CSCA AB Lesson 1 – Puff Pastry

This weekend had been rather eventful, with a tiring yet interesting Saturday. Well, the Advanced Baking course which I signed up with Cambridge School of Culinary Arts started on Saturday and it has been immensely enjoyable. That evening, we also hosted dinner for our friends which was a result of an accepted proposal submitted to Foodbuzz and which I received a stipend to carry out the dinner.

Anyway, back to Lesson 1 which was on Puff Pastry. Ok, it’s not something entirely foreign to me. After all, I have attempted quick puff pastry before when making apple turnovers but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to learn more and have the experience of baking in an industrial kitchen. More importantly, I hope to learn something useful from the Pastry chef herself.

So, the hubs accompanied me to the school and waited for me for a full 4 hours as I went through the first lesson (so touched!). There were about 9 of us in the class and the chef herself was a graduate from the school and teaches full-time now. And my, the knowledge she has! She rambled on and on and I was furiously penning down new insights. There were two master recipe that we ought to know for pastry – the classic puff pastry and the quick puff pastry. Since the classic puff pastry takes a long time (about 6 hours in total), we couldn’t possibly do that and the alternative was the quick puff pastry. I was a tad disappointed since I had experience with this method and was expecting to learn the classic one (which I also attempted before but with much less success) but we just had to make do since we had time constraint.

After the demonstration and explanation, we were to pair up and attempt one of the recipes listed in our notes. My partner, Mariela, and I chose Almond Pithivier because we had no idea what it is and decided to try it. I realised later that it is a classic French pastry.

One thing good about attending classes is that you have the experts to tell you if you are on the right or wrong track. Obviously I can learn baking on my own but I would not be able to know how much I can improve without an expert’s take on it. I realised that I have to roll the dough till it’s really thin and chef made me feel the difference between Mariela’s and my dough. Oh! Now I know! Puff pastry is hard work! So, please appreciate the effort behind making puff pastry the next time you buy it!

A few things that I have noted (my own notes and perhaps only I would understand):
–  Use puff pastry for huge rise. Otherwise use quick puff pastry since this is the easier way of making it.
– Flour absorbs moisture so keep it in a dry place.
– Gluten needs to rest so you need to place it in the fridge for it to rest.
– Butter needs to be cold and ice water is needed when making puff pastry since the moisture is needed.
– Puff pastry dough is ready when they can hold together without being sticky
– If dough is too sticky, don’t add flour to the rolling pin but to the dough, esp to the buttery side. Use brush to help too.
– Keep dough loose at all times.
– Roll in one direction esp for the first roll. Never roll both in a vertical and horizontal way.
– Keep the width consistent.
– Egg wash: don’t allow it to drip to the floor of the sheet pan as it will prevent your product to rise.

Next lesson: Meringue! I am looking forward already!

Recipe for Almond Pithivier

1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup amaretti (crushed cookies)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 oz. dark rum
1/2 tsp almond extract

Egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream

In a bowl combine the almonds and crushed cookies. Beat the sugar and butter until light, add the almond mixture, eggs and run and beat until well combined. Freeze the mixture for 20 minutes.

Roll out the puff pastry 3/8′ thick, cut out even number of small circles using cake rings/cookie cutters. With the balls of your fingers, push and pat a disk of dough out onto its baking surface to make an even circle slightly larger than your cutting guide. With a docker or two forks, dock dough all over at 1/2 inch intervals – this prevents the bottom layer from rising too much. Place a round of chilled almond cream on this enlarged bottom layer of dough. Paint the circumference of bottom disc with egg yolk glaze. Place a remaining piece of dough evenly over the almond cream, pressing two layers together. Make a little hole in the top to allow air to escape. The dough may need to be chilled at this point, but if it is still firm, proceed to decorating, then chill before baking.

Glaze the top with the egg wash, take care that it does not drip down the sides of the pastry. A classic Pithivier has a scalloped edge made with a knife all around the circumference. You may also press the tines of a fork all around the outside edge. The usual pattern for the top of a Pithivier is a sheet of swirling spokes, beginning at the steam vent, curving out to the edge. If you prefer, make a decorative pattern with the back of a fork over the Pithivier. Chill the Pithivier in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Bake the Pithivier on a parchment lined sheet pan in a 425F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375F and bake 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

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