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Making Your Own Coconut Milk

Married as I am to a woman who spent two years of her life in the Dominican Republic, I wouldn’t be able to hold my head up in my own house if I came home with pre-packaged coconut milk. It just wouldn’t be manly of me. So I make my own. It tastes great, makes the kitchen smell amazing, and puts me in touch with my inner Gilligan.

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“Roll” Laminating

Laminating via a roll — instead of a series of folds — is a very old technique. It likely predates folding lamination by several centuries. Introduced to Europe by the Arabs sometime around the high Middle Ages, it found favor in the more fashionable courts of Spain and Italy during the Renaissance. Over time it’s mostly faded from view, though it still hangs on in a few odd corners of the culinary world. I think it’s ready for a comeback.

Lamination by roll, just like lamination by folding, takes practice to truly master. I certainly haven’t mastered it, but now that I’ve more or less nailed down a formula and a process I think I’ll be doing it a lot more. I formulated and mixed the dough in such as way as to maximize gluten development. What results is an unusually soft yet elastic dough that can stretch even beyond what’s necessary for most roll-laminated projects. But that extra pliability makes it a lot more forgiving than other formulas I tried, and that’s always a nice feature.

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Committing Chocolate Shaving Seppuku

I started cooking in an actually fairly decent restaurant when I was fifteen and a few months later, when I was 16, started soloing as a cook. For the rest of high school, through my college summers and for a couple of years after college I worked in a variety of kitchens, from cafeterias to steak houses. In my 30’s I went back to the kitchen and spent about five years baking and making pastries professionally.

In that time — about ten years total — I saw a lot of accidents. Lots of burns, plenty of cuts, knocks on the head, slips and falls, even a couple of broken bones. However by far the worst injuries I ever saw resulted from attempts at making chocolate shavings. Why? Because even experienced pastry chefs and bakers I knew made their chocolate shavings like this:

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Whipping Cream

This post is the sequel to the number one runaway smash hit: Whipping Egg Whites which appeared in this space a couple of weeks ago. I meant to respond to all the requests earlier but I didn’t have any cream and was too lazy to go get some. Also Mrs. Pastry was put out enough as it was. Ever efficient, she deplores waste in all its forms. Which makes me wonder why she keeps me around at all. But that’s a post for another day.

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Whipping Egg Whites

What do “soft peaks” look like? What about “stiff peaks”? How do you know when you’re over-whipping? These are some of the great mysteries of egg foam making. But I say: let them be mysteries no longer! Let’s have a picture tutorial that will clear the air on this once and for all! Because being anxious over the height of your egg foam is one sure way to suck all the fun out of a baking project. Read this and go forward with confidence, friends. Making a perfect whip is easy if you know what to look for.

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Making a Pie Dolly

Here’s a piece of kitchen gear you won’t find at the corner specialty shop: a pie dolly. It’s used for making “raised” pies in the British style, “raising” being the act of drawing pie dough up and around a wooden form to make the shell. It’s then filled, topped with a dough round, crimped and baked.

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Rehydrating Mexican Chiles

We modern foodie types are used to doing a lot of Continental cooking: French and Italian especially. So when we see a red or red-brown sauce we automatically assume there’s tomato in it. But in fact a lot of deep red and rust-colored Mexican sauces don’t have any tomato in them at all, just puréed chile pepper. Reconstituted dried chile pepper to be more exact.

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Shredding Suet

If you enjoy mincemeat and/or British puddings, you’ve no doubt seen suet on an ingredient list. An easy-melting, mild-tasting fat taken from the kidney region of a steer, suet is akin to leaf lard on a pig. Brits of yester-year employed it as an inexpensive fat for enriching sweet baking.

It’s actually still used quite a bit, especially during the holidays, which is why you can still find commercially-shredded and packaged suet in the British Isles. Here in States the only kind of suet we can get comes straight from the steer, so we have to do the shredding ourselves.

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Peeling and Coring Apples

It struck me that a little tutorial on apple prep might be warranted this week. While you don’t need to get super-fussy with apple peeling and coring, a little extra care makes a big difference in apple presentation in everything from tarts and cakes to turnovers and pies. The big thing is to always use a vegetable peeler, and then peel the apple in a spiral, like so:

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How to Truss a Chicken

Trussing a chicken is an easy thing to do and it vastly improves the texture of your roast. Why? Because the more you can draw any large piece of meat — not just a chicken — into a compact, ball-like shape, the more evenly it will cook. Extremities like legs drastically overcook when they simply stick out there in the oven’s heat. A little twine around the meat prevents all this.

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