Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bread and some great news

It may not be the prettiest picture, but it's special to me.  No fancy camera, just a little point and shoot.  It was a braided rich dough, full of butter and sugar, that I had knead and knead with my hands, late in the afternoon, under a grey cloudy sky.

Soft light.

Click click.  Click click.

The photo flashed up on the camera screen and I couldn't believe what I saw.  A seed was planted in me then.  I want to take more photos, of bread and of food, under that soft light.

Nearly 3 years since that photo was taken, I'm still making bread, still taking photos of them.

I have always loved making bread, despite the various failures I've had.  It has taught me to wait, for bread cannot be hurried.  It takes time, and gentle hands to make a loaf.  Working with flour is such a therapeutic and pleasurable process.  There's something incredibly soul satisfying about making bread that is hard to describe.  Make it, and you will see.

The Tartine Bread book had changed everything.  I've heard about the Tartine Bakery when a friend of mine sent me this link to the Selby's page.  His photographs were amazing and I wanted to learn more about it.  Then, almost on cue, I've spotted the Tartine book sitting on the shelf at my favourite cafe a few weeks later.  I poured over the recipes over many Saturday brunches and finally took the plunge and bought both books.

I was so excited when I got the Tartine Bread book, and read the first 100 or pages in one go.  Chad (and Elizabeth too) is an amazing baker, but he is also an amazing teacher and writer.  I read the process of basic country loaf, time and again, running the intervals between each step in my head, and drew timelines and marked them with notes and arrows that only makes sense to me.  All the while, the starter made from stoneground flour from a local mill, was taking shape.  It smelt unlike other I've made -- it was beery and sweet, just as Chad had written.  The soul of the bread was ready.  

I took the time, all day, to work the dough and let it rise.  Then came the evening and I baked in my little broken oven, with its near non-existant seal, hot spots close to the doors and a single working element -- the grill.  I forged ahead, cranked up the oven and baked and baked until I thought my oven would give up and my favourite pot would break.

But the results were incredible.  It looked and smelt like real bread.  Even though they were far from perfect, these were the best breads I've ever made, with nothing more than just flour and water.  This is the kind of bread I want to make.

I have some fabulously exciting and incredible news -- I have won the CLCSF auction as of yesterday afternoon!  The proceeds from this auction is used to build the Conductive Education Center of San Francisco, a centre that practice the philosophy of Conductive Education, in environment for which children with motor disorders and developmental delays can learn, grow and build confidence.  Please donate to them if you have any spare money -- it's a great cause.

This item I was bidding for is very special -- to spend a day as an apprentice to Chad at the Tartine Bakery.  Excited is an understatement!

How things have changed.  A year ago, I had quit my last job, somewhat awkwardly and painfully.  I had thoughts of travel, but it was never acted on.  When spurred by a friend, I had paid for my first round the world ticket -- to Europe and the US, with the Tartine Bakery firmly planted in the itinerary.  Who would have thought that nearly 4 months later, there will be an auction, and that I have out bided everyone, and I will be working in the bakery, even if it's just for a day?

Incredible luck, don't you think?

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Cygnet Lantern Festival

On a whim, I went to the Cygnet Lantern Festival tonight. The atmosphere was fantastic and had a great time, talking to my new housemate Kerry. I did get lost though -- too busy talking to mind the road, and ended up driving through the scenic route. It meant driving for an hour and a half, through bendy roads, and missing the parade. But the conversation was great, so it didn't matter.

We were there just in time to catch the shadow puppet show (that was brilliant) and the bollywood dance.  But the thing that stole my heart tonight were the lanterns.  They came in all shapes and sizes, from jars to milk cartons, to elaborate owls perched on branches, to egg-carton spiked dinosaurs.

The festival ended with the lighting of a bonfire.  That fire was great!  A large, yet cute cygnet was sitting on top of a pile of wood.  Two fantastically dressed torch bearers carried the torch to the cygnet, to the sound of drums, and soon, the bird was on fire.  It burnt brilliantly, the fire was roaring.  It was so warm, and the night was still.  I could have stared at it for hours.

We then found the maker's market -- oh wow, I didn't know that there's a book making workshops here.  I've recently been following this person on facebook for a little while.  Her books are nothing like normal books! I reckon her workshops would be a blast to go to.  On another note, I am going to bid like mad for this little prize.  Three more days -- wish me luck!

Dinner was a cup of delicious and veggie filled soup and some pretty amazing sourdough bread, courtesy of Cygnet!  But that wasn't quite enough, so in piggy fashion, we trundled to the Red Velvet Lounge.  Our choice of food was some what strange: a bowl of old school chips, a cup of coffee and a plum claufoutis.  One lesson learnt, do not mix chips and coffee -- they really don't go well together.  The waiter's strange look was fully justified.  With full bellies and a memories of a wonderful night, we made our way back home in the dark, sans scenic route.  Victory! 

It is late, and I have to make pasta tomorrow morning.  So a few more images, and good night :)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Agrarian Kitchen: Pastry 101

I have a major crush on the kitchen at the Agrarian Kitchen, so when a spot became available for Pastry 101, I quickly snaffled it up within an hour of the news.  I think Severine was shocked by how quickly I emailed!  All of the classes are booked right up until October and this will be my last chance to do a class for the rest of the year.  I just had to do it.  Right?  Wouldn't you?

The class was taken by Alistair Wise of Sweet Envy.  It is a heavenly pastry shop in North Hobart, decorated in white, and filled with all manners of sweet delights.  If you have enough will power to make it past the first cabinet, (my heart skips a beat whenever I see those cupcakes), you will be rewarded by the sight of intriguing macaroon, gorgeous cakes like nothing I've ever seen before and flavour combinations that makes my head spin.  Paralysis at the counter is not unheard of.

I woke up early and was greeted by a misty morning. But that didn't matter -- a whole day in the kitchen making pastries. I was pumped!  With a freshly charged battery in the camera and Pomplamoose songs in my head, I made my way to the class.

Look at what was waiting patiently on the bench on arrival?

Hello there!  It's pastry time!  

After a quick coffee and chat with fellow students, the class was ready to start.  It was a small class, just 8 of us -- mostly Taswegians, with a few brave souls who battled the ash cloud traveling from Sydney and Brisbane.  Rodney brought in the blackboard with today's menu.  Two things jumped out at me: Macaroon.  Croissants.  Yes!  I haven't had much luck with these, so what a great opportunity to learn how it's done properly. 

We all donned on our white aprons and the class started off with folding (laminating) batches of puff and croissant pastry. We didn't have enough time to make it in the class, so the dough was made the night before (Alistair notes that making pastry is allll about logistics. Plan well in advance)  There is an added bonus to making the dough the day before -- it will be relaxed before working in the layers, making it easier to work with.  It was by no means effortless!  I think I butchered my poor dough...

One interesting ingredient on the list was beurre noisette -- browned butter.  I'm not sure how this will affect the dough, but I'm keen to experiment to find out!  We each got a piece to work with and we bashed, turned and rolled our way to these beautiful creations:

I couldn't quite believe my eyes when these pastries puffed into flaky goodness.

During the class, Alistair gave tips on how to find a great pastry shop in Paris -- look for shops that is full of people and pigeons.  Pastries should be so delicate that they crumble on touch.  If you have ever wondered what to call that layering?  It's feuilleté!  A distinctive feuilleté is a sign of great pastry.  Great!  Something to look out for on my trip :)

I fear this post is getting way too long. So I'll end this post with some of my favourite photos from the day.

Now, it's practice, practice and more practice...

Thank you Alistair, Rodney and Severine for a wonderful day at the kitchen.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Things to come...

Just a few pictures from today's amazing class at the Agrarian Kitchen -- Pastry 101, with the totally awesome Alistair Wise.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Spicy Gingerbread


I have a confession to make...

I bought books from Amazon.  All 5 of them, in one go.  While I've never been an avid book buyer, I do enjoy browsing through a book shop, and liked the idea of supporting local businesses.  With the rising dollar, it was difficult to resist the temptation of buying over the web.

The straw that broke the camel's back was Heidi Swanson's new book.  I've been following her blog, 101cookbooks, for a number of years now and on the eve of her new book's launch, I finally took the plunge and gave Amazon a visit, with purchasing intentions.  A dangerously few clicks later, the Tartine bakery book, and the Tartine Bread book also found its way into my shopping cart, and my first book order was placed.

There was a bit of guilt, but it soon evaporated when the books arrived a few weeks later.  I returned home one night to find a brown package waiting at the door.  That was it -- I was glued to the books for the rest of the night.  I was even taking them to work to read during lunch.  Let's just say, I was a little anti-social that week.

Ready for the oven

I've been pouring over the Tartine bread book, and have made a quite a few batches of sourdoughs (but that's for another post!), and have cooked a lunch with my friend Andrea using Heidi's books.  The only book I'm yet to cook from was the Tartine bakery book -- full of sweets and pastries by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, and I was itching to make something out of it.

Just like the salted chocolate cookies, you'll also need to refrigerate it overnight.  I don't think the spice could have been so pronounced without the resting period.  It's not a shy cookie -- it's all about the spice.  There were tablespoons of ginger and cinnamon and even pepper.  Oh, how I love freshly ground pepper (that, and the smell of freshly ground coffee are things I can never get tired of.)  Definitely something to perk you up at morning tea. 

The gingerbread was toothsome without being chewy and the icing on top gives a lovely sugary crunch as you bite into it.   It's not overly sweet either, which makes it perfect to snack on.  I think I'll have to make a few more batches and learn to make them properly though!

Gingerbread with bonus glaze

One exciting news!  I'm going to the Agrarian Kitchen, for the Pastry 101 class this weekend, taken by the one and only Alistair Wise of Sweet Envy (it's definitely the best and cutest pastry shop in Hobart).  A spot came up a few weeks ago, and I snapped it up within a few minutes (much to the shock and horror of Severine!)  I have a feeling the next post will be all about croissants, and all kinds of delightful baked goods.

[Edit: since posting this, the Australian has published this article.]