Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Parisian Breads Class

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I signed up for the Parisian Breads Class at French Culinary Institute. I envisioned a classroom environment somewhere in between Julia Child's Les Trois Gourmandes and a Hells Kitchen situation with Gordon Ramsay. Either way, I was pretty darn intimidated to say the least.

Day One: Baguettes, Bordelais, Le Pain de Mie

Not knowing whether the chef would resemble the likes of Child or Ramsay, I aired on the side of caution and decided against bringing my cell phone into the classroom. For that reason I don't have photos from day one except for those I took after class. Such a good little pupil! Of course one of the first announcements they made was that we were more than welcome to take pictures, but by that time I was already elbow deep in pain bordelais dough.

One of the best parts of the class was the massive quantity of bread we got to take home. Each day I would fill a gigantic flour sack with whatever we baked off and lug it back to the office, leaving an intoxicating trail of fresh bread smell through the streets of Soho.

It was a week dedicated entirely to bread. Our dinners revolved around whichever bread I was bringing home. On Monday night Steve and I made this delicious Sabih recipe with one of the 12 baguettes I baked.
Pain bordelais is a large country bread found throughout Bordeaux. It was a beautiful sourdough with 90% AP, 2% whole wheat, and 8% course rye flour.

Pain de mie is your basic white sandwich bread. To be honest I didn't sample it, although I do still have a couple loaves in my freezer... I'm not a huge fan of enriched breads and there was so much else to try!

Day Two: Le Pain Viennois, Fougasse Aux Olives, Croissants

I was feeling pretty confident by day two. I was so eager to get back into the classroom that I skipped my morning coffee! Kids, don't try this at home...

Le Pain Viennois is a small snack bread. After mixing all of the ingredients in one of FCI's giant mixers and letting it bulk ferment for about 30 minutes, I divided the dough into 150 gram pieces and shaped into mini baguettes. Score and egg washed immediately after shaping, then let final rise for 2 hours.

Egg washed again before baking at 425° for 35-40 minutes.

On to the crowning glory... It was so much fun baking croissants in an industrial kitchen! The unlimited countertop space and oversized rolling pins allowed me to really pay attention to what the dough was doing which helped improve my technique.

Croissants are made with a yeast risen laminated dough, which means unsalted butter is layered in between a sweetened white flour dough giving the final product a light flaky texture. The croissant dough I made on Tuesday had 25 layers.

This next picture is the book fold and at that point in the laminating process we were 9 layers in. We then let the dough relax in the fridge for about 30 minutes before rolling it back out to 32" x 8" and folding in thirds: 9 x 3 = 27 - the 2 spots where dough was touching dough = 25 layers!

Cut into 4" base isosceles triangles.

I loved this little Eiffel Tower trick! You elongate the triangle and widen the base so that it rolls up nicely.

And of course chocolate croissants...

I also learned how to make fougasse, a traditional Provencal bread that is cut to resemble a leaf or ladder. It's great for crust-lovers because the cuts maximize surface area making for an especially crusty bread. We did a classic variation with marinated olives and thyme but you could easily substitute with any filling.

We did the final shaping and made cuts directly on the oven loader so that we could throw them right in.

Day Three: Brioche, Pain Au Levain Raisins Et Noix

I had made brioche and sourdough with raisins and walnuts before, but making them in mass quantities was completely different. It was great shaping practice by doing boule after boule.

This class really made me want to pick up a few more bread supplies, one being a banneton proofing basket. They leave such a pretty decorative mark on the loaves.

I didn't get any pictures of the brioche loaf in tact but here's a picture of the french toast we made for brunch. You can only store so much bread so it's also key to know how to use your day old bread.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

D.I.Y. Ricotta

There is such a huge difference between your average store bought ricotta and fresh ricotta, and unless you're fortunate enough to live nearby an Italian deli or specialty store, you're going to be hard pressed to find real fresh ricotta.

Even if you do have access to good fresh ricotta I recommend making it at least once. By understanding the work that goes into something you start to appreciate it more.


4 cups whole milk
1 cup cream
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2-4 tbsp lemon juice


Combine milk, cream, salt, and 2 tbsp of the lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil without stirring and then immediately remove from heat. Cover with a towel and let mixture stand for 15 minutes at room temperature.

If only a few curds form, your lemon juice may not be acidic enough. Add another tbsp, gently stir so you don't break up the curds, and let stand for another 5 minutes. Repeat if you still don't see many curds.

Transfer mixture into a cheesecloth-lined bowl. The longer you allow for draining, the denser and more flavorful the cheese will be. Therefore, do not squeeze out the liquid.

I gathered up all the edges of the cheesecloth and tied it up so it could continue to drain slowly.

One of my favorite ways to eat fresh ricotta (thanks to Five Leaves) is to cut up some figs, add a scoop of honeycomb and sprinkle some fresh thyme on top.

Combined with a fresh country loaf. Heaven.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sunday Baking Extravaganza

September has been one of the most fulfilling yet exhausting months of my life. If anything this past month has proven to me that you can always make time for the things you love, no matter how busy you are. In between work trips to SF and Austin, I somehow had time for a long weekend home, a free flour class at Brooklyn Kitchen, a deeply meaningful volunteer day at Chelsea Piers, a 3-day Parisian Bread class at French Culinary Institute, 3 days in the kitchen at Saltie, a Wilco show at Central Park, and a Fleet Foxes at Williamsburg Waterfront!

Lots of sharing to catch up on, starting with the 10 hours I spent baking in my parents kitchen along side my nephew, Josh. I had been looking forward to baking with Josh for many months. He is one of the most skilled and passionate bakers I know and has taught/inspired/motivated me tremendously throughout my own baking discoveries.

We got started around 8am and tackled english muffins, croissants, pretzels, focaccia, and sourdough. I won't go into the step-by-step instruction but I can promise that I will bake all of these breads again, and when I do, I'll be sure to list out all the wonderful details. For now, here's my attempt at journalistic photography.

English Muffins

One of my personal favs... Josh had made them many times but this was my first. We used the Tartine baguette dough which starts out dry but ends up very nice to work with. To top line it, the baguette dough is a combination of poolish, natural leaven, AP flour, bread flour, water, and salt.

Here's Josh cutting the rounds using my mom's old school cookie cutters. If you don't have a cookie cutter, you can also try using a large mason jar lid.

Dusted in cornmeal to give them that trademark look.

Cooked on a heated cast iron skillet for about 2 minutes per side.

Perfection, down to every last nook and cranny. I recommend toasting before serving.


The focacc was a last minute decision inspired by the amazing salted focaccia served at Saltie in Williamsburg. We had some extra dough laying around so we decided to dimple it and throw it in. The important thing with focaccia is to press just the right amount of air out. You don't want huge air bubbles but you also don't want to over dimple it so that it's too flat.

Ours ended up being a little flat so I topped it with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, garlic, sicilian olives, and pecorino on top. Delicio!


Making pretzels is definitely not the prettiest process to photograph... and you'll see what I mean. However, they are pretty simple and fun to make. We used the baguette dough for these as well. You roll it out similarly to a baguette, let it rest a bit, roll it out again (because the dough has a tendency to snap back), and shape like a pretzel.

Using two hands, carefully place the pretzel-shaped dough into boiling water. Once it floats to the top (only a few seconds), take it out and place it on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle them with course sea salt and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. We didn't egg wash ours but you're more than welcome to.


Nothing beats a hot croissant fresh from the oven and it's 1,000x better when you make them yourself. Just be ready for a long process... I would recommend splitting it up over two days, otherwise you'll end up devoting an entire day to croissants.

Here's my fearless leader incorporating the sticky dough.

Pounding the butter so that it's soft yet still chilled.

Croissants get their flaky buttery goodness from the many many layers of dough, butter, dough. The technique used is called laminating, a series of rolling out and folding the butter enclosed dough.

Fold in half lengthwise and cut into two long strips.

Using a bench knife, cut dough into isosceles triangles with 4" bases.

Stretch each triangle lightly to elongate the point, and make it about 7 inches long. Make a 1/2" slit in the center of the base, grab the outer two points, and stretch them out slightly as you roll it up.

Fun with dough scraps.

Jewell's chocolate croissant sequence.

Egg wash with whole beaten egg. If you have it... We ran out of eggs and ended up experimenting with milk and apricot preserves. Ranked: #1 egg, #2 apricot preserve, #3 milk.

Bake at 425° for about 30 minutes until the croissants are a deep golden brown.


Sourdough is what ignited my passion for baking. It's really the most personalized and rewarding bread you can make. There are so many variables that you really have to pay attention and trust your intuition throughout the process.

For example, you need to compensate for the weather. It was a cold morning in Redondo so I kept the dough in the warm attic during bulk fermentation. This picture was taken after the 3rd or 4th turn from the top of my parent's stairs.

Turn the dough every 30-40 minutes during bulk fermentation to help develop the structure. I think I got about 6 or 7 folds in before it was ready to pre-shape after 4 hours.

I ended up transferring the dough to a glass bowl because the metal bowl I started with was too cold and it was slowing the fermentation. It's nice to use a clear container anyways because it allows you to see when air bubbles start to form. Along with the air bubbles, you'll see a 20-30% increase in volume when the dough is ready.

Pull all the dough out of the container onto very lightly floured work surface. At this point you want to incorporate as little flour as possible into the dough.

Use a bench knife to cut the dough into two equal pieces and work each piece into a round shape. Cover with a cloth and let the rounds rest for 20-30 minutes (called the bench rest).

The final shaping involves a series of folds to build tension inside each loaf so that it hold its shape and rises in when baked.

First, lightly flour the top surface of each round. Slip the bench knife under each round and flip so that the floured side is now resting on the work surface. Working with one round at a time, fold the bottom third over the middle third, then stretch the dough horizontally and fold the right third over the middle and the the left third over that. Pull the final top flap over then entire package and anchor it down using your fingers. Gently roll the dough from bottom to top until all of the seams are on the work surface. Cup your hand at the top of the round and pull towards you.

Dust two bannetons with flour and transfer the shaped loafs, smooth side down. You can also use two medium sized bowls and line them with kitchen towels. Just make sure to flour the towels very thoroughly so that the dough doesn't stick. Let the doughs sit at room temp for about 3 hours.

After the final rise, gently flip the doughs onto the edge of a floured pizza peel or cutting board. Use a lame, razor blade, or very sharp knife to score the top of the loaf. Not only does this create a beautiful design when it comes out of the oven, it also helps them fully expand while baking so that they don't burst open.

Oven should be preheated to 500° with the combo cooker inside. Carefully slide the dough in to the cooker and close. Immediately reduce over to 450° and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the lid and bake for another 20-25 minutes until it reaches an almost burnt, golden brown.

This it what it looked like when I removed the lid 20 minutes in to baking.

Bread porn.

Enjoyed with some homemade ricotta, figs, honeycomb, and thyme.