Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Monster mash

Whilst we didn't really cover anything today that I hadn't ever tackled before, it was good to get some technique firmed up and learn some extra tips along the way. Today was my second day working solo although it seemed a lot calmer than yesterday, perhaps because we had less to cover that needed to be completed in pairs. Tomorrow, however, looks manic and will be my last day working alone for a while as we will rotate workstations on Thursday. I have a feeling I will need and deserve a glass of wine tomorrow night!

Stretchy dough skin proves it's time to prove!

First up, we made french-style loaves. These involved making a much wetter dough than last Friday's rolls, and which was also much more delicate after proving. Essentially, the core skills were the same, minus dividing the dough into four and adding seeds. As before, the dough needed to be kneaded (ha!) until it was possible to stretch it into a skin without breaking it. This was trickier today as the dough was much stickier and harder to work with as it must be kept moving to stop it from sticking to the worktop! as the glutens stretch, the dough becomes harder to work with. This is certainly exercise!

I decided to make a jumbo baguette style loaf by stretching the proved and knocked-back dough into a rectangle before slowly rolling it back in on itself, securing each turn before the next, and sealing and tucking under the ends. The shaped loaf was liberally dusted, slashed along the top and left to prove again before baking at 230°C for 35 minutes with water thrown into the bottom of the oven at the last minute to create steam.

Once the loaf came out of the oven it was a beautiful, crusty thing and the taste was well worth the effort. Readers of this blog will know that I am a bread fan, especially the French stuff, and worry more than a little over those who fear the carb.
 As with most baked goods requiring a raising agent or yeast, it is important not to open the oven door during cooking, or at least to allow enough time to pass for the surface to withstand a brief temperature dip when you do open the door to check. We checked our loaves after about 20 minutes and adjusted the timings accordingly. Some needed longer than others depending on their shape and depth, and we knew they were ready when tapping them on the bottom produced a hollow sound. We had slices of still-warm bread with our lunch and took the rest home with us, what a treat!

Another of today's jobs was to line and bake our shortcrust pastry for tarts using yesterday's shortcrust pastry. We allowed the pastry to warm up to room temperature after a night in the fridge before rolling it out on a floured surface. the pastry needed to be repeatedly turned round a quarter during rolling to achieve consistent thickness. We brushed tartlet cases with butter and dusted with flour before cutting a circle of rolled-out pastry much larger than required, placing the tartlet tin base in the centre of the circle under the dough and carefully folding four sides inwards. The tin base was then placed back into the tin before the pastry was carefully pressed little by little into the tin so that there were no gaps, holes or air pockets under the pastry. This was tricky! It is important not to remove any excess pastry at this point as it will shrink as it cooks. It also helps to use a little extra pastry to press the corners fully into the tin. Later in the day we blind baked the tartlet cases. This involves placing a circle of greaseproof paper into the case, filling it with dried beans and baking for about 20 minutes until the base of the tartlet looks dry. The beans help to weigh down the pastry and stop it from forming bubbles or puffing up. After this point the beans can be removed and the pastry can be baked for a further three minutes until it is light golden. Once it is cool, the extra pastry overhang can be removed by using a peeler or sharp knife to cut it away from the centre bit by bit. The cases are left in their tins to protect them and will stay like this with the filling baking in them. We will fill our cases tomorrow with the roasted vegetable mix we made today.

Lunch today was coq au vin with mash. We prepped our chicken thigh and drumstick as part of yesterday's chicken butchery class and marinated them overnight with red wine, whole shallots and chunks of cut celery and carrot with herbs. Today we removed the chicken and left it to dry a little, drained the wine marinade into a saucepan, brought it to the boil and strained it through a damp muslin cloth. The marinading process left behind protein and fat debris from the chicken and this needed to be cooked off and removed through this process. Then we browned the chicken in a frying pan over a high heat, removed this and fried off bacon lardons and a tied bunch of herbs with the vegetables before placing all of these into a pan. The wine and some chicken stock went in too, and the mix was brought to the boil before cooking in the oven for half an hour. After this point we strained off the liquid, removed excess fat by dragging some clean paper towel across the surface of the liquid to absorb it without removing the stock, and then thickened this stock by whisking cornflour and water into it while it simmered. I could have thickened mine more, but you live and learn! We fried off some chunky button mushrooms and stirred these through the casserole with some chiffonaded (chopped) parsley.

As for the mash, well. I have devoted a whole post on this blog previously to the perils of making mash and was interested to see how we would tackle it today. We cooked (medium sized) chunks of (floury) potato in (cold) water with a decent few pinches of salt. Then we drained the cooked potato and allowed it to dry before forcing it through a sieve. We added a decent splash of (cold) double cream, a sizeable and continually checked helping of salt and a LOT of butter, gradually beating this in with a spatula. Mash will take a massive amount of butter, and a half-half mix of potato and butter is a good thing. So good. Don't heat the mash to melt the butter or it will split back out into an oily mess. Perfect mash should be like silk and velvet combined.

In the afternoon we made a lemon drizzle cake. I have made a fair few of these in my life as they were a cafe favourite. However, a few new tips included buttering the tin and dusting with caster sugar to add crunch to the cake, and mixing the lemon zest in early on when creaming the butter and sugar so that the essential oils can be released.

We also made vanilla custard, which I have not done for well over a year but managed not to turn into sweet scrambled eggs! Hurrah. Those of you with a temp probe may be interested to know that custard needs to cook up to 82°C, which means taking it off the heat at 80°C. Cooking the blended sugar, eggs and warm cream/milk mix in a clean saucepan ensures that nothing left in the bottom of the milk pan burns, and using an induction hob for this wherever possible also ensures the custard doesn't overcook.

Tomorrow's delights include onion soup, mayonnaise, quiche and chocolate brownie. And also a long run, by the sounds of it!

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