I have a lot of people ask me how they should go about learning how to bake at home. It can be overwhelming and somewhat daunting to figure out how to do this when you see the number of cookbooks in stores and recipes available online. My advice is simple – start with a simple recipe. A simple recipe is one that has few ingredients and not a lot of complicated instructions. Where do you find these recipes? Each baker will have their go-to favourite recipes or recipe books. My tried and true cook books that I go to over and over are “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” and “The Joy of Baking”. There is a reason these books have stood the test of time. The recipes are straight-forward, easy to follow, and they work. I have a couple of recipes that I will share at the end of this post that will help you on your journey to become a home baker. But first I would like to share some of my tips for ensuring a successful result for each recipe.
Read the recipe all the way through. You would be surprised at the number of people I have taught who have skimmed through a recipe and end up leaving out ingredients or missing steps. Read!!
Turn on your oven to the temperature stated in the recipe. A pre-heated oven is your friend when you are baking.
Gather and measure out your ingredients. The fancy term for this is “mis en place”. This ensures that you have everything you need close at hand for what you are baking. If you get each ingredient as you need it, you risk not having it or not being able to having it ready when you need it.
Prepare your pans.
Read the recipe again.
Follow the recipe precisely. Take your time. Follow these tips and in no time you will find you are becoming more proficient and confident with your baking!
This recipe is adapted from “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook”. Bake away! I’d love to hear how these turned out for you. Feel free to leave a comment or ask me a question.
When I tell people that I am a pastry chef instructor they get very excited and ask if I get to eat sweets all day in my job. Yes and no, I tell them. Part of my job is teaching students how to make breads and pastries and part of the process is tasting but I don’t really sit down (if only!) every day and have a slice of cake. I do taste a little here and there to make sure the students are following directions correctly and using the right ingredients but I see myself as a coach and mentor. I can instruct and guide but I can’t do the work for them.
I love being a pastry chef and I love teaching and creating and seeing the “light bulb” moments that happen. My work has given me many opportunities and I feel that my job is to inspire future pastry chefs and promote my profession.
One of the ways I do this is by volunteering with Skills Canada, an organization that promotes skilled trades education in Canada. Each year at the provincial level there are competitions in different trades, baking included, and the winner of the provincial competition is sent to compete at the national competition. I am lucky enough to have been nominated to be on the National Technical Committee for the Baking competition and I have recently returned from our planning meeting for the 2014 competition that will be held in June in Toronto.
So what do I get to do and what do I get out of it? First, I’m a part of a 6 member team that develops the scope and rules of the baking competition. We have secondary (high school) and post secondary (college) competitions that run at the same time and we decide what the competitors have to complete over the 2 days of competition. We decide on how judges will score, what ingredients are to be used and what tools can be used. As a committee we are responsible for the safety of the competitors, the set up of the competition area, dealing with media and ensuring a fair, accessible and equitable competition is held.
I get to travel to different cities but that’s a bit more glamourous than it sounds. I wish I could say that I get to enjoy the sights and sounds of the different cities I visit but my time is limited there and I am usually at the competition site early and leave late. While I do get to eat out and see some of the area, for the most part I am either at the competition site or in my hotel room. The main thing I get out of it is seeing student pastry chefs being challenged to showcase the best of their skill set. I get to witness amazing young artists create edible confections under incredibly stressful conditions and see their confidence in their own selves grow.
Having a sourdough starter sitting around is like having a little pet on the counter – it demands to be fed and will die if you ignore it for too long. One of the things that I don’t like about tending to my starter is throwing half of it away at each feeding. I’ve started to research other ways to use the “throwaway” and one of the best ways so far is to use it in my waffle batter. It’s easy to do and adds a bit of a tang to an already yummy weekend morning treat.
As a pastry chef, I love what I do and I love pretty much everything I bake. I love that I get to taste and nibble on the finest chocolate and be the first to slice in to a freshly baked sourdough loaf. I get excited when I make croissants and I can see the layers of butter building up with each fold.
So yes, I’m doing the perfect job for me but it does have its downside – weight gain! I manage to control myself most of the time but there are periods when a taste or a nibble just won’t do.
So here is my confession; when I was working as the pastry chef in a fine dining restaurant I would arrive at work around 7 am to get the bread on the go. Since I was the only one there (save for the cleaning lady or delivery guys) I would make myself a cup of tea and have a creme brûlée for breakfast. I justified my choice by saying it was close to scramble eggs although it had a not so healthy amount of cream and sugar included. But it was sooooooo yummy. I would caramelize the sugar on top and then wait so I could hear the crisp crack of the sugar when I put my spoon in for the first delicious bite. I had a creme brûlée for breakfast daily – for 3 months – and I loved it.
Then one day I had a call from my Doctor’s office saying that my blood work came back showing unusually high cholesterol and sugars. That’s when I knew I was busted. My indulgence had caught up with me and from that day I was back to oatmeal for breakfast and creme brûlée as an occasional treat. I still long for those quiet mornings of dessert for breakfast but my body and my Doctor both say no.
Welcome to World Bread Day 2013! Since 2006 bloggers from around the world bake bread and share their stories and pictures on this. We do this in the spirit of honouring our daily bread and being grateful that we have sufficient food. My contribution will be my sourdough loaf that was baked in an enamel pot.
As some of you may know, I started my sourdough starter about 3 weeks ago. I nurtured and cared for the starter day and night and finally I felt I had the tanginess needed to make an excellent loaf. Here’s the recipe:
Combine your starter with the warm water, 2 cups flour, yeast (if using) and salt in the bowl of your mixer (dough hook) and start mixing on low speed.
If the batter seems very wet, add the remaining flour a little at a time. You want the dough to form a loose ball.
Continue mixing until the dough comes together, about 3-5 minutes.
This bread has a long fermentation so you want to put the dough in a bowl, cover and let rise 12-15 hours. I usually do this step before I go to bed and let it rise overnight.
Turn out the dough on a well floured surface and sprinkle some flour on top. You are going to scoop up the dough and fold it over on itself about 10 times to help the gluten develop. You should feel the dough becoming tighter as you do this.
For the 2nd rise you want to shape your dough and put it in a well oiled bowl or a well floured proofing basket. Cover and let rise for 2-3 hours.
Take a covered enameled pot such as a dutch oven and put it in your oven to preheat. Set your oven to 450F and preheat.
When your dough has risen, remove the pot from the oven and turn out your dough directly into the pot, being careful not to burn yourself. Put the lid back on to your pot and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Don’t peek!! You want to keep the steam in the pot to help form a nice crust.
After 30 minutes remove the lid and continue baking for another 15 – 20 minutes.
Immediately remove the loaf from the pot and let cool on a rack.
This loaf was awesome! It had a nice crispy crust and a chewy crumb but I’m still hoping to develop more tanginess with the aging of my starter. Of course in the spirit of World Bread Day it is best shared with a friend.
For some reason Fall brings out the domestic side of me. It could be the holidays and long weekends but it seems like I always take this time to organize my kitchen and put away summer to get ready for winter. I realized this over the Thanksgiving weekend (I’m in Canada) when I was happily preparing turkey with all the trimmings and organizing my pantry at the same time. I found a stash of canning jars and managed to fill every one of them with muffin cups, bakers twine, salt and everything and anything that was loose in the pantry. I also made a lot of orange cranberry sauce, enough to give away the extra to a friend.
The best thing I put in a jar, however, was the Maple Pumpkin Butter I made with the leftover pumpkin. How have I not known about this until now?? It is like pumpkin pie in a jar in concentrated form that I can spread on toast or add to my oatmeal! This recipe is so easy and so delicious that I’m thinking of ways to use it. Dip for sliced apples? Check. On top of plain yogurt? Check. In my morning oatmeal? Check! The amounts in the recipe are approximate, you can season it as you like, but after about 30 minutes you will have a delicious spread that you can keep for yourself or give away to friends.
As I write this my youngest daughter is on the couch nursing a bad cold – stuffy nose, sore throat and a cough. The kitchen doctor is on call once again and I found this good old-fashioned remedy from 1888 Again, from my favourite “Hudson Bay Cook Book”, we have this gem of a recipe:
An Excellent Remedy for a Cold
Take a large teacupful of linseed, two pennyworth of stick liquorice, and a quarter of a pound of sun raisins. Put these into two quarts of soft water and let it simmer over a slow fire till it is reduced to one: then add to it a quarter of a pound of brown sugar candy (pounded), a tablespoonful of old rum and a tablespoonful of the best white wine vinegar, or lemon juice. Drink half a pint at going to bed and take a little when the cough is troublesome…
According to the author it will cure a cold in 2 or 3 days. I don’t think I will force this on my dear daughter but I can imagine the poor kids from the late 19th century dreading the smell of this coming from the kitchen. I think I will stick with warm tea and honey and a day on the couch before trying this old fashioned cure.
I grew up making recipes using cups and teaspoons. Sometimes those recipes didn’t turn out or were different from one time to the next no matter how consistent I thought I was being. It wasn’t until I went to pastry school that I started to weigh my ingredients and producing consistent results with my recipes. So this is the not so secret “secret” to baking well – use a scale to weigh out your ingredients.
Why use a scale? Consistency and ease of use, mainly. You also have the ability to scale your recipe up or down with simple math. Have a recipe for 10 muffins but need 100? Simply multiply your amounts by 10 and you will have consistent results – it doesn’t always work if you multiply cups and teaspoons and who wants to measure out 40 teaspoons anyway? Consider the time I had a class of 12 each measure out 1 cup of brown sugar. To make my point I had each student then weigh their sugar and the results were amazing. While everyone measured one cup, by weighing their results we found that the amounts varied by up to 75 grams depending on how packed the sugar was. The difference in measurement can be the difference between success or failure in baking.
I meet a lot of people through teaching and the one question that is always asked is “how did I get to be a pastry chef?” Besides a lot of hard work and long hours it really began in childhood with a mother who baked and then allowed me to experiment in the kitchen (as long as I cleaned up).
I enjoyed baking as a teenager and often made muffins and cookies for my family. I loved the Canadian Living magazine that my mom subscribed to and remember making their chocolate birthday cake recipe for my mom’s birthday when I was 14. That birthday cake recipe became a staple in our household. As I got older I branched out into bread and pie making. Because it was something I did on a regular basis, it didn’t occur to me that it could be a career option after high school so I went off to university and got a degree in Public Relations. I remember my parents coming to visit me and I made an apple pie for them. My roommate at the time was amazed that I could bake a pie and it was then that I realized that my assumption that everybody could bake changed.
Fast forward a bit to where all my time off from work was spent taking pastry courses. I did consider going to chef school but was discouraged by a meeting with a chef who wasn’t keen on having a “girl” in his kitchen. So I continued baking for friends, taking courses in wedding cake design, chocolate work, and professional baking. After I got married I started my own business providing restaurants with desserts and making wedding cakes. I started teaching cake decorating classes and realized in the first class that I taught that teaching was my calling. I couldn’t teach baking without a certificate from my local college so almost 20 years after graduating from university I went back to school to get my pastry arts certificate and graduated at the top of my class.
After working in restaurants and catering companies I was hired on by my alma mater to assist in the pastry arts program. Opportunities presented themselves and I was lucky enough to travel to New York City, South Korea and many cities in Canada to promote baking as a skilled trade. I now teach high school baking workshops and introduce a new generation to the joys of baking your own food.
I try to take every opportunity to improve my skills and promote my craft. I love what I do and I would recommend to anyone to follow your passion. Keep pushing forward. It won’t come easy but it will all be worth it!