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Friday, November 09, 2007

Sugar-overload ... two days in a row.

We spent Wednesday and Thursday working with Cindy this week, beginning with pies and ending with all things chocolate. Between pastries with Janine and two days of baking with Cindy, it's a lot of sugar we're having this week.

We started Wednesday with a quick lecture about the properties and types of pies that can be made. I'd never really thought about pies in such depth before, but I suppose there are different structures to pies, some have tops and bottoms (fruit pies) and some have only bottoms (pumpkin pie). I know that a crumble isn't really a pie, but I think at this point it's really a batter of distinction of the types of ingredients in the crumble. End of the day it doesn't really matter, all I like to eat is the crust anyway.

Actually, the most interesting part of the morning was talking about the difference that different fats can make in a dough. Butter which tastes better in pie dough/crust doesn't provide the same kind of lift and stretch as vegetable shortening, which can leave a funky taste in your mouth. I never realized there could be such large taste and texture discrepancies based just on the fats being used, but we were able to see it all first hand because we'd be making pie doughs with a mixture of fats today, but also because we were going to taste a few different pies Cindy brought in. I think it really illustrated the differences, because the pie from Shaw's was clearly made with inferior quality ingredients and left a gummy feel in the mouth.

Which is why I was surprised to see that Cindy's recipe for pie dough still called for shortening. She had seemed so against it, although admitted that for large operations, butter simply wasn't cost efficient. (In the end, Jessica tried to make the pie dough with only butter and it was good, but I don't think it was as substantial a difference because we weren't using some scary generic-brand shortening when we made our blended fat dough.)

While the dough chilled, we prepared the fillings for both the apple pie and the pumpkin pie. In the end we used a filling very similar to the one we used for the apple strudel a few weeks ago, thinly sliced Granny Smith apples with traditional seasonings. Another thing that I had always thought traditional for apple pies was dotting the filling with a little butter before finishing with the top crust. But when we filled the bottom crust with the filling and placed the top dough into position, we didn't place any butter into the filling, is that wrong? I'm not really sure what the addition of butter into the filling does, maybe it just adds a fuller flavor or caramelizes the sugar a bit better.

We pinched off the crusts to seal everything in, poked a few air vents and started to bake. The pie looked perfect before the baking and knowing that the apples would be cooked down by the end of the baking procedure. I think next time I bake an apple pie, I'll use a few more apples and bulk up the filling so that by time its all cooked down the apple pie doesn't look sunken.

While I did the apple pie, Catherine worked on the pumpkin pie filling to be poured into the third pie crust we had ready. The pumpkin pie filling was much runnier than the filling I typically make, which is likely why it too much longer for the pie to set in the oven than any pumpkin pie I ever did.

By time we took both the pies out of the oven, Cindy wanted to leave and told us to wait until tomorrow to cut into the pies. Most of us were pretty reluctant to wait when there were freshly baked hot pies infront of us, but we waited anyway. In the meantime, each group made ganache to be used the next day for truffles.

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This morning we did something I had always wanted to do: a chocolate tasting. I always thought it'd be a fun test, something akin to a blind wine tasting (actually, I'd heard there was a place in California doing olive oil tastings, which I'd love to do). After a quick run through of the history of chocolate and the different forms and types of chocolate, we were all able to sit and taste nearly 20 different chocolates.

I never realized ow hard it would be to taste that many chocolates together, especially since I'm not much for chocolate or sweets. After a few unpleasant, almost mouldy tasting chocolates, I wanted to stop, but kept going and drinking a lot of water. There's a fullness you get when you eat certain, very strongly flavored food--particularly mushrooms. It's an artificial fullness that makes me feel nauseous.

By time we hit the kitchen, I think we were all a little grossed out by chocolate, and if not, we soon would be because frankly, there was just ridiculous amounts of chocolate.

First we made molten chocolate cakes, which, of course we made before with Carlos Roderigues, but Cindy wanted to show us a way to make them without having raw cake batter. Cindy's personal take on serving undercooked chocolate cakes (as molten chocolate cakes) was, "totally disgusting and irresponsible." While I wouldn't go that far, I can understand her point of view, so it was good to see a different option for a molten cake.

So, what's her secret? She makes little chocolate cakes and just before the center of the cake gets baked through, she drops in a generous plain chocolate truffle to give the molten chocolate. Once it's all turned out onto a dish, the seam that had the truffle pushed into it is on the bottom and ready to serve. I don't know how this tasted (I'd pretty much given up on eating anymore chocolate at this point), but it looked exactly the way the cakes should.

To finish the day, we made truffles, which I've made plenty of times before. I used to make them for friends during the holidays, it's an especially perfect host(ess) gift for cocktail parties. After a few truffles, we ran out of dark chocolate to melt into ganache to cover the truffles, so we had to switch to milk chocolate. Some people said they didn't notice much of a taste change, but I think the milk chocolate made the truffles taste fatty rather than intense and chocolaty.

We had our choice of finishings for the truffles. Jenny wasn't picky about the final step of the truffles, so we tried something a little different inspired from our pastries day with Janine and mixed cocoa powder with some chipotle powder. The end product was fantastic, spicy and creamy, and the perfect truffle. It's made me think about different rolling options for the truffles next time I make them. I'd love to try and make some Earl Grey tea infused chocolate, I wonder how...? I should ask next time.

(P.S. OH! I could make a tea with the cream I need to melt down the chocolate for the ganache. NICE!)

(P.P.S. Today was the last day with Cindy - I guess I'll have to ask Janine next time she's teaching.)

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