Fun with Breakfast Cereal, Take 2

15 07 2013

Once again, I am way overdue for an update around here. I can explain. About three weeks ago, my life turned upside-down. In a good way. On a very rainy Monday morning, I was fortunate enough to join my friend Meg for a Paris by Mouth pastry tour. After the tour, Meg and I had lunch on the now-sunny terrace of a nondescript café. We talked about how my book was going, and the possibility of me leading some tours, and at some point I think I mentioned that I was starting to miss working in a professional kitchen. (Apparently, six months is about how long I am able to be unemployed before I get antsy.) The rest of the week was fairly uneventful, until Friday morning, when our dear friend Barbra emailed me that Frenchie was hiring a pastry chef for their new To Go restaurant. After checking out their menu, I thought that it could actually be a really good fit: the American-style breakfast pastries and other treats are the kind of thing I probably have the most experience making, and  it’s clearly an enterprise which places high value on food quality and seasonality, two things that are very important to me, too.

So I applied. A few clicks and my resumé zipped into the hands of chef Greg Marchand, who called me that very afternoon to set up an interview for the next day. Tuesday morning at 6:30 am, I was at work. And so far, it’s been great. The team is enthusiastic and professional, the chef is knowledgeable and passionate, and for the first time since I started working in Paris five years and two kitchens ago, I feel like I belong.

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Beer Brioche

12 04 2013

Which came first, the bread or the beer? And what happens if you use beer as the liquid in bread? I can’t answer that first question with any certainty, but I can tell you that the second is a worthy experiment.

shapingbrioche

Curious about the flavor that a beer might impart to bread – whether the hops would be discernible, what the yeast would think of the alcohol, how gluten development would be affected, etc., yes, I’m kind of science-nerdy sometimes – I went about adapting a brioche recipe because I had a hankering for fresh hamburger buns and also because I like the way it sounds: beer brioche. It’s just as nice in French: brioche à la bière.

after proofing, round 2

My first attempt was not a success. I waited and waited, but the dough simply refused to rise. I worried that I may have killed the yeast with the alcohol in the beer, but then I told myself that beer doesn’t usually reach the alcohol concentrations required to kill yeast. So it probably wasn’t that. But it was definitely something. The yeast were there, they were moving, but so slowly that even after four hours in a warm, humid space created just for their liking in my oven, my rolls had barely puffed at all. I went ahead and baked them, and ate them, but they were heavy and dense and nearly cakelike. I considered that too much butter may have been the culprit – brioche is notorious for making life difficult for yeast with all that added fat requiring heavy lifting – and made a mental note to adjust the amount.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2103: Éclairs: The Recipe

8 02 2013

I do believe I promised recipes to accompany my Pastry Crawl so that those of you not in Paris can enjoy along with me.  With the exception of Christophe Adam, French bakers in general adhere very strictly to the rules of éclair making: e.g. If  it’s a chocolate éclair, it has chocolate filling and chocolate icing.  If it’s a coffee éclair, it has coffee filling and light brown, hopefully coffee-flavored icing.  Rarely is it anything else.  And yet, in the United States, a chocolate eclair is almost always filled with vanilla pudding (yes, pastry cream is hardly more than a fancy name for pudding (in the American sense.  Don’t make me open the British pudding can of worms.)) and glazed with chocolate.  So I suffer none of these compunctions, instead viewing the éclair as a canvas for whatever flavor combination strikes my fancy.  On this particular occasion, inspired in part by a recent post on Not Without Salt extolling the virtues of butterscotch pudding, I chose to make my filling butterscotch.

unadorned

I am admittedly out of practice piping éclairs, my muscle memory being confused between the lusty behemoths we used to make in the States and the skinnier, more uptight ones I became accustomed to making in Paris.  You can see examples of both in the above photo, insert fat American joke here.

!#@%*

Let it be noted that the fatter an éclair is, the greater the cream-to-pastry ratio.  Do with that what you will.

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Seasonal Cooking, Holiday Baking

26 12 2012

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!  I hope you’ve already had a lovely long weekend with family and friends, and that you’ll have a few more occasions to celebrate the end of this year, the Winter Solstice, or anything else that gives you a chance to eat and drink with your loved ones.

I feel like I haven’t been doing as much cooking as I normally do this time of year – in lieu of planning elaborate meals, I’ve been focused on relaxing and reflecting, simmering big pots of stew to be eaten over several days.  Oh, I’ve baked some cookies and whipped up some eggnog, but instead of my customary Christmas foie gras, I got a capon roast from the butcher, neatly tied with a chestnut-and-liver-sausage filling.  All I had to do was sear it on the stove and let it finish roasting in the oven for a nearly effortless Christmas Eve meal.

And yet, that doesn’t mean I haven’t scored some hits all the same.  I’ve been noodling around with the McCormick Flavor Forecast, and found a couple of great ways to incorporate my very favorite of their proposed flavor combinations: Cider, Sage, and Molasses.  Of all the options, this one seemed to me the most supremely seasonal, with its earthy-herbal sage, bittersweet molasses, and tangy apple cider.  I toyed around with some pear cider ideas, but the apple ideas came out on top.

So I have two recipes to share with you today. One a lentil salad – we ate it once with pan-fried sausages, and finished it off with our capon roast on Christmas Eve; the other an indulgent bar cookie whose touch of sage and dark molasses make it distinctly grown-up (there are plenty of other cookies for the kids, anyway).

Here’s to a year-end filled with love, happiness, and delectable eats!

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The Last Six Months, in Three Baking Projects

27 11 2012

It has been over a month since I have updated my blog. I am seized with an urge to apologize. But to whom, and to what end? If one truly creates for one’s self, why then am I so disturbed to find that my unique visitors have dwindled away practically to nothing, with a bounce rate approaching ninety-five per cent? These twin impulses—toward reckless self-regard and the approbation of others—neatly negate one another. This is the essential paradox of our time.

- From the genius New Yorker piece Le Blog de Jean-Paul Sartre, by Bill Barol

Well. I think Sartre said it better than I ever could, so I’ll leave it at that.  Existential crises notwithstanding, it’s been an interesting year.  When we last left off, I was working six days a week as the Executive Pastry Chef for Blend, one of Paris’ most highly regarded burger joints.  As of this month, I am no longer there, and next month I will be officially unemployed.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t be keeping myself busy.  I’m in the process just beginning to write a book – so far I’ve got an outline and a couple of recipes – and I’m also thinking about staging (i.e. working for free for a few weeks) in some of the best chocolateries, bakeries, and pastry shops this city has to offer.  Oh, yeah, and I’m blogging again, too.

A few things I’ve baked in the interim:

Last Spring I made these apple doughnut muffins, inspired by The Hungry Dog.  I meant to post the recipe, and then it wasn’t apple season anymore, and now I’ve decided I want to keep it for the book.  But I will share this photo.

Image

Over the summer, I once again had the good fortune to bake the wedding cake for two dear friends. Once again, I made cupcakes, but this time I added a small “topper” cake for the cake-cutting.  I spent three days in Celine and Jesse’s kitchen, and naturally there were a few stressful moments the day of the wedding, but in the end I was very pleased with the final cakes.  And the bride and groom seemed pretty happy, too.

Image

 

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On Yeast and Starter

7 12 2011

In every family and group of friends, I believe there is one person everyone else turns to when they have questions about food and cooking.  In my circles, that person is often me.  I love fielding such questions and recipe requests – I take it as a supreme compliment and it feels good to know that my friends and family (and even some strangers, via the blog) have confidence that I will be able to help them out in the kitchen.  It’s also a great excuse to have a chat with people I might not communicate with as much as I’d like.  By way of food questions, I also get news of babies becoming children, moves and new houses, and all sorts of other small talk that I miss having with faraway friends.  So I’m grateful and humbled to be your friendly neighborhood (or not) food guru.

One such question I received recently involved yeast:

I made some fresh bread recently, and I was very pleased with the result. However, I was a little put out by the buck fifty I had to drop on a tiny cube of Flieschman’s active yeast. I know that you can keep yeast cultures living for an extended period of time. do you have any techniques to share with me on that? Is it possible to keep a culture in a mason jar in the back of my fridge and take from it when I want to bake a loaf of bread? Seems like it would be a lot simpler, and would require less planning than a trip to the store each time I want to bake a loaf.

Yeast is such a multifaceted topic, a primer seemed to be in order.

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Apple-Goat Cheese Quickbread

27 10 2011

A play in one act

Scene 1: Sunday evening, 5:00 pm.  Nick and Camille return home after a much-longer-than-anticipated outing.  Nick is carrying a baguette.

Snoopy: Mew!

Nick: Hey, Snoopy. (Goes to the kitchen to set down the bread and pour glasses of water.)

Camille: Hi kitty! Did you miss us?

Snoopy: Mew!  (Runs away to the living room, where she lies down on the floor.)

Camille: Oh, you need to be petted. (Kneels down and pets the cat.)

Nick: Did you have a hard day, Snoopy?

Camille (Looking at clock): Holy crap, is it five already?  How long was that bike ride?  Three hours?

Nick:  I guess so.

Camille: Damn!  I know I planned on writing a blog post, but now I don’t feel like writing anything.  I want to bake a cake!  And make chicken stock.  That just feels more important right now.

Nick: Go for it.  Do what makes you happy.  I’m not going to complain about any of that.

Camille: I saw this recipe for apple-cream cheese bread on emiglia’s blog.  And we need to use up some of these apples.

Nick: Who?

Camille: You know, we went on the hike and picnic?  And it rained?

Nick: Right.

Camille: Anyway, we don’t have any cream cheese, so I’m going to use the rest of that goat cheese in the fridge.

Nick: Fine, and if you want to write about it…

Camille: I’m not going to write about it, I’m just making her recipe with one little change.

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