Sunday, March 27, 2011

Propylene glycol mono and diesters of fatty acids

More of a rant today than anything...

Once again, I spend time, designing a cake, pricing out specific flavours, setting a price that reflects my skills, what the specialty cake market prices are, using all the freshest ingredients, nothing frozen, all quality products, no artificial flavours or saw dust filler (yes you read that right - why do you think commercial boxed cake mixes taste like nothing and are so cheap...) and the potential client goes to Costco.  The only comfort I can gain from wasting all that time is that she will get what she pays for, it will be boring and like I hear from a lot of brides "no one ever really eats any of the cake" - ever wonder why?

Let's take a moment and look at the ingredients on a well known boxed cake mix from the grocery store:

"BC Golden Yellow Supermoist - with Pudding in the mix"
enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin, mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, corn syrup, leavening (baking soda, sodium aluminum, phosphate monocalcium, phosphate), partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, modified corn starch, corn starch, salt, propylene glycol mono and diesters of fatty acids, dextrose, dicalcium, phosphate, distilled monoglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, natural and artificial flavour, xanthum gum, colour and nonfat milk...whew

 Let's look at a comparison with my vanilla bean cake recipe:

Lazy Cat signature vanilla bean cake

Unbleached flour
egg whites (fresh)
vanilla bean

WHAT...?  It's because the ingredients for the "BC Golden Yellow Supermoist - with Pudding in the mix" are cheap to produce and have a shelf life of infinity.


How about Buttercream - here's the ingredient list of the can you buy off the shelf (which has a shelf life of 2 years...):


Salt, distilled monoglycerides, colour, polysorbate 60, sodium stearoyl, lactylate, sodium acid phosphate, natural & artificial flavour, citric acid, nonfat milk, freshness preserved by potassium sorbate. - WHERE'S THE BUTTER?

The Lazy Cat - French Buttercream

Fresh egg yolks
Vanilla Bean

Picking on one of the ingredients in the "BC buttercream" for example - potassium sorbate.  WTF is that?  Colourless salt that is very soluble in water, potassium sorbate is produced by neutralizing potassium hydroxide with sorbic acid.  So then what is potassium hydroxide or sorbic acid?  Sorbic acid  is an organic compound used as a food preservative, that's all, no nutritional value whatsoever.

Then there is distilled monoglycerides?  What about polysorbate 60?  Polysorbates are a class of emulsifiers [the process of combining to ingredients that normally won't combine i.e. water and oil] used in some pharmaceuticals and food preparation. They are often used in cosmetics to solubilize essential oils into water-based products.  A study suggested that exposure to polysorbates was a cause of hypersensitive reactions (aka allergies).

Why do we, as consumers, choose the cheap over quality.  I still can't find an answer.  I find the sweets I make, you eat once or twice a year, because they are considered fattening and 'bad for you', so why buy the chemically created sweets when you eat those chemicals every day?  You eat chemically altered food on a daily basis, in your cereal, your Tim Horton's coffee and donut, your sandwich meat, Wonder bread, your processed dinner you reheat in the microwave, mistakenly thinking because the tv tells you are eating 'steamed veggies' it MUST be good for you, converted rice products etc.  There are even artificial preservatives in the cheap beer that Canadians consider our national pride.  

I would love to hear from anyone as to why they choose price over nutrition and natural ingredients.  I don't understand the "because it's convenient to go to Costco or wherever", it's just as easy to call up your local bakery or cake maker or chocolatier and place your order and have it delivered to you on the day you need it.  Please let me know, because if people just like the store cake mixes, and cans of frosting then I can switch over and charge $10 for a birthday cake, just like Costco or Walmart, it would save me a lot of time and energy and I can keep the good stuff to myself.  

Looking forward to hearing your comments!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How to make veggies...well...yummy

Boiled veggies.  No thanks.  I hate them.  I prefer roasted, grilled, fried, with sauce or butter.  What are my favourite vegetables?  Butternut Squash, Green Lentils, Mushrooms of all kinds, Brussel Sprouts, Fennel, Cabbage, French Green Beans...those are just a few.  I have never boiled any of them! 

Vegetables usually take longer then your steak and they require a lot more prep work so here are 2 of my favourite vegetable dishes that can be eaten as an entire meal.  These recipes may not be your typical recipe, a handful of this, a dash of that, but I see cooking like this whimsical - as long as you have your basic building blocks - aka your flavour profile - the exact amounts don't really matter in this type of cooking.  Once you have made these two recipes a couple of times, you won't need a recipe, just the basic ingredients and 30 minutes!

Lentils: Lentils contain high levels of proteins  In addition to containing high levels of proteins, lentils also contain fibre, Vitamin B1 and minerals. For the vegetarian, lentils should be mixed with grains, such as rice to obtain that complete protein.

Green Lentils with Bacon (as a side dish - great with steak, chicken, fish etc.)

1 handful per person of French Green Lentils
Chicken Stock, Venison Stock, Beef Stock, veggie stock (pair the stock with your protein)
1/4 to 1/2 cup White wine (if using chicken or veggie stock) or Beer (if using Beef or Venison Stock) or Port Wine (if using Venison Stock)
Finely chopped shallots
4 slices of bacon
Caraway Seed or your favourite spice (suggestions: fennel seed, star anise, clove, cayenne etc.)
Dried Thyme or 4 leaves of fresh sage
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive Oil or butter

Heat a sauce pan on medium heat and add oil or butter.  Add your chosen spice (Caraway Seed) and the dried thyme or sage.  Cook out the oils in the herb and spice and add shallots.  Cook shallots on medium heat until translucent.  Add the lentils and cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Add the wine or your chosen booze and cover rest of the lentils with stock.  Turn up heat to high and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes, stir a couple of times.  If liquid evaporates, add more stock of booze.  After 15 minutes add a tad more liquid of choice and cover with lid and cook a further 15 minutes, checking often to make sure there is some liquid in the pot, if it has gone dry, add a bit more stock.

In the meantime, cut bacon into small bits, and cook until crispy, drain off grease.

The lentils should be al dente, not mushy.  If not cooked to al dente, remove lid, add more liquid if required and cook for another 5 minutes.  Serve with bacon!

Risotto: My other favourite side dish and usually a meal unto itself is Risotto!  Risotto isn't scary and it isn't hard to make, it just takes practice, just like all cooking techniques - this technique can also be used to make the lentil recipe above.  Risotto should be creamy without having to add heavy cream!  It's the process of stirring the rice with the broth to develop the starch in the rice to produce that creamy texture, it's lower in fat then most people think!  You do have to use Arborio Rice or else you won't get the starch, please don't use anything else - you will only be disappointed.  Remember, vegetable dishes take patience.

Mushroom Risotto

2-4 kinds favourite mushrooms, cut in slices
1 handful per person of Arborio Rice
2 shallots finely diced
Dried or Fresh thyme  (if using fresh thyme - use 2-3 whole sprigs - dried is more potent than fresh)
Olive Oil
Chicken Stock
White Wine or Pale Ale Beer
Nob of Butter
1 clove of garlic - chopped
Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste


Cook the mushrooms in butter, dried thyme and some stock until soft, set aside.

Heat stock in sauce pot to a simmer and keep warm.  Heat oil in pan over medium heat.  Add shallots trying not to brown them and then add dried thyme and garlic.   Cook for about 1 minute on medium.  Add your rice and cook another minute.  Add wine or beer and cook until the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  You may have to adjust your heat to keep the pan not too hot, the liquid should just be at a simmer.  Then continue to add your heated stock a little at a time (about 1/2 to 1 cup at a time) and stir, i(t's not necessary to stir the entire time but you do have to stir quite a bit), until the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  Continue until rice reaches al dente - this will take about 30 minutes.  Add the cooked mushrooms and a bit more stock, by now the Risotto should have a creamy look to it, but not like whipped cream creamy, a starchy creamy.  Add a nob of butter and the desired amount of cheese.  Serve immediately.  

Any leftovers can be reheated but will not be as creamy but will taste just as good!

So there you have 2 recipes that could be a side dish or an entire meal that include veggies and take about 30-40 minutes.  They are both easier than you think! 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Competition 101

I have a terrible competitive streak.  I think I got it from my dad.  I have participated in a lot of competitions, some successful, some not so successful.  I have competed as a classical guitarist, a Renaissance lute player, a double bass player, in all kinds of musical ensembles.  I have competed as a sailor, single handed, double handed and fully crewed and with too many crew.  I have competed with sugar, chocolate, cake and all sorts of ingredients. 

This past week I participated in The Escoffier Society's Culinary Salon.  This was my third time.  I decided, since I make cakes that people pay for I should go in the Professional Division for wedding cakes.   I like competitions of this sort because the judges will take the time to discuss your work with you face to face.  I like to hear what's wrong and why and how to make it work, what skills I need to improve, how to train my eye. This year's cake was a real challenge. 

The chocolate work on the sides of the cake have to be shiny, perfect and elegant.  All the decorations are piped by hand after hand tempering the chocolate.  The topper on the cake was my first attempt at designing and executing a showpiece after returning from Chicago.  I should have spent more than 1 day on decorating the cake but only had a week to do the showpiece and decorate the cake.  The best in show, which was a bread piece, took the guy 3 months to make.

When designing a cake, you have to take into account the time of year, the heat, humidity, cold and quality of the products you are using.  If it's too hot out, forget the chocolate, you have to use a little less buttercream, the fondant will get really soft, really quickly.  In the winter, the dry air will cause the fondant to crack, the chocolate will set before you want it to, the buttercream won't be as soft as you would like.  Although I would rather work with cakes and chocolate in the winter, it has its challenges.  Fondant work is harder than most people think.  There can't be any air bubbles, no tears, no shiny surfaces.

After talking with the judges, I got two thumbs up for the mini chocolate showpiece, they even went so far as to say it was perfect and gave me some tips to do the chocolate showpiece competition next year.  The judges wanted to see more piping skills, a more traditional design.  I was happy with my bronze  medal because the comments were worth all the effort and anxiety.  I personally loved the design of the cake and have added it to my portfolio.  

I have already started designing my chocolate showpiece for the March 2012 competition.  Yes it will be a love/hate affair with my design for a year, but I hope to not only learn new skills, but also snag maybe that elusive gold medal!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The week after Chocolate School

A week has gone by since my week at The Chocolate Academy in Chicago and I'm prepping for the Escoffier Society's competition - I'm in the Professional Wedding Cake category this year.  I have yet to win a gold medal, I have a bronze for petit fours, a bronze for wedding cakes, a silver for theme cakes and a silver for wedding cakes.  That elusive gold medal, will it be in my grasp this year?

This year's cake is a morph of a design I came up with a year ago.  It's art deco inspired and all the decorations are made of chocolate - would you expect anything different???

This competition isn't on television, it won't be in the newspapers or on the radio.  It's for professionals, run by professionals at a very high level to showcase skills and showcase new ideas in flavours, plating, ingredients and design.  True, this isn't a tasting competition but the criteria for the categories are flavour profiles.  

When I won a bronze for my petit fours, I had a white chocolate tube filled with raspberry mousse, an ice cream cone with a scoop of chocolate ganache, a fresh fruit bite made of different kinds of melons topped off with nutmeg cream cheese, mini brioche and 2 bite chocolate covered cheesecakes (see photos below).  The judges have pretty much eaten everything, tasted so many flavour combinations that they have forgotten more then most people have sampled.  None of my flavour combinations were mind blowing - they were the classics, it was the presentation!  I used sugar to make plates and serving trays and used the colour of the natural fruits to add that punch of colour.  Snagged me my first medal!

Year two, I snagged a silver for my wedding cake covered in gumpaste roses - I have a knack for flowers.

Claudia and I (team Pandora's Bakery) got together and entered the Theme Cake category.  These cakes were no dummies!  Real cake with a twist.  Our theme - Nursery Rhymes.  Three Blind Mice, Humpty Dumpty and Sing a Song of Six Pence.  Our cakes: Lemon poppy seed cake with a cream cheese icing, eggless vanilla cake with saffron scented white chocolate ganache and honey rye cake with apple buttercream respectively.  I remember when we were setting up our cakes the small crowd that gathered (it was 7am) and then as the cakes were cut, decorated and garnished a little gasp from the back, a finger pointing yelling in delight - they are nursery rhymes.  We got some great pictures, except for Humpty's cake, but my favourite was the Sing a Song of Six Pence cake and if you don't know the nursery rhyme, google it - Love that Cake!!

Now I'm working on my wedding cake for this year.  I decided to only enter one category, not enough time this year, it's a huge time commitment.  Wish me luck, I'll have a picture of the finished cake up on my blog next week, and pictures of the finished cake up on Facebook before then so stay tuned, I'm hoping a gold medal will be lying on the table beside it...sigh...