Thursday, 3 April 2014

"You see, pidge..."

"...when you're footloose and collar-free, well, you take nothing but the best!"
(Disney's 'Lady and the Tramp')

I am proud to declare that today, I made some beautiful food. Both to the eye and the palate. And, hopefully, some beautiful doughs. This we shall find out about tomorrow! The doughs in question were for brioche and for croissants. This weekend, it seems, I will mostly be eating French breakfast goods.

Bring it on. 

Brioche dough is known as an 'enriched' bread dough as it contains a higher proportion of eggs, fat and sugar than other doughs. We made it by beating butter with sugar until very soft and loading this into a piping bag so that we could dose it carefully into our dough. We mixed fresh yeast with warm water and a little sugar, as well as beaten eggs. Meanwhile, we sieved strong bread flour and salt into a large bowl and gave this a good mix by hand, using a clawed hand. While still mixing, we gradually poured in the yeasty-watery-eggy mixture to make a sloppy dough. We piped the butter and sugar mixture in little by little, fully incorporating each addition into the dough. This dough can be made quite well in a mixer with a dough hook, and can be flavoured by mixing a flavoured butter through it, with additions such as dried fruits, saffron or cooked chestnuts as long as the quantities are kept consistent with the recipe. We left our dough to slowly prove in the fridge overnight and will finish our brioches tomorrow!

Next, we moved on to croissant dough. Croissants are made with a 'laminated dough', which means a dough is made and then layered up with butter. They are best made with French ingredients, we were told, as the French know what they are doing when it comes to their pastries! French butter, for example, will be more pure, meaning it can hold its shape at higher temperatures and it is also drier than English butter. We used French 'T45' flour, which is soft and relatively low in gluten. It is also best to ensure the flour used is no more than six months old, as it loses nutrients and natural sugars over time. So, first we made our dough by sieving the flour into a bowl and mixing through sugar, crumbled fresh yeast and then a little salt. To this we mixed in egg and milk beaten together and kneaded it a little before putting it into a lightly oiled bowl to prove it in the fridge for a couple of hours while we got on with other tasks.

 One of these was to place a block of butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper and tap and roll it with a rolling pin until it was a rectangle about the size of an A5 piece of paper. This was kept at a cool room temperature. After the dough had proved a little in the fridge, we rolled it out to a rectangle that approximately measured the length of the butter rectangle in width, and three times the butter's width in length. Then we placed the butter on the dough so the two were facing the same way, meaning the butter spread oer half of the length of the dough and had a little perimeter around the three other edges. We folded the 'free' edge of dough one third over the rest of the dough, and the 'buttered' edge of dough that remained was then folded over this. Keeping up? At this stage we had a folded piece of dough with butter in the middle, vaguely resembling a massively yummy business letter. We chilled it like this for a short while to re-chill the butter a little. Keeping the worksurface dusted, but the top surface as dust-free as possible, we then rolled this dough out to stretch it into a rectangle a similar size as the first dough rectangle had been, with the 'twist' edges now becoming the longer sides of the rectangle. Then we repeated this folding process twice more, and put the dough in the fridge with a weight on top to stop it expanding too much during an overnight prove. We will also finish these tomorrow!

Two last things we did for tomorrow were to make a suet pastry, and a beef stew ready for steamed puddings tomorrow. Suet is basically "dessicated" fat, typically surrounding beef kidneys. That may sound gross enough to make you reach for the vegetarian version, but that is made with palm oil, responsible for massive deforestation. A tough call either way.  We sieved self raising flour and added salt, chopped thyme and the suet, along with a little pepper. We then added in milk a little at a time to made a sticky dough, which we kneaded lightly to achieve a slightly smoother ball of dough which will also rest in the fridge until tomorrow. Suet dough should not be kept for more than one day as the flour will oxidise and it will turn grey! It can, however, be frozen. To make the beef stew, we seared chunks of rump steak in a hot pan with a little oil, before removing them to a casserole pan and using the pan to brown chunks of carrot, onion, celery and leek. We removed this to the same casserole, added a little more oil and chopped garlic to the hot pan before deglazing the pan with a little madeira. We had rehydrated some dried wild mushrooms in hot water before squeezing these dry and chopping them, and we added the remaining stock to the casserole, and the mushrooms went with the madeira along with thyme and a bay leaf. Everything then went into the casserole and was covered with veal stock before being brought to a simmer and put into the oven for four hours at 160°C. 

= Some of my life I'll never get back
Finally, it was on to making lunch. Prep for this involved two rather tricky tasks. First, peeling walnuts. This job is a proper pain in the a***. Bring water to the boil and drop the walnuts in there before taking it off the heat and leaving them in there for at least 30 seconds. After this point they are painstakingly peeled using a turning knife, or your fingers, and a massive dose of patience! Once the walnuts were peeled, we made a caramel by heating sugar until it melted to a golden colour, took it off the heat and dipped the nuts into it using a cocktail stick to coat them in caramel.

The second job was to butcher pigeons to get the breasts ready for lunch. This was fairly similar to our duck butchery task a few weeks ago, only slightly fiddlier due to the facts that pigeons are considerably smaller than ducks, with teeny, snappable bones, and a likelihood of shot, bulletholes or broken wings. We removed the wing but kept the skin on the breast as well as the mini fillet as both keep the breast moist during cooking. Our last bit of prep was a celeriac remoulade which we made by chopping celeriac into matchstick pieces and salting while we mixed a little mayonnaise, wholegrain mustard, lemon, capers, seasoning and chopped chives. We rinsed the celeriac and mixed it through. 

To cook the pigeon breast, we poured a little rapeseed oil into a hot pan and placed the salted breasts, skinside down, into the pan, applying a little pressure to prevent it curling up. After two minutes, we turned the breast over, added butter, a bashed garlic clove and some thyme to the pan and basted the breast continuously for a further two minutes. Then we rested the breasts while we prepared our plate.

Chef Tom had made a spiced apple jelly by mixing juice with agar agar and allowing it to set - I cut mine into discs. He also made an apple puree and apple pearls, by dropping the agar agar solution into cold olive oil, draining and rinsing the resulting pearls, and a tarragon oil powder by whisking tapioca maltodextrin through a little of the oil. A little carving of breasts, loading a chef ring with the remoulate, and artful arranging later, I loved how my lunch looked - almost as much as how it tasted! 

Such a beautiful lunch deserves an equally beautiful dessert. Yesterday we made chocolate and cointreau mousse and glass biscuits, as well as a raspberry reduction made by simmering raspberries with a little water and sugar before straining through a fine sieve to remove pips. Chef had made raspberry pastilles by heating raspberry purée with sugar and pectin, lemon juice and liquid glucose up to 108°C. This had been chilled overnight and today was tipped onto a board coated in caster sugar and cut into pieces, before we were set loose to freestyle our plate. 

I'm hoping tomorrow will look and taste just as delicious. Check back to find out!

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