Friday, July 17, 2009

Biscotti Nightmares

I went to eat at The Restaurant with my Mom for the second time this week since I have been back from my vacation. I knew I would get shit right as I walked in the door. The Head Chef said smirkingly, “again!?”.  I guess they think I am coming here just to eat, and not to work.  I assured them I was coming back the next day.  

The food was stunning again, of course, but I have to admit that it was even better than last time which was just six days before. Maybe I am biased, because I adore these Chefs and respect their food and palates, but it is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to eat in Seattle. 

After the dinner is over, I say goodbye to my Mom, and decide to sit at the bar. I spot one of the Sous Chefs of a sister restaurant, I join him at the bar. We drink an entire bottle of Italian Prosecco as we get into a whirlwind conversation about the similarities between the dance world and the food industry, our love of pickles, running, and the extremely odd professions that we have chosen. I adore Chefs. 

Then, The Sous pops his head around to the bar. I assume he is going to ask me to get up and do a task for him. But, it is even better. He asks me if I wanted my prep list for the next day. Ha! I love that I am sitting at the bar drinking, and I am getting my task list for the next day. This is why I love this place. He tells me my job tomorrow will be…..dun dun dunnnnh….


All of a sudden, I am wishing I didn’t drink a half a bottle of Prosecco.

Ugh. Biscotti seems to be the one thing that is inconsistent EVERY time that I make it: Burnt on the bottom, crumbly, underworked dough, pistachios too big. I am determined to make it good this time.   

I arrive the next day after finishing a grueling ballet class and 2 mile run, excited, like it is my first day of school. I plop my polka dot knife bag, and my Kooba purse in the back kitchen, put on my white bistro apron that is too long around the neck, take a deep breath, and get going on the biscotti. 

I first take out the butter, which has not been taken out the night before, and stick it on a prep pan over the grill to soften it. When I come back after a few minutes, Chef M has chopped my 1 cup of butter into little pieces. I guess that would make sense. The smaller surface area makes the butter warm faster. I told you I don’t use my brain sometimes. 

So, I put the butter in the commercial black standing mixer and start to soften it with the giant steel paddle. I know the recipe by heart, or at least I think I do, and I start adding one egg into the butter. 

This is not the recipe. 

I realize I forgot to cream the butter with the sugar first. So, to fix my mistake, I just add the 1 cup of sugar into the one egg and butter mixture and continued on my way, hoping that this little error doesn’t mess up the whole recipe. I think I would die of humiliation. 

I continue on with the eggs, adding them in one at a time, until the mixture is a frothy yellow sugar. Then, I measure out the flour. As I am doing this, Chef M walks in to the back kitchen and give me one of those looks like, “Stage, what are you doing?”. He tells me I should always spoon my flour into a measuring cup so that it is not packed down. Then he says, technically, I should be weighing the flour, because that is the only way to have an exact flour measurement. He is a fantastic baker. 

I obviously start spooning the flour into the measuring cups. 

I measure everything out, and slowly add the flour to my egg mixture. The standing mixer, resists the flour at first, but then slowly starts to incorporate it. Dust from flour gets all over me, the standing mixer, and the prep counter. I get a comment about being a messy cook. This is true. 

After I have slowly incorporated the flour, I add in the different size chopped and toasted pistachios, and improvement I have made since my last batch. The mixer sounds like it is going to break, and so I decide I am going to work the dough by hand to avoid any accidents. I go to touch it, and it feels really gummy like a bread dough, so I decide to just leave it in the mixer, crossing my fingers as I add the pistachios. The mixer sounds like a old car that doesn’t want to start. It is resisting the pistachios. Why. Why. Why? 

Everyone has a comment, which I am now realizing is the life of a line cook. You always have mixed messages coming at you from every Chef who does it their own way. Chef B, looks at the mixer and says, you should have just done the whole recipe by hand like how I taught you. Then, Chef M walks by, tastes the dough, pretends to spit it out, and says,”Stage, there is so much gluten in this thing, it is going to be like a loaf of bread.” I have now over-mixed the dough. I am, as you can imagine, panicked. My first task in two weeks, and I am going to mess this biscotti up, again.  

Chef M then rolls out the dough for me into a long thin loaf, presses it with his fingers, and points out how much the dough is bouncing back. Then he says we are just going to bake it anyway, to see how it turns out. 

We stick it in the oven for 30 minutes at 325 degrees. I say a little prayer. 

As I am separating cauliflower florets on the opposite end of the Boos Block, I hear a ringing from the timer for the Biscotti.  Chef M, who is closest to the oven, gets to the biscotti first, and opens the door. I feel like he is breaking into a treasure chest, wondering if there will be gold. 

I look at him. He closes the oven, silent, and looks back at me. He says, “I checked on your bread, its not done yet.”  Ha! Bread. 

I give the bread about 15 more minutes, and I take it out of the oven, just barely browned and looking like all the biscotti that comes out of the oven at The Restaurant. But with all the shit I have been given, I am fully expecting to see a challah loaf, or a french baguette appear after all that gluten I created. But, alas, the biscotti prevailed. 

Now the waiting game begins. 

The biscotti has to cool before you slice it off, and bake it for the next time. The slicing is the nerve wracking part. Will it crumble and break under your Chef’s knife? When you taste the butts of the biscotti, will the flour and baking powder be properly sifted? Did you add enough leavening and sugar? 

When the biscotti has cooled, I bring it to the prep table to start the slicing. I wince, as I make the first incision and my knife runs smoothly through the biscotti like butter. I take the end piece, the butt, and pop it into my mouth. Oh! Buttery, and nutty, with a great texture? I slice off the rest of the bread successfully with no crumbling, and put it back in the oven to bake at 200 degrees for another hour or so. I am feeling slightly more confident. 

After flipping them once and testing them for hardness, I take them out of the oven to cool. I taste a small piece again, and I conclude that they are the best biscotti I have made. Extra gluten, my ass. 

I tell Chef M that the biscotti turned out, and I think they are the best ones I have made so far. He looks at me, charmingly, and says, “Stage. I was just messing with you this whole time” and gives me a huge wide smile. 

Ugh! I am so gullible. 

1 comment:

  1. I love this story! Although you may not believe it, this is exactly like my first year at my law firm. Only with a lot more crying and a lot less burns and knife wounds. But really, I'm just glad I can look back at it and laugh now.