“So, I think I’m moving.”
“No way- you’ve said this before and you never do- you would never leave Chicago.”
“No, really. Leigh. I’m leaving Chicago.”
That is when I knew it was really happening- I said it out loud to another pastry chef AND was convincing her to take my position. Nico- my amazing kitchen with my own walk in and freezer, a staff that had stuck by me (some for years and through different restaurants), availability to any product I could imagine, awesome equipment, and a chef that really supported what I did. What the hell was I thinking?
Everyone talks about the physical changes that one goes through as they work their way through our industry- knees get sore, back isn’t the same, you can’t bounce back from a clopen (closing- then opening) as you used to do. However, no one really talks about the mental changes that occur 10-15-20 years in your career.
So what was I thinking? A few things really.
I was about to get married. I was about to share my life with someone and build upon that life and had to realized that when I made decisions it wasn’t just about me it was about “us.” I also didn’t want to miss every birthday and holiday as I had before because I had someone I wanted to share them with. We talked about having a family in the future and did we really want to have our kids go to public school in Chicago? Could we afford a home in Chicago-proper? Did we enjoy digging our cars out the snow in May? Do we enjoy the state AND city taxes?
Over the 11 years I had resided in Chicago I had worked at TRU, Spring, L.2o (twice), The Peninsula Hotel, Bristol, Balena, and Nico. I had opened three of those seven restaurants and re-concepted another three.
I build programs- I reorganize kitchen systems, stream line ordering, make recipes consistent in how they are communicated, and train pastry cooks. My dear friend Dana once called me “The Opener”- a name I hold near and dear to my heart. I enjoy opening restaurants- it is a personal challenge to go into a bare bones kitchen with a loose mission statement of what owners want the restaurant to be and to create something from their vision. I was offered a new opening challenge in Austin, Texas for an entire property: two restaurants, a coffee-juice-pastry shop, event space, and ice cream truck. Things are bigger in Texas and this opportunity was the proof.
As a pastry chef you are an extension of the chef. You follow their lead. They go ultra modern? You order the liquid nitrogen. Paying homage to their roots? You find your grandma’s recipe. You listen to their needs and wants to have this or that concept. You are there to support their vision and to come up with the ideas of their pastry/bread program. It is rarely asked what a pastry chef wants in the long term and I suppose it is not really the chef’s job to do so. But as a pastry chef manipulating my own personal style to fit with what the chef wants, I would like to think that my future plans are just as important. It became very clear to me that if I wanted to ever have my own place, I would have to put my plans first. Saying that to the best chef I have ever worked with, Erling Wu-Bower, was one of the hardest things I ever had to admit. I couldn’t focus on his wants- I wanted to focus on mine.
When you start out in a kitchen you get to concentrate on the food and the technique- how to improve your abilities to be quick and efficient. You strain over every item on the plate. I try to remind my staff to enjoy that time. You don’t have to worry about food or labor cost, your relationship with your boss(es), whether or not your staff will stay with you… Oh and by the way, did you nail the reviews? Have you proven your relevance to the industry? None of that matters when a young cook is starting out in the kitchen; they just get to worry about the food. Cherish the growth, no matter how many miles it takes you from your comfort zone. As you move along in your career and life, thoughts you had as a young cook begin to compound and layer as you become a chef- a wife- a friend- a human being.
Nothing is as flaky and layered than a perfect Kougin Amann- something I became obsessed with during my time in Chicago. The many folds of butter and dough hit with sugar is an amazing feat of pastry. That is, once you’ve taken the time to make the dough, butter block, laminate the dough, form the kougin amanns, proof them, and lastly, bake- enjoy the process.
I was fortunate to learn how to make the Kougin Amann from Chef Michael Laiskonis and then brought it to Nico where we affectionately called them “Queens.”
YIELD: 1 Book: 24 Queens
19g kosher salt
9g dry instant yeast
598g room temp water
37g plugra butter-melted
Place all dries in a bowl with a dough hook attachment
mix in melted butter on low speed
slowly add water allowing dough to hydrate
once dough is combined mix on medium speed
mix till dough is shiny and elastic (has good “window”)
spray bowl with pan spray and place dough inside
wrap top with plastic
1650g plugra butter- on the warm side
On a piece of parchment slice butter into equal square butter blocks- make a rectangle the size of 11”X9” with that butter.
Place a piece of parchment on top the butter.
Using a wooden dowel and some of the day’s aggression- beat the butter so that the pieces start to come together- be sure to keep your rectangle shape.
You will need to use a bench scrapper to take pieces from the side and reintroduce them to the center.
Do this a few times and it will become a homogenous block of butter.
Clean up the sides and make sure that the butter is smooth top and bottom.
Place in a full sheet of parchment and wrap.
Take dough out and sheet to .5” thick- you want it to be a rectangle large enough that you can accommodate the block of butter being locked in between the dough.
Once you have that rectangle large enough place the butter block on the right side of the rectangle and fold over the dough. Be sure to seal the edges around the butter block.
Roll out the dough with the butter now inside the dough to a long rectangle (think 40”X15”: If you have a sheeter, CONGRATS- this will be a ton easier!)
You will then want to fold one end of your dough 1/4 th the way into the center and then fold the other end of the dough 3/4th the way matching the end pieces together.
Then fold the end of the dough to meet the other end as if it was a book.
Wrap and allow to rest for 1 hour.
After an hour take the dough out and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
Repeat the same fold you did before.
Rest another hour.
After an hour take the dough out and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
Be sure to have 320g of sugar weighed out.
Roll the dough out in a long rectangle (40”X15”) with sugar on the surface.
Sprinkle sugar on the dough rectangle and finish your book fold making sure to get sugar on all sides.
Roll dough out to ¼” thick.
Cut 4.5” squares of dough.
Forming: using your fingers place all the corners of the square into the center pressing down so they stay there.
The teardrop shape that is created from that fold you want to place your fingers in between the tear drop and press them in to make the shape of a heart
Place them inside a 4” ring mold and proof at 98F for 55 minutes. (spray molds with pan spray)
Bake them at 375F on high fan (if you have that availability)
When they come out of the oven allow them to cool for 8 minutes then carefully remove them from the molds and allow them to cool upside down.