Monday, March 30, 2009

Danish Pastries


When one enrols in pastry school, keeping a healthy diet proves to be challenging. Although I think I do pretty good in refraining myself from gobble up all the goodies I make, there are some pastries that are simply irresistible.

Case in point, the freshly made danish. Or yeasted laminated dough in general. I told you that I have fresh artisan breads for dinners in the past 2 weeks. But I deliberately left out the details of the sinful breakfasts I partook in that 2 glorious weeks- super flaky, buttery, arteries clogging croissants and danish pastries. The phenomenal croissants is worthy of a post on its own, so let's focus on danish now, shall we?

Although I have made danish with the Daring Bakers before, making this breakfast pastries in class is a totally different experience. Depending on the time of the year and the temperature in the room, dealing with a large amount of butter in a recipe is never an easy feat. For that reason, having ample cooler and freezer space is anytime an unspoken advantage. I remember rearranging my "well stocked" cooler and freezer when I was attempting to chill the danish dough for danish braid last year, and it was a real pain. Cooling space aside, having a machine to roll out the dough is another reason to bring smile to my face. I fell in love with the sheeter the first time I used it. I think of sheeter as a big pasta machine ,it can roll out any kind of dough in no time.

Typically used in laminating dough to minimise contact time, which may result in melting the butter in the dough. My friend told me that the bakery she staged at used a sheeter to roll out cookies dough. Using just 2 fingers, I can have the danish dough roll uniformly to the desired thickness. Pure bliss~ It's great time saver when dealing with a large batch. But rolling out by hands definitely feel more rewarding.

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A few weeks ago, a representative from POM Wonderful dropped me an email to see if I would be interested to try their 100% pomegranate juice. The answer, as you may already guessed, was YES! I must confess that I was too cheap to buy it from the grocery stores because I wasn't sure if I would like it. How typically unadventurous of me. Even though I love the lovely bottle the pomegranate juice comes in.

POM Wonderful's antioxidant power has well documented as significantly higher than red wines and other fruit juices. Other health benefits on cardiovascular, prostate and erectile function can be read from their website. Although according to the studies, one needs to drink the juice for a long duration to fully reap the claimed health benefits , I think it is definitely a healthy beverage option compared to many in the market.


We had a pomegranate tree in the back yard when growing up, so I am no stranger to the fruit. I remember ripping open the red skin to messily digged out a lump of pomegranate pulps. They were then sent directly to my mouth. Taste of fresh pomegranate juice, extracted in my mouth. After that, a game of seeds spitting ensued, all in the name of hope - that some will grow into pomegranate trees the next day/week. The messy but delicious memory. My first sip of POM Wonderful juice reminds me of the fresh pomegranate juice I had in my childhood. They taste exactly the same! For this, I say "Good Job!" to the folks at POM wonderful for a great product.

POM wonderful has some interesting recipes on their website, but I simply drink the juice as it is. After eating so many croissants and danish, I need to drink something wholesome to counteract the negative effects of overloaded butter. Pomegranate juice definitely fits the bill.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Breads Invasion!

Beer Bread

I used to think that I was a bread girl. Unlike my better half, I could sustain on bread as my sole source of carbohydrate for weeks. I looked forward to the day we started bread classes, I couldn't wait to pack my freezer with breads and never need to do grocery for weeks.

That was the plan. And I certainly filled up my freezers with breads, even had many extra to give away. I started to plan my meals around breads. Salad, sandwich, soup, you name it- to go with the never ending supply of breads. All the freshly made breads I brought home was reason to envy a pastry student. I felt so spoilt for eating fresh artisan breads as dinners for 2 weeks! However, I had to reluctantly admit that I had overestimated my affinity for breads. Turned out I could only eat that many loaves of breads before bolting for a bowl of rice for comfort. I blame it on my unmistakably Asian genes.

breads invasion

There is something satisfying about bread baking. The way the dough reacts when you knead and shape them. The way it rises and fall and rise some more in the oven-the indication that it is fiercely alive. It almost feels like a science experiment, except that it's a pleasantly edible one. Personally I find the process of bread baking more rewarding than eating the final product.

Having said that, it depresses me a little that I couldn't decipher the greatness of one bread from the other. After making breads for a few days, they all tasted and smelled the same to me. I know, I am unsophisticated this way. Telling a good bread from a mediocre one is easy. But differentiating the flavor and texture from 2 good breads is tough. Or it is quite possibly just me. Most of my classmates can eloquently describe the differences between the various kinds of breads we baked. However, when pressed, I will proclaim my favorite to be the multigrain sourdough. Just don't ask me to articulate the reason.

My creation

Instead of attempting to describe the many breads we made, I will leave you with the pictures. If you have a good way to consume them, I am all ears. I think I am going to make french toast and garlic bread next.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

paris brest

Paris Brest, a bicycle tire-shaped confection, was created by a French baker to commemorate the audacious riders who took part in the Paris Brest Paris Randonniers. The grueling bicycle event, which dated back in 1891, required the riders to complete a 1200 km (750 miles) ride from Paris to Brest, and returning to Paris within 90 hours. A daring feat that was unheard of at that time.

Paris Brest

Perhaps that could explain the baker's inspiration of filling the tire-shaped choux pastry with huge amount of calorific praline pastry cream. Someone who have completed the arduous ride has no doubt burned enough calories to justify a generous serving of Paris Brest. Traditionally, a thick layer of pastry cream is piped into the center of choux pastry "tire", and more cream is used to decorate the surrounding of choux pastry ring.

I, who have no plan in participating any bicyle race in a foreseeable future, like the updated version that chef taught us in school. The reason is simple. Another smaller choux pastry ring is inserted in the center of the big choux pastry ring. As a result, less pastry cream is required, which tastes just as palatable.

On the night when I brought the Paris Brest home, I was confronted with a severe thunderstorm. It was definitely the most arduous 10 minutes walk in my life. The act of balancing a Paris Brest on top of a St Honore in one hand, while holding a flimsy foldable umbrealla in another was trying. My shoes and socks were soaking wet by the time I got home. So was my backpack, jacket and the jeans. I felt like I had waded a stream to get home. I couldn't imagine the rough weather conditions the cyclists have to endure in their 90 hours of constant pedalling. I would have abandoned the pastries if the walk was more than 10 minutes.

the fallen brest

Perhaps the thought have offended the pastry god. Just when I was about to reach my block, the paris brest fell face down onto the ground! Thanks to the multiple layers of saran-wrap, the Paris Brest was only half - disfigured, as you can see in the picture above. It was still delicious, and remains as one of my favorite things to make and eat. :)


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Love at first sight: chocolate tart

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Do you believe in love at first sight? I don't. Except when it has chocolate written all over its face. Like this tart we made in class.

I couldn't believe I have kept it away from you for so long since it followed me home more than two weeks ago. It was 2 busy weeks with friends and OCT visiting Chicago on consecutive weekends. My time was split between cleaning the messy apartment, daydreaming the touristy things we could do together and generally excited about the said visits.

When A and D were here, we didn't cover a single tourist attraction in the windy city. It was especially inconceivable considering that it was D's first time visiting Chicago.Poor D had a bad bout of indigestion, which she insisted was due to the pizza she ate on the first night. However, I couldn't help suspecting that it could quite possibly be the ridiculous amount of desserts I fed her on the night she arrived. A and I stayed in my apartment the following day, while D slept; catching up on each others life over coffee and more desserts. None of us mind. The famous sights can wait. Hopefully, that will lure them back to Chicago soon.

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Having arrived on the end of my tart week in school, they got to try the St Honore tart and paris brest among other things I saved in the freezer, which included this chocolate tart. Unfortunately, the once lovely chocolate tart lost its appeal upon freezing. Unlike the lemon cream tart,which one could keep in the freezer for a couple of weeks, the chocolate tart needs to be eaten within 2-3 days. I was pushing my luck when I chuck it in the freezer in hope of preserving it.

OCT who visited this past weekend didn't get to taste as many tarts, but he wasn't complaining. Mostly because he got his fill of croissants and french breads! A significant amount of breads had been unloaded from my tiny freezer to its sister freezer in Atlanta. But at the speed we are baking bread in class, it will be filled to the brim in no time.

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Although I couldn't give you the recipe of this chocolat tart, may I suggest that you consider the Nutella Tart I made sometime ago? The texture of the chocolate filling is comparable. And if you are a Nutella lover like me, you will find yourself favor Pierre Herme's version over this.

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