Bread workshop

December 14th, 2008, by Francesca


I know, I know… I've been a flake.

I just got back from the Bay Area after spending a week at the San Francisco Baking Institute where I took the first of many bread baking workshops: Artisan Bread 1.

I have only one word for my experience there: fabulous.

As soon as I process my photos, collect my notes, survive a heavy social schedule and catch up on my laundry and stuff… I'll blog properly about the workshop. For now, I can tell you that it was definitely worth the money and even the discomforts caused by a long commute on public transportation.

Too many bubbles

October 15th, 2008, by Francesca


The close-up looks good. It's easy to cheat in macro mode, n'est ce pas?


Zoom out and you start seeing the lunarscape.


Zoom out a little bit more and all the bubbles come into view. I am sure they are not supposed to be there. They weren't there when I made focaccia last weekend and had not time to take pictures. There's nothing like being ready to photograph a project to make it all go haywire.

focaccia dough

I knew the dough was too gassy early on and did my best to degas it, but the bubbles had more will power than I have bread making skills. I think part of the problem may be that I can't accurately weigh tiny amounts of yeast. How am I supposed to weigh 0.85 grams of yeast for the poolish and 4.8 grams for the dough?


The good thing is that it does taste good and so far I've been able to keep you-know-who from attacking it.

focaccia dough

Cedar paper and stuff

October 13th, 2008, by Francesca

My baking internship fell through. Bummer.

I went in this morning for my orientation only to find out that they couldn't have me as an intern after all. It's all to do with me not being enrolled in school anymore and not being covered by the school's insurance. For all effects and purposes, the externship (as the school calls it) is like a class but at a different location and the school covers students if any accident should happen. The bakery I have been talking to can't afford the liability of an intern who is not really an intern. I asked if there is any possibility of a part-time position with no pay, just to learn, but it's not looking good. I'll have to come up with another plan. It's just that for the past ten days I thought that this was a done deal so I've been rather bummed today.

On the way home I stopped at Whole Foods for groceries and I guess I was feeling a bit down and in need of something special so I noticed something that had probably been there all the time and never caught my eye before: cedar sheets.

I bought a package of four 6x9 inches sheets of cedar paper, actually wood sheets and tonight put together an improvised dish that ended up being quite good. I used the cedar paper to wrap two fillets of Pacific Orange Snapper garnished with a fine Julienne of scallions and zucchini and seasoned with some finely grated fresh ginger and lemon and orange zest, a touch of salt and pepper… tied the wraps with twine and baked at 400ºF for… hmm… 7-8 minutes I think. I sauteed more of the scallion and zucchini julienne to add as garnish and threw in some slow roasted tomatoes for good measure. Not that the roasted tomatoes really went well with that dish, but that's what I had handy so shoot me. Bread, white wine, and it all turned out well.

Oh, and to finish it all off, a shot glass of nocino, just because. Which reminds me… I am almost out of nocino. Anybody in Italy wants to send me a good bottle? Pleaaase?

Okay, I'll stop feeling sorry for myself; losing the internship is not a big deal. It just happened on a day when I had an hour and a half of sleep and I don't do well with sleep deprivation.

On the other hand, I had a wonderful Saturday with two friends visiting and spending the day with me, eating, drinking, knitting, chatting, and being designated laps for Kelvin, who likes nothing better than lap variety. And I made a mighty good focaccia, if I may say so myself. Of course all the credit goes to Peter Reinhart's recipe; a LOT of work, but oh so tasty.

No pics of dinner or Saturday's lunch either. It's either cooking or taking pictures. It's especially hard to take pictures while cooking something new and when I have no expectations of how it'll turn out. Well, that's it for now. You all have a good week.

The next step

October 6th, 2008, by Francesca

A week of been busy doing nothing: trying to catch up with admin chores I have no hope of getting caught up with any time soon… spending my birthday worrying and cleaning up after Pipie who was sick for a few days (he's all better now after getting fluids, shots, pills, antibiotics and a special diet)… baking focaccia with a new recipe that must have had a typo in one of the ingredient amounts, and a bunch of other uneventful non-stuff. Oh yes, and some sudoku and solitaire playing… something I hadn't done in ages. I guess I needed some time off from anything real.

But I'm back now. Yesterday, Ben and I had a pow-wow to discuss our short- to mid-range plans. Nothing set in stone, just some general guidelines for our immediate future which will include me getting back to web development while I try to learn more about bread baking. Talking of which, there may be an internship at a local bakery sometime soon, if things work out.

cheese rolls

Curve in the road

September 29th, 2008, by Francesca

The last term at school gave me some time to reflect on what I've learned, what I want to learn, and how this culinary program fits me. You may be surprised to hear that this morning I handed in my letter of withdrawal from school. In retrospect, I think I took an academic term to give myself the time to think without the stress of a regular cooking term. Even though I was taking three classes, academics are a lot less demanding physically and psychologically.

Various reasons combined to convince me that continuing with this program would not be in my best interest. For one thing, the cost is excessive for someone who is not pursuing a restaurant career, and recent changes in the way the program is structured and managed have made the money/value ratio even less appealing to me. Classes are getting more and more crowded and even the best chefs cannot undo the damage caused by management. It's really a shame, because I loved my chefs and learned a lot from them, but how much can you get out of a class with more than 30 students competing for stove space and equipment or an academic class with 40+ students, half of which are either talking or eating or texting or taking and making phone calls?

The other big issue, and probably the most compelling, is that I have become interested in baking – and more specifically bread baking – and there is none of that left in the rest of the culinary program. I considered switching to the baking program, but only a small part of that is dedicated to bread; most of it is about cakes, pastries, chocolates, plated desserts and so on. In the end, if I really want to learn more about making bread, I'll have to do that somewhere else.

As a start, I signed up for a few workshops at the San Francisco Baking Institute and will be taking my first 5-day class in December. In the meantime, I'll practice as much as I can to make the most of my short stays up north.


September 26th, 2008, by Francesca

As part of my nutrition class I had a cooking project, the only one in the past six weeks given that I've been on an academic term. The project was to take a recipe and prepare two versions of it: a regular batch and one with either reduced fat+salt or reduced fat+sugar.

We worked in small groups and my team worked on two versions of biscotti alla nocciola. Our biscuits and this group's sherbet were the most successful projects. Too bad I forgot to take pictures until the last minute, when all our cookies had been wiped out.

The requirements were to reduce the overall fat and sugar content by at least 25% and make the items look and taste like the original recipe. Not an easy task, as we soon found out.

I took care of research and experimenting with the formula and made the first two batches at home. For the modified version, I switched from European to American butter (slightly less fat), reduced the amount of butter and added an egg white to help keep the dough together. The biscuits came out too hard and dry and I showed them to my math instructor, a French chef who is really into baking. He tried them and suggested using unsweetened apple sauce to the dough to add back some softness. This required some additional fudging with the ingredients' ratios because the apple sauce, though unsweetened, increased the sugar content. But it all worked out in the end.

My team members prepared the production batches for class using the apple sauce and no egg white. The trick worked beautifully and our class mates were divided almost exactly in half when they had to tell the cookies apart. I was really happy with the result because we met all the requirements of the project without resorting to artificial sweeteners, as other teams did. The savory projects were not very successful and it was really obvious which batches had reduced fat and salt. It was definitely an interesting assignment.

Sharing the loave

September 25th, 2008, by Francesca

The sharing was unintentional, but that's what happens chez tantarobina when you leave food unattended for just a few minutes.


…until proven guilty

Pipie is an equal opportunity sampler: Italian, Swedish, Armenian, American, you name it, he'll try it.

And like it.

And come back to the scene of the crime for more.

You should have seen him during the subsequent sugar crash.