Saturday, August 5, 2017

Monkey See Monkey Do

So I went back to baking school to learn Danish pastry and croissants. It took 6 nights scattered over 3 weeks. When I was pregnant with my first child, my son 20 years ago (omg, that long!), I developed a craving for Danish pastry in the last trimester. It was unfortunate my office was close to a shopping centre that had a shop selling Danish pastry. I think I ate a huge pastry every working day. So it was no surprise I gained 15kg. Many years later, when my second child, my daughter was in kindy, we had a habit of going to a cafe for Danish pastry almost once a week. Okay, it was at least twice a week. Thank goodness the cafe closed and I have stopped eating Danish pastry since then.

Anyway, last year, I tried to sign up for bread baking classes at this baking school. Unfortunately, the classes were full. But the Danish pastry & croissant class wasn't. So I thought, "no fish prawn also good". Besides, I have been toying with the idea of attending pastry classes for a while. So with that I paid the registration fees. However, I had to take the puff pastry module as well because that's where you learn the basics.

As you may remember, I didn't have a fantastic experience at puff pastry class. It was so chaotic. I did understand the basics which is fortunate because Danish pastry and croissants is a continuation of the techniques learnt from puff pastry. The only difference? We add yeast and we proof our pastry before baking.

I was hoping we would get a better teacher. The puff pastry teacher wasn't very good. She spoke softly and couldn't manage big groups. She is a nice person though. Techniques wise, I wished she had been clearer about what we should and shouldn't do.

We did get a new (to me) teacher. On Night 1, we had theory followed by making of Danish pastry dough. Initially, my impression of the teacher was not too bad. He seemed more experienced and could handle the class. He enjoyed entertaining the class. It was a fun class. But I did make an observation about him. I told myself not to be too critical because I can be very critical. With that, I went for my next lesson with an open mind.

And you know what? After another night of pastry class with this teacher, my suspicion was confirmed. He is a "dem lazy" teacher. When he did the demo, he didn't talk very much about what he was doing. He did talk about other "entertaining stuff" though. He didn't go into details about the technique and he offered no insights or tips. His style of teaching is monkey see monkey do. One time, he did a small demo in COMPLETE SILENCE. After each demo, we had to replicate what he did and he didn't even bother to go around to see if we were doing it right. He went to the end of the room away from us to look at his phone. We must be pretty good students because all of us manage to produce the goods each time, certainly not always looking the best but definitely edible. Okay I'm being harsh. There were a few times when he saw a student (not me) murdering her dough and he haaad to step in.

Another thing I noticed about my teacher was he did not consistently practice mise en place. When he was in the middle of a demo, he would point to a student and ask her to fetch this and that. It happened a lot. When I was at BITC(yes, the school that closed down), if you didn't practice mise en place before you start doing your mixing, some of the teachers would yell at you.

Night 2 we baked Victoria's, Bear claws and apple squares. We had baked Victoria's in puff pastry class before but I much prefer Victoria's using Danish pastry dough.

These were the teacher's cinnamon rolls - an example to show how we could use scrap dough.

As for us students, the teacher suggested we ball up the scrap dough and cut out rounds to place over a aluminum foil cup. Later he said to remove the cup as he was afraid of under baking. The dough totally collapsed in the oven and to be honest, the pastry did not taste good. Firstly balling up the scrap dough will destroy the layers. Secondly, it's just a flat piece of dough. I ate the fruits and threw the pastry away.

Night 3 we had a different teacher, a master baker who had taught us before in Puff Pastry. He was standing in for our regular teacher who had the day off. This guy is a pretty good teacher but he is impatient and tends to raise his voice. But night 3 he was quite mellow. In fact, I enjoyed the lesson and learnt quite a bit. This teacher prowled the kitchen checking on everyone constantly. He never stood still. I knew he would come charging at me because my hand rolling of the dough is still quite bad. True enough. He grabbed the rolling pin from me and showed me how to do it right. (I'm still not very good, to be honest) For scrap dough, he showed us how to make cinnamon rolls. Yes, again. I wished the teachers had coordinated better and shown us more varieties of scrap dough usage. Well, thank goodness for youtube.

On Night 2, we had blind baked some pastry before putting the filling. On Night 3, we filled all our pastry before baking. Okay, let me explain something. Firstly, I had of course thought blind baking involved doing it blindly which is stupid because I can be so literal sometimes. It means to pre-bake in case you don't know. Anyway, I noticed that the Windmill and Danish purse baked on Night 3 had a heavy fruit on the dough. When I went home, hubs ate them and he showed me that below the fruit, there was a layer of dough which looked under baked. On the other hand, the pastry baked on Night 2 didn't have the issue because we had blind baked.

Night 4 was plain croissants. Back to Monkey see Monkey do teacher again.

The teacher showed us how to make chocolate croissants. We didn't get the chance to make any though. The chocolate/plain croissants look very interesting. But when I ate one, it didn't taste right. The problem was the chocolate dough was not laminated. So you have bread and flaky pastry. They don't go together.
Night 5 we baked croissants with chocolate filling. Honestly, making croissants with chocolate filling is not that much different from making plain croissants. The teacher baked another round of chocolate/plain croissant. I didn't get a chance to try any so I don't know if there was any improvement. The teacher did not articulate what he did differently so...

Night 6 was my assessment. Prior to that night, I had checked with both the master baker and my teacher the three Danish pastry we had to bake. We were given the practical assessment paper in advance. Victoria's and apple danish were pretty straight forward. The third item, Custard danish was ambiguous. Both the master baker and my teacher said the custard danish was the bear claws. No problem. That one's easy. On Night 6, I was surprised to learn that the custard danish was not the bear claws after all. We were making the exact same shape as the apple danish except instead of apple, the filling would be custard and fruits. Of course it didn't make sense to me why we were being assessed on 2 similar shapes but since I'm the student I just do as I'm told. Honestly, the squares are my least favourite shape because the four ends don't always behave and stay closed.

My Victoria's turned out quite well but I can't say the same for the squares. The Victoria's were blind baked but not the squares. When I reached home, hubs ate the squares and yep, a layer of under baked dough was below the fruits. In future, I will always blind bake my Danish dough.

We sat for the theory paper while our goods were being baked. It was pretty easy, actually a lot easier than puff pastry. Yes, everyone passed.

I won't be returning to the school for further baking classes. Are you surprised? But I'm not done with my baking education. I'll look around for other schools and most importantly, I'll go back to baking bread and learning and improving. And maybe go on a diet to lose 4 or 5 kg. Starting today next week.


Jane McLellan said...

Good for you. I knew absolutely nothing about Danish pastry, this was very interesting. It sounds as though the teachers are rather variable. I hope you can find a good college and good teachers for your next course.

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Jane, Danish and croissant pastry are made in the same way. Of course the recipe for each is different(Danish is enriched;croissant is lean) but the mixing and rolling - no difference. Danish pastry requires 4 turns (folds) while croissant pastry only requires 3 turns. I would like to try making croissants at home. It is very hot in Singapore at the moment so it will be challenging.

Ely said...

What a baking extravaganza!

Don't be afraid to bake fruit on top of your pastry, that said, these things may have to be baked longer depending on how moist your fruit is. I mean it's never going to be super crispy underneath because of the moisture if you bake fruit/custard and pastry together, but sometimes it's nice to let the flavor bake into the pastry.

Next time I would also roll the pastry thinner and lower your oven temperature. Playing with these two factors could help with the sogginess issue.

Oh, and don't be afraid to check your stuff before taking it out of the oven.

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Ely, thanks for the advice. In school we baked at 210 deg C for Danish pastry. In my home oven, the outer part of anything would brown really fast at this temp. I will try a lower temp in the last couple of min.

Ely said...

Great idea! As much as baking is precise and all, it also comes down to a lot of trial and error, no?

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