Le Cordon Bleu Croissants

It’s about time that I posted about Cordon Bleu, seeing that it commenced my culinary journey during my gap year. I have pictures of pastries I learned how to make that I haven’t posted anywhere (and after last year’s stolen phone fiasco, I am always worried about losing un-posted photos). Plus, after getting some fresh yeast from a bread-making friend of mine, I thought it was about time that I made croissants. This was one of the most exciting recipes to learn during basic pastry.

My experience at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa was extraordinary – I met a lot of wonderful people, learned how to make many recipes, practiced French pastry techniques, and dealt with a few administrative frustrations, but left feeling accomplished, yet sad not to join my classmates in intermediate pastry. As much as I desired to proceed to the next level, I wanted to gain experience at a bakery, and save for my trip to Argentina.

The best part about basic pastry was probably Chef Jocelyn – he has such a quirky personality and had the class constantly in giggles, which made for an easy and fun learning environment (not that what we were learning was easy). Pretty much all the chefs are from France, and it takes a while to get used to their accent and funny cursive writing. I also really enjoyed the wine and cheese tour to Prince Edward County, the free lunch with my classmates at the Signatures restaurant, and the  pleasantly awkward yet sentimental graduation ceremony at the end. Most importantly, I learned how much I love pastry, and that no matter what I choose to be in life, I will always be a baker.

So, making croissants is a two-day event, but does not take that much effort – it’s the waiting time that makes it so long. Cordon Bleu uses grams in their recipes, so a scale is needed. Note that you should never substitute the same amount of active dry yeast for fresh yeast.

Ingredients

15g fresh yeast

180ml water

180ml milk

500g flour

10g salt

60g sugar

This is what fresh yeast looks like:

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I sifted the flour on the counter and made a well in the centre,  then placed the sugar in the middle, the salt on one side, and the yeast on the other (this is important to avoid killing the yeast). I mixed them together, using my fingers as a whisk. I then added the milk little by little, incorporating it into the flour mixture, and then added the water until the mixture formed a ball of dough – it was a little sticky, but this is normal. I did not need to use all the water, though.

I kneaded the dough for ten minutes; this involves throwing the dough on the counter, keeping a grip on part of the dough, then folding the dough over on itself and grabbing it from the side. I repeated this motion until the dough was not sticky anymore. Then, I let it sit for an hour and a half at room temperature, inside a bowl and covered with a cloth.

I took 250g butter, placed it between two sheets of plastic wrap, and used a rolling pin to bang it into a square, about 12cm by 12cm. I rolled out the dough to be square and slightly larger than the butter, placed the butter in a diamond shape on the square dough, folded the corners over the butter to wrap it up like a package, and sealed the dough shut. There should be no visible butter.

I rolled out the dough to be 3 times as long as it was as a square, then folded the top part down 1/3, and then the bottom part on top of it to make the dough into a square shape again (it is important to brush off all excess flour as you fold). Then, I made a quarter turn and repeated the rolling and folding. Then, I put plastic wrap all around the dough and put it in the fridge overnight (or as chef would say, “plastic wrap and fridge!”).

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The next day, I made two more turns with the dough (by rolling it out and folding the top part down, then the bottom part over the fold, the same way I had done before) and then refrigerated it for another 20 minutes.

Now comes the shaping of the dough! Look at these beautiful layers:

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I cut the dough in quarters, then rolled out each section, keeping about 5mm thickness, and cut off the edges. Also note that the unrolled pieces of dough should be kept in the fridge. For the croissants, I cut long triangles about 12cm length by 25cm height, and rolled them from the smallest edge to the tip of the triangle, then made a crescent shape.

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For the pain au chocolate, I cut long rectangles, then assembled chocolate chips in a line at the base of the rectangle, and another line in the middle of the rectangle (at Cordon Bleu we used a special kind of chocolate that came in a small log shape, but I had chocolate chips on hand). I rolled up the dough, starting by the row of chocolate closest to the edge.

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The pain au chocolate should rest on the pan like this, with the lip of dough facing down.

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I left the dough for 40 minutes, resting on parchment paper on top of a cookie sheet. The tops of each piece must be brushed with a beaten egg, but silly me – I didn’t have any eggs – so I used milk (I hear all the French pastry chefs in the world gasping. I’m sorry!). Then, I baked everything at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until they are very golden brown. It is important not to under-bake them, as this can make the eater sick. At Cordon Bleu they never told us how long our product would take to bake; chef would always say to bake it “until it is done”. While this makes sense, it was definitely a learning experience to keep a close eye on the product, and know exactly what it should look like when it is finished. These croissants took about 35 minutes – I admit they would have looked a little better with an egg wash.

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I’ll never forget the excitement I felt the moment I first took a bite of a croissant that I made myself.

Here’s to an unforgettable experience at Cordon Bleu – a huge check mark off my life bucket list.

Chocolate Butter Cake (definitely not vegan)

Today is a special day – my best friend since forever turns 23. I decided that my birthday gift to her would be a birthday cake. Over the years, Charlotte has given me some very thoughtful gifts; most notably are the ones she has made herself: a dress, a pillow with “BU” written on it, pajama pants, and a sweater with the Bishop’s song on the back (all of these items were purple!). She definitely has a knack for sewing. Home-made gifts are the best, and I wanted to reciprocate with something that I can make: cake.

I got the recipe for “Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake” from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. The book recommends that all ingredients be fresh and at room temperature. Do not be afraid of eggs being at room temperature – in France they are always kept that way! Also, when a recipe calls for baking powder and flour, sifting them together twice makes sure the baking powder is evenly distributed within your batter (a little something I learned at Cordon Bleu).

Cake Ingredients

Ingredients

1/2 cup, plus 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup boiling water

3 large eggs

2 1/4 tsp vanilla

2 1/4 cups, plus  2 tbsp sifted cake flour (NOT the self-rising kind)

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter

I mixed the cocoa powder and boiling water in a small bowl with a whisk and let it rest until it reached room temperature. Meanwhile, I combined the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl I mixed the eggs, vanilla and 1/4 of the cocoa/water mixture. Then, I added the rest of the cocoa/water mixture to the dry ingredients, as well as the butter, and used a mixer on medium speed to beat it for about 1 1/2 minutes. The cookbook says that this develops the cake structure. I then added the egg/cocoa mixture in three batches, mixing on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition. I scraped the sides of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients were incorporated, and poured the batter into two 9-inch round pans that I buttered, floured, and put parchment paper circles at the bottom. The worst surprise after taking your beautiful cake out of the oven is to have it stick to the pan, so better be safe than sorry!

I baked the cake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-35 minutes, or until the cake sprung back when touched. My cake took 35 minutes. I removed the cakes from the pan after letting them stand for ten minutes, and let them cool for about an hour.

Cakes

Next, I made chocolate butter cream frosting, and it made a lot extra.

Ingredients

6 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

2 cups butter, softened

6 oz semisweet bakers chocolate

Butter cream is a recipe I learned how to make at Cordon Bleu, and I made it using their method, but used the ingredient measurements from The Cake Bible.

I whisked the egg yolks with some of the sugar using a mixer and mixed until they lightened in colour. Then, I boiled the sugar and water until it reached soft-ball stage – to test that it is at this point, I soaked my hand in ice-cold water, reached in to the boiling liquid to grab some sugar, and immediately dunked my hand back in the ice-cold water with sugar in my hand. When the sugar forms a hard substance inside the cold water that resembles candy, it is at soft-ball stage (the sugar can also be formed into a ball, and when thrown on the counter, it makes a sound).

With the mixer beating the egg yolks, I slowly drizzled the liquid sugar on top, making sure to mix everywhere. I kept beating the mixture until the bottom of the bowl reached room-temperature, which took about 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, I melted the butter until I could whisk it smoothly. It should look like the picture below. The egg mixture and this mixture should look very similar. I added the two together with my hand mixer.

Butter

In another bowl, I melted the chocolate on a double boiler, and added it to the butter cream. I reserved a little bit of the plain butter cream for decor.

Butter Cream

To assemble the cake, I cut off about 1/2 cm of cake from the rounded top of each layer to make them flat. Then, I covered the cake in butter cream, and added a little bit of decor on top.

Cake

Dehydrating and Raw Vegan Crackers

Last summer I became curious about dehydrating. It started off with wondering why anyone would want to be a raw vegan (I still don’t get it – it’s a good idea to eat a lot of raw food, but why deprive yourself of so much good, hot food? I have not found ANY evidence that cooking food makes it toxic), and lead me down a trail of looking at raw vegan recipes. From these, I discovered that a dehydrator is a useful tool in making a lot of cool dishes. Plus, I have never been able to find very much dried fruit that doesn’t have “may contain peanuts” stamped across it.  So, a curiosity of raw vegan-ism lead to a curiosity about dehydrating food. Finally, after months of thinking about it, I bought a dehydrator and a raw vegan cookbook, and started off by drying bananas, kiwi, peaches, and cucumber. The bananas were definitely my favorite, and I plan on dehydrating dozens more.

Dehydrater

dried fruit

In my last post I briefly mentioned Vegucated, a documentary that promotes veganism by explaining why it is important to eat this way. It turns out that more CO2 is expelled because of the meat industry than from all the cars on the road, on top of the fact that there are no regulations on how to treat animals, meaning most animals are treated horrendously from birth until death. This must-see film only inspired me more to try out vegan recipes, and I started with a Veggie Cracker recipe, found in The Complete Book of Raw Food, 2nd edition, edited by Julie Rodwell.

Ingredients

1/2 onion, chopped

2-5 cloves garlic

1 cup spinach

1 cup fresh herbs (I used cilantro)

3 tsp salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 large zucchini, shredded

2 carrots, shredded

2 cups flax seeds, soaked 8-12 hours

2 cups flax seeds

Dough

In a blender I puréed the onion, garlic, spinach, cilantro, salt, and lemon juice. I added it to the shredded zucchini and carrot, then added the flax seeds, and an additional cup of water. I mixed the dough well to make sure everything was well incorporated. I spread the dough evenly on my dehydrating racks, which were covered in parchment paper, making sure the dough was not too thick. I dehydrated the crackers 8 hours, then flipped them and continued to dehydrate for another 8 hours, and I rotated the racks every few hours to ensure even drying.

Veggie Crackers

The crackers are good, but maybe a little bit of an acquired taste. I am tempted to make a cream cheese dip for them, but that kind of defeats the vegan thing… I plan on experimenting with some of the other cracker recipes in the cookbook to figure out which ones I like best.

Dehydrating is fun!

Mini Polenta Pizzas

After watching “Vegucated“, a documentary that follows three people as they are challenged to become vegan for six weeks, I have become motivated to eat less meat and use fewer animal products. I decided that rather than going completely vegan, I will eat vegan when I can, and explore different recipes that are vegan and/or vegetarian. I started with mini polenta pizzas, which is a vegetarian recipe.

This recipe was based on the “Pizza Polenta” recipe from ‘Pas Besoin d’Être Végé pour Aimer ce Livre”, which was given to me by my boyfriend Tom, who promised he would speak french with me every time we made a recipe from this book. The recipes are by 35 famous chefs from around Quebec and this recipe is by Gilles Herzog. It includes a recipe for the polenta dough, but there was no polenta flour to be found at the grocery store I was in, so I had to settle for a pre-made polenta dough (I know, gasp!). This is just one of the fun parts of cooking – sometimes you have to improvise when you can’t find what you are looking for.

I started by making the tomato compote by placing 8 tomatoes (cut into quarters and seeded), 1 tbsp brown sugar, 2 tbsp olive oil, and salt in a baking dish and covered it with aluminum foil. I let it bake in the oven for 2 hours on 300 degrees Fahrenheit .

Next, I would have made the dough if I had found polenta flour:

Ingredients

2 cups of vegetable stock

1/2 cup goat cheese

2/3 cup polenta flour

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

Bring vegetable stock to a boil and incorporate the goat cheese, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the polenta flour and let cook for ten minutes, making sure to stir it often. Place the dough in a dish covered with parchment paper and let it harden in the fridge. Form it into a cylinder so that you can cut it like a loaf of bread into mini pizzas.

Next, I made the Black Olive Coulis. I placed 1/2 cup pitted black olives, 1 tbsp capers, 3 tbsp olive oil, and pepper in a blender or food processor and blended until smooth.

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Next, I sautéed 2 zucchinis, 1 clove of garlic, 1/2 tbs fresh thyme, 2 tbsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste, for about 3 minutes.

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To assemble the pizza, cut the polenta dough into disks and layer the tomato compote, followed by the zucchinis on top. I started with a layer of goat cheese because I was not able to put it in the dough. Bake on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil for 15 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve the black olive coulis on top of the pizza, and toss some of the olive coulis with 3 cups of arugula. With a mouthful of pizza, olive coulis, and arugula, it was pretty tasty!Image