June 24, 2011

alemany farm dinner

Once school got out I had more time on my hands, which meant I went volunteering! Alemany Farm was one of the places I had read about on the AmeriCorps Alums blog when I was first moving to San Francisco, and finally I was able to go.

Alemany Farm is located on a plot of land right by the highway and next to some housing projects. The farm was brought into existence (and is maintained) exclusively by volunteers. The produce that is harvested goes to the volunteers and to the people in the neighborhood - the produce can't actually be sold because the land belongs to the city.

After a long and cold/windy afternoon of pulling weeds and pushing wheelbarrows uphill, it came to be harvest time. Veteran volunteers led us in pointing out what and how much could be harvested. Aside from getting free and fresh (literally organic) produce, the whole process really opened my eyes to the variety of vegetables that groceries stores don't sell.

chards & kales

For example, I was able to get multiple kinds of chard and multiple kinds of kale. Many grocery stores don't even have one kind of either. It just goes to show how mass-produced our food is (and also how us Americans only eat certain particular vegetables, if any).

farm produce

I didn't go prepared with a bag or anything, so I ended up taking a planter full of vegetables home. The bounty was rather staggering, and it inspired me to cook a group dinner. In order to figure out what dishes to make with the foreignness of it all, I searched through online recipes for inspiration.

squash blossoms & ground cherries

Because I had squash blossoms (pictured above) and butter lettuce, I decided to make something similar to this salad. (Note: the acorn-like things next to the squash blossoms are ground cherries, which you open up like a present and eat - they taste like citrus-y grape tomatoes).

squash blossom salad

The salad turned out to be easily my favorite dish - creamy avocado, tangy dressing, fresh lettuce, velvety squash blossoms.

bok choy

Then there was bok choy inspired by this recipe. I really just did the fried shallot part (with the addition of some thinly sliced carrot, parsnip and garlic) and sprinkled it on blanched bok choy leaves. What I liked about this dish was just the look (which reminded me of a peacock) - sadly it was missing a sauce that I didn't know how to make and didn't have on hand, the kind they drizzle over Chinese broccoli at dim sum places.

puslane pesto

Next up was purslane, which I had no idea how to use so I substituted it as the basil in pesto. I consulted this recipe just to know what pesto ingredients were, blended everything in a blender and adjusted by taste. I also threw in a couple of spinach leaves from the farm because I didn't find a place to fit them anywhere else.

I was afraid no one would like the pesto because the purslane made it spicy in this wasabi kind of way. But everyone ate it anyway!

sauteed vegetarian

Then there was the chards and kales, which were somewhat inspired by this and this recipe. I wasn't sure how people would take to such serious greens, so I wanted to cook them with bacon, but I did a portion without - just to taste the difference - I was curious how tasty the greens would be without the inherent tastiness of bacon grease.

The vegetarian version had fava beans instead of bacon - which I blanched with the chards and kales. I find that I have a stir-fry methodology: I blanch the hardier vegetables (so they get soft and take to the stir-fry better), then after that's done I start up the fry pan with oil and aromatics (in this case garlic, shallots, fennel seed, italian herbs, cayenne, salt and pepper), then I throw in the vegetables by degree of softness. (I figured that the softer the vegetable the less heat it can take before it wilts and/or fades in color.)

sauteed non-vegetarian

For the non-vegetarian version I omitted the oil - instead I fried up bacon and used the grease. Also I used less aromatics because they weren't needed as much. I think both dishes ended up the same in tastiness, although I could be biased because I do like vegetables a lot.

All in all a successful dinner - seven people were fed and all the produce I brought home got used up. Would love to do it again sometime, if only without the back-bending farm labor...!

June 7, 2011

end of semester

To conclude the semester's work, I leave you with a picture of me practicing for the last practical of the year: chocolate writing.

chocolate inscription

I put in the most effort for this last practical, and I think it paid off.

Congratulations to all of my fellow first-semesters for having made it through!

And congratulations to me for finally making through this semester's worth of blog posts. Now onto non-school but nevertheless food-related stuff!

brotchen rolls

On the last day of kitchen I decided to make something by special request of my dearest Jonas, because he remembered the rolls that he used to get at the bakery back in Germany.

A quick Google search led me to this recipe, which I presented to Chef for approval. I was told to make a double batch and to approximate the ingredients, since we measure ingredients by weight and not by volume.

bread station game plan

(Here I am with my assigned task of rolls, in the last Bread Station game plan of the semester!)

brotchen rolls mise-en-place

This dough was different than all of the other doughs I made because it included meringue (not sure what difference meringue makes in bread though). In terms of ingredients, I used half the amount of yeast the recipe called for, and also it was instant dry yeast instead of active dry yeast (so the yeast-soaking step was omitted).

The dough turned out rather wet, so I had to add a bunch of flour in order to knead it. Then I fermented it and folded it (what the recipe termed "deflating" the dough, or what other recipes will term "punching down").

brotchen dough post-ferment

Then I placed the dough on this metal plate, which goes into the roll machine so it can be shaped into rolls (same process for challah rolls).

brotchen into rolls

I thought it was an amazing coincidence that the roll machine had been made in West Germany, the same place where these rolls originated from.

brotchen rolls portions

Because the dough mass was moist and unwieldy, the rolls didn't come out shaped as nicely as the challah rolls had. Nevermind though, I hand-shaped some and put others through the machine once more.

brotchen rolls baking

The recipe called for an egg white/milk wash, but the one I prepared was accidentally thrown out so the rolls went into the oven without. Chef steamed them in the oven extra though, to make up for it.

brotchen rolls baked

This is how they came out. I had no basis for comparison as to whether or not these looked or tasted right. I thought they tasted like plain dinner rolls, but Jonas liked how they tasted and said they were pretty much like the rolls he had been used to. Und das ist gut!

challah (holla!)

Challah bread was a semi-regular of bread station, most commonly made into rolls but sometimes braided into loaves as well.

Challah is another example of enriched dough because it contains egg yolks (fat) and oil (also fat). First, 5 lb 4 oz of bread flour and 1 oz of instant dry yeast are mixed together. Then, separately mixed is 32 oz of water, 1 lb of egg yolks, 8 oz of vegetable oil, 8 oz of sugar, and 1.5 oz of salt. The flour mixture is added to the wet mixture in the mixer, and together it's mixed for 4 minutes on low speed and 4 minutes on medium speed. Then it is fermented for just one hour before it gets portioned.

portioned challah

This batch of challah was portioned for a loaf and two batches of rolls. We did a five-braid loaf, with each braid being 5.5 oz (pre-shaped and shaped much like a baguette would be). The two batches for rolls were 3 lbs each, to be inserted into the roll machine to be shaped into two dozen rolls (four dozen altogether).

braiding challah

Braiding challah was really fun. Basically the five strands are lined up together, pinched at the top, and then the braids were invisibly numbered from 1 to 5, left to right. As the braids switched places they were renumbered 1 to 5, so there was no need to keep track of what number went where. The pattern basically went: 1 over 3, 2 over 3, 5 over 2 (repeat). If a low-number was going over a high-number, it would go to the right of that braid, and if a high-number was going over a low-number, it would go to the left. This continued until the ends of the strands, where all five were pinched together to end.

dough braiding (serious)

Here is everybody braiding, all serious-like.

braided challah

The idea was to make a braid that would come out looking like this.

eggwashing rolls

Before the challah rolls and loaves were baked, they were egg-washed so they would come out with a nice sheen.

challah rolls

Here are the rolls after baking.

challah bread

This was my first loaf, deceptively nice-looking but still raw on the inside because at this point I had not known that you could tell a bread's doneness by checking its temperature. I fretted over the rawness because that day's challah had been by special request of Chef Morse, and I really wanted him to have nice bread (oh well, too bad).

The next time I made challah it turned out really nice, and my housemate Molly made delicious French toast out of it :)


Originally I wasn't even going to post about grissini, but I felt bad for excluding it.

Grissini is basically what I previously knew as breadsticks, aka long pencil-like sticks that get served in restaurants as appetizers. The grissini we made were studded with different spices/seeds and went to the Pierre Coste Room to be served.

I think it's safe to say that grissini was the persona non grata of bread station. It felt dead and flat compared to the other breads, it was a pain cutting the dough into equal-sized strips, and for all that work the grissini was what most often burned because it was so thin and we never could watch it closely enough.

Once I got creative and decided to twist the grissini into spirals so they weren't just plain sticks. The process took longer than one might have thought.


But the best thing I ever did with grissini was probably gather up the scraps into a pile - grissini brains!!!

brains! (leftover grissini)


In my last post you may have noticed that the bread basket (and the background) contained focaccia bread. Indeed, focaccia bread was something we made about once a week (making enough to last the week) because it was so effort-intensive. In fact, focaccia-making sucked up so much time and effort, the nickname "focaccia-geddon" was coined for the days when we did in fact have to make it.

focaccia dough

Focaccia belongs to the category of enriched dough (dough containing fat) due to it containing copious amounts of oil. Oil, or fat, gets between the gluten molecules and prevents strands from developing - which is why focaccia's texture is fluffy and less like chewy bread.

There are also copious amounts of rosemary and garlic that get mixed in with the dough.

portioning focaccia

Here the focaccia is being portioned into ten pieces, each to eventually take up a whole sheet tray. (Note: I was not involved in the beginning of this process, so I haven't included the recipe, but I intend to make it at home sometime this summer and will likely share the results then.)

pressing focaccia

Once portioned and rested on well-oiled sheet trays, the dough goes through two pressings with about half an hour between each. The first pressing is to spread the dough out evenly, and the second pressing extends the dough to fill the entire sheet tray.

oiling focaccia

Once pressed, the focaccia gets drizzled with salt and more oil, then holes are poked throughout the dough (I assume for venting purposes).

topping focaccia

The toppings vary from one focaccia-geddon to the next, but we chose tomatoes, mushrooms, pickled jalapenos and a shredded cheese blend (with some toppings omitted on some doughs to accommodate for people's preferences).

fresh focaccia

After baking, here they are out of the oven, a little brown but just as delicious. Some were used the same day, others got plastic-wrapped and frozen for the remaining non-focaccia-geddon days of the week.


Then there was ciabatta, another indirect fermentation dough with a starter called biga, made the day before with 3 lb 4 oz bread flour, 26.5 oz water, and a big pinch of instant dry yeast.

The dough itself consisted of 6 lb 11.5 oz bread flour, 0.5 oz instant dry yeast, 90.5 oz water, 4 oz of salt (which I usually dissolved in the water first for even distribution), and 4 lb 14.5 oz of biga. All of this was mixed on low speed for 4 minutes and medium speed for 1 minute, then put into a box for fermentation: 30 minutes, fold, 30 minutes, fold, 15 minutes, done. (The fold for ciabatta is different than other doughs though - instead of folding the corners in and turning over, the dough is folded in half, then half again, then turned over.)

pulling dough

Ciabatta is the most watery of all the doughs, which results in it having the largest and most irregular holes (caused by the water evaporating into steam as the bread bakes). This was why the workbench had to be intensely floured in order for the dough to be turned out - anything else and the dough would just stick to the bench. The shaping of ciabatta is actually more like the pulling of it, and the key is getting an even thickness throughout the pulled dough mass (the tendency is for the edges to be thinner than the middle).

portioning ciabatta

Once the dough mass is pulled to about 2 feet wide and 3.5 feet long, it gets to rest a little, and then we portion it out into 15 loaves.

ciabatta for proofing

Like the other doughs, the portions are transferred to couches and put in the proofer for about an hour. (Side note: somebody remarked that ciabatta dough looks like old lady skin. It is quite true.)

ciabatta loading

Then they're loaded into the oven. Again, given their relatively high moisture content, they're the most difficult to load - the transferring boards are floured to help.

ciabatta from the oven

Once baked, they are taken out with a hoe and put on racks to cool.

ciabatta mitt

One thing I forgot to mention is that much of the baked bread is sliced and served as an accompaniment to the cafeteria entrees. While slicing the ciabatta, I came to a piece at the end of a loaf that had almost no interior (due again to the water evaporating away). I decided it would make a good mitt/boxing glove.

bread basket

And here is an example of the assortment of breads we put out in the cafeteria!

June 5, 2011


Next up was baguette, another indirect fermentation dough with a starter called poolish, which was made the day before with 3 lbs of bread flour, 48 fl oz of water, and a big pinch of instant dry yeast (available at the supermarket).

baguette mise-en-place

Here you have the ingredients for a single batch, but we usually made a double batch: 7lbs of bread flour, 1 oz of instant dry yeast, 6lbs of poolish, 59.5 fl oz of water, and 3.25 oz of salt - enough to yield about twenty 14 oz baguettes. The flour and yeast were mixed together first (so the yeast wouldn't be shocked by the water or killed by the salt), then the others were added and mixed for 4 minutes on low speed and 2 minutes on medium speed.

Fermentation went for 40 minutes, fold, 30 minutes, fold, 20 minutes, done (abbreviated 40 30 20).

portioned baguette

Once done, the dough was portioned into 14 oz pieces and preshaped into oblongs - rolled and folded three times (kind of as you would a letter for the mail, except there there's only two folds) - and rested with the seam side down.

rolling baguettes

Once the last piece of dough was portioned, the first one was about ready to be shaped, so we just went in order, turning the dough pieces over, flattening it, doing the roll and fold thing again (this time with the last seam sealed), then using our hands flat, applying pressure, rolling from the middle outwards until the baguettes were as long as the wooden boards we proofed them on.

baguettes for proofing

The cloth used for prevent the doughs from sticking (to each other and the board) is known as a couche, which coincidentally means "diaper" in French. Anyway, the baguettes on boards went into the proofer for about an hour.

baguettes loaded

Then we loaded them onto the bread oven belt, transferring them first from the cloth to a floured board then from the floured board to the belt (so each baguette's shape would be retained). The baguettes were each slashed diagonally five times with the lame knife, then pushed into the pre-steamed oven.

[Note: these baguettes were slashed once across, differentiating them as the 10 oz Vietnamese banh mi baguettes. The reason why we made these in addition was because I had brought my mom a regular baguette I made and she said they didn't taste like the Vietnamese baguettes we ate growing up. So I asked Chef what the difference was, and he told me to make baguettes with lean dough (direct fermentation dough without a starter), to take out the slight sour taste. He also had me mix the dough on high for a long time to promote gluten development and incorporate lots of air, so the baguette crumb would be tight with lots of small holes, instead of more hollow with irregular holes. The lean dough recipe is basically 10 lbs bread flour, 1.3 oz instant dry yeast, 107 fl oz water, 3.5 oz salt - fermentation 30 30 15.]

baguettes from the oven

The baguettes baked until they were golden, almost brown (I checked the internal temperature just to make sure - 220F), then taken out to cool.

baguettes baked

And there you have it - baguettes!

June 4, 2011


After Plated Desserts and a brief stint as Student Chef, during which time I fetched supplies for everyone, washed ten thousand dishes (which we have to do on the pastry side because the dishwasher's is far away), prepped for Chef's side projects (like the cheese-shredding and horchata-making for the culinary school fundraiser, Wok on the Wild Side), hauled fifty-pound bags of flour and sugar, and generally dug myself into a hole of manual labor / pit of despair... it was time for the hardest station of all - BREAD STATION!

Bread station is intense because everything is time-sensitive, and even with the earlier start of 6am (as opposed to 6:30am for most the other stations) it's hard to fit everything in and get done on time.

On my first day I was assigned to sourdough, which is easier because the time frame is wider: more time between fermentations, and the dough is not baked into bread the day of but, instead, goes into the walk-in refrigerator to sit overnight and further develop the sour taste.

sourdough mise-en-place

The main ingredients are mostly simple: 6 lb 10.5 oz bread flour*, 8.25 oz whole wheat flour, 78 fl oz water, 3.25 oz salt. The difficult part is the 3 lbs of "starter", or the yeast culture, the part that's alive. While for some doughs you simply add yeast at the time that you're making it (direct fermentation), others, like sourdough, have the pre-fermented part (the starter, for indirect fermentation).

*Bread flour has 10-13% protein, whereas all-purpose flour has 8-12%

Making sourdough starter from scratch is different from making other starters (which are just a combination of flour and water and yeast that's allowed to sit overnight). Sourdough starter relies on the yeast that's naturally occurring in the air and on your skin, so the process of making it is rather lengthy, like a week or two. But once it's made, you can literally keep it forever, either in the fridge or even out (providing that you feed it with flour and water daily). Chef's starter has been around for 6 or 7 years, and every day we use 3 lbs of it and use the remaining 1 lb as the base for the starter the next day (adding to it 4 lbs of bread flour, 2 lbs of water, and 1 tbsp salt).

sourdough additions

The mixing process for the dough is very particular: everything except salt mixed for 4 minutes on low speed, then the dough rests for 15 minutes, then add salt and other add-ins (I chose dried cherries and pecans pieces) and mix for 1 minute on low speed and 2 minutes on medium speed.

garlic and cheese sourdough

(Although I chose dried cherries and pecans, savory add-ins were very common, like this roasted garlic and cheddar cheese one made on a different day.)

Once the dough is made, it is put into a oiled, lidded box and left to ferment for an hour. At the end of the hour the dough is "folded" - you take the corners and fold them in toward the middle, then turn the whole dough over - this redistributes all of the yeast/food/heat/ temperature. After another hour and another fold, the dough ferments for another 20 minutes and is ready for portioning by scale.

shaping sourdough

We divide the dough into two 3 lb pieces, three 2 lb pieces, and four or five 1 lb pieces. Then we pre-shape them into rounds. After they rest on the workbench awhile, we shape them into more perfect rounds by gathering our hands around them until our hands touch underneath them (turning the round and doing this another once or twice). Then the rounds are placed upside down in floured baskets and those are wrapped and placed in the walk-in.

loading sourdough

The next day, the sourdoughs are unwrapped and put in the proofer (around 89F and high humidity fridge-like box) for about an hour. Then we load the sourdough by upending the baskets on the bread oven belt (the sourdough coming out neatly due to the baskets having been floured).

sourdough venting

Each round is slashed with a cross (or X, depending on the angle) with a lame (pronounced la-may) knife for decoration and for venting/expansion purposes. Then the bread oven (at 450F) is pre-steamed for three seconds, the doughs are pushed in, and the oven is steamed for another five seconds.

sourdough from the oven

We watch the oven until the bread is done - usually you can tell by the color and/or the sound (a heavy hollow thump when you knock on it), but the other, surefire way to check is by thermometer - 220F and it can be taken out!