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Archive for September, 2009

Plot potato

One of my fall projects will be an attempt to reverse-engineer a cake my mother bought for my father’s birthday back in spring from a small hybrid Asian-French bakery chain in North Jersey called Gateaux.
My bro-in-law, trying to grab the last piece

My bro-in-law, trying to grab the last piece. Mine!

This is not just any old cake, you see. It’s made of sweet potato, not the orange-y ones often mistaken for yam, but the very sweet and nutty satsumaimo variety, or the type Koreans refer to as “chestnut” sweet potatoes. The cake is very airy and light, and the fluffy buttercream has not-unpleasant small chunks of sweet potato folded into it. Sure, it doesn’t have the drama of a chocolate cake or the fanfare of other special occasion cakes with lots of bells and whistles, but it’s just sweet enough and subtle, and why not use a comforting starch that has a bit of vitamin C in dessert?

This will obviously take some doing. Is there sweet potato flour available for purchase that I can add to the cake or do I mash up some steamed into the cake batter as per this recipe? The cake was also covered with the cake crumbs, and I think I will puree some sweet potato and fold it into plain buttercream. Hrm. Methinks I need to do some more “research,” i.e., some cake eating and putting some hard time, when I can find it,  in the old laboratory.

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Going Dutch

Skyline of Brooklyn from Governor's Island

Skyline of Brooklyn from Governors Island

I saw this view from Governors Island last Saturday and thought, “Hey, Manhattan looks weird!” Little did I know, it was Brooklyn! That’s what a little day trip to Governors Island can do—give you a whole new perspective of this blessed city…and Staten Island…and Jersey…and Papua New Guinea. Yes, you can see that far.

So as part of the New Island Festival on Governors Island (which is over, folks, sorry—you literally missed the boat. But you can read about the history of how it all came to pass here.), there were a lot of Dutch set-ups and kiosks, neat design pop-ups, all things orange, and art exhibits scattered over the isle. There were kids a-crawl over the “I Amsterdam” blocks near the southern end. There were, regrettably, only Heineken and Amstel Light available for quaffing. There were hammocks (ahhh..). And, to keep this post relevant, a little cart where you can griddle your own baby Dutch pancakes, called poffertjes. I did not make that spelling up. See?

poffertjes!

So you got your big iron griddle and you go to town, but only after you pay $5 for the privilege, as my friend H. demonstrated.

Squirting pancake mix

Squirting pancake mix..

Flip, flip, flip

...then, flip, flip, flip...

Brown on both sides

...brown on both sides...

...done!

...done!

There was a table nearby with fixings in the form of butter and powdered sugar, but to get to the fixins, you had to go through a gauntlet of wasps that had set up a little military facility, mimicking the American forces of 1776, forcing us to play the British. It was a very meta scenario. The bf was able to perform some expert dodging, however, and the airy, sweetened pancakes provided a good snack for some mediocre-beer sipping.

Here’s a link to some more poffertjes fun.

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With the taking of this photo, it became officially fall

With the snapping of this photo, it officially became autumn

I have a backlog of ideas for this site, and I had made some ghetto apple crisp last week that I wanted to blather on about, but I figured I should write about something more substantial for you since I’m barely keeping up with this week to week. So here goes. Lots of pictures!

My love affair with The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook continues with the upside-down apple cake. Have I told you this book is awesome? Oh I didn’t? I don’t know what happened there. I’m pretty sure I’ll get around to telling you though, so stay with me.

To be completely utterly straightforward, I don’t easily get excited by things that are apple-flavored. It’s kind of ho-hum, a little boring or safe, a little, howshallwesay, vanilla. But it’s because it’s usually paired with cinnamon, and that combination is a little too predictable. Although it’s comforting to know that it’s always available, I’d love a change. And this recipe is a bit off-the-beaten-path, because it uses only nutmeg, and the taste ends up mellower and more harmonious than with the punch of cinnamon.

It all starts with some apple butter. What the recipe calls for—six apples in a saucepan with lemon juice, apple juice, sugar, etc.—makes more buttah than you need for the actual cake. Still, you’ll have some left over for anything you’d like: more cake batter, or slathering on some toast, so it’s not such a bad deal in the end.

Pictorially, you’ll see that the apples break down over the course of 40 or so minutes (duh), like so:

This turns into

This turns into...

...this turns into...

...this turns into...

...this.

...this.

Part 2: Caramelizing! Instead of just throwing sugar in a pot, though, the recipe requires that you paddle some sugar and butter together into a mixture first, then put it on heat. This is one of those instances where you come across something you wished you had thought of yourself. It’s like you’re making caramel brown butter. Ingenious!

Sugar and butter fluff

Sugar and butter fluff turns into...

Caramel map of the northern western hemisphere

...a caramel map of the northern western hemisphere

The most fun part is pouring the caramel, when browned enough, over some apple segments, and you hear the sizzle of the caramel seizing. (Just be careful not to stand in the way. Caramel burns = no fun.  No fun at all.)

Hssssss!

Then, the cake batter, which is pretty simple. But what makes it super fluffy is the apple butter, a cup of which you fold into the mix.

Into the oven, bake, then flip over.

cake time

All went well, except for that "bad apple" slice in the corner

Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve with some creme fraiche or whipped cream.

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Quick update

Apple crisp, vanilla gelato quenelle

Apple crisp, vanilla gelato quenelle

As promised, here is a picture of a quenelle.

More on the apple crisp later.

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Fall will bring concord grape juice and this, which I am very excited about. Because it’s around the corner, literally, from this humble abode, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll have the fluffy, buttery, and perfectly salted pretzel croissants sold at The City Bakery? Please?

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Some light kvetching

It’s starting to get busier in the basement. No vacation times—to the extent that they are given—are granted in the fall, it says in the company handbook, because people come to the restaurant in droves to honor the human instinct of packing in the fat for the winter, and all hands must be on deck. “Sometimes we’re here ’til 2:30,” my chef said last week, of fall workdays. (Just to clarify, that’s 2:30a.m.) But that’s good, right? Thriving business = $$$ = B. has a job at a time when the unemployment numbers keep peaking. Count those blessings!

On the flip side, it’s nary been a month, and my big right toe is slowly becoming numb and tingly. My friend who works with me in the kitchen hasn’t gotten over her cold of two months. I’ve had a sore throat for weeks. I wake up in the middle of the night often, from what must be residual adrenaline rushes that didn’t completely get processed during p.m. services.  Ironically, I have hunger pangs during work, usually around 10-11p.m. (‘Food, food everywhere, but not a bite to eat,’ I derived.)  Also ironically, my waistline is expanding, as I’m sure my LDL count ticks upward.

But a year I said, and a year I shall stick to.

While I’ve clearly redacted my no complaint policy here, I will uphold it in the basement, putting my nose to the whetstone and churning out dishes silently.

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Sweets you well

Looks good enough to eat

Looks good enough to eat; photo from charlesandmarie.com

I’m in love with these meringue rings available on charlesandmarie.com. They’re not actual meringues, of course. They’re made of silicone. This is a boon to me, because my teeth hurt and mercury fillings start to rattle whenever I chew on one (read: I’m old). So I love this ring on two levels: first the simple, modern design, and also the fact that it’s an inedible representation of something I make all the time and don’t want to eat but signifies an aspect of my life.

I’m going to sit and keep over-thinking this. You can just like it and wear it.

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