Oatmeal – Dark Chocolate – Cherry Cookies

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This is one of my two favorite discoveries from pastry school. The original formula, as it is called in the industry, is for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and makes a little over 13 pounds of cookie dough — professional yields, yo. I typically make just an 1/8th of that amount — about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

I treat this cookie formula as a starting point and seldom just use raisins, as written. Usually I play with the ingredients and do some combination any or all of the following: chocolate (white, milk, dark), fruit (often dried cranberries but occasionally dried blueberries or cherries or raisins), and/or nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios, etc.). Dark chocolate and cherries is a combination I’ve never done before but seems pretty obvious (and classic) in hindsight!

I originally bought dried bing cherries from Trader Joe’s to incorporate into my morning oatmeal — the appeal was that it was one of the few dried fruits I could find that did not contain any added sugar. But I found the flavor when eaten straight to be a little too Robitussin-like (perhaps cough medicine more naturally flavored than I had originally thought!) so I started looking for other ways to use them. The bittersweet chocolate chips are my go-to, Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips. I like how they are flatter than the traditional Nestlé semi-sweet morsels, thus ensuring that every little bite is likely to end up with maximum chocolate flavor. The marriage of the bitter dark chocolate and brightly flavored cherries is wonderful. And thankfully, I no longer think of cough medicine when I taste the dried cherries.

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english muffins, hitz-style

I recently finished my first year in the Baking and Pastry Arts program at Johnson and Wales University. Many of the formulas we used in my breads and Viennoiserie classes came from Ciril Hitz’s books, Baking Artisan Bread and Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads. Chef Hitz is our department chair at JWU and occasionally teaches in the weekend program (in which I am enrolled). So far, my interactions with him have been limited to relaying messages from him or hitting him up for equipment and/or supplies, including one occasion in which I narrowly missed (by inches!) whacking him in the face with a transfer peel. So unless he’s forgotten or he’s extremely forgiving, I’m actually pretty happy I haven’t had him for an instructor yet. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure we all look the same in uniform anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter.

This English Muffin formula is from Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads. It’s different from my previous attempt in that these muffins are baked rather than cooked on the stovetop. The batter is scooped into the muffin rings and proofs on a sheet pan for an hour before they’re baked. Unfortunately, I only have four rings, which isn’t a problem when you’re cooking them the other way because you can only fit four rings in a pan anyway, but it is an issue when you have to proof a dozen at once. I ended up using the four rings, plus the four largest circle cutters from my school knife kit. I know: 4 rings + 4 circle cutters = 8 muffins, not 12. This was not apparent to me even though I was overfilling the molds because I had extra batter. There’s a reason all the math I do involves a calculator; I clearly can’t even count. At any rate, no serious harm was done, as they turned out fine.

We really enjoyed the chewiness from the multigrain soaker that was added to the batter. Chef Hitz suggests using a packaged seven-grain mixture, but I made my own three-grain combination — oats, flax seeds and wheat bran — basically what I could scrounge up from my freezer stash. There’s also some white whole wheat flour in the batter for additional nutritional oomph. The crumb wasn’t as filled with nooks and crannies as a store-bought muffin, but this might be due to my improvisational molding (and overfilling). I didn’t hear anyone complain though!

soft dinner rolls


I’m currently finishing up my next to last class for the school year — Principles of Artisan Bread Baking. It’s the first year class that I had been waiting for all year, and while it’s been fun and thoroughly educational, it’s also so well within my comfort zone that I haven’t felt terribly challenged. Perhaps it’s a mental thing — I’m simply not petrified of failing in this class. However, there’s one thing that has me completely stymied: “braiding” dinner rolls. I put that in quotations because it’s not really a braid — it’s made from a single strand of dough — but it’s twisted to look like a braid. I’ve been over it many times and had Chef and more adept classmates show me the technique again and again and I’m confident I’m doing it the same way they are…. it’s just that the final product doesn’t look quite right to me.

My practical is this Sunday and I know the dinner rolls are one of the products I will be graded on. I have to make a total of three shapes — the braid, a twist and a dog bone (sort of like a double twist). I’m not concerned about the last two. I made rolls today and practiced the braid. About halfway through the dough I think I may have had a breakthrough but then again, I’m not sure. We’ll see on Sunday.

chocolates

I’m currently in the midst of Chocolates and Confections class at school. The class is really more like part chocolates – part really hard science class (at least for me). At any rate, above is a picture of some of what I made yesterday. On the top are peanut butter pralines (with rice krispies for crunch), painstakingly hand-dipped in lovingly table tempered milk chocolate. Arranged on the bottom of the sheet pan are mocha ganache-filled pralines, dipped in milk chocolate and garnished with cocoa nibs. We also made a raspberry ganache that we will cut and dip next Sunday. By the end of the (very long) day, we were all chocolate-covered! Thank goodness for Oxyclean.

another practical is upon me

I’m wrapping up the first segment of my second trimester next Sunday — Cookies and Petit Fours. I’m shocked to find that I will soon have four Baking and Pastry classes under my belt; it seems like such a short time ago when I was so overwhelmed and crazy from the pace of the classes. Now it seems (mostly) like old hat.

Below are a few of the items we made during this segment.


Clockwise from top left: Raspberry Wreaths, Chocolate Biscotti, Checkerboard Cookies, Almond Spritz, Arachides, and Harlequins.

The Raspberry Wreaths have a layer of short dough on the bottom, with butter spritz dough and a raspberry jam filling on top. Chocolate Biscotti have chocolate chips in the cocoa-flavored dough. The Checkerboard Cookies are made with vanilla and chocolate shortbread. The Almond Spritz contain almond flour and are garnished with a sprinkle of almond flour and slivered almonds. The Arachides are filled with a mixture of Pralinosa (a hazelnut-flavored paste) and peanut butter and are dipped in ganache and sprinkled with toasted peanuts to finish. The Harlequins are made from short dough and are filled with orange jam.


Above are another Petit Fours — Japonaise Mochas. They are tiny Japonaise wafers sandwiched with a layer of a mocha-flavored Swiss Buttercream and are finished with a little more buttercream on top, a drizzle of chocolate and a mocha coffeebean. These were P.’s favorites!


And last are the Petit Fours Glacé. Two layers of frangipane, spread with thin layers of orange jam and topped with a thin layer of marzipan. The whole thing is glazed with a layer of poured fondant and decorated with a chocolate filigree. The sugar in these makes my heart race!

diplomat cup

One of the items I made as part of my practical exam last Sunday. This was one of several Diplomat Cups I made — two layers of Diplomat Cream (equals parts Pastry Cream and whipped cream) with bits of poached pear in the middle, topped with a Chantilly Cream rosette and a chocolate filigree that I piped. Not the most beautiful specimen but the other filigrees got a bit smooshed in the box on the ride home.

Busy Not Baking (Much)

No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. The last 2 1/2 weeks have been a head-spinner — the boys went back to school, I went back to school, not to mention jury duty, soccer practices and games, pep band rehearsals and football games, school open house nights… that’s just a small part of the list. Recreational baking has had to take a back burner, for the most part, for the moment. Once things settle down a bit I will be able to get caught up with posting some of the things I did find time to bake. Have patience…