Beautiful Brie

It’s the end of American Cheese Month, but it’s the beginning of holiday season. Brie is a staple for holiday parties, serving it with bread dough, sweet and savory spreads and jellies and toasting it warm, and serving it with crackers, bread and wine. Yum. But would you ever think about making it yourself? I had to give it a try. The Splendid Table had a program on Cheesemaking with Janet Hurst author of the book Homemade Cheese: Recipes for 50 Cheeses from Artisan Cheesemakers. Janet Hurst mentioned that if you made brie, you would be a rock star. Brie is originally from the Seine-et-Marne region in France, pale in color with under a rind of white mold, and yes it is typically eaten. The ingredients are quite simple. When I dropped by The Truffle Cheese Shop to pick up the items to make the brie. I picked up the rennet and the mesophilic culture. The staff member mentioned that it was good to use non-homogenized cow’s milk.

  • 1 gallon pasteurized cow or goat milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon Mesophilic DVI MA culture
  • 1/8 teaspoon Penicillum candidum
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup nonchlorinated water
  • noniodized salt for brine

  The next trip was to locate the penicillium candidum and cheese molds. It took me awhile but I found The Brew Hut which is a brew-pub restaurant and beer making store. Penicillium (above picture on the right) is needed to form the mold on the brie .

Technique is the key to making brie. It took me awhile to gather supplies and figure out how I could best form a disc of brie.

Prepare the molds The classic format is an open-bottom round mold with holes in the sides.

With this type of mold, a mat is be required.  Line the cookie sheet or pie tin with plastic canvas (used for needlework) or regular cheese mats. I bought a square needlepoint mat and trimmed it to a circle to fit inside the aluminum pie plate. Place the mold on top of the mat.

I poked four holes in each corner of the aluminum pie plate. These holes allow the whey to escape.

Heat the milk to 86 degree F; add the culture and Penicillium candidum. Mix in well, stirring top to bottom. Add the rennet solution and stir again, top to bottom. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes or until a clean break is achieved.

After clean break is achieved, cut the curd into 1/2 inch pieces. Allow the curd to rest for 10 minutes.

Ladle the curds into the mold, keeping your hand on the mold, until the curd is “seated.” If you let go, chances are the curd will seep out, and you will lose the curd. Keeping your hand on the mold for a minute or two will prevent this.

When all the mold is full, place another piece of matting and then another aluminum pie plate (with four poked holes) on top of them.

After about 20 minutes, you will flip everything at once. To do this, make sure the pie tins are lined up, put your hands on opposite ends, gather your thoughts and quickly flip the whole thing. The cheese will settle into the molds. Flip the whole thing again two more times waiting 20 minutes between each flip.

As you can see the curds hit the floor with a flip 😦

After three flips, the curds in the molds should stay put for 12-18 hours compacting the curds. I covered them with a towel and set them in a safe shelving in my basement over night.

The next morning, I lifted up the cheese mold and let it air dry a few hours. When the cheese is firm, place it in a fully saturated brine for 20 minutes, then air dry again.

As Janet Hurst describes in her recipe, place the cheese in a 50-55 degree F environment and allow the mold to develop. You will see it starting in 3 to 5 days. Let the mold develop for 7 to 12 days until it entirely covers the cheese. Then wrap the cheese in wax or cheese paper and continue to age it for about 10 more days. It is ready to eat at any point, but will be well-developed at 21 days. Serve this cheese at room temperature.

Patty’s Points:

1. It did take me a while to figure out the equipment so that I could manipulate the flipping technique. The author mentioned cookie sheets but with the small size of my cheese molds the aluminum pie plates worked best. I sat it inside a second, bigger square aluminum pan to catch the whey draining through the pie plates.

2. Needlepoint mats worked very well. I couldn’t wrap my head around the size to choose so I made three trips to the craft store to get the right size.

3. The brine was non-specific so I looked it up on the internet.  One website recommended a 18-23% saltwater brine How to Make a Cheese Salt Brine:

Since I didn’t think I needed a large amount of brine I converted the website recipe to: one gallon of water to 7 oz salt. I used the non-iodized canning salt. It dissolved easily.

4. I forgot to place the cheese in wax paper after 12 days. I did keep it in a plastic container with a loosely capped top in a cooler in the basement. I placed an ice pack in the cooler and changed it daily. The brie aged for about 37 days.

5. I only used a half-gallon of milk because I only had one official brie mold. I used another cylinder to take the overflow of the curds and whey that didn’t fit in the whole mold.

The Fearless Cooking Club (TFCC) members tasted it and said it tasted like brie! Success! Now I am ready to try the second batch. It’ll be time to wow friends and family with the next generation of Brie. Rock Star!

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Oh Cheez

October is American Cheese Month. I visited the land of cheese, Wisconsin, earlier this month and got in the cheese mood.

You’ll enjoy this picture.

The Splendid Table had a program on Cheesemaking with Janet Hurst author of the book Homemade Cheese: Recipes for 50 Cheeses from Artisan Cheesemakers. She bragged at how easy Chèvre , French for goat cheese, was to make. It is one of my favorite cheeses and it is pretty versatile.  I’ve used it with chicken, appetizers, and salad dishes. I went to several stores on the search from Goat Milk and settled on powdered version. It was about $8 for a container that made about one gallon. It mixed easily and tasted good.

As per the recipe you need mesophilic and rennet to make the milk curdle into cheese. Mesophilic culture (far left in the picture) is used for most soft cheeses as well as any hard cheeses that are not heated over 102F.  ‘Meso’ means middle and these cultures are great for cheese making where the recipe requires ‘middle’ temperatures (between 68F and 102F). Rennet (middle in the picture) contains many enzymes, including a proteolytic enzyme that coagulates the milk, causing it to separate into solids (curds) and liquid (whey).

In the picture above, far right, is penicillium candidum, which I used in another cheese I’ll blog about later.

The mixture should sit at room temperature for 12-15 hours in a container covered by a cloth to form curds. The next day, pour the milk,water and curd mixture through a colander lined with cheesecloth.

The goat cheese mixture should hang over the sink or on the handle of a cabinet for another 12 hours so the curds stay in the cloth and the whey is filtered out.

Add in 1/2 to 1 tsp of non-iodinized salt to flavor. Serve plain or add your own seasonings like chives, minced onion or garlic. I was excited to add my lavender to a part of the batch.

The Fearless Cooking Club (TFCC) gathered to eat cheese. I used the homemade goat cheese for my favorite recipes: appetizers using goat cheese and dates and Ina Garten’s recipe for chicken, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

Cindy brought an assortment of cheesecakes

Char brought an oh so creamy, cheesy dish of chile rellenos.

We  were so ambitious, we thought about fondue, but ran out of time. Maybe next time when we think about having a raclette party

Patty’s points on Chèvre:

1. You can use whole milk or goat milk to make it depending on your taste.

2. It does not take very long to heat up the milk to 85 degrees F so watch the thermometer closely.

3. I found the powdered goat milk was more economical. Once I opened the container I put the rest of the powdered goat milk in the refrigerator.

4. The biggest issue was obtaining the rennet and the mesophilic culture. I was lucky that a cheese shop I pass everyday on the way to work had the items and were very helpful with my questions.

On my next post I’ll show two more cheeses I made including brie (if you can believe it). Until next time.

I took a macaron cooking class. See what I learned

4-H was my first leap in cooking. I learned how to make dishes from the project recipe books with lots of practicing. But, I have never taken a cooking class. I’ve seen plenty of food demonstrations (that will be a future blog post) but never taken an actual class from a chef.

Ever since the macaron adventure in February 2012 I’ve been obsessed with macarons.  I have looked at different recipes on blog posts and macaron cookbooks. jothetartqueen has a chocolate macaron recipe; The Seaside Baker, my BlogHer Food friend, makes tons of macarons and has several flavors posted on her  blog; and a friend went to France and brought back a package of French macarons and a macaron cookbook completely written in French.

I saw an opportunity to take a macaron cooking class. I thought I could learn from a professional chef and fine tune my technique. After all, I am self-taught, studying recipes and cooking by lots of trial and error. I wanted to see what an expert could teach me.

I was off to a rocky start as I rolled in 15 minutes late and as my online reservation wasn’t received. But, they had room in the class and I fell into an affable group of two women, Erin and Susan, who welcomed me to the class. Susan has a knitting blog, so we bonded quickly.

When I jumped in, Erin was sifting the almond flour with the powdered sugar. Tip #1 was to sift the dry ingredients twice for a finer flour and to throw out the bigger pieces. You could even put it in the food processor first before sifting. You can’t over sift the dry ingredients.  Tip #2 store your almond flour in the freezer so it doesn’t spoil.

Next was the egg whites. Tip #3 whip them until foamy on a medium speed before adding the sugar and when the sugar is incorporated whip at a high-speed until stiff peaks are achieved. Deborah our chef said the bowl did not have to be cold but the egg whites should be at room temperature and “aged” at least one day.

Tip #4 use a Silpat liner under the parchment paper to prevent burning as well as an extra cookie sheet underneath. Our first batch of blueberry macarons turned out great. Perfect in fact.

Then we learned how to make a berry cream filling. That was new for me because I have used pre-made fillings like curd, jams, Nutella, or caramel in the past. I volunteered with three other students to go to the stove and make the filling. It turned out to be a lovely curd-like filling using cream, marscapone cheese, berry filling, eggs and sugar.

So I took those techniques from class and fine tuned my macarons.

Problem #1: Too hot an oven. The recipe called for 375 degree oven. After the first batch I turned it down to 350-360 degree F. See the first batch on the left is a little too brown compared to the light green batch on the right.

Problem #2: Cracked macaron. I think this happened because I didn’t let this batch dry completely for 30 minutes, I might have popped them in at 25 minutes.

Problem #3: Powdered mango. The mango macaron recipe called for powdered mango. In our class we had powdered mango. I asked Chef Deborah how to make it and she said to food process dried mango. As you can see below that did not happen. I dried it in the oven twice and pulverized it 2-3 times in the food processor and I got maybe 2 pinches of mango powder into the mix. I added some water to it and used it to make my filling.

I made two fillings Lime Cream and Mango Cream. I can’t believe I used a stick of butter for each of these fillings with the curd flavoring. They tasted good. mmmm butter.

While I was in the class, I asked lots of questions and I think Chef Deborah liked that. There were four groups of students, 15 in all, and four helpers clearing away our dishes. If I was taking the class for the first time I would’ve been overwhelmed. Making macarons calls for many details. I knew my subject and kept up with a fast paced class. All in all, I am glad I took the class. I felt more confident making my macarons today.

Pièce de résistance (my fine accomplishment). Embrassez le cuisinier (kiss the cook)

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Oh Aioli!

The Fearless Cooking Club challenge for March are eggs. Eggs are so spring-like and so versatile. You can use just the yolk, the whites or both. Eggs can be whipped, sautéed, baked, scrambled, fried, poached, boiled, and emulsified and be put into almost any dish. And eggs are everywhere these days. The March edition of Cooking Light  focused on comfort foods had a fried egg on top of many recipes. And on Worst Cooks in America, Chef Anne Burrell had the contestants pattern a diner dish she made with French Fries a cheese sauce and a fried egg atop.

Last summer I was was watching From Spain with Love  on The Cooking Channel when I saw a chef make garlic mayonnaise with an immersion blender. The concoction was whipped together in less than a minute. I was flabbergasted that this blender could be used for more than pureeing soup in a pot. So I knew I had to have one.

I did get an immersion blender for Christmas and I love it. And because my inspiration was aioli I had to make it for this egg challenge. Aioli  (alhòli) comes from Provençal alh ‘garlic’ (< Latin allium) + òli ‘oil’ (< Latin oleum) = garlic oil.

As with my last challenge of making macarons which had four ingredients, the key was to master the technique for a fabulous end product; aioli is the same, all about technique.

I scoured cookbooks and websites on how to make aioli and oh my goodness there are a lot of versions. As a result I went through a lot of garlic, olive oil and eggs. I bet I made 5-6 batches of aioli.

I started with Julia Child Mastering the Art of French Cooking I and II. Julia had several aioli recipe versions which were all to be whipped by hand. She started with a piece of stale bread soaked in milk and combined the garlic and salt with a mortar and pestle. She then added the eggs and hand whipped all the while slowly drizzing in 1 -1 1/2 cups of olive oil.

Then I moved onto the internet and watched videos of hand whipping and immersion blender techniques of making aioli. I took the techniques from each chef and incorporated them into what would work for me. Finally, I found the recipe that tasted the best and would allow me to use my immersion blender.  The Wishful Chef Homemade Garlic Mayonnaise recipe was perfect and the right combination for me.

Patty’s Points on Technique:

1. Eggs. Okay yes mayonnaise uses raw egg yolks at room temperature. If you are squeamish make sure you: a) buy fresh eggs, b) wash the exterior shell, and c) coddle the egg. To coddle an egg for this recipe you place the whole egg in shell into a pot of boiling water for one minute. Remove the egg, crack  and separate the yolk from the partially cooked white.

2. Oil. Most of the recipes I read said not to use extra virgin olive oil but you use regular olive oil. Many recipes also advised to use two kinds of oil, like olive oil with cannola or grape seed oil to temper the strong taste of olive oil.

3. Garlic. The garlic clove must be minced and mashed into a past with the salt to extract the garlic oils. I saw techniques using a good chopping knife or a mortar and pestle. I used the knife method and it took awhile to mash it into a paste. I will probably invest in a mortar and pestle because it probably would’ve been easier.

4. Temperature. All the ingredients must be at room temperature or slightly warmed for the emulsion of liquid to mayonnaise to occur.

5. Taste. The unfortunate part of making mayonnaise is that you really can’t tell what it tastes like until it is completed. My second batch had great texture, but it tasted bad so I threw it out. I made a cilantro aioli (in the picture above) that called for 1/4 cup of lime juice. That much lime juice overpowered the recipe and gave it a harsh taste. I couldn’t taste the garlic, oil or cilantro.

6. Serving. This was probably my biggest challenge. I made a condiment and what do I serve it with? Below is a picture of my first batch which tasted good but was really runny. I served it with asparagus and panko crusted shrimp. Julia Child served aioli by placing it into a Garlic Soup or a Fish Stew. The Fish Stew was very good, the Garlic Soup was a little too thin of a broth for my tastes. I’ve also seen recipes that put it on sandwiches, just like any old mayonnaise, but more flavorful.

Today I may serve my aioli with a vegetable or sweet potato chips as in the picture above or with some fresh asparagus and just use it as a dip.

Fearless but exhausted over making mayonnaise.

My next post will be the pictures of the Fearless Cookers dishes at the Eggs-travaganza Dinner.

I can’t believe I made macarons

I first read about the macaron in the December 12, 2011 edition of Time Magazine. The macaron was being sold at a NYC French bakery with lines around the block. It claimed that it was going to overtake cupcakes in popularity. Since that article, I have read and watched numerous macaron blog posts and videos all over the internet.

There are many interesting takes on the history of macarons. The Serious Eats introduction to and history of macaroons is an interesting take on this 500-year-old delicacy and confectionary treat. They are extremely popular in France but originated in Italy.

So in my fearless quest to make to macarons I had to do my research. In Denver D Bar Desserts is one of a few bakeries that make macarons. So I checked it out. Petite, tasty little treats that would be good with a cup of tea or a glass of champagne.

The most comprehensive blog on macarons I found was Food Nouveau. She had step-by-step directions, along with a several of her own posts on trouble-shooting tips.  Four ingredients of almond flour (meal), powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and egg whites. How hard could it be? Six batches later culminated with the Fearless Cooking Club (FCC) members meeting to celebrate all things macaron and Valentines Day.

Macaron ingredients

210 g powdered sugar

125 g almond meal/flour

3 large egg whites

30 g granulated sugar

So with so few of ingredients I learned that this adventure was all about cooking techniques. It’s like playing a sport, you have to have the basic techniques.

Technique #1 -Prepping the dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients are measured in grams, which are important to know when preparing. I actually pre-measured the almond flour and sugars in advance and bagged them to be ready for the next batch to trial.

The powdered sugar and almond flour must be placed in a food processor to bring the ingredients together. Following that the combined ingredients are then sifted to a fine state of powder.

Technique #2 – All about the egg whites

Egg whites must be separated from their shell partner, the yolk, and placed in a sealed container, refrigerated 1-5 days in advance of using them. Before whipping them, they must be brought to room temperature for a couple of hours.  Then place your egg whites in a very cold steel bowl and whip them until frothy. Add the granulated sugar in three stages to the egg whites until they are stiff peaks, which takes about 3-4 minutes. Some recipes I saw indicated that the egg whites should also be measured in grams. I didn’t choose to get that technical, but it is recommended that you use large eggs.

Technique #3 – Folding in the ingredients

If you want pastel-pretty macarons, then this is the time to do it. Many sites say to use only powdered food coloring, which I didn’t have access to, so I used Wilton gel food coloring. I folding in the food coloring so as to not deflate the whites.

Once combined, I then added very small amounts of the almond-powder sugar mixture at a time. I accomplished this in 5-6 portions, again, folding the ingredients until each portion is combined.

Technique #4 – Piping out the macarons

All the mixture went into a piping bag with a 1/2 inch wide tip to pipe out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Food Nouveau had downloadable templates to place under my parchment paper so I had a guideline for uniformity. That was pretty awesome. Make sure to slide out the template before baking!

Pick up and drop or bang the cookie sheet to get out the air bubbles and let them rest for 20 minutes.

Technique #5 – Baking

Set the oven at 275-300 degrees. This is where practice will tell you the right temperature. Place the cookie sheet into the oven on top of another cookie sheet so as not to burn them.  Bake them for 14-18 minutes, again another point of practicing. I turned my cookie sheet half-way through the baking time for uniformity. I’ll have to read more on macarons whether that is a good idea or not.

So that was the technique, but what did I really think once it was all over and done with? I made six batches of macarons this week. A labor of learning it was.

  • Two of the six batches were tossed in the trash; completely wrong texture.
  • The circumference of the cookie probably determines the adjustment of the time and temperature in the oven.
  • Sifting was tough. I had a very fine sifter which was great for consistency but it took a good 30 minutes to sift the entire mixture.
  • I made chocolate, lemon-yellow and the pink macarons. We had a variety of fillings from Nutella, cherry jam, and lemon curd. But the favorite was the one Sarah brought which was salted carmel!

Now that I have officially made macarons I have an appreciation for pastry chefs. Attention to detail is the key. They were good but I need more practice and a few tips to fully perfect them. But I really think going to France and appreciating them first hand would be a better place to start.

Cookie Exchange Countdown: Sarah Bernhardt Cookies

The term “Diva” was most likely first attributed to Sarah Bernhardt, a dramatic and tragic French actress who was famous in the early part of the 20th century.

Andre bakes his way through Martha Stewart’s Cookie book  has an excellent history of the Sarah Bernhardt cookie. Apparently while Sarah was touring in Amsterdam, she tasted this cookie and the bakeshop owner named it after her. It was also a secret code during WWII as the cookies looked like radio dials. If someone asked for the cookie in a bake shop they identified themselves with the resistance.

The cookie exchange is five days away!! I have two more cookies to try before deciding which one to take. Like Sarah herself these cookies are divine but take some some finesse to perfect. The flavor combination of almond paste with chocolate makes me swoon. I had to try it at least once.

I stayed with the Martha Stewart Holiday cookie recipe theme. There are three parts: the cookie, the filling and the coating.

The cookie: I used a piping bag to form the cookies on the cookie sheet to bake. After they cooled I popped them into a plastic bag and put them in the freezer.

The filling: The filling has to be refrigerated for several hours or overnight. I used a piping bag to put the filling atop the cookies. Then they are popped back into the freezer to stay firm before applying the coating.

The coating: I balanced the cookie with filling atop a serving fork and poured the coating atop using a ladle. I then put them on a rack where the coating could drip off the cookie to a wax paper sheet below.

Patty’s Points:

1) Lots of steps that takes time and planning and a freezer to accommodate.

2)  Oh my gosh!! Messy!!! The coating was disastrous. I think it would have been better to place the cookies on a rack with wax paper below so that  I wouldn’t have to handle the cookies at all during the pouring of the coating.

3) Yummy! As I anticipated, the combination of almond and chocolate is melt-in-your-mouth wonderful.

4) I wrapped the cookies individually and placed back in the freezer to keep formed. I am afraid that once they come out of the freezer, they will melt easily.

As Sarah herself said, “He who is incapable of feeling strong passions, of being shaken by anger, of living in every sense of the word, will never be a good actor . . .”

Oh Sarah, you are Divine!

One more cookie to go!