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December 28, 2010

A Cookie Review and a Giveaway -Tate's Bake Shop


I hope you all had a great holiday weekend. I'm trying to squeeze as much work as I can before the end of 2010, as I'll be going to Hong Kong for a couple weeks right after the New Year.

One thing I'm attending to on my list: a review of Tate's Bake Shop cookies and cookbook. I was sent a package of cookies from the famous Tate's Bake Shop, Kathleen King's bakery in the Hamptons, along with her new cookbook that captures many of the signature items from her shop. Read on to find out how you can win a package of her cookies and the cookbook as well!

Kathleen King has been baking since she was a child, and she has run Tate's Bake Shop in Southampton, New York, for over 25 years. The menu is a comforting mix of homey selections, from blueberry muffins to rhubarb cobblers to sour cream coffee cakes. Shortly after King opened her bakery, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, began carrying her products and is one of her biggest fans. 

The package I received included Tate's signature chocolate chip cookies, along with their oatmeal raisin and white chocolate chip macadamia cookies. These cookies have my favorite texture: thin, crisp on the edges but chewy in the center. They are made with no preservatives, and so are meant to be enjoyed quickly, or you can freeze them and bring them out for emergency munchies.

These cookies are pretty straightforward-tasty in a classic, no frills way. The cookbook is similar - clean, simple renditions of many bakery mainstays that you'd like to have on hand in your own kitchen- poundcakes, crumbles, fruit tarts, chocolate cake. I do recommend trying the chocolate chip cookie recipe first - there's always room for more good chocolate chip cookies in the world.

Thanks to Tate's Bake Shop, I am giving away a three-pack of Tate's Bake Shop cookies (as shown above) plus a copy of Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook. To enter, just do the following:


1. Follow me on Twitter and leave a comment below letting me know you've done so. (If you already follow me, thanks! just leave a comment).

2. You can also follow Tate's Bake Shop on Facebook for an additional entry. Let me know if you've done so in your comment.

3. I'll take entries up until December 31st and announce the winner on Monday, January 3rd.

4. Also, use the code "cookie" at Tate's Bake Shop for 15% off your order through December 31st.

5. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.


Thanks and good luck! Hope you are enjoying the holidays!

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to All!


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers and your loved ones. 2010 was a sweet year for me and I hope it was a great one for you.


Presents wrapped and under the tree, last minute Christmas cookies baking in the oven (I'm nibbling on some of this leftover Buddha's hand and ginger cake to keep from eating the cookie dough). May your Christmas be merry and bright!


Buddha's Hand Ginger Cake

adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 tablespoon Buddha's hand zest

3 large eggs, room temperature

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup heavy cream

7 1/2 tablespoons (3 3/4 oz ) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 tablespoons candied/crystallized ginger, cut into small pieces


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 loaf pan.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

Combine sugar and zest in a medium bowl.

Add eggs and whisk to combine.

Add vanilla, lemon juice, and cream, and whisk to combine.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in dry mixture in 3 additions until smooth and combined.

Add melted butter and fold into mixture until combined. Stir in the pieces of candied ginger.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until top is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool on wire rack before serving.

December 14, 2010

Farmers' Markets and Pop up Shops: Tell Tale Missive Two


One near-axiom of opening a business is that there will always be unforeseen obstacles. The trick is whether you have the agility to sidestep these pitfalls and maintain as much forward momentum as possible.

When I first learned about Tell Tale Preserve Company, the storefront was projected to open by the end of this year. However, delays in schedules and other issues have led to a revised date of early next spring.

News that no business owner wants to hear. However, Tell Tale has chosen to make the most of this extended "soft open" and branch out into alternative markets - something they might have done eventually anyway, but which has proven to be an essential strategy for keeping the kitchen going while the storefront remains in the future still.

Aside from selling a online monthly subscription, Tell Tale now also sells at the Ferry Building Farmers' Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. One of the best known farmers' markets in the Bay Area, and a perfect opportunity to build brand recognition and customer loyalty.


If you notice the wooden display case, it was made by Chef William himself. Tell Tale has a very particular aesthetic, which you'll pick up on if you scroll through this post or go to their website, and I think going to the extra effort of creating a display that reflects your identity can go a long way to distinguishing your brand.


Like the little display cards and the caramels in the ball jar, a sort of rough-hewn, non-precious flavor of vintage.


A shot of some chocolate-dipped marshmallows from behind the display that I happened to like.


Besides the farmers' market, the next most popular stepping stone to a permanent storefront: the pop up shop. Most of the time, a pop up shop might be a weekend event or a table set up in the corner of an existing store. However, Tell Tale likes to do things with style and has set up their pop up shop, called the Tell Tale Trunk Show, in an entire room of an antique store in Potrero Hill.


The space about four hours before opening. Lots of work to do. Did I mention yet what I was doing last Thursday?

There's a lot of synergy going on in the pairing up of Tell Tale and Big Daddy's Antiques. Tell Tale was already planning to purchase some pieces from the place to furnish the main store, as Big Daddy's collection fit their style. Big Daddy happened to have a side room in their store (pictured above) that could be easily transformed into a cafe space.

I suppose the takeaway from this is to talk to everybody when you're starting your business, because you never know where opportunities will emerge and the nice store owner you're talking to will suddenly offer to let you set up shop in his space. There are all kinds of people helping to launch Tell Tale: bakers, designers, photographers, accountants, publicists, etc. The more people you know, the more skills and connections you'll have to draw upon. (yes, being nice and genuine and having awesome pastries to offer people helps a lot).

Tell Tale Trunk Show is open from M-Sa from 9-5 through the month of December. Pastries, jams, confections, and drip coffee will be served.

Antique stools pressed into service as display pedestals for the pastries. Much more stylish than your regular old bakery display case.


A sampling of pastries offered at the Trunk Show.


In the jewel box: White chocolate-matcha-black sesame guns, just for fun.


I helped make some of these! or at least the batch that went into the monthly society bags.


The final counter set up for the Trunk Show, awaiting customers. The really cool thing about having the pop up shop in an antique store, is that not only was there no need to buy furniture, but all the furnishings are for sale. So if you go in for your croissant and you happen to admire the bookcase or the lamp, you can buy it from Big Daddy's. Convenient, yes?


Numerous retail items - including jams, natch - adorning the rest of the store. Yes, there is a vintage bicycle behind those jars of jam.


And caramels peeking out of the apothecary-style chest of drawers.


Society bags also for sale. If you haven't ordered your January bag, you can (and should) do so.


And yet more jams arranged in baskets. It was actually really fun to figure out how to utilize all the fantastic pieces in Big Daddy's  - a lot more interesting than arranging generic cafe furniture.


Looks much better all cleaned up and lit up for the holidays, doesn't it? Tell Tale threw an open house Thursday night to celebrate the opening of the pop up shop, and the next morning the Trunk Show was officially in business. It's possible that if there's enough interest, the Trunk Show will go on next year. So if you live in SF, please stop on by!

It's been a little over two months since I started my association with Tell Tale. I thought I'd just be writing about the opening of a pastry shop, but it's turned out to be not quite so straightforward, and a lot more interesting.


Tell Tale Trunk Show

at Big Daddy's Antiques

1550 17th Street

SF, CA 94107

December 07, 2010

A Trip to Japan at Napa CIA Worlds of Flavor


Last month I was lucky enough to attend the annual Worlds of Flavor Conference up at the CIA in Napa. This annual conference is one of the best professional forums on flavor trends, and has also been described to me as, "the best food you'll eat all year." Every year a different, current trend in world cuisine is selected, and chefs and other experts from around the world are flown in to present their techniques and philosophies; topics in the last few years have ranged from Spain to the Mediterranean to street food. This year the theme was Japan, one of my very favorite cuisines (as I'm sure it is for most of the Bay Area), so I was thrilled to go.

Above, the sprawling, handsome CIA complex. It was a particularly lovely weekend to be in Napa: the rolling vine-covered hills looked especially picturesque in the golden autumn sun, and many of the visiting chefs commented on how much they appreciated the terroir of Napa valley.

Note: All photos with the Chinese watermark are mine and copyright Dessert First. All other photos are by Terrence McCarthy, courtesy of the Culinary Institute of America.


 Over 50 chefs from Japan, ranging from kaiseki masters to tempura specialists, flew in to participate in the conference. A huge number of these chefs are starred Michelin chefs from Tokyo and Kyoto, making this event a real once-in-a-lifetime assemblage of talent. From top left, clockwise, just a few of the chefs: Yoshihiro Takahashi, Yoshihiro Murata, Masahiro Kurisu, and Hiro Sone.


Japan is famed for its gorgeous, refined aesthetic, and its food is no exception. There's not much that needs to be said here, as the presentation says it all. Many of the demonstrations highlighted the importance of presentation in Japanese cuisine, how the selection and placement of the various components is as important as the taste of the final dish. Japan is such a visual culture.


Steady, unerring precision. I found it interesting that many "modern" food concepts here, such as using local, seasonal products and simple preparations, have been part of Japanese cuisine for decades. Although a small country, Japan boasts thousands of microregions that have their own climate and local edibles, and every region has its own specialties. You can only find some ingredients in certain areas - and only at certain times of year. In Japan, seasonality is practically built into the cuisine, and has never been discarded. Fascinating that in the US we lost this sensibility and are just now regaining it.


The list of guest speakers was equally impressive. From top left, clockwise: Harold McGee, Ruth Reichl, Thomas Keller, Elizabeth Andoh.

A surprise cameo from Iron Chef Sakai! Although he was not there to cook, chef Sakai nevertheless turned heads wherever he went and cheerfully posed for photographs with starstruck culinary students.

Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who clearly hasn't lost any of his flair for the dramatic from his Iron Chef days: he brought a smoker carved out of ice on stage (I think he was just showing off; I'm pretty sure this isn't found in his restaurant kitchens).


More food porn. Most of these dishes were prepared before our eyes on the demonstration stage - truly mesmerizing art. Many of the dishes shown here are prepared kaiseki style - kaiseki is the Japanese version of haute cuisine, the ultimate in showcasing ingredients of the season. Every element of the dish, from the garnish to the serving platter, are all chosen to convey a certain message  - the beginning of fall, for example, or the harvest moon. It's like eating poetry.

Chef Yatsunori Yashima, famous yakitori master and owner of three yakitori restaurants inTokyo and Fukuoka, demonstrating the cooking technique over bincho-tan, or charcoal. You must fan the meat constantly to keep the heat high and cook the meat evenly. As his fan stayed a constant blur over the skewers, chef mentioned that the temperature could reach up to 900 degrees. We ate some really good yakitori for lunch that day.


I have to mention, that of all the sessions I saw during the conference, the one standout that blew everyone away was a soba-making demonstration by Yoshinori Horii, an eighth-generation soba maker from Tokyo. I wish there were a video I could put up, because watching him turn flour and water into a perfect dough was like watching a dance - effortlessly graceful.


The speed with which he rolled and stretched out the dough into a flawless sheet, and then folded and cut it into noodles, was spellbinding. The only demo that received a standing ovation. For anyone who's ever made pasta, or any pastry dough, it was so amazing to watch a master in action.


The tasting hall, where all the conference attendees congregated at dinner to taste dishes prepared by the visiting chefs. Obviously everyone was looking forward to this! Listing all the wonderful things I tasted would take another post in itself - just look at the food porn photos at the top of this one for an idea!
We also were served lunch from the chefs as well: I had more finely prepared sushi, meat, and noodles than I'd probably eaten in the last couple of months. Unexpectedly, I ate more pork belly in those two days than the entire rest of the year. One standout pork belly dish: Chef Ivan Orkin's ago dashi shoyu ramen. So. Good.


Chefs and culinary students of the CIA helping out during the lunch and dinner hours.
The CIA looks like a really fab place to learn how to cook!

So obviously I could go on and on about all the fabulous sushi and ramen, etc, but since this is a pastry blog (no booing, please!) I'll wrap up with a summary of the two pastry-oriented sessions I attended. Three pastry chefs from Japan, along with three American pastry chefs, demonstrated classic Japanese desserts as well as Western takes on Japanese flavors.


Chef Mitsuharu Kurokawa was one of the visiting pastry chefs and another person I was extremely impressed with. He is an eighteenth-generation confectionery maker and his family owns Toraya Confectionery, one of the oldest confection makers in Japan. Kurokawa heads up the Japanese branch of this shop in Paris. Not only was he extraordinarily skilled, but he also spoke English, and as the other two pastry chefs from Japan did not speak English, he also acted as their interpreter, describing their techniques as they demonstrated their craft. A very humble and talented young man.


This is one example of what Chef Kurokawa's family company makes: oshimono, or sugar colored and pressed into wooden molds to form intricately detailed candies. A mixture of sugar, potato starch, and mochi powder is combined with a little water and the combination quickly pressed into a mold before it dries. You must work quickly to pack in the sugar evenly. Otherwise, it'll fall apart when you unmold it.

Chef Akihiko Saka is the Japanese equivalent of a pastry career changer: he worked for a mayonnaise company for years before deciding he wanted to go into confectionery. Today he owns his own pastry shop in Tokyo. Here he is shaping his own version of mochi into seasonal forms.

Here, Saka's creations: a cherry blossom for spring, a peach for summer, a chrysanthemum for fall, and a santa hat for winter. Japanese sweets, or wagashi, are strongly tied to the passing of the seasons, and different flavors and shapes of these sweets appear at different times of the year. The skill required to make these is impressive - Chef Saka made these in minutes, and Chef Durfee mentioned that he had trouble forming a chestnut, supposedly the simplest of shapes to make.


Chef Hirofumi Ohta, a second generation confectionery chef, works on carving his nerikiri, soft mochi-like sweets made of a sweet dough covering a red bean filling, into delicate flowers. You can see chefs Bill Yosses and Stephen Durfee watching from behind.

Ohta's chrysanthemums. The roses in the background are made from long ribbons of the same dough.


Local pastry chef Elizabeth Falkner also participated in the pastry workshop. Falkner has long been a champion for molecular gastromony and unusual flavors, so not surprising that her dessert, a sundae of red bean and genmaicha ice creams, yuzu fudge and soy caramel sauces, and frozen red bean "rain" was a perfect encapsulation of Japanese flavors meet American pastry.


Chef Durfee of the CIA did his own tribute to Japanese pastry with a melon parfait: a melon formed out of melon puree to echo the Japanese tradition of modeling sweets in the forms of fruits and flowers; atop an almond cake with royal icing cookie with melon balls.


All in all, these were three of the best food days I've enjoyed all year and I'm humbled by the opportunity to have seen so many masters of the craft up close and in action. And itching to get over to Japan so I can have some more of their food. I'll end with a recipe for passionfruit mochi, by pastry chef Bill Yosses - just a tiny little taste of Japan.

Passionfruit Mochi

adapted from recipe by Bill Yosses

340 Mochiko sweet rice flour

400 Passion fruit puree

320 grams sugar

40 grams glucose or corn syrup

Adzuki (red bean) filling


Combine all ingredients together in a microwaveable bowl.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave for about 5 to 6 minutes.

Scrape mochi onto a cutting board dusted with cornstarch.

DIvide into about 32 pieces. Roll each piece flat. Use a cookie cutter to cut round discs from each piece.

Place a small scoop of adzuki bean filling in the center of each disc. Pull dough around the filling and pinch to seal, forming a ball.

Freeze until ready to serve.


December 01, 2010

The Best of Baking Cookbooks 2010

2010 has been a very good year for cookbooks, and a very, very good year for baking cookbooks indeed. I can't buy bookshelves fast enough to keep up with my ever-multiplying book collection.

Here, then, a bakers' dozen of my favorite baking cookbooks from this year - it was diffcult to choose! Hopefully some of them will find their way under your Christmas tree or next to your mixer!

The first time I met Alice Medrich was when I was a pastry school student at Tante Marie's Cooking School and Alice came to make her nibby pecan cookies. These cookies make an encore appearance in her latest book, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, along with dozens more unique recipes to fill your holiday cookie jar. What I enjoy most about Alice, and this book, is her unceasing curiousity; she's always experimenting and tweaking her recipes to reach new levels of flavor. She's played with her nibby pecan cookie recipe, as well as her famous brownie recipe, and created many other brand-new ones. You may think you have enough cookie recipes in your collection, but not when Alice takes to the kitchen.

I love hoarding cooking magazines, but invitably they end up in dusty stacks in the corner of the room, filled with post-its tabbing recipes I've forgotten I wanted to try.  That's why I'm thankful for Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful, which compiles Bon Appetit's greatest hits into one gloriously thick volume.

I get many e-mails from people looking to start their own pastry shop. Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe is Joanne Chang's success story  - a neat collection of some of her greatest hits from her beautiful bakery, including those famous pop tarts. A lovely blend of simplicity and elegance.

Since it's hard to justify buying a dozen more cupcake or baking basics cookbooks, I'm always on the lookout for specialty publications. My favorite this year might have to be Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours. White flour seems like such a cornerstone of baking, but open the door to ancient grains like amaranth and teff, and suddenly you've got a whole new playground to explore. Very nicely photographed, as well.

For those who complain about not enough photos in cookbooks, Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours is the book to get. Filled with step by step photos so you get a walkthrough of how to make everything from jams to breads to croissants. Really beautifully done, it's the kind of cookbook I wish I could do!

Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito super sweet guys and I loved their first book. Their second book Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, continues their theme of giving well-loved American desserts a modern edge. It's not surprisingly they have a design background: I love the retro stylings of the book and the photography. They even manage to make Mississippi Mud Pie look elegant!

For the bread lovers, Tartine has come out with Tartine Bread, a sequel to their first book. Tartine is pretty much the first word that springs to the lips of any San Francisco residents when asked for bakery recommendations - the breads in this book are a pretty clear reason why!

I've made multiple recipes from Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts: +From Orchard, Farm, and Market and not been disappointed yet. A lovingly written ode to fruit and the seasons - if this book doesn't get you eager to visit the farmers' market, I don't know what will. Her tart crusts are particularly excellent, and a snap to make even for the crust-phobic.

Carole Bloom comes out with one gorgeous cookbook after another like clockwork. Her latest, Intensely Chocolatem focuses on using high cacao content chocolate in baking - a great opportunity for those of you looking to experiment with all the new artisan baking chocolates appearing in the market. The presentation is quite similar to her last book, Bite-Size Desserts- appealing and straightforward.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel Saunders, jam maker extraordinaire, and The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook is a real labor of love for her. This is essentially the only book you'll need if you're into preserving at all  - 384 pages of jams, jellies, and marmalades, in flavors ranging from traditional to wildly inventive. 

Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts by Michel Richard wins my award for cutest book of the year. His charming hand drawings accompany his recipes for a mix of American and French desserts, along with his musings on the the art of dessert and the creative process. It makes for a wonderfully intimate, personable book, like talking with the chef himself. The recipes are remarkably simple as well - the title is quite true.


So The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century isn't strictly a sweet cookbook, but the section on desserts is a wonderful overview of the evolution of modern American desserts. A lot of fabulous classics in there and Amanda Hesser's engaging headnotes make every recipe a fascinating story. Oh, and the rest of the cookbook is pretty great, as well.

And, of course, Dorie's Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. I'm sure almost every food blogger out there already owns this book, but I couldn't leave it off the list. The apple cake and chocolate mousse recipes make that impossible. Now, I'm an old-school Dorie fan, so for those of you looking for a little more Dorie in your life, might I respectfully suggest one of her classics, and one of my very favorites: Paris Sweets: Great Desserts From the City's Best Pastry Shops. This slim little book remains my favorite armchair trip to Paris and its endless pastry shops. 

November 24, 2010

Time Enough for Pears


Do you ever feel like you have so many things to do you don't ever actually accomplish anything?

I'm talking about something slightly more intangible than just the overflowing to-do lists that fill all our lives. I'm thinking of the muse, the creative impulse, how sometimes it can fall distressingly dormant, or sometimes, grow unruly and unchecked, like an out of control wildfire. Creativity requires both talent and discipline to fully flower. I'll leave the matter of the first for others to judge, but as for the latter, I feel like I've become a little lax; my focus has become almost mayfly-like - or magpie-like? as I conceive and drop ideas half-formed, unable to concentrate on a single goal.

During the day I talk to architects and juggle decimaled numbers and draw lines and arcs that become the floors of hospitals, the walls of museums, the ceilings of homes. At night I pile the sink with dirty bowls, scatter flour and sugar over the counters, pull cakes and tarts out of the oven, photograph them, cataloging them in the annals of my website.

I take photos of souffles and I realize they've supplanted ice cream as perhaps my least favorite foodstuff to photograph. I take photos and I imagine other ones in my mind's eye, and wonder if they'll ever materialize. I see photos of faraway places and I think of all the far countries I haven't been to yet. I argue to myself about the satisfaction of new camera lenses, against the pleasure of travelling somewhere new and yet unknown on my personal map. I wonder if when I go to sleep I'll dream that mortgages don't exist. I have fruits on my counter waiting to be turned into dessert. I have images on my computer waiting to be turned into posts.


So yes, the discipline thing. I just need to do some buckling down, pare away the distractions, get down to what I want to do first. I love making lists, by the way. I dropped the habit after the wedding (does _that_ ever make a person never want to see a list again in her life!) but maybe it's time to pick it up again. 

It's also about a shift in perspective, I think. Sometimes I feel like the urge to be creative becomes subsumed by the need to have been creative, the whole process turning inward, consuming itself, ouroboros-esque. A fear that one might never create anything worthy again. The whole rat-race thing, yes? The curse of never being satisfied once you've reached one pinnacle, because all you see are the other, higher ones ahead.

Oddly enough, this fear gets broken when people tell me I'm lucky, that I lead a charmed life. My natural tendency is to scoff and reel off a litany of things I have yet to do. But the other day I realized that, wait, I am really lucky and I have had a great life and I've done many things I'm happy about. Of course I still want to accomplish things, because I believe the day you stop having dreams is the day you're done, but it's a good thing to stop every once in a while and take a look back at everything you've already achieved.

So this Thanksgiving, I'll remember to be thankful for all that I already have. Health, the love of family and friends, a warm place to come home to, food on the table. The rest is - pardon the pun - really just icing on the cake.

Have a good Thanksgiving! 


Taillevent Pear Souffles with Pear Wafers

adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

makes 8

2 1/4 cups sugar plus 1 cup for pear wafers

3 1/3 cups water

8 ripe pears plus 1 for pear wafers

1/4 cup pear eau-de-vie

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

8 large egg whites


For the pear wafers:

Heat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat.

Wash pear and use a mandolin to slice into thin slices.

Place sugar on a flat plate and dip both sides of pear slices into sugar to coat. Place slices on baking sheet. Place another silicone mat on top, sandwiching the pear slices. This will keep them from curling up in the oven.

Bake about an hour until the slices have turned dry and crisp.

Peel wafers off the silicone mats and transfer to a wire rack to cool and harden.

For the pear souffles:

Combine 1 1/3 cups of sugar with 3 cups water in a saucepan, and heat on stove until sugar dissolves. Remove from stove.

Peel, core, and quarter the pears. Place in the saucepan with the sugar syrup, adding more water if necessary to cover the pears.

Simmer gently over medium heat for 12 to 15 minutes, until pears are tender. Drain the pears and discard the syrup.

Dice 8 of the pear quarters and reserve. Puree the remaining pears in a food processor until smooth.

Place puree in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until it has reduced to 2 cups. Remove from heat.

Dissolve 2/3 cup of remaining sugar in 1/3 cup water in a clean saucepan and cook over medium high heat until the syrup turns golden caramel.

Make sure the puree is still warm or it will set the caramel too fast. Pour the hot caramel into the puree and stir to combine. Add the eau-de-vie and stir to combine.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Grease (8)-8 ounce ramekins with the butter on bottom and sides. Dust with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Divide the diced pears among the ramekins.

Whip egg whites in a stand mixer until they reach firm peaks. Fold egg whites into the pear puree. Divide the mixture among the ramekins.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the souffles are puffed and light brown. Serve immediately.


November 09, 2010

Everyone's French Fairy Godmother


There aren't many more accolades to heap upon Dorie that haven't been already given. At BlogHer Food, the universal sentiments floating around seemed to be, "I can't believe Dorie is actually here!" and, "Isn't she the sweetest person in the world?"

Just about every blogger who's baked anything probably has a story about how she or he discovered Dorie and was inspired by her wonderfully written, aspirationally beautiful yet warmly accessible cookbooks. Molly Wizenberg mentioned that one of the reasons she began food blogging was in hopes of becoming Dorie's assistant; I too harbored dreams of one day meeting this woman beaming from the back of the book, who was BFFs with Pierre Hermé and made puff pastry look so easy.

Of course, what makes Dorie a true fairy godmother is that I actually met her! The day she left a comment on my post about her World Peace Cookies remains one of the happiest moments of my blogging life, a moment that made me realize that if I hadn't followed through on my motivation to start a blog on baking, something as magical as this would never have happened. Then, when I visited New York and e-mailed Dorie, wondering if I might have a chance to say hello to her, she replied yes! A dream come true, for sure, to find one of your idols as lovely and wonderful as you'd hoped!

Dorie, of course, has made the dream come true for many other bloggers as well: I don't know of any other author that's inspired two online cooking clubs, and who not only welcomes her fans with a smile, but also recognizes them with joy and gives them a big hug.

You can't manufacture this kind of genuine goodness and charisma, and I think that's the key to Dorie's success. Dorie is also a shining example of how to navigate the ever-blurring lines between the internet and traditional print media: one of the reasons I admire Dorie is how she's effectively she's utilized her site to connect with her fanbase. She actively engages with her readers, creates a sense of community, and encourages them to become better bakers. Certainly these are all actions that bloggers are told they "must do" these days to "build their brand", but Dorie does it so sincerely and organically - and I know readers are smart enough to recognize the difference.

Small surprise, then that Dorie's latest book on French cooking was one of the most anticipated titles of the year, and that a club has sprung up devoted to cooking through the book. I really feel like Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours could become the modern day Mastering the Art of French Cooking - it's French cooking, rendered simply but not simplistic, with results that make you realize there's no reason why anyone should be afraid of trying their hand at stuffing a Cornish hen, or making osso buco. The directions are clear and precise, the photos inviting, and I could just sit there and read the headnotes all the way through the book, hearing Dorie's intimitable voice in my head.

I'd also like to add that the husband has become quite the aspiring chef in the kitchen (yes, I'm a lucky girl), and as he expressed an interest in taking on French cuisine, he was really, really excited to see this cookbook arrive at our home. So, I'm going to be presumptuous and say that I feel like this book is almost like Dorie's wedding gift to us - many happy weekends of delicious meals are most certainly assured. Merci millefois, Dorie!

Below, a few things we've already made from the book:


The Chicken in a Pot pictured on the cover - when the husband saw it, he declared that was what we would be eating that weekend. It would be a nice way to break in our brand new Dutch oven, by wrapping a crust of dough all around its edges. Although it takes a while to make, the results are surely worth it. Photographed above are the chicken and vegetables in the pot before baking. I love the colors of the vegetables. Since I was the baker of the house it was my task to make the dough of flour and water and seal the pot - a pretty easy task, although if you want it to look as pretty as the photo in the book do take some care to shape the dough nicely and stretch it evenly around the rim.


Out of the oven: the seal breaks easily with a knife and releases a fabulous scent of garlic and herbs. It's also a really photogenic dish, if you can't tell! This unique twist on a roast chicken dinner gets a resounding yes from me and the husband!


Dessert was Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake, one of those homey yet ridiculously delicious creations: apple pieces barely held together by a batter of eggs, sugar, flour, and butter. With a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, there's nothing more satisfying in front of a fire while the evening darkens into night outside. I especially like that the recipe calls for using as many different types of apples as possible - it definitely gives it a rustic, use-what-you-got-from-the-garden edge.


Finally, one recipe I had to try when I spotted it: the Ispahan Cake. I think it's almost a Pavlovian response now among bakers to think of Pierre Hermé and his famous macaron when raspberries, roses, and lychees are mentioned together. Dorie gives us a down-to-earth iteration of the Ispahan in her pretty in pink loaf cake, laced with rose syrup and studded with raspberries like hidden jewels. The rose syrup and extract make all the difference; rose syrup is fairly easy to find in Middle Eastern groceries and Dorie recommends the Star Kay White brand of rose extract.


 At her book signing event at Omnivore Books, Dorie talked about her lifelong love for France and how this book documented this love affair - in essence, it almost acts as her autobiography. There's no doubt about Dorie's deep love for la belle France in this book, and I'm thrilled that she's chosen to share it with all of us. Thanks for writing such a great book Dorie, for coming to San Francisco twice in one week so I could hug you twice, for enjoying the jam, and for being you!

Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake

This recipe is courtesy of

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.


October 27, 2010

The Society Bag: Tell Tale Missive One


Smoked almond brittle from the November Society bag.

What's a pastry kitchen with a not-yet-open storefront to do? You could start supplying local coffee shops with morning comestibles. You could also start a monthly sweet subscription service and provide people with a veritable bag of goodies to enjoy and hopefully become addicted to.

I think the Society bag is a cute idea and smart strategy: it serves as a tangible focus for the kitchen staff as they break in the new kitchen space, and works as a way to give the public a preview of things to come - while building a customer base. Food-based subscriptions are certainly not new, but I think in a way the success of CSA boxes and their like has primed food lovers' appetites for increasingly sophisticated collections of artisan food products. Chocolate of the month club may be old hat, but the potential of a monthly showcase for a patisserie is, I feel, not yet fully explored. Enter the Society bag.

I like the contents of the bag change every month, and that they reflect the seasons, which is part of Tell Tale's philosophy: a bakery's offerings should not be static but showcase the best of what is available at the moment. (oh, except for things like pain au chocolat, which I think should always be available). You can visit the society page to see previous months' offerings.

I really like what Tell Tale makes. For those of you yet unconvinced, I hope the below pics of some Society bag items may serve to sway you:


Oak bourbon caramels.


Carrot cake with cocoa and ginger.


Coconut brown sugar shortbread.


Pear pate de fruit. (urgh, ok, I think I botched a test batch of these the other weekend but Chef William was nice enough not to throw me out of the kitchen. Hopefully I redeemed myself by taking a glamour shot of some properly made ones).


A jar of fig, chocolate, and sangria jam from last month's bag. There is no jam this month, but instead some apple praline butter and some Valrhona chocolate marshmallows.

If you're curious for a taste of what I've been tasting, or really if you have a sweet tooth in general, do sign up for Tell Tale's November Society bag - orders taken through this Friday (please note they do ship out of SF). Oh - and if you get a bag, drop me a line tell me what you think.

P.S. For those of you e-mailing about pastry internships and how to get one, I used to refer to my old post but I can now direct you to an excellent post written by fellow blogger/writer/baker Garrett at Vanilla Garlic. Garrett just finished an internship at Grange Restaurant and his writeup has some really good advice!


October 21, 2010

The Making of Macarons (Sucre Cuit Style)


I'm so excited this post has come to fruition. A couple months ago Stephanie of Wasabimon sent out a call asking if anyone would like to do a step by step tutorial on making macarons. I'm not one to turn down a chance to make these dainties, so I responded with a yes. A short while later, Stephanie came by my place with her fancy new camera to document me making macarons using the Italian meringue (or sucre cuit) method.

The simplest method of making macarons is the French method, which is basically a combination of almond meal, confectioners' sugar, and a meringue of egg whites and sugar. The Italian meringue method takes the extra step of cooking the sugar into a hot syrup first before adding the the egg whites, creating a much thicker and stiffer meringue. Although it seems more complicated and troublesome, I've become a big fan of the Italian meringue method, as I believe it produces much more consistent results with less stress (and I've had my share of deflated, misshapen, soggy, and just plain ugly macarons).

I was especially excited to be able to have this method captured step by step, as the macaron-making process is best shown in a combination of words and pictures. Stephanie also has a writeup on her blog; please check it out! All the photos in the post without the watermark are courtesy of her. The full recipe is at the end of this post.


At the start: Almond meal and confectioners' sugar, ready to go. Having all the ingredients weighed out beforehand will make your baking process go more smoothly.


Almond meal and confectioners' sugar being processed together.

Almond meal-confectioners' sugar mixture. If you happen to have a Robot Coupe, finely ground almond meal will not be a problem for lucky you, but if you have a regular old food processor like I do, you can sieve out any of the large almond bits still remaining.

Next you want to combine your sugar and water in a saucepan; mix until the moistened sugar is the consistency of wet sand, making sure there are no stray crystals on the sides of the saucepan. Heat the mixture until the sugar is melted and reaches 118 degrees C/245 degrees F. Yes, that is a probe-style meat thermometer I have in there; I often find the amounts I work with at home are small enough that the bulb of a traditional candy thermometer won't reach the liquid. You can also use those small instant-read thermometers; be sure with any thermometer you use that hold it so you take the temperature of the liquid, not the bottom of the pan.


Meanwhile, my other favorite kitchen appliance gets put to use whipping up half of the egg whites. Regarding whether to age egg whites: while it can help keep them stable when whipped into meringue, it's not necessary for successful macarons. Do let your egg whites come to room temperature before using them, though.


Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. It's a timing game to bring the egg whites to perfect peakage just as the sugar syrup has reached the right temperature. I find that erring on the side of whipping up the whites too fast is better than too slow, as you can always stop the mixer, but you don't want to be caught with still-liquidy whites when you've got hot sugar ready to use.


Remember to turn down the mixer speed before adding the hot sugar syrup to avoid getting splashed! Pour the syrup in a slow stream down the side of the mixer bowl into the egg whites, then turn the speed back up to high and let it run until a beautiful billowy white meringue forms and it has cooled slightly.


A little "beak" formed of meringue. If you get this your meringue is in good shape. It should be stiff and shiny.

Place the remaining egg whites on the almond meal mixture and mix in to moisten. This makes it easier to fold in the meringue. Don't worry if it looks all dry and rough, it'll improve!


Now it's time to achieve macaronnage - that perfect synthesis of meringue and meal into a homogeneous, thickly flowing consistency. The main thing to remember, of course, is not to be overzealous in folding and deflate the meringue. Again, I find that I like the Italian meringue method better because it seems to be a little more forgiving than the other methods, making it easier to achieve more consistent results. The flipside is that combining the stiff Italian meringue with the almond meal results in a thicker mixture to manipulate than the French meringue method, so you'll have to work a little more to get a fully combined mixture. Try to make each stroke count, and press the batter against the bowl to help incorporate the ingredients.

I'm using a spatula here but you can also use a dough scraper to get better leverage. I ended up holding the spatula down near the bottom anyway (see where it is in the photo?). When you achieve macaronnage, the batter should fall off the spatula in a thick, solid ribbon that slowly disappears back into the rest of the mixture. Again, with the Italian meringue it's less likely you'll overmix to a soupy melty (no good) consistency, but still be careful to stop once the batter looks right. Remember the batter will soften more as it sits there and as you manipulate it in the piping bag. It's always easier if the batter is too stiff to let it sit and loosen up, than to try to save an overmixed batter.


Piping out macaron shells. A couple tips: fill the piping bag about halfway so it's easier to handle; hold the tip vertically over(not touching) the sheet and let the batter flow out into a round puddle; release the piping pressure and make a quick circular flick of your wrist to break off the batter flow cleanly. The little bumps on top should sink back into the batter after a few minutes; if they don't, you can push them back in with a finger.

Steph and I tried out a couple of baking setups: I found that letting the shells sit for about 20 minutes and double stacking the baking sheets produced the best results. If you look at the photo above you can see the shiny new (flat!) sheet on top of an older, uh, battle-scarred sheet.


We found that if we didn't let the shells sit at all and put them right in the oven, the batter had no time to form a "skin" and the tops cracked and puffed up and out almost like meringue cookies. If we let them sit for a while, until the tops felt almost solid when we touched them, they puffed up evenly and perfectly contained.

Double stacking the baking sheets served a similar purpose: to help the macaron shells bake up more evenly. I found if we only used a single sheet the feet did not form as nicely, and sometimes the tops cracked as well, which I'm guessing is from the bottoms of the macarons heating up too much and pushing the batter up through the not-fully-baked top. A lot of factors to consider, but all these help you to understand and achieve more consistent results!


So now we've got baked and cooled shells, and the only thing left to do it fill them! Our balcony is now home to a thriving lemon verbena plant (entirely thanks to husband's green thumb), so I took some of the amazingly fragrant leaves and infused them into some cream and white chocolate to make a ganache.  (I know lemon verbana is a little out of season now but we did this a couple months ago!) 

Hopefully you were able to pipe your macaron shells all about the same size so you get nice little match-ups easily! (hint: you can always eat the lopsided ones and no one will be the wiser).

When I worked at the bakery, we made macarons every week using the French meringue method, and it quickly became very apparent, in a non-climate-controlled space, just how tempermental these little guys are, and how the most seemingly minor of variances in humidity, temperature, length of mixing time, etc. could have dramatic effects on the results. After using the Italian meringue method several times, I'm a happy convert: anything that lets me focus more on using them as a medium for creative flavor expression and worry less about disastrous results is fine by me. I also hope you enjoyed the step-by-step look at the process; a big thanks to Stephanie again for a fun collaboration!


Italian Meringue Macarons

200g almond meal or ground blanched almonds

200g confectioners’ sugar

200g sugar

50g water

150g egg whites, divided into two 75g portions


Stack two baking trays on top of each other. Line with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Process almond meal with confectioners’ sugar in a food processor. Sieve out any large bits of almond.

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat on medium until all the sugar is dissolved.

Meanwhile, place 75g of egg whites in a mixer bowl with the whisk attachment.

Continue cooking until the sugar syrup reaches 118 C/245 F. While the sugar is cooking, begin whisking the egg whites. They should reach stiff peaks by the time the syrup is at 245 F. If it whips too fast, turn down or turn off the mixer.

Turn the mixer speed to low. Carefully pour the sugar syrup in a slow stream into the mixer.

Turn the mixer speed to high and let the meringue for several minutes until it has cooled and appears glossy and firm.

In a large bowl, combine the almond meal mixture with the remaining 75g of egg whites until partially combined.

Scoop the meringue on top of the almond meal mixture. Using a spatula or dough scraper, carefully fold the meringue in, trying not to deflate it.

The final batter should be thick and flow slowly like magma. Do not overmix.

Scoop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a ½” diameter plain tip.

Pipe 1 ½” rounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Let the sheets sit for about 20 minutes to let the shells harden.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 160 C/320 F.

Bake one set of macarons for 15 minutes, rotating once.

Let tray cool for a few minutes before removing from the silicone mat. Let finish cooling on wire racks.


Lemon Verbena Ganache

 100 ml heavy cream

½ cup (3 g) lemon verbena leaves, washed and dried

250g white chocolate, coarsely chopped


In a medium saucepan, combine the lemon verbena leaves with the cream.

Heat on medium until warm. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for an hour.

Place chocolate into a bowl.

Strain the leaves from the cream. Reheat the cream until it just comes to a boil.

Slowly pour the cream over the chopped chocolate, stirring to dissolve the chocolate. Continue stirring gently until mixture is smooth. Allow to cool and thicken before using.

October 14, 2010

A Foodie Weekend in Three Acts

Act I. "Pour Yourself a Stiff Drink, There's a Lot More to Come."

The kickoff party for Scharffen Berger's annual Chocolate Adventure Contest has become an Orson tradition. Exotic drinks, whimsical nibbles, and a whole lot of chocolate cupcakes. The theme this year for the Chocolate Adventure Contest is cupcakes - devise a cupcake made with one or as many of the 14 "adventure ingredients", including beets, adzuki beans, stout beer, and bee pollen. Elizabeth Falkner, one of the judges, led the way with a bartop full of cupcakes.


The drink list was tailored for the evening.


There was also a blind tasteoff competition (the final ingredients - pandan, bee pollen, and sumac).


Yes, that is Alice Medrich and Elizabeth Falkner doing the blind tasting.


Scharffen Berger on full display. I noticed this display was, um, on the emptier side as the night grew later.

Details for the contest are at the Scharffen Berger site and the deadline for entering is January 2, 2011 - giving you plenty of time to create a crazy-delicious cupcake of your own.


Act II. Laughter, Squeeness, and Love

There was a lot of joking about "squeeness" on Twitter re: BlogHer Food. This second installment of the conference was two days of pure uncut giddiness. I may have done my share of squeeing, abbreviated list of reasons below(I know I'll be leaving many lovely people out, so apologies in advance):

- Seeing Dorie Greenspan again and watching her effortlessly charm everyone at the conference (having Dorie at your event is basically instant win.)

- Reuniting with a contingent of fellow Bay Area Food Bloggers (sorry I missed the after-conference picnic, I love you all!)

-Attacking the food carts at Lapetitesoiree with Alice as only Asians confronted with a spread of free food would shamelessly do (thanks to these four lovely ladies for a stylish time)


The amazing Blue Sky Studios where lapetitesoiree took place. Notice the completely unattended Canon 5D Mark II in the background...I'm just saying...

-Finally meeting Aran in person (she's like a movie star: more gorgeous in real life) and her beautiful baby girl.

-Sitting in on some very entertaining, thought-provoking, inspiring sessions. I'm always humbled by the sheer talent out in the blogosphere, and moved by the generosity of everyone in sharing their knowledge and advice. it's a great community to be part of.

-Penny de los Santos. What a wonderful soul. So honored to hear her talk about her amazing travels and her beautiful outlook on life. Not sure the last time I saw an audience so absolutely riveted by a speaker. Living life with passion indeed.

Dinner with Chuck and Jen after the afterparty at Le Cordon Bleu. I love how the weekend was composed of both large-scale joy and close connections; if anything, the BlogHer Food conference was proof of how the strongest of bonds can be forged through the vast anonymous interstices of the internet. I'm so glad for all the people I got to see and hug this weekend.

Oh, and thanks to Jen for catching a few photos of me at the conference. That HP photobooth at the afterparty certainly got put to good use, didn't it?


Act III. A Surfeit of Delectables


Not content with only two days of introducing myself to strangers and eating tons of food, I showed up at the Hub on Sunday to be a judge for the Good Food Awards. Apparently the chocolate category garnered the most entries by far, forcing the committee to split them into several subcategories to facilitate judging. I was pretty thankful they did that as I was on such a caffeine buzz after sampling 28 chocolates in 3 hours I am not sure I could have survived more.

Entries in the cheese category.


The judges at the beer table exuded seriousness, turning imbibing into an act of gravitas. The coffee room was the most interesting to watch: row upon row of steaming glasses of coffee, judges moving down the line coffee-cupping.


David, part of the chocolate committee, who fed us a steady stream of chocolate samples.

Our chocolate panel focused on inclusions, or chocolate bars with added flavorings such as spices, fruits, nuts, etc. We tasted them blind, meaning we were not told either the maker of the chocolate nor the additions, which made it a real test of our palates in distinguishing flavors. I would have taken pictures except it would have like unmarked brown square after brown square, so...just close your eyes and imagine. The winners of the awards will be announced next January; I'll let you know then which were my favorites but for now it's a secret!

So...decompression, resumption of normalcy (or it is redefinition of normalcy). More time in the kitchen, I hope. Recipes soon, I promise.