Friday, 28 March 2014

Daring baker February 2014 challenge: beautiful bread

I was on a bread making binge for three months. I was making so much bread I was running out of people to give the newest batch. I even managed to complete a Daring Bakers challenge after following the blog for years, and I mean years. I was invincible .
And then it hit. So here I am, fighting pnemococcus yet again ,slipping behind on two challenges. It is not as if I were out of the kitchen. In fact I was in two, first at work, then at home. All of that work with sugar,chocolate and cheese, macarons, and eclairs for the new cafe, the desserts and wedding cakes for the upstairs restaurant, miscommunication and cultural insensitivities meant I lost the energy needed to come home and work. I was on pastry overload. We all get there some days, sometimes, and mine hit big when my partner left for Paris on a much earned research trip.
 My best creation and I enjoyed japanese home style cooking , Gyoza ,soba, ebi lettuce maki, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Oh let me turn that into japanese- yaki cheese sandoichi, better yet, hotto sando. See family, my language skills have improved since you last visited ...more than a decade ago.
So today on a required leave day, I made the first part of millers bread, and the ferment for the croissant( thanks to a compensation purchase of the Bourke  street bakery cookbook. My partner might be in Paris but we have the oven,hehe.
The last thing I did before prepping the vegetables for tonight's dinner of couscous and veggies and sewing the cat-shredded curtain, was to make- drumroll please - the brioche base for the beautiful bread challenge , using my leftover  mixture. However, the oven was too hot and did not cool down fast enough ( I was using my japanese hitachi five in one, miniscule by foreign standards, large by japanese, oven because I was waiting for the new heating and baking stone for my gaggenau oven.
None of this information is probably interesting or necessary, but it gives you a sense of the frantic pace I am trying to maintain without becoming completely absent minded. So the people for the oven came, naturally, at the crucial time I am meant to cut and fold the dough but it is not in my lexicon to say, please wait and let me finish this or I will ruin my project, in polite, read formal, japanese. So I watched  the beautiful layers turned into pufferfish rounds.
It is baked. It is not beautiful. It is tasty, and thank goodness, though it looks rather over cooked it does not taste it. It tastes lovely but no, even I would struggle to say it were close to beautiful... So I will do what I have learned to do best, avoid saying anything and hope no one asks me my opinion directly.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Holiday madness

Every December at the restaurant, it seems things go a bit crazy. this is my third Christmas working there and it seems to rev up for the three days that a special dinner is offered. In this part of Japan, Christmas dinner is somewhat akin to my memories of going out for a New Year's Eve meal. It is not a religious , nor is it a cultural event, rather it is a romantic opportunity. Just as I remember being taken out to the Top of the World restaurant in New York City ,knowing that this meant the guy was "serious" about me, so it is for women and men in Miyazaki, when taken to a fancy restaurant with a special menu costing from 7000  to 10000 yen a person . In a part of Japan where the typical hourly wage is from 650 to 950 yen an hour, that price tag shouts, "serious".  And that is not a very high price tag as it goes, when you consider the strawberries shoot up in price from 398 yen a pack to 980,or even 1280, and if you are lucky, 780 for the less astounding packages. 
One might think it was for Christmas but in fact, it is simply the start of the Oshogatsu, or New Years season,which for most Japanese is the most important holiday, or at least as important as the summer Obon holiday, and quite a serious event lasting from the 31st  of December through January 3. Now the food, the  special meal that might to the untrained, uncouth eye look like a glorified, cold bento, is in fact an elaborate set of dishes called Oseichi ryori, presented optimally in a three tier lacquer box filled with morsals one does not have to heat up, The reason? So the woman of the house does not have to work too hard during the holiday after cleaning and slaving to get everything sparkling clean for the arrival of the New year, which is a Horse this year. From supermarkets to top flight restaurants, advertisements and notices appear reminding families to order their Oseichi before they lose the opportunity, for as low as 15 000 yen but usually closer to 35000-50000 yen. Any way you look at it, that is quite a hefty ticket and chefs work tirelessly to prepare the many dishes that are required to impress the buyer. At the restaurant where I work, the chef closes for business from the 27th or 28 th until people arrive to pick up their boxes on the  morning of the 31st. It is a French restaurant so it is not a traditional selection, rather he includes the same concept but fills the tiers with vegetable terrine, fois gras terrine, he includes sous vide packets to heat the beef burgundy. He includes a baguette,a. Bottle of champagne and, a gateau chocolat du nancy? That's where I come in, 24 chocolate cakes later...
So after making 78 Christmas desserts of eggless chocolate  mandarins orange mousse, slightly altering the recipe by Vahlrhona to mix three types of choclate, lessen the gelatin, and increase the cream, making 100 roasted hand dipped hazelnut pearls, and 80 thrice dipped chocolate shells made with white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark, adding tangerine oil,  all made in a 9 mould madeline tray brushed with cocoa butter and a lot of 'praying', a crushed popping candy sugar dusting and a blood orange sorbet, I was not feeling up to 24 gateau chocolat du nancy done according to the restaurant' age old recipe but I did. After, that is I did my customary take on a few 'Santas ' and made them into bears . I also decide to add a 'beach' of flourless florentine, adapting Christophe Felder's recipe, and adding hyuganatsu peel candied earlier in the week.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Pan de Cristal/Pa de Vidre/Glass Bread

Pan de Cristal/Pa de Vidre/Glass Bread

I have been handed a challenge; perfect a recipe and produce a bread I have never eaten nor held. The bread is all the rage in Catalunya and is used  to make pa amb tomaquet. I have translated two recipes, had my friend check them and looked at two examples on Youtube. In one video,  the bread looks unlike any bread I have ever seen; almost like broken lace, the other looks like a very large holey, light ciabbata style loaf. The chef who presented me with the challenge had said they themselves were not yet able to produce the bread, but that it practically disappeared in your mouth, after toasting. As it is a 90 % hydration, no knead bread, I revisited the videos of Lahey,Bertinet, and a few other experts just to examine their crumbs and consider what I might want to incorporate.
I have just completed my third attempt, taking photos of all the trials. The struggles are numerous, not to mention where I live in Japan and my communication skills but a local baker was kind enough to sell me some fresh yeast after my less than happy results my first time round.  ( Today, after discussing flour types available here, he has decided he would like to take on the challenge as well.)
Never having actually done more than view two samples on the internet, I can say, reservedly, I am very close to one example and very far from the other bizarre example.I have watched and read almost every no-knead advocate and expert's video, fascinatedly examining the crumb to see if the technique might be adapted. The recipe by Casero uses a Thermomix. Not having one and no vision of one arriving as a gift any day soon, I am following the old tried and true method: my hands, a wooden spoon, a kitchen aid mixer. ( During the first attempt I utilized three bowls, a cuisinart and a magic bullet.)
The other recipe is by Roca, the flour company, because they 'developed' a flour especially for Pan Cristal. The proportions are industrial so I broke it down to 1/10th the original recipe. The recipes are significantly different.
The facts: This bread is 90% hydration, made with harina commun 000 (AP flour but protein percentage is unknown), using a poolish made with fresh yeast, no kneading. The all-purpose flour attempt was not as close as when I used Lysdor flour, often used here in Japan for French bread,or baguettes perhaps because the all purpose flour here is 10% protein per 100 grams while the Lysdor is between 10 and 11.
The casero recipe is:
1.Mix 150g all purpose flour with 200 cc of tepid water and 10 grammes of salt. 2.Mix it well, then heat it on the stove to thicken it a bit. 3.Take it off the stove and add 100 cc of ice water, and when the temperature of the mixture has dropped to 50 degrees celcius, add 1 tablespoon of plain yoghurt. Mix well.4. When the temperature has dropped to about 37 degress, add 12.5 grammes of fresh baker's yeast and  let it rest for 45 minutes until very foamy , bubbly, and risen.
5. Add and mix in another 150 grammes of all purpose flour. rest for 30 minutes.
6. Add another 50 grammes of all purpose flour and mix. Rest another 30 minutes until  bubbly and foamy.

7. "punch down' air wth a spoon.
8. Put about 3-4 tablesspoons into a baguette form or silicon paper formed into a baguette form. stretch and flatten dough to spread it.

9. rest it until it is doubled.
10. bake in a 250 degree c. oven until deep golden.

The first attempt I tried to duplicate the thermomix actions by hand but found the heating on the stove as shown in the video was too much. So, the second time ,I used a water bath and this improved the results where by the mixture thickened without become too stiff too quickly. (Perhaps this method which mimics choux pastry was to make the same type of airy centre ?)
The second attempt was improved because I beat the mixture more but in each case I found the resting period for the initial autolyse much longer, more than double, to achieve the required results.
The third attempt has been the most successful to date. I incorporated some of the points of the Harina Roca recipe. The full recipe is
5000g harina de pan de cristal (but nothing is specified clearly what makes this flour unique). 4.500 g/cc? water but using only 3250 for the initial mixing, adding the remainder slowly afterwards. 0.250 lard. 0.115 salt. 0.060 fresh yeast.
The technique, assuming one uses industrial equipment, states: put all the ingredients into the mixer except the reserved water. Mix on low speed for 5 minutes and then on fast, adding the additional water little by little, making sure the dough is smooth. When the dough is completely smooth, allow the dough to rest until doubled in volume.

De-gas the mixture and spoon into molds/forms and stretch to fit as you please. Preheat an oven, without steam, to 250. When the breads rise /spring, lower the oven temperature to 200 and bake until browned. If using a convection oven set to 240 and then lower to 190.
The dough temperature should be between 24 and 26 degrees c.
I utilized the technique of mixing the dough in the mixer with the paddle at slow for 5 minutes and then fast until silky and smooth. I also lowered the temperature after the bread sprung in the oven at 200 degrees. I did not use the lard nor did I change the ratio of flour to water, but I used Lysdor flour ,which incorporates flours from canada, australia and america. The temperature of the dough after proofing was around 35 degrees which was higher than Roca but lower than Casero's recipe.
Here are the two sites which show examples of Pan de Cristal:
I have found another all purpose flour which has only 8.8 grams of flour  and will try again to compare them. I am wondering if I leave the poolish/biga overnight if more gluten strands and greater lace will develop, although the flavour ,following Casero's recipe, is lovely if a bit too salty for my tastes.  The second and third times I lowered the salt to 8 grammes. Remembering it is used with olive oil and tomato, that might justify the  higher salt content.
My next step is to try again and my friend will ask her son, a chef in Catalunya, for any input he can garner. I have until August to crack this mystery.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The journey of sweet potato cheesecake

The journey of sweet potato cheesecake

November 8, 2011 at 12:49am

     It is after 1 in the morning and I am hoping for sleep. But my sweet potato cheesecakes have more than 1 hour to go before I can put them to bed, and then myself. We grew the sweet potatoes, an no imo, a special variety from Kumamoto, and one that is especially orange and sweet. How can it go wrong when they are grown with love? rain. more rain. and rain some more. Should I also mention the abject neglect after the first few weddings, when I returned to the patch after the rains to find the vines over growing, over flowing and even starting to encroach on the property of a house behind our allotment? I was positive the fearsome bugs of this subtropical climate would have exploded from gouging by this time, rationalizing that our allotment is the highest level of 'organic'. But these were fine. Even so. I cannot just let them rot,simply because no-one I know particularly cares for sweet potatoes.

     So I did what I do best; I turned them first into soup, then I used some as a thickening agent for a curry,  I made panallets, put them into bread dough, used them to make pasta, roasted them in the toaster oven and ate one with butter as a tribute to my mother, and started to baulk at the idea of sweet potato pie. Finally I turned them into a cheesecake. I mean, how can it be bad when one adds 600 gr of cream cheese, 100 grams of sour cream, 100 grams of sweet cream, natural brown sugar, to mention just a few ingredients? This is a long story, regarding cheesecakes and sweet potatoes/yams that goes back to my childhood and a mother who like to make cheesecake and liked to eat sweet potatoes as a snack or a meal. They were a cold weather comfort food for her.

     My only strong recollection of yams in our house were those awful canned ones, floating in syrup, awaiting a layer of marshmallows to seal the job on inducing diabetes. At that time we did not know anyone who simply roasted them? No wonder we all cringed as they were brought from the oven .  Oddly, my mother would roast sweet potatoes in their skins just as she did with jacket potatoes but not yams. She would not listen to me when I pleaded that they too could be roasted in their skin and did not need to be smothered in something gooey at Thanksgiving. So when she came to Japan to visit us the first time and I told her the forlorn melody outside our street was the truck which sells hot sweet potatoes freshly roasted on stones, she practically ran to the street to try one.  She was very careful in her choice and enjoyed walking back munching the warm sweet potato wrapped in brown paper. We discussed the pleasures of a snack truck selling  hot corn on the cob and sweet potatoes as snacks as compared to ice cream trucks. But that was only one part of the debate.

     She made cheesecake. Good cheesecake. Great cheesecake. She mailed cheesecakes to my sister when she wanted to let her know she cared. She baked them right in the Danish butter cookie tins. They survived the journey better than her journey at times. She would get the ingredients out and bring them to room temperature, lug the heavy stand mixer to the counter, or later the food processor, add her ingredients mixing one into the other, saving the addition of eggs til last. She would use the same pans each time, she would always bake them for 55 minutes at 350 f., and she would turn off the heat and leave them in the oven to cool. They would go into the refrigerator for 24 hours. And most of the time they looked as good as any I had seem at some famous eateries.  But she would become frustrated that they cracked sometimes, rose and fell too much other times, were too brown on top, which she would hide with wonderful concoctions of maple syrup, butter and nuts cooked into a caramel sauce occasionally.

     And here I am all those years later, still testing, inventing, and bathing, still lowering the temperature so much I end up awake double the normal time, and still hand mixing, even though I am surrounded by my own entourage of old faithful processors, blenders, and mixers. And while there is agreement in the culinary world about what type of heat to use, whether to mix by hand or machine, and what  the temperature should be, the debate continues on the water bath. And I will continue to invent flavours, and textures, and hope that this one persuades a special person that she really does like roasted sweet potatoes; or perhaps she wont even notice them, a shame considering they were roasted for an hour, hand mashed and pressed through a sieve to get a fine texture free of fiber and that gummy quality processors give. But if this cheesecake does not meet the grade, I can always fall back on my mother's tried and true recipes I managed to record . And just perhaps I might be lucky enough one day to bake one in a butter cookie tin and mail it to someone I want to know I care.

(I am sure she is laughing right now; my cheesecake has a hairline crack from the oven temperature being too high and though it is barely visibile- I can hear her saying,"See I told you that water bath is just extra work"...)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rainy day macarons

Rainy Day Macarons
I do not seem to have learned my lesson; to consider carefully whether one's self confidence can withstand  attempting macarons on a rainy day unless the workspace is fully dehumidified  and there is a convection oven . Most of all, always, always make sure your kitchen mixer is not going to malfunction in the middle of pouring hot syrup into the egg whites. argh... homemade mango jam , mango ganache , okay,  all are possible on a rainy day, but the macarons? Why do it? To keep my word to T for her play date, she had promised her friend I would bake them.
So against my better judgement and knowing that humidity at 60% or higher often bodes ill for meringue and macaron crunch, I forged ahead, adding dried egg whites as a stabilizer, cream of tartar to avoid over beating and folding with the care a debutant might make for her attire to her first dance.  I even  dried the almond powder and confectioner's sugar before processing and sifting them twice.
Always somewhat perplexed by the process of making a silken stiff meringue only to press the air out during the final stage, I pondered the macaronage. While more confident with French meringue, the weather pushed me to use either Swiss or Italian.  I opted for Italian after remembering how stiff the Swiss meringue can be.  Just as I attempted to pour the syrup, debating the temperature ( one books states 113degrees, while another 116 degrees and still another 120 degrees ), the mixer stopped. Wondering if this spelled doom for the shells, I quickly switched to my handheld mixer, burning myself in the process.I am still not confident in my abilities after reading more than 12 books, taking a special masterclass in Paris, discussion with several authorities and hours and hours of test runs ( should I mention the hours of watching others make them on Youtube?) .
The  weather meant I had a couple of options for the drying stage. One tray was left to dry near the air conditioner, another was dried in the oven according to Adriano Zumbo's technique (which looked great on television but which was a disaster for me as they cracked), while leaving them in a warmed oven with the door ajar seemed to work fairly well; half of them came out with smooth shells and pretty feet. Drying them on a bench consistently seems to work the best for me but could I really ask the children to wait two more hours while they dried properly? I need a drying technique I can use at the restaurant to churn them out more quickly than summer weather allows and I was no closer to finding my magic bullet.
The proof was in the heating and the eating. I could not age them for a day to meld the flavours properly. Result?  The coconut almond bases were tasty , the mango jam (and we all know the cost of a Miyazaki mango , though this one was a steal at 1000 yen) was delightfully astringent and sweet,  the mango white chocolate ganache ,leaving out the rum for the little ones, was fine if one likes white chocolate but oh my, those shells... Where was that magic crackle, the crisp to complement the chewy innards  when you sink your teeth into the outer biscuit? They had feet, not the feet of a princess but nice enough to be seen. The shells did not crack so I could assume they were neither over mixed nor under dried,  but they simply did not look like those ones in the pictures and  famous pastry shops. Oddly the cocoa macarons with the olive oil and black pepper ganache were closer to the mark but on each tray some had hairline fissures while others were perfect. Was it my piping technique I wondered?

T's response? "Even great chefs have a bad day ! It's good you weren't on Master chef though, you'd be eliminated. They taste really good though, and besides  my friend doesn't know what a great macaron looks like. Better luck next time, Mom." Remembering that Raymond Blanc said it takes chefs 10 years to master these little darlings, I promised myself I would persevere...once I figured out who could repair my beloved kitchen aid commercial mixer in Japan. This adventure is not over yet.
     A note- in June 2012 my spouse found a class offered for the first time at Ferrandi summer school, taught by Ollivier Christian , a master class for five wonderful intense days. 
This class ws not inexpensive by any means and one can certainly find less expensive and shorter classes but I was intent on having all my questions answered and mastering at least one style of macarons since I had purchased practically every book on the market , not to mention it was getting tiresome at work and stressful not knowing the result.
The class was small and I stayed virtually across the street in a lovely hotel which boasted a great breakfast(forgive me, my favorite meal when I have time to eat it) and a quirky ever so French set of concierges. Class ran from 8:30 to 5 but really we were there until 6. Lunch was included, cooked by the professional culinary students. This class is not for beginners. There were three of us and Ollivier. I am happy to say I was not the oldest, nor was I the only person with a culinary background but I was not the most outgoing and that meant I did not get as much hands on experience as I would have liked. But in these classes you must make yourself known and take what you want to get the hands on experience and I am not so inclined. Except after the 3 rd day when I was practically skinned a live for a reason I still do not know nor understand. My ingrained politeness, accentuated by so many years in Japan gave way to determination to get what I came for. And I did, in addition to a budding friendship with the events designer brought in the last day. Also, Ollivier has been true to his word as well as helpful in answering my emails. This on top of his own business speaks volumes of his decency.

What did I gain from this class? I am hesitant to share my information only because the class is still taught but I know it does not replace actually attending so the main points are-
1. Measure accurately and work quickly.
2. Use the Italian meringue  recipe if you wish bright and shiny shells.
3. Add flavour concentrates if you want exacting flavours in your fillings,but not too much.
4. Use a thermometer which is meant for sugar work.
5. Use two ovens, one for the drying and one for the baking stage and this one is where they get me. ...preferably a deck oven.
We tried convection and it simply did notroduce the same results consistently.

But really, who has a deck oven at home or can afford one at work?
So if anyone can share a reliable one oven baking method, then I am all ears.
The book is 'macaron' by Christophe Felder. (They work together.) m copy is in French so if anyone purchases it and needs help with the language I am happy to assist. Just contact me.