Sunday, January 13, 2013

Baking Challenges

Most people who know me know me as someone who loves to cook. But what they might not know is that deep inside I am a baker at heart. My earliest memories of baking were with my grandmother. I remember making lemon meringue and pumpkin pies with her.  She didn't always make everything from scratch, but she taught me a few tricks that I still use today.

There is something about baking that I love and find challenging. I don't know if it's the fact that baking is chemistry and for most things you cannot just throw ingredients together and expect great results. When you bake you have to be exact or what was supposed to be light and fluffy is now a brick and would damage your floors if dropped. As for having to stick to the recipe I do admit that because of that I do find myself a little more fearful to experiment with changing the recipe.

Since the internet is such a handy tool for finding recipes for just about anything you want to make nowadays I have for the most part have stopped buying cookbooks. Until this Christmas that is. Thomas Keller of the renowned French Laundry and Bouchon put out a book from his loved Bouchon Bakery and that became a must have.

The cookbook is as much a coffee table book as it is a cookbook. The pictures are incredible and would make any person browsing through it begin to drool. Surprisingly also many of the recipes are incredibly easy. I know many of you are thinking easy for her to say. But I am telling you the truth. You can make an olive oil cake in less than 30 minutes and have an impressive base for a wonderful dessert.  If you read the recipe thoroughly prior to starting the baking and follow the instructions you will be successful.

Are you flummoxed over a baking term? Thankfully the internet is here to make it easy for you discover the meaning without feeling like a complete idiot. The best way to learn is to practice and take thosse chances. You may nail it on the first try, but most likely it will be the third or fourth time before you get those desired results. There is nothing wrong with no succeeding, even the world's greatest chefs and bakers had disasters before they found the perfect technique and came out with the results they wanted.

Back to the challenges I love. I found a strawberry parfait in the Bouchon Bakery cookbook that I couldn't wait to make. Problem was all the steps and different recipes I had to make to get this one final product.  Step one: Bake an olive oil cake. Step 2: Make pastry cream. Step 3: Make buttercream. Step 4: Blend the pastry cream and butter cream together. Step 5: Assemble parfaits.

I told myself I can do this and I'll make it for my Bunco group. So the day before Bunco I proceeded and baked the olive oil cake. That was simple and I had to let it cool and freeze it to make cutting out the cake easier. Next was the pastry cream. That was pretty easy also as I have made this before. The worst part was running it through a fine mesh sieve to get out all the impurities.  Finally the buttercream. Now this recipe was different than the one I usually make for my cakes. This one had egg whites, boiled sugar, and then the butter would go in. You need a good candy thermometer and to watch the sugar so it doesn't burn. Pour the sugar into the beaten egg whites and once that mixture has cooled to room temperature you can add the softened butter to combine.

Finished Strawberry Parfaits
With all three steps complete I was able to blend the pastry cream and buttercream together and complete the final parfait the next day.  I had to modify the assembly as I was using smaller dishes than the recipe called for.  Once complete I placed the parfaits back in the refrigerator until they were to be served. 

I was pleased my Bunco friends enjoyed our dessert as there wasn't a bit left in any of the dishes.

I happened to have some leftover buttercream and pastry cream so I experimented with another way to use all the same ingredients and made another olive oil cake and put all the ingredients together more like a napoleon. In this manner I was able to serve more people and have an impressive cake.

Next time you think that something is too challenging for you, stop and think about it. Is it really that hard or are you ready to face that fear. Go ahead and take the challenge. What's the worse that can happen? You end up with cake? Go enjoy and have some fun.

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