Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summer Baking: Learning the Basics with BU Gastronomy {Class #1}

This summer I'm enrolled in the Culinary Lab: Baking course as part of my graduate program - the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy at Boston University. For the next 6 weeks I'll be spending 2 nights a week in the professional kitchen learning all about baking. The course requires students to keep a journal of the experience and I've decided to record my adventures here on the blog. I hope you enjoy! You'll get the calorie-free version of my decadent baking experience. 


Back to the kitchen! No I haven’t been eating only takeout  –  it’s back to the professional kitchen at Boston University to continue learning. Following up on my fantastic experience two years ago in the culinary lab for cooking, this summer I am enrolled in the culinary lab for baking. For the next 6 weeks I will be immersed in the sweeter side of the kitchen. This course focuses on pastry basics – all the building blocks for a world full of delicious goodies. My classmates and I will work on recipes that span the globe – from Paris to Texas to Turkey.

Even as an adult, the first day of school jitters are still there. Will I forget my chef coat? Did I buy the right size offset spatula? The agenda for the first night included crepes and a delicious filling to turn them into Gateau de Crepes a la Normande. I’ll admit, the prospect of crepes had me a little scared. I always imagined that you needed a special pan and special talent. Thankfully, my fears were allayed as we moved through the process (and a foolproof recipe from Jacques Pepin).

We started with a rapid-fire lecture on the building blocks needed for baking. Did you ever stop to think about all the ingredients? Good old all-purpose flour and white granulated sugar are just the tip of the ingredient iceberg. There are multiple classes of wheat that get transformed into flours and a seemingly endless amount of alternative flours (think chickpea, oat, nuts, and more). Sweeteners come in many varieties too. Even what you might think of as sugar can come from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Next was a whirlwind tour of the options for fats and leavening agents.

With our heads filled with all this new information we donned our chef coats and hats and headed to the kitchen to transform these simple building blocks into something impressive and delectable.

As you can see in the photo of the recipe, there isn't much to a crepe batter! The secret lies in how you mix the batter and how you handle the pan. We learned that when you are making a batter it is important to mix only until combined. When mixing a batter with flour and liquid the more you mix, the more gluten is developed. That means that more mixing equals more gluten. The trick to keeping these crepes light and tender lies in the method. By mixing in only half of the milk at first, you can work out the lumps with less mixing. After the batter is smoothed out the remaining milk and melted butter are added in to reach the desired consistency. This would also be a good trick for mixing up your pancake batter at home to keep them light and fluffy.

The secret to turning this perfect batter into a perfect crepe lies in the wrist. The thickness of the crepe depends on the speed with which you swirl the batter into the pan. The faster the batter is spread the thinner the crepe will be. My first crepe came out a little pale, uneven, and ripped from a flipping mishap. However as I continued on I started to get the hang of it!

The great thing about crepes is that they are a perfect vehicle for just about any pairing you dream up. Nutella and jam? Yes! Peanut butter and marshmallow sauce? Definitely! Turkey and brie? Tasty! We went the fancy route - a layered crepe cake! Inside our layers of mostly-successful crepes we spread apples cooked with Calvados, cream, and almond flour. To top off this already decadent stack we poured on melted butter, sprinkled sliced almonds, and sprinkled granulated sugar for a little crunch.

The ingredients for this are pretty ordinary - and not too expensive. We learned that some bakeries charge $50 or more for a cake like this! Sadly I don't see this as a viable income source for me, but at least now I can wow my friends and family with a fun dessert!

Stay tuned for new posts after each of the classes. Next up - cookie night!

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