XXX rated sticky buns

The past 5 days have been a week long practical on viennoiserie.  It has been a crazy combination of new challenges, creativity and stress which culminated in the past 2 days of baking like mad men.  Monday and Tuesday were individual practical days, where each of us were responsible for mixing and baking our own doughs.  This sounds easy enough, but when you don't have team members to bounce ideas off of as far as the dough strength, fermentation time, etc... it presents more of a challenge than expected.  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were our first tastes at creating a production schedule and finding creative ideas to make things happen within certain time lines and circumstantial limitations such as storage and oven space.

At times, tensions ran high. Especially near the end of the week....especially today.  But somehow, all of us have come out on the other side that much wiser and confident in our abilities to create some seriously kick ass brioche, croissants, coffee cakes, and danishes.  Can I get a witness?!

The Jenna Jameson of our group production was unveiled today as the best damned sticky bun I have ever tasted.  These things could create an instant party in your pants.  Seriously, one bite of these and you'd better not be wearing a speedo while lounging poolside lest you be caught, sheepishly enjoying it's tender, nutty, caramely, slutty goodness.  With the basics down and traditional supplies running low, we flipped our artisan switches and ran a bit wild.  We created 2 sets of absolutely amazing flavor combinations.  Sticky roll #1 - Cinnamon sugar, golden raisins, currants, pecans and toasted coconut.  Sticky roll #2 - Brown sugar, stollen spice, currants and pecans.  The stollen spice is used in the baby Jesus bread (not to be confused with the Ol' Dirty Bastard bread.  Anyone who catches the Wu-Tang reference here instantly gets brownie points).  This combination of spices is the absolute square root of Christmas and every single happy moment of waking life.  Sticky roll #2 was hands-down the favorite amongst the connoisseurs in the class.

Evidence of these escapades, you say?  You got it.

Danishes with pastry cream, blackberries and blueberries.  Also proof that I have found and fallen in love with the macro mode on my camera.  Food photography is my next calling.

Full pocket danishes garnished with pearl sugar.  I love how this particular shape is elegant in it's own right, showcasing the lamination, ie: the layers of dough and butter.

Brioche tart.  Wish I could take credit for this bad boy, but it was the creation of another classmate, Jesse.  The struesel border is out of sight!

Rae: "So, I have this problem.  What do you do with leftover pumpkin brioche loaves?"

David: "Oh, don't you know?  Slice it up, toast it, soak it in cinnamon rum syrup, top it with toasted pumpkin seed cream and bake it again.  Duh."

December 11, 2009, the pumpkin brioche bostock was born.

The tray of Sticky Bun #2 which made history.  I have no doubt these will be mentioned in cookbooks 20 years from now, right along with our collective genius.

As A Tribe Called Quest once said, "Oh my God, Oh my God!"  A healthy scoop of butter, brown sugar and pecans nesteled in the bottom of each tray melts and oozes into a fantastic chewy, caramel coating for every single bun.

There's no way in hell you can only eat one quarter of this little slice of heaven.  God frowns upon those who even try.

Sticky bun porn.
Camera macro mode geekiness.
Party in your pants.

Call it what you will.

Building blocks

By the time I swing back into Salt Lake City for the Christmas holiday, I'll have completed half of my bread and pastry training.  The first 2 months were breads.  So many breads, I never realized the subtleties between them until recently.  Month 3 has consisted of Viennoiserie, which is the magical land where breads and pastries meet.  Unicorns graze in the mountains, wine flows freely and leprechauns are found at the end of every rainbow.  It's a glutenous, sugary, buttery tryst, much like a late summer romance.  This fleeting moment with croissants, brioche and other enriched doughs will end next week, rounding out my knowledge of goodies created with flour and yeast.

I must say, I've been consistently impressed at the ease of information flow into my little foodie brain.  I'm certainly not saying that all things come easily to me, but I've always been about cooking and baking.  I recall many a night geeking out on the Food Network.  Before moving to San Francisco, I found a cookbook my dad had given to me when I was 12.  I recall reading the book cover to cover repeatedly and executing many of the recipes.  The book in question is The Joy Of Cookies.  The minute I found it in my book case as I packed all of my belongings into brown cardboard cubes, it solidified my decision.  Hell-to-the-yes! I'm having a damn good time baking and learning.  It's like I've found my own slice of foodie heaven.

Everything we learned in the breads section was a building block for the next step.  Techniques we have learned during the first few weeks of Viennoiserie are now fusing together rather seamelessly as we have moved onto danishes and even laminated brioche.  I'll be honest that in the past, I had a rather poor opinion of croissants and danishes.  I had the misconception that they were, on the whole, dry and tasteless.  Turns out I had been basing my opinions on what amounts to poorly created products.  The croissants and danishes we've been making are made with quality ingredients, skimping on whole milk or european butter is not an option.  The first bite I took of our croissants in class, I wanted to look to the heavens and shout hallelujiah!  Light, flaky, moist, sponge-like and meaty.  These are truly little pillows of heaven.

I have absolutely loved what we've done so far, but the excitement level is reaching a new high for me as we delve into fruits, creams and fillings.  With danishes, we have been using these elements as part of the construction of danishes, coffee cakes and sweet rolls.

Pics of this past week...

Danish squares with pastry cream and blueberries.

 Danish full and half pockets with pastry cream and blueberries.
 Danish twists with cinnamon apple filling and pecans.

 Danish twists with frangipane and kirsch cherries.

 This giant box of pastries represents about 1/4th or 1/5th of what we each make daily.  Some students leave them in the donation area of the walk in, others take tons of boxes home and to coworkers.  I've been boycotting bringing anything home unless someone specifically requests it.  Removing temptation is the first step!

 Today's white board, outlining how the day will flow and just what we will be doing.

 I've said this about 3 times about previous items, but this is my latest favorite item we've made yet.  I am a SUCKER  for lemon goodies.  Here, we have a danish with lemon filling and raspberries.  OH. MY. GOD.  Yeah, this is the exact reason I don't bring any of these little bastards home.

 Danish coffee cake.  Filled with raisins and pecans.

 Stuffed danish, rolled in style of a croissant.  This one was filled with almond cream and buttery goodness.  This particular dough was laminated brioche, which is tricky to work with.  One must juggle a softer, more delicate dough along with blocks of butter on the sheeter.  The trick is to move quickly and deliberately to prevent the dough from warming up, becoming melty, hard to work with and ultimately backfiring by disintegrating the layers of butter and dough.  I'm rather pleased with my lamination.  Check her out, ain't she a beaut?

 Herringbone danish.  A sheet of dough filled with frangipane, topped with kirsch cherries, pine nuts and almonds.  The dough is cut into 'fingers', which are crossed over each other to create a herringbone design.

 Today's crowning glory - bienenstich.  Sweet, enriched dough pressed into a sheet pan, then topped with piping hot almond-honey-caramel and baked.  As we watched this one bake, the cakes were literally raining almonds in the convection oven.  Once cooled, we split this down the middle and filled it with diplomat cream, a mixture of 1/2 pastry cream and 1/2 whipped cream.  Butter, caramel-y, almond-y, Goddamned delicious!  My classmate Susan, author of the Wild Yeast blog, did a little research into the history of this fantastic concoction.  Check this out, I found it rather interesting. 

Croissants, croissants, and more croissants,

This past week has been nice and lazy and full of super fattening food and drink.  What better time to post more pics of food!

In keeping with my theme of laziness and procrastination, I'll keep the verbose geek outs for another day and post some pics of what we had been working on before the Thanksgiving break.

Clockwise starting at front center: Pumpkin brioche tarts, pumpkin brioche, hazelnut coffee cake, apricot brioche tart with streusel topping, pannetone.

Hazelnut brioche coffee cake up close and personal.

The proper technique to apply egg wash.

Stollen, also known as 'little baby Jesus bread'.  This traditional German sweet bread is meant to mimick baby Jesus swathed in blankets.  Amazingly tasty, especially after brushing with melted butter and dredging in more sugar.  Good God.

My first attempt at a croissant.  My 'arms' were too long and flappy and my 'shoulders' were a bit plentiful for my tastes.

Inspecting my laminating technique.  Lamination is the process of layering butter and dough to create what would be familiar to the masses as a lovely, flaky croissant or danish.

Chocolate croissants.  We stuffed croissants with just about everything we could think of including the bizarre combination of chocolate and ham (which went over like a lead balloon).

Morning buns.

Pistachio, apricot and croissant coffee cakes.  Man, this was AMAZING after coming home after a few drinks.

At last, happy with my croissant shaping!!!

So much butter, it would make Paula Deen blush


This week has been our first venture into enriched doughs.  Throughout most of the breads section, we had been working with lean doughs, or doughs with no fats or sugars added.  The mixes we've been working with this week are yeasted doughs which contain at the very least, eggs, butter and sugar.  They can also contain milk, honey, milk solids and just about any inclusion you can think of (ie: dried fruit, nuts, etc...)  You would know such doughs as brioche.  That evil, golden and fluffy bread of the gods.  Heaven forbid you get crazy and make french toast or bread pudding with it.  Oh my, we're venturing into Paula Deen territory, I must warn you.

Brioche is mixed like lean doughs, but instead of water, eggs are used as the hydration.  The butter and sugar are added after gluten development has occured and added slowly to avoid a pasty, sticky mess.  Yes, I'm going to answer the obvious question by saying that I surely DID mess up one of my first mixes by adding the sugar a bit too fast.  Instead of a tight ball of dough whirling around in the mixer, you get a sticky, shiny, sludge-y paste settling into the mixing bowl like melting crystallized honey.  Think of the creepy black blob alien who's only goal was to kill the entire teleported crew of Star Trek The Next Generation, but in a shiny, silver bowl.  The only way to redeem such a situation is to mix the hell out of the dough.  It takes about twice as long to 'bring the dough back' then it would if you had just mixed it properly to begin with.  Go team awesome!  I'll report that we recovered nicely and our dough tasted just peachy keen.

Once you've passed the ever-tricky sugar and butter line, the dough transforms from a stiff ball to a light, airy and rather pleasant texture.  It reminded me and my teammates of the containers of slime you could buy in the quarter machines in front of the supermarket as a kid.  The main difference here, is you can actually eat the final product and there's no real temptation to throw it at the wall to watch it slide/walk down in a fit of boredom.  Moving on...

Today, we mixed up the dough for Pain d'Oro, an Italian Christmas bread with an insane amount of butter, 5 total doughs which must be mixed in scheduled succession and a whole lotta love.  Our instructor mixed up the first dough at 5:00 AM, the final dough we mixed as a class and it is currently retarding overnight and will be ready to bake off tomorrow in a tall, star shaped pan.  Other holiday breads which we will bake tomorrow will be pannetone and stollen.

As always, some lovely pics of my adventures in bread and pastry land.  Enjoy!

Top to bottom: pain au lait, brioche sucre (coated in apricot glaze and pearl sugar), brioche a tete (no making fun of my shaping now...).

Cinnamon buns.  Can I get a halleluhiah!?

Savory Kugelhopf.  Brioche dough with swiss cheese, bacon, walnuts and parsley.  Hands down, the class favorite of the day.

Sticky buns.  This is the closest thing I've found to herion in a baked good.  So insanely delicious!

Bostock.  Brioche sliced and toasted, then dipped in rum syrup, topped with frangipane (almond cream and pastry cream) and sliced almonds and toasted AGAIN.  Don't forget to sprinkle with sugar.

Strawberry brioche.  Brioche dough sprinkled with cubes of almond paste (sort of like marzipan) and dried strawberries.  Topped with chocolate glaze, almonds and pearl sugar.  I just had this with a bit of vanilla ice cream.  I already feel type II diabetes setting in.

Can you say butter?

Pain d'Oro dough.  The beautiful, golden color is what the brioche dough mixer aspires to create.

Goodbye Breads, Hello Brioche!


This past Friday was bittersweet.  It marked the end of our 8 week long journey through the artisan breads world as well as 8 weeks working and learning in close proximity with each other.  As much as some of us may want to contest it, our small class of 14 students has become a bit of a family.  Our first day, Michel Suas, founder of the San Francisco Baking Institute, advised that we'd become close like a family.  For love or hate, that's what we'd be.  I have to say that now, I understand just what this meant.  I feel very lucky to share my weekday mornings and afternoons with this hodgepodge of students, home bakers and career changers.  The dynamics between each of us, the instructors and the institute itself are something very special.  Along with parting ways with artisan breads, we also part ways with our instructor, Frank.  Incredibly knowledgeable, patient and kind-hearted, Frank is someone we have all grown to love and respect.  We will see him again here and there for wedding cakes and plated desserts, but for now, this rowdy bunch of aspiring  bakers and pastry chefs have moved into the pastry lab and into another realm of learning.

Friday was a flat breads free for all, as we were lucky enough to take turns baking traditional flat breads in the wood fired oven.  Nothing like baking some lavash, nann and pita in an 800 degree oven to make you break a sweat!  Caliente!

Some photographic evidence of our historical Friday:

'Zombie' David and class by the wood fired oven.

Lavash crackers.  We had freshly prepared hummus and baba ghanoush to go with for an excellent mid-morning snack.

An action shot of the assembly line of lavash makers and bakers.

Linh working her magic with the peel.

Jesse happy as a clam as the oven master.

Accoutrement for wine Friday.

Frank at the oven.

Our flat breads on display.

 Sista Rae Rae gettin' some work done.

So, it's goodbye breads and hello to brioche.  We've been working on mixing and shaping brioche this week and I plan to present some pics of these butter-laden treats soon.  In the meantime, I'll do my best to resist those evil little bastards and pass them on to whoever will take them from my sight. 


Bakers or Mad Scientists?

The current breads section of the professional Baking and Pastry program is coming to a close at the end of next week.  If you've been keeping up (and shame on you if you fess up to the contrary), you know that it's been a German bread bonanza.  Rye, rye and more rye until the loaves are so dense, one could conceivably build a house out of the heavy as concrete rectangular masses.

We started with rye breads by dipping our toes in those German waters with just a smidge of rye flour in the mixes.  Just enough to carry the rye flavor through, but not enough to affect the crumb.  As we have progressed, we have very clearly seen the different characteristics that rye flour will bring to the dough as it's percentage of the flour weight increases.  The more rye, the more alien-like the dough becomes.  High percentage and 100% rye doughs are, to be honest, a nasty, pasty mess.  If your patience level allows you to actually work with the dough without losing your cool and flinging the mortar-like goo onto the window in a fit of rage, you actually end up with some seriously tasty treats.  As always, some of the breads really blew my skirt up, others were like a lead balloon.  Different strokes for different folks.

Smack dab in the middle of rye land or BFR if you get the reference, last Friday began like any other day. Getting up at 5:15 AM, heading straight for the coffee maker and getting ready for school.  At 6:45 AM, I walked through the doors to see something that made the angels sing - Frank scaling out 12.5 kilos of beer for our beer bread.  I could not pass this photo opportunity up.


Yes, beer is great, beer is fun, rah, rah, rah.  However, we discovered that the beer of Superbowl fans and bread do not a compatible couple make.  Ah well, we tried.  At least the loaves looked like footballs.

Top photo from front to back and bottom photo from right to left (because I was clearly raised in some other country and/or am dyslexic): oat rye, beer bread, heidebrot and mountain bread.  The oat rye was to say the least - awesome.  The beer bread, not so much.  To quote our instructor, Frank "lesson learned, don't use MGD".  The Heidebrot was so good, it was served along with lunch this day.  So many breads in so little time, I don't know what the mountain bread even tasted like.  It must not have been too memorable or perhaps I chose to black this out of my memory for some particular reason.

Volkornbrot. Tasty rye bread or a brick coated in bran?  You decide.

We have one more super duper MC party pooper rye bread to bake, or at least taste.  It's the pinnacle of dense, German rye breads which is sludge in a pan traditionally baked for 24 hours or more.  What the hell is this insane creation?  Pumpernickel.  Frank baked this up last night and today it was still in need of some red-hot oven time, so back in the belly of the beast it went.  Tawdry updates in pumpernickel adventures to come.

The tail end of the breads section is essentially a catch-all for the breads that just didn't fit with what we have been working on up until now.  To everyone's delight, we got to bake some ridiculously good breads and learn some new shaping skills.  I'm talking about chocolate bread, challah, bagels and pretzels, baby.  Oh yeah.  The bagels, we boiled before baking and these turned out just like the Brackman Brother's bagels I remember when the foodie fad of the moment in the 90's were bagelries.  I remember walking past the kitchen on the way to order at the registers, watching the bakers dump trays and trays of bagels into giant vats of boiling water, not quite understanding what was going on in the bagel process.  The boilers we used were large kitchen pans atop burners, but I'll admit I had a bit of a nostalgic moment while dunking the bread rings into the water and dredging them in sesame and poppy seeds.

Pretzel making made me feel like a certified bad-ass and mad scientist combined into one.  We learned how to roll out the perfect strip of dough and toss it into the air to create that pretzel-rific shape.  When it came time to bake, we dipped the pretzels in a caustic solution of lye and water (yep, this is traditional and safe once it bakes, just don't go dipping your head into the lye water bobbing for apples) before dredging with salt and baking up some of the best goddamn pretzels I have ever tasted.  Yes, that is a fact. This semi-dangerous process required us to wear two layers of latex gloves and goggles.  We were nefarious bakers for a total of 10 minutes.  Once the goggles came off, we were our normal selves once again.

A very studious class rolling out pretzel pre shapes.

My girl Linh doing her best Victor Frankenstein at the communal pretzel bath station as Frank oversees.

We made so many breads this day, it is still hard to comprehend.  I brought home 3 bags of bread and gave away two.  The third, I am currently avoiding as it sits on my kitchen counter calling to me with it's tasty treats hidden just from view.

Smitten with my creations.

Bagels! Bagels! Bagels!  Done proper.

Clockwise left to right: bagels, finnish rye, pretzels, challah, chocolate bread.

As I understand it, next week is a review and a chance for us to go buck wild in the bakery making more random goodies before we step out of the bread arena and into Vennoiserie.  Clif notes soon to follow.