Thursday, April 15, 2010

Biga, Baba & Baklava

It's been one week since you looked at me... and even longer since I've blogged, but you won't have to wait two days for me to apologize. I'm sorry and offer no excuse other than pure and simple slacking. If you have forgiven the neglect, accepted the apology and are still reading, let's get you caught up.

The previous post mentioned starting a new bread course with a new instructor, and class has gone on long enough for me to know that I'm over bread and that the new instructor rocks. First the bread. In an earlier Intro to Baking course, we spent two days making breads such as challah and brioche. During the last week, we have revisited each of these in addition to working with more types of breads and shapes than I can recall without notes. Among the first things we made were starters for some of the recipes. We made two kinds - a biga and a poolish (yes, two Os). The biga made another song come to mind, and it was one of those that gets stuck in my head. I spent the rest of the day mentally singing 'Biga than all my problems, biga than all my fears...'. Since then we've worked on ciabatta, multigrain, pain de mie, craquelin, baguettes (Marie! The baguettes! Hurry up!), batards, tabatiere, ficelle, gugelhopf, pannetone, baba (ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann) and many more. Some taste good and others not so much. Some we load with cinnamon, sugar and butter and others we ruin by adding raisins, pistachios and hazelnuts and such. The bread class is officially half over at this point.

A three strand braid of challah dough with cinnamon & sugar.

We also made pizza on two occasions. On the first day that we made pizza a chef from another class (non pastry) almost sent me over the edge by critiquing the way I cut my group's pizza. The pizza had just come out of the oven, and I was cutting it too slowly for his liking. He was there to mooch food in case you were wondering. Even though he had already taken food from other groups, he still wanted more. The man isn't my instructor, and we've never had a conversation, yet he felt inclined to rudely tell me how to do it... faster, more muscle, etc. He asked where I learned to cut pizza. I told him it was my pizza and my roller but I don't think he heard for his own obnoxious ranting (I should have asked him where he learned to teach or interact with adult students). I do tend to work with food more slowly than others. Most people who have dined with me know this. I'm often the last one eating and have looked up many times through the years to find friends watching me eat (creepy). Our pizza needed to be cut based on topping location. It was not all the same. I knew where the cuts belonged based on the toppings, and I like neat and clean cuts. In the end I cut my one piece and then walked away while he ranted on. Our pizza was gone in less than two minutes because of the chef and other more polite thieves. One team member who helped make the pizza got only a very small piece with toppings she didn't select, because she happened to be out of the room when the visitors snatched it up.

On the second day of pizza making, Mr. Obnoxious came back into our kitchen wanting some. He was putting his arm around people and trying to suck up to them to get some. The pizzas weren't ready yet, and nobody wanted to share with him since he had stolen such large amounts from almost everyone previously. The chef had to leave the kitchen empty handed, but he was mad and called us all 'stingy MF'ers' on his way out the door - only he didn't abbreviate. He also stated that it was gonna 'suck for us when we want some real food'. Such a classy guy. And he's an instructor. I would have withdrawn and found an office job long ago if I had to deal with him on a regular basis.

But the bad chef can serve as a segue to our good chef. The new guy is the bomb. He has rules and expectations, but he is laid back and hilarious. When I asked if the multigrain dough looked okay, he said it looked like a mouse had been loose in it (grains = droppings). When a student was standing in the foyer outside the bakery on her cell phone instead of returning from lunch, he called us all to the window to stare at her. When another student was mouthing and wouldn't stop, he kicked her out. He has years of experience and shows us shortcuts that he has learned along the way. He also shared with us a recipe from his collection, and though it isn't exactly bread, it is my favorite thus far.

The recipe is called pecan diamonds. It's a very thin sweet crust topped with a filling of brown sugar, butter, granulated sugar, honey, heavy cream and eight cups of chopped pecans. It's then baked. The recipe has been made twice, and I prefer the under cooked version, because it stays gooey. It's similar to baklava (Say what you wish, It's yours! True dish! How 'bout a little more baklava?) The fully cooked version is crisp and not my fave. For those old co-workers or those who know me personally and are questioning the obvious, yes, I have probably gained weight in the last few months. I'm behaving like an ostrich and avoiding the scales, so I can't answer with certainty, but there is a nagging suspicion that I need to put down the bread, butter and pecan diamonds (Come lay 'em down, come lay 'em down).

Pecan Diamonds made with walnuts instead of pecans.
One friend said they should be kept under lock and key.

Speaking of co-workers takes me back to something that happened earlier in the week. I was having dinner at Bros. Houligan (eat more gravy) with a friend when an old Fleetwood Mac song came on in the background. It was 'Don't Stop', and it transported me back to the summer and fall of 2006. I was still a trainer and using the tune as a sort of merger theme song for classes and work related photo collections. I was trying to be the corporate player and keep a smile on to encourage others to believe that we really were bigger and stronger together when in reality I had a strong hunch that we had just climbed into the proverbial handbasket and started our descent. I won't be bitter and trash the company or mention the 1% raises that were given to some members of my team or the 60% compensation increase that the CEO took last year according to the Chicago Tribune. I'll just say that I think I'm still grieving and moving around (and backward?) in the stages of DABDA.

On a more exciting note, I finally bit the bullet and ordered an airbrush system for cake decorating. After looking online for product comparisons and reviews, I still wasn't sure which to go with. The final decision was made based on what I've seen the decorators use on Challenge, The Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes. The system should arrive next week, and I'm looking forward to playing, er, working with it. I've always wanted to do graffiti on a brick wall or train car (on a warm summer's evening on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler), and this should be similar and better tasting - even if it likely won't smell as good as spray paint.

The family reunion that I worked on over the weekend went well. The wife had told me that the reunion was going to be a very casual event, but we ended up going with white linens and fresh floral arrangements on every table and a huge spread of food. I've worked with her on a couple of other projects, and she always impresses me. These clients are also some of the nicest folks I've ever met (no, they don't read this in case you think I'm sucking up), and they have a way of making you feel like a million bucks when you talk to them. Based on their comments, you would have thought that I hung the moon or cured cancer instead of throwing linens on tables and baking. Since this blog is supposed to be about food (though someone told me I should change the name since I have so many song references), I'll discuss the desserts. I pulled an all-nighter (which really isn't that bad) to make miniature cinnamon bundt cakes, chocolate bundt cakes, chocolate chip cookies, iced sugar cookies and fresh fruit/lemon curd tarts.

In light of the previous paragraph, the oven has obviously been repaired. The repairman came last Wednesday and replaced the heating element in the main oven. He was in and out in about 30 minutes, and the oven works like a charm. In addition the repairman told me about a coupon in the telephone book that saved me $25 off of the bill. It was great service, and for those in the Tulsa area, I strongly recommend using the Maytag store at 71st & HWY 169.

Okay. It's late even for me, so I'll stop for now.

Happy Grubbing!


  1. cookies, cakes and tarts...YUMMY!! There isn't bitterness in mentioning some facts that apparently showed that the top execs only gave lip service to what they told us. But oh well...moving on. What better to go with food than good music? Emeril does it all the time on his show.

  2. Loving the Aladdin reference. =) And even my sick tummy is grumbling from not getting any of your glorious offerings in the last few weeks.

    Keep it up friend. I'm so proud of you!