NAIT: Baking Program

I can say without a doubt, enrolling in the Nait baking program was the best decision I have ever made.  I have the passion for baking, the motivation to make things happen, I just needed the professional experience to take me to the top. I still have a long way to go, but my teachers and fellow students have taught me so much and have given me a new appreciation for baking.

My first time going down the stairs to the bakery, I was blown away with what I saw.  Large stainless steel benches with wooden tops, giant mixers accompanying each one. The massive rotating tray oven, proofer and countless ingredients bins.  As we were ushered into the back of the bakery, a beautiful display of delectable pastries awaited us.

I ate…a lot!

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As the weeks went by I learned, I baked, I cam home everyday with a bag of goodies.  We started out making simple things, our first cake was a chiffon cake with continental buttercream, lemon curd and a chewy coconut wafer. I’ve come a long way since that first day!  With only two weeks left of classes, my memories are bitter-sweet. Excited to start a new chapter, a little sad my time in the Nait bakery is coming to an end.

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If I could make a suggestion to anyone who loves baking, apply for this program. The teachers are amazingly talented and have so much knowledge to share. Without this program my career wouldn’t have been possible.

Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

My most memorable bread would have to be the Jewish Challa, mostly because I couldn’t braid that thing to save my life.  I did eventually figure it out after some guidance, and I’ll definitely never forget my first Christmas yule log. The product I’m most proud of is hands down my wedding cake, titled “A tale as Old as Time”, I learned a ton from that project and can’t wait to make more wedding cakes.

 

So with my final weeks of classes quickly coming to an end, I get to reflect on what I have learned and what it truly means to be a baker. Without sounding to cheesy, probably already to late. I will forever be grateful to Nait for the amazing opportunity to be part of the Nait Baking program.

Congratulations class of 2017!

 

 

 

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Nutella and Orange Buns

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Cinnamon buns have always been a staple baked item in our family. Family trip? Time to make a dozen cinnamon buns. Someone was asked to provide snacks at a meeting or at school? Cinnamon buns are an easy solution. Siblings are complaining at a perceived lack of options at breakfast? Fine, there will be a pan of cinnamon buns tomorrow morning. There hasn’t been a time I can recall when we bought cinnamon buns instead of making them. (Sorry IKEA… I’ll save my money for the Swedish meatballs and some furniture. Maybe unsurprisingly, cinnamon buns are quite popular in Sweden [1])

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The other day, I was preparing a double batch of cinnamon buns for friends at the King’s University, and for my younger brother’s ‘team’ at a school event. As I reached the last two portions of dough out of eight total, I stopped for a few minutes, having become alarmed at the rate at which the brown sugar and cinnamon were disappearing. A couple desiccated oranges were sitting nearby, and as I worried about the cinnamon buns, I recalled an idea from several months previous – Nutella and oranges. (I wasn’t the first to think of this combination – here is an alternative method of making Nutella and orange buns. [2]) I had used Nutella in baking before (Nutella filled chocolate chip cookies) but this was a little different. The first difficulty (there were none of these making the cookies) arose when I added the oranges juice to the Nutella. The second was trying to roll up the sticky, sweet mess to resemble a cinnamon bun shape. Regardless, I somehow succeeded, and the product was enjoyed and complimented by many former classmates and professors.

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It’s a little late for Cinnamon Bun day (whether by the Swedish calendar, or the American version [3] [4]) but who needs a special day? To make regular cinnamon buns, replace the Nutella and orange filling by brushing dough with melted margarine and then spreading a liberal amount of brown sugar and cinnamon.

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Ingredients:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp dry yeast
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup margarine or butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 cups flour
  • 1 cup Nutella
  • zest of 1 orange
  • juice of 1-2 oranges

Preparation:

Filling:

  • Using rasp or grater, remove the skin of one orange, and set aside. Cut orange in half, and remove as much juice as possible.
  • Combine orange zest (skin) and Nutella.
  • Add the orange juice and mix thoroughly. (*The Nutella will appear dry after addition of a small amount. Continue adding orange juice until it is a smooth consistency)

 

Dough:

  • Combine all ingredients in a mixer on low speed for 3-4 minutes, then increase the speed to medium for 4 minutes.
  • Place dough in a bowl and cover. Rest 30-45 minutes.
  • Divide dough evenly into 4 portions. Rest again, 20 minutes.
  • Roll out one portion of dough to approximately 24”x12”, then spread with Nutella and orange filling.
  • Starting from one end, roll up the dough.
  • Cut into 12 equal pieces, and place in greased baking pan. Rest for another 30-60 minutes.
  • Bake at 375F for 20-25 minutes.
  • Remove from pan immediately, and leave on cooling rack until completely cool. Serve immediately, or place in plastic bread bag.

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German Pretzels (Bretzeln)

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German soft pretzels, or Brezeln, are a well recognized and popular food item with a long history and an interesting connection to chemistry. Around 610 AD, the pretzel was first made by monks in Northern Italy or Southern France. This was then supposedly used to reward children for reciting their prayers correctly, which corresponds to the shape; the pretzel’s shape represents how people at that time prayed, with arms crossed across their chests, and hands on opposite shoulders. Even the name, pretzel (or Bretzel) appears to be derived from the Latin word for “little arms” (bracellae) or the Italian word for “little rewards” (pretiolas)[1]. However, it is unlikely that these early pretzels were similar in colour or taste to the iconic modern day Bavarian pretzel.

In 1839, Anton Nepomuk Pfanenbrenner accidentally brushed lye, instead of a sugar solution, onto a batch of pretzels. He decided to bake them anyway, and the resultant pretzel had a unique colour and flavour. Crust colour and flavour are results of the Maillard reaction, a reaction between reducing sugars and amino acids, both of which are present in bread in the form of the components of sucrose (fructose and glucose) and gluten. What made Pfanenbrenner’s accident so unique was that, although unknown at the time, basic substances (high pH) significantly decrease the time that it takes for the Maillard reaction to proceed [2] [3]. Since the sodium hydroxide (lye) is in low concentration and is rendered harmless through the baking process, there are no negative effects to consuming prezels dipped in strong bases to increase the rate of the Maillard reaction. (Some other factors known to increase the rate of the Maillard reaction are adding reducing sugars or proteins, or increasing the bake temperature.)

Variations in pretzels include shape, formula, and finishing. There are regional differences in shaping and formulation, for instance, pretzels from Bayern (Bavaria) having much thicker ‘arms’ and any exposure of the white interior is through rips in the crust. The fat content of these pretzels is limited to 3%, compared to anywhere as high as 10% fat content for Schwaebische (Swabian)  pretzels, which also have much thinner arms, and are typically scored along the thicker ‘body’ of the pretzel.

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On various holidays and events throughout the year, pretzels may be baked with a sweet dough or puff pastry and brushed in a sugar solution, or simply dipped in boiling water instead of a dilute base; or, for Oktoberfest, pretzels many sizes larger than the usual may be baked [4].

To make traditional German pretzels: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/08/09/338591194/for-a-proper-pretzel-crust-count-on-chemistry-and-memories

And a tutorial on how to shape them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVXLCUnWHMg

The Origin of the French Baguette

Marie Antoinette’s famous line: “Let them eat cake” is beloved to be about when she heard that the peasants of France didn’t have enough bread to eat. Until the end of the 1700s, bread was what peasants ate at every meal. Being a staple in their diet, the average adult man might eat two to three pounds per day. The lack of bread, as well as the lack of edible bread available to peasants at the time was one of the main reasons why the French Revolution started.

After the Revolution ended, the government made sure that quality bread was accessible to everyone. A law was created that stated that all bakers must only make one type of bread: The Bread of Equality. This meant that whether rich or poor, everyone would receive good quality wheat bread which was made from flour that is 3/4 wheat, 1/4 rye and includes bran.

This, however; did not lead to the French baguette that we know today. By the middle of the 1800s, baguettes were six feet long. At one point, someone described how they had to put the baguette on their dining table lengthwise because it was longer than the width of the table. Also, young boys used to pretend that these baguettes were swords and enjoyed playing with them before dinner

The size of these baguettes changed once again in 1920. A law passed that stated that bakers weren’t allowed to work between 10pm and 4am. The six foot baguettes that they currently had needed to bake for a long time which didn’t give bakeries enough time to bake enough bread to sell.

That’s when they created the baguette that we know today. This baguette is only up to a metre in length and has a diameter of 5-6 cm. This smaller baguette allowed bakers to come in after 4am and gave them enough time to bake baguettes for Parisians to have for their breakfasts.

That’s how everyone’s favourite bread was created. I found all of this information very interesting and am very happy that I don’t have to worry about fitting a 2 metre long baguette into my car!

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References:

http://www.lepetitfrancais.com/history

http://www.altalang.com/beyond-words/2009/07/14/in-honor-of-bastille-day-the-origin-of-the-baguette/

http://www.bonjourparis.com/food-and-drink/history-baguette-legends-laws-and-lengthy-loaves

http://www.thegoodlifefrance.com/history-baguette

http://www.williamalexander.com/bread/baguettes.cfm

 

 

 

 

 

Pane Toscano

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During the summer of 2015, my family went on a trip to Italy. As my grandparents were eager to show us where they grew up, we traveled all over the country, from the tiny town of Calvene, where my Nonno (grandpa) was born, to my Nonna (grandma)’s hometown of Campobasso. Between those, one of the places we stayed in was San Gimignano, in Tuscany.

Because we had previously stayed in Verona, where the bread was delicious, I was expecting more of the same for the bread in Tuscany. After all, at this point in my life I figured that bread was bread, and the place it was made wouldn’t have any effect on the product. So I was quite surprised when I tried Pane Toscano.

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As you can see, the loaf is quite pale. I didn’t think much of this at first, since I figured that the bread must have had a lighter bake, and I tend to like products like that. But then I tasted it. It was incredibly bland, almost like chewing on a sponge. My Nonna must have seen my face, because she explained that the bread in Tuscany was made differently than other Italian bread, as Tuscan bread did not have salt in it. At the time, I realized that the lack of salt accounted for the bland taste, but now I also know that it caused the pale color as well.

While we stayed in Tuscany, I gathered that the bread was not salted as it was meant to be eaten with salty meats and cheeses, so something bland was needed to offset the taste. But a good while after we returned home from Italy, I learned that there was a little more to it than that. During the Middle Ages, there was a heavy tax on salt, so the Tuscan bakers decided to just make their bread without salt, and even long after the tax was lifted, the bland-tasting bread remains the norm. It’s not super popular with the rest of Italy, though, because when I mentioned the bread to a cousin of mine who lives in Campobasso, she made a face and said “Oh…no, I don’t like the bread in Tuscany.”

I’ll probably blog more about my trip to Italy, as there’s just so much to talk about.

(Photos courtesy of https://bewitchingkitchen.com/2010/01/25/bba-38-tuscan-bread/  and http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/family-recipes/crusty-round-bread-made-in-a-bread-machine )