Chef shares secrets of Thanksgiving centerpiece

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Tolland - posted Tue., Nov. 26, 2013
Chef Frank James and his wife and assistant, Marci, shared tips for making a cornucopia, such as using the sausage-stuffer attachment of a mixer to make ropes of dough for braided embellishments, at a class held at Tolland Public Library Nov. 20. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
Chef Frank James and his wife and assistant, Marci, shared tips for making a cornucopia, such as using the sausage-stuffer attachment of a mixer to make ropes of dough for braided embellishments, at a class held at Tolland Public Library Nov. 20. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

Sometimes Chef Frank James gets carried away when he decorates his cornucopias, he confessed. One of these centerpieces – shaped like a horn and made of bread dough – included a full field of corn, a barn, a farmer on a tractor and a sunrise, he said and laughed.

Chef James, who loves to share his more than 40 years of experience with beginners, is assistant professor of Culinary Arts Emeritus at Manchester Community College.

On Nov. 20, he taught a class of about 20 adults how to create their own cornucopias at a workshop at the Tolland Public Library.
He and his assistant, his wife Marci, made things a little easier for the class by preassembling the wire form around which the bread dough is shaped. They also provided the class with printed instructions on how to make the form from chicken wire.

The frame is covered with baking parchment paper before being wrapped with bread dough. The parchment is held in place with paper painters tape.

One of the helpful tips Chef James shared with the class was to cover the narrow end of the frame with a bit of foil before applying the dough, which makes it easier to pull the frame from the cornucopia once it’s baked.

He added that it helps to have a partner when it comes time for that task – one person to hold onto the very hot cornucopia wrapped in a dish towel and the other to squish the wire form and gently turn it to extract it. The now hollow centerpiece then gets popped back into the oven to allow the inside to cook a little longer.

While the general guidelines call for cooking the cornucopia with frame-in at 350 degrees for between 20 to 30 minutes, Chef James advised, "If it’s browned, it’s done… if it’s black, you’re done," and laughed.

Another tip Chef James shared was a quick way to make ropes of dough for braiding – one kind of embellishment for the cornucopia – which is to extrude the dough through a sausage-stuffing attachment on a mixer.

He noted that the dough for a cornucopia that’s meant to be decorative and not eaten usually includes a lot of salt, which gives the dough more stability. The handouts given to the class members also included a recipe for an edible version.

Dough also should be a little on the wet side and after it’s been worked, should be allowed to rest in order to maintain its elasticity.

When it came time to decorate the centerpiece, Chef James pointed out that he added salt to the egg wash used to adhere the different shapes – turkeys, leaves and more – because it breaks down the egg and makes it spread more easily.  The finished cornucopia also gets a coating of egg wash before being baked.

Asked how long the finished product lasts, Chef James said it could be years, especially if the cornucopia is varnished. "Remember those bread dough ornaments you made when you were little?" he asked.

When the class began working at the tables on their own creations, there was a lot of nervous laughter. Frank and Marci walked around the tables helping where needed.

At the end of the class, everyone brought their cornucopias home to be baked.

Frank Giarnese, one of three men in the group, said he was pleasantly surprised by the class. "That was more fun than I anticipated and now that we’ve done it once, we’ll do it again, maybe with the help of our granddaughter," he said.


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