Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A White Swan for Valentine's Day

I've posted something for almost every Valentine's day since I've started this blog.  It's hard to believe a year has already passed since I made These.  Sadly last years Valentine's chocolates never made it to their destination.  I have no idea what happened to them after I left them in the what I thought to be capable hands of the USPS.  Guess I was wrong.  I hope someone enjoyed them and they are not rotting in customs limbo somewhere.

This Valentine's Day is the first I have to got spend with MY Valentine.   Of course that called for something special.  A friend from work had been wanting to learn how to make Pate a choux and also wanted to make something for her Valentine as well.  So Valentine's day morning we got together and made these:

We even had enough to share with some coworkers the following day.  One coworker commented on how "old school" they were.  Yes I hadn't made them since I was in culinary school, but they still produce the ooohs and awwwhs just the same.  They looked elegant and tasted even better.  We hid some chopped Strawberries and Raspberries inside some of them, and we spiked the Creme Chantilly with a little bit of Calvados.  Wouldn't you feel special if you got one as a Valentine?

The rest of my Valentine's day was spent preparing a delicious dinner for my husband with recipes and inspirations from one of my favorite cook books.  It started with a Artichoke Bruschetta, followed by an Arugula salad with Pine nuts and Avocado.  I made Lamb Steak with a Rosemary Red Wine sauce and we finished with a pair of Cream puff swans and Moelleux au chocolate with fresh Strawberry sauce and of course- more Creme Chantilly. 

Hope you had a sweet Valentine's day as well.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trying to find where I fit in.

My first visit to Europe was in March of 2001 on a visit to Brussels and Amsterdam with my older sister over my college spring break.  I fell in love.  Good public transportation, beautiful architecture, a different pace of life.  I felt like maybe I had been born on the wrong continent.  Subsequent visits to Germany, Great Britain and France only made my suspicion stronger.  After a 5 week summer study abroad in Leipzig, Germany, I returned to the US and vowed to continue traveling and maybe one day live in another country other then the US.  And I haven't even gotten started about the food, but that wasn't really as evident until I started visiting France and learning French pastry in culinary school.

Searching for "the place where I fit in" isn't just about a physical place to live.  Its also about finding work, and a community that feels right.  Its an ever evolving process that has progressed from Columbus, Ohio to Boston, MA and now to Paris, France.  I'm feeling more and more comfortable.

The challenge of Paris is I have my European culture and amazing food, but I'm still struggling with the language.  Thinking about how mentally stressing it was working at Laduree this summer without being fluent in French, and then thinking about how physically taxing the hour and a half commute each way to work would be (to the new Pastry Laboratory in Morangis- far outside of Paris) I have decided at this time not to return to working for them.

I think I've found a happy compromise for now, working in a small chain of English bakeries that are well known here in Paris for offering delicious and refreshing organic foods and simple English/American style pastries.  The commute on some days is just a walk up the street from me; other days a short metro ride to the Marais.  My fellow employees' nationalities vary greatly from French, English, Scottish, Estonian, American, to Japanese, but we all share one or two common langauges: English and French.

 Savory Tart and Salad

 Brunch Menu

I do miss the beauty and complexity of French pastry and that is why I am happy to be teaching some courses for La Cuisine Paris.  Starting in March you can sign up to learn to make Croissants and Macarons with me in the heart of Paris!  Other classes may be coming later.  

Paris is slowly becoming the home and the "place" I've been searching for.   I just need to master the language. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Croissants as a metaphor for my life

I chose carefully what I make in my kitchen.  I have very limited space to work with and the simplest cake or cookie undertaking can turn into a huge frustration.  Imagine my happiness at finding a nice round baking plaque to fit just perfectly in my pint-sized oven a few weeks ago.  That is my hand, so you have good idea of the space I am working with if this fits perfectly in my oven.

I'm going to be teaching some pastry classes here in Paris soon!  One of the classes I have been contracted to teach (and help design) is a croissant class.  I've been making test recipes of croissants in my kitchen.  I'm trying to see what is the best way to show someone how to make croissants in a 3 hour time frame (and somewhat limited space).  Unless you have professional grade kitchen and dough sheeter, making croissants in less then one days time is an impossible undertaking.  It's even more challenging with limited counter space to roll out sheets of dough.

I've been comparing recipes from various cook books of mine and have found the quickest way to make croissants is to use overnight frementation.  This means you make the basic croissant dough the day (or 2-3 days) before you intend to roll, shape and back.  Then you leave the dough in your refrigerator overnight to develop flavor.  The next day the hard work begins.   I took my first test batch out and began to roll the soft, stretchy dough.  I added my square of butter and began the folding process.  I really pushed this batch, trying to see how quickly I could get through the turns.  I think because my kitchen was so cold, I really did not  have to rest the dough much between turns, I just kept going. 

While I was rolling the dough, I was thinking to myself, should I go ahead and do another turn?  The dough doesn't seem to be resisting, the butter doesn't seem too soft, so why not?  I'm not normally a pusher.  My personal philosophy has always kinda been go with the flow, see where your path takes you.  Don't force anything unnatural.  You can't push croissants either.  There are a few ways to speed up the process, but in the end you need to plan and have a little patience......

 Looking good so far

And there is most often a sweet reward in the end.

My Homemade Croissants