McCall’s puff pastry 1 review

Well it’s been awhile. I haven’t been able to bake much in about a year, because reasons, but something I’ve wanted to share is that for my birthday last month, Boyfriend Unit sent me to pastry school at McCall’s for a day! It was absolutely spectacular. I learned to make all sorts of treats.

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Cost: $160

Course length: 7 hours

What did we learn:

  • puff pastry
  • pastry cream
  • strudel
  • Mille-Feuille
  • turnovers
  • pastry cream
  • lots of small pastry and savory stuff too

Once again Kay was my instructor, she is a great teacher and very skilled. I recommend this course to anyone aspiring to learn more about pastry and has an interest in hands-on learning. One day I hope to make pastry as effortlessly as Kay makes it, one day… I made this!!!

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A nice feature of McCall’s courses is that the day of the class, you are given a 10% discount on in-store purchases, and a coupon for 10% off the next time you shop there. It’s fun to see the tools in person and figure out what I want vs. what I need to try things at home.

Everything was so delicious too. Puff pastry is a lot of work. It takes hours and requires a lot of folding the dough, letting it rest and chill, and rolling it out to fold again. It was actually pretty exhausting.

For a few years I’ve been reading about pricing in the baking industry; how people balk at the cost of large items like wedding cakes or mass amounts of pastry, but think nothing of going to a restaurant and paying $6 to $12 for one dessert. After these work shop I’m convinced pastry is under priced.  What you pay is not only priced to cover ingredient cost and overhead, it has to account for the skill of the baker and the time it takes to prepare baked goods. Someone is working that dough for hours and they have spent years honing their craft. If you are in a nice restaurant try their pastry! Most times it’s worth your while. 🙂

Christmas chocolates 2014

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Have just finished Year 4 of making chocolates for Christmas. I’ve learned a lot since I started in 2011 and practice really does improve your skill. This is the quality I could create in the beginning, and this is what I make now.

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I was really excited about making chocolates again. Well actually, I’m really excited about working with chocolate at any time, but this year was the first year I could make 9 individual shapes, and mastered the fillings I wanted to create; something creamy and soft and delicious. This may be it, I do not foresee making any future changes to the recipe or the box contents.

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I like November because it’s time to secure the Belgian chocolate. Social invites are turned down with a hushed, “It’s chocolate-making season” and understanding nods. Chocolate paints the ceiling of my home. The fridge has no room for food. It is the month of having dinner delivered and an excuse to be quite lazy in some ways.

See quarter for scale:

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No worries Mom, your box will not contain any dark chocolate.

I used 4 types and for the chocolatiers out there here are the specs:

  • milk chocolate 823NV, 33.6% cocoa solids, 21.8 milk solids
  • dark (semi-sweet) 811NV, 54.5% cocoa solids
  • dark 70-30-38NV, 70.5% cocoa solids
  • white W2NV, 28% cocoa solids, 23% milk solids

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What started as a modest hobby has grown into a massive time-suck. And tears.

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Speaking of new fillings, there they are. They are liquid and delicious, instead of hard and dry. I abandoned icing sugar and evaporated milk, and turned to making ganache; heavy cream, Belgian chocolate, and concentrated oils. The raspberry cream, orange cream, and butter cream are made with white chocolate ganache. The peppermint and peanut butter cream are made from milk chocolate ganache. The caramel is a soft, liquid homemade stuff and I fear it has some mystery addictive quality.

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And it was time to re-draw the map again.

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I feel a great sense of satisfaction when they are all laid out.

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Where to get supplies:

(cookie bowl + ice cream) X caramel sauce

So this was ridiculously easy and delicious. I made cookies last night and Boyfriend asked if I would make some cookie bowls.

“What the hell is a cookie bowl? It sounds messy. Why?”

“Please just try it! It’ll be really good.”

“Oh fine.”

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(Consume immediately after production, just make as many as needed. Don’t bake in advance.)

Make cookie dough. Press the dough flat, and fit it over an inverted muffin tin.

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Bake!

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Damn!

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Carefully loosen edges with small spatula and you have a cookie bowl!

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Add frozen yogurt.

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Heat up the delicious caramel sauce wrought from your hard work and tears.

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Verdict: OMFG. This was fantastic. I forgot the dough spreads so next time I’d space the dough farther apart on the muffin tin. The flavour of the caramel sauce seems better now that I’ve paired it with something, just trying a spoonful of it plain was a bit meh but on ice cream: WOW. I think this could be astronomically delicious with my hot fudge sauce under the frozen yogurt.

Chocolate-covered bacon (redux)

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“Boyfriend Unit? We’re invited to D’s birthday party. What does he like?”

“Meat.”

“Surely he likes other things than meat. What is he interested in?”

“Meat.”

“You’re a lot of help in gift planning. OK; wanna make him chocolate bacon, a big box of it?”

“If we make that I want to EAT IT.”

“Well you can’t. It’s a gift. You’re cooking the bacon.”

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(Because dear reader, I don’t cook bacon. I don’t clean ovens either.)

“Wuah you didn’t clean the stove, I will have to photoshop it!!”

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“Look. perfectly tempered chocolate!”

“What time is his party starting?”

“Uh, 7pm? 7:30pm? Lemme check… SHIT.”

“What??”

“It started at 5.”

“We don’t have enough time to temper the white chocolate.”

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“Or the milk chocolate.”

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“That’s ok, I can totally temper chocolate on the fly, watch this.”

(later)

“Happy birthday D! Here!”

“EVERYBODY BACK UP, IT’S MINE.”

(later)

“I’d say that was a success, wouldn’t you?”

“If you want to conquer the world, you best have dragons.”

These didn’t come out quite as intended but they were delicious any way. I wanted to make Mini Egg cookies for Easter, and a test run was needed. (I was surprised how easily Boyfriend Unit accepted this flimsy excuse as justification to add a jumbo bag of Mini Eggs to the grocery list, but there you have it.) On a whim I dyed them green because I thought they would look cuter, like dino eggs in grass.

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Except now that I’m more awake, I remember that dinosaurs roamed before grass covered the ground, which I learned from the making-of features in Walking with Dinosaurs. Whatever. The grass effect is artistic. Moving right along.

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Time required: 1 hour

Yields: 24?

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $40

Cost per cookie: $1.70

Ingredients:

  • 1 C butter, softened
  • 1 C brown sugar, packed
  • ½ C white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 TBSP vanilla
  • 2 C white flour + 1 C cake flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • drop of kelly green fondant colouring
  • 1 C of Mini Eggs (do not use “Eggies” they are not the same)

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat to 176° C / 350°F.

2. Beat the butter until it’s fluffy. When Boyfriend Unit comes to photograph for me I will always give a thumbs up. Cause I am a very cheesy person.

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3. Before you add the eggs, beat them (one at a time) in a small cup, then pour in, and blend. Hmm. Something’s not right here. Attempt to cream the sugar now and fail miserable.

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Cheer on glorious mixer, spin like a hurricane! (Yes, I really talk to my appliance, in exactly that tone.)

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4. Hmmm, actually it seems salvageable now. Meanwhile…

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… combine the dry ingredients (both flours, baking soda, baking power, salt), give it a stir, and then add it to the wet in thirds.

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Struggle to mix it. Nemo started to make a chugging sound, this dough was very thick.

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5. Almost add the eggs. Change your mind.

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Add fondant colouring instead.

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6. Introduce your dragons! Giggle like a fool.

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7. Bake 12-15 min, checked at 10 but too jiggly, gave them another 2-3 min. Cool on rack a few min and consume hot.

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Verdict:

Hmm. These are pretty good! And fun to make. I wasn’t sure how a Mini Egg would hold up to being baked in the oven, they still had the snap when you bit into them although the shells cracked in the oven.

“He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.”

I intended to cream the sugar into the butter before adding the eggs but I forgot. I’m not sure yet how these feel or taste after cooling, I only made 4 to test them.

I added cake flour to regular flour because I’ve had cake flour sitting around forever not doing anything with it and was curious how it would affect texture. It gave the cookies a nice consistency. I think I will tinker a bit and add some more flavouring, maybe cardamom. Something spicy for dragon eggs. A cookie fit for a khaleesi.

Playlist: Lit – My Own Worst Enemy

Great Aunt Lucy’s tea biscuits

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I love tea biscuits. Most everyone in my family does. Perhaps it’s genetic. It’s dreadfully cold here and I thought Sunday would be improved greatly if we had a slow-cooked dinner with tea biscuits. Prior to rolling up my sleeves, I called Mom to inquire about some of the finer points of biscuit-making since this was new territory for me.

“Now hunni, it’s a very wet batter. And if it doesn’t work out, don’t get discouraged.”

“That sounds ominous. Are these really tricky?”

(insert pause)

“No… just… don’t get discouraged, that’s all.”

With that fateful prediction in mind I got to work.

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Time required: 1  hour

Yields: 9  (supposed to be 12)

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $24

Cost per biscuit: $2

Kitchen implements I used:

  • Nemo the KitchenAid
  • baking trays lined with parchment paper

Ingredients:

  • 2 C flour
  • 1 TBSP white sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ C white shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1 C milk

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 400° F / 204°C and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine the dry stuff. Now, if you have never run a stand mixer with only dry ingredients: DON’T. I forgot this crucial information.

3. Beat in the shortening until coarse crumbs form.

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4. Add beaten egg and milk, stir in with a fork.

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5. Turn batter onto floured surface. Get caught in the act of making mildly sorcerous hand gestures. WARNING. WARNING. Do not set wax paper on the surface. Put the flour right onto the cutting board or the counter top. Or you will be sorry.

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Puzzle over next part of the instructions.

6. Knead 20 times. Knead?

“Boyfriend, what does knead mean here? What do I do?”

“Um… it’s what the cat does when he sits on your lap, just try that.”

“Okay then!”

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7. Cut out biscuits with a roundish shape. I didn’t want another dish to clean so I didn’t do that, and tore off pieces by hand, and plopped them onto the trays.

8. Bake 10-14 minutes. I checked at 10, not done. Gave it 2 more minutes, 2 more, 2 more, and at 16 they finally had that golden edge.

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9. Remove from oven and immediately take off tray and transfer to cooling rack. Wait 5 min before eating.

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Very nice with a cup of tea. Or with dinner.

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Verdict: Success!  Thank you Aunt Lucy.

Playlist: Vampire Hunter D, OST

“The charm of homemade chocolates!”

That phrase is code for “something went wrong”.

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The first time I poured chocolate into molds, they had lots of air bubbles. I complained to my sister who wisely explained it’s like Ed Norton’s glassware in Fight Club, the little imperfections show it was hand-crafted and it’s just the charm of homemade chocolates. So now every time something untoward happens while I’m chocolatiering, you will hear an indignant curse from me, followed by a soothing assurance from Boyfriend Unit, “It’s the charm of homemade chocolates, don’t worry.”

And what goes wrong when you are making chocolates, pray tell? Air bubbles, cracks, bloom (cloudy spots), smudges, melting, seizing, fillings not centered, fillings exploded,  misprint on map, et cet. But I no longer care. Because I know, when people open the box…

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… and eat one, they are all “OMFG”. And that makes me smile.

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We make a 9 piece box, with one dark chocolate, three milk chocolates, and five semi-sweet chocolates. This year Boyfriend Unit experimented with a sea salt dark chocolate since he hates raspberry cream. He really liked the result.

Using a full-sized block of chocolate was a new experience. This is a 5 kilo or 11 pound block of Barry Callebaut Belgian chocolate, classified as a well-balanced bitter cocoa taste, 53.8% cocoa solids. This is the base of all my semi-sweet chocolates.

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I was so excited to open this!

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Just look at that! That is a lot of chocolate.

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My mother asked recently about my weekend plans.

“Making chocolate.”

“Oh hunni? Could you maybe send less dark chocolate this year?”

“Mom, there is one dark chocolate per box!”

“Oh hunni, that’s too much! I don’t like dark chocolate.”

“Ok Mom. No dark chocolate in yours.”

Stay tuned for how this was made and where to get supplies.

Born to dye

Experiments with natural dyes have run amok. Using spinach, turmeric, and beets, I was able to produce pots of bright dye, but adding them to the fillings did not accomplish much.

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Have you ever had an idea that seemed really great in your head? When I was little, I decided I would carve a wooden deer for my dad on Father’s Day. I had no source of income, ergo my consumer purchasing power was nil. So I decided to carve! Mind you I had no experience with carving, but I did have a stack of firewood and Dad’s set of carving tools. Several hours later, I had a mangled piece of wood and some splinters for my pain, no deer; that’s what homemade dye brings to mind.

The concept of dying my chocolate fillings seemed solid.  Making a pot of dye is fairly simple, simmer about 4 cups of water with ½ C of puréed vegetable or spice, and voila! But after the dye is made, adding it to the filling did not change the colour. Oh, woe.

Notes from the drawing board:

This base yields enough filling for 30 centres x 4 flavours, 120 pieces total.

Combine: 2 C icing sugar, 1½ TBSP unsalted butter, ¼ tsp vanilla, 2 TBSP evaporated milk.  Divide into 4 bowls.

Add flavouring oils to 3 bowls (none for the butter creams)

Peppermint oil = extremely potent, no more than 3 small drops. Several drops of spinach dye, no discernible difference. Cannot taste spinach.

Raspberry cream oil = very potent, 3 small drops quite strong also.  Adding 8 drops of beat juice sweetened it, yields soft pink colour.

Orange cream oil = weak, lost count after 30 drops, flavour is mild and weak bouquet, wtf. Several drops of turmeric dye, no change. Cannot taste spice.

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I like the idea of dying my chocolate fillings for two reasons:

  1. I am a 2-bite chocolate person. I like to look at the centre before it’s gone, so I want to see a pink raspberry cream or an orange filling
  2. It’s difficult to keep 4 bowls of fillings straight, after awhile your sense of smell and taste goes numb and you sit there, “Is this the orange cream or the butter cream??” The different colours would make it easy.

I don’t want to give up and use artificial dye. After all, my chocolate packaging hails them as containing “dairy, nuts, and all-natural vegetable dyes”. It’s either figure it out or give up on dye. It tooks days to get the letter spacing just so, no way in hell am I redrawing the chocolate map.

Boyfriend asked me, “Why do you want to dye peppermint patties green anyway? Aren’t they white??”

I think it was that I wanted 4 distinct colours since we had 4 flavoured cream fillings, and I thought peppermint leaves are green, raspberries are pink, butter is yellow, and orange is orange.

My problem is I don’t experiment before I need the dye, I just assume I will do XZY on Chocolate Shoppe Day and it will work. Clearly I need to try substituting more of the evaporated milk with the dye to balance out the liquid, and add enough to see the colour, yet not taste the base of the dye, perhaps more icing sugar to stiffen it up.

Playlist: Halo 2 – Mjölnir Mix

Milk chocolates – all done

 

 

What was it like to use a professional chocolate tempering machine? Fabulous. Amazing. Spectacular. Am running out of adjectives. It works so well and it’s so fast. (Product review will be posted after Christmas.)

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So basically my our tempering machine works even better than I had imagined.  Yesterday Boyfriend and I made 66 solid milk chocolates (above), and 51 toasted almond milk chocolates (below). Look at that beautiful gloss!

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Today we are going to make the Toberlone pieces, and then the milk chocolate is all done, next weekend is for the more labour-intensive filled chocolates. And the peppermint bark. Huzzah!

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“Why do you have to name it?!?”

“I just do. And its name is Bernard. Deal with it.”

Step up your chocolatiering

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So, what is it?  This is a chocolate tempering machine by ChocoVision. Tempering is the finicky process of heating and cooling chocolate to specific degrees to get a glossy product that keeps its shape at room temperature and has a lovely snap.

I really love making homemade chocolates and I make a lot, which takes about 3 days to temper all the chocolate I need. This machine is going to speed up production and ensure results consistency. Or so I hope. Will review it in full after use. Its maiden voyage is tomorrow and I quiver with anticipation.