Sunday, December 20, 2009

Last Week of Culinary School till January

More Bread
It seems like the bread portion of this class will never end! We even have two more weeks of it when we return in January. Sigh. I have to admit that I did enjoy making the braided challah bread (holla!) pictured on the left, but I'm ready to move on now.

We also made several other breads including rich, tasty brioche (the small round ones in the photo on the right) and a rolled cinnamon loaf (also pictured) which I believe was made from bruchetta dough.

We did get a little break from the breads last week. Dell was coming to CAA for a team building trip, so we made a variety of christmas treats to give as gift bags and for us to take home.

Margaret and I made two varieties of meringue: almond and peppermint. The end result should be similar those little square-shaped pastel dessert mints but shaped like a large hershey's kiss or a round mound.

However, the deck ovens below ours were too hot and caused our oven to be too hot. This caused the almond meringues to flatten out and harden to a crunchy cookie-like consistency. They looked liked cookies, tasted like cookies, so we rolled with it and made them into cookies. We melted some chocolate and dipped our "almond meringues" and added a single almond on top for a touch of elegance, then we jokingly called them "rustic" cookies. They were actually very tasty though and would go great with coffee like a biscotti.

Our second attempt at meringue was a little more successful, but the peppermint version was still slightly sabotaged by the overly hot ovens. Having learned our lesson from the first batch, we lowered the heat on our oven considerably, and eventually turned it off altogether, but it still gave our meringue a slightly toasted color when they should be bright white. However, the shape and consistency came out just fine so we just had to look past the slight toasting and enjoy the final result.

I really enjoyed making the meringue and learned a lot about the process. We had a guest chef (also named Tracey) come in to observe our class since she will begin teaching a pastry class in January. She did a fantastic job of explaining the three stages of meringue.

First you whip the egg white mixture into a soft peak, which you can tell by stopping the mixer and dipping the whip into the mix, swirl it, lift it straight up, then turn it upside down. If the mixture makes what she called a "dairy queen curl" then you have a soft peak. At this point you add in your sugar and any other flavorings — this is your last chance to add ingredients without messing up your meringue. Next you whip some more until you reach a hard peak. You can use the dip, swirl and flip method to determine what stage you are at. At a medium peak, the mix will form a little hook, not the full curl of a soft peak. You've reached a hard peak when the mix points straight up.

Once you are done whipping, you must move very quickly to set up your baking sheet and get it in the oven. The meringue gets warm pretty fast at room temperature and will lose structure, part of the reason why our almond version got flat. It's very important to have your piping bag with star tip and cookie sheet (with parchment paper glued down at the corners with a dab of the meringue mix) ready to go. To get the striped effect on your meringue, paint stripes inside your piping bag with food coloring. If it starts to fade, you can scrape out your mix and quickly repaint your stripes.

It is also important to keep your piping bag in a straight vertical to avoid lopsided meringues. This is trickier than you think, especially when the mix starts to soften and get runny. For a good, consistent result, count to four as you are piping to ensure they are the same size, then stop squeezing the bag, pull the bag straight up and maybe give it a slight swirl to break of the mix. If you mess up and your meringue drop is too small, too big, lopsided or too pointy, then just scrape it off and try again or else you might end up under- or over-cooking it or it will just look bad. Just remember to work very quickly. Once you are done, then you will put it in the oven at a very low temperature. You aren't cooking it so much as you are drying it out. They're done when they are completely dry in the middle and light as a feather.

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