Back in the kitchen

It’s been four months since my last post and to be honest there was a moment when I wasn’t sure if I was going to return to the blog at all.

I spent the months of January-February living in Valparaiso, Chile where I enjoyed empanadas, alfajores and delicious locally baked bread. But unfortunately I had an ill-equipped kitchen so I couldn’t recreate any of these treats at home.

I then lived in Bariloche in Argentine Patagonia for the months of March-April and started studying – Spanish at the wonderful La Montana and also chocolate making through Ecole Chocolate.

My kitchen was better, but still not brilliant although was the perfect setting within which to learn how to temper chocolate and start creating my own bonbons and confectioneries.

Now, I’m living in Buenos Aires  and will be here for the next couple of months. As  soon as  I walked into the kitchen, I knew I was going to start baking again and realised just  how much I’d missed  it.

I’m keen to catch up on some of the South American specialties I’ve been sampling and also share my learnings and experiences from my ongoing chocolate education.

It’s so good to be back  in the kitchen 🙂

Two year blogiversary

My two-year blog anniversary passed a few weeks ago, and I’ve only just realised.

If I’m honest, I probably didn’t think I’d last this long and I have so much left to learn.

I started with pastry doughs, before moving on to cremes, cookies, cakes, confectionery, frozen desserts, plated desserts and viennoiserie.

Bread has been keeping me busy for the last couple of months but I’m trying hard not to forget anything I’ve learned along the way by still throwing in the odd “flashback” post.

The rest of this year is pretty much planned out already with lots more bread and then some celebration cakes in the lead up to Christmas.

After that, I’ve technically finished my curriculum which is bittersweet.

The exciting thing is that my husband and I have decided to take some time off and go travelling in South America, so Project Pastry will be going on the road.

Think empanadas, dulce de leche, tres leches cakes, alfajores and arroz con leche.

I also want to take some serious time to focus on chocolate, and there’s probably no better place than in Bariloche which is Argentina’s chocolate capital.

So here’s to my 106th post and the year ahead!

Introduction to viennoiserie

Technically I’ve spent the past two weekends away in Tasmania on holidays which explains my lack of posts.

But you could say that I’ve actually been cowering in a corner dreading this next part of my curriculum – viennoiserie.

I’ve realised I can’t go much further with confectionery without investing in a fair bit of kit like moulds, etc. plus it’s now 25C in Brisbane and my pastry dough window is rapidly closing.

Viennoiserie originated in Vienna and is a type of bread that was originally made exclusively for the monarchy – think Marie-Antoinette who brought croissants from Vienna to France.

Michel Suas describes it as the meeting place between pastry and bread, usually referring to yeast-raised products that are sweetened with sugar and enriched with butter and eggs.

There are two main classes of viennoiserie:

  • Laminated dough
  • Non-laminated dough

Lamination involves creating layer upon layer of dough and butter which results in a light, crisp pastry. Think croissants, danishes and pain au chocolat.

Examples of non-laminated doughs  include brioche, cinnamon rolls and Gibassier.

There’s a whole load of theory sitting behind viennoiserie that I’m going to have to get my head around including folding, fermenting, proofing, shaping and that’s before I attempt to make them look good.

Wish me luck for the coming weeks!!

Peanut brittle

Peanut brittle
Peanut brittle

After spending the weekend painting and re-carpeting our house, and with British inlaws arriving next week, I knew Project Pastry had to be quick and easy this weekend.

Still on the confectionery list are things like Turkish Delight, caramels, fudge and noutagine but peanut brittle jumped out at me and I’m grateful for the decision.

This was the simplest recipe so far, and is something impressive I can share with my vegetarian (read no gelatin) inlaws.

I used Michel Suas’ recipe but looked at lots on the internet as preparation. Most called for sugar and peanuts as a base, but then there were combinations including vanilla, butter, and baking soda.

Michel Suas explains that peanut brittle is a noncrystalline confection which means that there is a lack of crystal formation during the cooking process.

You inhibit this crystal formation by using a few tricks:

  • Adding an invert sugar such as glucose, corn syrup or honey
  • Adding an acid like lemon juice, tartaric acid or cream of tartar
  • Preventing “seeding” by brushing down the sides of your pan with a clean, wet brush to ensure sugar crystals don’t form

The baking soda in the recipe was surprising to me, because I’d always seen brittle as being glass-like but stirring in the baking soda caused the sugar to foam like a honeycomb.

This meant that the brittle was easier to eat and didn’t feel like you were going to crack your teeth in two.

I’d love to try out some more flavour combinations with different nuts and seeds, as well as incorporate the brittle into other dishes like ice cream.

Peanut Brittle (adapted from Michel Suas)

300g sugar
150g glucose syrup
1/3 cup water
370g peanuts (I used salted)
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp butter
½ tsp salt (I didn’t include because I used salted peanuts)

Cook the sugar, glucose and water to 138C.

Add the peanuts, and cook until golden brown and temperature reaches 155C. Keep stirring the mixture so that the peanuts don’t catch on the bottom of the pan and scorch.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla and soda. The mixture will expand and foam a little.

Stir well and pour out onto a lightly greased silicon mat.

Leave to cool for at least and hour. 

Fudgey chocolate brownies (sheet biscuits)

Chocolate brownies
Chocolate brownies

Sheet biscuits are baked in a sheet pan (surprise, surprise) and then portioned out into individual bars or squares.

The most famous sheet biscuit is the classic chocolate brownie, but other examples are flapjacks, lemon bars and any number of what Australians traditionally call “slices”.

The texture and flavouring of brownies is completely a matter of taste – some people like the inclusion of nuts, some like them covered in icing, and some even like to use white chocolate which turns them into “blondies”.

I like my brownies fudgey and gooey with a shiny, crisp top.

To get a chewy biscuit of any type, moisture is essential in the recipe. You’re also often looking at a higher sugar content and the inclusion of whole eggs to provide body.

I’ve made a lot of brownies in my time, and after tinkering around for a while, I perfected my recipe which I’ve included below.

There’s a fine line with this recipe between over- or under-baking the brownies so keep a close eye on them!

My fudgey chocolate brownies

250g dark chocolate, chopped
250g butter, chopped
300g caster sugar
3 eggs, plus 1 extra yolk
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a saucepan over a low heat.

In a separate bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients then pour in the chocolate mixture.

Stir until combined, then pour into a prepared 20cm-square tin lined with baking paper.

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 30-40 minutes at 150 degrees, then allow to cool before slicing into squares.

Starting somewhere

The idea for Project Pastry came to me months ago but it’s taken until now to actually publish my first post.

It’s certainly a daunting task ahead of me, and has required a fair bit of planning and purchasing to make sure I am good to go – kind of mise en place for the project.

My first step was to get the kit together that I would need. I’ve collected a range of pastry odds and ends over the years but wanted a fresh start for this challenge so put together this collection including ceramic pie weights, crank spatulas in different sizes, a balloon whisk, plastic and metal scrapers, nested cookie cutters, piping bag with nozzles, measuring cups and spoons, and finally a pastry brush.

Pastry tools
Pastry tools

Next step was to make sure I had all of my textbooks in order. Again, some I already had but some I needed to buy because I never thought I’d need a 5kg volume on pastry techniques and formula.

My curriculum so far comprises the following books and I’m sure I’ll be adding more along the way.

Pastry books
Pastry cook books

My plan at the moment is to start with pastry doughs and then expand out to biscuits, cakes, chocolate, plated desserts, jellies, frozen desserts, mousses and creams over a period of time.

I’m sure the blog will evolve as my learning does, but hopefully it will be a good record of my experiences and may even help inspire someone else.

So this is officially the start of my pastry education…wish me luck!