Monthly Archives: November 2016

Throwback Thursday– Remembering Julia

I grew up watching Julia Child on PBS. Back then, she basically was the only game in town, as far as shows about food were concerned. Since my own mother could not cook or bake, Julia really became my role model.

I loved observing Julia’s every move as she de-boned a chicken or rolled out a dough for French bread. She used a lot of French terms on her shows, and since I was taking French classes in school, her small references to those culinary terms in French just made learning so much fun!

What I loved most about Julia was that she was not trying to be perfect like some chefs we see on TV or in culinary schools. She did not hold herself as if she had an attitude. She was so down to earth and REAL. Everyone can relate to that, because no one and I MEAN NO ONE is perfect. Even a Master Chef makes mistakes if only on occasion.

When I was taping the DVD series to my first book “About Professional Baking” I remember teaching how to make parchment cake circles to fit into a round cake pan, and during my first attempt the circle was slightly too large and needed to be trimmed. My publisher immediately wanted me to re-do it so that it would come out perfectly on camera. I refused and told him why.

Often when a culinary student is just learning how to make a parchment circle, the parchment circle can come out too large. It is no big deal to fix it and a student SHOULD know how. All you have to do is re-fold the circle and trim it with some scissors.

On my DVD I was trying to show any student who makes a mistake that it is in fact fixable and no one, not even an experienced pastry chef is above making mistakes. After all, this is life! My creating the circle perfectly would not have taught the student how to troubleshoot.

I am reminded of imperfections when Julia famously dropped a chicken on the floor while taping a show. That scene could have been re-taped, but it was not. Why? I believe it was to teach the viewer that no one , not even the GREAT Julia Child was perfect.

That lesson really rubbed off on me. I wrote to Julia when I was a young teenager, and even her response had a few cross-outs in it. That’s how I knew that she and SHE alone, had answered my letter. I still have that letter and cherish it.

So as I remember Julia, it is not just for her easy going manner and her spectacular mastery of French cuisine, it is for her act of being human and imperfect. She was showing that she was one of us, and that anyone can master the art of French cooking. I love her for teaching me the best lesson of all! Bon Appetit!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Thanksgiving Snuck Up On Me

pumpkin-tartletsAs far as holidays go, Thanksgiving ranks as one of my most favorites. I love everything about it–being thankful for the closeness of family and friends, and especially the food! My family knows that when I start my cranberry chutney and pie crusts, it’s definitely Thanksgiving.

Preparations for this year’s Thanksgiving overwhelmed me. I think it was because the fall went by so fast and the holiday almost seemed to sneak up on me without me even realizing it.

My family loves apple pie, pumpkin pie, and ALWAYS something chocolate (I think they get that from me!). So this year I made a large free-form apple walnut tart, individual pumpkin tartlettes and a dreamy chocolate cream pie with a bruleed marshmallow topping.

My youngest daughter arrived a few days before the big day.  I love when she helps me, because we get to catch up on each other’s lives while we bake.

It was her idea to make smaller pumpkin tartlettes this year, and they were amazing. I made a pumpkin pie filling enough for a 9 inch pie shell. Then I made a flaky pie crust dough. I rolled out the dough and cut out circles which I placed into standard muffins pans. We ladled some pumpkin filling into each one and baked them in only a fraction of the time that a normal sized pie would have taken.

One important tip before I continue. Knowing when a pumpkin pie is done can be tricky. Since it is a custard style pie with eggs as the thickening agent, you must be sure it is cooked all the way through. The best way to do this is to stick a small sharp knife into the center and see if it comes out clean. Also, the pie should not be jiggly when you gently shake it, except in the center. The carry over baking once it is out of the oven will firm the filling up. Remember: a custard pie is WAY OVER DONE when the top becomes cracked.

Back to my tartlettes! They were so cute after they came out of the oven. After chilling them overnight in the fridge, I dolloped each one with some vanilla whipped cream and garnished each one with a small leaf pastry topper.

To make the toppers, I re-rolled my pastry scraps leftover from my pie dough. I then cut out tiny leaves with cookie cutters. Any shape will do, but they should be very small. You can even do different shapes depending on the holiday. The best part? You can freeze them for a few months in an airtight container. After egg washing and sugaring them, I baked them for just a few minutes or until they were barely light brown. And voila! simple, gorgeous garnishes to top my tartlettes. You can see how adorable they are!

My motto is that nothing should go to waste, especially a flaky pie dough. You hear all about those chefs that use the entire animal (like snout -to-tail for a pig, for example) and then create various dishes with all of those parts? Well, I feel the same way about any of my pastries and doughs. Nothing should go to waste!

If you are going to go to the trouble and bake from scratch you might as well get the benefits. The food that comes from your kitchen, that you prepared with your own hands, really does taste better and you know what is in it! And if you combine that with your kids helping you, well, that’s just time well spent around!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

Making a Video for YouTube

Planning and making a baking video for my YouTube channel is just like planning to do any TV show. Organization is key! Creating a baked good can seem quite complicated. That is why I do my best to break down the entire recipe into specific steps that must be easy to follow.

I usually start by reading over the recipe, figuring out exactly what steps to show viewers, and then discussing each shot with my videographer. The set up of shots can and often do change during the actual shoot.

If the camera does not pick up on what I am trying to communicate to the audience my videographer and I may re-vamp the shot or tweak the angle at which the camera shows the action. Sometimes a still photo is shown to enhance what is in a bowl, for example.

The baked goods are almost never made in real time, because that would take forever. They are actually made ahead in various stages. I may make a dough ahead of time and chill it in the fridge the day before. This is done especially if a newly made dough on camera would be too soft if used right away without being allowed to firm up in the fridge.

I usually make a finished baked good earlier in the day, or the day before, to show how it should look after baking. This is referred to as the “hero” shot. Sometimes I will make a cake and save the actual act of frosting the cake to do on camera.

There can also be frustrations to deal with when doing  videos, especially if your kitchen is not an actual TV set with just the right acoustics, lighting, etc. For example, light may reflect off of the microwave or another appliance wreaking havoc.

My videographer and I always review all footage so that even before the actual act of editing begins we are sure that I have included all the steps I needed and the viewer has a idea of what I am making.

Time is also crucial meaning the video should NOT take FOREVER. No one wants to hear a diatribe on ANYTHING for several minutes or anyone yammering on and on. Alas, I am still working on the timing thing– always trying to make the videos a bit shorter.

I just finished two videos a few days ago, and I had a few screw ups for lack of a better expression. I made a Double Cheese Cherry Danish for one video and had to make one to completion. To make a long story short, I forgot to put the cherries in by accident, so I made a very delicious Double Cheese Cherry-less Danish. Whoops! Obviously, I couldn’t use it for the video.

I guess I was trying to do too much at once, and as the Danish was baking I noticed the cherries on the table in a bowl. Why I asked myself were there cherries on the counter??  Just then, a light bulb went off in my head. Yikes! Too late! By the time I saw them, the Danish was finishing up and looking GORGEOUS! Too bad, too. I felt like I was looking at the woman with that proverbial little black dress– but NO pearls! Just like there were no cherries.

I was so mad. The solution? I just made the Danish in real time, but thankfully, I had a chilled dough in the fridge ready to go. It was just one of those days, and thankfully, I don’t have too many of them.

So now I have three Danishes– two with cherries and one without. Brunch, anyone??

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

It Takes Me Back

I just heard from Ann Perillo, the host of Schenectady Today! It really took me back.

I remember being on her show when I was promoting my kids’ baking camp. My own kids were on the show with me. My two daughters had such a blast. We really got the royal treatment, because Greg Millett even allowed my kids to work the cameras giving them a lesson on exactly how to do it.

I remember doing two other shows there as well. Ann is such an incredible person; so bright and talented. She  is a real people person and really knows how to put her guests at ease. Once you meet her you feel like you have known her forever and could tell her anything.

Ann’s show is going into its’ 19th year! Wow! She sure is doing something right.

Kudos to you, Ann!! By the way, I would LOVE to come back for a follow-up appearance on your show. Hint, hint!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Looking Ahead to Baking Camp 2017

20160721_133845I can’t believe that it’s only November, but already it’s time to begin to plan for my  16th year Summer Baking Classes for kids at Schenectady County Community College (SCCC).  Above, you can see a picture of my class’s finished carrot cakes from last summer. A triumph!

First, a flashback:

It really all began years ago when my youngest daughter was in 2nd grade. Her teacher asked me to do an afternoon baking demonstration with 22  8 year old kids. Yikes! Do I look nuts?? Well, I said yes and I have been teaching kids ever since– and loving it!!!

It was close to the holidays so I decided to make my own small gingerbread house pieces and bring them in so that each child could make their own gingerbread house. OK, now it is confirmed. I am nuts. However, doing this project with the kids was actually a lot of fun. I made a large bowl of royal icing, the type of icing that acts as a glue and then hardens. It’s typically used to hold gingerbread houses together. If not eaten or nibbled on, these gingerbread houses can last for years.

I brought lots of candies for them to decorate their houses with, and then we displayed them on a huge mirrored tray. We even made  gingerbread Christmas trees and a Hanukah menorah to display in our tiny edible village. We dusted the entire display with confectioner’s sugar. It looked amazing. The school displayed it in the front hallway so everyone could admire it for weeks.

Both the  kids and the teacher were so pleased. The teacher even commended me on my teaching skills with young kids which inspired me to become a chef and teacher as well. Now back to the present:

After graduation from culinary school I was asked to begin a kids baking class which I consider a “camp” of sorts because it takes place in the summer. Not knowing whether there would be any interest I began by offering a one week baking class only. Well, that week filled up almost immediately. It turned out there was lots of interest and from all over the capital district.

Sixteen years later, my program has grown into 3 jam packed weeks of baking for ages 10 through 18. The first two weeks is typically for middle school kids and the last  week is devoted to high school kids. Each child gets LOTS of personal attention from me and is guided throughout the day to create some professional baked goods that they  get to take home and share with their families. My classes are kept to a maximum of 10-12 kids only, in order to give each one the best experience possible.

Not one to dummy down to my own kids in the kitchen or elsewhere, I knew that even young children could absorb relatively complex ideas about baking science and measurement depending on how it is presented to them. Kids in my baking classes follow step- by- step instructions for seemingly complicated recipes like croissants, Danish pastry, all kinds of cakes, cookies pies, yeast breads and even BIG gingerbread houses that make the ones I made in my daughter’s class look puny. Each day of each week different recipes are made  and each summer the recipes vary.

The kitchen becomes the great equalizer. Popular kids are no better than the shy, unassuming kids. Great things happen when all the kids check their egos and their phones at the door before they enter my kitchen.

I become both their teacher and almost a second mom for the week watching over each of my charges and guiding them in the art of great pastry. The kids learn so much about the science of baking including: proper measuring skills, how baked goods rise using both chemical leaveners and yeast. They also learn about how the structure of the baked good forms in the oven, what creates a flaky pastry, how fermentation works, what osmosis is and how emulsions work. All of these things are accomplished while the kids get to use professional kitchen tools in a commercial kitchen. The scientific principles that are taught are communicated in an incidental way where the child does not even realize they are learning real science that they will apply in their science classes during the school year AND throughout their lives.

The kids in my baking classes leave instilled with knowledge and self- confidence.  Many of them become fast friends  before the week is out. Many kids return year after year.. This is so cool because I actually get to watch them grow up, mature and witness how wonderfully adept they have become in the kitchen as the years go by.

So if you know a child turning 10 or older by next summer and who loves to be in the kitchen,  come and join me next summer. I can hardly wait!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

 

The Joys of Being a Yesterday Person

The holidays are quickly approaching. Yikes! I never feel ready even when I have almost 4 weeks before Thanksgiving! What is wrong with me, you might ask? I am just a yesterday person. An intense personality that will always do things ahead if I can. I would sleep 16 hours in one night just so I would not have to go to sleep for the week. Just think of everything that I could get done with my sleep requirement out of the way.

I must get this trait from my mother who will make a salad 3 days in advance with dressing, I might add, and wonder why no one ate the macerated mush and then gave her any compliments. Well, you will be happy to know that I am not THAT bad.

I will, however, make all my pie crust dough and freeze it ahead. This can be done up to 3 months in advance. That’s productive because all you have to do is thaw the dough in the fridge, and roll out your crusts as you bake your pies off.

I have also been known to bake bread and freeze that ahead as well. I strongly suggest that you do that and then just re-heat the bread before you are ready to serve it on the big day, whatever big day that is. Be sure that you wrap any bread really well before freezing it. I usually do it in this order, for the best results: bake, cool to room temperature, wrap in plastic wrap, then foil AND then place in a large freezer bag and seal getting as much of the air out as possible. Always label whatever you are freezing. No one likes searching through the freezer looking for an unlabeled item with no name and no date showing when it was made. Everyone always has a story of an item that they found the following year way back in the freezer, dug it out and wondered what the heck it originally was. We have ALL been there!

So all you yesterday  people start your engines, and when you have an hour or two to kill start baking off cookies or just cookie dough. You will feel that much more in control when the family comes to visit, and they will think that you worked for days and days. And maybe you did, but you did it piecemeal and on your own time.

Never feel guilty about making things ahead, except maybe for that salad!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail