29 December 2009

Chocolate Cherry Bread


My husband ate the entire loaf of chocolate cherry bread the minute I brought it in the door.  He was so excited to see it at the bottom of the bag.  I only make it once in a blue moon because no one buys it.  I can't say no one because there are customers who consider this bread their favorite.  There's actually a list of people we have to call when it appears on the bread line.  These people will reserve 4 loaves at a time.  They know how great this bread is!  I think it is one of those things that you have to try before you form an opinion.  The idea of chocolate bread is hard to grasp.

The flavors in this bread complement each other well.  The chocolate comes from a dark Valrohna cocoa powder.  It isn't sweet, just chocolatey.  There are also bittersweet chocolate chunks throughout the interior crumb.  I mix in a couple shots of espresso which bring out the chocolate flavor and add a bit of robustness.  The dried sour cherries are soaked overnight in a mixture or brandy, kirsh and sweet cherry juice.  The dough also includes a healthy dose of sour culture and pate fermente.  These add to the longevity as well as the flavor of the bread.  Though this bread is technically a sourdough, the sour is not an 'upfront' flavor.  If you can resist eating the whole loaf straight out of the bag, this bread makes great French toast or bread pudding.  I like to spread mascarpone cheese on a warm slice.

This is not my original creation.  I have added to the different formulas I've encountered but the idea of it comes from Nancy Silverton of La Brea bakery in LA.  By all accounts, she was the 1st to bake and sell this bread.  Amy's Bread has a version that is made on the weekends.  She also makes small, roll size loaves every day at the Hell's Kitchen location.  Wegmans ssells a chocolate cherry bread as well.  The management at Wegmans thought it was a good idea to have the bakers stand out in the store and give samples of this bread to customers.  None of the bakers were really known for their people skills (hey---they're bakers, not salesman!).  The higher-ups would tell us the selling qualities of each kind of loaf before sending us out to the floor.  They would always say, "this one is great toasted with butter," as if there is a bread that isn't great toasted with butter.  One of the bakers, Dave, said that he was going to tell customers the chocolate cherry bread makes a great tuna sandwich.  Every time I bake this bread, I think of tuna sandwiches and have a little laugh thanks to Dave and Wegmans.

I attended an event for the Patisserie last year and this was one of the breads I brought for everyone to try.  One lady exclaimed "this bread sounds sooo gross but it's really good."  I don't know why it gets such a bad rap because it is quite fabulous.  It also ships well and keeps longer than most loaves (again, if you can manage to not eat the whole thing in one sitting).  That's my sales pitch for one of my favorite breads!  I'll send out a bulletin next time I plan on making a batch.  I made a suprise, impromtu batch on Christmas Day.  As mentioned, my husband was thrilled!

28 December 2009

2-Day Poolish

When I was in Culinary school, I learned the right way to do everything...the right way to shape baguettes, the right way to mix a dough, the right way to treat starters....  For the most part, I still do everything right but the longer I bake, the more I push the envelope.  For instance, most bakers take the temperature of their surroundings everyday.  There is a complex equation for finding the proper liquid temperature to add to a dough in order to get the "desired dough temperature."  [WT= FF(DDT)-TTF] It involves finding the room temperature, the flour temperature, the temperature of the starters, and the friction factor which has to do with the length of time and force with which the dough is mixed.  The DDT is what will give you the best possible outcome for any given product.  Everyone's DDT is different.  I may be shooting for 80 degrees while another bakery is going for 75 degrees.  My DDT changes with every season.  I am currently trying to get my dough to come off the mixer at 95+ degrees.   This is difficult given my temperature constraints.  The thermal death point of yeast is around 140 degrees which isn't really that hot.  Also, my big, thick steel mixing bowl is freezing cold every morning making it difficult to get a warm dough outcome.  When I was a student, I always laughed at the other students who had their thermometers resting in the flour bags.  Isn't it obvious that the flour temperature should be the same as the room temperature?  Well, not so in my new world.  My flour is stored in a basement, two flights of stairs below the bakery (I'll get to the joys of lugging 50 pound bags up these steps another time).  The basement flour is always cooler than the room temperature in the bakery. [insert photo of me sticking my foot in my mouth here]

What does all of this mean in the real world?  It means that I come in somewhere between midnight and 2am, take my coat off and make a couple decisions.  First, I turn on my oven and decide if it's cold enough that I have to turn on the convection oven too.  If the answer is yes, I determine whether the ambient temperature is such that I need to turn on both convection ovens.  Last winter there were days  I had to turn on the gas burners in order to get the room up to a livable temperature.  After generating some heat, I fill a couple buckets with my desired water temperature.  I don't use a thermometer, I use my instinct.  I stick my hand under the running water and use my patented Goldilocks method...too hot, too cold, just right. 

I have to say that it is very important to take temperatures if you're just begining to bake bread.  I have a couple things going for me.  I've been baking bread for a long time and I've been baking the same breads in the same setting for a long time.  I know my dough!  I know that yesterday the French dough moved (rose) a little slow so today I will use slightly warmer water and maybe I'll sit the dough tub in front of the convection oven for a little while.  I know that the cheese bread is always a rapid riser so I put it in the coolest part of the bakery after it is shaped so it won't rise too fast.  I know that the seeded dough moves so fast in the summer that I have to cut the yeast in half if I want to avoid a disaster.  If I was mixing a new dough in a new setting, I would take the temperature to have a starting point.

Where does 2-Day Poolish come in to play?  Well, as I said, I push the envelope.  Sometimes I am successful.  Certain sourdoughs are made the day before they are baked.  This helps me to jam pack the oven for every second it is open from the time it comes up to temperature.   I have found that I can refrigerate my sour starters if I need to skip a feeding.  The poolish is much like the dough because it contains a small amount of yeast.  In the summer I mix poolish with ice cold water and I reduce the yeast.  I literally put ice in the water.  In the winter, I mix with room temperature water and I up the yeast a little.  The bakery was closed on Christmas Day.  Normally I would bring my poolish tub home and mix the goo 18 hours before I need it.   I really didn't want to think about the bakery on Christmas day so I decided to try 2-Day poolish.  I mixed a tub right before I left the bakery on Christmas Eve.  I used cold water and a tiny amount of yeast to balance the long fermentation time.

I arrived at the bakery on the 26th hoping to find a nice bubbly tub of poolish.  When I took the lid off the bucket, I found an over-fermented yuck.  It was clear from the water marks on the sides of the tub that the poolish had risen to it's maximum ability and then it fell.  Normally, I can stretch and hold the poolish in my hands to put it on the scale.  Not this stuff.  I had to scoop it out with a pitcher and pour it onto the scale.

How did this affect my dough?  My French dough is typically like a big fluffy pillow but with the 2-day poolish it was what bakers call 'slack.'  It was more clay-like and it lacked life.  Yes, it made nice baguettes and I'm sure the day to day consumers were not aware of my blunder but I was.  My ciabatta was more like a flip-flop than a slipper.  Again, it wasn't bad, it just wasn't that good either.  I'm sure it was better than I dough with no starter at all but that's about it.

If any of my fellow bakers out there want to try to push the envelope to see what you get, don't do it with the poolish.  2-Day poolish is a failure!,  another one to chalk up on the experience board.  On the flip side, 2-Day croissants seem to be a success!

21 December 2009

Trablit Troubles


Trablit is a super expensive coffee extract,  roughly $2 for one ounce.  It is basically reduced espresso.  It is used in many pastry applications because you can acheive a rich coffee flavor without adding a ton of liquid and throwing off the balance of the ingredients.  Mark makes his own at the Patisserie.  He starts with two cups of espresso and finishes with just enough to flavor some buttercream.  He's making a lot of it now to flavor the Buche de Noel components but that's another story.

Mascarpone is the equivilant of cream cheese in Italy.  It is much richer and less sweet however it has the same basic consistancy and the Italians would use it for the same applications as we use cream cheese.  It is my favorite thing to spread on the Chocolate Cherry bread that I make on occasion.  Like trabilt, Mascarpone is very costly.

Trablit and Mascarpone...anyone guessed where I'm going with this.  Yup, tirimisu!   I completed an 18 week pastry internship at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Naples, Florida during culinary school.  One of my responsibilities was to mix the filling for the tirimisu, which is an incredibly popular italian dessert with coffee, cream and lady fingers.  Done right, it is very tastey.  At the Ritz, we had to produce hundreds at a time for banquets and the restaurants on property.  The filling was mixed in a 60 quart mixing bowl.  I emptied at least 10 pounds of mascarpone and an equal amount of heavy cream (also expensive) into the bowl.  This mixed until it got nice and fluffy then I added the trablit.  A couple weeks before this particular mix, the banquet kitchen brought us a box of flavorings they didn't need.  They were cleaning house and discovered a bunch of pastry stuff.  In the box was a jar with a steaming coffee mug on the label and the inscription was written in Asian characters.  The contents were thick and dark, just like trablit; steaming coffee = trablit.  The Ritz is teaming with chefs from all over the world so I figured this was a trablit equivilant from Asia that one of the Asian chefs in banquets must have ordered.  Good for us in the pastry kitchen because we did't have to buy it.  I dumped the whole bottle in the mixer.  I tasted the filling to make sure I added enough and yick! that wasn't trablit...it was soy reduction!  Of course it wasn't a steaming cup of coffee, it was a steaming bowl of Ramen.  Hundreds of dollars of cream, mascarpone and soy...there's no coming back from this.  It's like adding salt instead of sugar to a cake mix.

The pastry chef, Frederic Monti, was a screaming Frenchman ala Gordon Ramsey.  He made everyone cry.  The last person I wanted to tell about my mistake was Chef Monti but I had to inform someone.  I walked into the pot room to grab the garbage can and our dishwasher asked what was wrong.  She was a firey Hatian lady who had filed a complaint against the chef when he told her she stinks like garbage.  Velma didn't stink, the remark was just one of his wonderfully motivating quips.  Lucky for me, I speak a bit of Hatian Creole and this lady liked me.  When I told her what I did, she hastily removed the bowl and cleaned up my mess.  She told me not to tell anyone, she'd take care of it.  She quickly cleaned the bowl and gave it back to me to start anew,  all before the chef walked out of his office. 

I am not a fan of hiding these matters from your boss and a smaller place would notice the missing ingredients but the Ritz was different.  Velma was privy to the 10 minute tirade the day before because I over baked the gingerbread men and the 20 minutes Chef Monti yelled the previous week because I rolled the scones to thin.  She knew I needed a break and she knew the cream wouldn't be missed.  Here's the big, huge, never-forget-this, moral to the story.  No, it's not 'taste ingredients before you add them', though it could be.  It's not 'never work for a hotel or other major corporation', though that's my motto.  It is 'be kind to your support staff!'  Make friends with the dish washers and garbage men, no matter where you may be.   It will pay off in the future...I promise.  Oh, and always remember, you're not the first to make a mistake.  At least one person has already added soy to the tirimisu!

17 December 2009

How I Met Your Father

Alex and Kevin

It was three years ago today....

Alex and I recently moved into an apartment on Woodside Ave in Elmhurst, Queens.  We were new to the city and new to Queens.  In fact we had only met a couple months before when our mutual friend Mike Cades, introduced us.  We were both living in horrible basement apartments, a rite of passage in NYC, and we wanted to find a better living situation.  We found a cute, affordable one bedroom that we converted to a two.

Alex's mom came to visit one weekend.  She brought lots of booze from a cheap liquor store she passed by on her way down from Maine.  We drank a couple bottles of wine before we went out to eat Korean BBQ where we drank more wine.  The three of us went back to the apartment and Alex's mom and I were ready for bed.  Alex wasn't tired and she convinced me to go bar hunting with her.  Our bar hunting experiences up to this point consisted of a lesbian booty bar and a latino sports bar.  What we wanted was a good old man's bar where we could drink a few pints of Guiness and not be bothered by sleezy men with too much cologne or scantily clad lesbos.

We decided to walk until we found something interesting.  Six blocks later we came across a shack with a Guiness light in the window.  When we crossed the threshold we new we found it.  We took our stools right next to the two old men (one would later become my landlord) at the end of the bar.  We were enjoying our pints and our conversation.  Alex went to the bathroom and when she returned she quipped "There's a goldmine of hot Irish guys in the back of the bar!".  One of the guys yelled down to us to see if we'd like to try some of his chicken balls.  Apparently there were appetizers in the back of the bar as well.  This guy made his way over and asked us to play a game of pool with the gang.  We agreed.

Alex was partnered with Ciaran and I was partnered with Kevin.  Ciaran was a tall, clean cut sporty guy and Kevin had longish, shaggy hair and hadn't shaved in a good while.  We could hardly understand their thick accents.  I am a horrible pool player and to spite Kevin's talent, we lost miserably.  He vowed he would never play pool with me again.  The night wore on and we all exchanged numbers.  Kevin promised to call the next day to "strike while the iron's hot."

He never called!  ALex and I went to the bar's Christmas party a few days later.  Ciaran, who called Alex twice a day since we met them, was sitting at the bar.  He tracked Kevin down to let him know we were there and a couple hours later, he walked through the door.  We had a great night...lots of dancing...lots of drinking.  Both the boys ended up back at our place where we all stayed up well into the next day.

The third time I saw Kevin was on Christmas day when we'd arranged to meet at the bar.  I told my family I had to work that night so I could get back to Queens to see him.  Alex told her family the same as she was meeting up with Ciaran too.  When Kevin walked in, I hardly recognized him.  He'd shaved his face and his head and I think he even showered.  We sat and talked for a while and then he asked me to marry him.  He said we could go to Vegas and get Elvis to marry us and get our wedding bands tattooed on our fingers.  I knew it was meant to be as this had forever been my dream.  Also, he loved Erasure, John Prine and Eddie Izzard...find me another heterosexual single guy with those qualities...oh, and he had the most striking blue eyes and a deep raspy Irish voice.


Kevin moved into our apartment the next day.  Alex's mom was afraid he'd try to steal our passports.  Six weeks later Kevin and I got married.  Two years later Alex and Ciaran got married.  See, you really can still meet a great guy in a bar.

16 December 2009

The Power of One

Amy Scherber once told me you're not truely a baker until you've baked through all the seasons.  It's so true.  In the summer I have to move at warp speed to shape and bake all the dough before it eats me alive.  The heat/humidity combo is what yeast likes best.  On the other hand, in the winter I have to boil huge pots of water, turn on ovens and burners, mix with super warm water just shy of temperatures that will kill my yeast and wait...wait...wait for the dough to rise.  Based on the 15 degree temperatures and last Sunday's ice storm, we are in the throes of winter.

Some bakeries have a 'proof box'.  Proofing is fancy baker-speak for rising.  They yeast is prooving itself by making the dough rise.  Retarding is refridgerating or slowing the yeast growth.  Really fancy bakeries with tons of money to spend have one unit that can proof and retard the dough.  It's a really cool concept.  You can put dough in at the end of the day, the box keeps it cool then slowly warms it throughout the night so it is ready to bake as soon as you need it to be.  At Amy's we didn't have a proofer and bread was retarded in the walk-in cooler.  We didn't need a proofer because the quantity of dough was such that when the last of the baguettes were shaped, the first were ready to bake.

I could really use a proofer at the Patisserie because I bake small batches of bread.  Last winter it took me eight hours to accomplish what I could in five hours over the summer.  As I mentioned, there were lots of pots of boiling water and several hot sheet pans used to get my bread to rise.  I actually have a proof box but it is supposedly missing it's heating element which renders it useless.  It's not totally useless because it is air tight.  It traps the steam coming off those hot pots.

Last week I decided I had some time to tinker.  Working the night shift at Amy's gave me the opportunity to fix things I never dreamed I'd be able to, like giant ovens and roll dividers.  Not many people make service calls at 2am.  I read a lot of manuals, turned several screws and took some risks but I could get things to work most of the time.  Anyway, I thought maybe I could figure out what was wrong with my proof box.  I started by plugging it in and crossing my fingers in hopes that it wouldn't start a power surge or an electrical fire.  I waited for a few minutes and low and behold...steam!  Warm steam was filling the box!  The thing worked.  I went through an entire winter last year using a cold box that could have been warm if I'd only tried plugging it in.

When Mark opened the bakery, the box really didn't work.  A mechanic was supposed to fix it but he removed the heating element and never was seen again.  The previous owner of the box harrassed the mechanic in an attempt to get the heating element back but no one ever saw him again.  Apparently he either never took the element or replaced it stealthfully because my box works.  Let this be a lesson to never accept that something is broken until you've at least tried to plug it in but don't tell my daughter.  We're hoping she's accepted that the ABC singing toy is really broken and not just turned off!

15 December 2009

'Can'ettone


I just wrapped up the last of my holiday bread classes for the season.  This is my favorite class to teach because we bake my favorite breads to eat.  With the students, I make German Stollen, Italian Panettone and Irish Barm Brack.  Every culture has a holiday bread of some sort and they always have tons of fruit, sometimes booze, butter and sugar.  Most of them keep for longer than a regular loaf of bread.  In the case of Stollen, it keeps indifinitely.  As a matter of fact, you're not supposed to eat it until a couple days after it is baked.

Stollen comes from Dresden, Germany.  It is supposed to represent a swaddled baby Jesus.  My recipe is for an almond stollen.  It has a log made of almond paste and sliced almonds that resembles a breakfast sausage (according to my students and coworkers) running down the center of the loaf.  The dough encasing the sausage is made of flour, lots of butter, sugar, candied fruits and almonds.  At the Patisserie, I use candied orange and lemon peel imported from France.  This isn't the candied fruit your grandma puts in her fruit cake at Christmas.  No bright red cherries here!  This stuff actually has flavor beyond sweet, tons of it!

The best, most decadant part of Stollen creation....it's dipped in butter.  Does it get any better?  When the loaf is hot from the oven it is dipped in clarifed butter (ours is an 83% fat, cultured butter).  You dip it when it's hot so it absorbs more.   Once it's wet and gooey, it gets rolled in vanilla sugar...that's sugar with added vanilla bean.  I challange you to find a Christmas loaf more glutenous than this.  The butter and sugar crust actually serves a purpose.   This is how one is able to keep Stollen around for months without worry of decay.  Last March, we found a hidden Stollen I baked in December and it was still yummy!

Barm means yeast and Brack translates to speckled in Gaelic.  Barm Brack is a yeasted bread speckled with lot of fruit.  It wouldn't be Irish without the booze and this one is boozed up for sure.  The currants, raisins and candied fruit peel are soaked in whisky over night (for a non-alchy version you can soak the fruit in black tea but what fun is that?).  The fruit represents 200% of the flour weight in this dough.  That's pretty much unheard of in the baking community.  Neither I, nor my students, would ever believe the dough would hold all the fruit if we didn't see it happen.  Like a King Cake, this bread is baked with inedibles representing prosperity or demise in the comming year.  Yes, the incredibly optimistic Irish include misfortune in their bread lure.  Apparently you could find a matchstick in your slice...this means you will beat your wife or be a beaten wife for the year.  Better yet, you could find a piece of cloth which represents how empty your pockets will be. You may get lucky and find the ring and marry or the coin and be rich.  I think there are seven jujus in all.  Maybe the true fortune is not breaking your teeth on one.

In our class, we made chocolate cherry panettone.  This is not the traditional raisin, candied fruit peel bread that comes in the box in every department store around this time of year.  I included this modern version in my class to distinguish it from the other two breads.  It can get a little confusing jumping back and forth between doughs when they all have the same basic ingredients.  So, I folded some melted chocolate into this dough and it stood out from the rest.

Panettone literally translates to Tony's bread.  Legend has it, a poor baker named, you guessed it, Tony, won the heart of his society sweetheart's father by baking him this bread.  The two were married, ate lots of bread and lived long happy lives.  Now this bread is a customary Italian Christmas gift.  You can find it everywhere.  I saw the stacked boxes in TJMaxx last week.  I'm sure the quality of those loaves is outstanding.  My version is not meant to keep beyond a couple days.  This bread is not as dense as the other two.  It contains a lot of butter as in a brioche loaf and not nearly as much fruity bits as the other breads.  We baked mini-loaves in the class.  In order to demonstrate how easy it is to find alternatives to ring molds or expensive paper Panettone molds, I had the students bake their bread in soup cans.  This is how our bread became affectionately refered to as 'Can'ettone!

09 December 2009

Mommy's Helper

The bakery is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  I have to take my sour starters home to feed them and I also take flour and yeast with me to mix the poolish.  Poolish is a 50-50 flour/water starter that I use for my French dough.  Just a pinch of yeast goes in the tub and 18 hours later, the mixture is bubbly and happy.

This isn't the first time I've had to babysit starters.  In school, I had to take the poolish home over one weekend.  It was in a five gallon bucket.  I followed all the instructions as far as water temperature and amount and time to mix, then I put the bucket in front of my door so I couldn't get out of the apartment without moving it.  This was my fail-safe method to remember not to leave the house without it.  When I woke the next morning, the bucket of poolish had bubbled over.  The blob had over taken my living room.  I scooped it up and cleaned it the best I could just to get out the door.  Some fail-safe!  The chef giving the instructions didn't plan on an apartment with no air conditioning in 90 degree weather.  The yeast got a little too friendly with the flour and the rest is permanently ingrained in someone's carpet in Poughkeepsie.

Tuesday morning I was mixing the poolish for Wednesday and Josie was looking on in delight.  I know she can't wait to get her hands in the gooey mess.  I can't wait until she's old enough to mix it for me.  Both of my hands were covered in muck and my glasses started to slip off my face.  I was certain Josie was going to snatch them.  She trys all the time only this time I couldn't stop her without making a total mess of my face and her hands.  She reached over to take them but instead of grabbing them and running for the door, as she does with everything else she isn't supposed to have, she pushed them back up onto my nose.  It was definitely a heart melting moment.  Then she proceeded to scream for twenty minutes because I wouldn't let her get her hands dirty but at least I had my moment.

08 December 2009

Ginger Bread

Josie and her ginger bread
I thought it would be fun to play with the concept of gingerbread this year.  Instead of a traditional cakey or cookie-like dough, I decided to make an actual bread.  I started with a basic 25% wheat, 75% white flour formula then I added spice...heavy on the ginger, a little cinnamon and a sprinkle of nutmeg and clove.  Finally, I chopped candied ginger and I dumped a few handfuls of raisins into the mix.  I shaped the dough into logs and scored a straight line down the center.  I was pretty happy with the way it came out but it was missing something.  Then I remembered the jar of black strap molasses I had hiding under my work station.  It's been there since I was pregnant. I used to put a tablespoon in a glass of milk for extra calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron in order to remedy my crampy legs.  Betcha didn't molasses was so good for you!  

Back to the bread....the 2nd batch I mixed included the molasses and now I'm content.  There's an extra richness.  It has the gingerbread flavors with a bread texture.  I can't believe I forgot the molasses on the first go as this is the base for most gingerbread cakes and cookies.  I also changed the shape a bit.  Instead of logs, I twisted the dough into turbins or spirals.  This makes for larger, softer slices.   Next mix I will be replacing the raisins with currants because a) it will make it a little more delicate b) those currants are tiny but they pack a big punch of flavor and c) I have a huge box of them in storage!



I brought a loaf home from the bakery on Sunday, hoping to share it with my family.  Yesterday morning, Josie and I ate the whole thing before Kevin even saw it.  Whoops!  Guess I'll have to make another batch so he can get a taste too.  I was going to toast it because it was a day old (yes, I'm spoiled) but it didn't require any heat to bring out all the flavors.  The best part about the bread is the little bits of candied ginger that melt in your mouth with every couple of bites.  I'm so excited about this bread...a holiday treat without the sweet.  The sweet, hopped up on sugar and butter, candied loaves of holiday tradition wear me out after a while.  I can only eat so much candied citrus peel before I'm ready for the fun to be over.


After a conversation with Mark and Christian, we decided to make this bread part of our line-up through the holidays.  It will be available at the Patisserie on Thursdays and Sundays through December.

07 December 2009

Mangez Brioche

Marie Antoinette got a bad wrap.  Everyone has heard about her "Let them eat cake" quip but in reality that's just a bad translation.  What she really said was "Laissez-les manger du brioche."  Since there is no English equivalent to brioche, it wound up historically solidified as cake.  Of course the villagers didn't have access to this rich buttery delicacy any more than they had access to cake however it just doesn't sound as bad when you know the reality of the quote.

Traditionally, brioche dough is baked into "a tete" shapes.  "A tete"  means "with head."  I've always wondered if this shape came about after Marie Antoinette's head rolled off the guiolltine.  Personally, I think they look a little more like boobies. Although, I am currently nursing my son every two hours and everything looks a little like boobies these days...

Baking perfect brioche a tete is a difficult skill to master.  In culinary school, I had to shape perfect tetes on my practical examination in order to graduate.   If you don't shape them just right, the heads like to bobble to one side instead of resting in the center.  They are a rare site to see in bakeries.  I made them at The Patisserie but no one appreciated their grandeur so I stopped putting them on display.

Brioche is my absolute favorite dough to make and it also sums up the reason I became a baker.  You can not rush this dough!  It is very temperamental.  All the ingredients except for the butter are mixed until the gluten in the flour is developed.  If the butter is added upfront, the gluten strands will slip slide around and never fully develop.  The butter accounts for 80% of the flour weight in this dough so we're talking about a lot of butter.  (That's why it tastes sooo good!)  Once the gluten is developed, the butter gets added little by little until it's all incorporated.  This is the best part.  I stand by the mixer with a huge bowl of butter cubes and a cup of coffee, patiently waiting for the dough to do it's thing.  It's kind of like feeding bread to the ducks at the park. The dough then starts to have a teenage phase where it separates and looks really ugly and awkward. Just when you think it will never come back together it starts thwacking against the side of the bowl and curling up the dough hook.  It's finished...a beautiful, silky smooth dough!

Brioche was one of the formulas I worked tirelessly on while baking for Wegmans and one of the reasons I stopped baking for Wegmans.  In order for a bread to make it to production in every store, a corporate board has to agree on the product.  The members of the board have never studied bread or any sort of culinary arts for that matter.  Once, they thought that we should add more butter to the challah dough (if you're Jewish or a baker, you should be laughing your tete off right now).  Suffice to say, it was very difficult to get them to agree on anything.  The head corporate baker used to have a laugh by changing quantities of ingredients by a few grams just to be able to tell them he upped the sugar, honey or whatever they were complaining about that week.  One of the members of the board was the regional manager for the Rochester, Buffalo area.  He was a huge (read: fat) guy who wasn't very subtle in his approach.  One day he came into the store where I baked and asked me if I had any of that "Bree-otch-ee" to take his wife.  When I figured out that he was asking for Brioche and not a venerial disease, I knew it was time to get out of the corporate world.

Mangez Brioche; know there's a lotta love going into that dough and give a nod to poor Marie A!

03 December 2009

Mmmm....Rosemary


When I returned to work after my most recent maternity leave, I was told that the hotel/restaurant next door to the Patisserie was serving rosemary baguettes and they were telling their clients that I made them.  They were really giving their guests something frozen and reheated they ordered from Sysco.  I only know this because our customers were coming in and asking if we had any rosemary baguettes.  So, I did what any decent baker would do....I started making them!

I tweaked my basic sourdough formula...a little less wheat...a little more levain, which is a stiff wheat and rye sour...a pinch of yeast to make it less dense and more airy....fresh rosemary from Keith's farm.  For the first week or so, I shaped the dough into stubby baguettes but I wasn't happy with the crust.  It was a little too think on the bottom.  Then I remembered I had some square proofing baskets I wasn't using.  I dusted the molds with brown rice flour to keep the dough from sticking and to give the crust an interesting look.  Also, a generous dusting of rice flour has a much better mouth feel than a heap of regular flour.  The end result is my new favorite bread.  I am so in love with the rosemary loaf that I haven't eaten any other bread since it's conception (expect for a little Stollen but that's a special treat).  I really hope our customers find as much value in it as I do so that I can keep baking it.  The hotel/restaurant next door actually started ordering it in roll form.  Now everybody wins!

01 December 2009

Carnage


My cutting board is full of bread stumps.  This morning there is a loaf of Rosemary (which I'll get to in more detail tomorrow), Christmas Stollen from my holiday bread class, and I think what is the end of a loaf of Ciabatta bread that I brought home for my husband.  Believe it or not, this is the best thing I could be doing to keep this bread alive...it's future depends on me and how I handle it.

There are a few important things to remember when storing bread.  Delaying the staling process (or retrogradation of starches, for all the dorks like me) starts at the time of purchase.

1.  Keep the bread in the brown bag the bakery packs it in.  Don't ask for a plastic bag or, EGAD, saran wrap!  The plastic will hold moisture in and take away the crispness of the crust.  The one exception to this are the cool perferated plastic bags, the cello-like bags with all the tiny holes.  They do a great job at prolonging life. 

2. Don't ask the bakery to slice your bread!!!  You'll piss off the staff and you'll ruin the life of your bread.  Unless you're going to eat the bread on your way home, slicing it creates more surface area and it will dry out faster.  The best thing to do is to cut a slice when you need it and place the cut side down on a cutting board.  The board will keep the side you cut from fresh.

3. Never, never, never put bread in the refridgerator.  This makes starches retrograde faster than ever!  I know we all kept a loaf of Wonder Bread in our dorm fridges and it's true that the fridge will fend off mold but it will also fend off flavor.

4. If you're not planning on eating your loaf right away or if your stocking up for Monday and Tuesday when the Patisserie is closed, freeze your bread.  The freezer stops the staling process dead in it's tracks.  For best results (do I sound like a shampoo bottle?) wrap it in saran wrap even though I said never do this, now is the time.  Once it's wrapped in plastic, wrap it in aluminum foil.  Label it so you know what it is after it mixes with all the other wrapped and foiled loaves in your freezer...I'm speaking from personal experience.  When you're ready to use the bread, unwrap it and let it thaw.  Then, wet your hands and rub water on the crust.  Pop it in the oven at 375-400F for 10-15 minutes and it will be as fresh as it was the day you bought it.  I used this trick with a loaf that had been sitting out unwrapped at room temperature for a few days and it still worked wonders.

I will now step down from my soap box and go eat some of that yummy rosemary bread for breakfast...that is, if I can stay away from the Stollen that is beckoning.

Coming Soon....."What to do when your bread stales"

30 November 2009

Miguel's Grandmother


“I hate new people…I fuckin’ hate new people.” Miguel screamed at the top of his lungs while I, a very new person, tried to load baguettes into the oven.  The oven has four stone decks, each one holds about 50 baguettes. The trick was to fill all the decks before the bread in the first deck is fully baked thus allowing for a quick smoke break.  The faster one loads an oven, the longer the smoke break.  At the time, I could load one deck and get about half way through the second deck before I had to start pulling baguettes out of the first deck.  I was incredibly slow but I insisted on doing this.  I was determined.

If Miguel wasn’t yelling about how much he hated new people, again, I was the only new person, he was telling me to move my ass.  Miguel stands at a tall five feet and he has a little round Mexican belly.  Of all the Latino men who worked at Amy’s Bread, he spoke the best English.  He is married to a tall thin American redhead and they have a couple kids so it would make sense that his language skills are a little more developed.  I wanted to spend as much time with Miguel as I could as he was the best baker at Amy’s Bread.  He started out washing dishes and one day they let him shape the bread.  Shaping led to baking which led to mixing and now they refer to Miguel as the “dough whisperer” because he can get the bread dough to do anything he needs it to.  I wanted to be that good.  But alas, I couldn’t even fill an oven with baguettes.

Once I’d gotten a little faster at loading baguettes, Miguel told me I needed more ‘esteem’.  I thought he was being sweet and telling me I needed to have more confidence in my baking abilities.  What he really meant, with his thick Latino accent, was that the baguettes needed more ‘eh steam’ in order to get a better crust. 

It didn’t take me much longer to get the baguette loading down and to get Miguel to stop screaming at me.  Well, he still screamed but it was more light-hearted in nature.  Most of the time he was reminiscing about his grandmother in Mexico, “My grandmother can shape baguettes faster than you and she’s in a wheel chair and she only has one hand!”

At the end of my tenure at Amy's Bread, I could load a full oven, leisurely smoke a cigarette and take a bathroom break before my bread was ready to come out.  I could also shape baguettes faster than Miguel, or at least at the same speed, though he would never admit it.  I only know this because we used to race to fill trays and racks.  With 1,500 baguettes to shape each night, we found creative ways to entertain ourselves.  Miguel and I used to race (and I used to beat him!).

I have since quit smoking and my new oven is much smaller than the beasts I once knew but how I miss Miguel and his grandmother.

26 November 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

The last couple years I was in college in Gainesville, Florida, I hung out with the vegetarian, punk rock, showering-is-optional crowd.  I hosted potluck dinners every Sunday and I invited everyone who didn't have a family nearby to my house for Thanksgiving.  My Dad's parents lived in Gainesville too.  They both graduated from the University of Florida but they were the preppy crowd when they were in school.  He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and she was one of those 'Delta Delta Delta can I helpya helpya helpya' gals.  I thought it would be a great idea to invite my grandparents to dinner at my place so they could meet all my friends.  They would normally go to the country club for dinner as my grandmother doesn't cook.  I even agreed to prepare a turkey even though they were the only two who would be eating meat.

My friends arrived first.  I was downing wine as if it was my life force, trying to calm my nervousness about my grandparents attending my shindig.  By the time they pulled in the driveway, I was suffciently wasted.  I think I did a good job at masking my drunkeness as I greeted my grandfather at the door.  He came offering a "tofu curry" my grandmother purchased.  Later I found out it was actually a Tofurkey being mispronounced.  I was bummed when I realized we weren't having curry.

As I uncorked another bottle I noticed my grandmother was held up in the street talking to a homeless guy.  She's the type who will talk to anyone so I didn't think much of it.  Then I saw the guy walking towards my door, carrying bags for my grandmother.  Totally perplexed, I went out to meet the odd pair.  Turns out, my grandmother thought the bum was one of my friends and she invited him in to eat with us.  Truth be told, my friends didn't look much better than my grandmother's new pal but I still don't think I'll ever forget our impromtu Thanksgiving guest.  More wine?

25 November 2009

Lug Plan

Lugs are the big, flat, plastic bins that most bakeries use to deliver bread.  They are great for cooling the loaves and once they are emptied they compact together making for a great space saving tool.  They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and most importantly... colors.  Amy's Bread has three retail locations and each location is assigned a different color lug.  When the delivery drivers arrive to pick up the bread, they instantly know which stack goes to which store.  So, Thanksgiving rolls around and there is a lug shortage because there is simply too much bread to load into the every day quantity of lugs kept on hand.  This is where the Lug Plan comes into play.

The Lug Plan is infamous among management at Amy's Bread.  The buzz surrounding it starts months before the big day.  Basically, the plan states how many of which color lugs go to which store location and how many of which color lugs come back from each location in order to go out a second time. The first year I experienced said plan, it was made using an excel spreadsheet and it was little more than words and numbers.  At that time, there were only red, blue and the big, ugly, light blue lugs that only came out of storage for the holidays because they didn't fit into the other lugs.

During my last Thanksgiving at Amy's Bread, green lugs were added to the mix. [If I remember correctly, this was an ordering mistake.  No one actually planned on having a 3rd color]  There were 23 red lugs, 37 blue lugs, 12 ugly, light blue lugs and 15 green lugs.  I know this because I had to count them every year in order to help assemble the Lug Plan. The addition of the green lugs took the lug plan to a whole new level.  It went from basic spreadsheet to power point presentation.  The improved plan included arrows, colors, highlights, moving images, destination time stamps, dancing ladies and rocket ships.  It took weeks to create and quite some time was spent training a prodege to take over the next year's plan planning.  When all was said and done, the Lug Plan sat on my desk and all anyone needed to know was how many of which color lugs go to which store location and how many of which color lugs come back from each location in order to go out a second time.

This year at the Patisserie, I am happy to have a very small stack of light blue lugs that were rescued from behind a grocery store.  They are much more content now that they are cradling my yummy, organic, crusty bread than a yucky loaf of squishy Wonder Bread.

24 November 2009

Thanksgiving

I'm in total production mode as Thanksgiving is quickly approaching.  This tends to be the busiest holiday for bread bakers...everyone needs bread to go with their Turkeys.  This year at The Patisserie, I'm offering an Apple Cranberry Walnut Sourdough.  This bread exemplifies the holidays for me.  It has a hint of cinnamon...just enough to make it smell fantastic when it's baking.  I make this bread the day before it is baked (which is why it isn't typically available on Wednesdays).  It sits overnight so all the flavors can get real friendly.  It is my grandmother's favorite bread. She and my cousin fight over it and hide it from each other.

I also have a Portuguese Corn bread on the menu.  Contrary to the southern US style cornbread (which is more a corn cake), this is a yeasted bread that is packed with flavor and it has a nice soft texture.  This is the ultimate day after Turkey and Cranberry sandwich loaf.  It also makes a great stuffing.  I just add chopped onions, carrots and celery, sprinkle some herbs, saturate with chicken stock and bake for 40 minutes at 350F to get a yummy homestyle stuffing.  I used it this morning for my fired egg sandwich...yum!

Next on the list is the Seeded Wheat Bread.  This bread has it all, whole wheat, rye, pumpkin seeds, oats, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.  It is Mark's favorite bread.  It has a nice soft, airy texture to spite all of the inclusions.  The seeds are toasted which gives the bread a nutty flavor.  I must give a nod to Amy's Bread for inspiring this loaf.  She makes a similar product though hers is missing the oats and our sour starters are different.

As always, I will be making a variety of French products...rolls, mini baguettes and batards.  I will have an herb loaf too.  This one is great to throw in the stuffing mix as it is already herbed up for you!  Better yet, Christian has been working away to create stuffing mix for everyone.  It includes French bread, herb, seeded, rye and rosemary loaves.  It is cubed and it has had time to dry out...perfect for your stuffing.  We add fresh sage, rosemary and other seasonings to the mix....all organic.