Monday, August 30, 2010


This is where I live. Eight blocks inland in an old neighborhood in Santa Cruz. I have lived here for 40 years now and am still inspired by the beauty, ocean smell, the fresh produce and generally healthy lifestyles of the folks who live here. People make fun of Santa Cruz saying it is a "Hippie" town and that we are all "Veggies" and "Tree huggers"... well, who cares! Let them laugh....I live in paradise! I am not a vegetarian, no longer a hippie, and well as far as a tree hugger...ok, I own that one :) 

Living in an inspirational location I get ideas from nature and the surrounding areas for cake concepts. The ocean is an amazing inspiration. It has not only the colors of the sky, water and earth but it creatures and shells, the rolling sands and waves, and then the myths that go with it's glory. So here is a cake where I took the ocean as my inspiration and since so many folks want to perform their nuptials in this area I thought it would be a great window display for the shoppe!
 The photograph was taken by Royce at BlurredLine photography. He is amazing with lighting and just capturing little moments that really make a photo something special. THANKS Royce! You should check out the website if you like photographs. He did some amazing shots at the World Pastry Cup last month! 
As far as the Ocean Themed cake goes....there is a mermaid at the top I am carefully placing... I used fondant and gum paste as my mediums. Some things like the waves that stand out from the sides of the cake and the dolphins are all gum paste but other things like the shells are a mixture of gum paste and fondant. This buys me time for making details since gum paste drys out so quickly. 
Another inspiration I have here is the fabulous farmers markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I can always check out what is in season and perfectly fresh and ripe around here. Summer time is the time for fruit and berries are going all around me so I adore making strawberry desserts and here is a classic with a more modern decoration. I made the little wild strawberries on top out of marzipan. I colored some green and some red and then took a tiny bit and made it a darker green for the foliage. The cake is a vanilla chiffon filled with a classic bavarian and whole cut strawberries. I placed half cut ones on the edges of the cake so you can see them when it is out of the mould. I then spead a thin coat of buttercream on top and rolled out the light green marzipan, cutting it to size I placed it on top of the cake. I then made a nice arrangement of the little strawberries and free hand cut leaves. I rolled a bit of the dark green into thin ropes for the vines and viola! you have a lovely strawberry bagatelle or frasier. Whatever you want to call it ... it is a fabulous summer dessert! Sometimes I like to scent the bavarian cream with a tiny amount of rose water for just that little something something! 
So now I go out into the world to look for more inspirations. They are all around us, we only need to keep our eyes open! 
I am very excited to go to Las Vegas and Oklahoma at the end of September for a bakery showcase and then the Oklahoma Sugar art show! Talking about inspiration!! It just gets my juices flowing to see what amazing art folks are doing with food and sugar. Although my home is a good source, the world at large is soooo much more inspiring and fascinating for ideas. I can't wait! And just think of the blogs I will come up with and photos too! YOU should be excited too.. and even better come on down to one of these shows! The Oklahoma Sugarart show has been going for many many years and is now HUGE due to the overwhelming popularity of cake decorating...and thanks to all the cake shows on TV. 
Here is Mercedes Strachwsky's winning entry from last year...guess what the theme was! :)
Look at the incredible detail of the underwater scene between the bottom layers!! And the delicate and beautiful mermaid... kinda makes mine look like a bag lady... LOL. 
Can't wait to see this years entries!! The theme is mansions and monasteries. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

So you want to make croissants??!

MMMMmmmmmm...making me hungry!

Consistent buttery layers with a crispy flakey outer layer and moist rich goodness inside. First thing in the morning with raspberry jam and a pot of hot dark coffee served with cream.... ahhhh yes... this reminds me of Paris! But you can make the a croissant as good as they make in Paris with just a bit of knowledge, patience and the right technique.
A good formula will have 30%-50% butter to flour ratio. This will help to determine how many layers are needed to create the flakiness in a croissant. The more butter, the more flavor but also the more delicate the structure of the layers as you do the turns needed to give you the right results. Am I getting to technical?
I hope that you are enjoying the info and can be a better baker by understanding the entire process of making the perfect croissant. You can do it at home even if I use professional equipment, I can help you to recreate what you need using what you have on hand.
The recipe is not that complicated and has relatively few ingredients. It is all technique in rolling, turning and forming these babies! Of course the rising, glazing and baking are crucial as well. There are tons of recipes using various amounts of butter. The one ingredient that I rarely see but have worked with is a croissant dough containing eggs. It is extremely important to not over mix the dough before adding the larger quantity of butter. Since you are rolling and folding the dough four times (the "turns"), you don't want to develop too much gluten at the beginning of the process or in the end your dough will be tough.
There are so many recipes for croissants and they all if given enough butter and the dough's right consistency, you ought to have success if following the proper steps. I am going to share what I know about making the little delights. 
Here are the ingredients for a classic style croissant: All purpose or bread flour, yeast, milk, sugar, salt, yeast and of course lots and lots of unsalted butter. 

You may find some with more or less sugar and the butter can vary in quantity but NEVER EVER substitute margarine for butter unless you are vegan and eat such unholiness... so very sorry to my vegan friends, but I just find it a very bad substitute for butter... I don't know how I would live in a world without butter!! I could give up meat (if I really had to for health reasons) and wheat flour too but butter...oh I hate to even imagine... 
Anyway, I digress. I put the ingredients into the mixing bowl in this order for easy mixing. 
First the milk and yeast, on top of that in this order I add: the flour, sugar, salt and the small measurement of butter on top. Turn on the mixer with a hook attachment already in place and mix first slow speed and then medium speed for a total time of 3 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, then put the ingredients in a very large mixing bowl in the same order and begin mixing with a wooden spoon, in small circles in the middle of the mixture. This will begin to get impossible to do by hand so you will want to pour it out onto a wooden or granite work surface and knead it until all the ingredients are mixed in but stop at that point. Do not overmix with either the mixer or by hand! 

Flatten the dough out into a rectangular piece even in thickness throughout. Now wrap it up with a sheet of plastic and put it in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare you butter block. 
All that butter you saw in the second photo is what we use to make the block. Sprinkle about one ounce of flour on your work surface. Lay the cold butter out on the flour and using a rolling pin, preferably a french pin that has no handles, and begin to beat the butter into submission. This way you can guarantee that you will not have lumps in the butter and it has a smooth pliable consistency. 
Ideally you will have a dough and butter block that are the exact same consistency. This way the butter will roll out into smooth and even layers between the dough. 

Once your butter is soft and pliable roll it out into a sheet will fit over 
half your dough, leaving 1/2" on three sides to seal it in the dough. The sheet of butter should be about 1/2" thick and you can use either two pieces of parchment or more flour to keep it from sticking while rolling it out. The paper works the best since you can just peel one layer off the butter and then pick up the butter on the paper putting it down on the dough in the perfect place. Easy to handle and less messy too! 
Fold the other half of the dough over the butter layer and seal up the edges by pinching them together. Don't leave too much around the edges or you will have a strip of dough that gets much less butter than the rest. This can cause tough, shiny and not flaky layers on the top of the croissants when finished. Not desirable at all! The idea is to get as many perfect layers of butter and dough as possible. Another way you can cause uneven layers is to be sloppy with the turns. Be sure and stretch the corners out to the edges of the dough. Do not force them but if you have been rolling nice even rectangles and a corner or two are a bit rounded at the corners, take the time to straighten them out to ensure that butter is spread evenly. These little details will make a lot of difference in the end. I promise!  

Never count the butter lock-in as a turn on the dough it is merely placing the butter into the dough. Usually three letter folds are given with a 20 minute rest in between each one. A letter fold can be called a three fold or a single fold. Do not get confused these are all names for the same fold. It has three layers and is folded like you fold a letter into three parts. Once the dough is turned three times it can be wrapped and ideally it should be frozen and then thawed in the refrigerator the day before you form them and bake them. This will keep the dough very cold while you roll it out and then form them into pastries.
I cut a strip that is 9" in width and the base of each croissant if 4". You want to then cut a one inch slit in the wide bottom of each piece. Fold the inside edge of the cut slit out to the outside corner of the piece. Then begin to roll it up and at the same time stretching the pointed end out a bit to get a nice tight roll up.
 To rise them correctly it is best to egg wash them now and then again before they go into the oven to achieve that nice shine. They will not form a skin on the top if you are ambient proofing.  
You need a warm place to rise the dough but not too warm or you will melt the butter out of the layers and literally fry the croissants in the oven. You can create this in your oven by turning it on low (170F) and then turing it off. Leave the door of the oven ajar so the heat is not locked in and if  you have an oven thermometer make sure it is not above 100F. If you have a spray bottle mist the inside of the oven before you put the croissants in it. You can hand a wet towel over the opening of the oven keeping the oven door open. If you house is heavily air conditioned, this is not a great thing for making any type of breads. They need warmth and humidity to rise properly so this is what we are trying to create. 

You can see how nicely these have risen. Puffy but not doubled in size only half again the size. Overproofing makes the dough bready and uninteresting. 

One place that is not a good proofing location is on top of the stove while the oven is heating below. Why? Because it will get way to hot on the bottom of your pan causing butter to melt....noooooooo
Bake your croissants until they are a nice Maui brown color. No pale, white streaked croissants please. The brown color is the caramelization of the sugars and starches in the product and that hold so much of the flavor. Be brave don't pull them out the minute you see some golden brown color! Go for it! Brown them up nicely and taste the difference! Geeze...I sound like a friggin' commercial...sorry... 
These are ham and cheese. You make these by cutting 4-5" square pieces and rolling up chunks of ham and swiss cheese inside before baking.... oh yea! Breakfast!
I sure hope I could demystify some information for you! If you have questions don't hesitate to ask!