Lispian Random meanderings on whatever catches my fancy

Lispian
Boulangerie II

 


This has been a long time coming. I had hoped to get this up a few short days after taking the course at Le Cordon Bleu but work and life got in the way and before I knew it months had passed. They say better late than never.

The course was offered the week of September 19th at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa, which is situated in a beautiful old building on Laurier Street across from Strathcona Park. We were fortunate to again have Chef Faure as our instructor, who is animated and amusing  and a joy to be taught by. He is a fire hose of information about not only what you’ll be baking but also bits of trivia from French history, baking history, and even personal anecdotes that suit the situation.

As per the other courses I’ve taken I took this one with my good friend Alberto, or my Baking Buddy as I call him. We enjoy these courses and I think our wives just enjoy that we’re out of the house making a mess someplace else!

Boulangerie II requires you to have taken Boulangerie I. The Chef does not stop to explain the various elemental aspects of bread baking learned in Boulangerie I and thus you go headlong into the first recipe. Unlike some other courses the Boulangerie courses are structured as interwoven demonstration-practical sessions. Thus, you watch Chef do aspects of a recipe followed by you going off to your station and doing what you just saw. Once you get to the point where the next element of the recipe must be performed, you go back to the front where Chef describes and demonstrates the next part. And you do this repeatedly for the 4 days. Each day lasts 7 – 8 hours, sometimes a bit longer. The Chef — and the student assistants — stay there to ensure you complete everything. Obviously you can’t take all night, but they have a great grasp of how long it takes and the capabilities of various students. If a student is having difficulty either a chef-in-training from the school assists or the Chef does. At times additional Chefs would come in to assist, or just to catch up on how things are going. It’s a very convivial and jovial environment.

Chef Christian Faure

This time around we did a wide variety of breads including bagels, pretzels, multigrain breads, multi-ferment breads, ryes, English muffins, and pita as well as some rich doughs for kougloffs and cakes.

Of all the breads we made the only one I wouldn’t do again are the English muffins. A lot of effort for little gain. I didn’t find much difference in taste between what we did and the ones you can buy in the store. You must cook them on a griddle so at least you don’t have to fire up the oven, but I just couldn’t be bothered ever doing them again. For the curious I did try to bake them in the oven, and that just doesn’t work at all. It was a good learning experience for everyone as we were all curious and I figured, what the hell. What happens is the muffin just explodes out sideways resulting in a very distasteful locking “muffin”. Not good.

The most fun was the pita. Watching it puff up was cool because I always wondered how to make pita. And now I know. Not sure if I’d do it again or not, but knowing how means at least if the desire strikes me I can. But we have a couple of excellent Lebanese bakeries in town that make awesome pita so I’d rather just head down and get some of theirs, to be honest.

As with prior courses I took some pictures as best I could with the tool I had at hand, my old iPhone. So I hope readers will forgive the quality of the photography — it’s both the tool used and the tool using it :-).

 

As can be seen by an observant reader many of the people were at Boulangerie I. It was nice to see familiar faces. And each of us seemed to have enjoyed the course, even with the inevitable mistakes — including when I misheard Gabrielle and went on to do her rye which I thought was but a starter. I wondered why she had so much dough. Sadly, my misunderstanding ruined her rye but she was very forgiving. I’ll try not to blunder so badly next time.

The first day was bagels, pretzels and sourdough and apple (natural) starters. Being that we were going to make breads with starters for the entire course, the first day had to make “breads” that required no starter, hence the bagels and pretzels.  This really wasn’t that exciting and the effort was, to be frank, not quite worth the effort. I’d rather just pop down to Kettleman’s or The Bagel Shop and buy bagels there if the desire strikes. Soft pretzels are cool, and my son loves them, but again the desire to make these is pretty limited. It was great learning how to make them, but I’ve not had the desire to do them again though Alberto has.

The second day was pumpernickel bread, pita, kougloff and English muffins. We also refreshed our sourdough starter and did our mise en place for day 3’s bacon and onion bread. The apple starter was left alone to continue naturally fermenting.

On the third day we were to use the sourdough for our onion and bacon bread, potato bread and focaccia. We were to use our apple starter for our apple cider bread.

The apple cider bread was most interesting. I had no idea what it was going to taste like but when it was baking and when it came out of the oven it was divine. You could smell the pungent ferment and the sweetness of the apple. And the bread came out nearly cake soft, but with the typical bread bounce of the crumb you’d expect. The taste was wonderful. It is definitely something I’d make again.

The focaccia was pretty straightforward and it was more interesting having Chef Faure explain how to make various sandwiches with it than the making and baking, which was rudimentary. Chef Faure provided us with salmon sandwiches from his batch of focaccia and other breads and it was great (see pic). It is well worth making the bread simply to create awesome sandwiches.

The onion and bacon and potato breads were OK. Not my cup of tea. I found the potato bread a bit dense and rather uninspiring. The onion and bacon bread was OK but I’m just not a fan of breads that have things in them, unless it’s olives. I pretty much prefer simpler breads. That said, most of the other students adored both of these. And those to whom I gave part of my production also loved them. I guess my taste buds aren’t indicative of the majority.

At the end of the third day the Chef told us that on the fourth day we would finish off any of the breads that we’d not had time to finish as well as doing a rye with the remainder of the sourdough ferment. We would also need to come up with at least one recipe of our own. This, he said, was what was done for those taking the diploma-based courses and the only difference was that he gave us the ingredients ahead of time. We would be able to pick ingredients from the  (typically) “black box” of ingredients to come up with a new recipe based on the techniques we’d learned. And the judges would be himself and other chefs. Obviously there was no real pass/fail, but everyone was determined to impress the chefs and chefs-in-training. As indicated, this was similar to what the chefs-in-training went through for their courses. The only difference was that Chef took pity on us by providing us with a list of the black box ingredients, making it a bit easier. I thought it was a brilliant way to see if you actually learned anything. There was no minimum number of ingredients you could use, nor a maximum. The point was to come up with something uniquely your own that you thought you would love to bake and that would be edible by the judges.

I took the challenge to be think about it at home and come up with a recipe. Some others took it to mean find a recipe and apply it. When we arrived on the fourth day Chef saw most people whipping out cookbooks. He came by and indicated that we could not use a cookbook recipe. That it had to be our own. So the books were put away, with audible groans, and we all continued.

The night before I had decided to keep whatever I did fairly simple. I’m of the school that too much of a good thing makes for a bad thing, especially in baking. So the fewer ingredients the better. I had truly enjoyed making certain dishes, but found some too sweet or too bland. So, my goal was to combine ingredients I liked — lemon, sugar, simple syrup — and create small cakes similar to kougloffs. That meant grabbing a dozen small kougloff forms as quickly as possible. I was also going to make something akin to Sicilian bread, namely a twisted loaf covered in sesame seeds with a goodly amount of olive oil. A bread and a cake, I figured that would cover all bases. Plus, I had my rye starter left in the fridge which I was thinking of extending with a second and third ferment to add flavour, which I did. The chef was pleased that I opted to extend the recipe by creating a grape-based starter and accelerating it with a bit of yeast. The added grape ferment added a complexity and lovely huge holes as can be seen in the picture. It also coloured the loaf a nearly mauve colour. I was quite pleased with how that turned out.

The little cakes I opted to make were going to be based on how kougloffs are made. In those you create a chemisage within the pan by generously buttering the sides and then adding sliced almonds so the cake pops out easily from the mold. I didn’t like the idea of the almonds as my mom’s allergic and so opted for heavy buttering and then a goodly amount of sugar, followed by refrigeration. This resulted in each mold being heavily buttered and liberally covered in sugar which I believed would caramelize at the 385F it was to be baked at. I made the dough and put it into the molds and left them to rise. Once risen I popped them into the oven to bake until done.

As I was taking the little cakes out of the oven Chef Faure came over. He asked what I’d done and I explained it. He said that they would not come out of the molds, that they would stick. I said “I don’t think so. I buttered them heavily and then coated them with a good layer of sugar.” He said they will stick and picked one up to turn it out and it came right out, much to his surprise. He then looked at me and said: “Had you asked me if this was something you should do before you did it I would have said it would never work. And not only did it work, but it came out beautifully.” He thought it was one of the prettiest cakes he’d seen in a long while. It looked like it was studded with diamonds and had a hard caramel coating to boot! He asked if he could take it to show the other chefs and if they could try it. They were very impressed. And soon I was handing out samples to the other students, the chefs-in-training, and the staff. The greatest complement would follow when Chef Faure said he’d proudly serve this at Signatures, the school’s on site restaurant, and asked me for the recipe, which I forwarded to him. And since the inspiration came from cakes my mom and my mother-in-law make I opted to name the cakes “Babis”.

As indicated, though impossible to see in the photographs, each Babi has a hard caramelized shell that resulted from its baking. It adds just the right amount of sugar because the dough is actually not that sweet. Chef Faure thought it would be a perfect little cake to use for desserts at the restaurant where they’d add a fruit compote or ice-cream into the hollow left by the pan. I think that would be the perfect way to present this, especially as a breakfast cake along the lines of how a brioche is used in France.

The recipe for the curious is as follows:

Babis

Biga

  • 190g milk
  • 30g        fresh yeast
  • 190g    flour

Dough

  • all of the biga
  • 440g    flour
  • 12g        salt
  • 220g    eggs (5 eggs)
  • 60g        butter

Simple Syrup

  • 60g        sugar
  • peel of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon
  • 60g        water

Chemisage

  • sugar (for lining mold and some for sprinkling on top)
  • butter

Method

  1. Combine ingredients for biga, knead in mixer, set aside someplace warm, covered, 1 hour until proofed.
  2. In small pot place lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar and water. Make simple syrup by bringing to boil and then set aside to cool.
  3. Take 10 small kouglof molds and butter each well.
  4. Take each well buttered mold and line with sugar by placing 3 – 4 tbsp sugar and coating the butter evenly. Remove excess sugar.
  5. Place molds in fridge.
  6. When biga has proofed, place biga in the bowl of mixer.
  7. Add flour, sugar, salt, and strained simple syrup and begin to mix.
  8. Add eggs one at a time.
  9. Add butter in small pieces.
  10. Mix until well incorporated, like with a brioche, and dough is smooth.
  11. Set oven to 375F.
  12. Pour dough into molds until 3/5ths full with dough. Ensure there are no air bubbles. Sprinkle the top of each with a teaspoon of sugar.
  13. Allow to rise to top of mold.
  14. Once dough has proofed, place molds on cookie sheet and bake in oven for 20 minutes or until done.
  15. Take out of molds immediately after baking and place back in oven, upside down, for 5 minutes so sugar coating hardens.
  16. Enjoy!

Now the problem was that somehow I finished 2 hours before everyone else. I initially thought I’d forgotten to do something, but it seems that I was just really efficient. Alberto mentioned that I was like a machine, just working away. I guess I end up in the zone when I bake much as I do when I program. To me baking is a logical progression of steps which I just do and enjoy. Friends and family have all indicated that I should think of opening a bakery when I retire. Even Chef Faure indicated it would be something that I might consider pursuing as he finds I have an uncanny knack for baking. And perhaps I will. Only problem is I’m not a morning person. Maybe I’ll have to be the lazy baker who gets up in the morning but whose goods aren’t ready until noon. Not an easy career change, but the thought of working with dough every day is oddly very appealing. And the joy I get from it is amplified when I give bread to friends and family. I’ve had to reassure them that it’s not trouble and that I enjoy it, but they are very surprised that I enjoy baking as much as I do. My wife continues to comment she never sees me as happy as I am when I’m baking. And to be honest, the peace it brings me is great. I wish everyone could find something like this in their lives.

Of note is that Le Cordon Bleu is adjusting their short courses. It seems they are vastly more popular than the school had anticipated and people wish to take follow on. So we’ll be seeing new pastry courses, for example, which will be interesting to check out once they go live. Chef Faure indicated part of doing the more advanced courses is procuring the additional pans required for the various pastries and other baked goods. Obviously, if you’re simply outfitting your own kitchen it’s no big deal. But if you have to outfit a kitchen so that twelve bakers can be going at the same dish at the same time it requires a lot of pans — and the subsequent space to store it all. And then there’s the setting up of the course itself. I’m sure each course is a subset of the larger programs, but they have to be tailored and that takes time. I fully appreciate the time and effort that takes and continue to recommend Le Cordon Bleu school to anyone interested in any type of course. I’ll stick to baking, however, as I so fully enjoy it that I find it hard to explain just how fully. Maybe I was meant to be a baker.

Here are pictures of what the production of just the last day looks like. To think we made that much each day! It still boggles my mind how much one can bake using a single oven in a few hours.

 

Here are pictures taken from each of the four days showing various breads done or on the go. And, yes, the Chefs do feed you while you’re there. We had a variety of sandwiches made, only a few of which I’ve captured on film.

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March 2012
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