Friday, October 7, 2011

Price Chopper Premiere Baking Class

The Class 

Price Chopper is well known in the Northeast as a grocery store with low prices, great selection and quality food. But did you know that Price Chopper also sponsors classes to teach ways to make the most of those great deals and quality foods? I attended one of those classes at The Century House in Latham. The class was entitled Premiere Baking and was taught in a lecture, demonstration format by two well qualified teachers -- Gail Sokol, cookbook author and instructor at Schenectady Community College and Elizabeth Barbone, a CIA graduate, cookbook author and gluten free baking expert.

The Instructors
Gail Sokol

Elizabeth Barbone

 The evening started out with me sitting at the table with some fellow bloggers.  I have to say, it was a welcome change to sit with a group that takes a photo of their plates before they eat anything on them.  Made me feel “normal”.   Anyway, after some introductions it was time for Gail Sokol’s demo.  Her recipes were for Chocolate Cranberry Walnut Babka and Expresso Almond Biscotti.  Gail was relaxed and funny in her demo, showing that she’s done this before, probably a few hundred times! 

The Recipes

She started with the Babka recipe. I have to admit, I’ve heard of Babka but had never eaten or made it before.  Babka is yeast dough that is flavored in many ways, this version had chocolate, cranberries and walnuts.  Gail made this recipe (one I think isn’t usually healthy) a little more figure friendly by substituting white flour for white wheat flour and by using light butter.  In her words: if you’re not going to miss the fat- don’t use it!  Using a lighter butter won’t comprise the integrity of your baked goods.  The flavor and the texture will still be there.  Gail did give some tips to make baking easier – less intimidating.  

1. Don’t fear baking.  If you follow a few simple rules, more than likely it will be okay. 
2. Invest in a French rolling pin, the kind that doesn’t have handles on either end.
3.  Dough can be frozen.  Just be sure to make sure that it’s wrapped and placed in an airtight container marked with the date and what it is.
4.  When making a yeast dough make sure the liquid, in the babka recipe it was milk, is “bath temp” or about 110 degrees.
5. Don’t flour your work surface. Adding too much flour will make your baked goods tough, as will too much handling. That’s why she recommends that you invest in a bench scraper. It will aid in kneading the dough by lifting it up and folding it over.

The Babka dough will have to rise twice.  After the first rising the dough will be punched down or rather folded in on itself so that you let the “gas” that the yeast has created escape.  Then you cover the dough with plastic and let it rest an additional five minutes.  During this five minute resting time you can make the filling.  

This is a chocolate babka with cranberries and walnuts, but I’m sure there are an unlimited amount fillings that can be used.  Her filling consisted of light brown sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, allspice, mini chocolate chips, walnuts and dried cranberries.  The dough was rolled out and the filling laid on top.  The dough was then roll up jelly roll fashion folded in half, end to end and then twisted.  

She placed it into a loaf pan for the final rising.  Typically the first rising is done in a light greased bowl and the second is done in whatever it is going to be baked in.  After the second rising the the dough is then topped with a streusel topping before baking. The babka is a sweet dough, but this wasn’t overly sweet with a nice chocolate and spice flavor.

Once the Babka dough was done then it was time to move onto biscotti.  I’ve made biscotti before, and it’s one of my husband’s favorites but I remember it being a lot more difficult than the recipe she used.  Expresso Almond Biscotti had two kinds of coffee in it – expresso powder nd ground coffee beans.  She suggested that you go into the coffee aisle at Price Chopper and grind a small amount of beans on a course grind.  Biscotti (which means twice baked) takes about 10 minutes to create, and the ingredients are fairly common to have on hand.  Biscotti can be made in almost any version but this one was a combination of orange, lemon, almonds, coffee and chocolate.  

The crowning touch to any biscotti is what you do after the second baking and the cookies are cooled – they are dipped in chocolate!  You don’t have to dip them in chocolate by why not?  Melt semi sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler then dip one end of the biscotti into the chocolate and let them cool on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Or for something little different you can take melted semisweet and white chocolate and with a fork drizzle the chocolate over the cookies.  This makes a pretty design.

Gluten Free Baking
Our next presenter was Elizabeth Barbone.  Her demonstration was show how even if you have severe (or not so severe) food allergies you can still enjoy baked goods and baking at home.  She should know, Elizabeth herself has multiple food allergies.  By making some simple substitutions (and these products can mostly be found in your grocery store, like Price Chopper) anyone with almost any kind of allergy can still enjoy Apple Pie, Whoopie Pies or even a candy bar.

The Recipes
Elizabeth started out her presentation by showing us how to make gluten free pie crust.  I have to admit the only food allergy I have is to melon, which makes me very unhappy during watermelon season but I was skeptical about making a pie crust that is gluten free.  By substituting rice flour for all purpose flour and tapioca, corn or potato starch you can achieve something similar to a regular wheat flour crust, but it will actually look more like a cookie when it’s done.  Still it makes a good substitution for some one with a gluten allergy.  She made the dough in the food processor which makes it a quick way to get it done.  She also explained why your butter needs to be very cold, which I’m really happy to learn because I’ve read comments where people have asked that very question.  It has to do with the water that is trapped in the butter. When the butter is very cold and hits the hot heat in the oven, it makes a puff of steam that will allow the dough to be flaky.  I hope that makes sense and I know there is more of scientific explanation but it was good enough for me.

The pie crust she made was for a Rustic Apple Tart or Gallette.  The pie is rolled out and then the filling is placed in the center.  The dough is then folded up around the filling, no pie pan needed.  Then it’s baked on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Elizabeth's tips:
1.  Taste your apples to see how sweet they are before you add sugar.
2.  Roll your crust between pieces of parchment paper, then it will not stick to the board.
3.  Place the dough and the parchment paper onto the baking sheet for easy transfer.
4.  Make dough in the food processor, but if you don't have one then you can use to knives to work the butter into the flour.
5.  Use a combination of flours for the right result.  Bakers use specific flours for the pastry they are making -- etc. bread flour, cake flour.

For her second recipe Elizabeth made Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.  She told the story about how she was at a friend’s house as a child and at snack time her friend’s mother served Whoopie Pies.  She knew she couldn’t have them because of her allergies but she knew that they were something special.  Using substitutions she was able to make a gluten free version.  This recipe calls for rice flour, corn or potato starch, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and xanthan gum.  She explained what xanthan gum is.  It is actually a gum and it is used to give gluten free baked goods stability.  She did warn though, be careful using it. If you spill it, don’t use anything wet to clean it up because it will become slimy and very hard to control.  You can buy it in eight ounce packages but will only need a small amount per recipe.  Once the dough was put together the whoopee pies were scooped out onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  To make very small one, like we ate as our sample, use a number 100 scoop.  This will make the pies small enough to be put in a muffin cup which looks great for presentation.  Whoopie Pies are two pieces, top and bottom that is filled with marshmallow cream filling.  I’m not a marshmallow fan, so I was glad to know that cream cheese frosting can be substituted.  And I think it would taste better with the pumpkin, anyway.

The last recipe of the night was chocolate bark, which can be made in a single or double layer. This recipe looks like it would be lots of fun for kids. Once the chocolate is melted (Elizabeth recommends melting it in the microwave for 30 second intervals) and spread out onto the baking sheet, they can go crazy adding in whatever toppings they would like.  This recipe called for dried cranberries, white chocolate chips and nuts.  The double layer bark would consist of a layer of semisweet chocolate then a layer of white chocolate with the chocolate chilling between layers.  Then the toppings are added.  Elizabeth suggested crushed up candy canes or peppermints for the double layer bark.  Once the chocolate is firmed up it can be broken into pieces.  This recipe makes a great gift.

Price Chopper holds these classes periodically on different topics.  The Century House is a beautiful venue in Latham.  The next time you see a class held at your local supermarket or other sponsor look into it.  It might be a good way to get some easy recipes, tips from a professional, meet other cooks and bakers or just have a nice evening out. Thanks again to Price Chopper for an informative and fun night out.

Here are some random photos from the evening:


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