Monday, October 29, 2007
Some people can not live without bread. I am not one of them. You will rarely see me eating bread except at a restaurant. During the bread section at pastry school, 80% of the products which I brought home were desperately given to my sister, my in-laws, my in-law's in-laws and whomever else because my rate of consumption was too slow and my freezer was too small. My appreciation for bread making and the baker has certainly grown exponentially since pastry school.
Making bread by hand (no bread machines, no KitchenAids) is very satisfying and I do not do it often enough; however, since obtaining a block of fresh yeast recently, my interest in baking bread has been rekindled. I prefer using fresh yeast but it is quite challenging to find so I resorted to asking a local bakery whether they had a block to spare and they kindly gave me one for free!
There is something inherently pleasing about mixing the simplest elements like bread flour, water, yeast, and salt, and with your hands alone, forming a shaggy mess into a supple smooth perfectly spherical ball of dough. Bread dough is a living thing, full of happy budding yeast, which bring flavour and texture to the final product. With just a few variations, additional ingredients, and different techniques, the possibilities are endless, from the simplest baguette to the most complex Viennoisserie.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
On Sunday, we went to the 17th Annual UBC Apple Festival for a surprisingly educational and enjoyable afternoon. Set at the UBC Botanical Garden, this popular two day event is a celebration of apples, featuring over 60 varieties of apples to taste and purchase (including trees). Being my first visit to this festival, I was so distracted by the apple tasting section, where eager visitors like me and Eric were given 30 minutes to receive small slices of each variety from helpful volunteers, that all 30,000 pounds of apples were sold out before I even had a chance to make it to the selling area.
Nonetheless, the highlight was discovering the diversity of apples available and learning about their characteristics. Just reading the names of some varieties, like Winter Banana, Glockenapfel, or Belle de Booskop, was entertaining. I managed to get my hands on a 68 page booklet filled with encyclopedic descriptions and classifications of all the apples featured at the festival, such as which apples to use in salads since they do not brown when cut, or which apples hold their shape best when cooked. My personal apple taste leans towards sweet-tart dessert apple varieties, crisp and juicy, like Honeycrisp, Jubilee or Rubinette.
Since I left the festival empty-handed, Braeburn apples from a local market were the next best option for the obligatory apple pie which I had to bake. Pies are fairly easy to make but deceivingly difficult to make well. Growing up, my pie experimentation with subsequent successes and failures led me to become curious about how to improve my technique and troubleshoot problems like excessive runniness to my filling or wet bottom crusts. This obsession with the perfect pie essentially fueled my natural desire to learn more about pastry and baking. Ironically, the very first item produced in my pastry school class was apple pie! It was as though the pastry gods were smiling down upon me in some small way.
Meanwhile, I am quite satisfied with my Braeburn apple pie, à la mode of course with home made French vanilla ice cream since I had leftover cream in the fridge. These apples kept their shape very well and the crust was light and flakey. Classic comfort food.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Everyday cooking has always been somewhat utilitarian to me. As a result, people who have worked and eaten lunch with me quickly realize that I typically eat the same thing over and over again during the week. I cook a large batch of food at the beginning of the week which is divided into meal-sized portions. This may seem strange to some; however, for me, the advantage of limiting the meal planning to once a week far outweighs any palatal boredom or snobbery against leftovers which may ensue. It certainly makes our weekend culinary hunts for new restaurants and flavours much more satisfying.
The use of leftovers in the pastry kitchen is universally accepted. It is a sign of good food costing and smart planning. Egg whites, cake trimmings, and old croissants can become macarons, rum balls, and croissants aux amandes, respectively. Unadulterated chocolate can be re-melted and re-used endlessly. Over Thanksgiving weekend, my circle of friends gathered for a long overdue visit and I threw together an entremet in which six of the seven components were either leftovers or partially created from leftovers. There were no complaints!
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
I love living in Vancouver where there are four distinct seasons in the year. Autumn brings chillier mornings at the bus stop and rainy days spent cozily inside. Because my pastry school term in 2006 was during autumn, I am now reminded of the warm spices, robust fruit, and comforting flavour notes which were so inspiring to me this time last year. We had some barely ripe green Anjou pears in the fridge that were begging to be poached. A splash of rum, a cinnamon stick, orange juice and zest, and leftover vanilla bean livened up my poaching syrup.
My mom gave me a bunch of Physalis alkekengi or Chinese lantern flowers to dry. Its deep orange papery husk encases a small round fruit. A more familiar cousin of these lantern flowers is Physalis peruviana or Cape gooseberry which is commonly used as a garnish on desserts, but often left uneaten on the plate, unfortunately, even though the small yellow berry is absolutely delicious. Garnishes on plated desserts or cakes are after-thoughts in many instances; however, when the decor is taken into consideration during the inital design process, a more visually cohesive product can result. Ideally, a garnish should demonstrate skill, be edible, and relate to the ingredients used. So, in retrospect, please forgive the star anise which I hastily threw on my caramel-anise ice cream!