Saturday, 8 March 2014

You gotta break a few eggs...

Week one was over in the blink of an eye yesterday, but we crammed it full of fun in true Friday style. It felt good to be back in whites after a few days in the classroom, and I was even secretly pleased to feel the familiar sensation of being far too hot that comes with working in a commercial kitchen. 

My dough baby ready for it's first proving
We started today by making white bread rolls. I have a little experience of making bread before (not that you can really tell from today's results!) but haven't actually made small rolls from scratch, dealing instead with large loaves for a restaurant I used to work for. We started with salt in the bottom of the bowl so that it wouldn't touch the yeast and kill it off, before sieving strong white flour on top. After warming milk to blood heat we used it to 'dissolve' and activate the live yeast yeast and caster sugar in a bowl, adding a little olive oil before adding about half of this to the flour mix and lightly mixing with one 'claw' hand in order to keep as much air in the mixture as possible. We had to knead our dough for 10 minutes by stretching it away from us and rolling it back in towards us repeatedly. I even managed to work the glutens in the dough enough to stretch a piece of it into a transparent skin, which I've not taken the time to do before. The dough was then brought back together into a smooth ball and left in a lightly greased bowl covered in clingfilm in a warm place for an hour to prove.

Meanwhile, we learned about chicken stock, which for me included some key tips.
  1. Do not cook stock above a simmer, as anything more vigorous risks breaking down proteins and emulsifying the fat into the stock to make it cloudy.
  2. A decent stock has a good amount of bones in it - one chicken carcass is only really enough for a couple of sauces or one soup.
  3. Chicken stock needs 3-4 hours minimum. It can be reduced right down to an essence and made back up to stock with water, much like certain popular pots of stock on sale. It is only good for this for up to a week however.
Then we made chocolate pots. We used untempered 70% cocoa chocolate, which can be bought online or in specialist shops and is not glossy like the bars we are used to, nor does it 'snap' when you break it. We heated double cream up to scalding, when you can see steam rising from it, and then whisked in chocolate drops little by little. Olive oil was then added to make the mixture smooth, with a nice mouthfeel, and a pinch of salt to bring out the chocolate flavour. This was poured into ramekins and chilled while we made mini piping bags from greaseproof paper, filled them with a little melted chocolate and created decorations for our pots. 

My dough baby, all grown up and ready to roll!
Back to our rolls. It was now time to 'knock back' the dough, which had doubled in size and even had bubbles! Knocking back means re-kneading the dough to pause the rising process, shaping it and leaving it to prove again. We made six rolls and had the option of adding an egg wash or leaving them 'au naturel', so I did a variety, and also added a variety of different seeds. Cutting slashes into the dough at this stage means they will prove with the cuts and bake with well defined, and quite sharp, textures in the top, whereas alternatively the dough can be cut with a knife or even scissors just before baking, which gives a softer edge. 
Plain (non-egg washed) rolls at the front.
Once the rolls were ready on their baking tray, they were covered with an oiled piece of clingfilm and left to prove again for half an hour. We were told not to tuck the clingfilm under the bowl as it prevents the dough from expanding because it is trapped. After the dough had proved for a further half an hour, the clingfilm was removed, any last minute slashes or cuts in the surface were made before they were placed in an oven preheated to 220°C and some water quickly poured in the basetray of the oven. Once the door was closed the temperature was lowered to 200°C. 

The rolls took about 25 minutes to cook, by which time they were a beautiful golden brown and sounded light and hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Sadly, bread rolls need to rest once they have come out of the oven, or the dough will be compacted by eating and won't taste or feel as it should. Once they'd waited a little while, we had them with our lunch, and they were lovely.

My dough babies, all grown up! Proud Mummy!

 Next, we were on to omelettes. We had already been told that we would be making classical omelettes, without any colour, and this both baffled and terrified me. Omelettes in my book were big, set things which went into the oven to melt the cheese on top. The underside was a dark golden, often crispy thing, and the whole lot was wicked with ketchup.

Turns out I've been doing it wrong my whole life.

So, an omelette pan is about the size of a side plate, shaped like a shallow bowl, and the ones we used were ceramic as they retain heat so well. We got the pans reasonably hot before melting small lumps of butter - one one great dollop that melts at different stages but small lumps. Once they've calmed their sizzle it's time to pour in three beaten, seasoned eggs - perhaps not the whole lot as the pan is quite small. Unless, like me, you forget that and throw the whole lot in. Brain smaller than belly. Leave the eggs to set for about 10 seconds before giving them a good stir around, pulling the edges towards the centre of the pan and letting it set again. Then - get this - we took the pan off the heat. On top of this we put strong grated cheddar, concassse tomato (blanched, deskinned, deseeded and cubed), paysanne spring onions (thinly sliced) and chiffonaded parsley (finely chopped). All we needed to do now was dress some salad and turn the omelette onto a plate. Scary stuff. Only it's not! Using a palette knife, we folded it over away from ourselves towards the edge of the pan opposite the handle - this is where using too much egg mixture creates a problem as the extra thickness makes it tricky to fold. Holding the plate right against the pan, both tipped to make a V-shape, the omelette can then be flipped onto the plate.

Yummy! I can confirm that this was the loveliest omelette what I ever made. Not as pale as Rob's by far, but not bad for a first proper try.

Then we went back into the kitchen to finish dessert. We topped our chocolate pots, which had now set, with a quenelle of vanilla chantilly cream - Rob had whipped the cream and showed us how to make a nice shaped dollop of it by transferring it from one warm, wet spoon to another a few times to create a nice curve. Then this was topped with our decorations from earlier and ta-da!!
Nom nom indeed!

I can confirm these tasted excellent with jam and clotted cream.
You're welcome.
After lunch we got on to making scones. We used self raising flour and baking soda, rubbed with butter before adding caster sugar and lemon juice (the acidity helps to activate the raising agents) followed by milk. Everything needs to be cold, with a minimum of handling, so the mixture was brought together with a butter knife being cut through it repeatedly. The dough then gets gently patted out on a floured surface to about 4cm thick before using a floured 5cm cutter to quickly cut and lift the scones - no twisting of the cutter as this compacts the dough. The more the leftover dough is reformed and re-cut, the less it will rise in the oven, so this can only be done about twice. The tops of the scones were egg-washed and they went into the oven for about 9 minutes until golden brown and well risen.

(L-R) Julienne, Brunoise, Paysanne, Macedoine and Jardiniere
 To finish the day we practised our vegetable cuts again to see if we could remember what was what. Mine weren't bad but I need to take a bit more time making sure the cuts are all uniform - particularly for larger cuts that will be used as a decoration. But I have time and will, I'm sure get lots of practise in over the next five weeks!

On Monday we start making food to take home as dinner, so the other half is a happy boy right now. I'll be tackling chicken butchery, risotto and shortcrust pastry, so check back on Monday evening to see how it goes!

For now, I'm off to quality check another of my scones. Just as well I'm getting back into my running while I'm here!

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