Episode 01: Tools of the Trade, Part 1

Hi there! Come on in and have a seat. I’ve got some cocoa heating up on the stove, let me grab you a mug. I’m Neon, and welcome to Mise en Podcast.

[Fade in music, carefree by kevin macleod]

A bit of housekeeping before we begin. As this is our first episode, I wanted to give you an idea of what our episode format will be, as well as what you can expect over the next 10 episodes.

Each show will be about 30-45 minutes long, with some breaks thrown in because I’m going to  need some coffee. We’ll cover the joys of bread baking and cake making, give you some insight into stocking an epic pantry, and have a few tips and tricks that I think might be helpful. Within each episode, we will have a coffee break, where I talk about what I’m drinking, or if I have a guest, what they are drinking…because beverages are awesome. Additionally, I’d like to thank Lorlor for being our first Patron on Patreon!

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Neon! At least that’s what some people call me. I am also a professional baker and have been working as such for the past five years. A majority of that time was spent working in a high-volume restaurant chain that features bread both in their name and logo. After leaving there, I became a scratch baker at a small cafe out in Washington. Here, I have the freedom to create and bake nearly anything. And it’s been a wonderful time and honestly, this is easily what I would call my dream job.

Okay, let’s get onto the first episode. This will be a two-parter as we are going to talk about the many, many tools you might find in your kitchen. I’ll be ranking these things on a must-have to a maybe-you-don’t-need-it scale, which I hope will be informative. Additionally, I will provide links to where you can purchase these items, should you wish. Please note that I am not affiliated with the companies in any way, nor am I being sponsored by them.

First up, we have the iconic stand mixer. Now, a stand mixer can be a life saver in the kitchen. That being said, they can be rather expensive. I am fortunate enough to have had the chance to work with several at my job. Both the Professional 7 quart Kitchen-Aids, to the large Hobart floor mixer that we use to mix bread and cookie doughs. Now, These tools help reduce fatigue on the arms from mixing and cut down on your mixing time spent.. If you can’t afford a stand mixer, a good hand-held mixer is a great alternative and it’s only a fraction of the price. For the home baker, I would recommend the Kitchenaid tilt-head mixer. You can find these online and in a variety of stores. They can run from about $200 all the way up into the $600 range. For attachments, all you really need is the paddle attachment, as it’s going to be one that we use the most. You can get a paddle with a scraper on it, but personally I think that’s just a gimmick to get you spend more money. A good spatula will work just as well for scraping down the sides of the bowl. You will also want the balloon whisk as it is easier to use that to whip up egg whites to a stiff peaks than it is to try and do it by hand. Overall, the stand mixer is a wonderful tool, and it’s nice to have, but it is not actually a necessity.

Probably one of the most important tools you can have in a kitchen is a chef’s knife. Now, I was blessed with the gift of a good mid-range chef’s knife from my mentor and boss, and the difference between that and the food service knives we have at the café is like night and day. When it comes to knives, it’s important to do your research. I would caution you against impulse buying one on Amazon (even if the merchant does manipulate the price to make it look like a good deal). Take your time and check out chef resource sites, and see what they say. How well can these knives handle things like chopping through blocks of cheese, or potatoes, or greens? Many of these sites will put knives through the wringer so that you don’t have to. Currently, I’m using a Dalstrong Gladiator Series 8-inch chef’s knife. As my first professional grade chef’s knife, I am in love with it. At first, it will feel a bit weird in your hand as you’re not used to it, but as you use it, you’ll find that it can easily become an extension of your arm. A good knife is a worthwhile investment that can last you many, many years. This is a must-have for any kitchen.

Speaking of knives, this next one is a bit misleading with the name. It’s a bench knife. This little instrument is sometimes known as a bench scraper. It’s a thin metal blade with a handle. For the most part, these tools aren’t actually knives, but rather, the metal is thin enough that you can use it to slice through a lot of doughs. Another great use for this is to scrape off any stuck on dough that might linger on your work area or even on other tools! I’ve used ones with metal, wood, and plastic handles. All work about the same, and it’s just generally which design/handle you want. There are full plastic bench scrapers that provide a gentler scrape so you don’t accidentally gouge or scratch your work surface. I’ve got to rank this up there with the must-haves for any kitchen.

Probably one of the more versatile tools in the kitchen is a rolling pin. It is a veritable staple of any kitchen, from professional settings to your grandma’s cabinet. Now, there are a few different types of rolling pins out there, and each one suited for its own purposes. The one most people are familiar with is the one I grew up seeing my mom use in the kitchen. Sometimes called a “Traditional Rolling Pin,” these are somewhat large and have handles on either side, with a rod running through the center that the rest of the pin spins on. These can be made of wood, or metal, silicon, even marble. While good for applying a lot of pressure, I’m personally not a fan of them. I like the “French Rolling Pin.” These look like large sticks, for lack of a better term. They don’t have handle, and they could be tapered on the ends or not. I find these to be a bit easier to use, more versatile, and easier to store. Once again, these also come in a variety of materials such as wood, metal, or silicone, or plastic. While there are many types out there, some for just one purpose, we’re going to stick with these two for now. I would recommend finding one that appeals to you. A lot of what all of these tools come down to, is personal preference. However, for me, this is another must-have for any kitchen.

Another great tool is just the simple whisk. There are so many varieties of whisks out there, it can be a bit confusing as to what one you might actually need! In all reality though, each whisk does serve a different purpose, but for our needs, your standard balloon whisk is all you’ll really need. Once again, find one that appeals to you and that you’ll be happy to use. This too, is a must for any kitchen.

I know that we’re just getting started talking about the things you might need in the kitchen, but let’s take a quick break with a segment I’m calling The House Special. This is where I talk to people about what they’re drinking! However, for our first episode, we’ve got something a little different.

[Coffee shop sounds]

Welcome to The House Special, the part of the show where I talk about something tasty to drink!

For this first episode, I’ve got something that’s rather special to me. For those that don’t know, I love podcasts. One of my all-time favorites is The Amelia Project. One of the main components of that show is the repeated mention of “Chocolat chaud” from Les Deux Magots, a famous cafe in Paris, France. While I haven’t been able to actually taste that drink, I have worked on crafting a recipe that I think is worthy of homage to The Amelia Project.

This is a recipe that I modified from wellplated.com and will post a link the source to in the shownotes.

Rich, hot cocoa so thick that you could stand a spoon in it. This is how the creators of The Amelia Project described the magic of Les Deux Magots. And that is the magic that I hoped to recreate. As you might expect, I started this journey by diving through recipes posted on the web, sifted through all the bits of information, and modified one of the recipes that stood out to me. While it didn’t turn out quite as thick as I wanted, this drink turned out to be pretty delicious, so let’s jump in and enjoy the never-ending beverage adventure together!   

We’re going to gather up our ingredients first and then we’ll walk through making the cocoa.

We’ll start with espresso. Why espresso first? Well, because it takes a bit of time to make it! The espresso will help enhance the chocolate and make it taste… more chocolaty! I would recommend no more than a shot of espresso or, if you’ve got it, just a little bit of espresso powder, about half a teaspoon’s worth. Please don’t confuse that with ground espresso! They are two different things, and I can confirm that adding ground espresso just makes this drink rather grainy.

The most important thing you’ll need to make this is some good, quality chocolate. For this, I’ve grabbed a couple of bars of 70% dark chocolate made by Green & Black’s, which is both delicious to eat on its own and it works well in this drink. Now, you don’t really want to get anything darker than 75% cacao, but you still want it pretty dark. No matter what you choose though, go with what feels right to you, and if you’ve got a favorite chocolate, then use that! The reason you don’t want the chocolate too dark is that it will make the hot chocolate a bit too bitter, at leaset it did for me. I like my cocoa to be on the sweeter side. So, 70% is what works best for me. Grab a few bars, you’re going to want about 8 ounces of chocolate. You’re also going to want to chop up the chocolate as this will help it melt a lot faster. You don’t have to pulverize it, but you want to have it coarsely chopped.

We’ve got our chocolate, now we need milk and cream. One thing we’ll discuss in later episodes is the use of whole milk. For our drink though, use what you’ve got! If you’ve got non-fat milk though, I would recommend picking up a quart of milk with at least some fat content in it. We’re going to need about a cup and a half. At this time, I haven’t worked up any dairy free alternatives to this drink, but it should be possible. Now, a note on the cream. You will want to use heavy whipping cream to give it a thick, rich flavor. However, you don’t need to be like me and buy the largest container of heavy cream that you can find. We only need half a cup for this recipe.

So, we’ve got milk, cream, chocolate and espresso. All we need now is a bit of vanilla, some powdered sugar, a tiny dash of sea salt, and if you like, some whipped cream! If you want some whipped cream, I prefer fresh made whipped cream. I mean, we’ve already got some heavy cream and if you’ve got a handheld mixer or a stand mixer, it’s pretty easy to make. But, we’ll cover that more in a moment.

So, we’re now going to mix most everything together. The milk, cream, chocolate, vanilla, espresso, and powdered sugar will all go into a medium saucepan. When I say medium saucepan, you want to use one that has some room in it. You’re going to be stirring everything together and you don’t want it to spill over the sides! You also don’t want a large, unwieldy pot as well. That just gets too awkward and cumbersome for a drink. That is, unless you’re making this in bulk quantities.

Once you’ve got everything in the pan, set the heat to about medium. Too high and things won’t cook properly. Too low and this will take forever. What we’re looking for is everything blending together, the chocolate to melt, and for it to not boil. There will be some bubbling around the edges and that’s fine. We’re actually looking for that. Remember, you can always turn the heat down if you feel like things aren’t melting quite as well as it should. You want this to be nice and smooth in texture.

Once you’re happy with the consistency and texture of the chocolate, it’s time to serve it up! I like to garnish it with fresh whipped cream and a small, small sprinkling of fleur de sel.

If you want some fresh whipped cream, now’s the time to make it. You want to get some cold heavy whipping cream. The higher the percentage on the carton, the richer and thicker the whipped cream will be. If you’re using a handheld mixer, this next part isn’t as fun, but for now, we beat the cream with the whisks until it is thick and, whipped. Once you get it about where you want, add in a bit of powdered sugar to help sweeten it to your liking. That’s all there is to it! Cream and sugar. Go ahead and spoon some onto the cocoa if you want.

Something fun about this drink is that it thickens the longer it stands. And it’ll keep for a day or two. If it becomes solid, just go ahead return it to a pan and warm it up over low heat. It’s a super rich and chocolate drink and I can see why The Interviewer of the Amelia Project enjoys it!

And that’s going to be it for this House Special. I hope your enjoying your cocoa! With a mug in hand, let’s get back to the rest of the episode.

[Coffee shop sounds]

Welcome back. While you’re enjoying your cocoa, let’s dive right back into kitchen tools, picking up with measuring cups. For something that seems pretty basic, there is so much more to these tools than you might think. For the purpose of measuring, get a set of good, durable measuring cups for your dry ingredients. Same for measuring spoons. If you can find them, get a set with the odd measurements like 3/4 and 2/3 cup. While not absolutely necessary, these odd measurements can help ease the measuring of dry goods. For your wet ingredients, get a good, solid, glass measuring cup. You want it to be see-through for more precise measuring. All of these are a definitive must-have for any kitchen.

If you have a stand mixer, then chances are you already have a mixing bowl! But, I would also recommend picking up a couple extra ones. This will be useful in mixing your dry and wet ingredients, while still keeping them separate. Not to mention, sometimes you just don’t need a cumbersome mixing bowl when a smaller one will work just fine! While not a must-have, I would strongly encourage owning a couple of mixing bowls.

While I’d like to say that a spatula is a spatula, that’s not quite the case. Since we’ll be dealing with hot pans, you want to stay away from the cheaper spatulas that you might find at a dollar store. What we need is a spatula that is designed for the higher temps of a hot pan. These are a bit more expensive, but you won’t have to worry about them melting on you as you’re stirring. These are another must have for any kitchen.

From the next two items, you can take your pick. Parchment paper is wonderful for helping to keep things from sticking to your baking pans. On a personal note, I prefer parchment paper over silicon mats as they can be trimmed to nearly any shape or size that you need. The downside is that you will always need to buy more. That being said, you can buy them in precut sheets instead of the sometimes unwieldy roll of paper. Either this or a silicon baking mat are another must have!

As I previously mentioned, a silicon baking mat acts similar to parchment paper but it does have some limitations. While it is great in the fact that it is reusable, the mat cannot be trimmed like the paper alternative. Some of these mats do come with rings printed on them for tackling cookie production, and they are fantastic for macaroons. Once again though, either this or parchment paper is a must have for any kitchen.

One of the best things you can have in the kitchen is a digital scale. This handy tool will bring precision to your baking. While volume baking can be nice, weighing your ingredients will give you consistent results every time. Though these can be a bit pricey for the professional models, there are budget friendly ones out there. And though they are nice to have, this isn’t a must have. But I do recommend one for the kitchen.

Well, we’ve covered quite a bit, but we’re not done yet. For now, we’re going to take a quick pause to talk about something mentioned earlier in this episode’s Teaspoon Tips.

[Three tings of a spoon against a mug]

Today, we’re going to chat briefly about espresso powder. I know this isn’t the episode about stocking your pantry, but since I did mention it in the House Special, I thought we should talk about it for a moment.

First, espresso powder is not just ground coffee. In baking, we use espresso powder to enhance flavors like chocolate, nuts, and caramel. Normally, regular coffee grounds don’t help as much and sometimes, you’re left with a grainy texture. That being said, brewed espresso does work to help enhance the flavor of chocolate. I’ve made a double chocolate cake with 1/2 a cup of brewed espresso in it, and you can’t even taste the coffee.

As for what espresso powder is, I’ve heard it described a couple of different ways. First is that it’s the dried grounds of brewed espresso that have been ground super fine. Like, to the level of Turkish Coffee grind. Or possibly even finer. Another description I’ve heard is that they are coffee crystals.

Either way, it is a powder that is intensely dark and super concentrated. Think of it almost like instant coffee, but way more concentrated. On that note, you don’t actually want to brew it like you would instant coffee. You can, but I don’t think it would be all that tasty.

Anyway, that’s our little food fact for this episode! Thanks for listening everyone, and stay tuned for episode two! We’re going be finishing up our discussion of kitchen implements, as well dishing up a delicious new drink!

[Fade in music, but keep low as credits will be read over it.]

Mise en Podcast is written, edited, and produced by Neon. You can find them on twitter, @NeonGreenTiger. Script editing was by Wing McCallister. You can find him on twitter @DrWingMC. Art is drawn by MyselfSquared. Find more of their work on their facebook page, facebook.com/myselfsquared. Music is Carefree by Kevin MacLeod from incomptech.com and used under the Creative Commons Attribution License. For all other information, including episode transcripts, links, and show notes, please visit our website at bakecast.com. You can also find up on twitter @MiseEnPodcast, or write to us at hello@bakecast.com. Want to help support us? Check out bakecast.com/support. Please remember to leave a rating and review on iTunes. And lastly, I’m Lur, and I live under your bed.

[Music swells briefly before fading out]