Local rhubarb has come into season here in Vancouver and I just can't help myself. I love rhubarb. I love the tanginess, the colour, the variety of flavours that it pairs with, everything! My last post was for this roasted rhubarb financier, which paired tart rhubarb with toasty, nutty brown butter and it was amazing. This week, we're pairing rhubarb with strawberries (a classic), but also with buttery fried brioche dough, vanilla beans, and vanilla sugar. This blog is called "Hint of Vanilla" after all.
I'm sure a lot of you guys know that I work as a pastry cook (if you don't, now you do), so precision and consistency is super important to me. I can't just switch that off when I'm cooking at home, it's just a part of me. Even though I'm not a savoury cook, proper knives and knife skills are really important to me. I think basic knife skills are an essential part of knowing how to cook - everyone should know the basics! Like how everyone should know how to do laundry or buy stamps. So I've paired up with Sabatier to bring you guys a couple posts on basic knife skills! Sabatier started in 1812 in France and continues to produce quality cutlery for both professionals and home cooks to this day. Even though I already have 10 different knives of varying styles and sizes, I was lucky enough to receive a knife that I didn't have - their 7 inch Santoku knife, a flat-edged knife that is ideal for dicing and mincing.
Dicing is a pretty important skill in the pastry kitchen. You want all of your ingredients to cook at the same time, so they should all be the same size. But nature doesn't make it easy and make all fruits and veggies perfectly the same. That's where good knife skills come in handy. Dicing the rhubarb into 1/2 inch cubes means that they will cook evenly and I won't have chunks of raw rhubarb mixed in with overcooked rhubarb mush. This same concept goes for everything you cook - onions, carrots, meat, whatever it is, it's gotta be the same size.
So! Step one for knife skills - how to hold a knife. For a large knife, you want to hold it in a firm grip with your thumb and index finger actually holding the base of the blade, as in the photos above (excuse my roughed up kitchen hands...). This gives you much more control and stability versus holding it simply by the handle.
For a smaller knife, such as a paring knife, you can use the same grip as with a large knife, but I find that placing my index finger on the top of the blade gives me better handling (as in the second photo below). It depends on the size of your knife as well as what you're cutting. But the key is to always be in control of your knife!
Step two - hold to the product you are chopping. A firm "claw" grip is best - if you look in the photo right above, you'll see that my fingertips are behind my third knuckle on my fingers, so that knuckle is acting as a guard to prevent the blade from being able to cut my fingertips. The claw grip also means you have a firm hold on your product and it won't go sliding around on you as you cut.
Next, if you're working with something like rhubarb (or carrots, cucumber, basically anything that is longer than it is wide), you want to make "batons" first, which basically means sticks. After chopping of the ends of the rhubarb, I sliced it down the length of the stalk to create two even batons. Then, you start to dice. Keeping the tip of the blade on the cutting board, you slice with a rocking motion. Imagine the point where the handle and the blade meet making a circle. You push the blade down and forward to cut, then bring it up and back, all as smoothly as you can. And repeat! What you don't want is a straight up-and-down smashing of the knife on the cutting board, like a butcher with a cleaver.
Always pick the right tool for the right job. I wouldn't use my large Santoku knife to cut a small strawberry - there's more of a chance of cutting myself, plus it's more cumbersome and difficult. If you're working with a smaller item, choose a smaller knife. Simple as that!
A little bit on knife care - DON'T PUT YOUR DAMN KNIVES IN THE DAMN DISHWASHER. Seriously. Hand wash. Always hand wash immediately after using and then dry immediately! Dry your damn knives with a cloth or towel and put them back in a knife holder, a knife block, on a magnet strip, somewhere that the blade won't get knocked around with other stuff. But don't soak your knives!
Knives are probably the most important tool in your kitchen and a good quality knife should last a long time, but only if you take care of it. Sharpen your knives often, don't use them to open cans or pick your teeth (Dad, I'm looking at you), and always cut on a cutting board. This way, you can get the most out of your knives.
I am just trying to share a little on the bare bones of knife skills and I am by no means a knife skills expert! I tried to cut the meat off a pork shoulder bone yesterday and made a huge mess of the meat, which makes me sad. I really should take some butchery classes or something… But basic knife skills are an essential skill in your kitchen and a little knowledge goes a long way! Stay tuned later this month for more knife skills from myself and Sabatier! :)
This post is sponsored, but, as always, my opinions and thoughts are my own. Thanks for supporting sponsors that support me!
Strawberry Rhubarb Doughnuts
Makes 8 doughnuts
Recipe from Bouchon Bakery Cookbook
518 g all-purpose flour
10 g instant dried yeast
74 g sugar
9 g salt
212 g whole milk, at 23 C
111 g eggs
3 g vanilla paste
55 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
500 g rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch dice
250 g strawberries, cut into 1/2 inch dice
75 g granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, scraped
2 to 4 L of canola oil
200 g vanilla sugar
Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray.
For the brioche, place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix for about 15 seconds to distribute the yeast evenly. Add all of the remaining dough ingredients except for the butter and mix on low speed for 4 minutes. Add the butter a few pieces at a time, incorporating after each addition before adding the next. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and push the dough off the hook. Mix for a total of 30 minutes on low speed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Fold the left side over to the right, the right over to the left, then the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top so you have a "package" with the seam at the top. Place the dough seam-side down in the prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it ferment for 1 hour.
Repeat the folding process, place it back in the bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
For the compote, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, and sugar into a medium saucepan. Add the seeds from the vanilla bean as well as the empty pod. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the fruit starts to break down and bubble. Reduce it slightly to form a thick compote. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough to an 11 inch wide circle. Using a 3.5 inch circle cutter, cut out 8 rounds of dough and carefully transfer them to a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Use a 1 inch wide circle cutter to get as many min doughnuts as you can out of the scraps. Of those scraps, gently knead together and roll out to get additional mini doughnuts.
Place a piece of plastic wrap loosely over the doughnuts and place in a warm, humid place to proof for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (Note: I turn the shower on in my bathroom, let it run for 5 minutes, then turn it off. This makes the bathroom a little warm and a little steamy, but not too hot. I place the brioche on the counter, then close the door. This provides the most ideal proofing conditions that I can find in my apartment. If you do this, check up on the dough every 10 minutes to make sure it's not too hot!).
Meanwhile, pour the canola oil into a heavy bottomed saucepan or pot, making sure there is at least 3 inches of oil in the pot. Heat the oil to 175 C.
Once the doughnuts are proofed, remove the plastic wrap and place them near your pot of oil. Have a cooling rack on a sheet pan next to your oil and the bowl of vanilla sugar.
Gently pick up one doughnut and carefully place it in the oil, making sure not to splash oil on yourself. Fry the dough for 2 minutes, then flip it and fry on the other side for 1 minute, until the doughnut is a golden brown colour. Remove from the oil and place on the cooling rack. Let it cool for 5 minutes or so, then transfer it to the bowl of vanilla sugar. Coat the doughnut in sugar, then place back on the cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts and mini doughnuts.
Transfer the compote to a piping bag fitted with a small circular piping tip. Using a paring knife, make a small incision in the side of each doughnut. Insert the piping tip and pipe as much compote as the doughnut will allow. When you pull the piping tip out, the compote should ooze out a little bit.
The doughnut are best eaten immediately. Enjoy!