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.
October 6, 2015
Hi! I’ve been doing a lot of recipe research/testing recently while compiling ideas/menus/etc. for the bakery, and though I vowed/still vow to keep things very, very simple to start, I really, really, want to make sure there’s a bundt cake on the counter at all time. They’re really the best. I want to inspire a wave of bundt birthday cakes. I want people to overlook the classic look of icing:cake proportions, and realize that the cake–the crumb!!!–of the bundt is the best. The shape simply provides the best ratio of crust to center bites, and therefore, forms the ideal unadorned cake. And what’s more!, with most bundts, there’s not typically icing to interfere with the ice cream. (…right?? cake and ice cream is great, especially on birthdays, but doesn’t icing gets weird when it’s too cold?! I think so!)
If you want your house to smell cozy, make this honey bundt! It’s easy and wonderful. Definitely serve with cream or ice cream, and caramel if you have any hanging around to add a nice finish and salt factor.
Spiced Honey Bundt
– Ingredients –
3 1/2 c AP
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t ground allspice
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c vegetable oil
1 c honey
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 t vanilla
1 c warm coffee
1/2 c fresh orange juice
1/4 c rye or whiskey (bulleit rye was just right!)
turbanado sugar, to sprinkle
– directions –
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 10 cup bundt pan with butter, and dust with flour (knocking out excess).
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices; then whisk in the sugars. If the brown sugar doesn’t break down nicely, use your finger tips to break it down/work it in, and then whisk thoroughly again. In another medium-large bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, eggs, vanilla, coffee, orange juice, and rye/whisky. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the liquid ingredients. Combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter, I recommend using a large spatula to fold, until there are just traces of the dry ingredients left, at which point finish it off with a whisk. Make sure that there are no ingredients stuck to the bottom of the bowl, and that everything’s incorporated completely.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top of the cake with turbanado sugar (if using). Place the cake pan on 1 baking sheet and bake until the cake springs back when you touch it gently in the center. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes; this is a liquidy batter and, depending on your oven, it may need extra time. Cake should spring back when gently pressed.
Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely–no need to be gentle, it needs an initial firm TAP to ensure it comes out cleanly, 100% out of the pan (it’s a sticky batter!).
Serve warm with ice cream(!) and caramel(!) or wait 2-3 days and eat it haphazardly for breakfast, and be amazed at how it got even better.
September 29, 2015
Cakes vs. Pie. I used to know which side of that fence I was on, until I started baking in professional kitchens. I then not only tasted really perfect pie, but I enjoyed making it. Thoroughly. More so than cake, my previous champion, and it’s an attitude that’s stuck with me…which is why I’ve been so (so!) happy that my neighbors across the street ordered blueberry pies for their birthday celebrations instead of cake….they’ve hosted a lot of birthday parties this summer.
But, if practice makes perfect, and I’d been slinging pie all summer, leaving cake in a wake with chopped liver, then imagine my excitement-tinged-with-extreme-anxiety when Andrew Knowlton’s wife contacted me about baking his birthday cake. He is the restaurant editor of Bon Appetit.
I wanted to make something light, fresh, and simple. This almond brown-butter cake surfaced in my memory; it’s a recipe I’d always adored, ever since the first time I made it…a long, long time ago by the sounds of that blog post (I was clearly still in the thick of academic writing). And then, after I’d long traded the term papers for menus, I put it on at Salt Water Farm last summer with some whipped mascarpone and fresh berries. It was…well I was going to say the star, but, that was actually the beauty of that menu. No one item outshone the others. I think that menu deserves its own post–tomorrow. Focus!
In this newest, BIRTHDAY rendition, I kept the whipped mascarpone but used peaches instead of berries. I think peaches were at their best that week, and also….almonds + stone fruit are hard to beat as a combination. I cooked the peaches into a lightly spiced compote with cardamom and ginger, then pureed it to make it easy to spread. (…as opposed to keeping them more in tact, so they wouldn’t end up slicing a cake with peach wedges falling out all over the place.)
I finished it with a light layer of vanilla bean buttercream….and bruleéd peaches! I wanted them to be the only decoration, but also didn’t want them to ooze all over the top, so I just tossed them in sugar and sealed them with a torch. And here it is…as displayed on his Instagram account! Literally couldn’t believe it when I saw his post–and this picture (which I screen-shot and sent to myself!):
So…I’ll definitely probably make this cake at the bakery, rotating the fruit to fit the season. Again, here’s the link for the cake, and that recipe x1 is perfect for three 9″ layers. And the rest is as follows:
(here’s x1–it’s easily doubled!)
– Ingredients –
8 oz. mascarpone
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 c whipping cream
1 t vanilla
– directions –
Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl, whisk until softly whipped (if using to dollop on individual slices), or until a little thicker/stiffer if using as a cake filling.
– ingredients –
4 peaches, slice into 3/4″ pieces
3/4 c sugar
1.5 T flour
1/4 t cardamom
pinch of ginger, or a few drops of ginger oil
1/4 t lemon zest
– directions –
Combine half the peaches, sugar, flour, spices, and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Toss gently to coat the fruit, pour into a saucepan, and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fruit juices are exuded and the liquid thickens–5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining peaches. Let cool slightly, or totally, and then process/blend to desired consistency. (If applying in between cake layers, let cool completely before using)
Vanilla Bean Buttercream
– ingredients –
2 vanilla beans, split in half lengthwise
4 large egg whites
1 c (200 g) sugar
2 c (1 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 T plus 1 t vanilla extract
1/2 to 1 t kosher salt (I use nearly 1 t)
– directions –
1) Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, set over a pot of simmering water (make the sure bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water). Whisk every once in awhile, and once the sugar has begun to dissolve, pull up the whisk to test the mixture with your fingertips: if you can feel sugar granules still, let it continue to cook. Once it’s ready, the mixture will be perfectly smooth and clear.
2) When ready, remove from heat and place it in the mixer with the whisk attachment, and whip on medium high until the mixture is very thick and has cooled to room temperature (should look like shaving cream), 10-15 minutes. Turn to medium speed and add the butter gradually, about 1 T at a time, until all the butter is fully incorporated. Scrape the bowl down about halfway through adding the butter. Turn up to high speed and mix for about 1 minute.
3) Add the vanilla bean seeds, the vanilla extract, and salt and whip for 30 seconds more. Scrape down the bowl again and continue mixing to make sure everything’s well incorporated. Use the buttercream immediately, or, store for up to 1 week in the refrigerator; let come to room temperature before using.
WHEW and now, even though summer is over, and it’s cold (cold!!!), in Maine, I have to add some blueberry pie pictures. And then summer is officially over on this blog.
The afternoon light was fading as I put that pie into the oven, and I didn’t have *any* decent lighting whatsoever when it came out. And then I walked it across the street and left it. But whatever! On to apples!
I’ve discovered a new music crush. PJ Harvey. This post has been relatively void of attitude, which renders her a little random to suddenly tack on at the end. But it’s been that kind of day, a little dull and then spikes of energy here and there–I’ve written this post sporadically throughout, and, well, this is goodnight. I may like her better than Liz Phair. Maybe even Tori Amos. Sifting through her songs is like discovering three different musicians at once, and I’m getting thoroughly addicted to each one:
September 1, 2015
I feel like late summer is a time when time is off the clock, the weather blurs everything together, and everything is backwards and forwards at once. I don’t typically like it. But why make up a negative mind? It’s fine.
We watched a leaf float from a tree today; we saw it and then we saw it followed by six others. Ten maybe. They’re green still but tinged with purple, and I’m already envisioning the newly planted grass covered in them. I can’t wait.
I can’t wait but then I can; when they’ve fallen I’ll likely be too busy to observe. And I can’t decide if the busy-ness or the anticipation of, is more stressful. Preferably neither is stressful.
I’ve made a few birthday cakes recently, a great half of them completed with this buttercream. I feel like buttercream can be very misunderstood. The composition of the word is in itself, an overload of, well, fat. How is this unmediated compound word supposed to gain acceptance? How are people supposed to want to eat it? Well, it needs to be the right temperature (as in, not refrigerated and therefore void of flavor/textured like straight butter), and salt. Salt salt salt. It keeps the fat on its toes and makes the sugar come alive.
Enjoy on any and every thing, advised for but not limited to your next birthday cake:
Chocolate-of-any-kind Buttercream Frosting
12 oz chocolate, finely chopped
120 g heavy cream (1/2 c)
300 g sugar (1 1/2 c)
3 egg whites
681 g (3 c, 6 sticks (!!!!)) unsalted butter, room temp, cut into 2″ chunks
1 1/2 t vanilla
1/4-1/2 t kosher salt
1) Place chocolate in heatproof bowl. Scald cream over medium-high heat, then pour over chocolate and let sit briefly before whisking together, until the chocolate is melted completely. Let sit until cooled to room temperature.
2) In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar/egg whites until combined. Place the bowl over–not touching!–simmering water in a saucepan; heat whisking occasionally until mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar is dissolved when felt between finger tips.
3) Remove and whip on medium-high speed until a meringue forms, and it’s cool to the touch. Turn down the speed to low, and add the butter a few pieces at a time. It might curdle after a few additions, but don’t worry it’ll work itself out. Gradually add the cooled chocolate mixture, the vanilla, and the salt. Beat on medium-high speed, stopping to scrape the bowl a few times to make sure that the butter is completely incorporated, and then…you’re good. It’s there. Taste it to see! Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week, bringing to room temp and beating with a paddle attachment before using.