Now that I’m done with culinary school I’ve moved onto the next phase of my education which is my externship. Since I don’t think the restaurant life is for me, I decided to do my externship at a magazine. Before I was a teacher and before I was a grad student I was a technical writer. A part of me has always been a writer. I kept journals as a kid and when blogging became popular, I did get into blogging. I was never a fan of writing when I was forced to, so I hated English class, but I still loved writing whenever I could. I’ve realized that my externship is my dream job in many ways. I get to be surrounded by food all the time and I get to research different food products and brainstorm recipes. I also get to edit recipes and eventually I’ll be writing my own! This is a great gig and I wish it were my new full time job!
In the meantime, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can develop skills as a pastry chef. I know the two best ways would be to go back to school for pastry and to work in a pastry kitchen. Unfortunately, going back to school is not an option as I’ve already got a mountain of student loans and still no idea how I’m paying them off. *sigh* Working in a pastry kitchen is more feasible. If I can not find a full time job doing what I’m doing now for my externship, I may decide to look for opportunities in a pastry kitchen. Ideally, I’d like to learn all that I can! I want to make cookies, cupcakes, simple cakes, beautiful, artful, tired cakes, candy, petites fours, custards and everything that’s sweet under the sun. I also want to explore confections that come from different culinary traditions. A lot of what I currently know is either American, Italian or French in origin, but I’d love to learn how to make Japanese sweets (like mochi!) as well as Indian and Spanish/Latin American sweets.
So while thinking all about this, I thought while I was externing the best way to expand my horizons and skill set was to go back to the beginning. When I was a kid and just learning to cook I used my mom’s cookbook. Back then all I really would make from the book were chocolate chip cookies and the occasional attempt at bread. I remember loving all my delicious attempts! Even if my cookies were a bit too crunchy (i.e. burnt on the bottom) they were still edible and delectable since the flavors still came through. These recipes are probably the easiest to follow and therefore are a guaranteed hit to produce great results. Which book am I talking about? The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, 1980 edition! I now have two copies of this book, one that’s tattered, worn and has pages falling out and another that I use for reference. So while I extern, I will make a journey through this book, making different treats I never made before and hopefully, learning some things along the way!
My first attempt was to make Fudgey Brownies, Shortbread, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Soft Molassess Cookies and Double Chocolate Cookies. I’ve made different brownie recipes before, but this one was simple and quick and very delicious with the addition of crushed hazelnuts! I’ve never really made shortbread before. I’ve only seen it done while staging a class. I followed the recipe almost exactly. At the end, it instructs you to sprinkle granulated sugar over the dough before baking. Instead, I used Demarara sugar. I thought this would offer a nice caramelized color as well as a nice crunch in contrast to the soft shortbread dough. I think it worked!
While making the chocolate chip cookies, I decided to try to edit the recipe. This is the one recipe I’d always go to as a kid and when I was older whenever I wanted chocolate chip cookies. I also used to make these cookies a lot when I was still teaching and my school had an event which required baked goods. I made two batches of these , one that was to be orange chocolate chip and another that was to be amaretto chocolate chip. The first change for these cookies actually were the chips. I didn’t have any on hand, but I did have a few bars of Valrhona Noir Amer 71% on hand so I just chopped these up and used them instead of chocolate chips. The cookies were richer and more intensely chocolate, which I enjoyed. Other people who tasted them said the chocolate flavor was overpowering. To make the orange flavor, I merely added some orange zest to the cookie dough. The orange flavor was present but it was very, very subtle. I think next time I will add orange juice or extract as well as the zest. To make the amaretto cookie, I merely substituted the vanilla extract with amaretto. Unfortunately, you don’t really tast much of the amaretto flavor at all in these. Even though these were good first attempts at tweaking these recipes, I do think I need to work on them a bit more.
The Soft Molasses Cookies were another recipe in the book that I had never made before. Since I had all the ingredients on hand, I figured why not try it. These were another cookie that were quick and easy-to-make. The recipe was very straightforward and the results were delightful. The cookie was crisp and chewy at the same time while not being too sweet. The molasses flavor was definitely there and helped contribute to the unique texture of this cookie.
My last cookie of the day were the Double Chocolate Cookies. These were a soft chocolate cookie topped with a chocolate icing and a pecan for garnish. The recipe did not say you should candy the pecans, but I did it anyway since I thought it would be a nice touch. I LOVED this cookie and really, I should have been making this one for years! It’s pretty, light, chocolatey, crunchy and delicious! I think this one is definitely going to be made a lot more often!