Mission Accomplished

After two weeks of wondering when it would be my turn to make some homemade noodles, today I finally got to fulfil my dream (“Pasta” 12/02/2018).

It certainly lived up to my expectations. A crucial part of pasta making is the kneading of the dough. Although most of this can be done using the pasta machine, the first five minutes of it has to be done by hand.  I had not been expecting this to be so hard but the dough was a lot less pliable than a bread dough.

Pasta making is an art and every single pasta machine is different. I can imagine being very protective when you find one you like! Although I’m not a professional pasta maker (yet), my first attempt tasted better just for being something that I’ve wanted to make for so long.

So now the hunt for the perfect pasta machine begins…

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Flaky

Based on my previous experience with pastry, I was filled with trepidation today when I found out that I would be making two different types – Ballymaloe cream pastry and flaky pastry.

However, I was in fact pleasantly surprised. My cream pastry which I used for some caramelised apple tarts was smooth and supple, and I found the process of building up the hundreds of layers of flaky pastry strangely therapeutic. This involved adding flecks of butter to the pastry, folding, rolling, chilling and then repeating. I didn’t make anything with my flaky pastry today so will have to wait and see how it turns out tomorrow.

Caramelised apple tarts

This afternoon after demo, Pat gave us a lecture about the principles of hot and cold smoking fish. Hot smoking is used for flavour and can be done in something as simple as a biscuit tin with smouldering wood chips underneath it and it seems as though it would be easy enough for anyone to try at home. Cold smoking was originally a method of preserving food. In this method wood chips are again set alight but the smoke is cooled in a chamber before making its way to the food.

This evening it was once again time for me to head to the Blackbird Pub for the Folk Club. I can’t believe it’s been a month since the last one (“Fiddly” 18/01/2018)! Time here seems to go so fast.

The Business of Food

One of the aims of the Ballymaloe 12 week course is to equip you to start your own food business. So today we had the second of two days of lectures on the business of food and making food pay.

These lectures were given by Blathnaid Bergin who has years of experience in the catering and restaurant business and now works as a restaurant consultant, troubleshooting for struggling businesses (she also happens to be Darina and Rory’s sister).

Blathnaid managed to make a very serious topic entertaining and engaging while also ensuring that she did not sugar coat the challenging realities of running a food business.

She covered a range of topics from how to cost food, to learning about kitchen management and setting up a catering business.

There are so many intricacies to the business of food and we hardly scratched the surface. However, having been informed by Blathnaid’s wealth of experience, I feel as if I now have a better idea of where to start if I were to set up my own business.

Soufflé

Soufflés are notoriously difficult to master. My prior knowledge of them before the course came mainly from the 1954 film “Sabrina” where Audrey Hepburn studying at Le Corden Bleu school in Paris has huge difficulty perfecting the technique. However, I’m pleased to say that making a successful soufflé is a lot easier in reality than in prospect.

The base for the soufflé can be made up in advance using egg yolks, butter, flour and your chosen flavourings, in my case, cheese, making the whole process even simpler. You fold in your whisked egg whites just before they go into the oven. The real key to preventing the dreaded collapse is simply not to open the door of the oven until your soufflé has puffed up and is golden on top. This is the most nerve-wracking part of the whole process and it takes considerable will-power to stay cool as a cucumber. It’s also really important that the soufflé is served as soon as it comes out of the oven and is not left waiting around.

I am relieved to report that I managed to defy my expectations and my soufflé came out very well, tasting light, fluffy and deliciously cheesy.

Irish Stew

When making an Irish stew, the most important thing to ensure is the quality of your meat. In mine today I used a combination of lamb and hogget. The difference between lamb, hogget and mutton is one of age. Sheep’s meat is referred to as lamb up to one year old, hogget from one till two and mutton is the meat of an adult sheep.

One of the joys of cooking at Ballymaloe is to be able to use really fresh and organic vegetables from deliciously crunchy carrots fresh from the farm here to traditional floury organic potatoes – something that I think makes all the difference.

Another tip with any stew is to allow it to simmer for at least an hour and a half to develop depth of flavour and to ensure that you season every layer of the stew separately.

I didn’t add the potatoes to the top of my stew until it was half way through its cooking time so that they didn’t break down.

I was pleased with the result today and I hope that my Irish Stew was worthy of its name.

Testing

Marking the midpoint of the course, today was the day of our herb and basic technique exams. A nerve wracking prospect, these count towards our final course result.

The herb and salad leaf part of the exam consisted of identifying ten herbs and ten salad leaves and naming two dishes that contain each of the herbs as an ingredient. I quite enjoyed this.

The stressful part was still to come. In our technique exam we had to demonstrate four different techniques. Mine were making a paper piping bag, dicing and sweating an onion, making shortcrust pastry and lining a flan tin, and finally skinning almonds. My onion barely sweated (unlike me) for some mysterious reason, my pastry was still too wet, but the other bits went well. We’ll get our results next week.

I can’t believe that we’re halfway through the course. I’ve learned so much and the next six weeks will see a huge escalation in techniques and challenges. Still a long way to go.

The Choux-maker

It was my turn today to make the staple of any pâtissier – choux pastry.

Choux pastry is very versatile and can be used to make many mouthwatering desserts from éclairs to profiteroles and the fabulous croquembouche (profiterole tower). Despite being associated with desserts, it is actually a savoury pastry and so relies on its fillings to elevate it to the heights of dessert heaven.

One of the keys to making a good choux pastry is the addition of the eggs. If too much egg is added then the choux pastry will remain flat and not hold the shape of your profiteroles. The mixture should reluctantly drop off the spoon before being piped.

I made blueberry cream profiteroles today which turned out well but they could equally have been filled with strawberries, lemon curd or even caramel. There’s a whole world of choux to explore and I’ll be coming back to it again and again.