Tag Archives: recipes

Why I Do What I Do

19 Sep
cranberry ketchup

Hello, thick-luscious-tangy-umami-wonderful cranberry ketchup that-I-made-up-all-by-myself. This would never have happened before I had my food revelation.

*Voting is now open through Thursday, September 23.  To vote pour moi, click here.  Just scroll on down to the “P’s” until you get to Pastry Methods and Techniques.  Then, click the cute little gray heart to turn it red for me!

Oh, but you should have seen me when I first decided I wanted to cook and bake.  I was a trembling little thing, sweating with apprehension as I approached a recipe.  Here’s how it went:

  1. I would decide that I needed to cook a Dish of Some Sort
  2. I would pour through my cookbooks, trying to find the Perfect Recipe.
  3. I’d painstakingly copy said recipe onto a wee sheet of paper.
  4. Paper clutched in sweating hand, I’d head out to the grocery store.
  5. I’d wander up and down every aisle, searching for the Mandated Ingredients, checking them off (!) as I found them and placing them reverently in my cart.
  6. Having bought Said Items, I’d go home and follow my recipe blindly.
  7. Usually, and through no fault of my own, my Dish was generally edible, and even quite tasty.
  8. I’d breathe a sigh of relief and accept the Kudos of the Masses.

I went along for quite awhile thinking that my Seven Step Process was just the way it was.  That’s how to cook.  Right?

Wrong.  I was so wrong.

I didn’t realize this at first, of course.  It took years of obsessively buying and reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows on PBS, experimenting on my own, and finally going to culinary school for baking and pastry before I gradually came to the conclusion that nobody really wants us to learn to cook.  Sure, they want us to follow their recipes and then give them full credit when serving to a crowd–“These are She-She-Frou-Fee’s Brownies!” “Why,yes, isn’t it wonderful? It’s Monsieur Hoo Ha’s rack of yak.”

Here’s what I have come to understand over the years, and here’s what I want to share with you, dear readers.  And not just share it, I really want you to internalize it:  Recipes are Tyrannical.  I’ve written about it at great length on many occasions, but it’s impossible to say this too frequently:  a recipe isn’t the Word of God Writ Upon a Stone Tablet.  It’s just a list of ingredients married to a list of techniques.  The most important part is the techniques.  Where recipes fall down, and where I pick up, is in explaining that most of the techniques described are applicable to a wide range of dishes.  Yup, recipes tell us what to cook and how to cook the particular dish described in the recipe, but I walk you through the techniques, explain them in detail (some might say excruciating detail), and help you internalize the idea that once you’ve learned the techniques, you can apply them to many lists of ingredients.

Nutella cheesecake

Learn the Rules of Cheesecake, and this can be yours whenever you want it!

‘Member back up in the list at the top where I said I’d blindly follow my recipe?  Well, recipes tend to keep us in the dark and effectively blind by allowing us to assume that Recipe is Law and must be followed.  Blindly.  New cooks, especially, fall into this trap, and the myth is perpetuated by the majority of food magazines and cooking shows through omission.  It’s not that they are all telling you, “this is the only way to make Dish X.” It’s that they’re not telling you that it isn’t the only way to make Dish X.  So, we cook or bake with our lights out, relying on the road map of the recipe to lead us to our destination without really seeing where we’re going.  But, if I can show you that it’s the technique part of the recipe that’s the most important part, your lights will come on and you’ll be able to see your way to your destination before you even start cooking.  Glory, Hallelujah.

If the recipe rules start off “cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy,” I want you to know that the recipe is describing the creaming method.  I also want you to know how to perform the creaming method from start to finish without having to keep referring to your cookbook.  Furthermore, I’d like you to know that you can probably use the Two-Stage Method instead, if you’re feeling scrappy. I want you to be able to read through the technique portion of a complicated recipe for Gateau St. Honore and know that you’ll be rolling and folding in butter to make puff pastry, bringing some ingredients to a boil and then adding flour and beating in eggs to make pate a choux and making a starch-thickened custard (pastry cream) for the filling.  The rest is just assembly, a craft project.

I am absolutely passionate about this.  I share my knowledge freely, from how and why to do the Sneaky Egg Test to The Right Way to Whip Cream.  I try to answer all questions, even down to taking a look at the way folks find me in my Great Search Term Round Up posts.  Sometimes, I give out certificates, and sometimes I make videos.  I also try to knock the snobbery right out of cooking in as many ways as I can.

Can a Suc Puzzle Sugar

Want the low-down on what you need--and don't need--to be a better baker? I'm here to help.

Baking and cooking should be fun.  Unfortunately, most folks get stuck in “fearful,” leaving them unable to advance to “fun.”  If I can make you laugh while you’re learning, that might just be the spoonful of sugar you need.

My wee blog might won’t win any awards–yet–for Most Visited, but it is the Next Big Thing.  I’m not your typical food blogger.  I don’t take the most mouth-watering photographs.  I don’t even always rely on my own photos.  My goal isn’t necessarily to make you drool (although I give myself a Gold Star if I do), but to give you the confidence to go and make your own family and/or guests drool.  I don’t believe in secret recipes.  I believe in cooking and baking with real ingredients, and I enjoy Ridiculing fake food I hate Cool Whip with the burning passion of a thousand suns.  I believe in laughter.  I believe in knowledge. I believe in this blog.

If you believe in this blog, please vote for Pastry Methods and Techniques in Project Food Blog.  Take a look at my Contestant Profile.  You can also follow me on twitter, friend me on facebook and/or subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you know when my challenge posts are up.  Here are the challenges and the dates for voting:

  • Challenge #1:  Ready, Set, Blog!September 20-23
  • Challenge #2:  The Classics September 27-3
  • Challenge #3:  Discovery Dinner Party October 4-7
  • Challenge #4:  Picture Perfect October 11-14
  • Challenge #5:  Recipe Remix October 18-21
  • Challenge #6:  Road Trip!October 25-28
  • Challenge #7:  Video 411 November 8-11
  • Challenge #8:  Piece of Cake November 15-18
  • Challenge #9:  You’re the Critic November 28-December 2
  • Challenge #10:  The Final Post December 6-9

Thank you, friends.

The Tyranny of the Recipe

25 Mar
She's hiding something, she is.

She's hiding something, she is.

How many times have you heard yourself say, “I need to find a recipe for (fill in the blank).” There should be a question mark in there somewhere, but I don’t know where to put it.  Alas.  Remember waaay back when we talked about the Road to Automaticity?  I think that, when we say “I need to find a recipe for…” we have pretty much just started out on our journey.  A recipe is safe.  It provides us with structure:  lists of interesting ingredients, cooking times, temperature settings, Rules for Success and a description of the End Product.  That’s all well and good, but recipes maintain a Suspicious Silence when it comes to teaching us how to cook.

What a recipe really is is a marriage of an ingredient list to a set of techniques and procedures.  Except, recipes don’t tell us that.  No, they just smile a mysterious, small smile.  They don’t allow us to generalize, or rather they hope we’ll generalize on our own, even though we are sometimes Nervous in the kitchen.  And nervous folks don’t generalize very well.

Go look at your favorite cookbook right now.  Look at the section on cakes.  The ingredient lists change at least a little for every cake, sometimes more and sometimes less.  There might be some cocoa powder in one or maybe some spices and diced fruit in one.  Maybe the fat is butter; maybe it’s shortening or even oil.  Maybe one is made with 3 eggs, one with 4 eggs and one with nothing but whites.  Maybe the liquid is water or whole milk or sour cream.  If you look past all the minor differences, though, almost all will contain the Basic Four:  flour, fat, sugar and eggs.

Now, look at the procedure section of the recipes.  Repetitious, repetitious, repetitious.  I bet that most of them start in one of two ways:  1)”Cream together fat and sugar until light and fluffy.” or 2)”Combine dry ingredients, including sugar, softened butter, eggs and 1/4 of the milk and beat for two minutes.”  You might have a couple in there that start with “Whip egg whites and sugar to medium-stiff peaks.” Rather than taking the time to teach you the mixing methods at the beginning of the book, the cookbook author has chosen to repeat the same instructions with every single cake.  Granted, this is partly a product of our busy lifestyle.  It is kind of nice to have the rules printed up right underneath the ingredient list, and I know many people who wouldn’t buy a cookbook that wasn’t set up like that.

But friends, the time for change has come.  How great would it be to learn the mixing methods and then just apply them to ingredient lists?  This applies to “hot side” cooking as well.  Do we really need cookbooks dedicated to pizza?  Aren’t we creative enough to come up with cool combinations of toppings?  If we know how to make a basic dough (or can buy some from the local pizza joint), and we know how to make a sauce, and we know how to grate cheese and Place Toppings Attractively, isn’t that really all we need to know?

Here’s another thing that makes me just a little crazy.  The folks who have gotten past the “I need to find a recipe for (fill in the blank)” generally move to this step:  “I have x,y and z in the fridge.  What can I make with them?”  That’s wonderful, but then where do they end up?  At a recipe search site, looking for recipes that contain said ingredients x,z and z.  Once they have the recipe in hand, they’re catapulted back to being dependent upon the recipe.  And it just smiles its little smile, because it just knew that they’d be back.

I contend that, if you pay close attention to the procedure sections of recipes, you’ll start to see patterns of preparation.  For example, if the first four ingredients on your ingredient list are carrots, onions, celery and oil, it’s a safe bet that in Step 1 of the procedure section, you’ll be dicing up the veggies, 2 parts onion to 1 part each of carrot and celery and sauteing them up in the oil.

I think it’s possible to move beyond “I need to find a recipe,” and “Can I find a recipe that uses these items?” and on to “Oooh, I have x, y and z in the fridge.  I know the technique(s) necessary to make them into dinner!”  It’s not necessarily an easy leap, especially with FN and others droning on about where you can find the recipe for this, that or the other.  But it is a leap that you can make; it’s one that I made, partly because I was forced to by my job.  Let me tell you that after a brief period of discomfiture, just breaking down and learning the techniques was ultimately liberating.

Next time you come across a really great sounding recipe, you’ll know why it’s smiling a Mona Lisa Smile–it’s hiding something from you.  Don’t throw it away in disgust, though.  Study it and make it give up its secrets.  It might take you an extra few minutes, but you will come away understanding the techniques and procedures used in creating that dish and can now generalize it to other lists of ingredients.

So, a challenge to you all:  go out into the Hinternet and find a fancy-schmancy recipe, one that seems confounding but tasty.  Send me the link, and I’ll break it down for you, live on the air tomorrow.  If I don’t get any takers, I’ll go out and find my own Mona Lisa and interrogate her.

Pastry Gems: Pate de Fruits

20 Jan
multi-colored gems that you can eat.

Pate de fruits: multi-colored gems that you can eat.

You say it “pat de fwee” (more or less).  Try and say it with a French accent, otherwise, you’ll sound like Daffy Duck.  Pate de fruits is French for fruit paste.  See, that’s why we so often stick with the French names.  Pate de fruits sounds refined and mysterious.  Fruit paste sounds pedestrian and sort of like a mistake.

If you’ve not had pate de fruits before, let me tell you what they are not.  They are not orange slices, gummy bears, gummy worms, gummy Life Savers or any of those other gummy-type, overly sweetened, artificially flavored odd chewy candies.  No, my friends, pate de fruits are little jewels of concentrated fruit flavor.  When made correctly, the texture when you bite into one is initial resistance followed by a smooth bite–almost like biting into a smooth chocolate truffle.  They are the perfect balance of fruity tartness and sweetness.  The magic of making pate de fruits is making sure you have just the right amount of thickening power, in the form of pectin, to let them set up into slick, slice-able jewel-toned tiles of fruit flavor without overdoing it and ending up with something a little chewy.

The basic recipe is pretty straightforward.  The trick is in knowing the perfect amount of pectin to use for each kind of fruit.  Since most fruit contains pectin at different concentrations, the amount you must add differs for most types of fruit.  Professional pastry chefs have access to recipes that are specifically formulated for each type of fruit puree a particular manufacturer sells.  I have one of these magical sheets at my disposal, and I am going to share some of that magic with you now.  No need to thank me.

Before I let you in on the secrets, let me just say that, while it’s not hard to make pate de fruits, it’s not really easy, either. There is a lot of stirring and cooking of thick, viscous, bubbling molten fruit and sugar.  I’ve gotten some lovely burns from exuberantly burbling pre-pate-de-fruits, so if you’re going to make some, be careful and be prepared for it to take quite awhile–maybe up to 45 minutes to an hour of stirring.

This magical list of recipes is based on purees produced by Boiron.  They are available on the web from Canelle Specialty Foods, and I would recommend you purchase some since you might not get the desired results if you use a different puree.  There are recipes out there formulated to work with home ingredients, so if you’d rather try one of those recipes, it won’t hurt my feelings.

Let’s make raspberry:

  • 1000 g. Boiron raspberry puree (1 container)
  • 1140 g. sugar
  • 200 g. corn syrup
  • 15 g. citric acid diluted in 15 g. water (or 15 g. lemon juice)
  • 20 g. powdered pectin

Here’s what you do:

–>Mix about 100 g. of sugar with the pectin.  Whisk them together really well.  This helps keep your pate de fruits from having pectin globs in it.  So do it.

–>Heat the puree to 120 degrees. F.

–>Whisk and whisk, and add the pectin/sugar mixture.  Bring to a boil and let boil one minute.

–>Add the corn syrup and the rest of the sugar.  Cook to 223 degrees, F.  This could take a very long time.  Your thermometer will read 218, and you’ll think, “Oh, I’m almost there!”  Wipe that grin off your face; this is going to take some time, so settle in and make sure you’re wearing long sleeves.

–>Stir in the citric acid/water mixture or the lemon juice.  Cook one more minute.

–>Pour into a half-sheet pan which you have lined with heavy duty plastic wrap.  Let set up at room temperature until cool and sliceable.  This could take a few hours.  Once firm, slice them into small squares, or cut out fun shapes with tiny cookie cutters.  Roll them in granulated sugar.  For “Sourpatch” pate de fruits, mix a little citric acid in with the sugar (to taste) and roll them in that mixture.

Pate de fruits…..sigh.  I hate those orange slices.  These are nothing like those.  Two or three along with some short bread or langues du chat make a perfect little treat after a big meal.  We used to present them with the check, in place of that Andes mint you usually get out at restaurants.

Oh, the other flavors:  I have recipes for everything from apricot to white peach to quince to kiwi.  If you’d like to make some of your very own pate de fruits, email me with the flavor you’d like to make.  If I have that formula on my magical list, I’ll send it your way.

PS A lovely person from Colville Street Patisserie just let me know that the Boiron folks are now making these formulas available on their website!  Yay!  They aren’t exactly like the ones I have, but then again, mine are a little older.  I’m still happy to send a few formulas your way, but the full range is available here.   To get the PdF formulas, click on confectioners.  Don’t stop there, though.  Click on any–or all–of the four .pdf files to learn all sorts of wonderful formulas for everything to fruit mousse to fruit ice creams to fruit ganache.  Now, go play!  You’re welcome.

It Has All Come Down To This: Fresh Bread

9 Jan
Whole Wheat Bread, brought to you, in part, by our microscopic buddies, S. Cerevisiae.

Whole Wheat Bread, brought to you, in part, by our microscopic buddies, S. Cerevisiae.

Do you guys remember Mr. Retehtey from yesterday?  Before the great S. cerevisiae visited his humble dough, he made his bread (crackers) with three basic ingredients:  flour, salt and water.  And then, there were four.  To this day, wonderful breads are made with just these four ingredients.

I’m going to let my friend, The Reluctant Gourmet, teach you how to make a basic white bread.  Go check out his Basic Bread Recipe.  Plus, there is a link to all sorts of bread information.  This is good stuff, so go check it out.  When you come back, I’ll tell you aaalll about my bread recipe.  It has lots of ingredients, but the proportion of liquid to dry is about the same as the basic recipe.  You’ll be able to tell that they are related.

Jenni’s Bread–makes 2 large loaves (9X5)

This makes 2 large loaves.  If your mixer only holds 4 1/2-5 quarts, you’ll have to make it by hand, or halve the recipe and only make one loaf.

Be not intimidated by the long list of ingredients.  Leave out the corn flour, just add in an extra 3 oz. bread flour or whole wheat flour.  Ditto for the oats and the wheat germ.  The bran won’t soak up any liquid, so you can just leave that out altogether without making any other adjustments.  You can even use all whole wheat flour.  Your loaf will be a little denser, but it will still be wonderful.  I put all these different ingredients in the bread for nutritional value and also for flavor and texture.  Total dry ingredients=39 oz. or roughly 2 1/2 pounds.  Total liquid is roughly 1 1/2 pounds.

  • 15 oz. water
  • 5 oz. milk, scalded and cooled to warm
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 16 oz. whole wheat flour
  • 3 oz. corn flour
  • 2 oz. oatmeal (no, not cooked with cinnamon and raisins)
  • 1 oz. wheat germ
  • 1 oz. wheat bran
  • 1 TBSP+1 tsp salt
  • 3 oz. melted butter
  • about 1 pound bread flour

In the bowl from your stand mixer, stir together water, milk, honey, yeast, whole wheat flour, corn flour, oats, wheat germ and wheat bran.  Stir it really well.  You will have a thick batter.  Cover this and let it sit for at least thirty minutes and up to two hours.  This is a sponge.  I take this extra step to make sure that all the ingredients get good and hydrated and softened and so the yeast have a chance to start doing their rising thing without a ton of weight pressing down on them, and without any ingredients that would curb their growth (salt, fat). That was a long sentence.  I apologize.  (You can make any bread recipe with a sponge.  Just stir together everything but the salt, fat and about 1/2 the flour.  Let it burble away before completing the recipe).  Right then; on we go.

Once the sponge is looking a bit puffy and bubbly, add in the salt, melted butter and about 12 oz. of the bread flour.  On low speed, let the dough hook bring the dough together.  If the dough looks very gooey and lots is sticking in the bottom of the mixer bowl, add a bit more of the reserved bread flour.  Feel your dough.  You want a soft-ish, slightly sticky dough.  Dry dough equals dense, dumb bread.  Err on the side of a little too wet rather than too dry.  Once the dough is the Perfect Texture, let the mixer knead it for 6-8 minutes.

Take the dough out of the mixer, and follow The Reluctant Gourmet’s steps for proofing, shaping, rising and baking.

I let this bread cool completely and then slice it in 1/3″ slices.  I wrap it well and freeze it.  We take it out one serving at a time.  It’s okay to put frozen bread in the toaster. After it thaws, it will toast up just fine.  It’s also okay to make a sandwich on frozen bread.  It will thaw and taste completely fresh.  I promise.

I am anticipating a couple of questions.  Make that three:

1) Why so much honey?  The yeast can’t eat all of that! True.  I like my bread to be a little sweet.  Plus, the honey is hygroscopic.  It draws water to it even more powerfully than plain old sugar.  It helps to keep the bread from going stale.

2) Why do you scald the milk? There is some sort of enzyme in milk that impedes rising.  It’s even in powdered milk.  Scalding inactivates this enzyme so the bread will rise nicely.

3)Why milk plus water? I made this bread with all milk one time.  It was much sweeter than I wanted just for a sandwich bread.  Yeast doesn’t eat lactose, so those milk sugars stay in the bread.  Make it with all milk and knead in some raisins for a killer breakfast bread.  No, I don’t know if yeast are lactose intolerant or if they’re just picky eaters.

Relax; have fun baking.  Enjoy the bread, and don’t forget to thank the yeast.

The Case for Pastry Methods and Techniques

26 Oct
Limitless Possibilities

Limitless Possibilities

So, hello there, and welcome to my blog!  I also have a delightful and informative website all about baking and pastry:  Pastry Chef Online.  It needs a little love, and I am working on it, but in the meantime, here I am!  I just read on the lovely WordPress site that they alone host almost 4.5 million blogs! That only covers their corner of the blogosphere–there are TypePad folks, Live Journal folks, Blogger folks and on and on.  So, what makes this blog stand out from the crowd?

Here’s my angle:  I can’t tell you how many times people have asked for recipes for this, that or the other cake, bread or pie.  While I am happy to send someone a recipe, it brings to mind the old Chinese proverb:  “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for the rest of his life.”  If I hand you a recipe, I might as well have handed you a fish.  If, on the other hand, I teach you a method, I have taught you to fish. In a manner of speaking, that is.

If I give you a recipe for peach pie filling, you might run off to the farmer’s market and rocket past all the beautiful blueberries, or blackberries, or snozzberries.  Shopping for ingredients for a recipe is like shopping with blinders on.  You’ll pass by all the possibilities in search of peaches.  Must. Find. Peaches.  Do not.  Deviate.  From Plan.  But if I can teach you an easy method for putting together a pie filling that is foolproof, will always taste good and is very easy to do, don’t you think you’d be excited to get in the kitchen and experiment with whatever fruit(s) looked good at the farmer’s market that day?  With sound methods and techniques and knowledge of ingredient function under our belts, the world is our oyster.  Um, dessert buffet.  Stay tuned for all the tips and tricks, methods and techniques you’ll need to help you feel confident in the kitchen.

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