This Saturday, I had the treat of attending a cooking class at the Bleu Ribbon Kitchen in Boston, MA. Daniel gave me a gift certificate to attend a class at the Cordon Bleu’s Bleu Ribbon Kitchen and Gluten Free Baking was my pick. My decision was based on our availability and our ability to get up to Boston for the weekend. I was also excited to work on some baking techniques. I hoped to work on some pie crust, since that is my biggest baking weakness. I got to work on pie crust and more. We made pizza dough, apple pie, buttermilk chocolate cake, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. It was a busy session from 9AM to 3PM.
When we first arrived in the kitchen, the Chefs gave us our own Bleu Ribbon Kitchen aprons and a list of recipes for the day. They told us that we would be using a flour blend for many of the recipes. This gluten free flour blend consisted of 35% Sorghum Flour, 35% Cornstarch, and 30% Tapioca flour. Our head Chef told us that we could definitely experiment with the recipes using nut flour blends, but due to nut allergies, we worked with this blend along with potato starch, rice flour, and chickpea flour. The pizza dough was first on the agenda (since that would be our lunch).
For gluten-free recipes, it is important for the dough to have a higher liquid ratio. When heat is applied to the additional liquid in the oven, it helps leaven the dough (in the absence of gluten). I always wondered why gluten-free dough for banana bread, pancakes, muffins, etc. seemed so drippy. This answered my question.
Making the dough was fairly simple. The tricky part was spreading the dough on a parchment paper lined tray once the dough was complete. The gluten-free dough is extremely sticky (high liquid ratio) and you can’t exactly use flour to reduce the sticky factor if you are truly going gluten free. When I was spreading the dough on the parchment paper, one of the chefs came over and said “Let me show you how to properly use a spatula.” I was embarrassed, but excited to be enlightened. It turns out that I hold the spatula far to close to the end of the handle, which creates a lack of control. The Chef explained that the spatula should be an extension of the hand. I felt like this tip will be life-changing. It already made maneuvering the pizza dough a lot easier.
Once our dough was spread out, we put it in a massive refrigerator for 30 minutes. The cooling of the dough allows it to be easier to manipulate after the resting period. My partner and I topped our dough with fresh basil (putting the herbs underneath the sauce gives you all the flavor, but protects the herbs from being burned), sauce, cheese, mushrooms, red pepper, onions, and kalamata olives.
Our pizza baked in this awesome oven. You could have four different temperatures at once and it was enormous. The tools and machinery in this kitchen were amazing.
When our pizza was finished it was time for our lunch break. The pizza was really tasty! I would definitely make this dough again. Chef Mills told us that we could make a large batch of the dough and freeze it for later use. This would be a great back-up meal to have in the freezer.
During the 30 minutes that the pizza dough was chilling in the oven, we started on our apple pie crust. I was most interested in learning how to perfect a pie crust, gluten free or not, so I could feel more confident making pies. I learned that you should put your fat (butter, shortening, or lard) in the freezer prior to mixing with flour and that you should only use your finger tips in order to mix the fat (shortening in this case) with the flour blend. Using your whole hand creates too much heat for the fat and your crust will lose its flake factor. When checking for chunks of fat that need to be mixed further, if you shake the bowl, the big ones will automatically come to the top. Our Chef also told us that sifters are unnecessary when it comes to flour. We can simply use a whisk to do the same job. He said, however, that work with powdered sugar and cocoa powder require the sifter. I’m all for creating less dishes to clean, so this was a welcome tip! Our pie crust came out a little dry. The Chef said he would have used milk instead of water, and would have added more milk than the water amount in the recipe. Since the dough was dry and crumbly, it made it difficult to roll for the top of the pie. With a little extra ice cold water, we convinced the dough to fit over the top of the pie with a couple cracks. I told my partner that the cracks could be vents. I’m not sure everyone got my humor.
Since our pie dough also had to rest in the refrigerator, it gave us time to pre-cook our apple pie filling. The Chef explained that pre-cooking the fruit for a pie allows the fruit to release water prior to being in the pie shell. This helps you to avoid the dreaded “soggy bottom” (soggy pie crust – ew) and also that void that occurs between the top of the pie and the fruit. He encouraged us to chop fruit in generous pieces (apples were cut in eighths) so that our filling wouldn’t be applesauce.
After we sauteed the apples in butter and added cornstarch, sugar, and cinnamon, the filling was the perfect consistency.
Despite our struggle with the top, the pie came out pretty well. Not the best looking apple pie I’ve seen, but it was delicious. The other groups in our class made an apple crumble, and that looked really tasty as well.
After our pie was finished, it was time for our buttermilk chocolate cake. In the picture above, you can see all the ingredients ready for use and our head Chef, Chef Mills. The buttermilk chocolate cake was a fairly easy recipe to follow, and the cake was delicious. I wish I got a picture of the whole cake right when it came out of the oven – it was gorgeous. Instead here is a picture of a quarter of it once we were home in CT again.
Very simple cake, but great flavor! The cake really didn’t need icing or frosting – though you could add some and it would be delicious. We sprinkled powdered sugar on top.
After our cake was finished, we moved on to brownies. I learned that when making brownies with traditional flour, if you use bread flour, the brownies will have more chew to them. When melting butter and chocolate to make brownies, you should always melt the butter first and then the chocolate. Then you have a lower risk for burning the chocolate. When using a double boiler to melt chocolate and butter, the bowl should not touch the water in the pot and the water shouldn’t boil (the steam should heat the bowl to cause the melting – boiling water is too hot).
Once the brownie batter was mixed, we spread it thin on a 9 x 13 baking sheet. I thought it was far too thin for it to be successful, but this ended up being one of my favorite creations of the day. I might experiment with baking these in a smaller pan though. Since the brownies were so thin, they were kind of crumbly. I don’t have a picture, but the whole sheet ended up as little crumbles once removed from the parchment paper. Perfect ice cream topping?
Last, but not least we made chocolate chip cookies. I think if I made this recipe again, I would change the flower blend and include a nut flour. I think the chickpea flour gave the cookies a texture that I don’t usually associate with cookies.
Despite my critique of the texture on these, I still enjoyed sampling them right out of the oven.
Overall, it was a dream to work in a Cordon Bleu Kitchen. When I was living in Los Angeles and considering changing careers, attending culinary school was high on my list. I toured the Cordon Bleu in LA and was envious of all the students there. It was exciting to be able to experience one of their kitchens, even just for a day. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, learned a lot, and hope to return some day.
Thank you Bleu Ribbon Kitchen for the excellent day of baking!