Entries from January 31st, 2007

I'm in Edible East Bay!

January 31st, 2007 · 29 Comments · Personal, Photography, Sweet Spots

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Please allow me to share a very exciting bit of news: I have been published in a magazine! Edible East Bay, a quarterly magazine that focuses on local and seasonal foods in the East Bay (for those of you not from around Northern California, that would be the area east of San Francisco – think Berkeley, Oakland, Walnut Creek, Livermore.) has just come out with its Spring issue.

My contribution is an article on Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe, a little shop in Oakland’s upscale Rockridge area that I’ve mentioned before, and where I’ve been making pastries in the kitchen for the last few months. I’m pleased to provide a behind the scenes look at what goes into the making of the croissants, muffins, and other sweets that customers order with their hot chocolate, as well as give a little history on how this haven for chocoholics came to be.

Edible East Bay is available by subscription or it can be found free around the East Bay. If you’re not able to get your hands on a copy, you can still take a look at the cover of the issue above, which shows…yes! Bittersweet’s very own Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream, photographed by me.

It’s been a very sweet January, indeed!

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{SF} Miette Confiserie

January 28th, 2007 · 9 Comments · San Francisco, Sweet Spots

Miette_confiserie

image from Miette

I stopped by the grand opening of Miette Confiserie on Saturday – a fuller report will come after a return visit, but suffice to say it’s a charming and unique addition to the eclectic Hayes Valley neighborhood, and a must-visit for any lover of candy and old-fashioned stores of yesteryears.

The store is a study in nostalgia, from the floral wallpaper to the vintage lights to the wooden cabinetry. The biggest eye-catcher, though, is the rainbow of sweets in glass apothecary jars lining the walls from floor to ceiling – everything from licorice to saltwater taffy to boiled sweets to caramels. The selection ranges from ardently old-fashioned (huge rainbow lollipops) to across-the-pond exotica (Cadbury’s Aero and French Camembert chocolates) to high-end modern (Charles Chocolates and Theo chocolate bars).

You are almost guaranteed to leave with something – besides the fact that many of the candies cost just pennies, you’ll find some sweet from your childhood memory lane, or some never-been-seen before candy bar that is begging to be tried. I’ll be coming back soon, just to delight in this sugary fantasyland and the fact that I’m grown up now and can spend my hard-earned pennies on candy as I wish.

Miette Confiserie

449 Octavia Boulevard

San Francisco, CA 94102

415-626-6221

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Late to SHF #27: Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate

January 26th, 2007 · 12 Comments · Chocolate, Events, Recipes, Tarts

1/30/07: edited to add recipes!

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I came back from vacation too late to craft a timely entry for this month’s SHF, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t still inspired to honor the theme: chocolate! (how could any self-respecting pastry girl resist?)

I also wanted to honor the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the world’s chocolate epicenters, home to chocolate makers Scharffen Berger, Guittard, and Ghirardelli, as well as an ever-growing group of artisan chocolatiers that include Charles Chocolates, Michael Recchiuti, Michael Mischer, and Coco-luxe. With local gourmet markets stocking Valrhona and Chuao, and chocolate-dedicated stores like Bittersweet and CocoaBella filling out the choco-scape, there’s no reason to settle for the same old Godiva when there are so many other fascinating and tasty options to explore.

My chocolate of choice this month is E. Guittard, a chocolate making company that’s been in San Francisco since 1868.  Guittard started out creating chocolate for professional pastry chefs, and the quality of their product has earned them a reputation that served them in good stead when they finally started making their chocolate available to the public. Aside from their tasting bars, which highlight the various origins of their beans (a great way to see how beans from different parts of the world compare), they also sell baking chocolate in the form of little discs, or wafers, as they call them.

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If you’ve ever tried to hack up a block of chocolate, you know tiring and difficult it can be. (I mean, they sell a chocolate fork just for the task). How much easier it would be if the chocolate were already in convenient little discs that are easy to measure out and melt evenly and smoothly in a jiffy?

The thing is, chocolate discs have been available to professionals for quite some time. Note: I am NOT talking about the chocolate chips by Nestle’s or Toll House that you see in the supermarket – chocolate chips have additives in them to help them keep their form at higher temperatures, so they will not melt the same as pure chocolate, nor can you temper chocolate chips. These discs made by high-end chocolate companies are real, uncompromised chocolate, in literally cute-as-a-button form.

Charmingly, every company calls their product something different, from Guittard’s "wafers" to Valrhona’s "fèves" to El Rey’s "discos". These little handfuls of baking (and nibbling) joy have slowly started showing up in specialty stores and, finally, online. King Arthur’s Flour has a nice selection of discs from various makers in a variety of percentages.

I like the Guittard wafers not just because of their convenience but for their performance and taste. Guittard chocolate melts nicely, tempers beautifully, and each box I get behaves consistently  – a sign of quality. Their 72% bittersweet has an intense, straightforward flavor that makes it ideal for "super-chocolately" desserts like molten chocolate cake.

For my super-chocolately dessert, I chose one of Claudia Fleming’s signature composed desserts from her cookbook The Last Course: a trio consisting of a chocolate souffle tart with a chocolate malted, accompanied by bittersweet chocolate sorbet.

This is an ultra-luxe, no-holds-barred tidal wave of chocolate, a multi-textural exploration of the many forms chocolate can take. The chocolate souffle tart is a delight, a warm ethereal kiss in a sweet shortbread shell. What could better than a souffle…than a souffle in a container that’s edible? It’s a swoon-worthy mix of soft and crunchy, and all chocolate. The malted is almost pudding-thick, the most ridiculously rich version of this soda fountain treat I’ve found. Made with chocolate, cocoa powder, Ovaltine and cream – and that’s before you blend it with vanilla ice cream – it’s delicately nutty and wholly satisfying. The bittersweet chocolate sorbet manages to be both intensely fudgy and cleanly refreshing at the same time – it’s made with just chocolate, cocoa powder, and water.

The amount of chocolate in this dessert is tempered by the miniature size of each component: the tart fits in the palm of my hand, and I actually had to find new dishes and glasses small enough to hold amounts of malted and sorbet proportional to the tart! This petit-four sized plate makes it easy to indulge in chocolate in all its rich and tempting forms.

Warm Chocolate Souffle Tarts

adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course

makes about 2 dozen tartlets – you can purchase 2" tart pans or I find a mini muffin pan works very well.

Chocolate Souffle Filling

10 tablespoons (5 oz) butter, cut into pieces

5 ounces bittersweet (I suggest between 65%-80% cocoa) chocolate, chopped into pieces

4 large eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

Chocolate Tart Dough

1/2 cup (4 oz) butter, room temperature

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

1 large egg yolk

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

To make the filling: Place the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl and place over a pot of simmering water to create a bain-marie. Let the chocolate and butter melt, then remove from heat and stir to combine. Set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on high speed for 5 minutes until very light and thick. Fold a third of the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then very carefully fold in the rest of the egg mixture, being careful not to deflate the eggs. Sift the flour over the batter and carefully fold it in. Cover the filling and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

For the tart dough: In an electric mixer, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar together until combined. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and mix together. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix on low until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, press into a disc and wrap tightly. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 1 hour. It will keep for up to 3 days.

To finish the tarts: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 3/16" thickness. Use a 2 1/4 inch round cutter to cut out circles of dough and press then into 2" tart pans or a mini muffin pan. Note if the dough is very crumbly you can simply press it into the pan. Prick the shells with a fork all over and chill for 20 minutes.

Bake the tart shells for 20 minutes, rotating halfway. If you find the dough puffing up I find what works well is to take an ice cream scoop or another tool with a similar-sized handle and use the handle bottom to gently press the dough back down. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Divide the filling among the tart shells and return to the 325 degree oven. Bake until the filling has puffed up and cracked on top, about 12 to 14 minutes. Use a butter knife or offset spatula to slide the tarts out of the pans carefully. Serve immediately before the souffles deflate.

Black and White Chocolate Malteds

adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course

makes about 5 cups (Note: this recipe is very rich – it says it makes 3 to 4 servings but I think it could be easily twice that if not more, depending on how much ice cream and milk you use!)

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup heavy cream

12 ounces bittersweet (I suggest between 65%-80% cocoa) chocolate, chopped into pieces

1 cup original Ovaltine

1 cup half-and-half

1 2/3 cups vanilla ice cream

1 cup milk

Make a chocolate syrup by combining 1/2 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Place the cocoa powder in a bowl and whisk in about 3 tablespoons of the syrup to make a paste. Pour the cocoa mixture back into the saucepan and whisk well. Let the syrup simmer for about 5 minutes over low heat.

In another saucepan, bring 1/2 cup of the cream to a simmer. Place the chocolate in a bowl and pour the hot cream over the chocolate, whisking until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in the chocolate syrup and set aside.

In an electric mixer using the whisk attachment, combine the Ovaltine and 1/2 cup of the half-and-half to make a smooth paste. Add in the remaining half-and-half, the remaining cream, and chocolate mixture, and whisk all together until smooth. Strain into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours.

To serve, scoop the Ovaltine mixture into a blender and add the ice cream, then blend to combine. If the mixture is too firm to combine, add some of the milk to help liquefy it (you may want to add the milk to taste in any case). Blend until thick and creamy, then pour into glasses and serve.

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Back from Vacation

January 22nd, 2007 · 7 Comments · Travel

Maui

Hello all,

Just got back from a wonderful trip to Maui and the stuff paradise is made of – golden sugar-soft sands, sun-warmed waters of that perfect crystalline blue you only find in the tropics, sublimely silly palm trees waving in the wind, the fiery sun diving into the ocean every evening to the sound of conch shells being blown.

On a whale-watching trip we found ourselves almost surrounded by humpback whales, many of them mothers with newborn calves, and were delighted by the antics of a pod of spinner dolphins that followed our boat, frolicking in its wake.

We went hiking into the valleys and forests on the island, and found ourselves befriended on one trek to a waterfall by a local dog who decided to act as our guide, following us and making sure we didn’t lose the trail. Thank you, Hoku! Your owner is lucky to have such a great dog!

Food was a big standout. I don’t think we had a bad meal the entire time. Here are some of our favorite places:

Pita Paradise

1913 South Kihei Road

Kihei, HI

The owner catches his own fish daily and creates delicious specials, but their gyro with Australian lamb and feta cheese has earned a special place in my heart. Perfect fare after a morning at the beach.

Sansei Seafood and Sushi Bar

1881 South Kihei Road

Kihei, HI

Wonderfully fresh sushi and delicious Pacific Rim cuisine as well. They also offer an amazing 50% discount on virtually their entire menu on Sundays and Mondays before 6 PM; we got there at 4:45 since the restaurant opened at 5 and the line was already into the parking lot. But the hamachi nigiri and the miso butterfish were worth the wait.

Paia Fish Market

110 Hana Highway

Hana, HI

This really is a market: You can take home fresh fish, or they’ll prepare in a variety of dishes for you to enjoy there. It seems like such luxury to be able to choose from the catch of the day and have it grilled, sauteed, or turned into tacos, pasta, or sashimi, but it’s all very relaxed, unpretentious, and inexpensive here.

Mala, An Ocean Tavern

1307 Front St.

Lahaina, HI

A very chic little place just past Lahaina, with a beautiful terrace overlooking the ocean so you can peruse their organic-focused, tapas-style menu with the salt wind in your hair. Their ahi tartare was wonderful, as was a "Mexican flatbread" which was a crisp tortilla piled pizza-style with three kinds of fish, lightly spiced with curry.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention much about desserts anywhere…honestly, in the warm balmy weather and after many fresh seafood dishes, I didn’t feel much like the gooey, chocolately desserts offered at most places. I did have some delicious shave ice, as well as some green tea ice cream at Sansei. So I definitely was ready to back into dessert mode when I returned home.

I was crushed to find that I’d missed the deadline for this month’s SHF, but I’m still hankering to honor David’s theme of chocolate. There will a chocolate-oriented post later this week – I’ll have to get my tropical groove on afterwards!

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More Than One Way to Make Ice Cream

January 13th, 2007 · 25 Comments · Books, Cookbooks, Ice Cream

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Remember I mentioned that I had received a few food-related gifts for Christmas? Well, the most exciting, and by far the largest surprise was courtesy of my darling boyfriend, who took it on himself to get me a commercial-style ice cream maker!

Although my original, faithful ice cream maker had been serving me admirably, it was undeniably thrilling to have the chance to make ice cream without the last-minute, stomach-sinking realization that I’d forgotten to put the bowl in the freezer, or the frustration of trying to make ice cream on a scorching summer day when the bowl just doesn’t seem to get cold enough.

That said, I was surprised to read in Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life that she prefers the insert-style cream maker to the compressor-style machine, mostly because she feels that the latter takes too long to churn ice cream. The faster an ice cream base can be chilled and churned into ice cream, the better its texture will be – too long and your ice cream will come out grainy, not smooth.

Zuckerman suggests an ideal of 15 minutes churning time to go from base to ice cream. With both of my ice cream makers, I have been able to make ice cream in between 20-30 minutes, with very satisfactory results. I can see the insert-style maker may have an advantage if you are trying to lower the churning time – if you take the time to chill the insert so it’s really cold, and if you have a second bowl also chilled as a backup in case the first bowl gets too warm (I got two bowls with my insert-style maker when I bought it), it is possible to get ice cream very quickly.

Regardless of which style maker you have, there are still a couple of things you can do to improve your ice cream’s chances of success. 1)Chill the base before churning. Almost all ice cream recipes say to chill the base in the refrigerator for a couple hours. I always chill my bases overnight – not only does a colder base decrease churning time, it will also thicken as it sits, leading to a creamier result. 2) Churn less base in the maker at a time. This is Zuckerman’s suggestion, and it makes great sense: less base will freeze faster and with better results.

So how do I feel about my Christmas present? Well, I made recipes from Zuckerman’s book, with beautiful results:

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Mandarin Orange Sorbet with Hazelnut Shortbread

A gorgeous shard of sun in the middle of winter. A simple sugar syrup is combined with juice from winter citrus and sparked with cinnamon and star anise. It’s like eating snow infused with sunshine. Accompanying the sorbet is Zuckerman’s buttery, nutty hazelnut shortbread. The high proportion of butter in the recipe gives it a dreamy, melting tenderness – just what you want in the best of shortbread.

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Apple Cider and Caramel Ice Cream

The recipe describes this as tasting like Tarte Tatin, and it does. The sweet tang of apples mixes with buttery caramel to make an intriguingly complex – and utterly delicious – ice cream. This ice cream is almost ridiculously creamy; after a couple of days in the freezer it is still soft and scoopable. A crispy butter pecan tuile takes the place of the Tarte Tatin crust – a delicate counterpoint to the lushness of the ice cream.

So my verdict? I think my new ice cream machine performs quite well; both ice creams came out smooth and luscious, without discernible crystals or graininess. And I was able to make two batches of ice cream one after the other without waiting – definitely a plus. However, I’m not sure I’m ready to regulate my old ice cream maker to the donation pile yet. I guess I’ll be making more batches of ice cream before I can come to a final conclusion…

P.S. I’m off for a quick jaunt to Maui to escape the sudden chill that’s descended on San Francisco. See you in a week!

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Baking Books: A Look Back and Ahead

January 5th, 2007 · 13 Comments · Cookbooks

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One of my New Year’s resolutions last January was to improve my baking and writing skills, a dual goal that I pursued by starting this blog. While the success of this resolution remains to be seen, I can safely say I did bake much more consistently and attempted many more challenging recipes once I had a vehicle for recording my output. Thanks again to all you dear readers for encouraging me to keep going on with this project!

My other baking-related resolution I did not succeed in accomplishing so well, and that was to decrease my purchase of baking books. My boyfriend has uttered the phrases, "Didn’t you just buy another cookbook last week?", "Wait, I thought you wanted to finish baking from that book first before you got a new one", and "I got a package from Amazon for you at the office" more times in the last year than I care to remember.

My sole defense is that I have not regretted a single one of these purchases – indeed, they have been vital to the continuation and growth of my blog – as I’ve documented each new inspiration on this page. On some days my list of "recipes to make" seems dauntingly long, but most times it makes me excited that there is still plenty for me to bake and learn from.

So, I’d like to mention several of my favorite books from 2006, that have given me hours of happy pleasure both on the couch and in the kitchen, as well as a preview of what I’m looking forward to in 2007. Perhaps my resolution this year should be to buy another bookcase instead…

Favorite Baking Books of 2006:

Chloe Doutre-Roussel’s The Chocolate Connoisseur: Undoubtedly the cutest book I bought in 2006, a slim, candy-pink volume that could fit in a back pocket and be whipped out for reference at the chocolate shop. Roussel is utterly obsessed with chocolate, and happily shares her stories of a life devoted to the divine theobroma cacao, as well as her expert advice on how to taste and appreciate the ever-growing bevy of artisan chocolates proliferating the gourmet stores.

Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours: What else needs to be said about the biggest hit in the baking blogosphere in 2006? After brilliant collaborations with Pierre Hermé and Julia Child, Greenspan provides entry to her own kitchen, a warm, inviting, sugar-and-vanilla scented bit of heaven. Her sweet, intimate writing assures yes, you can also make all these wonderful recipes in your home!

Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream: A most welcome sequel to her wonderful A Passion for Desserts, this book arrived just in time for summer and for me to kick my ice cream maker into overdrive. Luchetti again assembles a delectable collection of recipes that show off her talent for creating fresh and intriguing combinations of flavor and texture in beautifully composed desserts – all of which include ice cream. It will make you never want to settle for just a scoop of ice cream again.

Dominique and Cindy Duby’s Wild Sweets: Although this book was originally published in 2004, it quickly disappeared and was maddeningly hard to find. Its re-release in paperback in 2006 was cause for celebration – after visiting the Dubys’ fantasyland of a site, I was eager to find out more about their cutting-edge pastry. It’s a beauty of a book, a melding of food and science and art: gorgeous photos of desserts as precisely assembled as museum sculptures, recipes that look more like science experiments. My eyes were wide open after poring through this book.

Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life: I was not familiar with Zuckerman or her desserts at Chanterelle, but once I flipped through her book I realized how remiss I was in not learning about her earlier. It’s one of the most visually appealing books I’ve seen, neatly and intuitively laid out – a pleasure to read. The recipes are sophisticated, inventive twists on old favorites, but what really sets the book apart is her detailed instructions – if you’ve never figured out what "beat until light and fluffy" means, she actually explains it, giving a description of what to look for and when to stop.  A beautiful de-mystification of the art of baking.

Coming in 2007:

The Culinary Institute of America’s Chocolate and Confections: Peter Greweling, master confectioner from the Culinary Institute America, has produced what looks like a very comprehensive bible on chocolate and candymaking, with formulas for almost every confection imaginable.

Emily Luchetti’s Classic Stars Desserts: Luchetti makes another appearance with a compilation of recipes from her first cookbooks, Stars Desserts and Four-Star Desserts. As these books are out of print now, another chance to experience recipes from these classics is most welcome.

Ann Amernick’s The Art of the Dessert: Amernick has been assistant pastry chef for the White House and pastry chef for Jean-Louis at the Watergate, and now has her own restaurant in Washington, D.C. Her latest book looks to be a stunning demonstration of her craft.

Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts: If you can’t make it to the marvelous Boulangerie Kayser in Paris, now you can have the chance to experience some of his delectable creations. (His book on bread, 100% Pains, is sadly only available in French).

Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot: Ong is famous for infusing Asian flavors into his desserts at New York City restaurants Spice Market and 66. He is finally coming out with his own Asian-themed dessert cookbook, filling a gap in the cookbook world. I am quite eager for this one!

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