Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Student and Teacher

While I toil away daily in the kitchen at Eva exactly as I have done in other kitchens, stress about prep as service nears just like before, work in a nearly indistinguishable manner from all other jobs I have had, my current job comes with a label I have never had before, "Chef."

The label is in place to demonstrate that I have the creative control over the dessert menu. It is, however, often mistaken for another label, "Expert on all things in a pastry kitchen." The second title, I am not. Not even close.

I shy away from using the title "pastry chef" as much as possible. In many ways, it's a title I dont feel I have earned fully, sounds a little self important, and negates the student I still feel I am. While I am a far cry from the culinary school student I once was, I am in every way a student, and in this case, my own teacher. Every day is a journey in discovery. Each menu change is a chance to explore an aspect of the sweet kitchen I haven't mastered yet. Ok, sometimes things I haven't even tried yet.

To mend the "issues" I have had with bread making, I put a bread pudding on the menu and set myself to the task of Brioche. It began with reading countless Brioche recipes. Each was decidedly varied, Fanny Farmer even asked you to put the dough in a large container of hot water to proof. I tried 3 different recipes (avoiding the large bucket of hot water), and came out with a recipe I liked, and a good sense of what brioche is.

October was a lesson in pumpkin. I used different varieties of pumpkins, and tested different methods of extracting the flesh. I Peeled the pumpkins, didn't peel them, cut them small, quartered them, blanched them, steamed them, roasted them, salted the water, and didn't, put them through the food mill, put them in the robot coup, strained it, and finally froze it. I came up with a useful method. It became obvious that you want to invest as little time and labor into the laborious process as possible. Peeling was an unnecessary waste of 30 minutes when you could remove the cooked flesh from the peel in a matter of minutes. Blanching took half the time of roasting and cooked twice the amount of pumpkin as steaming. And finally, freezing. The freezing seperates the pumpkin from much of the water that it holds. Upon thawing, up to 20 percent water by volume was extracted. It made it very creamy.

This month I am delving into Choux pastry. It's a fascinating little dough that I am saving for an upcoming post.

My fascination with each daily discovery often reminds me of how much I don't know. But it's also a glimpse of how much is out there for me to learn. Safely said, I am at the begining of a life time of discovery that is in store for me. And I have a blog to share my discoveries with the world. (Or at least my sister.)


Anonymous joy said...

hi! i found your blog because my coworker goes by phatduckk (he emailed you a while back). i love food and cooking, particularly desserts, so i've been reading your blogs since.

i've been using fresh pumpkin a lot this month too, but i had too much and stuck the excess in the freezer. now i'm excited because i just read your comment that this is a good way to extract water from the puree. if you don't mind me asking -- after you thaw it, do you just drain the puree in cheesecloth to get the water out? or is there an easier/quicker way?

December 07, 2005 3:55 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Hi Joy... I remember the other Phatduckk! Thawing the pumpkin is as easy as you think. After it thaws you will see how seperate the water is. I was straining it in a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl and letting gravity do all the work. A few times the texture looked different after thawing and straining but i put it in a saucepan over heat and whisked it and the creamy texture returned.

December 07, 2005 6:55 PM  

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