Monday, September 28, 2009

the BEST croissants of my life & why I do what I do.....

So, I've decided to take a little different approach with this blog than I had originally planned. Instead of just posting images of things I've made and then the recipes I've created/used, I'm also going to include a component talking about my adventures while I'm studying Baking & Pastry Arts in Culinary School.

I sincerely love Fridays this semester because Fridays mean that I get to have Laminated Doughs and Pastries class. Our classes here at school usually only occur once a week but for many hours at a time. For instance, Laminated runs from 7:30am to 2:00pm (if we get out on time). That may seem like a long time, but in reality, it just flies by! Most days I find myself wishing we had just a couple more hours. Laminated requires a lot of patience and attention to detail, two things I'm discovering I'm rather good at. We're also learning processes that are becoming less and less common, like how to make puff pastry and croissant doughs and eventually danish and other breakfast pastries completely from scratch.

This week was our first time baking croissants as well as Pain au Chocolat (chocolate croissants). Just look at the layers we "laminated" in the dough! All with delicious Plugra European butter.

Here's Chef Jeff demonstrating rolling a croissant

We left them in their straight state, not curving them like we silly Americans seem to like.....

Then, it was on to Pain Au Chocolat, made with real chocolat batons!

And then we added.... A SECOND baton!

Isn't it amazing how the initial shape of the croissant dough prior to rolling is the shape of "la Tour Eiffel"? Is it a coincidence? Je ne sais pas.....

So, here's my newly rolled croissants ready for proofing

Chef Jeff's croissant finished baking first, and so he cut one open so we could see the beautiful insides. Incredible!

And here's my class, stuffing our faces with delicious croissant goodness :)
I'm not even kidding with this, THESE CROISSANTS WERE THE BEST OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!! And I've even been in France.

In 2002, I traveled to France for 17 days with my high school French Club. Nearly every morning, we'd eat a croissant or pain au chocolate or a baguette piece (or perhaps all three) along with cups of Chocolat Chaud (hot chocolate) or coffee. I developed a love for red currant jelly on my croissants early in the trip and to this day love the stuff (although it's difficult to find decent tasting current jelly in the United States). Ironically, on Friday there happened to be a jar of currant jelly on one of the dry storage shelves in my classroom. Chef Jeff let me open it and have some with my sample croissant. OH MY GOSH!! it was like eating a memory! Only the improved version of a memory. These were the most croissant-tasting croissants I'd ever had!! (sorry, I get a little excited).

There really are some foods that are just like memories. I remember sitting at breakfast with the friends I made on the trip, peeling the croissant open and layering on the jelly. I remember lots of laughter (and some tears) on that trip. I remember being so homesick for France when I got home, a lot of that having to do with the great people I got to know on the trip. I was only 15 at the time (well, turned 16 on the trip, but that was a bad day and I don't care to reminisce about that one). And although I was already interested in culinary things at that time (it was shortly after I had decided that I must eventually go to culinary school), I didn't have the full appreciation I would have if I went back today. Man, what a great trip.....

You might say, "So what? So what if these were the best croissants ever? What's the big deal? If you don't know what you're missing why does it really matter?"

Oh but it matters! Really and truly it does!

I love pastry and all it's components, but this semester, I'm really developing a love for laminated doughs. These non-commercial versions are so incredible that I just want to share them with the entire world! For real!

I want to change the world, one croissant at a time!

I would like to show people how much the hard work of making something like this will pay off in the end. How a product like this is worth something. I truly believe I can make someones day by giving them a delicious baked good (whether its laminated or not). I want people to develop their own "food memories" and have them be centered around really, really good food.

Sure, you can go purchase mass-produced commercial products, and yes they might taste alright, but will they be memorable?

Take a little extra time, make the real thing, use quality ingredients, enjoy it instead of just consuming it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Daring Bakers September 09: Vols-au-Vent

This month marks my first Daring Baker's Challege! We were challenged to make puff pastry from scratch and then form it into Vols-au Vents (like little puff pastry shells) which we could fill with something of our choice.

Here's my finished one: Vol-au-vent with spiced Cranberry Apple filling topped with Chantilly cream and garnished with a cinnamon stick.

I've been SO EXCITED to join the Daring Bakers.... I wanted to join sooner, but knew with moving down here to Charleston and the crazy summer prior to the move, I wouldn't have enough time to put forth full effort until September.

Vols-au-vents are typically filled with a savory filling and then used as appetizers, but since this is a Daring Bakers, which in my mind means sweet instead of savory, I decided to do a dessert version instead. Once September rolls around, my mind switches to autumnal flavor mode. Since this is the first autumn I'm spending outside of North Dakota, it is a bit strange to be thinking of these autumn flavors when it is still as warm as summer and no leaves have really begun to turn colors. Oh well! I still wanted to work with traditional flavors.

In making my puff pastry, I did follow the recipe we were given , which came from the Baking with Julia cookbook, although I did make a couple minor adjustments.... In my Laminated Doughs and Pastries class, we had just made puff pastry for the first time right before this challenge was announced. I would have rather used my school recipe, but knew that would be breaking the rules. I did decide to use Plugra butter, instead of regular butter because european butter, which is what Plugra is, has a higher percentage of Butter Fat, which keeps the butter more pliable (less risk of shattering when the dough is cold) and it also has better flavor. The down side is that it is more expensive. I also cut the recipe in half because I didn't want to many left overs since I live by myself and do not need the temptation to eat any more desserts!

Then, in making my turns in the puff pastry (aka "laminating" the butter into layers) I was taught to make alternating book folds and tri folds into the dough and to chill well between each fold. So I made that slight modification as well. I believe it helped my layers be preserved, especially since it's been so hot and humid down here!

I chose to garnish with Chantilly Cream this time, although I had planned to use homemade cinnamon ice cream. I even MADE the ice cream earlier this month, but then brought it over to a friend's house to try it out and the proceeded to accidently forget it in my cooler in my car overnight.... I remembered the next morning and discovered cinnamon soup..... Oh well, I'll try ice cream again in a future challenge. I improvised with Chantilly Cream, which I had left over from icing a cake earlier this week.

Overall, I consider the challenge a success! And I cannot wait to see what the coming month's challenges will be!

Here are the recipes:

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter
plus extra flour for dusting work surface
Mixing the Dough:
Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.
Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)
Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.
Incorporating the Butter:
Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.
Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.
To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.
Making the Turns:
Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).
With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.
Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.
Chilling the Dough:
If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.
The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent
In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice
Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.
(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)
Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.
Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.
Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)
Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)
Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.
Fill and serve.
Spiced Cranberry Apple Filling
1/2 c. 100% Cranberry Juice (NOT cocktail)
200 g sugar, divided
130 g frozen cranberries
1 cinnamon stick

3 medium small granny smith apples
lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
34 g sugar
freshly grated nutmeg

In a sauce pan combine the cranberry juice and 100 g of sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce, being careful not to develop cranberry caramel. Add frozen cranberries to the syrup mixture plus 100 g more sugar an 1 cinnamon stick. Cook until the cranberries are softened. Add more sugar if you prefer a more sweet filling.

Meanwhile, peel and slice the apples. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle with a little lemon juice to prevent browning.

In a larger pot, boil water with a little lemon juice and add the peeled sliced apples. Blanche (you decide how cooked you like them, either with a little crunch or completely soft) and then place into an ice bath to cool. Once cooled slightly, add 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 34 g sugar (more or less to taste, depending on apples), and some freshly grated nutmeg.

Add some of the apple-boiling water to the cranberries if the sauce reduces too much or if you start to get cranberry caramel. {note: and if you happen to drip some of the reduction on your hand while tasting it to make sure you have enough sugar, it WILL blister your hand.... Trust me, I now know from experience....}

Cool both mixtures and then right before assembling, mix some of the cranberry mixture with the apple mixture. This can be done sooner if you do not mind having pink apples from the cranberry color.

Fill the baked and cooled shells. Garnish with Chantilly Cream. Serve immediately!

Chantilly Cream
1 c heavy cream
1 oz Powdered sugar

Chill the ingredients well. Add the cream and then the sugar into the bowl of a heavy duty mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high until medium peaks form. Be careful not to overwhip. Fill pastry bake fitted with star tip and pipe onto the filled vols-au-vents!

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