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Check out this infographic from NYT today. What’s not surprising is that the US out-consumes the world in packaged foods, but would you please look at Mexico and the pounds per capita of “bakery goods” consumed?? Me gusta panaderia! I’m going to go open a bakery south of the border. Lots of competition, but the pesos I’ll make will likely be a lot more than my weekly pay here as pastry cook. Plus there’s cheaper health care.

tipple and cookies

A friend who has very discerning tastes in matters of, well, taste, gave me this combination as a gift, suggesting that they’re best consumed together. I couldn’t wait, of course, and tore into the cookie package and had one (numnumnum..what Bing marshmallow experiment?). You don’t have to sell me on salt or brown butter; I make the latter just to have on hand, in case I get inspired. The cookie was scrumptious, but almost the tiniest tad bit too salty (and I like salt! Despite what all those nutritionists have told me during interviews over the years…).

A couple of days later, I did right by her recommendation.

grown-up snack time

And…balance achieved! The sweet, thick port offset the buttery cookies; I could feel the liquid dissolving the salt crystals, a perfect flavor amalgam of richness and bite. I felt like I had made something by having the combination, too, like how Seinfeld used to say about dumping milk into cereal. How’s that for accomplishment.

I’ve been told by pro food people that chocolate and wine don’t go together—both are acidic and mute each other’s flavors—but this is the cocoa-and-wine combo you can get away with and enjoy.

Do it!

purple yam bread (purple, lower right corner)

Because I’m holed up most of the time in a kitchen creating foods under someone’s direction and eating meals made by someone else, I rarely have the time to eat meals that I have full control of. When I do, I spend a lot of time—almost too much, one may say—weighing whether I should eat something I’ve eaten before or seek new tastes, and whether this new or old edible means I should buy or cook. Yesterday after a trip to Sripraphai in Queens to scratch an itch for Thai (old, seeking memory), we walked to Phil-Am market (new to us), a store selling goods from the Phillippines, and found this bread above, called ube ensaymada. I immediately reached for it, because it’s familiar; my mother, a nurse, often brought these home, given to her by her Filipino colleagues. I remembered its sweet, cheesy fluffy-ness, when as a teenager I would eat the loaves without knowing or caring what was in them. It was, simply, good.

Different story now! I took care to note, that the label says it’s a brioche, which I didn’t know 14 years ago. It also has ube, purple yam, which is probably good for you if it’s not doused with artificial coloring (other ensaymadas had coloring, which we eschewed). The cheese is actually monterey jack; I don’t know why exactly monterey jack, except that it’s probably one of the milder cheeses that won’t upset the sweet to cheesy balance, and the topper you see that the brioche is slathered with is probably margarine, not the butter—both are listed, but the former probably performs better with a higher melting point, if any. The whole equation, as my other noted, tastes “like a Danish,” sans the shape of a jam or cheese-filled nest or bear claw.

Still, re-jiggered memories, however picked over and made not as fun, are delicious, as are new tastes, like purple yam, that you might file away for your next, precious, short days off.

Candy you can fluff

Maple cotton candy

I don’t easily go apesh*t over things, but I pretty much went apesh*t today when I saw a maple syrup stand at the Greenmarket in Union Square decorated with bags of fluff all over. “Wait a minute….HOLD EVERYTHING!” I said to no one in particular. Upon inspection, the signs confirmed my dreams come true: maple cotton candy.

Now I lay me down to eat

And it’s exactly as advertised—a tight network of airy, light strands that dissolve the millisecond it hits your tongue, leaving a trace of the caramel-y maple flavor. I asked the nice man at the Wood Homestead stand if they were a recent introduction, and he said they’ve been selling them for about four weeks or so, but I neglected to ask if they will be around for awhile. Get some ($4/bag) while the going’s good.

Next snow day plans

A handsome piece of cake, isn't she?

By now, I have a list of yearly food-related pilgrimages to make in NYC, or a mental checklist of Things to Eat While It’s Still _____(cold/hot/spring/fall/recession/PMSing?). Like, lasagne at Bianca when it’s dry and chilly; ramen, always ramen, when it’s cold and rainy, after a trip to the Russian Baths; and, Museum Row on the UES for some Cafe Sabarsky action, no matter the weather (although, it seems more romantic and appropriate when the season requires a soft, warm scarf).  The food is always so lip-smackingly good, but you’re really there for the desserts. Despite my complicated relationship to cake—most of the time I avoid the icing or buttercream depending on how sweet it is, or how sweet everything is all together—I enjoy every bit, from the moist cake layers to the chocolate curls on top, in this instance. It doesn’t hurt that the cake, the Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, is dressed in the namesake kirsch, and topped with boozed up cherries. The fruit reminded me that spring is around the corner, and instead of anticipating it, I was just happy to sit there, sip tea, and enjoy the chill for once.

Q+A

Once, I was in the same room as Paris Hilton, and I’ve shaken hands with Jessica Simpson and some other A to C list celebs for beauty events when I used to be a beauty editor. But while I was waiting for the phone call from the PR person for this Bon Appetit interview, I was actually pretty nervous. At that point, I hadn’t gotten around to seeing “Julie & Julia,” and only knew that he was the trusty sidekicks in movies I’d care not to see but came across on HBO anyway, like “The Devil Wears Prada,” though his acting CV is much broader than what’s covered by my narrow perception. I still have yet to see “Big Night,” but it is on my Netflix queue, but not before my Mad Mens. (This must tell you what a terrific journalist/interviewer I am.) He was perfectly pleasant and knew a lot about Italian food, and when we were done with the interview, he said, “Nice talking to you.” I don’t hear that everyday.

Dough!

Sorry folks, I’m alive. Just that the day job leeches so much energy out that most of my free time is spent drinking Chinese herbs for strength/receiving acupuncture and general recovery. Last week, though, I was able to actually actualize an idea of making brown butter croissants because for the first time in a couple of weeks I had two days off in a row. The result, however, was not what I imagined. And it was all entirely my doing.

I sometimes think people make too much of the belief that you can’t substitute anything in baking, and that you have to measure everything to two decimal points by weight, and you can only do it using glass cups and wooden spoons (kidding, kidding). There is leeway, but you just have to be smart about it, and sometimes you can just settle for something less than what you originally imagined. Perfect is not the enemy of the good, as it goes. Even if it’s not something that might be photo’d for the Fauchon website, you can still eat it and enjoy it.

Ze butter paton and detrempe ready for rolling

So, I had forgotten that in the recipe we used in school that croissant dough requires bread flour, and not all-purpose flour, and hadn’t picked any up at the market. In my laziness, I thought, “Hey, you can use all-purpose flour for profiteroles or cream puffs without consequence, maybe I can get away with using it for croissants!” And therein was the fatal error. It matters. It matters a LOT. That’s because for all the rolling you need to do—and with finesse and speed, because the more you roll, the tougher the croissants become—you need the high gluten content in bread flour that can provide structure for all the layers of butter you’re folding.

See that crack? That's a textbook should-not-happen situation

With some careful rolling and pinching and patchwork, I was able to make some semblance of croissants out of the dough.

Not entirely a croissant-fail...let's see how they bake.

The scrap pieces(not pictured) had exposed pieces of brown butter, so when the tray came out of the oven, some of them were sitting in a pool of fat, which is surprisingly not appetizing. The end results were actually more like good ole crescent rolls: surely tougher than your average croissant made by a skilled baker, but still good. The brown butter didn’t have enough of a presence, though, but it may have something to do with the fact that a third of it wasn’t incorporated correctly into the dough.

brown butter crescents

I’ve already bought some bread flour for trial no 2. I will post the recipe next time if it will be worth your while.

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