May 2011


In baking class last week we learned all about how to make the perfect cookie.  Luckily, I had a chance to practice my skills by baking cookies and bars for this great event that is happening in just a couple of short hours (click the logo to learn more).

In very typical KC fashion, I couldn’t decide what cookies to make, so I made several kinds.  This probably was not the wisest choice, because my cookie-making turned out to be a comedy of errors.

But hey, comedy means laughter, which is always a good thing.

When making the dough for my peanut butter cookies with salted peanut caramel, I realized I put an extra 100 grams of PB in the batter.  Oops!  They turned out quite yummy, especially if you’re a PB freak like I am, but I really wanted to make them the “right” way too.  So, I made the batter again, and this time I put in an extra stick of butter.  I guess I did that just because it was sitting on my cutting board.  It was one of those “if it’s there…” moves (a moment please, so I can roll my eyes at my silly error.)  …Remarkably, they didn’t spread too terribly much in the oven, so I’m using them.  Their texture is more like a shortbread, so I’m just going to say it’s a PB shortbread cookie with salted peanut caramel. Problem solved.

I also made snickery dulce de leche bars.  And they really do taste like a snickers bar… only better!  These almost turned out perfectly, but being the impatient baker that I am, I tried to cut them too soon after chilling them to set the top, and the beautiful ganache topping broke up a bit in the process.  Not beautiful, but oh so delicious. Is your mouth watering, yet?

The cowboy cookies I made are from a recipe that was new to me.  Again, so typical of me to try something new for an event.  They spread out quite a bit in the oven, and I think I know why.  The classic beginner cookie-maker mistake:  I creamed the butter and sugar too long.  I’m still selling them, because with the salted pretzels in them, they are the perfect combination of sweet and salty!  Really, who cares if they’re a little flat?

Finally, I’ve been eating scotcheroos for as long as I’ve had teeth to chew (thanks, mom!), so I had to make them, especially since this is an event to fight kids‘ cancer.  But thanks to David Lebovitz, I dolled them up a bit and turned them into a triple chocolate concoction with cocoa crispies and nutella!  It’s chocolate delirium, man.

Cookies

The "rejects."

Want some?   You’re going to have to shell out some bucks at this lovely event today (which, by the way, also has some highly coveted items on auction).  It’s not too  late!  Get your sugar high on while kicking kids’ cancer in the arse!

The event details:

1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery
901 W. Juneau Ave.
More info

See you there!

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I’m having a tough time getting motivated to do much of anything on this “it-was-supposed-to-be-almost-70-degrees-but-it’s-not-even-50” gray day.

The weather pattern shifted and screwed us Milwaukeeans again.  What better day to  spend a little time writing?  Even though I’ve been doing such a bang-up job keeping up with writing and blogging, an extra post can’t hurt, right?

I’ve been baking up a storm and perfecting my sauces, but one of the more remarkable accomplishments in the past several weeks has been croissants.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal shortly after that class period:

Baking class this week was challenging but fun!  We made croissants by hand and brioche as a group.

On Monday, we prepared the dough, including lamination, or the layering of dough and fat.  The croissants we made had 84 layers of dough and fat!  It was a great experience to make these croissants, because it’s not something I ever thought I would or could do successfully.  And really, my croissants turned out beautifully!

Mavis and I made mini-croissants, so they didn’t roll as well, and were not as pretty, but now we have some for baking later on.  Other classmates made full size croissants, which were both very pleasing to the eye, and enormous.

These are one of my classmate's croissants. Ours were similar, but smaller.

We also made the chocolate-filled croissants.  My verdict:  definitely not enough chocolate.  I guess the French traditionally use only two thin bars of their chocolate when they make the filled croissants, and we can let them do that.  I, however, will be using at least twice that amount the next time I make these.

Beautiful chocolate croissants... with not nearly enough chocolate! They were still scrumptious.

The brioche is obscene, really.  There is so much fat and eggs in the dough that it takes forever to proof and quite a long time to bake as well.  I haven’t broken into my brioche loaf yet, but I have made brioche before, and I’m fairly certain it should not be as dense as the loaf I brought home.

In baking class, it’s often a challenge trying to get the timing right, so I think the brioche simply didn’t have enough time to proof.  We couldn’t hold the dough for another week, so we had to bake it and take what we got.

Update:  I did break into it and it was too dense because it didn’t have enough time for its second proof. Rather than throw it away, I soaked it with more egg and cream, and made an apricot almond bread pudding.  That was the bomb.

I’m really OK with that, because we learned what we needed to in the demo, and because I’ve made it before, I’m not so intimidated by it.

It’s funny, Chef Mark has taken to calling me a “closet baker.”  I think it’s because I asked him about making and using sourdough starters.  Plus, I generally ask a lot of questions, because I’m there to learn and I need to get my money’s worth out of that place!

Anyhow, I’ll take it.  I’ve always enjoyed baking as much as I have cooking, and baked goods never fail to put smiles on the faces of recipients.  Can’t go wrong making people happy.

So, there ya go.  That was the last week in April.

In the weeks before croissants (B.C.), we made baguettes with lean dough, and enriched breads like basic pan loaves, ciabatta and focaccia.  Those deserve a post on their own, so stay tuned for that.

Since making our croissants, we have made cinnamon rolls and coffee cake from an all-purpose sweet dough, challah, baked custards (like creme brulee and creme caramel), and cookies.

Holla'! ...Er, I mean Challah. Perfect for French Toast. Just ask my parents.

Plus, on the side, I’m nursing a sourdough starter, and Chef Mark is going to show me how to use it in class next Monday.

BTW, Chef Mark is an interesting, and very funny guy. He and his wife own Dream Cakes in Chicago, where they make some seriously gorgeous, artistic, and whimsical cakes.  I’m definitely into him as an instructor. He’s very encouraging and helpful, and I’m learning a lot in this class.