Tag Archives: Pastry Chef Online

The Great Search Term Round Up: Volume VI

1 Jul

In Which we find ourselves at the end of another month (okay, the beginning), ready to help answer your burning pastry questions.

Yes, it has been Quite the little While since I’ve done a search term round up.  But I have a reason.  Wanna hear?  Okay.  I keep seeing the same search terms over and over again, and frankly, it was getting a little boring.  So just for fun, today I decided to look up the stats on search terms for All Time.  That’s since October 2008.  And here are the Top Ten Search Terms:

  1. quinoa
  2. butter
  3. ice
  4. jack o lantern
  5. creaming method
  6. jackolantern
  7. biscuit method
  8. jack-o-lantern
  9. jack-o-lanterns
  10. cool whip substitute

Apparently, my Typical Readers are cake-making, pumpkin-carving, ancient-grain-eating, cold-fat-loving Cool Whip haters.  At last:  I’ve discovered my niche.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I can add anything to that Top Ten.  Therefore, I am taking the liberty this Independence Day weekend of making my own Top Ten List.  One that more truly reflects PMAT and all for which it stands.

Don’t forget:  I’m here to help.

1.  How do you make Cool Whip from Whipping Cream? Do you see what I have to deal with, people?  It’s a wonder I’m not sniping from a rooftop somewhere.  By the way, mercifully, the answer to that question is you can’t.

2.  Brother Spectacular Chicken There are no words.  Maybe they meant, “Brother, that is one Spectacular Chicken!”  Or maybe Brother Spectacular, from the Order of Poultry, is a chicken.  In that case, it should say Brother Spectacular? Chicken.

3.  Ice cream with apples and caramel If you’re asking, don’t mind if I do.

4.  What items do you need to make a cheese cake? Is this a trick question?  They could be talking about this.  Or this. Confuzzling.

5.  If You Me More So Maybe I not you.  Less so.  Maybe not.  You’re welcome.

6.  White things that float in the air What about them?  make me sneeze?  are from outer space?  are only real in my mind?  mean that I’m at the pillow factory?  I give up.

7.  Are there any salted caramel sorbet recipes? Generally speaking, there is no dairy in sorbet, so you can’t technically make a salted caramel sorbet.  So, no.  But, you could call it ice cream.  Make your caramel.  Add salt to taste.  Add some milk.  Do the egg test.  Add more milk if the egg is floating too high or some corn syrup if the egg is floating too low.  Chill and spin.  Put in face.

8.  Water kitchen Possible responses:  a) Call a plumber.  b) I’m glad you have a boat.  Good for you.  c) No, water plants.

9.  How to make Cool Whip stiff Hit it with some liquid nitrogen.  Then throw it away.

10.  How do you whip whole eggs? Contrary to popular belief, you can whip whole eggs.  And it’s much more stable than just whipped whites because of the lecithin in the yolks.  So, why would you want to whip whole eggs?  1) Sabayon.  Nice!  2) Genoise.  Ditto.

And there you have it.  Happy Heart-of-Summer, everyone.  See you in a few days.

We Have A Winner!

24 Nov
Pastry Chef Online logo

My first book title (whenever I get around to writing it) will be...

Well, it’s the 24th, the day after my birthday.  Yes, it was lovely, thankyouverymuch.  Anyway, as promised, The Impartial Beloved has chosen the Incredibly Lucky Winner of my first co-authoring endeavor, Starting from Scratch.  And the winner is…………………………..Camille, from Croque Camille, for her submission of a)Pastry Chef Offline, with a pithy subtitle (TBD), about freeing Onesself from looking up things all the time and for b)leaving feedback about the new site.  She digs the A Day in the Life page.  If you’re wondering if you’d like to be a pastry chef in a restaurant, read this (she modestly declares).  It’ll give you an idea about how it goes.

If the Choux Fits, submitted by Libby from At the Very Yeast, was a strong contender.  That Libby, she is witty! 

I also got a lot of good feedback including having a FAQ page, perhaps doing a section on Foods I Would Never Willingly Ingest (I’m looking at you, Cool Whip), and pointing out of some (many) Links to Nowhere.

Thank you all for your participation.  With such a good response, I might just have to give away some more stuff at some point…

Camille, I shall be contacting you Shortly to get your address so I can send the book across the Big Water to La France.  Also, so you can let me know if you want a One of a Kind Autographed edition!

The roll-out of Pastry Chef Online is just the first step.  I’ll be tweaking and adding and Tweaking and Adding for the Rest of My Life.  I truly want PCO and PMAT to be resources that you turn to over and over for answers to questions, new ideas or maybe just a laugh or two.  As always, if you ever have any questions or feedback, shoot me an email at pastrychefonline at yahoo dot com, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  You can also join The Forum.  Right now, most of the posts are questions for me, but I’m hoping that one day it will reach Critical Mass and folks will ask each other for help.

Okay, that’s it.

Announcing the New and Improved, Nipped and Tucked, Snazzified Pastry Chef Online. Plus, PMAT’s Inaugural Giveaway!

12 Nov
Pastry Chef Online logo

It took me long enough, but here it is! Introducing, the re-worked Pastry Chef Online!

Friends, here it is.  All the sweating, the work, the blisters-on-my-fingers.  All of the Amazing Linda’s work–long hours, making nice on the crazy woman (that would be Me), the pulling-out-of-hair.  As an aside, yesterday I offered to have made the Best Wig Ever for the Amazing Linda.  She chose hot pink.  Um, back to the announcement.  At long last, I present to you the New and Improved, Stronger/Faster/Better, Easily Navigable Pastry Chef Online!……………………..chirp, chirp………………………………..cricket, cricket……………………..Oh, what?  Some of you didn’t even know that there was an Old and Unimproved, Weaker/Slower/Worse, Unnavigable Pastry Chef Online?  Well, there was, and it’s prolly just as well that you didn’t know about it, because it was All That Stuff. 

Now, it’s lovely.  The Amazing Linda, from Linda Braun Graphic and Web Design, worked with crazy me for Ever So Long to pull this together.  She designed the keen logo and the look of the site.  I said something vague about having the site look like a ’57 Cadillac or something.  I’m sure she Rolled Her Eyes heavenward, but apparently she understood, because I love it!  Please do go over and take a little tour.  I’m not big on recipes, as you know, but there are plenty there to get you started.   You’ll find discussions of mixing methods and ingredient function and a great segment called Restaurant Style in the Intermediate/Advanced section.  Plus, there’s a section called Baking Essentials with my recommendations for cook books, gadgets, appliances and ingredients.  There’s also a Special Section called “Don’t Waste Your Money.” 

PCO, like PMAT, is a work in progress, so I’ll often be adding pages–more recipes, more discussions, more categories (like maybe laminated doughs, to start), more recommendations.   Tell me what you’re interested in, and I’ll add it to the site.  As long as it has to do with Pastry Stuff.  Just so we’re clear, I’m not going to add a page about how to shape a surfboard or how to install a doggie door.  I’m just not. 

Now, in Honor and Celebration of the relaunch of Pastry Chef Online, I’m giving away a copy of the keen cook book, Starting from Scratch, of which I am a co-author.  The book is currently all wrapped up in plastic and cardboard, but the lucky winner need but Say the Word, and I’ll wrest it from its wrappings and write a Suitable Inscription on the inside cover.  Here’s all you have to do:  Leave some feedback about the New and Improved Pastry Chef Online–what you like, what you don’t like, what you wish you could see.  Plus, come up with a title for my first cook book.  No, I haven’t written it yet, but a title is a good place to start.  The Beloved will pick what he considers to be The Best Title from all the entries, and that person will win the book!  No, it’s not an objective, random-number-generator way to choose a winner, but it’s my blog.  So there.

If you’d like more than one chance to win, just make separate additional comments, each with some feedback on the site and a Proposed Book Title.  I’ll let The Beloved look at all the entries Sans Identifying Names, etc, and he’ll choose his favorite.  He probably won’t accept bribes, but do what you can.

Oh, you can enter between now and my birthday, November 23.  Enter as many times as you like.  Tell your family and friends.  Alert the media.

Huge thank yous to all of you for hanging out at PMAT.  I hope you find PCO as comfortable a hang-out.  If you want, I also have a forum that you can get to from the website, in the sidebar over there, and also from right here.

To recap:  New site=Yay!  Giveaway=Starting from Scratch–signed, if you’d like. Win by submitting a comment with feedback on the new site and a title for my first cook book.  Enter=Often.  Deadline=November 23.  I’ll announce the Incredibly Lucky Winner on November 24.

Updates from the Front Lines

12 Oct

Friends, I have missed you.  Now, I’m back(ish), so I want to let everyone know what’s going on in the land of PMAT and PCO and Life in General.

1)If someone offers you free kittens, run away.  Quickly.  It’s a very good thing that we love them and don’t mind eating ramen noodles and sand.

2)I finished all my linking stuff.  Hooray!  I will now quietly accept all of your Congratulations………….Thanks.  My web guru is feverishly working to get Pastry Chef Online online in its New and Improved Form.  I’m pretty excited, and I hope everyone will like the new look.

3)I’m a co-author!  I contributed some material to my friend Drew’s new book, From Scratch, and he introduced me on his wonderful blog, How to Cook Like Your GrandmotherGo see!  When the book is Out, there’ll be a link over here if you’d like to pick up a copy.  I think you should, of course, and not just ’cause I wrote some of it.  It’s a comprehensive guide to the basics.  I think you’ll enjoy it.  Hats off to Drew for all his hard work in herding the Unruly Contributors and editing like a Champ.

4)I made another iteration of Van Halen Pound Cake a few days ago for Uncle Ray‘s 93rd birthday Celebration.  I call it “Cinnamon Cream Pound Cake.”  On account of it has about 3/4teaspoon of cinnamon and a cup of lightly whipped cream.  It was G.U.D. Good.  You should probably go ahead and make one now.  Use 3 sticks of butter and 2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla plus the cinnamon and the cream–and if you have some, use some brown sugar along with the white for a total of 3 cups or 19 oz.  Everything else is the same.  I’m considering making it with the two-stage method at some point, although if it were any more tender than it already is, it might Kill Me with Deliciousness.

5)Since I last saw you all, my Best Friend Who I’ve Never Met, Linda, has turned into a friend In Real Life.  How cool is that when that happens?  Linda is a wonderful pastry chef who works at a keen country club in Lynchburg, VA.  She came down to stay with us a couple of weeks ago, and we had the Best Time Ever.  We laughed and talked and ate and drank Adult Beverages and had a fire in the fire pit and took a nap on Saturday afternoon.  Not together, but still.  I also gave her a Blogging Lesson, and I expect her to write Amazingly Informative Posts.  Here’s her blog (I don’t think there are any posts yet, though):  The Accidental Pastry Chef.  Do check back occasionally, because you won’t be disappointed.  She really knows here stuff and is one of the most creative and funny people I know.

And now, I’m off to talk to my web person so I can let everyone know What’s Happening with the Site.  Before I go, here are some videos for your Enjoyment.  You’re welcome.This one is for my mom–she adores Brian May.

Here’s one of Adam singing One Republic’s Come Home.  Lovely.

And here’s my boy singing Time for Miracles.  Yay!

An Unconventional Apple Pie for Thanksgiving

14 Nov
Make this "regular" dessert special for the holidays.

Make this regular dessert special for Thanksgiving.

I’m on a caramel kick, now, y’all.  I love chocolate, but as often as not, I’ll choose caramel instead.  I find it very appropriate for the season, too.  It’s the rich amber of autumn and carries the faint bitter edge of burning leaves in the back of the throat.  It is the perfect fall flavor.  Disagree?  By all means, leave a comment.

I was thinking of an easy but arresting spin on apple pie as a Thanksgiving dessert.  Again, no recipe required.  If you slice and caramelize the fruit (see the Tarte Tatin post), you can serve it over some rich vanilla ice cream.  Use a rolling pin to roll a sheet of thawed store-bought puff pastry in cinnamon sugar–both sides.  Cut rounds, or even leaf shapes and bake until golden brown and puffed.  Perch your decorative “crust” atop the apples and serve with whipped creme fraiche sweetened with some brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon.  Oh, yum!  It has the elements of apple pie a la mode:  crust, filling and ice cream, but it’s presented in a new way.  Feeling really fancy?  Add some chopped candied nuts sprinkled on top.

Caramel for Grown-Ups, Dessert Version

12 Nov

Dark, grown-up caramel sauce

Dark, grown-up caramel sauce

Sorry if you weren’t ready for medium rare venison staring you in the face yesterday.  I am a champion of caramel, though, making the point that caramel is versatile.  Now, back to more traditional caramel–in desserts.  Very basic caramel sauce is made with about 2 parts caramelized sugar to 1 part cream.  Grow it up a little by adding salt, a little at a time, until it is perfect.

The color at which you decide the caramel is “done” has a direct effect on the resulting sauce.  I find that caramelized sugar that is lighter in color than, say, maple syrup, is too light and will result in a fairly bland and overly sweet caramel sauce.  The lighter the caramel, the more sweet and less complex the flavor.  I stop the caramelization process after the sugar has begun to smoke a little bit.  I know it’s ready when it starts to burn my eyes.  Of course, this takes some practice, so caramelize a little sugar at a time and experiment with arresting the cooking process when the sugar is anywhere from light honey to mahogany in color.  And how to arrest the cooking process?  Pour in your cream.  Make sure that your pot is much larger than you think you need, that it has a heavy bottom and that you stir with a long-handled heat resistant spoon, because the sugar will hiss and spatter and boil up in an alarming manner when you add the cream.

And by the way, you don’t have to add cream.  I’ve made caramel sauces with red wine and even stout.  I talked about using stock yesterday, but I’m trying to stick with desserts today.  Red wine caramel is a grown-up delight.  Make it in the same proportions–2 parts caramelized sugar to 1 part wine.  Flavor it with some salt, a splash of vanilla and maybe a little pat of butter.  Red wine caramel on poached pears, anyone?

And what about you–any experience with grown-up caramel?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Caramel: It’s Not Just For Dessert Anymore.

11 Nov
Is your mouth watering yet?

Is your mouth watering yet?

The word caramel might conjure up sticky-sweet golden, chewy caramel apples, or Sugar Daddies, or caramel sauce over ice cream.  And, you’d be right–those things are caramel.  I’m here to talk about grown up caramel.  Dark, just-this-side-of-bitter, not-too-sweet, deeply complex grown-up caramel.

Don’t get me wrong–“kid caramel” has its place.  I’d never turn down a gooey caramel/pecan/milk chocolate confection.  You know the ones that are named for a reptile?  I’m also first in line for the sweet cream caramel sauce at the ice cream bar.  But sometimes, the adult in you cries out for an adult caramel.  One that is less sweet.  One that you can roll around on your tongue like a fine wine, enjoying the complex flavors.

How about a caramel to go with a savory dish?  I know this is a pastry site, but consider the idea for a moment–deeply caramelized sugar mixed with a rich stock to go with deeply caramelized meat.  How fantastic would that be?!  I’m thinking with game, such as venison.  Or maybe with duck, pheasant or some other dark meat poultry.  Here’s what I’d do. I’d take the sugar to a mahogany caramel and then pour in a stock that is complementary to the meat–1:1 ratio of caramel to stock.  Add in some dried or tart fresh fruit (think cranberry) as a foil to the sweet meat.  Ooh!  What about using some dried apples to play up an adult “caramel apple” and serve it over pork?!  Make sure there’s plenty of salt and pepper and complementary herbs.  Reduce the sauce until syrupy.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Up next, adult caramel in the dessert world…So, what are your thoughts?  Ever considered caramel for dinner?  Ever tried it?

Know Your Fat! (Part, the Third)

10 Nov
Butter melting on the stove.

Butter melting on the stove.

As I start this, I’m hoping that three parts will be enough.  There is, after all, more to baking than just fat.  But fat is such a critical ingredient that I feel like I need to take the time to explain it.  Butter is by far my favorite fat to use in baking.  It’s a natural product, it melts in your mouth.  It is rich, and it tastes good.  Plus, it is a very versatile ingredient.  You can use it at so many different temperatures–from cutting in cold butter to make tender biscuits to rubbing in room temperature butter to make a tender cookie to melting some butter into a ganache for added richness to brushing melted butter onto bread before baking for a soft rich crust.  See how long that sentence is?  That’s at least how useful butter is in the bakeshop!

Frozen butter is hard and splinters when you cut it.  Refrigerated butter is firm.  Cool butter (65-70 degrees) is plastic, malleable and extensible.  Warmer room temp butter (75-85 degrees) is very soft but still emulsified, and above 95 degrees, butter melts.  As soon as it hits 212 degrees, it sizzles and bubbles–that’s the water evaporating from the pan.  When the butter stops sizzling, that’s when you know all the water is gone.  Separate the milk solids at this point, and you’ve got clarified butter, or ghee, the Indian word for it.

Want to go farther?  Melt the butter and let the water boil out.  The next time it starts sizzling, it’s because the milk solids are frying in the butterfat.  Leave it alone, and watch the butter carefully, removing it from the heat when the solids are toasty and brown and straining out the solids, and you’ll have buerre noisette, or nutty and wonderful brown butter.

Use chilled (or even frozen) butter to make a flaky pie crust.  Use cool butter to cream together with sugar for cookies and cakes.  Use very soft butter to brush into pans or to mix with cinnamon and sugar for cinnamon rolls.  Use melted butter to brush onto bread–before or after baking.  Use clarified butter or buerre noisette in genoise and madeleines.  Buerre noisette is one of the main ingredients in the buttery-rich financier.  Oh, but you must make these.  They are incredibly rich (hence the name), but my are they tasty!

Please take a look at The Creaming Method for a discussion of creaming for cookies versus creaming for cakes.  It is riveting reading and good information.

Know Your Fat! (Part Deux)

6 Nov
That's what I'm talkin' about!

That is what I'm talkin' about!

When last we spoke, I talked just a bit about butter, shortening, lard and oil as fats used in baking.  Not only do all four of these products look, taste and smell different, they also behave differently in baked goods.

For the purposes of a post of reasonable length, and also because oil and lard are used less frequently than are butter and shortening, let’s just look at those two and the way substituting one for the other can effect a final product.

As I said in Part 1, butter has some water in it, along with some milk solids.  It is very firm under refrigeration but is nice and plastic at about 68 degrees, F.  Once it starts to melt, it melts very quickly.  Shortening, on the other hand, is 100% hydrogenated vegetable fat.  It behaves about the same at refrigeration temperatures as it does at cool room temperature.  It begins to melt at a slightly higher temperature than butter, and it tends to melt more slowly.

So what?  Well, let’s say you’re making some oatmeal cookies.  You make 1/2 with butter and 1/2 with shortening.  The ones you make with the butter will be crisper at the edges and a little chewy, will spread a fair bit and will be nicely browned.  The ones you make with the shortening will be softer and puffier, a bit lighter in color, and they won’t spread as much.

This is why: the water in the butter mixes with the flour in the recipe, forming some gluten.  Gluten=chewy cookie.  The butter melts to a thin liquid quickly.  Melted fat=lots of spread=thin cookie.  The milk solids brown in the oven.  Browned milk solids=well, you know, brown cookies.

Since there is no water in the shortening to mix with the flour, there won’t be any gluten development, and you’ll get a more tender cookie.  Since the shortening melts at a higher temperature and more slowly than butter, the cookies will tend to hold their shape and be puffy, rather than thin.  No milk solids to brown=lighter cookies.

I’m not a fan of shortening, although if you want to refrigerate your cookies, they won’t get too hard if you’ve made them with shortening.  I like the way butter tastes.  The way it behaves is part of its charm.  Knowing how it behaves gives us some power to make it behave the way we want.

If you use all-butter but don’t want a thin cookie, refrigerate the dough before baking, and make sure you’re baking on a cool cookie sheet.  If you have to re-use a sheet, make sure you let it cool before placing more dough.  If you want a thinner cookie, have your dough closer to room temperature.  If you’re portioning your cookies with a disher, make sure to press down on the balls to flatten them a bit.  They’ll spread more evenly if you do.

I thought two parts was enough.  But I have ideas.  Part Trois coming up later!  Don’t be shy–leave a comment.  Butter or shortening?  Cookies or cake?  Whatever is on your mind (within reason)!

Know Your Fat! (Part 1)

5 Nov
Something to sink your teeth into...

Something to sink your teeth into...

As far as I am concerned, fat is essential, both in cooking and in baking.  Even an extremely fit person has maybe 5% body fat, so I am comfortable with this statement:-)  Fat does amazing things in foods:  it is a medium for heat transfer, as in deep-frying, but it also carries flavors, add depth and richness to a dish and assists in the rise of baked goods (see:  creaming method)

What type of fat you use can significantly effect the flavor and final texture of your baked good.  Here is an abbreviated fat primer for your enjoyment:

Butter:  I will say it–I love butter.  Butter is a natural product and contains fewer trans-fats than margarine.  But, I’ll get down off of that soapbox before I get good and riled up.  Butter is a solid at room temperature.  By USDA standard, butter contains at least 80% butterfat.  The remaining 20% or so is composed of milk solids and water.  It has a relatively low melting point, and once it starts to melt, it melts quickly.

Lard:  Not used so much in cooking these days, our grandmothers used lard for everything from frying chicken to making pie crusts.  It has a crystalline fat structure that makes it perfect for making a the flakiest pie crust ever.  Lard is 100% fat and should have a clean, fairly neutral flavor.

Shortening:  Shortening is a man-make hydrogenated fat that is 100% fat.  It is a solid at room temperature, and it melts fairly slowly at temperatures somewhat higher than butter.

Cooking Oil:  Is comprised of 100% fat and is liquid at room temperature.  Depending on the oil, it may or may not solidify or thicken under refrigeration and it may or may not contain saturated fat.

And now we conclude this portion of Know Your Fat!  Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we discuss the pros and cons of using each kind of fat in the pastry kitchen.  Please weigh in (thank you–I’ll be here all week)!  What’s your favorite fat?  Or do you try and stay away from all of it?  I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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