Tuesday class, Wednesday wanderings, and Russian Teatime
I arrived at the French Pastry School offices a little early, as requested, to be given a pre-class tour of the place, which wound up in Kitchen Three, where Chef Bob Hartwig and his assistants were all set up. And I mean all set up. Unlike the students in the certificate program, continuing education participants have all our ingredients pre-measured for us and set up at our workspaces each day. Talk about pampering. There were only ten in the class, some food professionals, some semi-pros, who cater a bit, or sell some product to the public seasonally, and rank amateurs, like yrs truly.
Our instructor was a very clever young fellow, a good teacher, and a pastry chef of note, who clearly loves what he does, and communicates his passion for his work in a low-key, low-ego style, which is charming- and helpful. If you are thinking of taking a class at the FPS, I'm sure you will like this guy . You can read his bio on the FPS website, but what it does not tell you is that for the last year, he and his fiancee, also a chef, have had their own bakeshop in Chicago. It is called "Lovely".I wasn't able to visit it, but perhaps you can; I think it must be terrific, judging by the baked goods we sampled in class.
As a bonus, besides the jams, jellies and pickles, which we made ourselves after his demonstrations, Chef Bob, demonstrated and baked fantastic pound cakes, brioche, and some insanely good scones. There were also tarts in an special sweet pastry, with our marmalade, vanilla pastry cream, and pretty berries on top. I watched it all, tasted everything, and brought home the recipes, so look out! A member of the class asked him who would have the nerve to make their wedding cake, and he said that they were having pie instead. Which is genius in my book.
The first day we made, or started, orange marmalade, apple jelly with vanilla, strawberry-mint jam, chocolate raspberry jam and "nutella", and Chef Bob made or started the best scones ever, a sweet pastry with almond meal, brioche, and beautiful little pound cakes. You see in the photo two of my classmates- each of us shared workspace with another student. The mirror above allowed us to watch the product in demonstrations, a very handy teaching tool. It was very cool to see the various caramelization stages and techniques as they happened. Thus we learned to make a hazelnut praline for our nutella-nifty.
There were chef jackets to borrow, aprons and funny hats to keep. My partner was a real chef, Tim, who has an extremely cool, and apparently very upscale restaurant, the Stonehorse Cafe in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was very kind and tolerant of my amateur clutziness.
I learned a whole lot of stuff, and am not going to attempt to convey much in the way of that sort of information here- I hope it will be reflected, to some extent, in future posts. However, one standout bit of info, which I somehow managed to avoid learning while making jam over the years, and was totally news to me, was the concept, and existence of the measurement of Brix. Brix (abbreviated"Bx") is a measurement of the ratio of dissolved sugar to water in a liquid. It is the ratio of sugar to total of the solution- so a 25Bx solution is 25% sugar and 75% water.
Here is the cool thing- if you didn't already know- perhaps this is general knowledge and I just missed it?- is that a solution which is going be jelled will be from 61-65 Bx. And you can measure the Bx with a little hand held Refractometer! Which we did. The deal is that it is not as magic as I thought it might be, our strawberry mint jam didn't jell properly, and made a lovely thickish sauce instead.
There are serious additional factors- eg. strawberries have a lot of water that leeches out over time. You are measuring the liquid while cooking it down, but it gets more water from the strawberries. Possible solutions include macerating the strawberries and sugar for a couple of days before cooking and including the exuding liquid in the measuring of the water. Or, as a classmate suggested; she lets her strawberry jam sit out and evaporate for a few days, then boils it up again before bottling up.
Nonetheless, the refractometer is a great tool, and I'm thinking about getting one. They are expensive- especially if you go for digital models. A handheld analog model, like the one we used in class is about $165. You have to make a lot of jam to warrant it, but still....Very easy to use- you smear a bit of your solution over a glass thingie like a lab slide, close it, and hold it up to the light to read.
Well, after class, I was really beat. 5 hours standing and/or perched on a stool after a major shopping day? Too old for this approach. So, I decided to take it easy on Wednesday. Basically, I ate too much breakfast again, goofed around, read my book, and visited an excellent poster shop, and had a lovely, if diminutive lunch at Russian Teatime. This restaurant, near the Art Institute, offers a variety of eastern european treats, and I wish I'd left myself the appetite for more. It is pleasantly dark and old-worldy looking, I'm a sucker for a gleaming samovar, and I dug it.
My lunch was small because I was still full from breakfast, alas. I had an appetizer portion of asparagus vareneky, a ukrainian dumpling- thin half moons of very thin noodle dough, filled with asparagus, red pepper, and feta cheese, boiled and served on a plate, drizzled with basil butter. I also had a glass of really lovely, properly hot russian tea, served with several kinds of pretty sugar cubes and lemon slices, as well as a complimentary loaf of some kind of oniony black bread, the remainder of which, I took away with me. All was delicious, and this time, I'd left myself enough time for a nap before class.
More about that, later.
First photo is from the FPS website; my camera photos of the process were too sad.