Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fudgy, delicious brownies with Janine

Today with Janine was fantastic, I really felt like we did a great day of baking and we used all sorts of different techniques to create each of the final products. And, as always, it's good to see a culinary arts graduate and see where they've gone and where they are now.

The morning started well, I think Janine is a great teacher. She was clearly very organized and had planned and researched her lecture thoughtfully, in fact, the best part was when she repeated important facts or concepts so it could sink in. It sounds so simple and stupid but it's really helpful when wrangling new, unfamiliar or complicated concepts. I felt like she enjoyed being in the class with us and felt a personal sense of pride and satisfaction when we produced some great food.

Janine also brought in little tasters of all the pastries we would be making that afternoon - it was so great. Brownies, chocolate macaroons, lemon pistachio cookies, key lime bars, diamond sable cookies and graham crackers. They were all delicious and resulted in an early morning sugar crash that made us all a little useless at the start of the afternoon session.

I loved the graham crackers we made. It had never occurred to me that graham crackers were something you could just make at home, but they turned out perfectly and felt more organic and natural than the ones that traditionally come in boxes.

The lemon pistachio cookies and diamond sable cookies weren't the easiest cookies to make and since I'm not the biggest fan of shortbread butter cookies, I wasn't crazy about them. I feel like all the effort of creaming the butter with the heel of your hand against the board and mixing in the sugar, etc., just seemed a lot of effort. I wonder why we couldn't the creaming in a machine? I should make a note of that and ask Janine the next time she comes in.

The chocolate macaroons were also a little more work than the average chocolate chip cookie. Making the chocolate wafer parts of the chocolate sandwich was a disaster. Our oven wasn't even close to the right temperature so the puff of the cookie didn't properly rise, but it also didn't complete baking. The centers of the cookies were still wet everytime we took them out to check on them, so we'd put them back in, but it never seemed to penetrate the cookie. Eventually, we had to give up because the rest of the cookie was starting to get too dry. I'm sure that in my own oven at home where there is a better and more consist oven temperature for the cookies to bake through. In the end, our cookies were cracked on top, fudgy and chewy. They still tasted great, but with the addition of the ganache in the middle our cookies ended up even soggier.

My favorite part of the day was the key lime bars. I think they were a great twist on the traditional lemon bars and the tartness really worked very well, because the key lime flavor has a natural sweetness too. The time and effort it took into creating all the different layers was totally worth it in the end, but we changed one aspect of it, I decided to not dust the top with toasted, shredded coconut like Janine had. I don't like coconut so much but the bars are just perfection. I'm totally taking the this dessert to my next party.

The brownies were clearly everyone else's favorite part of the day, particularly because we were all kind of fighting over which group got to do which variation on the brownie recipe (plain, chipotle, dulce de leche and espresso flavored). Since we're the loudest we ended up winning the chipotle recipe and they turned out brilliantly. Potter was completely awed by the fabulous combination while I was awed by the great brownie recipe (although I loved the spicy, smoky flavor in the chocolate too).

It was so wonderful to find a recipe for brownies that were more fudgy and chocolatey than cake-y. I normally find most brownies too dry and crumbly, more cake like than fudgy and there should be a difference. It's like when people don't make a difference between muffins and cupcakes, muffins should have a fluffy density and be far less sweet than cupcakes. A cupcake isn't merely a muffin with frosting!

I loved today with Janine, she was a great teacher and the recipes she had us do were clearly well-thought out so that we could do a good variety of techniques. I really appreciated the effort she put into teaching us and I was really happy with everything we made. I can't wait until Janine comes back.