Friends of the tribe – Jenni Field from Pastry Chef Online
Jennifer, what has changed for you from being a passionate amateur cook to a professional cook?
After 16 years of working in special education, I realized it was past time for a career change. Since I had always loved to bake, culinary school seemed like a natural fit. It’s a bit ironic that I just jumped like that, because now when people ask me if they should go to culinary school, I encourage them to work in the industry before they spend the money, just to make sure it’s really what they want to do. I had no idea of what it was like to work in a professional kitchen, and although I enjoyed my time working in restaurants, the reality was quite different than my expectation.
Name a pastry chef that inspired you to go professional.
I don’t think it was necessarily a pastry chef who inspired me to go professional. At the time, although I loved to bake, I was also really influenced by chefs on the “hot side,” or the savory chefs. Thomas Keller was a particular inspiration because his work is so refined and balletic and calm. His food also has a bit of a sense of humor about it, which I really relate to.
Maybe I’ll just buy one and send it around the country so we can all bake in it!
The travelling swirly pan is sheer genius. How did you come up with that idea?
Thank you! I’m really excited about the project! Honestly, it was a very off-the-cuff idea. I had a giveaway for a swirly pan (Heritage Bundt Swirl Pan by Nordic Ware) going on on my site, and of course everyone wanted to win because it’s a gorgeous pan! People were commenting on the facebook page about how much they wanted one, and I just offhandedly said “Maybe I’ll just buy one and send it around the country so we can all bake in it!” The response was immediate and overwhelmingly enthusiastic, so as soon as the giveaway was over, I launched the project informally on my blog, and then I designed a whole new blog for it at http://www.travelingswirlypan.com
Tell us your favourite swirly pan creation.
I can’t say that I have a favorite swirly pan creation. Every cake that has come out of the project so far has been baked with love by someone, so they are all equally special, as far as I’m concerned. One of my participants actually lives in Dubai, but she really wanted to be a part of the project so I scheduled her turn for when she would be in the US anyway, so I think it was really special that she got the opportunity to participate.
How can you make baking healthy without compromising on taste?
I am not so much a healthy baker, honestly. I use full-fat ingredients, real sugar, tons of eggs and butter and such. I’m of the opinion that desserts should be for special occasions and not for the end of every single meal. Having said that, I will sometimes substitute fat free Greek yogurt for sour cream or even heavy cream (along with a bit of baking soda in that instance, for balance). You can also make some healthier substitutions within the bounds of traditional baking by using less refined products in place of all or part of their more refined counterparts. For example, I often substitute organic evaporated cane juice for white sugar. You can also substitute some whole grain flour for a portion of the white flour in your recipe. You may end up with a bit more of a hearty texture, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
When it comes to “healthy baking” such as gluten free/diabetic baking, I defer to the experts in that area, of whom there are many on the Internet. My niche, though, is full fat, pure ingredient baking.
What advice do you have to students who aspire to become pastry chefs?
I strongly advise people to work in the industry for a good solid six months, at least, before they commit to going to culinary school. But no matter if they take that advice, I tell people to focus on truly understanding their ingredients and how they work, learning and internalizing techniques and mixing methods that will allow them to achieve their desired results. In other words, don’t be tied to recipes. Really learn how to bake.
If you can master “creaming until light and fluffy,” making egg foams/meringues and folding, you are well on your way!
What cookbooks would you recommend to every passionate home cook?
By now it should come as no surprise that the books I recommend are technique-driven. Not that they don’t contain recipes, because they do. For all things cake-related, I highly recommend Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. It is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know to be a successful cake baker, and her recipes are truly inspired. I also recommend Ratio, by Mark Ruhlman and Cookwise and Bakewise, both by food scientist Shirley Corrisher. Ratio is all about learning the ratios of ingredients for all sorts of foods, from pizza dough to pancakes. And Shirley Corriher’s books are written in a very chatty and familiar style that make the information she provides, though very technical, completely accessible to the home cook/baker.
What are the basic pastry techniques that every home baker must master?
First and foremost, I’d say to learn how all the ingredients function. Once you understand that, you can move along to techniques and mixing methods. Creaming together fat and sugar is the basis of most butter cakes and cookies, so that’s a pretty vital one. Being able to make a stable egg foam, the basis of sponge cakes, genoise and buttercreams, is also important.
Folding is a technique that seems to intimidate people, but it’s really important to learn to do this correctly so that you can mix together well-aerated ingredients without losing all that air that you worked so hard to incorporate in the first place! It’s also a necessary step in making muffin or pancake batter, but for a different reason. Folding is a very gentle technique that inhibits gluten from forming in what should be tender end-products.
I truly could go on and on here, but I will stop there. If you can master “creaming until light and fluffy,” making egg foams/meringues and folding, you are well on your way!
Name your go-to food blogger friends for inspiration.
Although I have many blogging friends and many blogs that I read, I don’t tend to look to bloggers/blogs for inspiration, honestly. Sometimes I’ll just get an idea based on an ingredient I have or a flavor combination I want to try.
Actually, I did have one friend, Modern Mrs. Cleaver, say a few months ago that she had been dreaming about apple fritters, so I made some just based on that!
I’m of the opinion that desserts should be for special occasions and not for the end of every single meal.
Your favourite cooking gadget.
I guess some folks would call this a gadget, but I call it a necessity: my kitchen scale. I have an Escali Primo that I got in my kit from culinary school. I think everyone should own one of these, or at least some sort of accurate scale. The Primo is nice because it comes in fun colors, is very accurate up to 5kg/11lbs and costs only about $25.
Share your signature recipe with us?
I am not sure that I really have a signature recipe, but I am pretty well-known for my pound cakes. I have a base recipe that I tweak/modify in all sorts of ways to come up with new flavors. Here’s my basic recipe—feel free to make it your own by adding your own flavorings!
You can learn all of Jennifer’s delicious recipes at Pastry Chef Online.