April 21, 2016
Have been itching to write recently, although I seem to have forgotten how.
I think that sums up a lot about me these days; when my body feels the ecstasy of finally lying in bed at night, as my eyes close, there’s a murmur throughout my being of all the things that are left behind me as I enter sleep (and then, the ensuing day). The things I’ve forgotten to do–creative hobbies in boxes in the attic, emails, phone calls, texts to return, for business as well as personal well-being. There are so many people I love who I feel I need to basically meet all over again. Because we were close at one point or several, and then lost each other, deeply yet only ever slightly. I remember and I miss those people when I go to sleep at night, with vague but true discomfort.
I wake sometime before 5, to either my first or fifth alarm, and the morning is a blur. A peaceful blur, so I don’t mind stumbling in the dark alongside Mazzy, who hops out of bed with me only to stop me as I walk into the bathroom to turn on the light that blinds us both. She’ll freeze suddenly, seeing stars as I do(?), and then I trip into her, knowing but not knowing that she is where my foot is going. It’s not so much a case of the blind leading the blind, since she can see in the dark, as it is an example of nature not at work. It is too early and the light should not be on, blinding the cat who can see in the dark and double-blinding the basically sleep-walking human.
The drive to work is freezing, even if it reaches 60 F later that day and I can tell that my winter jacket and the winter comforter are too heavy now. I fight not to turn the heat on at the bakery, and lean against the ovens as they come to temperature, mindlessly eating a granola bar or leftover scone and already look forward to making a latte after the bulk of morning goods are baking. I like one of three playlists in the morning or else shuffle on pandora. I’m only sort of choosy with music in the morning, yet particularly affected. Malleable, I think is the right word.
And then Mack walks in at 7, when my caffeine buzz is at full force. Alice in Chains or Bone Thugs-n-Harmony or Blackmill is just BOOMING. He can barely say hello without turning down the music, which he will do, and then I will pout. It’s a funny good morning–speech overruled by intense music, eye contact maintained throughout volume battle, meanwhile trying not to laugh. Like, well, here we are, this is this, kind of absurd, I’m glad you’re here, good morning, I love you.
Either the phone rings before we open and the door doesn’t stay shut for 30 seconds over the next 8 hours, or else the phone doesn’t ring once all day and I anxiously compare the clock vs. items baked over the next 8 hours. I will gladly take the summertime’s atrocious traffic over the springtime’s atrocious inconsistency. (don’t quote me in 3 months)
It’s nice to know what you’re in for. When I stumble around in the dark and have nothing but intuition to guide me through each morning’s preparation, it can all feel overwhelmingly stupid. Not stupid to open a bakery, not even stupid to open a bakery in a seasonal population. But stupid because, well, that’s just the way the world is sometimes. A lot of times, these days. But on a small and personal scale…
…I can’t (and don’t want to) shake the things I’ve put on the shelf or the people I’ve neglected. And no matter how generous inspiration is, or how graceful people are, I don’t feel right sometimes. There’s no reason for it other than knowing that I’m giving 150% of my physical being (time and energy) to the bakery, which robs my heart and soul from their more proper interests. It’s very mindless. And maybe I don’t even realize what I am in fact doing until I drink a bottle of rosé and understand that my physical being is over-taxed, and is sucking my thoughts and feelings dry.
The first year is the “hardest,” but come on, why label it so? It just is what it is. It’s great, in an ugly and real way. A(n) [insert food industry business here] is the best and the worst idea/endeavor that any young couple could embark upon. It’s extreme. It tears apart and undermines every pipe dream you ever had but also pushes you beyond them. And I guess that as long as I can accept the day-by-day snail’s pace to someday, I’ll get there. I’ll be damned if I don’t get there. I like choices but when it comes down to it, I don’t actually give myself any. I do or I do not, and my decisions never spring from questions.
Whew. So, there’s that. We’re gearing up for a break after next week, and will be…wait how do our lines go again? What will we be doing? Oh gosh I answer this question 105 times every day and yet I can’t remember the answer. Maybe it has to do with getting refreshed? Yes, I think that’s it. Maybe it’s a good idea for people to realize the hand-in-hand relationship between a good product and a healthy person within a small business in a small town. Not only realize, but respect.
That ^ paragraph is case in point, but, so as not to be so sharp, let me further explain. We’re closing for a few weeks in preparation for summer. We have some projects to do in the space itself, to make it a little more…retail friendly (shelving, counter consolidation, display case swap). And
we’ll I’ll hopefully restore all the personal balance we I need (and more!) before teetering into summer, full speed ahead. Who knows, maybe by the end I’ll even go to sleep more easily [fulfilled], and will have made strides toward being a better family member, friend, baker, and, last but certainly not least, fiancé to someone who buoys me when my big attitude digs in and bogs down.
^^^^^^crescendoed into my overplayed current favorite
February 26, 2016
I’ve been writing this post everyday, on repeat, in the shower, until now. Not to be dramatic–but it’s just that I’m feeling accomplished for finally doing it. Which is funny, because I’m feeling decidedly not accomplished; feeling very February, and slightly unable to disassociate from the lingering kitchen smell on my clothes, the hems of my pants. And I haven’t even taken my rain jacket off, and I don’t think I’m going to. Over the years, my “end of day” ritual has had several faces, countless faces. Many phases. When I first started at Flour, my first major kitchen job, in Boston, I would drag myself home and collapse down on the floor, wondering if my body could literally just sink through the hardwood. Exhaustion to the point of numbness, beyond consideration and concentration. I was very new when I was new. One day I started making sure that music was on, mostly to keep me awake and alive, and then suddenly David Bowie’s “Fame” came on, and I started getting into a silly daily dance routine. Waltz myself into the shower and into bed. It wasn’t much different when I was at Rye in 2013, and then Salt Water Farm in 2014. Living alone, I have always been phenomenally unstructured. Which is why there are so many late-night-insane posts over the past three years…
With company, within my life with Mack, I am less of a zombie after work, and in general. But the zombie has not died. The zombie is in fact, my creative self. The underlying, unthinking, default persona that makes me restless when I don’t give myself enough time. Time for…you know, lying down on the floor after work. Not rushing into the shower. Not looking in the mirror. Not taking off my jacket. Not hearing my thoughts echo at an increasing fever-pitch because I won’t get them out. And it’s not that I couldn’t exercise my mind socially, but, the gemini in me is demanding, and sometimes I have to be pointedly weird and introverted. God bless a lot of you out there who are or have been close to me.
It’s a weird thing, to open a bakery. I just got off the phone with my sister not too long ago, she has four (adorable!!!!) young children, and we’re trying to schedule a trip for sometime this spring. While discussing potential dates, I began to feel like the bakery is my child. And though certainly different and decidedly not adorable, it’s definitely a huge consideration/obstacle for any other endeavor I might want to undertake, no matter how big or small. It will have absolute authority over my next few years, and vacations will be quick trips.
But, I didn’t open a bakery so I could take vacations. You might be able to start a different sort of business and take vacations here and there. But when you start a bakery, and if you start a bakery, vacation should be well away from your plans. Luckily, in midcoast Maine, the winter is a sleepy, sleepy few months. People basically expect that you’ll take at least a little time off. So we did; and now we’re back. It was a glorious three weeks that accomplished precisely what a break should–fun with family far away, time to settle back into loving and enjoying your own home, and inspiration to get back into the grind. Recipes, new ideas and improvements that get you chomping at the bit, feeling all like a racehorse. Let me get back at that exhaustion and stress, pronto!!!! (kidding, it’s fun and games…kidding again…)
It wasn’t so much starting last November as much as it’s been re-starting this February, that’s made me realize a great number of things. First off, I couldn’t be doing any of this if not for Mack–his dedication: not only to my own dreams and happiness, but to his own ways of perfecting anything that catches his interest. He’s set golf, snowboarding and the great outdoors aside, to be in a tiny bakery day in and day out. Washing dishes, mopping floors, handling taxes, making coffee, talking to people about their day, making me laugh and keeping me sane. And, running all of the errands on our days off, while I’m there continuing production. He never had a day’s experience in customer service or anything of that nature in his life before this, and suddenly he’s handling an entire community coming in being nice or not nice, friendly or frigid. And me, feeling wildly happy or beyond stressed in a given moment. Looking back, I realize how wrong this all could have gone if he wasn’t so right.
And then there is the actual baking/production. I have always been a bit of someone who flies by the seat of their pants…okay okay more like the definition. Yes, I measure my ingredients to a T. My eggs are always room temperature. I’ve got all my systems in place to have a well-rounded variety of products, but…I am strongly aware of necessary changes when it comes time for additional help in the busy summertime. I never use a timer. Obviously a problem when you hire someone new and you can only tell them that the biscuits are done when they’re done. So I need to start timing things.
And, then there’s the volume issue. Which is, frankly, an identity crisis. How much you bake, and of how much variety, defines who you are as a bakery. We have a tiny storefront and tiny kitchen in Rockport Maine. It’s a ghost town in the winter and the population swarms to quadruple that amount in the summer months. Spring and fall is a guessing game; Murphy’s law is always applicable and always at play. You plan for everyone and in comes no one. You plan for no one and here comes everyone, and it’s everyone’s anniversary, and their mom’s and their cousin’s birthday. So, what you really learn, is to not complain. This is all well-ingrained in my work psyche, but behind the scenes sometimes Mack is (justifiably) just like “WTF.” But also quick to realize the ironic idiosyncracies that define what we do.
Anyway–volume. To be honest, Flour still sets my standard. I see their morning spread on Instagram and I don’t know whether to drool or cry; it’s truly a thing of beauty. But Boston is a far cry from where I am, and even if I had extra hands to help, the sheer variety of offerings would be hard for us to sustain efficiently. At least for now. I tend to enjoy biting off more than I can chew, go figure, and I sometimes hear myself answering optimistically, “someday” to questions of breads and lunch options and etc.–and inside I’m like oh reallly?! Shedding dreams of vacation like my cat’s fur on our white couch.
We’ll see. We’re starting small, simple, controlled. You can’t please everyone but you can surprise anyone–if someone comes in for this or that, and we’re out of it, they can leave with something else and be even more enamoured (unless they’re cranky. don’t be that person). And all of that lies, of course, in the quality of the food, but also in their experience in the physical space. So we focus on creating and maintaining a store that we truly want to be in, where there’s delicious food, good music and genuine interaction.
There are several cookbook lines, here and there that ring incredible true. About food, about baking, about bakeries. Here are a few that have stood out to me, thoughts I chew on daily:
“There is an inherent madness required to own and operate a bakery. … We knew owning a bakery was, by and large, a low-margin business with masochistic hours. We knew it was going to be a bumpy path marked with occasional recipe failures, oven malfunctions, employee tears, and achy, weary bones. We knew all these things and more. But we dove in regardless. We opened a bakery because it was inevitable. It was predestined. We opened a bakery because, well, we were young (or youngish) and naive, and we both really like chocolate cake.”
“The first year of business was propelled by a combination of mania, fear (fear is a strong motivator), and pride (we really liked our chocolate cake). Each day was a mini life lesson. Each hour was a master class.”
-Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, in their Baked Occasions cookbook. (AMEN)
“Blue cornmeal comes from blue corn, grown in the southwest by the Hopi, who talk and sing to each plant. …. And see what a difference it makes to talk and sing to each muffin. Your heart goes out to things, and things come home to your heart.”
-Edward Espe Brown, describing the blue corn muffin recipe in The Tessajara Bread Book. (At first I was like…okay, no kidding this really was published in 1970. But the more I thought about it… I’m incredibly attentive to each pastry, to an OCD extent. Example–corner cookies are sold first because only a short-lived shelf-life will benefit their chewy:crispy ratio. They’re not bad cookies, but push them past their prime and they will be. Or you know, just talk and sing to them…)
“Cooking takes positive thinking and, of course, some time. Where are you going when you say to yourself and all who can hear you: I do not have time to make even a good pot of coffee or soup…. We go this way only once and you can make it as pleasant as possible, gastronomically speaking. Many troubled waters may be smoothed with a well-planned and prepared meal.”
-Helen Corbitt, Helen Corbitt Cooks for Company ( a cookbook I stole from my mom’s cookbook archives. This is one of the many, many yet undiscovered and treasurable tidbits in there! It has everything from cucumber mousse to funny little suggestions and honest digs to inspire the hostess in you. She’s awesome.)
My own thoughts on what culminates in a successful baking endeavor are as follows. #1: the science and general recipe foundation. Yeast and chocolate and leavening are all only ever going to do their thing. It’s up to your measuring and timing to shepherd them into deliciousness.
#2: Attitude. Without the right attitude, without genuine attention to what you’re doing from start to finish, you might as well not do it.
#3: Intention. This is one step beyond attitude. It’s more than being open to trying, it’s being deliberate with every action; learning to balance enthusiasm with reality.
#4: Confidence. You’re not being deliberate because you’re uncertain. You’re being deliberate because you trust your hands to do what your mind and tastebuds want it to.
#1, Science: As mentioned way earlier, I’m not exactly a structured person, which is why it’s hilarious to me that I bake. I was pretty much the last in my elementary classes to really get the hang of any new math concept, and yet…I depend on fractions and long division like it’s my job, because it is. You have to be mathematically, mentally on point. Mentally and physically. (and then the emotions runneth over later..!)
I’ve come to realize that its demanding and rigid structure is the reason that I started baking in the first place, and is the reason that I’m still baking; it’s a discipline and an outlet all at once. Mathematical and creative. Professionally, it’s been utter agony at times–the first few weeks at Flour felt like bootcamp, but were they as bad as a summer Saturday night at Rye, plating desserts for 400 covers plus a private party? Or now, when days off are a thing of the past?
If I really dig into it, I cannot disassociate my baking from missing my mom. I never really wanted to admit that, for some reason. But if I were to be totally honest, I’d say that I’ve used it–baking–as a huge distraction. Hard work has been how I distracted myself from the life I might have otherwise had, if she were here. Hard work in professional kitchens is all consuming and yet, good. It’s distracting and connective all at once. Focused action with a generous result. And after being on your feet for 18 hours, you can just sit on the floor and drink a beer. You can just do that and think of nothing and feel instantly better. There is no “instantly better” for missing someone you love. But if you push yourself enough, your physical limits of exhaustion will diminish enduring emotional pain. Just don’t drink too many beers on the floor alone–you might end up writing a few crazy blog posts.
Annnd I guess that torrent of subconsciousness overtook Science…and now the structure has been lost! Take away is in translating dreams to reality, in keeping honest intentions to bake and to serve with joy. To keep a respectful mindfulness of the inevitable ups and downs. And to express appreciation, giving thanks where it is due. I feel overwhelmed remembering my roadtrip and initially getting to Maine; it all so easily could not have happened. None of this might ever have happened. I’m thankful for finally feeling like I’m in the right place at the right time. And for Mack for not dismissing my weird baking-cat-lady self.
I suppose I’ve officially scratched the surface of food for thought over the past few months…!
Musically, I’ve been pretty hooked on a lot of different things recently, but consistently, my go-to has been Little Dragon. 5 in the morning when it’s dark and quiet, and I’m about to shove a bunch of sheet pans in the oven, I love this song, loud–
And then, oh my God, sudden huge crush/belated appreciation, Amy Winehouse–
I can rotate one of their playlists all day. And then finally wind down with this in the evening:
And there we go. My thoughts, the music, the pictures. I’ll get a recipe back up here soon. Goodnight!
February 4, 2016
I think that the worst part of catch up (if you know me, you now my thoughts on this already) is that…when you have the time to actually do it, you’re far from the keynote occasions that you might have covered in the first place.
First and foremost, I’m engaged(!). Secondly, we started a bakery(!).
Three months and two months ago, respectively. If I maintained this blog as anything other than an outlet for any and everything I needed in the immediate moment, I’d have likely spent multiple posts saying way too many words about both subjects. As is, I…finally have a moment for the outlet.
Each time that I look back at my posts, I bite a half-smile. Not sure if it’s out of discomfort or incredulousness that I publish my feelings. I expect to know someday, but until then, I suppose I’m just going with that flow. Especially if its wine.
It’s occurred to me that I’m getting older. Mack and I are convinced of the particularly malevolent nature of our guest bathroom’s lighting; within a few days of each other we detected the initial ‘weirdness’ of recognizing an older self. For me it’s the fine lines of crows feet, and the all-too-late remorse for eye-make-up habits. I can’t help it, I really love the stuff. It’s the routine taking off, I think, that digs in for the long-haul. A price to be payed.
In any event, I’ve seen the start of crows feet and I’ve started braiding my hair. As in, I haven’t had time for a haircut, and though I never championed braids in my youth, it just works in a way it has never before. I mean, when does a woman find her hairstyle, that she will have, for forever? I’ve always felt the chin-length bob, like my mom, but maybe work and Maine have gotten to me and the braid is it. I’m fighting that even as I type it, but why I don’t know.
I’m sure you’re not checking your email so as to consider my hair-style. Let me re-prioritize:
SEA BISCUIT BAKERY:
After a winter break, we’re back to it a week from today! You may recognize some of the photos on our website – http://www.seabiscuitbakery.me/ – and follow us on instagram (@seabiscuitbakery) for updates and more!
Caught this on the way to work one morning – was half asleep but knew I liked it…when it’s dark outside and you’re alone on the road you’re more favorably inclined toward everything, I think, but this still clicked when I doubled back:
November 18, 2015
It’s a funny thing, to contribute to the millions of infinite words of the internet. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over the self-conscious feelings described in my first post. But as 5+ years have passed, I’ve turned an increasingly blind eye from self-consciousness; I ramble and post weird music on a “food blog” dabbling in food.
Case in point. But what I’m getting at is words on the internet. I feel like the whole world has stopped talking with each other, only to talk to each other. No one wants to listen. To talk and to argue is key. Why? Insecurity. When you’re clicking links and reading screens and typing to people you don’t know, you’re in charge. When you’re face to face, you’re vulnerable to another’s emotions. When you hear feeling in a voice and unless you’re a sociopath, you factor that into a response.
Not to get all touchy-feely, but maybe being vulnerable isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe we should all be vulnerable, as in held accountable, for witnessing a reaction in another with whom we’ve made contact. Maybe cultural climates wouldn’t be so ripe for fear, anger, and quick to cling to sadness, if interpersonal relationships were still the core of society.
I’m not getting political, but isn’t it a sign of the times when I feel a need to apologize for that. It’s not that I’m not on a side, that I don’t have an opinion on the multitude of things going on in this world. But you don’t need that from me. That’s not what I do here. Those aren’t topics I wish to communicate over anonymously or even semi-anonymously, .
I suppose I feel the need to apologize–not that I am apologizing–to those who need the divisiveness, the people who need opposing or confirming characters and issues with which to better define themselves. I suppose I feel the need to apologize because I am of the generation that desperately needs that sort of validation. Here, however, within the confines of my WordPress based identity, I won’t be a pillar to rail against and I won’t be a pillar to rise with. Because, after all, this is the internet, these are words on a screen, and I firmly disbelieve in their genuine power.
But of course, I am wrong. The world today runs on screens and the words of strangers, that is where the “real” (if you can call it that–) power lies. And, to boot, there is hardly such thing as “the right thing” anymore. Because you can Google whatever you want and, with the correct amount of scrolling, prove your self-righteousness right.
That is the strangle-hold. The multitude of millions, the anonymous blank with personal blanks to be filled, the ineptitude of person to person. The strength as well as weakness: the internet, the one way ticket to self-importance with an unlimited and random audience; possessed by multitudes where within you must make your mark, within which you must define your existence. Terrorists be damned, obviously, but it’s also your friends on Facebook who you might start hating as well, whose extreme, naive, or “dumb” views you begin to condemn. Suddenly they’re part of the enemy, for their ineptitude to fight the enemy. And it happens on both sides.
The goal is largely common, but it’s the way in which the internet is used to tout, throw, and rub each other’s noses in what could otherwise be agreements to disagree. Everyone now feels a duty, it seems, to define themselves within the parameters of articles and political extremists; and to hell with this and such old neighbor, professor, childhood friend, family member, who might be reading your vehemence. In fact, hopefully they are.
At the risk of being hypocritical, for having ranted my own feelings far too long, I assert that it is the self-indulgent internet, the all-inclusive exposure and invitation to anything anywhere at any time, that poses a large threat.
(not the largest, because who knows what that could be, possibly even your honeymoon tickets to Paris next month, the helplessness of gambling your life by going out to dinner in one of the planet’s best cities for it.)
The largest threat is fear and ignorance despite being so “well-informed.” We have become a world of out-foxing, not performing. As mentioned previously, your questions can be answered to your liking in less than a minute. We’ve built identities, cultures, countries, upon the internet. And the storm happening in real life, realtime is irrevocably connected; pithy words read in the comfort of home construct the mentalities that fester, until reaching a full-scale blossom of violent and dire dysfunction. Shots are fired and then a million more go off as people continue the warfare in cyberspace. It’s all sickening, and facilitated by the growing obsession with being “well-informed” (by the slanted media of your very own desire).
People largely ignore the world about them in order to focus on the selfish storm within, so they may project upon the storm without. That is the crux of vulnerable instability, when you impose self-importance as defense–often disguised as offense–to an enemy, or entire world you’ve never met.
I believe that insecurity is willful ignorance, not just of another culture, but of one’s next-door neighbor, co-workers, or one’s self. And that the internet has spawned and spread the insecurity of multitudes like a cancer no amount of technology can save.
And here I am, with a computer and a limited knowledge of whom I’m reaching, no knowledge of who actually reads these posts. I suppose I can maintain my sheepishness if I don’t assert my post on Facebook or the like, but isn’t that cute, isn’t that nice for me to think so. No. I’m from the millennial generation, and no matter how much I want to be “from” and not “of”, the easy expression at my fingertips is in my blood.
I could quit Facebook (again), I could easily distance myself. But to what end? It’s too late for that. I suppose that at this point, despite reluctance to join the fray, the more exposure the better. The world is happening online. But, the world is not just screens and death tolls. The world is between your mind and the person you’ve made eye contact with, the world is within the personal goal you’ve just reached, and within the laughter you spilled aloud, by yourself, from a memory. Maybe someday, these things won’t be deemed “small things,” because the world at large won’t be such a mess.
Here is where I start talking about what I intended to talk about, a recent French apple tart. The first thing I made at Le Cordon Bleu, and the last thing I made before the attacks in Paris last weekend. It was a weird coincidence that Paris was already on the forefront of my mind; upon the imminent opening of the bakery, now that I can’t imagine anything else I’d possibly have done with my life, I’m remembering that I would have gone to Paris. And I’m remembering my last trip–Paris I, Paris II. Those posts are pin-pointed and personal, not grand statements or sweeping essays by any means. But that’s all I was after. At one point in time, it was the best place and the only place I ever wanted to be. And in the span of two weeks, it’s ironic that I saw Taken for the first time (definitely traveled there while an idiot 19 year old, whoa) and then the terrorists attacked.
Why Paris? Is it a boiling point because of its magnificence? I believe in dual nature to some degree–I’m a gemini after all. I’ll let that settle and come back, when I’ve not already been so long-winded.
Back to the apple tart. It’s a clean and strong delivery of lightly spiced, deeply apple-y apples, and butter. Butter in the crust, and butter accenting the apples.
True to this nostalgia-tinted post, the last time I made this tart was at Sewanee. I was shy of a decent camera, but not of determination. I actually can’t remember or imagine what I used to cut those apples, and I suppose that’s selective memory for you.
Our bakery contractor was in need of a dinner party dessert two weekends ago, and this recipe clicked in my mind. It’s the most concentrated apple tart or pie recipe I have to date, and the charm is in the simplicity. Not in looks but in taste. Apples, butter, and cinnamon, nothing more and nothing less.
Disclaimer ah! I used leftover pie crust, not the LCB tart crust, for this latest rendition. Overall…this just means more butter and less sugar. So…..
I was excited about it until remembering that apples shrink considerably upon baking. So; add more apples:
Brush it with a melted butter/sugar mixture, sprinkle with some turbinado sugar, and bake in a 350 F oven, until somewhat browned, and when pressed apples are soft but not mush.
One of my favorite scenes of a movie I remember as a “first” date, also a movie I later watched alone with my cat.
I’ve listened to this soundtrack in its entirety throughout some of the best and some of the worst times of my life. In times when composing messages to Parisian friends wasn’t awkward with inadequate words, as well as now. Transcendent, that’s what good music is.
November 7, 2015
I’ve made a lot of cakes this week, and I made a lot of cakes last week, and my favorite of them all is this one. I love birthday cake orders, all kinds of them, but when I hear someone say anything along the lines of “love chocolate”, it helps me get to work much more quickly. There is really just this. Just this recipe.
I’d tell you more, but I just tried and I sounded redundantly like every chocolate cake intro I’ve ever read. All those keyword soundbites–rich, dark, luxurious, hint of coffee, and chocolate. Chocolate! CHOCOLATE!
This cake is the recipe that all those intros wish they were describing, and is my favorite way to consume chocolate.
It bakes flawlessly, and was my go-to at SWF last winter. After the crazy summer hullabaloo blew through, after I’d met Mack and settled a bit more into Maine, after I invented and then reinvented my dessert style for months on end, I returned to classics and started putting the crave-worthy things I grew up with on the menu. This was among the first.
I (clearly) cannot recommend it enough, and with any variations of fillings/frostings. My favorite build has whipped mascarpone in between the layers (I know I know, I’m also clearly obsessed with whipped mascarpone), which essentially makes it an oreo cake, and then milk chocolate buttercream on the outside. Or, naked!!, which is how I served it at SWF (+ caramel.) It stands alone so well….because, to reiterate, it really bakes so evenly that you want the layers to be seen. And they get that brownie-esque top layer of crust, and if you use cocoa powder to dust the pan instead of flour, the edges are even more chocolate-ier!!!!!! And if you make cupcakes out of them they’re like little souffles. What’s not to stop the addiction?! Make it now!
Photos run the gamut: slices were snapped at SWF, the whole cake was one I made last week, and left over cake batter + frosting = the cupcake I sunk my teeth into and lost my mind remembering how good it all was. Is. I hadn’t taste-tested this beauty since Day 1 so….
THE CHOCOLATE CAKE
– Ingredients –
1 c natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 c hot strong coffee
3/4 c buttermilk
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
2 c cake flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t kosher salt
2 c sugar
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 lb mascarpone cheese
1/2 c confectioners’ sugar
2 c heavy cream
2 t vanilla
– Directions –
1) Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9″ pans, line with parchment paper, and dust with cocoa powder (can also be divided into a thinner layered 9″ cake, in which case use three 9″ pans). Place cocoa powder and chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Pour hot coffee over. Let stand for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.
Whisk cake flour and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with chocolate mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops.
Bake cakes until a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes (cakes will deflate slightly). Run a knife around pans to loosen cakes; invert cakes onto racks. Peel off paper and let cakes cool completely. Turn cakes over.
2) If desired, make the whipped mascarpone…whip all listed ingredients together until well combined; don’t curdle it but do keep on until stiff peaks form. Assemble it, leave it alone, and behold your oreo cake. Or dress it up in milk chocolate buttercream.
PS!, here’s the time I covered the whole thing in ganache and then covered the sides in dark chocolate cookie crumbs. This glamour shot, courtesy of our refrigerator, took place over the summer…when apparently I wasn’t really on the photography train.
Thank goodness for shuffle:
October 26, 2015
It’s darker earlier, it’s extra damp when it rains, it’s extra dark when it rains, it’s time to rake the yard after you did so yesterday, and…it’s just fall. It just is. So it’s time to bake your favorite things.
I had this weird feeling, deja-vu but not quite, about these cookies. I remember photographing them awhile back…to no satisfaction…and then posting the recipe nevertheless, with no photos but plenty to say about them…recipe to boot.
Baking is an odd thing, the action a time capsule in every motion. No recipe or product is ever the same, no matter the attention to measurement and time. It’s cliche to blame these differences on the oven, when in fact, it’s your own attitude. It’s your own excitement, desire, curiosity, social situation, etc. It’s very personal. Which is why these cookies have tasted different in every iteration since my mom made them, when I simply blinked an eye before they were before me, ready to snag.
It’s a little bit weird and a little bit awful, in my own experiences I’ve spent what seem like hour-long minutes grating chocolate, when in fact I can’t remember my mom ever doing that step. How did she do it so quickly and so perfectly? Every time, I’ve ended up with sore, chocolate stained hands and an overwhelming urge to pick up the phone to call someone who can’t answer my call.
And by that point I’ve talked them up so much, to myself and to anyone in the room, that I can’t quit. It sucks but it’s fine, it’s totally fine, and then they’re made, and baked, and it’s great. Totally, more than, great. They’re so good.
Here’s the recipe: Neiman Marcus Cookies. I reduced that recipe by half, and substituted 1 oz. grated unsweetened chocolate (leftover from tweed cake) for 1/4 of the grated milk chocolate portion. And I added a bit more salt.
Take away: a lot(!!) of chocolate in a cookie dough that’s substantial enough for that much chocolate. The ground oats add a toothsome-ness that guarantees it a solid choice for breakfast dunked in coffee, and it’s also a great hand-out for visiting friends while you’re filling them in on the bakery you’re opening next month.
(^from Drive, the only movie to make a Ryan Gosling fan of me yet)
October 18, 2015
I walked into the grocery store the other day, into the produce section, and (nearly) straight into a bunch of Concord grapes. Though I’d had another type of fall baking project in mind, these grapes took over. I’d worked with them before, two, oh gosh no it was three!!!, three summers ago, in the bluestem pastry kitchen, for the first and last time (until recently). It’s odd with this fruit, as their flavor is perhaps the “truest” and most associative grape taste but only thanks to artificial flavoring and smucker’s jam. They’re a fall fruit, commonly overlooked by pumpkin-spice frenzied populations. They’re definitely more of a hassle-factor fruit, with seeds and all, which is why…sorbet is the best way to eat them…
…cue the Momofoku Milk Bar cookbook. I flipped to the pb&j pie recipe, and thanked God that I’m a peanut butter addict….had plenty on hand to get going on it ASAP! This pie is a conglomeration of many separate entities, all of which can be made at different stages, and it just feels good to knock out what you can, when you can. And do the rest of the work the next day.
As with the Momofoku apple pie cake that I made last March, organization and timing is key. I recommend making the peanut brittle first. And then prepare the Ritz cracker crust. And then the grape sorbet. And then the grape sauce. And then the peanut butter nougat. I know it sounds fussy, but I can honestly vouch that nothing tastes so like the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich you’ve ever had, and that you miss in your memories of summer camp lunches. Mack agreed, in fact it was his first comment. I’d never expect sorbet, Ritz crackers, and nougat to come together to RE-form my (former) favorite sandwich. Or is it purely dessert?? These days, I can’t imagine eating a pb&j sandwich for lunch and feeling like it was a decidedly healthy decision…
Take away is, it’s a delicious sandwich in pie form. But, it’s also very intensely the Momofoku form. That is, a nostalgic flavor combination, deconstructed into delicious parts that can stand alone or together on a fine dining dessert plate, and then reconstructed into the familiar pie. Not as simple as my baking philosophy, but fun nevertheless!
First, the Ritz cracker crust:
1 sleeve Ritz crackers (I used 1/2 sleeve Ritz crackers, and 1/2 sleeve of my favorites…. Carr’s wheat biscuits)
100 g sugar (1/2 c)
20 g milk powder (1/4 c) (I just bought powdered milk from the grocery store!)
1/2 t kosher salt (I used 1 t)
(3/4 t cinnamon, optional…I added a nice dash and thought it contributed nicely!)
100 g (7 T) unsalted butter, melted
Grind the crackers in a food processor until crumbly (not dust!), and pour into a large bowl. Add the milk powder, sugar, and salt, and toss to mix. Add the butter and toss to coat until the mixer begins to come together.
Heat the oven to 275 F. Press the Ritz crunch into a 10″ pie tin. Using your fingers and the palms of your hands, press the crunch in firmly, making sure to cover the bottom and sides evenly and completely.
Put the tin on a sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes. The Ritz crust should be slightly more golden brown and slightly deeper in buttery goodness than the crunch you started with. Cool the crunch crust completely; wrapped in plastic, the crust can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.
Next, peanut brittle
1 c sugar
1/2 c peanuts
Line a sheet pan with a silpat, or parchment paper generously buttered.
Make a dry caramel: heat the sugar in a small heavy-bottomed suacepan over medium-high heat. Once the sugar starts to melt, use a heatproof spatula to move it constantly around the pan–you want it all to melt and caramelize evenly. Cook and stir until the caramel is a deep, dark amber, 3-5 minutes.
Once it reaches the target color, remove from the heat and, with the heatproof spatula, stir in the nuts. Make sure the nuts are coated in caramel, then dump the contents of the pan out onto the prepared sheet pan. Spread out as thinly and evenly as possible. The caramel will set into a brittle that’s hard to move in less than a minute, so work quickly. Let the brittle cool completely.
In a food processor, grind the brittle down until it’s a finely ground but not into dust!! Store in an airtight container, or use immediately in the peanut butter nougat!
25 g sugar (2 T)
20 g water (1.5 T)
40 g sugar (3 T)
20 g water (1.5 T)
1 egg white
65 g peanut butter (1/4 c)
1/2 recipe peanut brittle
1/2 t kosher salt (I used 1 t, I also dislike sugar without mucho salt)
Put the first measures of sugar and water in a tiny saucepan and gently slush the sugar around in the water until it feels like wet sand. Do the same thing with the second measures of sugar and water in another tiny saucepan.
Place both saucepans on the stove and begin heating them up: turn the heat up to medium under the first sugar measurement and keep the heat low under the second measurement. Heat the first sugar up to 115 C (239 F), keeping track of the temperature with an instant-read or candy thermometer.
While the sugar is heating up, put the egg white in the bowl of a stand mixer and, with the whisk attachment, begin whipping it to medium-soft peaks. If the white reaches medium-soft peaks before the first sugar hits 115 C (239 F), slow your mixer way way down and let the sugar catch up. Or, if you notice that the sugar is almost to 115 C (239 F) and the white is still a bit off, turn the heat way way down under the sugar and turn the speed way up on the mixer. Ideally, the white will reach medium-soft peaks at exactly the same time as the first sugar measurement hits its mark.
Once the first sugar measurement reaches 115 C (239 F), remove it from the heat and very carefully pour it into the whipping egg white, being careful to avoid the whisk: turn the mixer down to a very low speed before you do this, so as to avoid interesting burn marks on your face. Once all of the sugar is successfully added to the egg white, turn the mixer speed back up, and turn the heat way up under the second sugar measurement. Once this sugar reaches 120 C (248 F), remove it from the heat and pour it into the whipping egg white, taking the same precautions as with the first sugar measurement. Let the egg white whip until cool.
While the white is whipping, mix the peanut butter, peanut brittle, and salt in a large bowl until blended. Once the white has cooled to room temperature, turn the mixer off, remove the bowl, and using a spatula, fold the white into the peanut butter mixture. Use immediately in the pie recipe, spreading onto the base of the saltine cracker crust.
Concord grape juice (1 full recipe necessary for the sorbet and the sauce)
675 g (2 quarts) Concord grapes, stems left on
220 g (1 c) water
65 g (1/3 c) sugar
Combine the grapes, water, and sugar in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a slow boil, then simmer until the grapes have broken down, about 1 hour. As they cook, gently mash the grapes with a slotted spoon to help them release their juices.
Once the grapes have surrendered most of their juices and begun to look more like raisins, remove from the heat. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the grape carcasses and transfer to a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl. Pour the juice over the grapes and press down on them to get every last bit of juice out of them. Use the grape juice right away, or store it in an airtight container in your fridge for up to 1 week or in your freezer for up to 1 year.
Concord grape sorbet
1 gelatin sheet (1/2 t powdered gelatin)
1/2 recipe Concord grape juice
200 g (1/2 c) liquid glucose (or, substitute 75 g/1/4 c corn syrup. I bit the bullet and ordered liquid glucose online last year…not going to lie, don’t love the idea of it, but this sorbet was a dream so I guess it did its part…!)
1/2 t citric acid (I just used quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice)
1/4 t kosher salt
Warm a little bit of the grape juice and whisk in the gelatin to dissolve. Whisk in the remaining grape juice, the glucose, citric acid, and salt until everything is fully dissolved and incorporated.
Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The sorbet is best spun just before serving or using, but it will keep in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
Concord grape sauce
1/2 recipe Concord grape juice
1 T sherry vinegar
50 g (1/4 c) sugar
1/4 t kosher salt
2 gelatin sheets (1 t powdered gelatin)
Heat half of the grape juice with the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from the heat.
Bloom the gelatin. Add it to the hot grape juice mixture, whisking to dissolve, then add the remaining grape juice. Cool the sauce partially in the fridge for 30 minutes, so it is still fluid enough to spread atop the pie, or put the sauce in an airtight container and store it in your fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Scatter the peanut butter nougat over the bottom of the baked/cooled pie crust and then gently press it down to form a flat layer. Freeze this layer for 30 minutes or until cold and firm. Meanwhile, if your sorbet is completely frozen/not freshly spun, pull it out of the freezer so it can soften to a spreadable temperature. Once the nougat layer is set, scoop the sorbet onto the nougat and spread it into an even layer. Put the pie in the freezer until the sorbet firms up, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Spoon the Concord grape sauce onto the top of the pie and, working quickly, spread it evenly over the sorbet. Pop the pie back into the freezer until ready to slice and serve. Wrapped (gently) in plastic, this pie can be frozen for up to 1 month.
If you’re ever on the tail end of a long drive, well into the night, here you go. It goes well with darkness and empty roads and the realization you need a heat seat for the first time of the season.