Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Culinary IQ: Wednesday, January 25, 2012; Baking Assessments

The Pressure is On!

I have a couple of things to discuss today. One is the process of applying for a job once you have completed your culinary education. The second is a stellar example of customer service I want to call out.

I completed my program at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena mid-December. I immediately started looking for opportunities to utilize my new education. With the holidays nearing I didn't feel too much dismay when the responses failed to come in. I continued to apply for positions that I thought would be interesting, trying not to jump at every opportunity out there if it wasn't something I could see my self enjoying. I am happy to say in the last few weeks I have started getting responses! 

So starts the process that most in the culinary world are familiar with. First you have a personal interview with the chef, then you have to perform! In my case it is baking assessments. You are asked to come into a strange kitchen with some recipes you would like to make that demonstrate your abilities. You are assured that they have a well stocked kitchen and should have most of the ingredients you need, but if you are going to need an unusual ingredient you should bring it in yourself. So you pick out your recipes and then you start worrying that they won't actually have the ingredients you need. Should you bring in every ingredient? Should you bring in everything you need? Then you get into the kitchen which you have never worked in before and have to use ovens and equipment that you have never used before. Fortunately, usually everyone is extremely helpful. So off you go to do your best.

For my last assessment I picked two recipes, one that I could make with my hands tied behind my back with a blindfold on, the other one pushed me out of my comfort zone. Wouldn't you know it, the one that I could make standing on my head didn't come out right and the one that pushed me, shined!

So then you wait. Are they assessing other bakers, were they not pleased with your product or work habits? Hopefully you don't have to wait too long to hear your fate. In the meantime you keep looking for new opportunities to prove yourself and land the job. This is not a numbers game however, when you find a match for your talents you get the job! The process can cause a little anxiety. Don't let it get to you, keep plugging along. 

To be continued....

Customer Service!

Last week I told you about my experience trying to make marshmallows using alcohol to flavor them. If you don't remember, the result would give Kevlar bullet-proof jackets a run for their money!

When I was in my cake formula class the chef had introduced us to some very concentrated extracts from Amoretti. I remembered that they had extracts for some of the alcohols that I was trying to use so I called them.

They graciously asked me what extracts that I would like to try and sent generous samples of each out for me to try. It is always a pleasant surprise to get this kind of customer service! Please use them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Culinary IQ: Sunday, January 22, 2012; Make up of a cake

What Makes a Cake Special?
My answer to what makes a cake special is the quality of the ingredients used when making each component of the cake, the quality of the recipe, and the finished product.

Some of you may remember my rant several months ago regarding fondant. If you don't I will give you a short reminder, I think that fondant is a waist. Yes, fondant makes it easier to construct a beautiful cake, but if you know how to properly apply buttercream to a cake; I think it makes a much nicer looking cake and displays the talents of the cake maker. I am far from perfecting my icing skills but continue to practice. Also fondant to me is inedible. Ok enough reminder.

The cake above, I started earlier this week. It was a birthday cake for a special friend. I made an orange chiffon cake with grand mariner syrup, an orange cream filling and grand mariner buttercream. Here is how I went about it.

When making a chiffon cake you mix the dry ingredient together then incorporate the wet ingredients less the egg whites. Once the mixture is smooth you then beat the egg whites to a firm peak and fold them in. In this cake I used a good flavorless vegetable oil and freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh orange zest.
Once the layers were out of the oven I cooled them, removed them from the pan and wrapped in plastic to freeze until I was ready to construct the cake later in the week.

When I was ready to construct the cake, I took the layers out of the freezer to thaw and went about making the components. I made a grand marnier simple syrup to soak the layers with, an orange cream filling by combining orange curd with whipped cream and a grand marnier buttercream to ice the cake with.

Once all of the components were complete I started constructing the cake. First I sliced the layers in half horizontally making four layers. I placed the first layer on the cake board and soaked it generously with the grand marnier simple syrup. I piped a dam of buttercream around the edge of the layer to keep the orange cream from oozing out from between the layers. I then spread the top of the layer with the orange cream.
I followed the same process for each of the next two layers and only soaked the top layer with the grand marnier simple syrup.
Once the layers were in place I then crumb coated the cake in order to secure any crumbs and keep them from getting in final layer of buttercream. I placed the cake on a presentation cake board and then piped around the bottom and top of the cake.
Just before presenting the cake to the recipient trimmed it with fresh roses. The cake was enjoyed by all!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Culinary IQ: Thursday, January 19, 2011; Changing Directions

A New Approach

Culinary IQ as originally conceived was to present you with a discussion about a certain item or items weekly. I hope the posts so far have been of some interest. I have received numerous positive comments and if you have any negative feelings, I appreciate you keeping them to yourselves, the ego is a fragile thing. I am definitely open to constructive suggestions, however. Some of the subjects I have discussed have been easier than others, I mean how can you make a post about lentils a page turner? Having said all of that, I have decided this week to revise my posts to be a reporting of my ongoing cooking and food experiences. I welcome any requests for discussion of specific items or questions regarding my posts.

Here is what I have been up to so far this week:

Mistakes, Mishaps and Regrets

Last week I had posted on CulinaryRoom that I had made wonderful fluffy strawberry marshmallows, which they were. What I regret is that the recipe called for an optional small amount of orange flower water and I added it. The flavor was not bad but it definitely overpowered the strawberry. Next time it will be pure strawberry. I have several left if anybody wants to try them.

So this week I set out to make some more marshmallows. I was trying to make some using different flavors of alcohol, Kahlua, etc. I want to stop here and say that unless you just have the recipe ingrained in you brain that you should always refer to it. When I had finished beating the marshmallows before pouring in the pan I discovered they were very rubbery, I mean you could have used them to repair flat tires! At first I thought it was the alcohol which I knew would affect the gelatin in the marshmallows. After more thought I discovered that I had used 10 tablespoons of gelatin instead of the 10 teaspoons the recipe called for. So I tried again, unfortunately the marshmallows still didn't come out light and fluffy as expected, I am sure as a result of the alcohol. For now I am left looking for away to get the flavor I want and still have fluff, any suggestions.

My last quick mistake came when I was making croissants, I just want to note that the flour in most bread recipes is a variable, which I knew, but I got a little to enthusiastic when adding the flour and ended up having to make the dough over which leads me to my successes this week.

After my first mishap with the dough for my croissants I was successful in making the most delicious flakey, buttery and beautifully browned croissants! The process for laminating the dough, incorporating and folding in the butter, is a very lengthy one if you don't have all of the tools of a professional kitchen. After the dough is made it has to rest for 30 minutes then you incorporate the butter and fold four times resting for 30 minutes after each fold, after the last fold it rests in the refrigerator overnight. All of this would be done in a blast chiller in a fraction of the time in a professional kitchen. I would have a blast chiller in my kitchen but the one I want starts around $6000 used, Ugh! The next day you take the dough out of the refrigerator, roll it out, cut it, form the croissants and let them rise and then bake. It is a lengthy process but the finished product is pure heaven. It also helps to be a multi-tasker and have other projects going on in between all of the folding and chilling.

Today I am working on a cake for a special event. So far I have made the cakes, they are chiffon and they have came out beautifully. As soon as I am done with this post I will be making the filling so it can cool before frosting this evening with an Italian Buttercream, yum.

You can see some pictures of my projects over the week as well as some of my recommendations for fine eating establishments on CulinaryRoom.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Culinary IQ: Tuesday, January 17, 2012; Self-Rising and Flour Substitions

You will get a rise out of this!

Self-Rising Flour

As you are probably aware, self-rising flour is just flour with a leavening agent added to it. Self-rising flour has baking powder added to it and sometimes salt. The advantage of self-rising flour is that the baking powder is mixed in uniformly. Its use is limited because different recipes call for different proportions of flour to baking powder and the baking powder will lose its effectiveness over time. The quality of baked items using this flour can fluctuate. It is best to only use self-rising flour in those recipes that specifically call for it.

Flour Substitutions

If from time to time you find yourself baking and not having the correct type of flour called for in the recipe, there are simple solutions. It is always best when possible to use the specific flour the recipe calls for. Here are some substitutions I found on

For 1-cup all-purpose flour you can substitute 1-cup + 2-tablespoons sifted cake flour.
For 1-cup bread flour you can substitute 1-cup all-purpose flour and work the dough longer to develop the proper amount of gluten.
For 1-cup cake flour you can substitute 3/4-cup all-purpose flour and 2-tablespoons cornstarch.
For 2-cups pastry flour you can substitute 1-1/3-cup all purpose flour and 2/3-cup cake flour.
For self-rising flour you can substitute 1 cup similar grade all-purpose flour and 1-1/2-teaspoon baking powder and 1/4-teaspoon salt.

Now go bake something!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Culinary IQ: Thursday, January 12, 2012; Pastry and Cake Flour

Pastry Flour?

Most of us who bake have made some kind of pastry before, but did we use pastry flour? More than likely, not. It isn't often in consumer cookbooks that you find recipes that call for pastry flour. Pastry flour is most commonly used in commercial kitchens. Cake flour, however, is commonly called for in recipes.

Here is some information about both:

Pastry Flour

Pastry flour is a weak or low-gluten flour that is slightly stronger than cake flour. It has a creamy white color. Pastry flour is used for pie doughs and some cookies, biscuits, and muffins. Pastry flour has a protein content of about 9% protein.

Cake Flour

Cake flour is a weak or low-gluten flour made from soft wheat. It has smooth texture and a pure white color. Cake flour is used for cakes and other delicate baked goods that require low gluten content. The protein content of cake flour is approximately 9%.

Cake flour is commonly available in your local supermarket but pastry flour is not. Before the week is over I will give you a solution to recipes that call for pastry flour!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Culinary IQ: Wednesday, January 11, 2012; All-Purpose and Bread Flour

Is All-Purpose really All-Purpose?

When I was a kid and started cooking flour was flour, butter was butter and milk was milk, at least as far as I knew. I come from a family of good cooks, my mother, grandmother and aunts were all known in the community for being good cooks and bakers. The flour they used was all-purpose, butter was salted even homemade sometimes, and the milk was whole milk usually straight from the milk cow!

So what is the difference between, all-purpose, bread, pastry, cake flour? The protein content. The protein content of flour has an affect on the structure of the baked good. Higher protein flours give you a stronger or tougher structure while low protein flours produce a weaker or more tender structure.

Here is information regarding all-purpose and bread flour:

All-purpose flour is formulated tobe slightly weaker than bread flour and it can be used for pastries as well. When a recipe calls for flour without specifying a type, you can assume it is calling for all-purpose. All-purpose can be used in any recipe that calls for flour, however, keep in mind the structure of final product may be different than that intended. For example, when using all-purpose instead of cake flour, the cake may have a larger crumb and not be as tender. When using all-purpose when bread flour is called for it is important to work the dough longer in order to build the necessary gluten; a smooth elastic dough is desired when kneading bread dough. The protein content of all-purpose flour is about 11 to 11.5%.

Bread flour is made from hard wheat that has enough good-quality gluten to make it ideal for yeast breads. Bread flours usually range from 11 to 13.5% protein and 0.35 to 0.55% ash. They are available bleached or unbleached. Bread flour should be avoided in most baking other than bread or when specifically called for.

Today is overcast and cool here, the perfect kind of day to stay in, crank up the heat and make some bread!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Culinary IQ: Monday, January 9, 2012; Flour

From Cookies to Bombs!

Bombs? Yes flour dust suspended in air is explosive! Flour in fragile containers has also been lobbed at unsuspecting recipients usually along with eggs or ripe tomatoes as a method of protest or agitation, a more common reference to the flour bomb.

Flour of some kind is a daily staple in most, if not all homes. Flour is a powder that results from grinding a grain, seed or root. Different regions in the world tend to have flours more common to that area, probably because of the availability of resources. Wheat flour is most common in Europe, North America,  the Middle Eastern and Northern Africa. Maize flour remains a staple in most of Latin America. Rye flour is very important to much of central and northern Europe.

Bread, pasta, crackers, many cakes, and many other foods are made using flour. Wheat flour is also used to make a roux as a base for gravy and sauces. It is also the base for papier-mâché.

Over the next week I will be sifting through (ha! ha!, get it) the different types of flours that we most commonly use in the kitchen, their differences, applications and what to do if you don't have the right flour on hand.

I will be discussing, all-purpose flour, bread flour, pastry, cake and self-rising so get your sifters out and meet me back here tomorrow!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Culinary IQ: Friday, January 6, 2012; How much fat can I eat?

How much is too much, how much is not enough?

After my discussion about the balanced diets and the important nutrients we need to maintain our health I want to share a form I have always used to help me achieve my goals, here you go:
I hope you find this form as useful as I have. Next week I will be back to food!

Culinary IQ: Friday, January 6, 2012; Carbs and Protein

Must Haves!

Trendy diets abound and usually they have extreme requirements. High protein, low carb, carb addicts diet, the grapefruit diet! The benefit of these diets are that you lose weight and lose it fast, the downside is the minute you go off the diet you gain it back and usually more. Unfortunately, the more you lose weight and gain it back, the harder it becomes to lose weight at all. On top of all of this, the older we get, the harder it is to lose weight and also to maintain muscle mass. I am a firm believer that if you maintain an average weight through your young adulthood that you create a set weight around which you will hover for the remainder of your life. As you grow older and gravity takes its course the weight may re-distribute, thus the importance of maintaining an active exercise schedule. Increased muscle mass also helps burn more calories!

As I mentioned in my last post, the most important part of achieving optimal weight and fitness is a balanced diet. So here are some important facts about carbohydrates and protein.


Carbohydrates are the primary source of the body's energy,  they supply 4 calories per gram. Glucose, a simple carbohydrate, is the body's number-one source of energy. Most of the carbohydrates you eat are converted to glucose in the body.

Key recommendations:
  • Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often.
  • Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners, such as amounts suggested by the FDA's MyPyramid
  • Reduce  the incidence of dental caries by practicing good oral hygiene and consuming sugar- and starch-containing foods and beverages less frequently.

Protein is part of most body structures; builds and maintains the body; is a part of many enzymes, hormones, and antibodies; transports substances around the body; maintains fluid and acid-base balance; can provide energy for the body; and helps in blood clotting. A gram of protein contains 4 calories.

Key recommendations:
  • The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein for both men and women is 0.8 gram per kilogram of dory weight. For healthy adults, the RDA works out to be 0.36 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
  • The amount of protein needed daily is proportionally higher during periods of growth such as infancy, childhood and pregnancy.
  • Adults should get from 10-35 percent of their total calories from protein.
  • Children from 1 to 3 years old should get from 5 - 20 percent of their total calories from protein.
  • Children from 4 to 18 years old should get from 10 to 30 percent of their total calories from protein.
I hope the discussion of these nutrients this week will help you decide on a more balanced and maintainable approach to reaching your New Year's resolutions. Later I will post a form that has always been helpful to me when I set my mind on changing my appearance.

Information adapted from Nutrition for Foodservice and Culinary Professionals, Seventh Addition, Karen Eich Drummond and Lisa M. Brefere, John Wiley and Sons, Publishers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Culinary IQ: Wednesday, January 4, 2012; Fat and Alcohol

One Essential, One Non-Essential

There are many essential nutrients in a balanced diet. There are 3 major nutrients that most people calculate when trying to plan a healthy diet, carbohydrates, protein and fats. Today I am going to discuss fat and another major factor in the diet for those who choose to consume it, alcohol. These two substances contain the most calories found in the diet. Fat has 9 calories per gram and alcohol has 7 calories per gram.

Fat has an essential function in the diet, alcohol does not. Fats account for about 13 to 30 percent of a person's body weight. Fat is an essential part of all cells. Fat provides insulation, optimum body temperature in cold weather and cushions critical organs. Fat also transports the fat-soluble vitamins throughout the body. In foods, fats enhance taste, flavor, aroma, crispness and juiciness.

The following are dietary guidelines for the consumption of fat and alcohol:


  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acid and less than 300mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
  • Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
  • When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.
  • Limit intake of fats and oils high in saturated and/or trans fatty acids, and choose products low in such fats and oils.
  • Those who chose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation - defined as the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink is 12 ounces of bear, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of hard liquor such as 80 proof gin or whiskey.
  • Alcoholic beverages should not be consumed by some individuals, including those who cannot restrict their alcohol intake, women of childbearing age who may become pregnant, pregnant and lactating women, children, and adolescents, individuals taking medications that can interact with alcohol, and those with specific medical conditions.
  • Alcoholic beverages should be avoided by individuals engaging in activities that require attention, skill, or coordination, such as driving or operating machinery.
It is also important to note before making any adjustments to your diet that if you have any existing health issues or a family history of a health problem you should always consult your physician.

Tomorrow I will discuss carbohydrates and protein.

Information adapted from Nutrition for Foodservice and Culinary Professionals, Seventh Addition, Karen Eich Drummond and Lisa M. Brefere, John Wiley and Sons, Publishers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Culinary IQ: Tuesday, January 3, 2012; Happy New Year!

New Year, New You?

A new year usually brings with it a plethora of new year resolutions. Losing weight has to be among the top new year resolutions. Diets and exercise are on the minds of many going ahead. If you are a long time member of a gym you know that the next few months will see lots of new members taking up the equipment. Have patience, the numbers will drop back down as the resolutions go by the wayside.

Consumer Reports comprised a list of the top diets for 2011, have you been on one of these diets this year?

1. Jenny Craig - The cornerstone of the Jenny Craig diet is support from a personal consultant (at one of its centers or by phone) who customizes a meal program and then checks in with you weekly. Costing upwards of $600 per month, the Jenny Craig diet includes three prepackaged meals and one snack each day, supplemented with your own fresh fruits and vegetables.

2. Slim Fast Diet Plan - The Slim-Fast Plan is a low-calorie diet that focuses on swapping out meals for one of its meal-replacement products: shakes, snack bars, meal bars, smoothies, cookies, and powders for reconstituting by mixing with skimmed milk. Dieters eat six times a day — three snacks, two Slim-Fast products, and one “sensible meal.”

3. Weight Watchers Diet - Around since the 1960s, the Weight Watchers diet program assigns points to all foods, which you then use to figure out what and how much you can eat to achieve your goal weight. The program is known for its weight-loss support groups, both online and in person, and education about proper portion sizes.

4. Zone Diet - The low-calorie Zone diet offers the promise of warding off chronic health conditions and resetting your metabolism by changing the balance of the foods you eat. On the Zone diet, you get 30 percent of your calories from protein, 30 percent from fat, and 40 percent from carbohydrates.

5. Ornish Diet - Developed by Dean Ornish, MD, the Ornish diet plan is an extremely low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian diet. It dictates that less than 10 percent of your calories come from fat. The diet excludes meat, fish, and fowl. Some research suggests this diet can lower cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure.

6. Atkins Diet - The low-carbohydrate Atkins Diet focuses on eliminating refined carbs such as white bread, flour, and sugar. The premise of the Atkins Diet is that if you cut back on carbs, the body’s usual fuel source, you’re forced to burn your fat stores for energy and thereby lose weight.

7. NutriSystem Diet - NutriSystem is a weight-loss program that controls calories with balanced, easy-to-prepare meals. The portions are small and composed of 55 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. The typical meal plan cycle is 28 days.

Proper weight and exercise should be the goal of every individual. The way you get there is what is important. A well planned, balanced meal plan and enough exercise to offset the calorie intake is the best way to achieve your goals. Well balanced meals plans are also the easiest way to make the life style changes necessary to maintain your appropriate weight.

In the next few days I will discuss the importance of all the nutrients required to eat a balanced meal and help you achieve a better you for 2012.

Diet information retrieved from: