Throwback Thursday– Remembering Julia

I grew up watching Julia Child on PBS. Back then, she basically was the only game in town, as far as shows about food were concerned. Since my own mother could not cook or bake, Julia really became my role model.

I loved observing Julia’s every move as she de-boned a chicken or rolled out a dough for French bread. She used a lot of French terms on her shows, and since I was taking French classes in school, her small references to those culinary terms in French just made learning so much fun!

What I loved most about Julia was that she was not trying to be perfect like some chefs we see on TV or in culinary schools. She did not hold herself as if she had an attitude. She was so down to earth and REAL. Everyone can relate to that, because no one and I MEAN NO ONE is perfect. Even a Master Chef makes mistakes if only on occasion.

When I was taping the DVD series to my first book “About Professional Baking” I remember teaching how to make parchment cake circles to fit into a round cake pan, and during my first attempt the circle was slightly too large and needed to be trimmed. My publisher immediately wanted me to re-do it so that it would come out perfectly on camera. I refused and told him why.

Often when a culinary student is just learning how to make a parchment circle, the parchment circle can come out too large. It is no big deal to fix it and a student SHOULD know how. All you have to do is re-fold the circle and trim it with some scissors.

On my DVD I was trying to show any student who makes a mistake that it is in fact fixable and no one, not even an experienced pastry chef is above making mistakes. After all, this is life! My creating the circle perfectly would not have taught the student how to troubleshoot.

I am reminded of imperfections when Julia famously dropped a chicken on the floor while taping a show. That scene could have been re-taped, but it was not. Why? I believe it was to teach the viewer that no one , not even the GREAT Julia Child was perfect.

That lesson really rubbed off on me. I wrote to Julia when I was a young teenager, and even her response had a few cross-outs in it. That’s how I knew that she and SHE alone, had answered my letter. I still have that letter and cherish it.

So as I remember Julia, it is not just for her easy going manner and her spectacular mastery of French cuisine, it is for her act of being human and imperfect. She was showing that she was one of us, and that anyone can master the art of French cooking. I love her for teaching me the best lesson of all! Bon Appetit!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Thanksgiving Snuck Up On Me

pumpkin-tartletsAs far as holidays go, Thanksgiving ranks as one of my most favorites. I love everything about it–being thankful for the closeness of family and friends, and especially the food! My family knows that when I start my cranberry chutney and pie crusts, it’s definitely Thanksgiving.

Preparations for this year’s Thanksgiving overwhelmed me. I think it was because the fall went by so fast and the holiday almost seemed to sneak up on me without me even realizing it.

My family loves apple pie, pumpkin pie, and ALWAYS something chocolate (I think they get that from me!). So this year I made a large free-form apple walnut tart, individual pumpkin tartlettes and a dreamy chocolate cream pie with a bruleed marshmallow topping.

My youngest daughter arrived a few days before the big day.  I love when she helps me, because we get to catch up on each other’s lives while we bake.

It was her idea to make smaller pumpkin tartlettes this year, and they were amazing. I made a pumpkin pie filling enough for a 9 inch pie shell. Then I made a flaky pie crust dough. I rolled out the dough and cut out circles which I placed into standard muffins pans. We ladled some pumpkin filling into each one and baked them in only a fraction of the time that a normal sized pie would have taken.

One important tip before I continue. Knowing when a pumpkin pie is done can be tricky. Since it is a custard style pie with eggs as the thickening agent, you must be sure it is cooked all the way through. The best way to do this is to stick a small sharp knife into the center and see if it comes out clean. Also, the pie should not be jiggly when you gently shake it, except in the center. The carry over baking once it is out of the oven will firm the filling up. Remember: a custard pie is WAY OVER DONE when the top becomes cracked.

Back to my tartlettes! They were so cute after they came out of the oven. After chilling them overnight in the fridge, I dolloped each one with some vanilla whipped cream and garnished each one with a small leaf pastry topper.

To make the toppers, I re-rolled my pastry scraps leftover from my pie dough. I then cut out tiny leaves with cookie cutters. Any shape will do, but they should be very small. You can even do different shapes depending on the holiday. The best part? You can freeze them for a few months in an airtight container. After egg washing and sugaring them, I baked them for just a few minutes or until they were barely light brown. And voila! simple, gorgeous garnishes to top my tartlettes. You can see how adorable they are!

My motto is that nothing should go to waste, especially a flaky pie dough. You hear all about those chefs that use the entire animal (like snout -to-tail for a pig, for example) and then create various dishes with all of those parts? Well, I feel the same way about any of my pastries and doughs. Nothing should go to waste!

If you are going to go to the trouble and bake from scratch you might as well get the benefits. The food that comes from your kitchen, that you prepared with your own hands, really does taste better and you know what is in it! And if you combine that with your kids helping you, well, that’s just time well spent around!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail


Making a Video for YouTube

Planning and making a baking video for my YouTube channel is just like planning to do any TV show. Organization is key! Creating a baked good can seem quite complicated. That is why I do my best to break down the entire recipe into specific steps that must be easy to follow.

I usually start by reading over the recipe, figuring out exactly what steps to show viewers, and then discussing each shot with my videographer. The set up of shots can and often do change during the actual shoot.

If the camera does not pick up on what I am trying to communicate to the audience my videographer and I may re-vamp the shot or tweak the angle at which the camera shows the action. Sometimes a still photo is shown to enhance what is in a bowl, for example.

The baked goods are almost never made in real time, because that would take forever. They are actually made ahead in various stages. I may make a dough ahead of time and chill it in the fridge the day before. This is done especially if a newly made dough on camera would be too soft if used right away without being allowed to firm up in the fridge.

I usually make a finished baked good earlier in the day, or the day before, to show how it should look after baking. This is referred to as the “hero” shot. Sometimes I will make a cake and save the actual act of frosting the cake to do on camera.

There can also be frustrations to deal with when doing  videos, especially if your kitchen is not an actual TV set with just the right acoustics, lighting, etc. For example, light may reflect off of the microwave or another appliance wreaking havoc.

My videographer and I always review all footage so that even before the actual act of editing begins we are sure that I have included all the steps I needed and the viewer has a idea of what I am making.

Time is also crucial meaning the video should NOT take FOREVER. No one wants to hear a diatribe on ANYTHING for several minutes or anyone yammering on and on. Alas, I am still working on the timing thing– always trying to make the videos a bit shorter.

I just finished two videos a few days ago, and I had a few screw ups for lack of a better expression. I made a Double Cheese Cherry Danish for one video and had to make one to completion. To make a long story short, I forgot to put the cherries in by accident, so I made a very delicious Double Cheese Cherry-less Danish. Whoops! Obviously, I couldn’t use it for the video.

I guess I was trying to do too much at once, and as the Danish was baking I noticed the cherries on the table in a bowl. Why I asked myself were there cherries on the counter??  Just then, a light bulb went off in my head. Yikes! Too late! By the time I saw them, the Danish was finishing up and looking GORGEOUS! Too bad, too. I felt like I was looking at the woman with that proverbial little black dress– but NO pearls! Just like there were no cherries.

I was so mad. The solution? I just made the Danish in real time, but thankfully, I had a chilled dough in the fridge ready to go. It was just one of those days, and thankfully, I don’t have too many of them.

So now I have three Danishes– two with cherries and one without. Brunch, anyone??

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail


It Takes Me Back

I just heard from Ann Perillo, the host of Schenectady Today! It really took me back.

I remember being on her show when I was promoting my kids’ baking camp. My own kids were on the show with me. My two daughters had such a blast. We really got the royal treatment, because Greg Millett even allowed my kids to work the cameras giving them a lesson on exactly how to do it.

I remember doing two other shows there as well. Ann is such an incredible person; so bright and talented. She  is a real people person and really knows how to put her guests at ease. Once you meet her you feel like you have known her forever and could tell her anything.

Ann’s show is going into its’ 19th year! Wow! She sure is doing something right.

Kudos to you, Ann!! By the way, I would LOVE to come back for a follow-up appearance on your show. Hint, hint!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail