Nature’s candy in my hand, can, or pie – Peach Melba.

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Alice Waters is famous for having served a single peach as a dessert.

She wanted to make a point; that if the product is perfect as is, why manipulate it?

If only I had the ability to go out daily, test peaches, and select the perfect ones for my version of a Peach Melba. I have neither the time nor the orchard, so I had to figure out a way to present a delicious peach dish while accepting all the problems of the regular old peach, regardless of whether they were grown in B.C. and picked up at the market or if I had to make an emergency run to the store to get through service.

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Fresh fruit is not something I am particularly used to dealing with. When I was a pie-maker, it was all frozen. When the season allowed, I sorted, trimmed, sliced, and froze for later use. Aside from a garnish or two of strawberry or raspberry, often fruit came puréed from France, as previous menus haven’t often required full-on fruit love.

Now that I am in the position to write my menu completely, I decided to embrace my love of flavour over sweetness, to highlight seasonal produce over chocolate. I chose the Melba because it is one of the most recognized desserts in the world. It was designed by Escoffier while he worked in London’s Savoy Hotel for singer Nellie Melba (whose name was also given to the toast and the sauce). Originally served in a swan made of ice, the simple dish consists of four ingredients: Peaches, raspberry coulis, almonds, and vanilla ice cream.

Flavour has always been essential to me. As one who is not inclined to eat dessert but does so as a show of support for the pastry world, I often am disappointed by how fatty and sweet the final course can be. When I was vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, fun-free, I had to work hard to make food, sweets in particular, that had flavour rather than blandness, as the typical purchased items for those with limited diets tended to be. For this reason I love to use spiced, natural extracts, zest, and oils in order to boost the awesome in a dish.

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On a trip to the amazing Silk Road Spice Merchants in Inglewood (Old Calgary), I marvelled at their vast collection of bitters. Bitters was something I’d always wanted to incorporated into my pastry tupperware of all things tasty-enhancing, but I didn’t really know what to do with them.

And there I found this:

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Because nature, while based on near-perfect design, does not always produce perfection…

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… my peach problem was solved instantly. A simple light syrup with a couple of star anise, toss of clove, peel of lemon, and and two table spoons of Peach Bitters vacuum packed (essentially infused without cooking) with sliced peaches resulted in a product that looks similar to a canned peach but retains a bite and the freshness of uncooked peaches, tasting like the best peach you’ve ever had. Just needed a helping hand is all. This way the peaches could stay preserved in perfect condition for a couple of days and all taste identical, no chances for one person to have an amazing Melba and another to have one that is subpar.

I paired the perfect peach slices with a raspberry fluid gel, bitter almond financier, butter powder, almond praliné, and micro greens. Finished with vanilla gelato and a sprinkling of ground Grains of Paradise for warmth, it may not be served in a swan carved of ice, it’s still pretty awesome.

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Bitter Almond Financier (makes 15 small cakes)

60g Ground Almonds

60g Flour

6g baking powder

120g Sugar

1 tbsp Saigon Cinnamon

Good Pinch Salt

150g Egg Whites, whisked to break up proteins

1 tsp Natural Almond Extract

65g Browned butter, bits included

Whisk all dry ingredients together, then whisk in whites and almond extract without over mixing. Remove a third of the batter to mix in thoroughly with the browned butter, then incorporate with the remaining batter. It will be quite runny. Pour into small, greased silicone moulds or muffin tins and bake for 15-18 min at 350F.

Baking bread is like having babies, yes? A Love Letter to Bread.

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“I see bread as a transformational food…first transformation: alive to dead, second transformation: dead brought to life, third transformation: alive to dead but dough to bread…”*

When you work in kitchens, it feels like your life is constantly on-hold. Because it is, sort of. I have friends who are spawning and have houses and mortgages and cars and I have a suitcase on the floor with my clothes popping out everywhere and an expensive handmade japanese knife and a Car2Go account. I don’t even know what my phone number is and yesterday two of three meals was doughnuts. The third was two beers and a glass of wine. But I think I can relate to my friends in a way…

Bread and I have always had a strange relationship.

When I was young, white bread was a no-no. I had it occasionally, either at the babysitters on sandwich day, or at my grandmother’s, where I was allowed to create the awesome, elusive snack of white bread with butter. Butter was also a no-no (except at Christmas).

In my twentieth year I kicked my ass into shape. I started running and doing pilates, but I also spent most of my free time reading about nutrition and allergies. Soon I kept a tight ingestion regiment; I cut out all refined sugars and wheat, consumed only healthy fats and a good deal of veg. It did not take long for me to feel pretty good most of the time.

But I missed bread.

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“That’s what bread is, yeast burps and sweats”

I missed sandwiches a lot. I’m a sucker for simple things. An easy, uncomplicated, undrippy sandwich is right up my alley. So is a simple slice of bread with butter and salt.

At LCB, the program didn’t focus on bread. We had a single bread class, 5 hours to make 9 loafs, 5 varieties. The large, handlebar-moustachioed Master Breadmaker (and the only Canadian Chef who was employed by the school) boomed at us the instructions, and I distinctly recall us all, bright-eyed pastry-chef wanna-bees running around the practical kitchen in shear terror because we’d never worked in groups and because we were being screamed at by a giant man with waxed facial hair.

I don’t know how the bread happened, but it did. And that night, after being so excited to finally learn how to make bread, I gathered the 9 loafs in my apron and shuffled home in the rain. At home I looked at the recipes and tried to recall the stages but heard only yelling. The recipes were tucked away, the bread given away to neighbours.

While in Nowhere, Devon, the Canadian and I worked with a chef who was obsessed with bread and insisted on making fresh ciabatta and focaccia daily, though they were made with the same dough as for the pizzas so it wasn’t an optimal learning experience. It was there we started a sourdough starter, and made two loafs with it. One was a whole wheat traditional style loaf, the other followed the Tartine recipe, using high hydration, long fermentation, and folding in place of kneading. The difference between the two was outstanding.

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Since then, I’ve wanted to become as competent as possible in the realm of bread, for at least a patissier, considering the two were never a single job for a reason, so competent is a reasonable goal.

For the past 3 months, I have made baguettes every day except Sundays and a handful of Saturdays. Every batch I try to make the best bread possible. I have learned that bread can be a bitch. I talk to it constantly, but Bread isn’t much of a talker. More of a feeler. So I’ve had to learn to feel too, so we can communicate.

It is a lot like pastry, in that it requires a good deal of scientific knowledge and creativity, though there is far more artistic freedom in the dessert field than in bread making. I used to think, “It’s just baguettes, who fucks up baguettes?” Well, I’ve fucked up baguettes. I’ve learned what happens when you deny the dough its rightful salt, when you’ve given it water too warm, or slide it in the oven too soon, too late, too much mixing, too little, too much yeast. You can make all of these incidents work, but it won’t make for the perfect loaf.

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Tardy has always been my thing. Good at timekeeping in the first couple of weeks and then deteriorating into immense lateness daily is a bad habit that bread has broken. On three occasions I have shown up 18 minutes late, but that’s it. I show up for work on time, every day, even on my day off because of Bread.

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I don’t trust anyone else to make the poolish, to make the bread, to bake the bread, I barely trust them to cut the bread. I’ve watched them, they crush it, refusing to take long, smooth strokes, they opt to race through the process leaving jagged tears…. I have to close my eyes and walk away.

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The FOH don’t understand. They feel for me, they know I’m there 80 or more hours a week, that others can go out and party but I always say no because I have to wake up for Bread. They catch me several times a day inspecting the open loafs, smelling them, narrowly peering into their holes….beautiful artisanal holes that likely never existed in bread 100 years ago, even 50, with that glossy, soft crumb that stretches in a myriad of directions through out each…the holes they ask me to NOT create because they FEEL THE CUSTOMER ISN’T GETTING ENOUGH BREAD.

I recently ascended to a new level of bread baking. Chef decided I was ready to begin working with Desired Dough Temperature, probably because I could competently make baguettes regardless of any number of stupid problems that would occur and make tiny portions of my brain explode.

“Personality and character is being developed in this dough under the watchful gaze of the baker.”

Finally after almost a month of my bread, which started out well, went to great and then degraded into Wonder-esq bullshit (which the servers when NUTS for, btw), the DDT method has saved my remaining bits of sanity.

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So now that I’ve got my baguettes under control, it’s time to work on building something new; I created another starter. The UK starter died during the move to Plymouth when I was stuck in a hotel for several days as my employers were selfish rats who couldn’t be bothered to reference M and I. I probably couldn’t have taken it on the plane anyway.

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At this stage I’m only feeding the young one, and the on-going attempt to carry over the pàte fermenté from the previous dough without anyone THROWING IT OUT AND FORCING ME TO START OVER EVEN THOUGH I ASKED NICELY, is not particularly complex but I’m sure this will build into a stressful situation soon enough. But that’s alright. I mean, I’m trying to be cool about it, but maybe I take Bread a bit too seriously? Compared to a Soccer Mom, I think I’m okay.

“I leave you with a baker’s blessing: may your crust be crisp, and your bread always rise.”*

* Quotes selected from the wonder Peter Reinhart’s TEDtalk.

The heart will always go one step too far. Also a recipe for Nougat Glacé.

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Every time I get a new job I tell myself something like

You work your hours, do what you love, don’t feel guilty, don’t let them rely on you.

I say this because I’ve spent years putting myself in employment positions where I am needed, mostly because I like to feel needed, and then feeling guilty about not working all the time, then I get grumpy, exhausted, and I make stupid mistakes. It’s not pretty.

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And yet, I seem to be unable to keep an arms length from my real life and my work life.

This could very well be because my work, wherever I am, is my life, as the creative process, unless in a lull, churns during all waking hours. If I could turn it off I would.

So, as per usual, though I’ve made a good deal of progress and am producing a menu I am proud of

I’m fucking tired and I need to do yoga.

Or run.

Or lift weights while grunting loudly.

I suppose we all need something to work towards.

And I suppose the result is worth it. Some day I’ll use that gym membership.

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Chocolate Nougat Glacé

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We don’t have an ice cream machine, nor a walk-in freezer. The line doesn’t have heat lamps (positive: your food doesn’t have an opportunity to sit), rather we must turn the hood vent system off whenever hot food is being plated. This, along with summer, can leave the kitchen around 30-35C nearing the end of service when desserts begin to go out.

As a result I purposely, in summer of all times, reduced the dishes with gelato (no ice cream here) because the plating was too difficult and it’s not nice to send out desserts with pooling quenelles of rapidly liquifying sorbet. If I can’t send something out in its ideal state, I don’t want to send it at all.

So to anticipate the desire patrons have during the warm months, I make this Chocolate Nougat Glacé.

Whoa, qu’est que sais Nougat?

Nougat has three meanings. It can be caramel enrobed almonds (or other nuts, but mainly almonds) that is crushed and used to provide a deep, smokey caramel flavour as well as a desired crunch into things like ice cream, marshmallow, cakes.

Nougat is also a confection, famously made but not invented in the south of France, a marshmallow-type base, sweetened with honey, and loaded with nuts and dried fruits.

The third nougat is like a combination. Using a base of honey meringue, whipped cream, nuts (often caramelized), fruits, booze, and set with gelatine and frozen. The French version of Semifreddo.

To begin…

60g Egg whites

150g Honey

6g Gelatin

160g Dark Chocolate, finely chopped

480g Whipped cream, very soft peaks

100g Pistachios, chopped

75g Cranberries, dried, cooked to soften in Merlot

30g Cocoa Nibs

100g Dark Chocolate shards (melt, spread thinly on parchment, frozen, and broken up — keep frozen)

 

Prepare a baking pan 9″x8″ with a spray of non-stick spay and parchment, preferably up the sides.

Bloom gelatin.

Melt the dark chocolate to 40-45C. It must be hot so it doesn’t set when whisked into the cream. With a whisk handy, pour all the hot chocolate into the centre of the whipped cream, then use your whisk to incorporate the chocolate AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. The reason for doing this by hand is that generally stand mixers won’t mix it fast enough.

Start whisking in the centre only, don’t worry about the cream on the outside that’s still white, you can fold that in later. You’re successful if your mix is a homogeonous, rich chocolate colour. This recipe will still work if you end up with a light brown mass with tiny specks of dark chocolate, but the mouthfeel won’t be as silky and rich.

Heat the honey on medium high heat. You can start whisking the whites in a stand mixer on med around the same time, as honey boils very quickly. It will bubble up so keep an eye on it. I don’t recommend the icey-finger sugar test for this, use a thermometer instead. When it registers at 120C, pull the honey off the heat and pour it slowly down side of the bowl. Add the bloomed gelatin, give it 30 seconds to dissolve completely, then turn it up to high while it cools. When the bottom of the bowl is cooled to the touch, turn off the mixer.

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Remove a portion of the meringue, a third or so, and work it into the chocolate chantilly to help loosen the mix. Fold in the remaining meringue, then add all your bits and fold until evenly incorporated. Pour into your lined pan, and spread evenly.

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Now, I have to cover with a layer of plastic wrap on the surface to protect the cream from attracting flavours, as well as tightly wrap the pan to provide a protective trampoline for the shrimps, tuna, or 1kg bags of peas that could potentially attack the nougat while in the freezer.

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I generally get 12 portions per sheet, this may be lighter due to the egg whites, but it is still mostly cream.

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I finish this with cherry-spiked chocolate sauce, cookie crumbs, cranberries, pistachios, and homemade bubbly ”Aero” pieces.