CAT CAKE

When I was at Lawrence, I was the go-to person for staff birthday treats. I’d figure out everyone’s birthday, then I’d secretly investigate what their favorite birthday sweet was. We’d wrap up dinner service and be done cleaning around midnight or 1am, then I’d surprise the birthday boy or girl with a big platter of warm chocolate chips cookies or a teetering Queen Elizabeth cake.

So when my friend and Marlow colleague James asked me to bake a cake for his girlfriend’s birthday, I happily obliged. Special occasion cakes are a challenging niche unto themselves, but James had only two requirements: that it be super chocolatey, and that it incorporate the visage of a cat. (!!!!) I hope I did his vision justice.

Q&A at les anti-modernes*

The year is racing to a close and I’m definitely wishing that I had devoted more time to this space, which is feeling more than a little neglected, but, you know… I moved from Montreal to New York! I left Lawrence and joined Marlow & Sons! I’m still throwing dinner parties on the regular! And so on. Most importantly, I have spent the last five months feeling totally blown away by how welcoming, inclusive and friendly New York has been to me. What was I so worried about?

Sophie, of the inspiring and completely essential blog les anti-modernes, featured me earlier this fall as a part of her fascinating Q&A series. How cool to be included in such a terrific group of inspiring, smart, creative, and fun women. And I’m grateful that I was given such a lovely opportunity to reflect about my evolving relationship with pastry, fashion, Montreal, and my new home, Brooklyn. You can read the entire thing here! Thank you, Sophie!

I LIKE BIG BUNDTS (AND I CANNOT LIE)

Right now, the traditional bundt is my favorite cake shape. I love the clean lines and the perfectly symmetrical shape. I love how it slices into a fat, round wedge, and I love how well it holds a draped glaze or icing. At Marlow & Sons, we have a few recipes that work nicely with the bundt shape and volume — fresh ginger and creme fraiche; sesame seed and orange blossom water; spiced pumpkin and chopped dark chocolate; and homemade goat’s milk caramel, or cajeta, pound cake. Bundt cakes feel plentiful, unpretentious, classic, and simple. Exactly what I want all my cakes to taste like.

There are so many beautiful bundt molds out there, vintage shapes especially (like Nordic Ware, well-known for manufacturing the molds back in the 1960s and 70s). At work, we use one similar to this, but I like the smooth lines of this ceramic mold, too.

Tomorrow is National Bundt Day, so it’s a great time to invest in a beautiful pan!

BIG, AND SMALL

Now that I’ve been in New York — and my cozy Bushwick apartment — for nearly five (!!) months, I’m getting a pretty good handle on all of the quirks of our kitchen. There are so many advantages to my new space that I know I will never take for granted: the space is huge, the biggest I’ve ever had, and our dinner table even bigger (it seats 10 comfortably!). But then, the drawbacks: our oven is about 1/3 the size of a normal household oven… seriously. Just a single pie or roast chicken leaves little room for anything else, so all of my oven work happens in shifts. It’s awkward, but luckily I have friends who really know how to go with the flow. And bottles of wine really fill in the gaps between courses!

IMPORTANT PIE ANNOUNCEMENT!

(But really, when is a pie-related announcement not extremely important??)

Our pastry crew at Marlow & Sons is making special Thanksgiving pies for people to order and take home! Don’t let yourself be limited to just a Thanksgiving soiree… I can imagine bringing one of these bad boys to a Friday night dinner party or casual potluck and blowing everyone’s mind. I could also imagine how lovely this would be stashed in someone’s fridge, ready to become your morning snack alongside hot black coffee. (Just how we do it in the pastry kitchen! We literally call this ritual “the pastry chef’s breakfast.”)

This year, we’re offering heirloom pumpkin pie, rye pecan, and apple tarte tatin! I’ve been busting my butt the last few weeks making pounds of puff pastry and brisee, and it’s all going towards the mighty holiday pie. There’s nothing quite like the holiday baking season that gets a pastry lady stoked for the sugary chaos!

 

Oh hey, Brooklyn…

Oh, my. Figuring out where to begin is like staring at this wide expanse of ocean — infinite, overwhelming, and totally abstract. Let’s just start with the facts and dive right in. I haven’t written here in over two months. Fact. After almost three gorgeous years, I left Montreal. Fact! Now I live in Brooklyn. Crazy fact.

In July, I departed my beloved Lawrence, home to the finest food and folks in all of Montreal, for Williamsburg’s Marlow + Sons and Diner…. yeah. Kind of a big deal if you are into food. For me, it’s totally amazing and inspiring. My learning curve has been a little extreme.

Let me just get right into it. My move to Brooklyn was completely unplanned. My Montreal buddies were shocked but not surprised. You know when something feels really right? This was like that.

Lawrence closes for two weeks every summer, so I took the opportunity to accept a pastry stagiere at Marlow + Sons. It was so mindblowing, inspiring, and cool, but I never thought for a second that it would lead to anything else besides a great week or two away from Montreal.

But they were looking for a pastry cook, and even though I initially felt so reticent, the refrain from my friends went thusly: “This is a no brainer. Take it. Do it. Go!” 24 agonizing hours later, I accepted the job. The next day, I put in my notice at Lawrence. And two weeks after that, I moved to Brooklyn and began my new job. It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to consider if it was the right decision for me or not. My head spins just thinking about how quickly I pulled it all together.

I swore I’d never move to New York, but now that I’m here it feels so simple. It was somehow harder in Montreal, the ache of displacement lingered for months.  This transition feels less tricky and also like the most meaningful gesture of independence. I’m here, it was my choice, I’m pursuing my love of pastry, and it all feels really right.

So anyway, if you had asked me ten years ago where I thought I would be as a late 20-whatever, I would not have said Brooklyn. I definitely would not have guessed working in restaurants. Nothing about where I have ended up today has been predictable or easy, but my last two months in New York has been an inspiring part of my journey.

I can’t promise that I’ll write more, but I really think that I will. Being in New York has filled me with an entirely new kind of enthusiasm for writing. Working at Marlow + Sons is the coolest thing I’ve done all year and I’m filled with gratitude and righteousness for my new surroundings. I love it here.

Weirdly, I haven’t pulled out my camera once since I moved here! I did, however, finally buy an iPhone, my first ever. Here’s a little peek at what my summer has been like. (I’m kind of obsessed with Instagram now!!?) As for what it is like living in Brooklyn?! That’s for future posts. I’ll be around. I have so much to say. XOXOX

KEEPING BALANCED

If you have even a passing interest of astrology, then you know that the most basic principle that governs Libras is our underlying, yearning desire to keep everything in balance. Subconsciously or not, it’s how I process and consume art, music, literature and food. For every fluffy album that I put on, I’ll eventually need to hear something heavier and more abstract. I’m equal parts Kate Bush and Kevin Drumm. Fleetwood Mac and Ryoji Ikeda. And so on….

But nowhere does this organizational method fling itself onto my cravings more insistently than in the way that I eat. At work, it’s mostly dabs and tastings of sugar, butter, and cream. Mouthfuls of cake and pudding and syrups. Halved scones and milk buns slathered in butter and jam. Spoonfuls of tempered chocolate and licks of glossy Italian meringue. At home, my eating habits adjust to balance out my pastry work, and I’m really seeing the results right here on my blog. Gratuitous snaps of sugary-sweet Queen Elizabeth cake… followed by a hearty breakfast of eggs, asparagus, chickpeas, and a bit of my stale old levain bread. It’s not a “light” meal, but it feels suitably oppositional to what I was eating the night before. There’s been a lot of big breakfasts like this lately… maybe I’ve been eating too much cake at work and I didn’t even realize it.

QUEENLY BIRTHDAY

If you have a fear of sugar — the kind that’s heaped into quantities that makes your hands tremble and eyes twitch — then this cake is probably not for you. But for us, the sugar-high-riding gang at Lawrence (gummi worms at 5pm is a daily kitchen snack), well, we pine for the Queen Elizabeth cake, which is sweetened with not just regular granulated sugar, but also brown sugar, dried coconut, and dates.

The Queenie, as we affectionately called it, lived on the menu much longer than most of our desserts because it was so popular with clients. (It was also topped with a scoop of homemade Makers Mark-infused ice cream, so that probably didn’t hurt, either). And in the kitchen, we never got tired of the coconut-topped cake either, and we regularly ended shifts with a shared slice or two.

The Queen derives most of its sweetness from dates, which are soaked in hot water until a thick, mashable paste forms.  The rest of the cake is a breeze to assemble — cream some butter and sugar, add a few eggs and vanilla, then alternate sifted flour with the warm date mixture. I love making this cake in a single bowl, creaming butter and sugar by hand, with a good wooden spoon. No mixer required. The batter puffs and swells into a lovely tan-colored cake, which is then topped with cooked mixture of (more) butter, heavy cream, unsweetened shredded coconut, and brown sugar. Then, finally, the cake is broiled until the topping caramelizes into a crunchy, amber crust.

So when Jessica’s birthday rolled around, I surprised her with a Queenie encore, this time gussied up, American-style, into a three-layer birthday cake smothered with vanilla buttercream frosting. (I was in such a rush that the cake didn’t completely cool before I frosted it, which is why you can see that top layer sliding around in the final photo!) I can make this cake in my sleep — I realized I still had the recipe memorized — but it was an entirely new challenge to bake this cake during service with her only a few meters away from me. Jess could totally spy the action from her garde manger station (as in, she saw the cake layers cooling on our speed rack and overheard us whispering about it, oops), but I think she was surprised anyway.

Note — Warm out of the oven, this cake is cozy and comforting, but it’s even better the next day. The flavors are richer, the topping even crunchier, the innards moist and sticky. I’d bring it to a picnic for a sweet finish to a long afternoon.

SO SMEARED

This photo makes me laugh. Our chef at Lawrence is particularly clear about tidying up the plate’s edges, so as the dish moves from the kitchen to the pass to the dining room, the plate must look clean, impeccable, and gleaming white. So this meal —  smeared so grossly onto the plate, like it was dragged there by a hungry animal — made me giggle. It was also a clean-out-the-fridge kind of dinner, made in haste, and driven by hunger: stewed chickepeas, halved cherry tomatoes, garlic, shallots, tomato paste, sunflower oil, butter, chopped parsley and basil, and a big handful of wilted mizuna and micro arugula, added right at the end, all came together in a pretty tasty tangle. I had another plate after this one.

SIMPLE SWAP

A while back I was complaining about being over that whole avocado-smashed-on-toast thing, but awesome Ashley suggested an easy switch-up: smashed avocado on corn tortillas. No duh. So simple and obvious and delicious! Just different enough that it’s renewed my (formerly waning) interest in avocado on carbs all over again. Especially if they can be eaten outside on the balcony in the sunshine.