Blogging and baking and writing, oh my!

It’s Sunday night and just like that, week three is just about to start. It definitely doesn’t seem like I was moving in just two weeks ago today. I’ve done so much since then, and I’ve learned so much about French pastries! The end of the first week was a little bit rough. I was behind the pace and it seemed like everyone was finishing their production faster than I was. I also really questioned my abilities – we’d be making things for the very first time and everyone else’s product would come out beautifully, but I was unhappy with mine. I would look back though on the many things I’ve made in this Classic Pastry course, and I could only really find one item that I really messed up. I was pretty happy with my fresh fruit strips and Jalousie after all, even though it took me a few minutes longer than some other students to finish them.

week2 8I spent last weekend really going over my Chef’s critiques in my head. I knew I needed to be more precise, measure dough properly, and cut straight. Small details and precision are not really my specialties – I’m pretty sure it took me somewhere around a couple of years in occupational therapy to learn to correctly fold a piece of paper when I was little – but I knew that going into a new week, those were the things I had to focus on.

We began the week with our last day of puff pastry. I had mixed feelings about moving on since I felt like I was just finally understanding it and now we were about to go onto something else, but I was pretty excited to leave all those folds and exact measurements behind. We started the day finishing our Napoleons. During my Chef’s demo, it was very clear to me that I had to work fast before the fondant icing set to get the correct design. I though for sure I’d be the only person with a bunch of half-iced Napoleons, but lo and behold,

week2 10I did manage to spread the icing and pipe the chocolate before the top set. Chef told me that it looked beautiful, and it was the first compliment that wasn’t followed with a “but” that I had gotten so far. I knew the next step would probably be my downfall since we had to cut this big slab of Napoleon into strips. I probably took an extra five or ten minutes since I measured every cut and made sure each was straight, but it paid off. I was really happy with my precision, and so was my chef.

NapoleonI’d never tried a Napoleon, only seen them, so I was pretty excited to take a bite. These layers of flat puff pastry are filled with Diplomat cream, a 1:1 combination of pastry cream and Chantilly cream (Chantilly cream is basically what we know as whipped cream). You get a light, sweet cream that’s not overly sweet or heavy. Mine was served cold, so it almost reminded me of a French pastry version of an ice cream sandwich.

Next up were cream horns. These were very simple to make with thin strips of puff pastry rolled around a metal form, either straight or cone-shaped and filled also with Diplomat cream. Had there been a way to stuff these in my backpack without messing up the cream filling, I would’ve eaten ten in one sitting and not even felt bad about it.

week2 3Monday built my confidence back up quite a bit, and I was looking forward to the rest of the week. I’m starting to realize that precision may always be a problem for me, but if I have to take a little time to practice the little things, then so be it. I’m slowly getting used to working a little faster, which gives me some time to put a little more effort into doing things correctly.

Tuesday began our next few days working with Pate a Choux. This batter that’s cooked twice – once on the stove to form elasticity and then baked in the oven after piping – is what pastries like eclairs and cream puffs are made out of. I found this to be easy, and it was a welcome change from the complicated puff pastry dough.

week2 7I piped my cream puffs, eclairs, swans, and Paris-Brest and I was really happy with them. The eclairs are a work in progress, definitely, but I couldn’t wait to see how the finished pastries would look.

Wednesday would be a fun day, we were going to put on a buffet for other classes to come and enjoy while we learned about pastry buffet presentation. On my way back from class on Tuesday, I stopped at the Dean’s office like I do every day to put my cart back in its place. The Dean of Culinary Arts heard me come in, and he came out to officially welcome me to Providence. He had seen me once before, last spring, under more serious circumstances. I’m sure he is largely responsible for me being on this campus right now, and the fact that he came out of his office looking so thrilled for me was so reassuring. When I started this little adventure, I was afraid of a lot of different reactions – unfair treatment, being called out, and other means of retaliation. But getting that personal welcome made me realize that it just wouldn’t be like that here.

Wednesday morning was hectic, but the energy in the room kept me going and I was determined not to fall behind. We finished our Pate a Choux pieces, and I got a handful of compliments on mine. Everyone’s looked great, but these were the first pastries that I was extremely proud of.

week2 5Making Pate a Choux swans is definitely my new favorite hobby. If anyone needs them for a wedding, or party, or whatever, let me know. I’ll happily crank out dozens at a time.

After the pastry pieces were finished, we were told to plate them up for critique and for the buffet presentation. Putting things on nice plates and making them look exciting and appetizing is probably my favorite part of pastry arts, so I was all too happy to start shining up a platter and arrange my pastries on it.

pate a chouxOur buffet was a big success and the culinary students gladly snatched up almost all of what we had prepared. I got glowing praise for my Paris-Brest and swans, and I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t have any leftovers to take home. I was so happy with what I accomplished during that class though – I made something that I was finally excited about, and I never lagged behind.

Every week, I seem to be more and more involved with our campus newspaper, The Campus Herald. I remember two years ago when I absolutely knew that I wanted to be a journalist and spend my days writing about anything equestrian. That changed when I lost my horse in October of 2012, and I stopped writing for a long time as my focus turned to baking. But sitting here blogging whenever I can and writing articles for school has definitely rekindled an old interest. I think a lot about my future and about how I may not physically be able to keep up the pace in a busy kitchen for years and years. A career in food writing sounds more exciting by the day, and I love the idea of applying what I learn about pastry here to well-written articles. The Campus Herald comes out every Wednesday, and I was over the moon to open up to the second page and see my own article in print for the very first time.

Read this article in full and others at www.jwucampusherald.com!

Read this article in full and others at http://www.jwucampusherald.com!

This pumpkin bread and petit fours recipe took up a whole page, and the first article I had ever written for the paper, a movie review of Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey, was in there too. The recognition I received at our meeting that night for having two articles in the same paper was exhilarating, and again showed me that I could do more with this degree than work in a kitchen for my whole life.

So many good things happened last week, and I have no doubt that I’m supposed to be right where I am. More excitement will come this week as I finish my Classic Pastry course tomorrow, move on to Cookies and Petit Fours on Tuesday, and begin my year as an official Johnson & Wales blogger (Keep an eye out on Tumblr for Pencils & Pastries – my new JWU blog!). I’m definitely keeping this one as my personal blog and will be continuing to update it, there’s just too much personal information here for me to use this one as the school blog. Registration for the winter term begins on Friday already (didn’t I just start the fall term?), and if my advisor approves my plan then I’ll officially be a Baking and Pastry major with a minor in Professional Communications.

5:15am comes early every morning, so I’m off to bed. Looking forward to another exciting week here in beautiful Providence!

week2 9

Learning About Puff Pastry, and About Myself.

I’ve done more during these last five days than I’ve done in the last eight weeks at home. I’m exhausted, but when my alarm goes off at 5:05 every morning, I can’t wait to get up and start another day here. My first day in uniform was on Monday, and while there was no class, it was such a beautiful day and I got to see some of this beautiful Rhode Island weather.

campus1

There are two campuses that I’m constantly going to and from – Harborside, along Narragansett Bay where I have all my classes, and Downcity, where I’m living. I can see why most culinary students live on this campus – it can be annoying going back and forth all the time – but I love living in downtown Providence.

First up was the Academic Welcome for culinary students on the Harborside campus. It started in the gym, where we all sat according to the name of our advisor. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about stepping into the building full of culinary faculty. How much did they know about me and the mess I made for them eight months earlier? Would I see any familiar faces from spring? I walked in and went to find my seat. What surprised me most was how friendly everyone was, both staff and students. Why are Floridians not like people up north? I’m continuing to be surprised by how easy it is to strike up a conversation with people here. When I go back home, it’s going to be one of the things I miss the most.

After the Dean welcomed the class of 2016 and 2018 (which didn’t really apply to me, since I’ll be graduating this year), it was back to downtown for University Convocation. Have I mentioned how much I love the transportation here? It’s free, for one, and it takes about 8 minutes by shuttle to get from one campus to the other. So different than the horrible system in Orlando! We were lead into the Providence Performing Arts Center for the formal beginning ceremony of the school year. This ceremony was for new students of all majors. I’ve said it many times but I’ll say it again: I feel bad for the people who come here to study anything besides culinary. Johnson & Wales is so well-known for their culinary programs, I feel like the other majors just get forgotten about!

campus13I’m pretty sure we culinary students made up about 98% of the audience – the stage was totally surrounded by white coats and hats. It was a cool introduction to the university, and made me wish I’d be staying longer than just a year.

The later in the day it got, the more real being here seemed to get. It was soon time to press my coat and polish my shoes – the first day of classes was just a short sleep away! I did get a decent sleep which surprised me, but that morning I was pretty close to crying as every single scenario went through my head. I absolutely still wanted to be there – I fought for this year for a reason – but I wanted so badly for the first day to go on without a problem. Earlier in the year I felt so safe; the school knew I had no problem defending myself when needed, so surely no one would want to bring on any more trouble. But I just knew I’d be watched closely. Make a wrong move, and the argument of my safety and that of others could easily be brought up again.

So with those thoughts and Julie Andrews’ “I Have Confidence” playing over and over in my head, I rode the shuttle to Harborside. We didn’t do too much the first day, just began some puff pastry using both the block and blitz methods.

campus8I use a small cart to help with moving sheet pans and other things that would put me off balance if I carried them myself, and, while it’s pretty loud when moved along the floor, no one seemed to give a second glance. My chef’s comments that she’d like to steal it immediately made me feel like there was nothing to worry about.

campus9Ever since the horrible day in 2013 when I was treated like dirt just because I couldn’t “safely” lift a few things, I’ve been terrified of dropping anything. I moved extremely carefully. So later in the day when I would hear rolling pins hitting the floor every couple of minutes, I’d smile and shake my head. I was taking this way too seriously. Physical limitations or not, people drop things, and how dare anyone make me feel less human than anyone else.

campus2My slow careful movements became more confident, and I asked for help when needed. I left that afternoon feeling so happy and empowered – I had done what I came to do, and it would only go up from there as I became more comfortable around the chefs. I was a little perplexed, too. Why would someone make such an issue when there wasn’t one? But the thought just made me love Providence even more. Clearly, I was where I was always meant to be.

The second day of my Classic Pastry lab felt much longer since we got started right away and worked all day in production making pastries with our puff pastry dough from the previous day. I worked hard to keep up, and that continues to be my focus as each day gets busier, but I think it’ll come with time. Never have I been anywhere with such a fast-paced atmosphere, so I’m learning what it means to work quickly and efficiently.

campus3The energy inside the lab is thrilling. These people want to be here. They want to learn what this industry is all about. As much as I loved Valencia College and the confidence it gave me, the widespread passion here is a refreshing change.

campus7We worked on our puff pastry products all day yesterday, and ended up with apple turnovers, sacristans, and palmiers. Palmiers are sometimes called elephant ears here in the US, and I loved working on these tiny versions as I was reminded of my training in the Animal Kingdom bakery with every fold.

campus4We work in teams of two, though we make pretty much every product individually. That’s nice too, since last year I was frequently critiqued for mistakes I didn’t make. But I’ll be honest, I’ve definitely learned in just these last three days where my own weak spots are.

campus5
I feel more comfortable here every day, and today was no exception. I’ve seen many people that I recognize, people who were deciding whether I belonged at this school just a few short months ago. But they’re no longer intimidating – they offer a handshake, a genuine smile, and ask how I’m liking it here in Providence. I make new friends every day, and our class is becoming pretty close even after just three days.

Today we ate together in the dining room, where we sat in as guests for the Dining Room Essentials students. I give these people so much credit; not everyone is cut out for front of the house service, and they have to do it anyway. Meanwhile we reap the benefits – free four-course lunch, anyone?

campus10We started with fresh bread and a choice of soup or salad. I had a chicken and asparagus cream soup that was delicious. It was so smooth and not too heavy, with some earthy flavors from asparagus tips. It had a fancy French name, but I’m a pastry major – not culinary – for a reason.

My appetizer was a crabmeat crepe. I thought it was funny because my roommate and I were just talking about savory crepes the other night. I said crepes weren’t crepes without something sweet in them, but she said she loved them savory. So I had to give one a try, and I must admit, she was right. My entrée was a rack of lamb with sautéed onions and potatoes. It had a bunch of other flavorful components, but I just enjoyed the dish instead of trying to figure out what they were.

campus11The best part about lunch in the dining room (other than dessert) was the opportunity to get to know the people I sat with. I’ve gotten to know my lab partner well, but not many others. Nothing like a chat over good food to get to know people!

campus12Dessert was a poached pear in – what else – an almond lace tuile bowl! Looks like I’m ahead of the game on that one. We finished up and went back to our lab, where we cleaned up and put things away until tomorrow. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about baking already, it’s that back-to-back repetition works wonders with a ton of problems I’ve been having with dough lately. I’m by no means a pro, but I’m improving, after just three days!

Tomorrow is another crazy day in lab and then back to the dining room to enjoy another great meal. I’m so excited for each day to come. I’ve never been prouder to put on a chef’s coat every day; I’m here because I made it happen. I walk into class and work my hardest. I’m part of one of the best culinary schools in the country. And, I still think someone may have to come pinch me.

Home Sweet Home in Providence, RI!

I’m living life a little backwards lately. Last year, when I lived in Orlando to start my baking and pastry major, I lived in an off campus apartment since Valencia is a community college. I appreciated it a lot more after I didn’t live there anymore, but if you can get past the cockroach infestation, it was pretty nice. It was a 2 bed/2 bath condo with lots of space. My bedroom was really nice with a big bay window, and my own bathroom was big and I loved how we decorated it. The kitchen was small compared to what I was used to at home, but even that was a decent enough space to make cookies galore or a small cake. This year, I’m trading that in for a cramped first-year college dorm and a meal plan.

JWU1But I don’t mind it, really. I’ll gladly have my food prepared for me after a busy day! My 10X4′ living space isn’t bad either. My mom did a great job making it homey! While I’m definitely still getting used to not being able to shut the door of my own bedroom and I will be for some time, it’s not a huge deal, and I only share the bathroom with my roommate who seems nice.

I may complain a bit over the phone to my parents that it certainly isn’t like home – because it isn’t – but being here after a year and a half of plan B’s, wondering, and waiting is just unreal. I’m living in New England. It’s beautiful outside. I’m at one of the top culinary schools in the country, finally. After spending the day here, it feels like the campus in Miami has the same name only coincidentally. Providence is completely different. It took a village to get here, for sure, but I appreciate this year that much more.

So, after six months of counting down the hours, the adventure starts tomorrow. I’ll be up bright and early for the Culinary Arts Academic Welcome, and spend the rest of the day at orientations and meetings. Not as fun as baking, but a chance to get to know some of my instructors. My actual first class of the term, Classic Pastry, starts at 7am on Tuesday morning.

With that, I have some chef coats to press and then I’ll try and get a little sleep. Goodnight from Johnson & Wales University in Providence!

JWU3

A Recipe to Impress

When I was little, I used to think that a Danish was just called a pastry, and pastry chefs just stood around making Danish of different flavors and varieties all day. I was half right – a Danish is, in fact, a pastry, but now I know that the word covers a whole variety of baked goods. When I saw that the course syllabus of my Specialty Breads lab covered Danish in the last couple of weeks, I couldn’t help but smile knowing I’d be learning how to make this “Pastry” that I always used to admire.

Danish111My first experience with making Danish was sometime in April at Valencia. We all made the same dough recipe, but made different fillings. This was definitely a day that I was glad to have an experienced Chef looking over my shoulder – Danish dough is not just something you can throw together, unless maybe you’ve been making it for decades.

I really had no business making a complicated recipe during such a busy week (you should see all the moving boxes around my house at the moment, plus the four suitcases that we’re packing to the seams for Providence), but I haven’t made these since school and I wanted to make sure I could still do it. We’ll be making puff pastry on the very first day of class at Johnson & Wales (Valencia didn’t even cover puff pastry in the curriculum), so any refreshing I can do will come in handy!

 

Danish3This Danish dough starts out the same as any other. You’ll dissolve the tablespoon of yeast in slightly warm whole milk for 5-10 minutes, add the sugar, and then add the rest of the wet ingredients. In this particular recipe, there’s orange zest, orange juice, and some vanilla to give the Danish a unique flavor.

Danish4Add these ingredients with the eggs, and mix well. The mixture should be nice and smooth. If you’ve been using a paddle attachment to mix the ingredients, switch to the dough hook. You can also knead the dough by hand. Combine the flour and salt, and add it to the wet ingredients one cup at a time. The dough will begin to slowly come together when mixed at low speed.

Danish5Keep scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the flour is incorporated. Once all ingredients are incorporated, knead by hand or with a dough hook for five minutes. The dough will be sticky, but it should hold together well.

Danish12Place the dough on a floured baking sheet, cover it, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, up to an hour. Next, prepare the butter mixture. 

Danish13I find Danish to be easier than making croissants, partly because of the butter preparation. When making croissants you have to mix butter and flour very slowly to avoid incorporating air, shape it into a square, and refrigerate it for a good hour or two to then fold it into the croissant dough. With Danish, you’re simply whipping the butter with the flour and brushing it on the dough. So, we’ll do just that – place the cold but slightly softened butter in the bowl of a mixer with half a cup of flour. Start on a low speed, and once the flour is incorporated, whip the butter for 2-3 minutes, until very light.

Danish14When the butter is ready and the dough has chilled, uncover the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out to a rectangle approximately 13 by 18 inches. With the shorter ends at your right and left sides, spread the butter on the center and right third of the dough. As my Chef told me, this is not a low fat recipe – make sure you use all that butter! Then fold the left third of the dough to the center, covering half the buttered surface, and bring the right side over the left.

Danish6Brush off the excess flour. Try to keep the edges as aligned as possible, but it can be tricky! You’ll want to wrap that up and let it chill again anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. My house is pretty warm – especially with us all packing boxes and cleaning things out! – so I chilled it for a little over an hour each time. After you chill it you’ll start again. Place the dough lengthwise in front of you, roll it out to a 13 by 18-inch rectangle, and fold the same way. Repeat this two more times for a total of four folds, always chilling the dough in between.

This process of laminating the dough can take awhile, but trust me, it’s so worth it. You’ll bite into the finished Danish and taste everyone of those flaky layers! In the meantime, you can make a filling. The cool thing about filling Danish is that the possibilities are pretty much endless. You can do any kind of fruit filling – apple, cherry, berry, or even lemon curd – cream fillings like cream cheese or pastry cream, or you can even bake the Danish first and then fill with a chocolate ganache. I have a thing for raspberries, as I’m sure we’ve all figured out by now, so I did a raspberry filling.

Danish7First, as always, get your ingredients ready to go. You could always use frozen berries, but why not take advantage of beautiful fresh summer berries? Bring a cup of water and a cup of sugar to a rolling boil in a small pot. Once the sugar is boiling, reduce to a simmer and add a tablespoon of cornstarch. To make sure the cornstarch doesn’t get lumpy, dissolve it in a couple tablespoons of water before adding it. Let that incorporate for a few seconds, and then add the raspberries.

Danish9Let those cook for 6-10 minutes at a gentle boil, constantly stirring. The berries will cook down, leaving a nice smooth filling. When the mixture is thick, remove the pot from the heat. You can either pour this as-is into a container (it’ll be very hot, so glass is best) and refrigerate it, or you can strain the seeds out first. I opted not to strain the seeds, I like the texture and earthy flavor of them. Once that cools for a few hours or overnight, it’ll be thick and ready to pipe or spoon onto the Danish before baking.

So, you’ve done your four turns on the Danish dough, and your filling is made and cooling. I definitely recommend refrigerating the dough until the next day before using. Rolling it out and shaping it will warm it up quickly, so you want it as cool as possible. If you were planning to use it over 24 hours after making it, freeze it so it doesn’t overproof.

The next morning, or a few hours later, you’ll unwrap the chilled dough and it’ll be slightly puffed up.

Danish10

Looking good! Once again, you’ll roll it out into a rectangle, close to that 13″x18″ and a quarter inch thick. Trim just along the edges with a pastry cutter or a pizza wheel – the closed off edges will keep the laminated dough from rising properly. The next few steps will depend on what shapes you’d like your Danish to be.

Danish11For half pockets shown here, cut the dough into squares. Gently stretch two opposite corners of the square, and pull those corners into the center. For full pockets, do the same thing with the other two corners. Prepare a simple egg wash using one beaten egg, and brush each Danish with just enough to cover it thinly. It shouldn’t pool at the bottom of the pastry. Some people like to vary the egg wash a bit, sometimes adding a little milk or an extra egg yolk. Use whatever you prefer.

Let these proof anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. I was in a rush to get breakfast on the table so these guys only got a half an hour of proofing time, and they were fine, but the usual is quite a bit longer. After proofing, degas the center of each Danish and spoon or pipe a small amount of filling in each indentation. Brush the Danish with more egg wash, and put them in a 385-degree oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until puffed and a dark golden color.

You can make a simple white glaze using half a cup of powdered sugar and a few teaspoons of milk added one at a time. Drizzle that over them, let it set, and these pretty pastries are ready to eat!

Danish15There’s nothing quite like a warm, fresh Danish. Now I’ll be the first to say that it takes a heck of a lot longer to make them than it does to eat them, but that’s why we do it, right? It’s a labor of love for a reason!

 

DANISH DOUGH

  • 1 T active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Zest of one orange
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp salt

FOLD-IN BUTTER

  • 1/2 pound chilled, unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup AP flour

Whip butter and flour together until combined and very light. Follow directions above for folds and turns.

RASPBERRY FILLING

  • One (6 oz) container of raspberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 T cornstarch

Boil sugar and water together until sugar is dissolved, then reduce to a simmer.

Add the cornstarch, and stir for 15-20 seconds.

Add raspberries and cook on medium high heat, constantly stirring. When mixture is thick and boiling, remove from heat. Strain if you’d like, then store in a glass container and refrigerate.

ASSEMBLY:

When Danish is shaped and proofed, pipe or spoon filling into an indentation in the center. Bake at 385 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown in color.

 

Have Your (Cup)cake, and Eat It Too!

I’m not really a cupcake person. I’ll eat one occasionally, but if someone asked me to make cupcakes I would much rather suggest a small cake. With all these cupcake shows airing on all different networks over the years, they’ve become nothing but a trend that anyone can throw together.

Strawberry cupcake with strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream. 2013.

Strawberry cupcake with strawberry Swiss   meringue buttercream. 2013.

I make an exception for red velvet, however. Red velvet cake is typically not a pile of ingredients that can all be thrown in one bowl and mixed together, so concentration and attention to detail (plus quite a bit of cleanup) is important. But all the work is worth it; there’s no other cake that’s quite like the elegant, mildly cocoa-flavored red velvet.

Now, I also believe that if a person is looking for a light and “healthy” dessert, there are a lot of options out there that utilize fresh fruits, bittersweet chocolate, and natural fruit juices in place of sugar. I am against low fat or low sugar cake recipes because these usually lead to a baked good with low taste. If you’re going to eat a cupcake anyway, eat a cupcake. A real one.

Over the last year or so, I’ve had plenty of requests for sugar-free cookies, fat-free brownies, or low-fat varieties of cupcakes. Sometimes I would truly be too busy to fill the order, and sometimes I’d turn these requests away and politely explain that I just didn’t really do “diet” recipes. This week though my best friend asked if I could come up with a healthier version of a red velvet cupcake for her mom’s birthday. I don’t know whether it was because she’s a good friend, she wanted red velvet, or I’m just too bored at home, but I agreed.

First, I had to find a good recipe. Normally I use my own, but because I’m definitely a novice at healthier substitutions and I just don’t have the luxury of making test batch after test batch, I decided to borrow one (full credit is given at the bottom of this post).

cupcake1This recipe uses unsweetened applesauce as another sweetener to cut back on the sugar, and also will create a more dense cake without the need for a large amount of fat.

Start by whisking the sugar, applesauce, and vegetable oil together well in a mixing bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, combine the cocoa powder, flour, and salt.

 
cupcake2Next, add 3/4 cup of a fat-free egg substitute gradually to the wet ingredients and whisk until thoroughly combined.

 

 cupcake3Add the vanilla and once ounce of red food coloring. Whisk until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is evenly colored. Then, use a mixer and alternate adding the dry ingredients and fat-free buttermilk* to the mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

*To make your own, place one Tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup, and fill to 1 cup with fat-free milk.

In a separate bowl, stir vinegar and baking soda together and allow to fizz. Fold into the batter.

 

cupcake4

Fill cupcake liners about three-quarters full. If any batter drips on the cupcake tin you’ll want to go back and wipe it off before baking – it’s no fun to have to pry hot cupcakes out of a tin covered in baked-on batter! Bake these at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the middle of one comes out with a few crumbs on it.

While these are baking, make the cream cheese frosting. I’m convinced that there’s just no way to make frosting diet-friendly, but I did replace regular cream cheese with light (1/3 fat) and used half the amount of sugar that I normally would. If you’re looking to pipe your frosting so it’s towering over your cupcakes I don’t recommend using less than a pound of sugar – your frosting won’t hold and will slide right off the cake – but if you’re just wanting a small amount on each cupcake like I was, somewhat loose frosting with half the sugar is fine.

 

CCBC1Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and beat it until it’s very light and fluffy. Add the softened unsalted butter and beat them together. Scrape the sides of the bowl down occasionally to ensure that the butter and cream cheese is thoroughly combined.

 

CCBC2Add the vanilla and mix well.

 

CCBC3 Finally, add at least eight ounces of confectioner’s sugar to the mixture and combine. Once the frosting is thoroughly mixed and smooth, it’s time to frost the cooled cupcakes!

 

cupcake6Use a large piping bag with a large plain round tip (or any tip you’d like) to pipe a moderate amount of frosting on each cupcake (We’re trying to be low-fat here, remember. If you slather on a pound of frosting per cupcake, I’m pretty sure all of the health benefits are lost).

cupcake7So far so good, but I always try to add some extra little touches to cupcakes. Simple fondant cutouts of flowers or other designs are my usual go-to, but I had some extra red melts on hand that I thought would add a nice pop to the red velvet. I let the melted candy set on a sheet of acetate, and then broke it into shards to place on the tops of the cupcakes.

cupcake8They taste almost as good as they look. While healthier cupcakes may not ever make my list of favorites, I do give a lot of credit to people who try to stick to their diets instead of having an all-out splurge!

 

LOW FAT RED VELVET CUPCAKES

Recipe by Maddie Ruud: http://maddieruud.hubpages.com/hub/Lowfat-Cupcakes

  • 1 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup fat free egg substitute
  • 2 Tbsp red food coloring
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup fat free buttermilk
  • 1 1/4 tsp white vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a cupcake tin with 12 paper cupcake liners.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, whisk together oil, sugar, and applesauce until well combined. Add the egg substitute to the mixture gradually, and mix well.

Stir in the food coloring and vanilla.

Using a mixer, alternate adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk to the mixture, starting and ending with dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the baking soda and vinegar and let fizz. Fold it into the batter.

Fill cupcake liners three-quarters full with batter. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center comes out with a few crumbs.

 

LIGHT CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 8 oz light cream cheese
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups cconfectioner’s sugar (Use up to 4 cups for stiffer frosting)

Beat cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer until light and fluffy.

Add the butter, and combine thoroughly.

Mix in the vanilla extract.

Add the sugar, mixing slowly to combine. Once the frosting is well combined and smooth, transfer to a piping bag.

 

I Played Pastry Chef Today.

I don’t disagree with anyone who says that I need to work on my photography skills. I’m going to post pictures of my (finally!) finished sorbet, but they’re not good pictures. The flavor of the finished product, though, is another story. Definitely worth the wait and frustration! Especially when served with chocolate.

sorbet plateOkay, so it’s mostly chilled soup. But that’s just what happens when I basically plate it directly from the machine after churning it for only about 30 minutes. Normally I’d churn it for 30 minutes and then put it in the freezer for about two hours, but remember, I waited two days longer than I planned for this. Who can blame me for my haste?

My plan for this plate was a little more clean and elaborate than what I got, but let me just remind you that I’m not in school yet (12 more days!!). I’m just having fun practicing and learning as I go. Anyway, on one of the plates I was going for an almond tuile bowl with raspberry sorbet topped with fresh raspberries and decorated with a chocolate curl on the side, and raspberry curd swirls and chocolate chunks on the bottom of the plate. On the other two I wanted again some raspberry curd on the plate first, then a sorbet quenelle, topped with a flat almond tuile and fresh raspberries. In my defense, I pretty much had that before my sorbet turned to soup. The tempered chocolate décor did make it onto each plate even though you can’t see it, and I’m pretty pleased about that!

So let’s talk more about this infamous raspberry sorbet. Is it hard to make? Nope, not when your ice cream machine freezes properly. First things first, you’ll want to get your simple syrup base started so it can cool. Combine one cup each of sugar and water in a small pot, and boil for 2-3 minutes or so until the sugar is dissolved completely. Then you’ll let that cool to room temperature while you’re prepping the raspberries.

 

Ras1Put three cups of washed and thoroughly dried raspberries into a food processor along with a splash of fresh lime juice and puree them. It’s really up to you how long you process them – I like my sorbet as smooth as possible so I keep the processor running for a while.

After they’re pureed, push through a sieve to remove the seeds.

Ras2Want to save time and frustration? Get a bigger sieve than I have. I’m pretty sure it took a half an hour to get the two cups of puree. But with a four-inch sieve, I’m asking for it.

 
ras3Once your simple syrup is cooled to room temperature, slowly stir it into the raspberry puree. When combined, add a quarter cup of light corn syrup and stir well. I find that the mixture freezes faster in the ice cream machine if you chill it anywhere from 4-8 hours before using.

 

While my base was chilling, I made the almond tuile cookies. I’d never made them before, but they’re such a great addition to a dessert with their mild flavor and crisp texture. They were easy too, with only a few ingredients to throw together.

almond

Start by boiling the butter for 2-3 minutes, until you can see light brown solids at the bottom of the pan. Stir occasionally to keep it from burning. Then add brown sugar, salt, light corn syrup, and milk. This recipe works best with whole milk or heavy cream but I didn’t have either on hand, so half and half did the trick. When the mixture is completely combined, add the flour and oats. Fold in the almonds last.

You’ll end up with a very thick dough of sorts, and if you’re like me you’ll look at it and think, how the heck will this make paper-thin cookies? But trust me – they’ll thin out (and spread!) in the oven.

almond2In fact, it’s because they spread so much that you really don’t want to use more than a teaspoon or two per cookie, and keep them a good few inches apart on your baking sheet. These took about 10-12 minutes to bake, which I thought was a bit long. But you’ll know when they’re done – obviously you want to give them time to thin out and spread, and they should have some color. Let them rest on the sheet for 3-4 minutes, and then remove them.

The fun part with these is molding them any way you want. If you choose to do this, you need to work quickly before they set. My first couple were pretty strangely shaped while I worked on getting my timing right, but I made a few small bowls by resting the soft cookies on the bottom of an overturned cup to allow them to set.

almond3Easy! My scrap pieces disappeared quickly – these are best eaten just a few minutes after baking! The ones I planned to use later were closely guarded by me to make sure they weren’t munched on unintentionally.

 

A few hours later, it’s time to finish up the sorbet! This is the easy part, as long as you know how long your ice cream machine typically takes to churn a batch of sorbet. Mine takes about 20-30 minutes.

When you first pour your base into the machine, it’ll stay a liquid for a good 5-10 minutes. You’ll see ice crystals slowly begin to form, giving the sorbet a slush-like consistency.

sorbetAfter about 20 minutes, it begins to freeze to a lower temperature and thicken up.

sorbet2When it reaches the consistency of soft serve ice cream (you can test that by spooning a small amount out of the machine and noticing if the rest of the sorbet stays indented), transfer it from the machine to another container. It can be served as-is if you like your sorbet soft (but don’t let it sit out long!), or you can let it freeze for another few hours.

If you want to get a little fancy and present the sorbet on a plate, you can make raspberry curd to add an artistic look to the presentation. It’s not complicated to make, but I’ll go over the process later when I use it in another recipe. I see chocolate raspberry Danish in my future!

So, there you have it. The long-awaited raspberry sorbet. With all these summer berries around, I can’t think of a more satisfying way to enjoy them while beating the heat!

sorbet plate2

 

RASPBERRY SORBET

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

  • 3 cups washed and dried fresh raspberries
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the sugar dissolves completely. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Put the raspberries and lime juice in a food processor and puree until smooth. Push the mixture through a sieve with a rubber spatula to strain out the seeds (this is optional; if you like the texture of the seeds, leave them in. I often strain the raspberries and then add a tablespoon of the seeds back in).

Combine the sugar and water with the raspberry puree once it has cooled completely, and stir in the corn syrup. For best results, chill the mixture for a few hours, or you can pour into an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. Serve immediately or transfer to another container and place the sorbet in the freezer to firm up.

ALMOND LACE TUILE

Makes about 6 dozen cookies

  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 T whole milk (heavy cream or half and half will work too)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 2 T AP flour
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.

Bring the butter to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a low boil for 2-3 minutes, or until solids at the bottom of the pan appear light brown.

Remove from the heat and add the brown sugar, salt, milk or cream, and corn syrup to the butter and stir well. Stir in the oats, flour, and vanilla. Fold in the chopped almonds.

Drop 1-2 teaspoons of batter onto the baking sheet and space the cookies at least three inches apart. Bake for 6-10 minutes, or until cookies spread very thin and brown slightly around the edges.

Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 3-4 minutes, then remove with a thin metal spatula. Place them either on a flat cooling rack to set, or mold them into desired shapes.

 

This Post Isn’t About Raspberry Sorbet.

It was supposed to be. I think I probably spent eight or nine hours in the kitchen today. Not that I’m unhappy about that – the kitchen is my favorite place to be, no doubt about it – but I spent those eight or nine hours working really hard on some fresh, bright raspberry sorbet, and I have nothing but a few almond lace tuile cookies to show for it.

laceThey’re pretty, at least, and they weren’t difficult. But they’d look better on a nice plate next to some raspberry sorbet.

So we have this ice cream/sherbet/sorbet maker. I guess I sort of adopted it – it was my sister’s birthday or Christmas present one year and I think she used it once or twice. Then when I got into baking a couple of years ago, I learned more and more about making ice cream. I remembered the old machine and dug it out of the darkness of our kitchen cupboard last month to give it a test run. My mom had just gotten this huge container of blueberries, so I knew it was time for some blueberry sorbet!

blue

It worked well, and I was pretty pleased with myself for nailing it on the first try! Here’s the thing, though: the machine works by churning the ice cream or sorbet base in a frozen solid bucket-type container. This container takes at least 12 hours to freeze properly, so planning ahead is necessary.

I was going all “King of Cones” today and I had my plated sorbet dessert all planned out. I started this morning with my raspberry base, and while that was chilling I tempered chocolate, made the lace cookies, and made some raspberry curd for good measure. I was thrilled because everything was working out more or less how I wanted (tempered chocolate is a necessary evil, so I compromise. Chocolate circles didn’t hold? I guess we have chocolate abstract art!), and all that was left to make was the sorbet.

When I use the ice cream machine I always make sure to put the container back in the freezer when I’m done with it, so my only guess is that it got moved to the garage shelf two weekends ago when we had a little family party. Someone decided that we needed room for more beer I guess, which I probably would’ve been totally okay with if I liked beer.

Anyway.

I found the machine container in a liquid state at 1:30 this afternoon, so I threw it in the freezer and attempted to make sorbet at 7. My base turned to slush at best, so I gave up after 30 minutes.

So, when will you get to see this fabulous plated sorbet dessert? Tomorrow, probably. Thankfully I can save every bit of what I made today, so all I have to do tomorrow is make the sorbet and throw it all on a plate.

For today, though, feast your eyes on my almond lace cookies. They did take about eight hours, you know.

lace3

A Cookie for Every Occasion

I really don’t like making cookies. Often they take just as much prep and cleaning up as more elaborate desserts, but they’re not nearly as impressive. Most cookie recipes are all executed the same way: cream your butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla and mix, add dry ingredients, then fold in whatever add-ins you choose. Scoop, bake, and boom! You have cookies. Cookies are boring.

TCC

That being said, there are some days that I’m just in the mood for a cookie or two. While in Orlando, I developed quite a repertoire of cookies to make for friends, coworkers, or just because I was celebrating a good day or craving some chocolate to pick up my mood after a bad one. With the limited counter space in my tiny apartment, cookies were a perfect project to take up a few hours after early morning shifts.

 

mix2

On this particular day, I was thrilled to be home by three o’clock after getting off at 2. I don’t drive and it’s not easy for me to walk a mile to the bus stop, so I relied on the Orlando Para transit company, Access Lynx. What a horrible idea. In theory, the door-to-door service was nice, but getting picked up at 4:30 in the morning to make it to work by eight was anything but. It was also not uncommon to be picked up two or three hours after I got off work. So being able to enjoy the rest of the day was rare, and I was ready to get some baking in. I wanted something more than the average chocolate chip cookie, though. I wanted dark chocolate. And something warm and gooey. And so, these triple chocolate espresso cookies were born.

 

scale

Not a fan of coffee? I’m not either, but this slight coffee flavor from espresso powder only serves to bring out the deeper chocolate flavors. You can certainly omit it, but the cookies just won’t taste the same.

I’m not an expert baker just yet, but a year of pastry school and working in a bakery has taught me a few things. First, measure out all of your ingredients before you do anything else (I can still hear my first Chef every time I bake – “mise en place!!”). It may seem like a pain, but it actually saves quite a bit of time because once you start your recipe, you have everything you need. It’s also a good idea so your butter has time to soften (you’ll want it very, very soft for this recipe; to the point that you can’t pick a piece up with your fingers. The colder the butter in this recipe, the stiffer the dough and the harder it is to work with). Let the eggs warm to room temp as well – this will keep your dough from curdling and your cookies will stay nice and smooth.

 

Cocoa2

 Second, the brand of cocoa powder IS important. If you’re just making these for fun and/or you don’t want to spend more money than you have to, whatever grocery store brand you like will work. If you’d like high-quality, bakery-like cookies, then you need to use high-quality ingredients to get them. I use Cocoa Barry Dutch-process cocoa powder, which produces a deep, rich flavor and very dark baked goods. It’s a few dollars more expensive, but I’ll never use anything else.

 

espresso

Once you have all your ingredients measured out and ready to go (recipe follows), combine the cocoa powder with the flour in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large mixer bowl, combine the brown sugar, baking powder, salt, espresso powder, and butter and cream until very light. Mixing times will always vary, but in my stand mixer I usually cream anywhere from 2-5 minutes.

Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

mix

Slowly stir in the flour and cocoa powder. The dough will begin to stiffen up and it’s okay to mix on a higher speed if needed, but don’t do this for an extended amount of time. Nobody likes tough cookies!

chips

Now comes the fun part: add your chocolate chips! My recipe calls for the usual two cups of semisweet chips, but where’s the fun in that? Pump up the flavor a little bit with a darker chocolate – I used one cup of 60% bittersweet chocolate along with semisweet (usually 45-50% cocoa) chunks. Use whatever you like. I’m sure white chocolate would also go well in this recipe, if you’re a fan of it. Me, not so much. Be aware of how much you add, though – if you exceed 2 1/2 cups of chips or nuts, the dough won’t hold together very well. You can either slowly mix in the chips with your mixer (don’t mix for more than 8-10 seconds) or fold them in.

 

TCC2

Next, scoop them out onto a parchment-lined or greased cookie sheet. I used to use a big spoon to do this and round them out with my hands, but if you can spring for the extra eight bucks or so, go get yourself a cookie scoop. It’s a lifesaver. These cookies won’t spread much, so an inch apart is fine. If you like your cookies a bit flatter, you can flatten them slightly with your palm before baking. If you’re using a convection oven (the kind with a fan in the back), these won’t take long to bake at all. I always turn my tray halfway through baking, so these typically take 4-5 minutes per side (8-10 minutes total) to bake. If you’re not using convection, just up the baking time by a minute or two.

These cookies are super rich, which makes them perfect for sharing with friends or coworkers. I’ll warn you though that if you do share them, you’ll probably wind up making them more often than you think! My fellow cast members gobbled these up and always asked for more. Whether you choose to share or keep them all to yourself, enjoy!

 

TRIPLE CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO COOKIES

Makes about 30 cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. espresso powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (milk, dark, bittersweet, white, all of the above, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour and cocoa powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a mixer bowl, combine butter, sugar, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt. Cream until light and fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla, beat until combined.

Add the flour/cocoa mixture to the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix the dough.

Fold in chocolate chips. Using a large table spoon or cookie scoop, scoop cookies onto a cookie sheet.

Bake 8-12 minutes, until cookies are just set in the middle.

T-minus 22 Days and Counting!

I know, I know – it’s been awhile. But I’ve been busy, kind of. I spent July loving my last month as a Cast Member. I worked as many hours as I could – not so much for the money, but only because there was never a day that I didn’t love my job. Most of the time it felt like I was on a Disney vacation myself. I worked in a restaurant with character dining, so it was always fun to walk past Mickey, Donald, Goofy, or Daisy every few minutes. Goofy and I were very much in love, as my coworkers know.

When My last day ended, I was missing Disney by the time I got home from my shift that night. I’m so excited to finish my degree this year and get back to the Disney Magic I love so much!

Goofy

But instead of constantly talking about things from a few months ago, I think it’s time to switch gears and focus on this coming school year. For now I’m at home getting things together for my big move to Providence, Rhode Island, but I only have about three more weeks until I get on a plane to my home away from home.

Time is passing incredibly slowly since I’m just sitting here counting the hours, and as you can tell, my blog is sitting around untouched. So I’m going to try something until I leave for Providence on September 6th: I’ll bake two recipes per week – every Tuesday and Friday – and feature them here with recipes, pictures, and a little chitchat in between. That way you have more to look at, and I have more practice with this whole blogging thing so that I’ll be ready to post often during school.

First up on Tuesday the 19th: Triple chocolate espresso cookies. Starting simple, maybe, but these are absolutely to die for. They also happen to be my original recipe, and my best-selling cookie. Packed with two kinds of chocolate and dutch-process cocoa, they never disappoint.

TCC

Stay tuned!

Welcome!

Profile

Hi all, welcome to my long-overdue blog. Seems like I’ve tried to start one several times, but I would hardly call myself tech savvy and I’d get discouraged and go do something else. But with my journal filling up and my Facebook statuses getting longer and longer, I figured it was probably time to get some of that writing into a more dedicated space.

I don’t really have a target audience in mind. I have so many friends who have stood by and watched with great interest at the things I’ve done this year – whether that means they’ve drooled on their computers at one of the many pastry creations I’ve posted, or followed my first experience with Florida’s legal system. I created this page for them, so they can follow my progress as I start my new path to my Baking & Pastry Arts degree in Providence, Rhode Island.

A small part of me also created it for people going through a lot of my same challenges. My goal here is not necessarily to “inspire” people – my disability is only a small part of who I am – but as one of the first pastry students to go through private culinary schooling with a physical handicap, I want people to know that they can do it too. The culinary arts industry is quick to question my abilities and to tell me I can’t, and it shouldn’t be that way. I want to serve as an example and show that attitude and work ethic matter more than my irregular gait and balance issues.

Ordinary foodies and dessert lovers needn’t be disappointed; I’ll be posting pictures (though amateurish, I’ll just warn you now) and recipes often. I like to keep a positive attitude and I have a lot to say, so I hope you’re ready to follow along.