Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sugar All Around

Today was the first completely new lesson of this round. The semester was two classes shorter last time, and we dedicated two classes to Thanksgiving. While one could argue this lesson deviates from our mission to teach how to cook with nutrition in mind, one also must be a realist -- we eat sweets, even if our bodies don't need them to live, because they are delicious. Better to eat sweets that are made by your own hand than by the industrial complex.

Cheesecakes take a long time to bake -- after baking off and cooling the crusts, the filling must go into a hot 475 degree oven for 10 minutes before being turned down to 200 degrees for two hours, then sitting in the turned off oven for another hour. Why? It's all about getting all the eggs in the recipe setting without getting tough, to get that unbelievably silky cheesecake texture, rather than bits of cheese sitting in little granules of scrambled eggs...


Yield: 3 Cakes, 48 servings
Butter, melted 2 cup
Graham cracker crumbs 4 cups
Sugar ¼ cup

Cream cheese, softened 5 lbs
Sugar 3 ½ cup
AP Flour ¼ cup
Eggs 10 each
Egg yolks 4 each
Vanilla 2 tbsp
Orange zest ½ each
Lemon zest 1 each
Heavy cream ½ cup
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 3 10” spring form pans, line with parchment. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Make the crust: Combine butter, graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Spread to the edges of the pan. Prick all over with a fork, bake 15 minutes. Allow to cool.
  3. Increase over to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, flour, whole eggs, egg yolk, zests and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Add cream and mix only enough to blend.
  4. Place boiling water in a pan that will fit on the bottom of oven. Pour filling over crust and bake for 10 minutes at 475 degrees. Reduce temperature to 200 degrees and continue to bake for 2 hour. Turn off oven and leave cake in for another hour. When done, it may look a little jiggly in the center.
  5. Chill overnight.
So when the kids arrived a little after 3, instead of waiting until 3:15 to lecture, I grabbed them as they came in and started them on the cheesecake. The first tow just did the crusts, greasing pans, processing cookies, melting butter, cutting parchment and getting it into the oven. I had two teams of two each make a half batch of cheesecake batter in the mixers. It's amazing that even though the recipe is basically throw everything in the mixer EXCEPT the cream, I had to catch one of the teams about to throw the cream in before turning the thing on. During this lesson, when asked simple questions, a lot of the time I said, "The answer is in the recipe, you just need to read the recipe before touching anything."

While the crusts baked, we quickly cleaned then sat for a lecture. And being that today was about sweets, the lecture was primarily...a chocolate tasting!

To paraphrase Tropic Thunder, we were in danger of going "full retard", but I stopped myself from serving 100% baking chocolate, which is bitter and painful to eat straight. I put out a spread from 86% down to white chocolate, and two milk chocolates -- a Giradeli and a Hershey's.

Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, the seed of the fruit of the cacao tree. It must be 'conched', or processed by grinding into a paste called "chocolate liquor". This is pure chocolate, which can be processed into bars. 100% chocolate liquor is baking chocolate, and as you add sugar, it becomes dark chocolate. A 65% chocolate content means that the bar is about 35% sugar. Chocolate liquor is basically made up of two things, the cocoa which can be processed out into a dry cocoa powder (good for drinks, deepening the flavor of baked goods) and cocoa butter, the fat of the liquor. White chocolate is not actually chocolate at all, as all the cocoa (the flavor of the chocolate) is all removed -- it's just cocoa butter and sugar.

The kids hated the darkest chocolates, too bitter and it made them screw up their faces. The darkest most seemed to like was the 50%. The two milk chocolates were a revelation for them -- they were all used to the Hershey's style of slightly sour-milk flavored chocolate, but when they tasted the other high quality milk chocolate, I really got them talking about why it was better. It melted smoother in the mouth, it was less sweet and more chocolaty in a mellow way. One put it, "It just tastes more elegant!"

As they gobbled the rest of the not-too-dark chocolate, I spoke to the importance and reasoning behind creaming butter and sugar, when a recipe calls for the butter and sugar to be put into a mixer and paddled until it's, well, creamy. Creaming allows the fat of the butter to envelope every grain f sugar, while taking in millions of tiny air bubbles that will end up in the final product. When all these millions of air bubbles get into the oven, the air expands and makes everything more light n' fluffy.

To take in air, the butter most be soft at room temp, not hard and not melted. Sugar firms it up, by just beating the butter alone you'd get very very delicate bubbles that would dissipate with the addition of other ingredients. Using vegetable shortening will get you a lighter, fluffier product because unlike butter, it's 100% fat, but then you won't get the great flavor of butter.

From here I had two students do the donuts and glaze, and two teams of two do the chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were the standard Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe, and yet the two batches came out quite different...


Yield: about 16-24 cookies
AP Flour 2 ½ cups
Baking Soda 1 tsp
Salt 1 tsp
Butter, softened 1 cup
White sugar ¾ cup
Brown sugar ¾ cup (firmly packed)
Eggs, room temp 2 each
Vanilla extract 1 tsp
Chocolate chips 12 oz
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
  3. In a mixer, beat butter, white sugar and brown sugar until creamy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla.
  5. Turn off mixer. Gently beat in flour mixture and chocolate chips with a spatially until just combined.
  6. Spoon rounded tablespoons of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet, a few inches apart. Bake 9-11 minutes until golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
After I blathered in my lecture about why we cream, why creaming is important, etc etc, one of the two teams added an egg to the creaming butter and sugar. To the left of the pictures are light, cookie-looking cookies. To the right are smooth rock-like orbs, much tougher due to the egg-proteins developed into long strands.

I had never made donuts before, and teaching students how to make them is not the ideal situation to learn, but hey, whataya gonna do -- I don't typically bring a few gallons of hot lard to scalding temps in my kitchen to make many dozen donuts...


Yield: 24
AP Flour 4 cups
Sugar 1 cup
Salt 2 tsp
Baking Powder 2 tbsp
Cinnamon 1 tbsp
Nutmeg ½ tsp
Butter, melted ¼ cup
Milk 1 cup
Eggs, beaten 2 each
Oil for frying
Sugar enough for dredging
Cinnamon enough for dredging
Vanilla glaze enough for dipping
  1. Heat oil in appropriate vessel to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix in butter until crumbly. Stir in milk and egg until smooth.
  3. Knead lightly, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll or pat to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with a doughnut cutter, or use two round biscuit cutters of different sizes.
  4. Carefully drop doughnuts into hot oil, a few at a time. Do not overcrowd pan or oil may overflow. Fry, turning once, for 3 minutes or until golden. Drain on paper towels.


Yield: about 2 cups
Powdered sugar 1 ½cups
Milk 2 ½ tbsp
Salt ¼ tsp
Vanilla extract ½ tsp
Butter 1 tsp
  1. Melt butter then add rest of ingredients. Mix until creamy
A gallon of peanut oil met with a few pounds of solid beef lard and with a thermometer, got it up to about 400 degrees (the donuts would bring the temp down to 375). The dough of the donuts were pretty straightforward to make, and rolling and cutting was simple. The frying, on the other hand, was a bit tricky.

The quarter inch rounds pretty much expand into donut-shape pretty quickly, then you go for the color you need. We did about 3 minutes on each side, and it was clearly over-cooked -- very crunchy, almost no chew in the middle. The finesse of this procedure is to make the donuts the right size consistently (we were using a combination of round cookie cutters, and getting all sorts of shapes) and a consistent heat of oil.

The sugar was fine, but we didn't make enough glaze, which was the most popular. By the time we sat down to eat cookies and donuts with milk (the cheesecakes were cooling, will have to be for next week), the kids were coming down from the chocolate high and weren't that hungry, he he he.

Next week, another new lesson -- explorations in Asian cuisine.

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