I never thought I would love another grocery store like I love Trader Joe's. When we left CA, I had serious TJ withdrawal. Whenever we traveled within a 50 mile radius of a store, I would stop in and stock up on olive oil. I was so excited to move to Austin because Whole Foods started out in Austin and I couldn't wait to get back to a decent grocery store. The Whole Foods flagship store is a wonder to behold... so much so that it's probably one of Austin's most popular tourist attractions, right behind the state capitol building and the bats under Congress Street Bridge. Which makes it a big pain in the a** if you actually want to shop and not gawk.
At Whole Foods, I seem to always have the bad luck of being stuck behind some out-of-towner moseying slowly up the aisles ogling the free-range, biodynamic, organic, virgin granola selection (or some such). Not conducive to those who enjoy a quick but relaxing jaunt through the store. Thank god for Central Market! Not only can I find any food or ingredient I ever needed (and more than I need usually- damn those sample stations) but it's like an oasis - a calm, organized temple to food.
One of my favorite things about Central Market is the Cooking School. Central Market brings in visiting chefs from all over the world in addition to staff that teach classes. The school allows volunteers to work as assistants for the classes and, as payment, they feed you the dish du jour and serve you wine while you clean up after the class. For every two classes that you work you get a $45 gift certificate to use toward a class of your choice. The Cooking School staff are great and really appreciate the volunteers. 80% of the work is doing dishes and serving but they do let volunteers help prep the food for the class. I've made some interesting dishes in my tenure as a volunteer- thanks to an Italian chef who cooked classical French food, I can make some awesome savory crepes. Making 50 crepes in a row was great practice!
I've been volunteering at the cooking school for over a year now and try to make it in every couple of months. Last Friday night I worked with a member of the staff, Christina Lee, in her class, "Puff Pastry Demystified". That's Christina above, holding the tray, and a fellow volunteer named Jenn. We learned to make feuilletage (puff pastry) at LCB but I haven't attempted to make it since I've been back so I was excited to work the class. With the cold snap we've had in Austin lately, it was perfect weather to work with the dough. Christina teaches a slightly different, less complicated fold and turn method than LCB. The results aren't quite as flaky but are delicious nevertheless. Her pain au chocolat was so worth all the dishes I did! You can check out the "fruits" of my labor and Christina's recipe below...
Christina Lee's Puff Pastry
Yields 2 pounds
13 ounces all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 ounces unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1 cup cold water
10 ounces unsalted butter, cold
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the 3 ounces of butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Form a well in the bowl and pour in water. Pull the flour mixture into the water until incorporated.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough. Shape into a rectangle. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 3 hours.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 8" x 5". Brush excess flour off the surface of the dough.
Flatten the 10 ounces of butter into a rectangle approximately the same size of your dough and then place on top of dough.
Gently fold the dough into thirds. Turn by a quarter and roll out dough into 8" x 5" rectangle again. Brush excess flour off the surface of the dough and fold into thirds again. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
Repeat the folding process 2 more times.
To make pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) using the puff pastry:
2 pounds puff pastry dough
2 1/2 pounds bittersweet chocolate
Roll the dough into a 12" x 20" rectangle and then cut in half lengthwise. You'll have two equal size pieces of 6" x 20" dough. Now cut each strip into 5 equal pieces to make 10 pieces of 6" x 4" dough. Put the rectangles on a baking sheet. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Place some chocolate on the shorter end of a rectangle of dough and roll towards you. Make sure the seam is on the bottom. Repeat with rest of dough pieces.
Place the pain au chocolat on a baking sheet and let proof until doubled in size. Brush with egg wash and bake at 440 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Let cool.