Chef of the Day"; basically, a student is assigned to oversee the cleaning and sanitation throughout and at the end of the class. Again, luckily for me, today's chef was a man named Jim who started taking classes in the summer and who has a natural knack for helping others and teaching them necessary things. I asked Jim about 37 questions. I am a firm believer that it's good to ask a lot of questions. Jim, thankfully, didn't seem to mind.

The instructor walked us through a powerpoint of the steps and then performed a demonstration for how to execute the recipe.

Today was definitely a day where I learned completely on the go. There was no other choice. So now I know a lot of important things, like, batters/doughs are usually made by a group of four and then divided. Simple math is important. As a team, we divided the ingredients, collected and measured appropriately, and then mixed our dough. Everything is weighed in pounds and ounces so I'll be working hard to transition away from "teaspoon" and "cup" and other home-baking terms.

Our first recipe was for a Linzer Torte, which really isn't a cake, but it was a good recipe to ease us into the course. Here's a photo:

This dough contains orange and lemon zest, hazelnuts, cinnamon and cloves. It smells like a combination of fall and the holidays. We also used raspberry preserves. As you can see on the photo, I struggled a bit with the lattice pattern. The dough didn't roll out very easily and I had difficulty making the diamond pattern. But overall, it was a good first effort.

With the leftover dough, we made thumbprint cookies. I think this would be a great fall/winter recipe and it is great because I can use a lot of different preserves. I also think I could try a white chocolate drizzle or a glaze.

We got to sample the instructor's demonstration piece, so I can tell you that this torte does have a very good savory flavor. It would go well with a cup of coffee or tea. The cakes we make are graded by the instructor and then boxed. The cakes are utilized in a course on retail baking where they are sold or they are given to a catering company who contracts with the school. So, no, I don't get to bring home what I bake. Well, that's not entirely true. I could bring the creation home, if I want to pay $10 for it. I decided it's better for my budget and my body that I don't bring everything home!

First Day of School

As promised, my "first day of school" photo. I have no shame.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gear Up

Culinary school requires a ton of stuff, in combination of culinary equipment and uniforms as well as textbooks, notebooks and the typical school supplies. Here's a photo of some of my gear:

I will wear a uniform to class every day. My uniform includes black striped chef pants, a school embrodiered chef's jacket, a black skull cap, black work shoes, a white apron, and a nametag. I'll also use a hand towel for each class. Under certain circumstances, I will also wear a neckerchief. I think the word neckerchief is as weird as the actual item, and therefore, I am glad I don't have to wear one daily. Uniforms are required for professionalism as well as sanitation. It is inappropriate to wear jewelry and watches for reasons of sanitation. While the uniforms are an upfront cost for school, I actually look forward to a daily uniform routine; it makes for easy mornings once the copious ironing is complete.

My pastry kit was another expensive upfront cost but obviously vital. My kit includes various knives, icing tools, thermometers, and other necessary items. I am excited to use some of the tools and actually learn the real techniques for some of them.

Textbooks are textbooks. Regardless of what you're studying, they always seem super expensive. What's great now though is that I will use these books for the rest of my life, and therefore, they seem like a much better investment than "Principles of Logic."

I have everything I need to get started. Tomorrow, I have my first class in "Introduction to Cakes." I'll be actually baking on the first day of class, so be sure to check back tomorrow when I write about my first creation.

Let the culinary craziness begin!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections on My Journey

I believe that I always intrinsically knew I would ultimately make the decision to attend culinary school and pursue baking and pastry as a career. While living at home over the past year and a half, I had the opportunity to take a step back from the chaos that became my life as an academic counselor while living in Memphis. During my time at home, I spent countless hours in reflection and contemplation about what to do and when to do it. I want to share with you some of the reflections that really made it evident this was the next step for me.

Reflection 1. Christmas. Every one I can remember.

My favorite part of the Christmas holiday celebration (every holiday really) is the food, and in particular, the baked goods. My family has maintained a deep tradition around the Christmas holiday of baking an extraordinary amount of cookies, mostly from our Italian heritage. I have strong memories and perfect mental images of members of my family gathering in our kitchen to bake cookies. For example, I can close my eyes and see the following scene. Mom measuring ingredients. Dad mixing the thick batter. Pap hanging out or overseeing the process. Gram getting ingredients ready for icing. My brother, Joe, hanging out waiting to sample. And me, trying to help wherever possible. It never failed that as soon as a batch of cookies came out of the oven, Pap would snag one for that fresh-from-the-oven taste.

Each member of my family has a favorite Christmas cookie, and we make about a dozen different kinds each year. Sometimes we gather like I noted above; sometimes one person makes a certain kind and divides them out to the rest of the family. We eat these cookies well into the new year and it's not strange for someone in my family to freeze them well into the winter.

Last year, I did a great deal of the Christmas baking. I spent a full eight-hour day with my cousin Jen just to make one type of cookie. Seriously, we made like 600 of them in one day. It was pretty crazy. But it was also a moment in which I thought: I could do this every day.

Reflection 2. Birthdays in Grade School

I went to a small Catholic school through 8th grade, Holy Spirit School. It was tradition in school that on your birthday, you would bring a treat for your classmates to help celebrate your birthday. I don't know where the tradition started, but I always liked it.

My mom and I usually made the same kind of cupcake for my birthday - a yellow and chocolate marble cupcake with chocolate icing. In 4th grade, my teacher asked me, "Carol, how do you get the chocolate in the cupcake?" I explained to her how you fill the cupcake paper with the yellow batter, drop in a smaller amount of the chocolate batter, and take a knife and swirl it around to make it look like marble. This is a moment I remember because I was proud that my mom taught me how to make these and I could, in turn, teach it to someone else. The learning and teaching process of the culinary world is of utmost interest to me, which is not surprising given my educational background.

Reflection 3. Summer Baking.

In high school, during the summer months, my friend Sarah and I would often bake for our brothers and neighbors in between going to practice or working our summer jobs. It was a weekly occurrence that we would get together to bake a favorite recipe or try something new. I remember these summer days like they were yesterday. I wish someone back then would have said, "Why don't you take the culinary arts elective during high school?" My friend Kelly had the foresight to take the culinary electives; she's an executive chef today. The road we take is never straight but it seems like mine was paved with a really long detour.

Reflection 4. Love of Travel

My month-long trip to Italy in the summer of 2004 was one of the most influential, life-changing experiences in my life. It inspired, more than ever, my love of traveling and the discovery of new places, new people, and new food. Travel has afforded me countless opportunities to explore new tastes, and each dish or dessert continues to shape my palate. I want to eat my way around the world, so to speak, and I am so blessed to have had so many opportunities to already do some of this. The greatest gift about the culinary world is that you can always learn more and more and more. The possibilies are endless.

Reflection 5. Reflections on Passion

A friend reminded me a few months ago that I started talking about culinary school while I was in graduate school. I was inspired by a bakery in Oxford, Ohio, that served breakfast, lunch, and baked goods. It was such a great place to gather with friends for an excellent(and cheap) meal. The food never disappointed, the baked good were delicious, and it was such a great business for where it was located.

My graduate school peers would talk about their career goals of ultimately being the director of a community service office or being a dean of students or becoming a university president. You could feel their passion when they talked about their goals. I don't remember really truly sharing that passion. I liked what I was doing, but I never felt I had the same level of passion as my peers. I wasn't sure what I would ultimately do as a professional in higher education, but I do remember thinking, "I think I'd like to own a bakery someday."

Reflection 6. Career Strenghts

I have come to believe, through conversations with past mentors and colleagues, that I have the intrinsic skill set to run a business some day. I believe I possess the combination of interpersonal skills, management skills, desire, drive, determination, and passion to be a successful small business owner. This is my end goal. I want to be my own boss. I want to run a successful company that both employees and patrons love. And the culinary world is where I want to do it.

Culinary school is the next step on the journey to this ultimate goal.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

It's finally happening. After years of saying, "I'd like to go to culinary school," I am now officially enrolled as a culinary student in the Baking and Pastry Program at the Culinary Institute of Charleston in South Carolina. I am extremely excited!

Sure, I'm also a bit anxious and nervous. I'm moving to a new city. I'll meet new people and make new friends. I'm going back to school. And this is a completely different type of education than what I'm used to. I am confident, however, that everything else I have done previously has prepared me to take on this new challenge with confidence and dedication.

I'm also really grateful for the encouragement and support I have had from my wonderful family and friends in helping me to come to this decision and prepare for this new phase in my life. I hope to share with you my culinary journey, as I knead my way through new recipes, new skills, and new experiences. Not only will I have my cake and eat it too, but first I'll get to bake it. Yum.