Before the Mod 2 practical, I picked up my binder for Mod 3, which was to be the cake mod. So far in the program we had yet to bake a cake, brownie, cupcake or cookie (other than the 1 gingersnap we made the second class). As I looked through the binder my excitement was overwhelming. I looked through the curriculum and every cake that I’d heard of (and many that I hadn’t) were listed. Chocolate cake, pound cake, financier along side cakes like dobosotorte and genoise mousseline.
I was also a bit nervous. I would be getting a new chef-instructor for this mod and wasn’t sure what do expect. What did I need to do to prepare? Also, I had been told that each module would get faster and faster, would I be able to keep up? This moment marked my exact half way point through the program. Fifty lessons down, fifty to go.
Next up, we tackled classic puff pastry. One of the most important lessons to learn when making puff pastry is that everything must be kept cool, including yourself! You are trying to create distinct layers of dough and butter and if the ingredients get too warm, you will be unable to do this. If at any point, the butter feels like it is beginning to melt, put the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and then continue. Making puff pastry is a very noisy undertaking. You will spend a lot of time pounding your butter and dough with a rolling pin, so definitely don’t undertake this if you can’t make A LOT of noise!
In lesson 42, we attacked the scary strudel. To make strudel, you make the dough and then stretch it until it is transparent and takes up an entire table! This requires the help of many people and the dough often tears a bit along the way. But do not fear, this happens to everyone and is barely visible in the end result. Look at my photo to see the hole my dough wound up with and I assure you, no one could tell once the strudel was baked.
The next two lessons were huge baking days! We made biscuits, scones, linzers and Bretons! I had never heard of a linzer before and just assumed we were making linzer cookies – sugar sandwich cookies, filled with jam, and dusted with powdered sugar. But there is actually a linzer tart as well, which I have to say is much more delicious than the inferior linzer cookie.
In lesson 39, we finally got to make one of my favorite desserts, pies! Unfortunately, I also learned a sad lesson. Blueberries are the potato of pastry.
Lesson 36 marked the beginning of a new section of the program, we were moving into tarts and pies. To start the class, we learned about three different mixing methods to creating pie dough. The first method was the flaky method, used for Pate Brisee, or broken dough. This dough is created by rubbing butter into the dry ingredients until it forms pea size pieces. Then add the liquid, mixing gently, and chill. This type of dough cannot be reused, so great care must be taken when rolling it out. Usually Pate Brisee is used to form empty baked shells, which are “blind” baked.
The second type of mixing method is the mealy dough method, used for Pate Sucree and Pasta Frolla, or sweet dough. This method is very similar to the flaky method, however, the butter is rubbed into the dough until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Pate Sucree can be patched together, re-rolled, and baked without significant resting. Sucree dough is usually baked with a filling, so it is not necessary to dock the dough before lining a pan with it.
In these next three lessons, we learned to discover the joy of fried desserts, as well as the wonder of brioche. For whatever reason, I always find myself drawn to Brioche in café windows. I think it might be due to the fact that it works as both a savory and sweet bread and is always so airy and delicious. We learned how to make many forms of brioche – we made brioche a Tete, which literally means with a head, we made a brioche loaf which is a pull-apart loaf, and well as many others.
Brioche a Tete is probably the most common way I see brioche around the city and they are just the cutest little bread rolls I’ve ever come across. We also got to make Pains aux Raisins, which although I usually greatly dislike raisins, the currants in this recipe are what made them so good – well, that and the apricot glaze and fondant we threw over them!
These next classes tackled the NYC baking trifecta of pizza, bagels, and pretzels, as well as the other large staples, braided bread and focaccia. I used to attend some challah making classes in college and was always amazed at the speed and ease with which some women were able to braid a 5-strand challah while I struggled along with my measly 3-strand variety. In lesson 30, I finally got a chance to learn how they did it, although my speed and grace weren’t quite at their level yet.
As I’ve discovered, understanding how to read a bread recipe can be a daunting task, but if you understand basic bread terminology and process it can be much easier.
Below is a list of the basic steps taken when baking bread.
- Scaling –Measure out the ingredients.
- Mixing – Creating a dough from the ingredients you scaled. This is done by using either the straight dough (one-step mixing method) or the sponge (two-step mixing method) methods.
- Fermentation – Allowing the mixed dough to rise. You usually allow the dough to double in bulk at room temperature. At this point, the yeast in your recipe is feeding on the dough, which is what is making the dough rise. Do not do this above room temperature or the yeast will become too active resulting in less flavorful dough.
- Continue reading
After our quick introduction to yeast, one and two step breads, we jumped right into the French classic Baguettes. And if you’re going to learn how to make bread in NYC, who better to learn from than the classic Amy Scherber, owner of Amy’s Breads here in NYC.