third quarter bread rotation

This was my first rotation of the third quarter. I was (am) exhausted, and after the horrorfest of last quarter's bread rotation, I was terrified of breads. I just didn't want to do it. In fact, I chose it as my first rotation because I wanted to get it over with.

And then I learned to love the breads.

In this rotation, we chose which breads to do, when to do them, and how to manage our time. There was no schedule and there were very few rules. We could adapt recipes or bring in our own. I worked with a partner but this could involve as little or as much interaction as we wanted. Aside from the lack of sleep, I found this to be just lovely.

My first bread was a mushroom and farro bread, made with dried shiitake mushrooms, button mushrooms, and farro. The shiitake mushrooms were reconstituted in hot water, and that water was used as the liquid in the dough. The bread took two days- one to prep the mushrooms and the farro and the preferment, and one day to assemble, proof, and bake the bread.

mushroom farro bread

The bread had a lovely earthy flavor, and the farro added texture and a nuttiness. The shiitake mushrooms were better than expected (I worried about dried mushrooms) but the button mushrooms fell flat. Next time I'd use something else- the recipe called for porcini, but I didn't have those available.

My partner and I did one bread together in this first week, and that was the german pumpernickel. This bread is composed entirely of rye and bakes over 16 hours at low heat, and then must cool for an additional four hours or so before it can be sliced. The dough involves a preferment and a soaker (rye and shredded rye) and so the final process takes roughly four days. The result is an exceptionally dense and flavorful bread, made exceptionally dark due not only to the rye but also to the maillard reaction triggered by this baking method.

The claylike dough does not want to be kneaded in the mixer; it simply coats the inside of the bowl in an interesting homage to negative space:

My three-day bread (the one requirement we had was that we choose a three-day bread) was an olive levain, made with three kinds of olives and a sourdough levain. Three-day breads have a preferment and then are given a long overnight proof after their final shaping so that they can develop more and more complex flavor. I used kalamata olives from school as well as two kinds of spanish olives (one oil-cured) from work. This bread was fantastic and I would definitely make it again. I may try to adapt the recipe for home use.

Here the bread has been given its final shape and is ready to rest and proof overnight:

Once baked, the scoring down the center makes it look as though it's just bursting with olives:

My disaster for the week was the semolina sesame bread. The preferment was very, very wet and the amount of flour in the final dough in no way yielded what the recipe claimed would be a 'stiff' product. It was downright soupy. I had to had more and more flour (durum) and in the end this probably caused quite a bit of overmixing. By the time the bread was done proofing it was clear that there wasn't enough time to bake it, and we had to retard it overnight- not usually done for this kind of bread.

By the next day, the bread had formed a crust (not enough humidity in the retarder) and while this isn't always a problem, in this case the bread had to be re-shaped. After the overmixing, the extra-long proofing, and then this over-shaping, the final product was dense and not pleasant to the taste. Alas.

I had so badly wanted to do a number of sesame breads, but after that experience, I was done with that idea.

And that was week one: german pumpernickel, mushroom farro bread, olive levain, and semolina sesame.


individual desserts

This is one of the new rotations for second quarter: small desserts, or petit-fours. These are elaborately constructed tiny things that take maybe 4 or 5 bites to eat.

We started off easy, with pate a choux, which is the dough used to make profiteroles or cream puffs and eclairs. We piped this into circles like doughnuts, filled them with praline mousseline, and coated them in almonds and powdered sugar. They are called Paris-Brest and are often named to commemorate a bicycle race between the two cities (hence their wheel-like shape).

After that, we moved on to custards. We made flan, which involved filling teacups with caramel and then a rich eggy mixture and baking it in a water bath for about an hour. The process had two difficult points, neither of which had anything to do with the recipe itself. First, moving a hotel pan full of boiling water to and from an oven is frightening and scary. If the water sloshes over the tops of the cups, the custard is ruined. If the water sloshes over you, well, ow.

The second frustrating part is turning the custards out of their teacups. You run a knife around the edge of the cup, breaking the seal, and pull the custard away from the side a bit, breaking the vacuum. then you flip the cup upside down and the custard plops out like the one above, right? Ha. Witness:

Those are all the failed flans, which came out in pieces or fell apart as soon as they hit the plate. It is extremely frustrating to finish something well and then ruin it when you're trying to get it onto the plate. We couldn't sell any of those, and they all went to student lunch.

We also couldn't sell this, the large flan (we ran out of teacups), because we didn't have a take-away plate large enough and slices would have been hideous. It's too bad, because it turned out beautifully:

After flan we moved on to creme caramel, which is much the same process, except that you get to torch the tops to form a glass-like sugary caramel-y crust. Ours was flavored with bailey's irish cream and chocolate, but I didn't think that the flavors came through very well. Needed more booze, or more chocolate, or both. Or something. No pictures of that, simply because I forgot.

The next week we moved on to the petit-fours:

from left to right:
napoleons: blitz puff pastry and rich pastry cream, covered in fondant.
chocolate bombes: chocolate mousse and caramel mousse layered over rive gauche (chocolate) cake.
bavarian cakes: almond sponge cake decorated with orange tulipe batter and filled with orange bavarian cream.

The bombes were like a mini version of what I'd done in my cake rotation, so I was comfortable with those, and the napoleons are amazingly simple to make (despite being an utter mess to eat). The most complicated part of all of this was making the stripes on the bavarian-filled cake.

You make a batter of egg whites and powdered sugar and a bit of bread flour (called a tulipe batter), spread it into a sheet pan atop a silpat, and then use this giant long device to make a stripey design on it. Your hands need to move straight and your pressure needs to be perfect and even for the best result. The tray is then frozen and afterwards the cake batter poured on top of the pattern and baked. when the cake is flipped out and the silpat removed, the stripes will remain on the cake. Voila!

Then you spend an hour cutting the cake into wee strips and circles to make these cakes.

And that, folks, was the end of my second quarter in pastry school.