Analytics Tracker

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Great Bechamel Disaster of 2012

Hey there y'all!  I am writing from the thrilling locale of Fort Worth, Texas.  It's actually been a great trip, and my co-workers and I have had a great time bonding (and working too, obviously... :) ).  Today we had a 2 hour drive, and stopped for lunch at Rudy's BBQ.  It was AWESOME - some of the best BBQ I've ever had, and the three-bean salad is quite excellent as well.

However...the giant helping of BBQ Turkey + 2 hours in the car is not sitting so well in my stomach right now...bleh.  Also it turns out that my initial instinct to pack my own tea was spot-on, because there is NO TEA in this hotel.  Not only is there none to be found in the room, but even at breakfast they only serve coffee.  I love coffee in the morning, but right now my tummy really wants a damn cup of tea.  Oh and learn :(  At least I can heat up some water in my room.  And the fresh fruit I packed has definitely come in handy.

View from my roooooooooooooooom
 I'd never worked in corporate before this summer, so this whole "business travel" thing is quite new to me.  Like, I know I'm here for work but it just blows my mind that someone else is paying for my plane ticket and hotel.  And I feel so guilty putting things on my company card.  Even though I know we're supposed to use it for meals, inside my head I'm like, "but I would have eaten food today anyway..."  But, when I hear stories (from other companies) of the things that people's boss's boss's boss's bosses have supposedly expensed, I no longer feel guilty at ALL.

The last time I visited our client down here, I wore full-on business attire because I was all "hey we're going to visit a cusomter, I should look AWESOME."  Well, it turns out they are super casual and I stuck out like a sore thumb. So this time I toned it down a bit with mostly jeans, flats and nice tops.  Still not, you know, sweatpants, but just not as intimidating as suits and heels.  Making sure that the way you dress doesn't make others feel put off or uncomfortable is more important than looking uber-professional sometimes.  If people feel like they can't relate to you because you're wearing a suit and look like an investment banker, it's hard to build a relationship.

Workin it.

In a related story except not at all, Ben and I went to an Italian cooking class last week!  It was super fun and we learned a lot...and I am also pretty sure I ate all of the butter on the planet (or at least most of it was - the rest was in my pizza last night, or in the ridiculous dessert that followed).  One of the dishes we made was a crespelle lasagna, which is basically a lasagna made with crepes instead of noodles. The crepes were layered with bechamel, parmasean cheese and prosciutto - so essentially we were eating butter and eggs, layered with butter and cream, cheese, and meat, repeat several times and bake.

Practicing for when I become a famous chef

...and competetive eater (JK.  Never.)

There was, however, one unfortunate thing that happened during this cooking class.  That unfortuate thing was my attempt at Bechamel.  I will say right off the bat that I do not believe this was my fault!!  Trust me - if it was, I would own it, but here is the sad tale of last Thursday's Bechamel.

I've only made bechamel once in my life, and it did NOT turn out well.  But, this was back in college when my cooking skills were pretty minimal.  Now that I can at least make a decent roux, I was pretty confident I could master the Bechamel.  Plus, no one else in my group had EVER made one before. 

If you've never made bechamel, you probably know that this is not something you should just dive into with no instruction.  But that's exactly what happened - they just handed us the recipe and were like "OK go for it."  No demo, no detailed instructions, nothing.  It's a little intimidating to make something like that on the spot if you've never done it before, and sauces can be kind of touchy and time-sensitive.

Still somewhat confident, I added my butter and flour to the pan and started whisking away.  The next step, obviously, was to add the milk and cream - the only problem with this was that the teacher was in the process of heating up everyone's milk and cream over the stove, so we all had to wait until it was ready and then receive our milk and cream individually.  My roux wasn't quite ready yet, so I just kept whisking and stirring until I got it to what I thought was the proper color.  I asked the teacher if she thought it looked ready and she responded that it needed to be a little darker.  I didn't think it did, but whatever lady you're the I returned it to the heat.

As I continued to whisk, the teacher (who seemed *really* frazzled and was finally starting to pass out milk...but not to me yet...) walked by, looked at my roux, and declared that it needed more flour.  One of the obliging assistants came by with extra flour and proceeded to add some.  At this point, I was sweating and my arm was getting tired, and Ben was over by the teacher's stove waiting to pounce on the next batch of milk/cream that came available, so I was basically defenseless against the coming onslaught of flour.

At first it was fairly harmless - just a couple of tablespoons.  I thought at this point that it looked fine, but the assistant would shake his head, go "hmm...maybe a little more," until he had added probably half a cup of extra flour.  That is a LOT of flour in this context.  Finally he declared it ready, just as Ben returned with the milk, and the roux was looking awfully dark.

I tried to incorporate the milk as Ben added it, one cup at a time...but after he had added all of the milk, it was clear that something was not right.  My bechamel hardened into a strange, smooth dough blob, and no matter how much I whisked it, it stayed solid.  I sent Ben back for more milk.  We added another cup, but it still looked like a weird blob, and was definitely too dark.

Our helpful assistant walked by again...and informed us that wow, we need more milk.
Yes.  We know.  Thanks.

We added another cup of milk...and then another...each time being told by the assistant that we needed MORE MILK.  At a certain point, the sauce finally started to come together a bit, but the consistency was still really weird, so I asked the assistant if he thought it was headed in the right direction.  Keep in mind, I have never made a successful bechamel.

His response?

"Oh, I have no idea, I've never done this before."

WHAT?!  You added about a bazillion cups of flour to my pot with an air of complete and total authority and now you're telling me you have NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE????!???  I was PISSED.  But I didn't say anything, I just finished my sad, rubbery, tannish Bechamel and layered my damn lasagna.  And then later the teacher told me in a very kind voice that the trick to the crespselle was "mastering the bechamel." 

Well.  Maybe I could have mastered the bechamel, had I not been the victim of a disastrous flour-bombing.  I'll try it again soon.  Maybe I'll make pastitsio.  Weeeeeeeee.

So, that's my story for the day.  Off for some yoga glo with Elena Brower and then out to dinner!  Catch y'all later!


  1. Mmmmmmmm bechamel. I promise, once you get the hang of it, bechamel's really quick and simple to whip up. But it does definitely take a bit to get used to.

    1. I believe it! One of these days, I will have bechamel success. Last Thursday was just not that day :(

  2. Be glad you're out of town, missing the ice storm going on outside... I've never made bechamel sauce either!

    1. Uh oh, is there really an ice storm?? Hopefully we'll still be able to fly home tomorrow, haha...

  3. Bah! I am totally annoyed for you and your becha-LAME sauce-making experience.

    First rule of bechamel-making -- your roux doesn't have to change in color. Really, if it's anything past a light golden color, then your sauce will have a weird toasty flavor. Darker roux is essential for dishes like gumbo, but for a bechamel, you only need to whisk the flour and butter over medium-low heat for about two minutes, to get rid of the raw flour flavor.

    The Fannie Farmer Cookbook recipe is clutch. It's posted on epicurious here:

    I've been using that recipe since I was too small to reach the stove without the aid of a stepping stool, and it's really pretty easy! The trick is in whisking constantly and vigorously as you add the milk in a small stream, which prevents lumps.

    Best o' luck with your next sauce-making attempt. I'm sure you'll nail it. And have a great time in Texas!

    1. GAH!! That makes me even more annoyed that the roux isn't even supposed to change color that much...I had a feeling. I've made roux for gumbo before and assumed that bechamel would need a much lighter roux.

      I'll definitely check out the Fannie Farmer recipe - I am determined to get it right next time! I get the impression it's similar to browning butter in that after you've done it successfully once, it's easy to replicate - but the first time is scary.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...