Author Archives: Paul Aboud

About Paul Aboud

I'm just a regular type mid-50's fella, recently moved to Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, who enjoys bread making and sharing the adventure. I've only been at this on a steady basis since 2007 when I decided to look for better bread than what was available in the local grocery. You are cordially invited to add comments, questions and musings of your own to any of these posts; this isn't intended to be a one way communication. I'm not an expert and likely won't be one for years to come. But I do want to share my experiences and what I have picked up in order to help spread this "bread baking" virus. Because as habits go, it's a darn tasty one!

Cake Week in Pastry Level 2

With the end of the first section in the CIVIU course, we begin this second half with Level 2 of Pastry where we’ll be upgrading the products we put out. Finer quality items, more detail, a little more complex construction are expected. Likewise, when we get to Breads 2 a few weeks from now, we’ll need to up the ante there as well. This first week in Pastry Level 2 finds me in the Cakes section.

And who’s on the team for this section? Surprise! They didn’t change the teams. So once again, it’s Kevin and I, the only team of two, doing what the other teams of three are expected to pump out. This means bigger workload for us, since we won’t have that third person to help produce all the regular production requirements (cakes, bars, pot pies all for the cafeteria). Fortunately, they’ve decided to cut back on the quantities we have to produce but that applies to teams of three as well. We’re still out one person.  We’ll see how that goes.

Some of the production stuff we needed to do for Cakes week included making a few sponge cakes and carrot cakes (iced), genaches, simple syrups, cheese cakes, simple buttercream and a giant load of Italian meringue buttercream. Since Kevin hadn’t done buttercream when he was on cakes during the previous Pastry section, he got to do it this time. I made the carrot cake. Both of us made a sponge cake. Then we got on to the individual items. Oh, and a special order birthday cake for the end of the week came in… on Wednesday.

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End of Pro Baking Section 1: Exam baking and a few breads

This post will be mostly baking photos so that I can get the last bit of the Bread Section recorded in here.

The last bit of the Bread Section (Part 1) at The Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island had us repeating, for the final two weeks, the several areas we had been through during the first six weeks, except we hit each station for just two days. Sort of a “Rapid Fire” version of the original stations which wasn’t actually that stressful as we already “been there, done that” just a short while before.

So here are, not necessarily in chronological order, a whole bunch of photos from theis Bread Section for your visual enjoyment.

 

Here’s Kevin, my “partner in crime” for this Bread Section, readying a recipe.

And (finally) I managed to get a snap of Angelique, the bakery department’s Assistant; she’s the one who knows where everything is, orders stuff for us and is generally the “power in the background” that makes the whole thing run smoothly. She was a student here a couple of years back herself so she also has a few tips on how this all works.

   

Pita Breads in two varieties, getting baked.

 The white breads are made using Peter Reinhart’s Lavash Crackers recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. the recipe includes a little honey and veg oil, so the bread is enriched and softer than it would be with a straight, flour-water-salt only dough.

The whole wheat ones are made using a basic Whole Wheat Bread recipe we use for, well, plain ol’ whole wheat breads. This would show that pretty much any decent dough can be used for pita breads. This is the same whole wheat bread we used in the loaves at the very top of this post (beautifully slashed, I’ll add, by Chelsea who was on Ovens that day).

The bread disks are put in a very hot oven where they puff up very quickly. They are removed once puffed and flipped over so the opposite side faces the hearth or top. Watch out for steam escaping from the very hot interior of the bread, though, and act fast. Once they puff up once more, they are taken out and stacked as shown to cool; stacking them this way helps them deflate before they harden and keeps them from drying out too fast. The whole baking process takes just a few minutes from raw dough disks to finished bread cooling off.

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The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard to be MellowBakers.com’s next project

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The Handmade Loaf becomes our Group Baking focus

With Jeffrey Hamelman’s wonderful “Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes” now completed, the Mellow Bakers have chosen to set their collective sights on Dan Lepard’s highly praised book, The Handmade Loaf available from Amazon UK here. Elsewhere, it is available as  “The Art of Handmade Bread” and in Spain, a translated version titled “Hecho a Mano“.

 

   

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Making Macarons: Can it be truly easy?

At last, we’ve gathered up the courage to make macarons, these delightful little meringue-based almond cookies that are currently extremely de rigeur in the classiest of places. Reading up on them, however, may made you a little daunted because of the aura of finickiness that seems to be placed around their construction.

Fear not, for there are a few things you can learn that will make creating macarons much simpler than is usually shown.

This is the third part of a series showing how I made my very first batch of Macarons. Previous entries were:

Making Swiss Meringue Buttercream (great for cookies or cake)
Making Almond Flour

The following pictorial step-by-step is based on the macaron recipe found on the awesome blog BraveTart.com where pastry chef Stella Parks guides you through the process, eliminating much of the hocus-pocus typically associated with making these cookies. Her view, basically, is this: They’re just cookies. Yes, there are steps peculiar to this style of cookies, but there are specific steps for many other cookies too and this doesn’t elevate them to near-ritualistic requirements.

As noted in a prior post, two things you will want to read – and possibly print out – before we get too far ahead are:

  1. The Ten Macaron Commandments
  2. Ten Macaron Myths Busted

Some of the things we’re told we can be less fussy about: perfectly aged egg whites and their temperature, drying the piped cookies, drying the almond flour, using cornstarch-free powdered sugar, being super-duper careful with the meringue. Let’s just follow Stella’s simple recipe and get us some nice macarons, shall we?

You may also want to print out this template I made for piping out macarons in either PDF format or as a PNG image. It will fit a typical (US) home sized baking pan of 16″ x 10″ under a silpat type silicone liner or parchment paper.

Simply print out TWO copies at full (US 8.5″ x 11″) page size, tape the open ends together and trim. Each baking sheet will then give you a total of 32 circles (for 16 finished cookies), optimized for the standard macaron size of 3.5 cm with 2 cm space between each. Just remember to pull it out from under your parchment or silpat before putting your piped macarons in the oven!

Alright, let’s gather our ingredients and make some macarons!

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Make Your Own Almond Flour

In this second phase of our Macaron process, we pick up a neat little money saving tip (who doesn’t like to save a little money, raise your hand… and send it to me). You have an urge to make macarons but have no ready source for almond flour or you’ve seen it on the store shelf and the price made you swoon.

Not to fear, you can make your own almond flour and be whipping out macarons in no time at all.

Here’s what you’ll need to make almond flour:

Almond Flour mise en place

  • 115g blanched almonds (whole, slices or slivers, doesn’t matter)
  • 230g powdered sugar (confectioner’s)
  • A food processor and a sieve.

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Whether used for cakes or cookies, this Swiss Meringue Buttercream is light, not too sweet and pretty straight forward to make. Swiss Meringue differs from Italian Meringue by the fact the egg and sugar are heated up together (145ºF minimum) before whipping, where Italian Meringue cooks the beaten eggs whites by adding very hot (245ºF) sugar syrup. Both of these are used to make buttercream frosting. A third type, French Meringue, is simply egg whites beaten with sugar, what most cooks would put on their lemon pies then bake.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream basic recipe

INGREDIENT GRAMS OUNCES One Fifth Baker’s %
Eggs, room temp 290g 10.2 oz 58g 100.0%
Sugar 290g 10.2 oz 58g 100.00%
Salt * 4g 0.1 oz 0.8g 1.38%
Butter * (room temp, 2″ Cubes) 910g 32.1 oz 182g 313.79%
Vanilla extract 4g 0.1 oz 0.8g 1.38%
TOTALS 1,498g 53 oz 300g 516.6%

* 4g is about 1/2 teaspoon. Only add salt if you use unsalted butter (recommended). If you use salted butter, leave the salt out.

You can use either fresh eggs or the pre-packaged carton stuff, both will work just fine.

Equipment: You will need a mixer (or whisk and strong arm) and a thermometer.

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Intro to Macarons (for me, anyway)

Macarons. Little almond/meringue based cookies with creamy fillings that seem to be all the rage these days or for the past several years at least. There are elite shops set up that sell just macarons in all varieties of flavours and colours, the most famous of these being Pierre Hermé (left and center pics below) and Ladurée, both out of Paris, natch.

  

Researching these cookies, one is left with the distinct impression that they require not only skill of the highest degree but intricate steps and rituals known only to the anointed.  Mere mortals can expect endless failure, best to leave it to the pros, kids.

And at prices tipping the $2 – $2.50 mark per cookie, it’s understandable that those who make them want to keep them pretty exclusive. It would, for example, cost you about $700 for the cookies visible in the photo of the display case seen above. Of course, you’re also paying for the high-brow location, the perfectly appointed stylish shop (yes, it is lovely), extra fancy packaging and a fairly large dose of lah-dee-dah.

Inspiration for Macarons

Enter Stella Parks of BraveTart.com and pastry chef at Table 310 in Lexington, KY. Her viewpoint: They’re just cookies, people! There’s nothing magical about them (although they are pretty damn tasty) and you don’t need to set up a sacrificial altar to the macaron gods to make them successfully.

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