Thursday, October 22, 2015

Summer Baking: American Night {Class 7}

This summer I completed the Culinary Lab: Baking course as part of my graduate program - the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy at Boston University. For six weeks I spent two nights a week in the professional kitchen learning all about baking. The course required students to keep a journal of the experience and I 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.

If the theme of previous classes have been butter, the theme for American night was SUGAR! Our menu for class took us from New England maple syrup pie and old-fashioned donuts down to Texas for a Texas sheet cake.

Along with the hands-on part of class we are also reading a few books. The book, Invention of Sweet, is giving us an overview of desserts and sweets in history and across cultures, where some cultures like French and Italian treat desserts and pastries as a professional art. In America desert tended to b more of a homemade item.

The Texas sheet cake is a casual serve from the sheet pan type of cake. The fudgy cake, made with buttermilk, is baked and then topped with chocolate frosting. The combination of the cake and frosting was over-the-top sweet. Whether it is so big to feed the state of Texas or it is as big is the state of Texas it was too sweet for me when it was frosted. Interestingly, after making this cake in class I saw it make the rounds on various food blogs and cooking sights. Texas sheet cake revival?

Pouring a full pan full of warm frosting right onto the cake to let it really soak in.

The maple syrup pie was probably equal in terms of sweetness. But the rich maple filling paired with the buttery pie crust made it irresistible to me. My partner and I had a mishap with our pie. After boiling and reducing our syrup we were too quick to add the batter the milk and eggs. Scrambled eggs! Straightening them out would throw off the ratio and the filling wouldn't set. It was back to the range for another boil - and then tempering the eggs. An important lesson! Look beyond the recipe and trust your instincts and pie knowledge.

While this was a little bit of an expensive mistake it was well worth it for a final result. Each night or two teams each produce a version of the recipe. Here the result was noticeably different. Ours was reduced a little more and took on an almost smoky flavor. The other teams with a little lighter in color and texture. Both were delicious, but I really enjoyed the deeper maple flavor of ours.

Have you had an old-fashioned doughnut? This was a recipe test for our instructor's upcoming class on brunch.

One recipe had more sour cream and nutmeg. We opted for doughnut holes to our frying skills. These get a crackly top, crunchy on the outside but soft and pillowy on the inside. Surprisingly, these did not puff up as much as we had expected. They were good - but not great.  But the takeaway was that frying at home isn't too challenging. It takes preparation, concentration, and a big pot of oil. Potentially messy, but not impossible.

Takeaways from the American night class:
Wow! Americans really like sugary sweet desserts without sugar glaze on top!
Don't stick to the recipe technique if you know better.
Have a big glass of milk on hand if you make that sheet cake!

What is your favorite "American "dessert?


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