Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Back to class again for a new lesson—cookies!

Once again, I felt pretty secure about myself going into this—I have been making cookies and excellent cookies at that since I was 5.  OK—when I was 5 I didn’t do much more than eat the batter, but maybe 12?  In any event, I have made a lot of cookies in my day.  We had in my home-town a new enclosed shopping mall with a Mrs. Field’s cookies in it (and all the publicity that she got), Famous Amos was just getting famous and I had a treasure—the LA times printed the famous “Mrs. Field’s cookie recipe”.  This was a great urban legend of the time—that someone had bought the recipe from her and at the counter they said two-fifty was the cost of the recipe—they took it and left without looking at their visa bill, when it arrived they saw it was two hundred fifty dollar and not two dollars and fifty cents that they thought…they were so mad that they decided to publish the recipe to the whole world…and of course Mrs. Fields denied ever selling her recipe and that that the story was a fraud…fraud or no—it made the best tasting chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten so I used it for many many years.

Going through the recipes, I saw that there were no chocolate chip cookies in the list—(I felt safe in that I can keep my favorite recipe unaltered).  Unfortunately however I also didn’t see a recipe for the one kind of cookies that I DO want to learn how to make—the fabulous Macaron.  If you have never tasted a fabulous Macaron, you need to rush out to a snooty pastry shop or street cafĂ© and try them.  I remember my first taste—I was visiting a friend in NY, we went downtown to the Banana Republic and for whatever reason, the salesman came around with a tray of lightly colored cookies and offered me one.  At first I didn’t want to try one—they looked like baby cookies in their light pastels and their exterior, but my friend told me to taste one—that they were really a gourmet treat.  I did and it was love at first bite.  Anyway…no Macarons—but there was a good selection of cookies to make just the same.  We made lace cookies, health cookies, espresso cookies with white chocolate (that was a small fiasco that I’ll talk about later)…lemon popyseed cookies, butter-shortbread cookies, Mexican wedding cake cookies and please forgive me for my spelling—saharoneh cookies.  (I promise to ask the chef how to write this correctly in English as she only mentioned the name in Hebrew…)

Mexican wedding cakes.  Wow—that brings back a memory!  I was in 6th grade and had to make a presentation for my class for cinco-de-mayo about Mexican culture.  Now—here I was in 6th grade—eleven years old and already a budding chef.  For part of my presentation I decided to make Mexican Wedding Cakes—a light cookie that was rolled in powdered sugar while still warm so that it absorbs the powdered sugar as part of the cookie.  Really nice cookies!  Anyway…I made the cookies and put them on a paper plate and stapled another paper plate on top as a storage container (we didn’t have Tupperware back then)…I put it where I always put things to take to school—the floor of the dining room—I don’t remember when I discovered it, but I do remember learning that Penny (our dog) had found the paper plates and was not deterred at all by the stapled top—she managed to get all the cookies.  I had time to make another batch so I did—and they were popular at school.  I’ll have to make a note to see if I can find the old recipe that I used 35 years ago (is it really that long ago!) to compare what we did here.

Process for making cookies—sablage or cremage

Checking my sources, I found that sabler means “to reduce to sand” – which basically means that you start with very cold ingredients—especially the butter—the butter is chopped to small cubes and returned to the refrigerator while you make the rest of the mies en place.  Using the paddle attachment, the butter and flour are mixed together until the butter is coated with a layer of flour and makes a fine grit like sand.  If you add water – make sure it’s ice water but that you strain out any ice.  Once the butter and flour are mixed, you add the liquids SLOWLY and only until the dough just starts to clump.  (Even if the recipe calls for more—don’t be tempted to add more than needed!).  Pat the dough to a thin disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours to relax the dough and chill it before continuing.

Cremage method for pastry is what I had always done for making cookies.  Cream the butter and sugar(s) together and then alternate between adding the liquids and the powders.  Just barely mix with each addition until it’s incorporated into the mass.  Butter chopped to cubes is used at room temperature here—but if it’s cold, just chop it smaller.  

One thing that I’m proud to see is that my long time method of creaming the butter and sugar together and then adding the liquids and finally the flour is right!  Thanks Mrs. Fields—you really did teach the right method in your cookbook (no, I’m not talking about the recipe that I mentioned above from the newspaper urban legend, but rather a cookbook that I bought I don’t know when called Mrs. Field’s cookies cookbook.)  She taught the same way in her book.  Now I need to compare the lemon-poppyseed cookie recipes to see how they compare…

My team made the health cookies—what a sticky mess and it didn’t use any special technique—just mixing the ingredients together and then pressing the cookies to shape.  We used a falafel baller and then rings with a pastry press—got to get one to make those cookies later on…

Now for the mess that we had.  Melting chocolate isn’t hard but it has to be done right.  Chocolate is really picky about how it wants to be treated and if you don’t play to its rules—well…it still may be sweet but the wonderful melt-in-your-mouth (or hands) texture is gone forever.  I wasn’t paying attention to it at the time, but whoever melted the white chocolate used to decorate the cookies—well…they either heated the chocolate too much or they had the flame too high (there are a few rules here—use a bain-marie or double boiler to melt chocolate.  Don’t let the water in the bain marie touch the bottom of the upper bowl—it should be heated only by steam.  Don’t heat it too hot or it breaks down the chocolate (don’t know the rules for chocolate melting temperatures but there are rules about that) and don’t use a flame that’s too high.  (This rule I do know).  If you can’t hold your hand comfortably on the upper bowl of the bain marie—the flame is too high.)  Anyway—after dipping a few of the cookies in the white chocolate—the chocolate gelled and was no longer adequate for dipping.  sigh.  Made do the best we could.

What a take-home load!  Cookies are small so we made a lot of them!  It’s my opinion that the best part of class is the take-home portion at the end.  Everything that we make in class goes home with us—I’m the one responsible for dividing the spoils at the end—this time the payoff was great!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Hello again dear readers now that you've come to listen to me...

the best way to make something yours is to practice it again and again.  So...I have decided it was the proper time to put to practice what I learned in the first lesson.  And...I thought to make a treat for my choir so I made a cake.  I decided to make the Mixed Berry Streusel cake. 

First step--washing my hands.  :)  Didn't forget what I learned in class. 

Heat the oven--not to waste time (170C).  Thermometer read 170 exactly.  (I love my oven!)

Third step: scaling the ingredients.  This does two things--first of all, you know that you have all the ingredients in place before you start (and don't need to run to the supermarket to get more eggs), second it reminds you of what is involved in the recipe because it's all in front of you. 

Everything scaled correctly and waiting for me--started the process of making the cake--cream the butter, add eggs, then flavors and finally the flour and cream--1/3 of the powders, 1/2 of the liquids, etc til all just barely mixed.  Of course--as soon as I turned on the mixer, the phone rang.   let it cream the butter while I"m on the phone (this doesn't need babysitting).  Hung up the phone, next step and the phone rings again...and again...and again.  (don't they know I'm baking???)  Finally got it all mixed in and ready to move on. 

I poured 1/3 of the batter into the cake ring, then put down a layer of berries.  I used raspberries.  then the rest of the cake batter, then finally the streusel topping.  Streusel topping--what is it?  It's pie crust with almond powder and lemon zest.  Cut it until it's crumbs and then store it in the freezer until it's ready to use.

Finally, into the oven.  The recipe was called for baking 45 minutes--I set the timer for 35 minutes to make sure it didn't bake too fast.

I just put the cake in the oven and the phone rang.  (I didn't have this many calls the whole of last week!) Choir rehearsal cancelled--the cake is all for us.  (they don't know what they're missing!)

At 35 minutes, it was like hard jello so I set the timer for 10 minutes more--then another 10 minutes, finally it it seemed firm to the touch.  I tested the center with a piece of spaghetti (the cake is too tall for a toothpick!), the spaghetti came out clean so my cake is done.  Good thing the rehearsal was cancelled--I needed the extra time for the cake to bake.

I thought to save the cake until tomorrow--save it for guests...yeah right!

Now gentle readers you can't taste this, but I can tell you the cake is exactly what you want in a cake.  Light--Moist--Sweet but not too sweet, Tart--but not too tart.  TEXTURE--Wow--I could write a page about that--let's just say that the crumb is smooth and even, nice and light and inviting--Aroma--lemon--Berry--butter--Cream--just the best ingredients you can get.   Finally--the raspberries gave the perfect tartness (is that a word?)  It was better than the one we made in class--and the texture was the same so I say for my homework--a grade of A+ (or as they say here in Israel, 100).

happy baking,

chef eli

Saturday, January 15, 2011

First Lesson--simple cakes

Going into this lesson, I thought that I knew everything that there was to know about baking a cake.  After all, I've been baking them since I was about 10...ands I've always been pretty good at it.  Of course there is a very famous flop that I had...I remember it well.  It must have been 30 years ago...I was in high-school and it was my parent's anniversary.  That would be almost exactly 30 years ago.  Anyway...I saw a recipe for a white frou-frou cake from Bon Appetite magazine (on the cover!)  I had never worked with chocolate before (or since for that matter!) this cake had chocolate sides and scraped chocolate in rings on the top.  I bought the ingredients without their knowledge and surprised them...Well, the cake was tasty, but the chocolate decorations weren't as easy as it seemed in the magazine...and the amount of mess that it parents never stopped reminding me about that.  It's been 30 years and when I told my father that I was taking a pastry class, he asked if I was going to learn to make a cake without messing up the whole kitchen...

So...we met the chef--Elinor.  She demonstrated the first cake and taught the method...called sablage.  The first step is "washing your hands."  Then carefully going over the ingredient list and to weigh out all the ingredients on a tray before use.  I didn't understand what she called this step--so I asked's called a mies en place.

We learned 2 new techniques--cremage and sablage.  The cremage method is mixing butter and sugar (soft) together, then adding the liquids and powders alternatively in steps--1/3 of the flour (powders), 1/2 of the cream (liquids), 1/3 of the flours, the rest of the liquids and ending with the powders.  The sablage method is very different--the oil method.  Start by mixing the eggs with sugar, add the pinch items (lemon zest, seasons, etc), this is with a whisk attachment, then switch to the paddle attachment and add the powders 1/3, then liquids 1/2, powders/liquids/powders.  Finally add any solids (coconut, nuts, chocolate chips, fruits, etc.)

All told we made 4 cakes.  Carrot cakes (made as small cupcakes!)--delicious and much better than the typical american carrot cake with frosting too sweet to come near, Chocolate banana and coconut cake, butter cake with raspberries and streusel topping, Cinnamon-nut cake and brownies.  We divided to different teams and each team made a different cake.  16 students--4 groups of 4.  My group made brownies.  (I would have preferred to make the butter cake with raspberries, but the brownies are actually pretty good)--We took home all the goodies in the end--except for the brownies.  Our brownies will be put in the freezer until a later class--used as a base for moose.

Now..what did I think of the class...I would say I am more advanced than the rest of the class.-- but I enjoyed the class.  The methods were superb--the quality of the cakes surpass anything I've made before.  Light and airy--rich and tasty!  My favorite--the butter cake with raspberries and streusel topping.

I'm excited about the class--looking forward to the next time.

bye for now--chef eli

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getting Started...or changing from an engineer to a pastry chef

Writing a blog is new to me.  I’m not sure what others write so I decided to start without reading the penned ramblings of the masses to mold my text in advance.

Calling myself a blog writer is almost as pretentious as calling myself a pastry chef.  I’ve enrolled in a class called (and this is a rough translation) mastering the art of confectionery or pastry baking.  To introduce myself to you (a complete stranger or friend, an interested or disinterested person), and since you haven’t been able to taste anything I’ve ever baked in my life I will say that all of my friends call me chef.  No one ever complained at my table about the quality of food they received, all have raved about most of the dishes that I’ve set before them…(yes, there is an occasional renegade that doesn’t like one of the items or one of the ingredients in it.)

I learned most of my cooking from Julia Child.  I follow her methods and recipes very closely and stray only where permitted.  The results are almost always exquisite.  I even made puff pastry once many years ago and it was perfect.  This made me more upset when I tried making croissants and they flopped.  I had butter everywhere in the kitchen except in between the 82 layers of dough that it’s supposed to make.  Besides Julia, I must have 125 cookbooks (I’ve never counted them…remind me to count them all one time.)  I use only around 50 of them—and they are in the kitchen.  The rest are in the storage room—on a shelf—collecting dust.  Here again—the ones that I think are over my ability are the pastry and fancy cakes recipes.  (*not that I can’t whip up a fabulous cake or genoise, just keep me away from decorating it!*)  at least for now.  :)

Anyway…starting my pastry class in 2 weeks…I am afraid that I’ll be over the level of most of the students, but that’s always fun.  They say that there’s no baking experience needed…I rather wish they would say “must be ready to compete on master-chef-in-baking or experts only”.  

Hope you enjoy this journey with me.  By the way, my name is chef eli.