The World of Cookies

This past few weeks have been very busy at work.  Hence no blog post update for a month.   I am so glad that even in a very busy week, I could make time (by getting up before 7am and going to bed after 4am) to take my 3rd baking course “The World of Cookies” from chef Marco’s Pastry Training Centre of Vancouver.  I have learned so much and this is definitely the most fun course so far!

You probably make thing anyone can make cookies why bother taking a course.  But the cookies covered is not just the ordinary cookies.  Making them feel like making “dim sum” of pastry.  Small piece of wonder that requires lots of different technique if you want to present a collection of display that can “wow” people.

Base on the following ingredients, can you guess what kind of cookies we are trying to make?

ingredients of the first cookies - chocolate chips cookies (chef macro way)

ingredients of the first cookies - chocolate chips cookies (chef macro way)

We started with the American classic chocolate chips cookies but this is made with real chocolate instead of  never melt during baking chocolate chips.  The resulting cookies have rich caramelized taste with wonderful melt in your mouth chocolate felt.   It is also really nice to learn recipe that can make by hand without bring out kitchen aids.  It is petty nice upper body workout ;-)

Already looking very impressive and colour with only portion of the cookies display

start arranging cookies for display

start arranging cookies for display

Beautiful eisenbahner & linzer (aka hazelnut cookies).  Eisenbahner is the main reason why I take this course and I loved it.  The look and taste is amazing and sophisticated that you simply cannot buy it from regular bakery.

Eisenbahner &; linzer cookies

Eisenbahner & linzer cookies

Learned a couple cookies I have never heard of before: Fianacier  & Florentine .  I really like Florentine (the following pictures) because it so rich yet well balanced with a rather delicate sweat paste bottom.  It was such a smart combo that is rich but not unbearably sweet like most  regular cut square cookies

Florentine

Florentine

Really enjoy this course and I am going back to for more.  Signed up Christmas cookies.  Looking forward to learning making more interesting little wonders of pastry world – cookies :-)

Artisan Bread Baking – Bake Around the World – Ethnic Breads

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I really love my previous French Mousse Cake Course, so I have to go  back to Pastry Training Centre of Vancouver more baking course!  This time is artisan bread (Bake Around the World – Ethnic Breads).  I do frequently bake bread but I usually take a lazy short cut using my bread machine to make the dough and I shape and bake it in the oven.  The resulting bread normally turn out OK but does not taste that great.  Just like the French Mousse Cake Course, this  intensive course covered a lot of recipes in the short eight hours.   Highly recommending anyone who is very serious about making high quality bread.  You definitely should  to take the whole set of courses not just this one.  The reason why I decide to only take one it because I notice at there is one kind of bread that I don’t have to knead.  I don’t think my body can handle so much kneading.   Even doing just half (maybe less than half) of  kneading, that was enough to give me “ab workout”.  Apparently the way I knead does require ab muscle!  Ha, bread machine is like full body workout for me.

The above pictures was taken on day 2 of the course from Chef Marco’s table (that’s why all the breads look so perfect and pretty).   See the picture below the breads we complete on the first day after only four hours.

Here is the complete list we have covered

  • Mexican Conchas (I had attempted similar style of bread call Taiwanese Pineapple Buns)
  • American Golden Corn Rolls
  • Portuguese Corn Bread (Bora)
  • Swiss Bern Brot
  • Hokkaido Milk Toast (Tangzhong, Japanese pre-dough style)
  • French Chestnut & Mushroom Bread
  • Scottish Baps (this one I actually made at home before.  Of course the cheating bread machine version)
  • Middle Eastern flat bread with Za’atar (Manakeesh Bil Za’atar)
  • Japanese Tofu Bread & An-Pan
  • Swedish Knaeckbebrot (Flat crisp bread –I’d like to call this “the Sedins’ bread”)

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Just like French mousse cake course, I am committed to recreate and practice all the  recipes at home.  Better yet, I have decided to make use of the kneading time to learn something.   So I am pairing each bread making with at least one session of Google Tech  Talk Video.  With sticky dough on my hand, I just cannot stop the boring geek talk (at time there is unbearable speaker and really boring topic.. but most of the time it has been informative and interesting!)

Mousse Cake #6: Ladyfingers Sponge

Ladyfingers Sponge

Like the sweet paste tart dough, this is totally unexpected surprised bonus recipe I’ve learned from French Mousse Cake course from Pastry Training Centre of Vancouver.  Thinking back I haven’t made ladyfingers for years because it is so much more convenient to buy and it is so complicated to make.  Frankly you cannot taste the difference if it is just filling inside tiramisu and it has so up so much brandy & espresso.  But let me tell you, it is worth all the effort to make your own!  The texture is so dedicate and taste is so wonderful.   The ingredients list is so simple.  I bet all of you should have all the ingredient in your home.  This is truly a test of sponge cake making technique.  According Chef Marco, making ladyfingers is actually exam for pro-course.   Wonder if ladyfingers above will score a passing grade?!

One important key to successful sponge is timing. So have all your tools and ingredients prepared and measured out.  Also remember to pre-heat the oven because it is not a forgiving batter.

Ladyfingers Spong Ingredients Ladyfingers Spong Tools

I can never neatly and uniformly pipe out nice line without guidance.  So I drew line in be back side parchment paper.  It does take a bit longer, but extremely useful for people like me.  This is one reason why I can never be a pro.  I am sure pro can naturally pipe out neatly and evenly.  One very good tips I’ve learned from the course is the importance of timing.  The meringue & yolk both has to complete in the same time to ensure maximum volume.  Look the batter produced from just two eggs!  Pretty amazing eh?  The line on the back helped me so much in even height.  This batter consistency is by far the easiest to handle.  Really love this recipe!!

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Opportunity is endless with these ladyfingers.  First made a dreamy blueberry mousse cake with it!  Look beautiful and much better than any store bough ladyfingers.

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This beautiful ladyfingers are not just for decorating the side of mousse cake.  They are totally butter free healthy goodness!!  I love simple ingredients with a bit more heart and effort can result in such beautiful and tasty wonder!

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Chinese Sesame Steamed Bun

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It was a long time ago (back in 2005) when I took this Chinese dim sum course.  I almost spend one whole day in workshop and to learn many other type of dim sum.  Unfortunately, this is the only one that I can recreate back at home.  I can never knead the bread dough by hand.  This is why I normally rely on my bread machine to prepare the dough.  But the portion of the recipe is too small to make with bread maker.  I really haven’t done any exercise for months.  So I get started with something simple like kneading small portion of bread dough.

Here is my little trick to make kneading a little easier.  After kneading a while, to make sure the entire dough is evenly kneaded I break it into small pieces and knead them back together.  This really does work!  Repeat this process 3 to 4 times and I find I reach to perfectly kneaded dough in much less time and effort!

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Then I divided up the dough into each portion (but I next time I will have more white and less coloured).  I rather like the pattern with more white.

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When I finally warp the filling, I realize I missed a very important store.  I did remember to freeze the filling so it is harder and easier to warp.  But I forgotten to smooth the filling into round balls so my first warped bun was a little spiky.   See if you can spot which one I warp first with unsmooth filling.

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The buns look pretty but the filling was too greasy.  Will need to use different recipe in the future.  The filling does not taste very good.

Sweetheart Cake – 老婆餅 (Winter melon puff pastry) – Tips to avoid failure

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I really like the wiki’s English translation!  Quite fitting for the Valentine day tomorrow eh?  This is a wonderfully flaky Chinese pastry.  I was lucky to be living in Yeung Long (in Hong Kong) for a couple years when I was growing up.  I was living pretty close to the famous Chinese bakery store – 恆香老餅家 (Hang Heung) – Chinese site.  When you eat it hot out of the oven, the pastry was so tasty and amazingly flaky and light (yet there is a lot fat)   Buying a box as a gift and to  bring it out Kowloon just did not taste as good.

It is not easy to find good quality winter melon puff pastry Vancouver (Maybe there is, I just don’t know where.  Please post me comment to let me know where to find a store you think it it is as good as 恆香.  To solve this problem,  I took a dim sum making course from Masterwhy(怪師傅) – Chinese site to learn this kind of pastry last time I visited Hong Kong (after my Nepal tripback in 2008).  I’ve tried three times this time is by far the best result.  Still not good.  The shape is too puffy and tall and the pastry is not flaky enough.  I still continue to make a mistake and forgotten to double the dough recipe when I double the filling.I did not take good note during the course.  I have completely forgotten majority the steps and trick.  Had to guess some of the step and made some mistake…

First, I steamed the  filling first and let it cool down – this is enough for making 8 winter melon puff pastry.   One unfortunately thing with recreating Chinese dim sum recipe in Vancouver is that not all the ingredients are readily available.   I have been trying to find reasonable substitution but so far, I still couldn’t recreate exactly the same texture as the one I made during the course.

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I always hate this process during water dough mixing/kneading. One thing I have done this time that seems make it slightly easier to handle is first rub the lard into the flour and mix it well with sugar.  Then pour everything on the marble board and slowly a few teaspoon at a time adding in water.  It is still very messy and sticky, but much better than before.  One method to make this mess a bit easier to handle is kneading with heel of your palm.

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This mess actually serves a purpose!  When you can feel the dough become less sticky and more elastic (because enough gluten has developed), you know you are finally done.  But my shoulder and arm already told me they are done way before the dough was done.

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Use your digital scale to evenly divide up the water & lard dough.  Then warp the water dough around the lard dough.

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The next step, I really don’t remember a thing of what I have learned back two years ago.  I just wing it and I am certain I did not follow the same step as I did in the course.   I just gently press down the water + lard dough in the middle.  Then I confidently roll the pastry up without breaking the water dough later. Basically, there should be a thin layer of lard dough sandwiched between the water dough without breaking.  The key is applying right level of pressure.  Never roll too hard that you crack the dough .

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Now here is part I have definitely messed up this time.  I only folded 1/3 of the dough down and bottom 1/3 of dough up to form a square.   After checking this Chinese Flaky Pastry post, I realize I have totally missed a step!  I should rollup the dough like swiss roll first, then turn 90 degree and roll out the dough again just like above.

Use your digital scale to divide up filling in equal portions and shape them to be nice and round (easier for to warp pastry around round filling).    The right hand side is the flaky pastry.  Yes, it looks small, but it is enough to cover the filling.

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On well, still fairly successfully all pastry survived the baking without breaking or leaking!!

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To recap, here are the key points to remember to ensure success and avoid failure:

  1. find a different recipe for the filling that I can find all ingredients.
  2. remember to double my dough recipe!!!!
  3. mix the water dough ingredient (except water) well before adding water.  Add water slowly – much much easier to handle!!  Betty yet, let Kitchen Aid do the hard mixing work for you ;-)
  4. last by not least, MUST not miss any step.  Otherwise, there will not be enough layers of flaky pastry.

Not sharing the actual recipe because I cannot post that course material.  But I think those tips will likely help you (and  myself)  to create your own sweetheart cake in the future.   Chinese pastry is not simple to make!  Please appreciate it more!!

Finally I know the trick to make silky smooth, light & fabulous French mousse cakes!!!

Over the years, after reading a lot of books, watching endless hours of videos, I have tried with many attempts to make mousse cake and that has always resulted in  failure after failure.  6 out of 10 tries resulted in awful grainy rubbery bit that is visibly showing .  Couple times was just too runny that the cake just collapsed as I unmold.  There was couple time  I had some remote success and yet I can still taste tiny little grain of gelatin.  I remember someone once told me that you just have to spend the some money to take a course to learn the trick.  Now I finally under the reason after taking my first course in Pastry Training Centre of Vancouver to learn about French Mousse Cakes.

That is 2 days back to back 8 hours very intense course.  It was a sold out class of 8 persons attended to learn to make the following four fabulous looking mousse cakes: Strawberry & Lemon Mousse Cake, Chocolate Croquant Mousse, Tiramisu Mousse Cake & Cream cheese Mousse Cake with amazingly looking Italian Meringue.  (Tiramisu is from my own because I missed taking picture of Chef Marco’s Tiramisu Cake that’s why that does not look as pretty as the rest)

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Each mousse cake is composed of  a few different components, so totally we have followed 16 different recipes to complete the above cakes.  There were so many different techniques covered.  If you are into learning truly professional level cake making and decorating, you really should consider taking this course.  I am feeling so grateful that I can attend such professional level course.  I have tried more hobbyist course from Vancouver School Board to learn wedding cake decoration.  Yes, it was a lot cheaper from VSB  but the facility and the quality of the instructor is no where comparable to this school.

You don’t have to bring anything, all the utensil is provided even the apron.

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I was taking an evening course from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm.  I was a bit worry I should eat before the course, but I don’t  have to because there is yummy  artisan chef’s homemade bread as snack.

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Chef Marco is also very generous  instructor.  He  allows us to take as many picture as we like during the course.  That really help me to remember the process.  He is also very friendly, kind and patient.  I am definitely want to take more courses from him in the future.

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Now after taking course, I am making myself to recreate all the recipes I’ve learned while they are still fresh in my mind.  Stay tune for future update from this blog to see how far I can tackle long list of recipes.  The first cake I will try is Chocolate Croquant Mousse Cake.  It consists of four separate components: nutty croquant dough, flourless chocolate sponge, sabayon base dark chocolate mousse and (the part I scare the most) the soft chocolate glaze. Wish me luck in completing all Winking smile

Gingerbread Android – the edible android in contest ready state

Base on the previous post recipe, I have my 2nd half of gingerbread dough sitting in the freezer ready for contest release.  This is actually pretty nice, hugely cut down prep time making it possible to bake up these goodies on weekday during a rather busy week.  Actually the cooling time work out well that I could squeeze a few compiles and debug and fixed a couple bugs.

So I have taken suggestion to make the green outline version because they looks cuter and more like android.  In addition, also cut out the head and arms part to make chatty & arm waving version.   Unfortunately, I ran out of green frosting so I had to switch to just plain white.  How do u like the slight alteration?

Same template, new cut and endless option to play with the final decorated cookies.  Now thinking more about that. I should have prepared s script and create a “movie” by making slight movie and combine all …

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Here is the decorated yellow eyes android.  I couldn’t believe I actually ran out of candy in my house.  Had to use tiny chocolate chip morsels as buttons.  Still look ok i hope. Or do you think mini M&M would have been better?

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Here is the green outline version same as practice release.  No big change except I ran out of jelly beans so I have to switch to chocolate whoopers.  Still fun looking, actually I love the taste a lot more than jelly beans.

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Here are the assembled look – still drying out the frosting.  Seems hard but actually pretty soft and easily damaged at this point,   I did tear off some frosting on one had to do a repair.  Still notice the uneven line after my repair…

Waiting for the icing to dry and firm up.  See how the gingerbread androids look comparing to its original template.  Pretty close eh?

Bring all the them into office and ask for idea to tell a more interesting story.  Here is a fun one with Android “overdosed” on apple Winking smile

Androids eating too many apples ;-)  One is not feeling very and releasing excess apples in the bottle =P

My composition is a bit boring .. no story

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They are just pretty ordinary looking ones. But they taste great and it was  a ton of fun to make.  Go and try it, it was just a bit time consuming to cut out the cookies but otherwise, pretty easy recipe to make.  Highly recommend spending the extra effort to make the royal icing following previous post’s recipe.  I learned that from a wedding cake decoration class and find the consistency is the best and easiest to control.  The dried icing also has a little glossy look.  Well worth that effort.