Artichoke Gelato

April 22nd, 2014

This is one of the nicest flavors of gelato I’ve made, naturally a beautiful shade of green, very subtle and elegant. And it sells very well. Unimaginative vegetable doubters, STFU!!!

1 1/2 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 pint baby artichoke petals
1 swipe of lemon zest*
1/2 vanilla pod**
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp Cynar***
Salt to taste

Combine milk, cream, artichoke petals, lemon zest and vanilla in a medium saucepan and bring to a bare simmer. Remove from heat and cover with something airtight (I use plastic which seals itself to the edges of the hot pan), set aside for 20-30 minutes. Uncover and purée everything but the vanilla in a blender.

Return contents of blender to saucepan and heat to steaming. Meanwhile, scramble the eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a separate bowl, then gradually whisk mixture into eggs. Temper hot liquid into egg mixture, then return all to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly. It’s done when it’s as thick as a loose pudding with no starchy smell, taste or mouthfeel.

Pass through a fine mesh strainer, being sure to get all the custard out of the artichoke fibers. Chill and salt to taste, then add Cynar. Churn in ice cream**** or gelato machine.

*That is, the resulting zest from running a microplane zester the entire length of a medium lemon once.
** I have a bag of pre-scraped vanilla pods leftover from a recipe that required only the seeds. I already have more vanilla sugar than I could possibly use, so I keep them on hand for infusing vanilla flavor without the visible seeds. You could just add a teaspoon of vanilla extract with the Cynar, if you like.
***Cynar is a bitter liqueur containing, among many other things, artichoke. There is an artichoke on the label. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the vegetable in question and adds a nice depth.
****This is my standard base when creating an infused flavor. I inverted the amounts of milk and cream since ultra-rich bases don’t fare well in a gelato machine. If you have a machine that adds a substantial amount of air to the final product, I recommend using more cream than milk.

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Step Into the Light

March 30th, 2014

Following the nasty “Dark Ages of Dessert” fallout, I asked Twitter followers for their ideal desserts and menus, and, though they may be a biased cross section of the population, I gathered that people really just want thoughtful, well-made, delicious desserts. Some prefer chocolate and others citrus, some want to be comforted by nostalgia, while others just want a small nibble, like a scoop of ice cream or a few cookies. These answers didn’t really do much to help me, personally, because I already offer rotating gelato and sorbet flavors by the scoop, I make an ever-changing variety of cookies and candies for my cookie plate and I’m never without a range of desserts from light and creamy to dark and fudgy. I understand and enjoy the variety that a good dessert menu requires.

One of the most emphasized things in people’s responses, though, was that a dessert had to be satisfying. It had to eat like a dessert. People don’t want to take a chance on parsnip gelato, sunchoke panna cotta or beet cake because they assume it will taste like it does when used on a savory plate. This assumption is ridiculous, about as silly and unfortunately common as assuming sweet potato and pumpkin desserts on the same menu will be repetitive because inept bakers use the same musty spice blend for everything orange in the fall. The mark of a good cook is the ability to transform ingredients into something uniquely delicious, and just because you can’t fathom how something could possibly work doesn’t mean someone else didn’t take the time to figure it out.

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I recently gradually rolled out my spring vegetable dessert menu, and so far it’s going great. I started with the kabocha doughnuts, which were an easy sell. Nobody cares what kind of doughnuts are on offer, as long as they’re hot. I season the sticky, silky dough with nutmeg, mace and grains of paradise (no cinnamon, it’s spring, not fall), dust the freshly fried rings with funky-but-sweet carob powder I grind myself and pile them up in a little pool of thick vanilla-bay anglaise, to keep the flavors light and springy instead of heavy and autumnal. They’re almost drab-looking on the outside, but neon orange-yellow on the inside. Very hopeful.

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A few days later I managed to nail my second vegetable-based sweet. Roughly equal parts Anjou pear and fennel bulb are shaved thickly and caramelized in a pan with sugar, cream, butter and vanilla bean, then loaded into ramekins and blanketed with whole wheat and walnut streusel. Baked until bubbling and toasted, then warmed to order, they get a generous drizzle of a vaguely spiced and totally addictive red wine caramel sauce and a little scoop of Gorgonzola gelato in a bowl alongside. It’s a classic flavor combination that rarely ends up on the dessert menu, and really sounds much stranger than it tastes. The fennel melts into the pears and the whole crisp with the sauce has a cohesive depth of flavor, so deep that it needs the sharp salty funk of the cheese to brighten it up. Is it cheating to use pears, too? Maybe, but I doubt the effect would be anywhere near as delicious with the fennel alone, and I have a lot of pears to get through. Besides, the point of the vegetable dessert menu and in fact many things I make is to use what’s available, whether it’s a specialty item with a fleeting window of seasonality or just something that otherwise would gather dust and ultimately be tossed.

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My final two vegetable desserts were giving me considerable trouble, all because I was having a hard time getting the garnishes I’d planned on. But I’m learning to be flexible.

One of them, the most outwardly traditional dessert on the menu, is a fairly simple carrot cake. I chose to make this my gluten free option, and adapted a Persian style recipe that relies on almond and coconut flours. I grate the carrots into wide flakes and pack the cake with chopped pistachios and sunflower seeds, which is very different from carrot cakes I’ve made in the past. Usually I leave the cake alone and make a nutty filling. To complement both the carrot and the pistachio, I spice the cake with allspice and cardamom, and serve it in slabs filled with a bright and slightly citrusy carrot jam (also known as carrot halwa or spoon sweet). A clean and milky white ricotta gelato stands in for the traditionally heavier cream cheese frosting element, which I perch on a bed of pistachios, though a schmear of pistachio butter might be even nicer. The final element to tie it all together was meant to be a violet coulis, made by grinding violets or similar purple edible flowers into a paste with sugar and diluting with water. However it’s a bit early for cute little purple flowers, so fine dice Turkish delight that I make myself is standing in, adding a light and certainly middle eastern floral scent and chewy textured nubs that would normally be raisins. Adaptability = super important. I also recently changed the chopped pistachios on the plate to a schmear of neon green pistachio butter.

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My final vegetable-based dessert, the chocolate beet cake, is probably the richest chocolate dessert I’ve made at this job (or any) to date. So much for lightening up for spring. The cake itself is actually fairly light, though it seems dense and rich due to both its water bath baking process and the moisture from the puréed beets within. Served warm and drizzled with a chocolate honey syrup, it’s almost like an inside out molten cake. I went with a clean and refreshing yogurt gelato splintered with dark chocolate stracciatella to serve alongside, and the cake is sprinkled with crushed cocoa nib meringues and micro amaranth for texture, color and flavor. Without the amaranth it looks a little sloppy and drab. I originally planned on bulls blood, but that’s another thing that has been delayed due to still chilly temperatures, and the amaranth works just as well. I’m lucky to have access to micros at all.

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Aside from the semi-gimmicky inclusion of vegetables, all of these desserts share a common characteristic: they are all extremely satisfying, and, as a result, are selling like crazy and getting rave reviews. This is possibly my favorite menu I’ve done anywhere to date, because it’s slightly challenging, largely creative yet everything on it is so very “dessert-like.” I plan to keep using vegetables in my dishes throughout the spring and summer, while of course still taking advantage of the gorgeous fruit that appears as the weather warms.

Dark What Now

March 13th, 2014

I thought we’d all agreed that pastry was back. I thought Ansel was educating fools on why they should support pastry chefs. Apparently, while I was busy testing recipes for my spring veggie dessert menu (more on that and my feelings on “savory” desserts in a bit), the internet ass-fucking-sploded over this article by Adam Platt.

Almost immediately, a follow up article was posted, with different chefs’ opinions.

Before I really get into it, I’m a little annoyed that they lament well-known pastry chefs who have left the sweet side of the restaurant or moved into teaching roles. There are many of us who are coming up behind them, learn some new names. Or do we need it printed on a dust jacket before you’ll give a shit?

Ok.

First off: Who the fuck is making $50-60k a year?! I’m currently making the most I ever have and it’s still not even close! Granted I don’t work in fine dining, and have no real interest in moving beyond upscale casual, but really.

Second: Why do people need a million petit fours? It’s silly. Especially to include such expensive goodies as chocolates and macarons (almond flour ain’t cheap even wholesale). This is why I offer a cookie plate (FOR SALE and no it CANNOT be comped to ANYONE): you can sample a range of little nibbles that range from crunchy biscotti to indulgent truffles to twee animal crackers. I think it’s outdated to expect a parade of free shit (bread isn’t always free anymore, either, although it is more commonly being made in house and with love). Tough economic times, bitches.

I take offense and feel fighty about Chef Mattos’s statement about savory cooks being better at handling sugar. I so disagree. And if I wanted to make fucking showpieces I’d work in a hotel. I don’t give a shit about architectural chocolate or pulled sugar. Heck I don’t even like those spiky caramel covered hazelnuts (great way to slice up your gums as far as I’m concerned). I have a great palate and so do most other pastry professionals I know. I pride myself in never making a dessert that’s too sweet (except that one time). I have actually recently referred to my current style of desserts as “shit a savory chef would conceptualize but with the pastry skills to make it not suck.”

And? I only ever make a cheap shot like panna cotta for parties or prix fixe menus. Get with it. Try a fucking posset, man.

With that, we arrive at vegetable desserts and my current odd offerings.

This is my pear terrine. Based on Dana Cree’s apple cake (technically Scott Carsberg’s), it’s baked in a terrine mold, chilled, sliced thinly and brûléed to order with toasty vanilla sugar. It comes with a scoop of badass parsnip gelato and something I like to call birdseed brittle. And parsnip chips, cut and gently prodded into shape with tweezers (sweet blessed tweezers, tongs feel like mitten-hands in comparison) in a fryer so that they resemble dried flowers, then dusted in mace sugar. It’s a little weird but it sells.

I’m debuting a pretty much all-vegetable dessert menu next week for spring, encouraged by the sales of the terrine. Also I heard people like vegetable desserts? Anyway. I’m bored to death by my options this time of year. No one wants a heavy nut-based dessert in early March. It’s not like I won’t jump on berries and stone fruit with rabid ferocity the second they appear. But I’m so over the early spring “is there rhubarb yet is there rhubarb yet is there rhubarb yet?” mantra that everyone in pastry knows by heart. There are other vegetables to be had and I’ll be exploiting them.

I needed a place holder until then in the form of a chocolate dessert, and was so fucking uninspired trying to make things like pot de creme and rice pudding (complete failure of a chocolate risotto experiment). I don’t remember how I came up with it but decided I wanted to make a really salty, umami-esque gelato to go with whatever I ended up doing. I was strongly considering Parmesan but figured I’d ask about scraps of charcuterie lingering in the lowboy and ended up with a few ounces of jamon Serrano. So I made gelato with it, fully expecting it to be awful, but it wasn’t. It actually tastes a lot like Parm, but with a distinct chicharron aftertaste. It’s a total umami bomb, and it goes perfectly with chocolate-chocolate chip polenta cake, sitting on a schmear of caramel infused with toasted curing spices. A little dusting of finely ground fennel seed and some cocoa nib meringues finish the plate.

Weird? Hell yeah. Delicious? Double hell yeah. Did I think it would sell? Fuck no! But we 86ed that shit by 9 pm the first night it was on the menu.

Since I’m home with a comfy kitty in my lap and a little whisky in my belly, I’m going to start the incendiary shoutouts.

Hey Fraser. “Craveable”???? Are you fucking serious? I don’t crave “carrots wellington.” Seriously are you being paid by, like, NaBisCo?

And Freitag? I think banana splits land squarely in the realm of  nostalgic/outdated but cool in a hipster way/lol let’s relive our childhoods because our adult lives are so fucking empty.

DeMasco? You’re cool. The only one I completely agree with in this article. Pastry chefs, take heed: If you’re not willing to create some overlap between your department and the rest of the kitchen, if you’re not willing to observe their plating styles and adapt your style to fit that of your chef’s, if you’re not willing to ask yourself or others where you can help to elevate other parts of the restaurant, then get the fuck out and never show your face again, you selfish flouncing princess.

The Cookie Plate’s the Thing

February 19th, 2014

Cookies are supposed to be simple. They’re among the first things covered in pastry school and are usually one of the first tasks any aspiring baker tackles (slice and bake doesn’t count, Doughboy). Unfortunately, within simplicity lies a lot of room for complacency and mediocrity.

Until recently I loathed the idea of a cookie plate. I worked for a restaurant that had one once and it was an uninspired, overpriced thing with such crumbly little offerings as plain, dry shortbread, thumbprints with cornstarch-based “jam,” unremarkable oatmeal raisin and undersalted chocolate chip cookies that were too small and quick-baking to develop the range of textures and flavors that make that simple cookie amazing. But, for some reason, I decided to make little gift boxes of treats to send to friends that Christmas, and got to thinking about how I would reinvent the cookie plate to make it my own.

First off, who says cookie plates have to be comprised of just cookies? Add the word “confection” into the mix and suddenly a whole other world opens up, one that includes marshmallows, caramels, pate de fruits and other gummies, chocolate bonbons and truffles, even bite-sized cakes or whoopie pies. You’d be surprised how many people still haven’t had a really great handmade marshmallow, or how adorable anything can be when made in a one inch scale.

Second, there are a lot of different wonderful cookies out there, at least a few for every cuisine. No reason to keep things strictly American, French or Italian; draw on anything that strikes you. There are as many ways to make biscotti as there are bakers (I almost never repeat a biscotti flavor unless it’s going on a specific dish). I recently noticed some chickpea flour next to the golden raisins at work and have been making mysteriously nutty oatmeal raisin cookies for the past couple of weeks. Meringues are fast, easy blank canvases for any flavor you like. Shortbread can be made with a variety of flours, sugars, spices and even using things like olive oil in place of the butter. Crunchy all-American options like graham or animal crackers (that reminds me, must remember my cutters tomorrow!) bring novelty and are impressively delicious but deceptively simple. Bar or thumbprint cookies are great venues to show off any preserve or curd you can dream up.

For some reason, the cookie plate has caught on recently as a venue for a little extra creativity, just as it should be. (With some credit due towards Gramercy’s new pastry chef, Miroslav Uskokovic. The aforementioned sad cookie plate was clearly modeled on Gramercy’s former cookie plate presentation, in two-by-two rows of blah little discs. I love Chef Miro’s aesthetic of including many shapes and colors, and the bottle of milk seals the deal.) Since having it on my menu, I’ve twice seriously debated taking it off and only offering biscotti to accompany coffee and tea, but every time I say it aloud I come back the next day to a vastly depleted supply. One table of eleven shared four of them for dessert. Cookie plates appeal to the trickiest demographic for pastry chefs: those who claim they don’t care for or are too full for dessert. I consider this a serious yet quiet victory.

This month I even went so far as to put together a special cookie plate for Valentine’s Day. It was a great opportunity to test out some ideas I’d had.

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Clockwise From Left: Chocolate Anise Biscotti, Honey Lavender Shortbread, Turkish Delight, Sesame Halva Truffles, Harissa Meringues

With the exception of the Turkish Delight (which was a cheat anyway as I was short on time and had to use gelatin along with the cornstarch) everything I’d made for the day was both unique and delicious enough to carry over onto the regular cookie plate, at least for the week.

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Though I do have a particular soft spot for the truffles. They’re wonderful, especially thoroughly chilled so the halva inside the bitter chocolate shell is delightfully chewy. I have a feeling they’ll be sticking around for a while, and only in part because of the time I spent filling four pints of them the other day.

The Trouble with Chocolate

January 26th, 2014

For all the encyclopedic knowledge, intuition, palate training and intricate skills I possess within my field, the biggest challenge for me on a regular basis is chocolate.

Not necessarily tempering (although I need more practice in that area and do plan on exploring the world of bonbons this year), just the oddly necessary inclusion if it on every restaurant dessert menu everywhere. When building and structuring a menu, woe is the pastry chef who doesn’t include an over-the-top chocolate finisher.

My very first menu did not really have a chocolate option. I was concerned about the glaring omission, but the executive chef and I agreed that a bowl of supple malted milk panna cotta dotted with crunchy cocoa meringues (yes, a bowl of Cocoa Puffs dessert, and no I didn’t get the idea from Christina Tosi) was close enough, temporarily. And if people felt they needed something insanely rich to end their dining experience, I also offered peanut butter layer cake (although, if you’ve read my Serious Eats column, you know I would come to regret it).

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But soon enough there was a clamoring for something more overtly chocolatey, and I answered the call with a succession of sundaes, ice cream sandwiches and cakes, finally striking gold with a stupidly simple chocolate pretzel tart that induced swooning, sharing, arguing (mostly about sharing) and ultimately a mention in the Michelin guide (hilariously just after I was fired, taking my recipes with me).

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I’ve always found it kind of funny how chocolate is treated as a staple, an anchor item on the bottom of every dessert menu. People say they “need” chocolate. They “require” it. It strikes me as a little spoiled, a little too first-world-problem, considering what a luxury ingredient it really is. And yet. You can’t have a restaurant without a chocolate dessert.

Chocolate desserts are generally easy sells. Easy sells for easy tastes. Chocolate and caramel (and salt). Chocolate and coffee (though chocolate and tea, especially green tea, is gaining traction). Chocolate and chocolate. Once you get much more complicated than that, there is divisiveness. Not everyone likes chocolate and mint. Some people loathe chocolate and orange, or they love it but can’t wrap their brains around a dessert where the orange is swapped for another citrus like grapefruit or lime. A lot more people dislike chocolate with red berries than you’d think (I like it with cherries but not raspberries, and am pretty neutral about chocolate and strawberries). These pairings are generally about as challenging as anyone outside of über fine dining will go.

So of course I, in my semi-fine-dining-but-still-casual work setting, had to upset things a bit. With a broad Mediterranean scope allowing the use of things from all over that region, I went North African with my first chocolate dessert. Inspired by za’atar, I created a dense chocolate date torte accented with black cardamom, crusted in toasted sesame seeds and accompanied by a scoop of creamy tahini semifreddo (before the gelato machine came in) and a tart sumac caramel sauce. It was slightly challenging for the average chocolate lover, but ultimately satisfied and sold very well.

But I recently changed much of the menu, and the chefs thought we needed a new chocolate creation, so I pulled the torte (deciding that between two other warm desserts and a gianduja hot chocolate that no one would miss it for a brief while) and set to work on a dessert based around a chocolate cake I’d made for a tasting menu dinner that the chefs had adored (Nigella’s recipe, thanks Ms. Lawson).

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It was challenging and we threw around a lot of ideas, many involving caramelized white chocolate (finally a kitchen that doesn’t hate the white stuff!), but since I knew I wanted to use a gelato made with the preserved Meyer lemons I found in the walk in, I went from there.

The gelato is somewhat magical in flavor, developing constantly and tasting a little different every day. Some days the honey comes through strongest, others the lemon or its accompanying spices. I added a pinch of saffron for good measure (because anytime you google chocolate and honey, many results point you towards chocolates with honey and saffron) and it became even more complex.

To add some crunch and bitterness, I decided to include honeycomb candy on the plate, and, after a period of waffling, chose to present the cake in layers sandwiched with amaretto pastry cream. Completing the dish is a small pile of candied cocoa nibs and crushed toasted almonds to act as a throne for the gelato, which also gets a spare crowning of bee pollen.

At a casual glance, it does bring to mind the all-important honeybee (remember, kids: without bees, we’re fucked), but upon more intense scrutiny, it’s clear that this is just as much an exercise in excess as it is an ode to bees. Casually throwing together such precious ingredients as honey (and expensive pollen), chocolate, saffron (from a flower, lol) and almonds is, indeed, an over the top combination, albeit an unusual one. But it works, from both a customer satisfaction standpoint and my own irrepressibly bored-with-the-status-quo view. Do I expect it to generate as much devotion as a chocolate pretzel tart? No. But it can hold its own, and I’m happy that the customers are up to the challenges I offer.

Crostata Time

January 22nd, 2014

A year ago, I was working my first job in pastry after my traumatic layoff. I took it because I thought I’d be mentored and have some guidance, something I felt like I really needed. I was wrong in my initial perception of the job.

If it hadn’t been for me working out of a sister restaurant before my workspace was done (side note: in the past 3 years I have opened 4 restaurants. I admit I have a problem) I might have quit pastry altogether. But I had a blast working out of the tiny kitchen in that wee little Michelin-starred restaurant, often staying late to help the chefs with their prep. They were sorry to see me go when I moved to the new restaurant.

I was miserable after the move. The executive chef, while a great guy, was hardly around, with retail projects and multiple restaurants to check in on. The chef de cuisine was all right as a person, but came off as downright bitchy professionally, with an open disdain for pastry. She and the exec had a very nebulous idea of what the dessert menu should be, and as I wasn’t really in a creative state of mind at the time, I wasn’t much help. People hated one of the opening desserts, didn’t care for the deconstructed presentation of another and were downright nasty about some of the gelato flavors. It was a fussy, snobby neighborhood. Ultimately I found something else and gave my notice.

One dessert people did lose their shit over was an apple crostata. Though I didn’t care for the treatment of the apples (smoking caramel tastes awful and I loathe lemon with apples) and the presentation the chefs wanted was a near structural impossibility (an uber flaky crostata dough, in individual sized applications, is not able to hold its shape when wrapped free form around the apples. I was screamed at over every one that unfolded in the oven), I chose to serve it with a zabaglione gelato and spiced Marsala caramel sauce that received insane amounts of praise. (I noticed a pattern: everything I did that I felt I could stand behind, people liked. If I was forced to go against my judgement, customers hated the result. Critics assumed we had no pastry chef. It was mortifying.)

So guess what I’m making at my current job. Yeah, apple crostata. Only, my way. Because they basically leave me alone to do my thing here instead of meddling. So it looks like this now.

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Big enough (and priced for) two or three people to share, it’s really just a small pie. I don’t burn the damn sugar for the apples, I season with cinnamon and nutmeg (not my first choice but it works) and I top it with a scoop of salted butter caramel gelato.

It’s not really an apple dessert. It’s a sugar, salt and butter dessert. The apples just happen to have wandered into the situation. The crust has just enough flour to hold together chunks of high-fat butter and has a significant amount of sugar to make it softer and more tender than a standard brisee. Brushed with egg wash and coated in superfine and turbinado sugars, it’s pretty damn delicious. The apples, cooked in a buttery caramel until semi-soft before being added to the crostatas, taste like the perfect apple pie filling. The secret? A small handful of salt. They don’t taste salty, just appley. And I don’t even have to describe the gelato. The name says it all.

Anyway. Sorry my crostatas were kind of lame, former bosses. They’re awesome now.

I’m Back

January 5th, 2014

It’s been a long fucking year and a half.

It started when I was downgraded from “executive pastry chef” to “pastry chef for just that place over there” and then “too expensive to keep.”

That was around when I did my last entry.

What followed was a period of profound stupidity and maturation.

I tried to overcome the sting of losing what had previously been my dream job by attending a dessert tasting at a super posh restaurant. It didn’t help much but at least I got to meet cool people and taste nice things.

I set up a trail at a restaurant I thought I always wanted to work at. One of my main motivators for choosing the school I attended. It sucked and I left halfway through, determined to take a break to get my shit together.

So I tended bar. Which was fine for a while, then I gradually grew to hate it. I like staying up late, but not until after 4 am, being held captive by drunks. I did learn a lot about classic cocktails and alcohol in general, so there’s that.

I got two job offers, one of which was very similar to my previous position but with too few hours and too little pay, and another that paid better and seemed to promise lots of guidance and experience. I took the latter. Big mistake. While the former would have ultimately been boring and would have left me with duties at the bar, the job I did choose turned into a nightmare.

It was great at first. I was making cookies, learning how to make gelato, getting to help in a Michelin-starred kitchen. Then I was thrown into an impossible situation with a chef de cuisine who screamed and dismissed any and all pastry work. Her food was weird, her cooks were traumatized, and I was unhappy. I looked for a new job for a couple of months, with a few semi-promising prospects, but lots of dismissals regarding my “overqualification.”

Eventually I found something and got the fuck out. But too few hours coupled with having to raise funds to suddenly move, plus an overworked chef who had no time to work with me on the things I’d actually been hired for made me start seeking an exit almost immediately.

(None of this is good for my resume.)

I sent out resumes here and there, eventually getting an invitation to an open call, which I ended up ditching because those are stupid and I was tired or something. I don’t remember.

I got an email a few days later wondering why I hadn’t shown; they’d really wanted to meet me. I agreed to come to a one-on-one interview and was immediately offered the pastry chef position. Because the venue, area and cuisine were unique, I said yes. I felt like a total jerk for leaving my other job so soon, but I went through with it.

Cue two months of delays, being paid less than my weekly salary if we had nothing to do for the week, etc. This, too, devolved quickly. I eventually decided to wring as much experience out of the position as I could.

I could write a book just on the laughably absurd problems this place had. I tell people not to bother looking it up, it’ll be closed/a trashy club soon enough.

Ultimately I was told to put s’mores in a mason jar and that I should look to such culinary luminaries as Max fucking Brenner for inspiration. I was pressured to hire someone who would potentially say yes to all the moronic ideas I vetoed. There was a screaming match, there were apologies, there was an awkward day, there was harassment and abuse via incessant phone calls and text messages on my day off as I sat quietly enjoying a nice dinner out, visiting with a colleague.

I immediately shrugged, said aloud to no one in particular, “I quit,” and trekked out to the restaurant to pick up my things and hug everyone goodbye.

I relaxed for almost a week, catching up on Doctor Who via Netflix, and updated my resume. I casually sent it to a couple of places, knowing nothing about my next move besides I was not rushing into anything, not panicking, and all I wanted was a place where I could put down some fucking roots already and not fight with anyone.

I got a near-instant response from an owner and then the chef of a restaurant I’d never heard of in a neighborhood I never visited. By the end of the day I had an appointment to come in and “trail” accompanied by insinuations that they’d be hiring me on the spot.

To be continued.

Crispy

September 3rd, 2012

This is less of a recipe, more of just an update. If you follow me on Twitter or know me personally this isn’t news.

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That right there is the first thing I’ve baked in a little over a week.

“But Anna!” you might be saying. “Don’t you bake things all the time at work? At least every other day, right???”

Not anymore. See, when restaurant owners, especially fairly inexperienced ones, make mistakes like opening behemoth restaurants over the summer or just plain don’t realize that there’s nothing to worry about because EVERYONE experiences a drop in business towards the end of the summer…they panic and look for ways to cut costs. And they tend to attack the department they deem “unnecessary” or “excessive.” Which is, without exception, the pastry department. Meaning, me.

So, yup, unemployment….I’m not a big fan. I’ve been sleeping a lot, hugging kitties, watching tv…went on one trail at a restaurant I always thought I’d kill to work at. Walked out a few hours early after realizing I just don’t care about fine dining. So now I’m considering other things…catering, most likely. Of course if anyone were to offer me a bakery space I wouldn’t say no. ;)

After about a week I inevitably got the baking itch. So I made a plum crisp. No measuring, no recipe. I rarely use them when baking at home now anyway. About 8 red and purple plums, tossed with a little vanilla sugar and 5 spice. Sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt (both kosher and a bit of applewood smoked, which I love in desserts*) and a stick of butter. Worked by hand into a dough and dolloped on top of the plums, then baked at 375 for almost an hour, until browned and bubbly and jammy. Rewarmed to serve and topped with vanilla ice cream.

*A few months ago I developed an amazing apple pie filling. I’ve yet to recreate it with measurements but it involves buttery caramel seized with bourbon, sliced granny smiths, cinnamon, black pepper and applewood smoked salt. I’ll be making it again really soon. Just wait.

Intellectual Property

August 22nd, 2012

This recipe has been under contention for a while. Long story short, it was one of the top selling dishes PERIOD at the Big Ridiculous Latin Restaurant, and the owners expected me to just hand it over when I was asked to leave, despite me having developed it originally FOR FUN months before they were open. I gave up on the issue because I was leaving a friend in charge. Recently they got a new chef. He deemed the dessert “crap” and promptly removed it from the menu. (I don’t take it personally since the current chef at Tiny’s ate like two whole cheesecakes during the development stage, and upon learning more about his changes and comments have realized he just doesn’t like cheesecake.)

Anyway.

Before that last part went down, I’d already decided to share the recipe with you guys. It’s a little fuzzy because we were baking individual mini cheesecakes and that’s just not feasible for home cooks. And you ARE gonna need a scale. Get over it.

First, make Alton Brown’s Graham Crackers. Yes really. They’re easy, all-molasses with a nice bitterness. I figured molasses was a nice vaguely tropical ingredient. Also you can sub whole wheat flour for the graham, that’s what we ended up doing.

To make the crust and bake the cheesecake, follow the directions from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking…From My Home to Yours” (which I keep at work for trusty basic formulas like this one).

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp undated butter, melted
(I omitted the salt)

Mix crumbs with sugar by hand, then pour in melted butter and work in with fingers until evenly mixed. Press into the bottom & sides of a foil-wrapped springform pan and chill, then blind bake for 10 minutes at 350F, turning halfway through. Cool before filling.

For the filling, cream together:
12 oz cream cheese
12 oz soft goat cheese
200 g (1 cup) sugar

Scrape that shit down, no lumps allowed! Then beat in:
3 eggs

One at a time, silly. Scrape some more. Don’t turn the mixer up too high, air bubbly cheesecake is no bueno. With the mixer on a nice low setting, slowly pour in:
1 cup of cream

Followed by:
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 Tbsp lime juice

Scrape again before pouring into the crust. In fact, transfer the whole batter into another container to make sure it’s smooth as can be. If it’s not, strain it. But if you’ve been scraping sufficiently all along you won’t have a problem.

Here’s where you make a choice: You can use the cheesecake batter right away OR you can keep it refrigerated overnight for better results. If you use it right away it’ll be fluffier and harder to swirl in the guava purée (that’s right). If you refrigerate you’ll get guava all through the cake, not just on top, but the batter will separate slightly in the fridge so you’ll have to transfer it AGAIN and make sure to stir gently until homogenous. It’s your call, either way let the batter come up to about room temperature before using or your cheesecake will take an ungodly amount of time to bake.

Anyway.

You’ll need that guava purée I mentioned. If you have any Latin groceries near you, check in their freezer case. Goya makes totally fine tropical fruit purées. It’ll go by the Spanish name “guayaba.” You can also drop a ton of money on way too much purée from a company like Boiron, or go find yourself some guavas to purée. Either way you need it thawed and homogenous. Once the batter is in the pan, dribble a bunch of purée on top of the batter and swirl it in. Add more if you like. If you add a ton the extra water in it will add a lot of cooking time but you’ll end up with swirls of what is essentially guava paste at the end.

Oven at 325F, water bath at the ready. I think you’re gonna have to cover this sucker with foil lest his top burn before his middle is cooked, we baked the individual ones uncovered but they only took about 20 minutes as opposed to the hour or something that a big cake takes.

I’m assuming you know how cheesecakes work. So, bake, cool, chill, unmold, slice, eat. This goes particularly well with more acidic fruit sorbets, I served it with passion fruit but lime would also be wonderful.

Edit: Here’s a photo of a large scale version of the cheesecake as made by a former assistant of mine. Thanks Tiago!!!

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Happily Demoted

July 22nd, 2012

You heard right. I’m no longer involved with Super Linda (aka All Consuming Eater of Souls) – was asked to leave following an altercation after I DARED to change a dessert I didn’t put on the menu myself. Nasty business. Chef quit a few months ago. The state of the nation is, I’m back to being the sole source of all things pastry for Tiny’s and only Tiny’s, I’m working out of the prep kitchen at a nearby affiliated sports bar, and the former sous is now running the show at Tiny’s.

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The dessert that was deemed as “disgusting sounding” by an owner. Later sucker.

And things are going great! Better than expected, even. We were both ready to storm out when Chef left but…this is a chance to make a great place even better, and do what makes us happy. With a loyal kitchen staff behind him and an enthusiastic back and front of house behind me, we’re kicking ass.

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My somewhat conceptual rhubarb dessert.

In fact I have literally been told on several occasions recently, “do whatever you want.”

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Roasted strawberry tart. No daily fuss with fresh berries!

We’re tweaking and transforming the menus. Gone is the weird burger with sprouts, the crab dip, the brunch pastry basket.

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Completely insane pineapple Jammy Tart.

We have a loyal enough following of regulars that I can fearlessly challenge them and myself at the same time.

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Japanese cotton soft cheesecake…made like a sponge cake, baked in a water bath.

I’m also currently still setting up my gorgeous new apartment with my fiancé (we have a private backyard and counter/cabinet space for miles!) and hugging Slappy, the cutest kitty in the world, daily. And I’m hoping to start sharing short but sweet recipes again soon!

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Slappy says “hi, I’ll slap you!”