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.