Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Week 29: A proliferation of pastries

Here's a new word for you, one I feel confident few of you will have encountered: pithivier. We assume the origin is from the French Pithiviers, a small town about two hours south of Paris. Pithivier sometimes makes an appearance on menus and is quite likely the chef's pretentious way of saying "pie" - you can charge much more for a pithivier than for a pie. Do not be fooled! A pithivier has specific characteristics which include:
  • crust - made of puff pastry
  • shape - formed by taking two discs of puff pastry, the top slightly larger than the bottom. The filling is lumped on and the top layer tucked over it and sealed at the edges
  • filling: traditionally frangipane - make by creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs and then almond meal
  • finishing and appearance - traditionally decorated with spiral lines drawn from the top outwards, and with scalloped edges. Glazed by caramelising icing sugar at the end of baking.
We use the puff pastry to make the Pithivier, obviously, and also a divine Apple Tart. In a blast from the past we also make Cream Horns. Now this takes me back to my early childhood when I remember my Mum making these lavish morning and afternoon tea "spreads" for the men when they were haymaking. Often there'd be cream horns along with bacon and egg pie and sandwiches, cakes and slices.  Thinking back, that was certainly the days before ready made so she either made her own puff pastry or used a sweet short crust.

We also make a very, very thin dough for Apple Strudel. This is a weird paste - it is similar to the stretchiness you get in a pizza dough but more delicate as with a filo. You can see how stretchy and thin it is from the photos of chef pulling it out. (And yes, as chef describes pulling it, it is again like being in primary school as this is, of course, a double entendre that must be acknowledged with guffaws and nudges).  The pastry needs stretching on baking paper or a tea towel so you can use that to assist in rolling up the apple filling. When cooked the pastry itself is very brittle and when cut it flakes and breaks.
For preference I would use filo for strudel rather than make this style again.

Wanting to share these vast quantities of pastry, I invite my Tuesday yoga class comprising ex-colleagues and the lady-in-waiting, the dentist and the radiographer, to dinner and force them to eat up all the various products for dessert.  First I reprise the Seafood Tajine (or Tagine as some prefer) from last week, making extra couscous for the dentist.

On Wednesday we turn our attention to choux pastry and I am reminded why I am on the course - learning why the right way to do things and understanding why  when something may have gone wrong.  In the past I have had varying degrees of success with choux pastry: beautiful crisp, dry hollow shells through to miserable flat pancakes.  I now know why the failures have occurred.  A few simple things include ensuring the water doesn't boil before the butter melts, thereby evaporating and reducing the quantity of wet ingredients.  After adding the flour, wait until the temperature of the dough drops to about 60 C before adding the eggs. The protein in the eggs sets at 62 C and you don't want the eggs to cook until they are in the dough in the oven.  Recipes usually give numbers of eggs, but the consistency of the mixture drives how much egg you need. Chef's fail safe tip is that the mixture should just be "dropping consistency" i.e. stretch and drop off the wooden spoon when you hold it up.  So we make profiteroles, ├ęclairs and Paris Brest - a large choux ring. Everything is glazed with chocolate ganache and filled with Chantilly cream.  Don't worry, I keep some empty to bring home for the hunter gatherer. in fact I have just filled and glazed them and, somewhat decadently, we're taking them to fellow grape grower friends for afternoon tea - not quite like haymaking, but near enough!

Next week: meat eaters get excited - BUTCHERY!

Now for words you have most certainly heard before - puff pastry.  Born of a beautiful marriage between flour and fat. A lot of fat. Butter. Fonterra need never fear a slump in the demand for dairy products as long as the world enjoys a pastry. This week we make French Puff Pastry, as opposed to the English method we used in Week 23: How much butter is in that . The only difference seems to be in the initial shaping. The photo in week 23's blog shows a flat roll with the slab of butter.  This time we make a ball and cut a cross in it, fold out the leaves and roll them to a 1/4 the thickness of the centre, place the slab of cold butter in the middle, fold the leaves back over, then start the folding and rolling process. So much butter! Even the pastry looks embarrassed to have to consume so much butter -  it's covering its eyes!

Roll out, fold, put in the fridge - repeat 4 times or more as time allows. The more folds, the more layers as the butter gets trapped each time - why does this make me think of all those fat people programmes on TV?  In  week 23 I describe the ratio of fat to flour in croissants and Danish pastries, and the magic that occurs as a result of layering butter and producing steam - go on, look back if you can't remember, I'll still be here when you get back. Well, for puff pastry we are talking a ratio of 1:1.  And such a lot of effort and delicacy to make it.  The croissants and danishes had yeast so I am not sure if that is why it is easier. This is a nightmare - the layers are thin and the butter must be trapped fully, or when it bakes the butter oozes out instead of steaming up the layers of dough. For crying our loud, go to the supermarket and buy ready made it is my advice.

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