Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fontina and Black Pepper-Stuffed Crusty Loaves

Friday while I was ahem...working I happened upon a foodie blog that hilariously described a very yummy sounding and looking loaf of cheesy bread. Who can resist cheesy bread I ask you?? Not me, especially not 25 minutes before my lunch break. The blog linked back to the original recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. Look at that picture! And they use the words "cheese" and "volcano" for Christ's sake! I am only HUMAN!
Saturday I picked up the goodies and got the starter going. I let it sit overnight and it looked like this when I woke up Sunday.

I added the rest of the ingredients to the starter.
It was kinda dry and looked like this.

I kneaded it for 10 minutes til it was pretty smooth.

That's kneaded by hand, people, Tee Tee doesn't own a mixer)

Then I set it in an oiled bowl and let it proof.

The first proofing took just under an hour even though the recipe said it might take up tot 2. But I do have a hot kitchen, or else it just knows I am impatient as most of the recipes I make at home never take as long to rise as the recipe says it will.

After 50 minutes it looked like this.

I like to use a bowl with measurements on it so I can see exactly how much volume I've achieved.

The original recipe called for gruyere but the only cheese that looked good at my store was the Fontina so I used that instead. So I grated up 3 cups -yes, an extra half cup, don't judge me!

I pressed the dough out to the size of the sheet pan and sprinkled on the cheese (more like heaped) and decided that it needed some fresh ground black pepper too.

Then I rolled it up covered it and left it to rise again, easy peasy!

When it was nice and puffy I sliced it up in to 5 boule-type loaves and set it on the baking sheets cheese side up.

These beauties baked for about 35 minutes and came out looking like magic.
For whatever reason Blogspot doesn't want to right my image. But you get the idea. They were tasty as hell but next time more black pepper and I MUST invest in some parchment paper cause I'm not sure my sheet trays will ever recover :)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cake Competition

This weekend I competed in a cake competition. I was asked to help one of my school mates who I have nicknamed 'the rockstar'. He is not quite 19 and he makes amazing cakes. He was pretty intimidated by the whole thing with good reason. These events are a hell of a lot of pressure. We were given parameters and time limits and a theme of "America's Best" and we also had 48 hours notice. Holy. Crap.

I will take this time to tell you the the other teams knew about this 6 months in advance and each team had made their cake at least 3 times. One team had made their cake 6 (!) times. We found out about this Tuesday night and decided to do it Wednesday. The first day of the contest was Friday.
On Wednesday Ramon started making cakes, Thursday afternoon we loaded our equipment and cakes and fillings into the hotel and Thursday night we made our taster cake and a few of the pieces that we knew we were going to need. I made what seemed like a million pieces of corn and the most perfect pat of melty butter ever! =)

Friday AM we finalized our design (mostly) and at noon we were off! Only we weren't. The people who ran the show were so fuckin disorganized that we didn't get going until 12:30.
They let us start an hour early on Saturday to make up for it, thank goodness. I think no matter how much planning and pre work you do, it always comes down to the wire. By the end of Friday all of our cakes were carved and crumb coated, our remote control and coke bottle were formed out of rice crispies. I felt really confident. But coming down to the last two hours I was panicking. I was painting everything as fast as I could while Ramon was putting together and putting the final royal icing touches on the coke bottle and the dinner box.

When we went to put the frame on the TV it turned out to be too small so I ran off to roll out another one. I was rolling a bit frantically when one of my chefs told me we had 15 minutes left. I looked over at Ramon who was writing on the coke bottle and our TV still wasn't painted.
I was immediately nauseous and had to fight off the urge to cry. To come all this way and not be
able to finish! UGH!! In my head I said "fuck it" I am gonna keep rolling until they tell me to stop. Turns out we had 50 (!) minutes left. Thank God, we needed almost every second.
I rolled out the frame, cut it to shape, then I painted the TV, all with a bit of panic in my heart but determined to finish.

We slapped the frame on the tv and it wasn't staying very well so we glued it with glucose and hoped for the best. We stuck it on the tray with a few minutes to spare. Sadly the frame started to sag so -illegally, after time was up-we jabbed a few tooth pics in it to get it to stay. It kind of worked but I heard from one of the guys that we got judged down for it, no surprise really. Here is our entry:

So we let out our breath, high-fived each other and got lots of hugs and back pats from our chefs. It felt amazing to have completed this (and done a kick ass job BTW) with ZERO notice and minimal planning. Then the really hard part began...

We sat waiting for the judges to come and we waited... As we waited 3 of the cakes fell and two others started to fall. Handles fell off of the cake that would up being 3rd place, our frame slipped just a bit more, and we still waited. Our families had been ushered out into another area of the hotel and then were told to go home then they were told to stay and then told to go home again, by the same person! Can you say disorganized?
All the contestants and chefs chatted nervously and consoled the teams whose cakes fell. And finally they came. Chef Duff, Christophe Bader (head pastry chef for the Hilton) and another Austrian chef.
We watched them like hawks and chewed our nails as they studied our cakes. I've never been so stressed in my life. I mean I've been stressed; I've had 20 bucks a month for groceries and food, I've waited for test results when they thought my mom had cancer in her bladder, I've sat in the 'family room' at the hospital waiting for my dad to come out of heart surgery but this was stress that had to do with my personal performance- completely different kind of emotional pressure. Here is Duff and crew looking at our cake.

In the foreground you can see the amazing burger and fries cake that was done by the other team from my school.

After what seemed like an eternity the cheesy announcer guy came on and said they were ready to announce the winners. At this point someone opened the doors and our families who were close to murdering the organizers poured back into the hall.
The announcements were kind of a blur after they announced the luggage cake had taken third. That was one of the best ones in the room so we couldn't wait to hear who was 2nd and 1st! When they announced 2nd place there were a few seconds of confusion. Not sure if this was because they announced winners by our team numbers or if they were in as much disbelief as the rest of us were over their cake placing 2nd. Then they announced the winner. The school from Vegas took it with their cake about...Vegas. It was cute and intricate and very showy-kinda like Vegas :)
My issue with these cakes winning was the criteria we were given when we entered.
Both cakes were too big according to the paperwork we were given and we were told that difficulty would be judged by carving. The 1st place cake had very minimal carving. It was also frustrating that we weren't told how our cakes were judged, what lost us points etc, we only heard rumors from some people who talked to one or two of the judges.
This stuff made for kind of a weird night after all was said and done. We all went home in kind of a daze of physical and emotional exhaustion. The next day when we came back to clean up, we couldn't help but wonder exactly what the judges saw and what could we have done differently.
What took a while to break through the wall of sour grapes was how proud I was of our two teams. The strongest emotions are rarely pure, they are always mingled with several different emotions. In my case it was pride mixed with excitement and disappointment and a disbelief at the fact that only 3 days before this wasn't even a thought in my head. We worked our asses off, we had no time to plan, no time to think and hardly any time to breathe. We just jumped in and I think we were able to hold our own.
I have to mention here that none of this would have happened if it wasn't for Ramon. This guy is an amazing talent and I was very honored that he chose me to compete with him. He came up with the design and did the carving, he also did all the finish painting and he stabilized our cake, which is BIG as the cakes that had been made 3-6 times before still fell over! And at some point in the middle of the night, the crazy lady running the show decided that our cakes needed to be moved from where the competition took place, to the middle of the food show. Turns out at 2am, hotel employees aren't really careful about moving stuff. Each of the cakes that were still intact after the judging, collapsed or fell over during the move EXCEPT for our cake. It was still 95% intact the next day. Our tv screen sagged a bit and one of the apples fell off of our dessert but That. Was. It. Structurally it was still right as rain. This was another HUGE accomplishment in my eyes and one more reason why Ramon ROCKS. Here we are with our chef. She was very proud of us too :)

This was a lot to read and if you're still here, I know that you really care :) This was a huge deal for me and I had to post a lot about it.
Thanks to everyone who came out and supported us and gave us words of encouragement. It means more than I can say.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Recipe for Chocolate Bread Pudding with Kaluha sauce

3 TBSP Butter
1.25 LBS bread (French or Italian)
3/4 cup choc chips (I used milk)
3 large eggs
4 cups whole milk
2 cups sugar
2 TBSP vanilla
1 heaping TBSP cocoa powder

Spread the butter in your 9x13 baking pan. I only used about 1/2 of the butter here and didn't have any major sticking issues.
Cube the bread and set in the buttered pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips in with the cubed bread.
Whisk eggs until frothy then whisk in milk, sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla.
Pour the liquid over the bread and chips. Let this sit until absorbed about half an hour. Every few minutes use a spatula to press the bread into the liquid. Preheat your oven to 375. When the bread has absorbed all the liquid and is nice a squishy, bake at 375 for about an hour. Check on it after 45 minutes but it should be golden all over and the high points will look toasted. Let sit for a few minutes before cutting. This is best served warm.

Kahlua Sauce
Bread pudding is traditionally served with whiskey sauce but I wanted to make something that would taste really nice with the chocolate so I made my sauce with Kahlua instead. mmm

1 stick of butter + 1 TBSP for the end
1 cup sugar
1/4 + cup Kahlua
1 TBSP water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg

Melt the stick butter in sauce pan- reserving the last TBSP for the end.
Add sugar and rest of ingredients but the egg and butter and cook til all the sugar is dissolved.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg. Return it to medium heat and stirring gently bring it to a simmer until it thickens about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in last TBSP of butter to make your sauce nice and shiny.
Serve immediately over the bread pudding or ice cream or waffles or just your tongue. Can sit at room temp for 8 hours and will last in the fridge about 3 days.