May 28, 2006

Even with a slightly overworked, overhydrated crust; even with the discovery that I could not find my jar of pie weights and would thus have to rely on the backup pie weights (what sort of person loses an entire quart jar of metal pie weights? what sort of person keep backup pie weights, in the form of washed-and-dried cherry pits, in the event that an entire quart jar of metal pie weights goes missing?); even with a kitchen so packed to the gills with clutter that we can't eat dinner in it; even with all this, tonight my four favorite words in the English language are vanilla bean buttermilk pie.


Posted by Bakerina at 09:18 PM in incoherent ravings about food • (1) Comments

"So what are you going to make this weekend?" asks my pal and fellow-box-factory toiler T. We have been working together for less than three months, and already she knows: there is nothing like a three-day weekend for baking. If the weekend promises to be hot, the kind of hot that makes a normal person wonder who on Bog's earth would turn on an oven under such conditions, so much the better.

Alas, once again life had other plans for me, but unlike most circumstances in which life had other plans for me, these plans were actually fun.  The original plan was to hit the market early, snap up some rhubarb and asparagus and maybe some heavy cream, meet up with Julie and walk down to Soho with her to attend this fabulous kitchenware yard sale.  Normally I eschew any sale that would call out a big crowd -- which is to say, all of them -- but Time Out New York mentioned something about Waring blenders marked down from $200 to $70 for this sale.  I have been living blenderless ever since I had the bright idea to grind rye berries in my old Waring blender, and it made its displeasure manifest.  Of course I would brave the teeming throngs for the long-denied pleasure of being able to make a Cuban milkshake, or a perfectly-blended custard base, any time I wanted to.

Although I'm wishing at this moment that we did have asparagus and rhubarb and heavy cream, in the end I was glad that I eschewed the market run to stay in until 10, and to block the lace shawl I have been knitting for the past two months. At 11 a.m., the start of the sale, I crossed Broome and Wooster streets and noticed that there was a line in front of Broadway Panhandler, and whoo doggie, it was a long one. I was glad that I remembered my sunblock, for we spent an hour on line to get into the sale, half an hour shopping and another hour on line to pay for our goodies. Had I been alone, I would have scarpered and spent the day in some cafe or another, but thankfully Julie was with me to laugh and talk about boys discuss vital and important issues of the day, and the time flew by, as fast as time can fly when you are standing on a line with two hundred other people on either side of you.

I was richly rewarded for my patience, not only by the acquisition of kitchenstuffs, not only by Julie's splendid company, but also by our lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. Longtime PTMYB readers know how I feel about chains in general, and bakery-cafe chains in particular, but as I say on a nearly-hourly basis, for every rule there is an exception, and Le Pain Quotidien is definitely the exception to my rule. Even if you are left cold by organic-speak -- and I know that organic fatigue is running high among more than a few people -- there is still much to enjoy at Le Pain Quotidien, starting with that everyday bread, naturally leavened, carefully mixed and baked, bursting with flavor and texture and aroma, the kind of bread I love so much that I wouldn't blink an eye at the thought of making hundreds of loaves of it every day. There are lean, crunchy loaves, soft buttery loaves, pastries that shatter in your mouth as you bite into them, granola and chocolates and tapenade and tea and preserves, all of which would leave you blissfully sated if only your eye could keep from wandering to the next beauty on the shelf...Our lunch was a thing of wonder, and fortifying to boot. I am still trying to suss out what makes Le P.Q.'s ricotta so wonderful. It has to be the quality of their milk, for I have made my own ricotta at home, and while it was very nice, there is something about the ricotta that came with my bread/cheese/spreads/prosciutto/melon platter that was so plainly, cleanly good that my heart would have been breaking, if only I weren't so happy. I would gladly give one of my own thumbs to make a ricotta even half as good as that one. Once upon a time that would have meant going to the health food store for organic milk, but now that even health-food-store organic milk proudly trumpets its ultra-pasteurization from its labeling, that sort of milk is out of reach, at least until I move to an area where I can buy or barter milk directly from a farm where the farmer is nice enough to let me pester him with questions about pasturage and handling.

Well, Jen, that's all well and good, but we're hearing an awful lot about what you can't make this weekend. Exactly what can you make? A fair question. Now that I am no longer blenderless, I can make pureed soups without having to futz around for five minutes with immersion blenders and strainers in order to achieve perfect smoothness. (Don't get me wrong; I love my immersion blender, but it's nice to have the option of something bigger, faster and more efficient.) Cold black bean soup and vichysoisse, here I come. I can make milkshakes, the yogurt-based Indian drinks known as lassi, and batidos, the aforementioned Cuban milkshakes. Although there are Cuban restaurants dotted about New York City where you can get a batido with your pressed sandwich, I was actually introduced to batidos by Didi Emmons, whose Vegetarian Planet is one of my favorite cookbooks. Her recipe for guanabana (soursop) batido is easy to make, contains ingredients that I can find in my icky local supermarket (milk, guanabana nectar, a little condensed milk, a squeeze of lime juice; add ice and rrrrrrrnnnnn), and is pure frosty gorgeousness on a hot day. What else? I can finally, finally participate in the frozen blender-drink discussion which with 'mouse loves to torture me. Dude, you have been served. But best of all -- and just between us ducks, the real reason I am glad to have a blender again -- is that I can now make the smoothest custards in the world. If you have ever made bread pudding, or any kind of pudding, and you find yourself fighting with that last little bit of egg white that refuses to blend, a blender is what you want. It will zap that last little stubborn bit of egg white like nobody's business; just put your milk and eggs and flavorings in the blender, rrrrrnnnnn and, when you are done blending, skim off any foam from the surface with a ladle; this will result in a smoother, denser custard not pockmarked with air bubbles. I guarantee that there will be some custard or other this weekend, not only because I have a blender, but also because Broadway Panhandler is selling ceramic puddingware at half-price, and I was able to snap up half a dozen creme brulee dishes and half a dozen square ramekins for cheap. (I am embarrassed, dear friends, to admit that my little kitchen-gadget-nerd heart is easily impressed by the idea of square ramekins, and the square panna cotta/flan/creme caramel that can be made with them. I am an easy tool, yes.) Whether this custard love will result in the saffron panna cotta I learned to make as an unpaid restaurant kitchen pastry monkey years ago, the cardamom panna cotta I devised as an alternative, flan for Lloyd, the connoisseur of flan, or even just plain old butterscotch pudding for Lloyd, the connoisseur of butterscotch pudding, only the next day and a half will tell.

Och, how could I forget? Because there are few better ways, in my book, to spend a three-day weekend than baking a pie, there will absolutely, positively, definitely be vanilla bean buttermilk pie. Happy Memorial Day, dear U.S.-based friends. (Happy weekend in general to dear friends from further places.)

Edit: I have received some very nice email from several of you asking if the pumpkin-bread recipe is sharable. Why, of course it is. Stay tuned.

An additional edit that has nothing to do with blenders or pie: Not long ago, my dear friend and personal movie critic went to see Thank You for Smoking and came back with good things to say about it. Since Bunni has never steered me wrong on a movie, I knew that it was something I should see. Not long afterwards, she and I were in a bakery-cafe next door to one of our favorite yarn barns when Aaron Eckhart stopped in. He was affable and charming, but looking a little thin; I probably should have bought him a sandwich, but instead I chose to go see his new movie, simply so that I could help keep him in groceries. I finally saw Thank You for Smoking on Friday night, and can easily recommend it to anyone who likes more than a little gentle meanness to their satire, and to movie quote geeks: this one is movie-quote-geek heaven. Although my favorite line involves Aaron Eckhart and Katie Holmes discussing exactly when a comment is off the record -- a quote I will not repeat here, as it's a little indelicate -- my second favorite is going up in my cubicle at LuthorCorp: "99% of everything done in the world, good or bad, is done to pay a mortgage. Perhaps the world would be a better place if everyone rented."

One more edit that has nothing to do with anything: I don't know why it's happening now, but I have been subjected to ridiculous amounts of trackback spam over the last week. TypePad, I am not amused.

Posted by Bakerina at 01:25 PM in • (0) Comments
May 23, 2006

Oh, dear friends, my terrible sense of timing strikes again.  I went out to play on Friday night.  It was a long, hard week last week, full of box factory madness, plus some hard news from a good friend, whose mother went to the emergency room with what we hoped was mere vertigo, but turned out to be a meanly aggressive form of cancer.  There was a little midweek respite in a visit from a beloved friend from California and her boyfriend, but for the most part I felt sad, dissociative and spacy -- at least until Friday, when Wendy came to town to read from her book and knit with us over wine and cheese and brownies.  We ate, we drank, we knitted, we laughed a lot, we bought yarn by the fistful.  Not only did I get to meet Wendy, I also had the singular pleasure of hand-delivering to her a jar of apple butter and apricot-hazelnut jam, a gift from one of Bakerina Kitchens' best customers.  After 2 1/2 years of exchanging wisenheimer blog commentary with each other, I finally met the fabulous Ann, who in turn introduced me to Cara, who is even hipper and sharper and funnier and kinder than her blog would indicate -- and her blog indicates a high level of all of the above, indeed.  We finally peeled out of the store an hour after it closed.  The earlier thunderstorms had stopped, and the night was warm and windy.  I walked from the West Village to the N train on 8th and Broadway, a nice walk for a nice night.  Fleet Week starts next week; in preparation for the merriment, the Empire State Building has been lit with its red, white and blue lights, of which I had a clear view the moment I hit Sixth Avenue, and I could hear the fireworks over the Hudson.  I was on my way home to Lloyd, who sounded glad to hear me in a relaxed and happy mood when I called him.  It was a minute of almost cinematic perfection, the moment where I know I am perfectly in my element, about as at home in my own city and my own skin as I could possibly be.

Now the new work week has started, and sad dissociative spaciness rules the day again.  I'm really trying not to feel sloughy and despondent, and for most of the day I am succeeding, largely thanks to the superb crew of people with and for whom I work.  The best part of working at LuthorCorp is the collection of kind, silly, closely-knit crew of people assembled in our office.  I have often said that I want LuthorCorp to be the last office job I ever have, simply because I don't think I could find such a terrific office dynamic in any other place.  Unfortunately, the work involves more than just hanging out with each other and hollering silly stuff over the walls.  This is the way of the working life, I know, and I wouldn't dare complain about it.  I just wish that it didn't have such a deleterious effect on my writing energies at the end of the day.

What does any of this have to do with my lousy sense of timing?  Only this:  Because Wendy and Cara and Ann were nice enough to give  me a link in their accounts of the Point party, I am now getting a terrific number of new visitors, right at the moment where I've been wondering if I should take a little blogging rest, at least until LuthorCorp quiets down a bit.  Timing, thy name is Bakerina.  In the meantime...Welcome, new visitors to PTMYB.  Have I mentioned that my archives run to December 2003, and once upon a time, I used to write like gangbusters?  Please feel free to wander around and ask questions.  smile

Posted by Bakerina at 12:07 AM in hello, void! • (2) Comments
May 21, 2006

Oi! Bakerina! Did you or did you not promise gingerbread waffles in time for Sunday breakfast? I did, I did, and once again I dropped the ball. The good news is that Lloyd has decided that my proposal of gingerbread waffles for lunch, while eccentric, is not disgusting, and thus as soon as I am done typing, I am headed to the kitchen to mix us up a batch.

Gingerbread Waffles

makes three sets of two 4"x 4" Belgian waffles (Yield will vary depending on your iron; I have a Villaware Belgian waffle iron)

I do not bake nearly as many cakes as I did when I was a younger bakerina, studying cake decorating and baking my way through The Cake Bible, but there will always be room for gingerbread in this house. I am enthralled by gingerbread of all sorts: light and fluffy, dense and sticky, dry and bread-like, sweetened with light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, molasses, cane syrup, golden syrup, black treacle or sorghum; as long as it contains plenty of ginger and zings my palate and bloodstream a little, I will bake it. In general, I like gingerbread best after it's had the chance to sit overnight and ripen and mellow a bit, but I will make an exception for gingerbread waffles, which, of course, are best straight from the waffle iron. I've been tinkering with this recipe over the past month or so, changing the balance of spices here, the sweeteners there. Two weekends ago, I hit on what I thought was the perfect mix: a nice big hit of ginger, a good mixed-spice blend, some black pepper and powdered mustard for extra zip. On my failed expedition for suet last month, I was smart enough to pick up a tin of black treacle at the English grocery, and this turned out to be the key, the element that made these waffles stand up and holler "gingerbread." (If black treacle is not readily available, blackstrap molasses is a pretty close approximation.)

The base recipe for these waffles comes from that inexhaustible font of wonderful breakfasts, Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe. Ms. Katzen recommends mixing the dry ingredients in quantity and storing them in the fridge; if you do this, you will need 1 1/3 cups of waffle mix. She also points out that if you value a nice crispy waffle, it is almost impossible to achieve it in a low-fat way. Her recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of butter, which works out to approximately a tablespoon of butter per 4"x 4" waffle. If the thought of that makes you edgy, I usually get around it by sacrificing a bit of texture for flavor: I cut the amount of butter in half, melt it and brown it into beurre noisette. The resulting waffles require longer baking time, and they will not be as crunchy as the full-fat version. If you are not made edgy by butter, go ahead and throw it all in.

Like all waffles, these are fantastic with maple syrup, but I'm betting that they would also be fantastic with lemon curd or raspberry syrup, both of which also go hand in hand with gingerbread.

3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 c. soy protein powder

1/4 c. unprocessed wheat bran

1/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. baking soda

(Note: If you have blended all the above ingredients in quantity, use 1 1/3 cups of this dry mix.)

3 tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed

2 tbsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. mixed spice, any blend of cinnamon, allspice and/or clove (I use Cake Spice from Penzeys Spices, a mix of cassia cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, allspice, clove and more ginger. Penzeys' Baking Spice is a slightly cooler blend with cardamom included; both are very good here.)

1/8 tsp. finely-ground black pepper

1/8 tsp. mustard powder

1 c. buttermilk

3 large eggs

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (or 3 tbsps, melted and browned)

3 tbsp. black treacle or blackstrap molasses

nonstick spray and a little additional softened butter for the waffle iron

Preheat the waffle iron. Mix all dry ingredients (up to the mustard powder in a medium-sized bowl). Be sure to break up the brown sugar with your fingers to avoid lumps.

Measure the buttermilk in a large liquid measuring cup; 2 cups at minimum, but 4 cups is ideal. Add the eggs, vanilla and butter and mix. Pour liquid ingredients over the dry ones. Before stirring them in, add the treacle. If it is very thick, you may want to warm it on the stove, just to thin it a bit for ease of blending, but it's not a necessary step by any means. Mix until thoroughly blended, but don't overdo it; as long as you don't have huge clumps of unblended dry ingredients, a lump or two here and there is okay.

Spray the waffle iron with nonstick spray, then lightly butter the iron. (Ms. Katzen recommends doing this with a piece of bread, which then becomes a spoil for the cook. smile Cook about two or three minutes, or until done without being too dark. If you take the lower-butter option, you may need to let them cook for as long as six or seven minutes. Serve with maple syrup, or with anything you like to have with waffles -- or with gingerbread.

Stay tuned, dear friends.  More news of the weekend will follow, including proper hosannas to Ann and Cara for being such rollicking company at Wendy's reading at The Point.  But first...Lloyd has just put the "Zim Eats Waffles" episode of Invader Zim on the DVD player.  I wonder if he's trying to tell me something.

Posted by Bakerina at 01:41 PM in incoherent ravings about food • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
May 18, 2006

Once upon a time, when I was a little college sprite, I had a pal who spent her summers working as a Kelly Girl in Indiana, answering phones, doing various thankless tasks, and counting the weeks until she could come back to Pittsburgh and raise a little hell.  One of her most thankless tasks was sorting returned bulk mail, where she went through dozens of large plastic buckets of envelopes, labelling the envelopes with multicolored stickers (color dependent on zip code), bundling the envelopes together, placing a different set of labels on the bundles, and, finally, throwing them all away.  My pal used to refer to this nonsense as La Marche Futile (which was also the name of the Anglo-French Silly Walk from the Minister of Silly Walks sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus), and I could not help but agree with her.

I mention this little piece of trivia for two reasons:  1.  If ever there were a Marche Futile week at LuthorCorp, this would be it.  I can't complain, as it means that we're busy enough to continue to justify LuthorCorp's keeping me on the payroll; furthermore, while I am merely in the grip of work-related and computer-training-related madness, two of my coworkers are going through family emergencies, terrible health-related family emergencies, bad news abundant.  In such circumstances, it is churlish to complain about speedy deadlines and cranky customers, so I will not.  I will merely acknowledge that damn, it's tiring, and dispiriting, to silly-walk all day long.  2.  No matter how far you have to walk, no matter how long it takes you because your walk has become rather more silly, there is no walk so silly that it can't be kicked to the curb by a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  Kristi, these are for you.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, version the First:  Positively-the-Absolutely-Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes approximately 50 3" cookies

The name of this particular cookie, along with the recipe, comes from the ebullient Maida Heatter, and while I can't take the credit for the name -- or the recipe -- I can agree with her, heartily, and I do.  It comes from this book, the one that finally pushed me into culinary school; just read her headnotes, full of phrases like "if you bake these, your friends will not be able to resist them, and they will tell you that you should start your own cookie business, and if you do, I will be first in line to buy them," and just see if *you* don't want to open up your own shop.  smile  As Ms. Heatter notes, the foundation of this recipe is the original Toll House Cookie recipe found on the back of the Nestle's Semisweet Chocolate Morsels package; to the basic recipe she adds an extra teaspoon of vanilla and an additional four ounces of chocolate chips, and she replaces the chocolate chips with cut-up semisweet chocolate bars, just as Ruth Wakefield, the creator of the Toll House Cookie, did.  She also refrigerates the dough before baking, which helps the cookies bake more evenly and take on a beautiful golden color.

8 oz. (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup (approximately 5 1/4 oz.) granulated sugar

3/4 cup (approximately 5 1/4 oz.)light brown sugar, packed into cup

2 large eggs

2 1/4 cups (approximately 11 1/2 oz.) unsifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda (Ms. Heatter recommends dissolving it in 1 teaspoon hot water, to ensure that it is fully dissolved and will not create evil bicarb lumps in your cookies, but if the thought of doing this exhausts you, you can just run it through a strainer and add it along with the flour)

8 ounces (2 generous cups) broken walnuts (these can be left out if you're not fond of nuts in your cookies)

16 ounces chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate bars, cut into chunks

Adjust two racks in your oven to divide oven into thirds.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees (Gas Mark 5).  Line two sheet pans with parchment or aluminum foil (I like parchment better).

Beat butter until soft.  Add salt, vanilla and sugars and beat until fluffy and sand-colored.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until just incorporated.  Add half the flour and mix until just incorporated.  Scrape the edges of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  If you have hydrated the baking soda, add it to the batter now, followed by the rest of the flour.  (If you have mixed the soda in with the flour, there is no need to hydrate, but you should still add the flour in two batches, to avoid floury backsplash when you turn the mixer back on -- trust one who has learned this the hard way.)Off the mixer, add the walnuts (if using) and chocolate and mix until evenly added to batter.  The chocolate will seem like rather too much chocolate to add, but be patient and keep stirring gently, and all will come out well in the end.

Refrigerate the dough for about 1/2 hour.  This is not a necessary step; it makes the finished cookies nicer, in my opinion, but if you're impatient for your cookies and don't want to dither around with refrigerators, you will still get a very nice cookie if you skip this step.

Drop the cookies by rounded tablespoons onto the lined baking sheets.  Ms. Heatter recommends that you roll the cookie dough drops between your wet hands, place them on the cookie sheet and flatten them to 1/2"; again, it makes a more attractive cookie that bakes evenly, but if a lot of fuss is not on your agenda, you can skip this and have more irregular-looking, but still delicious, cookies.  Bake two sheets at a time for approximately 12 minutes, rotating the sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through.  When the cookies are baked through, remove them from the oven, let them sit on the sheets for a minute, and decant to cooling racks, using a wide spatula.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, version the Second:  Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes about 40 cookies

Nick Malgieri heads the baking and pastry program at my culinary alma mater, where he put the fear of God into his charges -- that's what happens when Swiss-trained bakers become baking teachers -- but he did so with thoughtfulness and considerable humor, and made us better bakers for it.  He is also the author of some truly splendid, solidly-written, beautifully-photographed (by the superb photographer Tom Eckerle) baking books, including How to Bake, A Baker's Tour, Cookies Unlimited, and the one closest to my heart, Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers, which was published while I was in school.  I still remember with gimlet clarity the book release party our class catered for Chef Malgieri:  we had made what felt like thousands of cookies, molded chocolates, little cakes, and truffles.  As we packed everything in the old pastry kitchen on 92nd Street to take to the (at the time) brand-spanking-new school space on 23rd Street, we discovered, to our dismay, that the truffles had suffered a weather-based mishap, and we would have to make more.  I will never forget that moment:  six of us frantically chopping chocolate, melting it in a bain marie, adding quarts and quarts of cream until we had truffle ganache, setting up a production line where we frantically scooped and rolled and dipped and rolled again.  Reader, I am proud to say that we remade every single truffle, and still managed to deliver all of the food early.

This cookie recipe, happily, is much, much easier than making a thousand truffles in 90 minutes.  If your sole exposure to chocolate chip cookies is the Toll House version, these will come as a nice little surprise.  If you are a fan of Terry's Chocolate Oranges, these will come as a little slice of heaven.  As is the standard around PTMYB, the recipe is Chef Malgieri's, but the directions are in my own words.

2 cups (approximately 10 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (I tend to leave this out, but it does add a certain little something to the finished cookie)

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar)

zest of 2 oranges, finely grated

2 large eggs

12 ounces milk chocolate chips

Arrange oven to divide oven rack into thirds.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4).  Line two sheet pans with parchment or foil.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine.  Chef Malgieri recommends sifting the dry ingredients, once combined, onto a piece of parchment.  I usually blend this with a wire whisk or my English cake whisk, the one that looks like a tennis racket, until it is well aerated, about a minute or two.

In a mixing bowl, using the paddle attachment if you have a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar gently until combined well.  Add the orange zest and beat just until combined.  Add the eggs and beat until smooth.  Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, add the flour and mix to combine.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop the batter by heaping teaspoons, 3 inches apart, onto the lined baking sheets.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, rotating the sheets from front to back and top to bottom midway through baking.  When done, the cookies will have spread and puffed slightly, and will be a beautiful blond color.  Decant to cooling racks.  Try not to burn your mouth when you eat them.  Have a glass of cold milk nearby just in case you do.

(What, no gingerbread waffles?  They're coming.  They'll be here in time for Sunday breakfast.  No foolin'.)

Posted by Bakerina at 11:19 PM in incoherent ravings about food • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
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