Category Archives: baking

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!

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!

 

MEMORIES OF PALMIERS

In the course of preparing endless amounts of sweet things for the restaurant, I end up with lots of odds and ends — bits of dough, packets of pastry, things we can’t serve to customers. I still am racking my brains over how to use a small lump of marzipan I made almost two months ago! I try never to waste anything, but it can be challenging to find new and interesting ways to use it all. (Right now, I love baking up the scone scraps into mini scone-nubbins for the staff).

We recently made a couple kilos worth of puff pastry for a major charity event (more on that soon!), and had so much puff leftover. I couldn’t bare to throw it away, so it became these tiny, crisp, light-as-air palmiers, some of which we gobbled up at work, and some of which I brought home with me to enjoy with hot coffee.

Palmiers have a special place in my heart. When I was growing up, my parents and I would head down to La Jolla Shores every Sunday morning to hang out on the beach for a few hours. We read the newspaper, walked in the sand, and collected seashells. It was the one time of the week that I was allowed to eat junk food (powdered sugar mini-donuts and orange juice), while my parents opted for more sophisticated choices like croissants and bagels. My mom, however, always went for the gigantic palmier — her favorite cookie. It appealed to me both in its sheer size (they’re called elephant ears, after all), and its impressively high sugar level.

It was really fun to recreate this special pastry at work, and insanely easy, too (if you don’t count the days that go into preparing a bar of puff). You could easily recreate this at home with store-bought frozen puff — just make sure that the list of ingredients only lists butter as the fat used. I roll out the puff very thinly, scatter with sugar, and curl both sides like a book. Cut thinly, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with more sugar, and bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, or until the sugar caramelizes and gets sticky. Sprinkle with even more sugar and eat hot. One of the best treats I’ve had in ages — buttery, flaky, and sweet.

A DOWNTON BIRTHDAY

For my birthday party this year (well, one of three parties… but more on that later!), Adam and I decided to throw a glorious Downton Abbey-themed dinner. The inspiration came from our friend Michelle — a die-hard Downton Abbey lover, just like me.

I can’t quite decide if I’m more upstairs or downstairs (which are you?), though I suppose working in a kitchen 10 hours a day lands me squarely downstairs. So we made our menu a celebration of both elements, with upstairs decadence like endless bottles of champagne and claret; roasted bone marrow with a simple parsley and caper salad; beautiful, soft French cheeses (I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the Tomme du Maréchal); and the crowning glory, an apple charlotte that Michelle made and brought to the party. Fellow Downton aficionados will remember this dessert from the infamous salty pavlova episode (one of my personal all-time favorite Downton moments). Michelle’s apple charlotte was so gorgeous and well-constructed I felt a little heartbroken cutting into it. But the pudding — just imagine warm, soft cooked apples incased in a crisp, buttery shell of brioche — was one of the most delicious and memorable desserts I have eaten in my life.

The main course — braised beef shin served over boiled potatoes with chives and tarragon — was resolutely downstairs. Adam bought over seven kilos (!) of beef shin from Marc at Lawrence (P.S., there’s a nice story on his remarkable butchery philosophy over here) which he slowly braised until tender. We served it with a jiggly Yorkshire pudding (Hugh’s recipe, the only one I’ve ever used), roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta, and glazed carrots, and ate it, naturally, with plenty of strong Claret.

This was the dinner party of my dreams, even if my imaginary t.v. boyfriend Matthew couldn’t make it.

MORE VICTORY BREAD

You can’t quite tell in this photo, but buried under that mountain of delicious mashed avocado is another loaf of victory bread. Right now, this black bread is my favorite thing at Lawrence — it’s compact, hearty, and intensely savory, thanks to traces of espresso grounds, molasses, butter, chopped shallots, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, bran flakes, and rye flour. (If you’d like to make something similar, this recipe looks lovely). When our black bread comes out of the oven, the smell is really unbelievable. All this black bread really needs is a thick smear of salted butter, but in the morning I’ve been eating it with chopped avocado, lemon juice, and lots of black pepper.

Also, I know I’m so behind on the NYFW chatter, but I finally looked at Rachel Comey’s spring collection and I just can’t. It’s all so beautiful, especially those crop tops and that high necked chartreuse dress. I’ll just imagine that I’m wearing those breezy white numbers while lounging in Greece with Adam — lucky dude gets to go there in a few weeks!

BREAD VICTORY

If you had asked me one month ago if I could make a loaf of bread that tasted or looked as good as this, I would have laughed in your face. It would have been a a fantasy. A joke!

But I made this bread, last night, and the night before that, and the night before that. And I’ll continue to make this bread, and sometimes it will be worse, and hopefully someday it will get even better.

People often talk about the intimate relationship they have with their bread. (I once interviewed a breadmaker in Portland who had named his seven-year-old starter “Lulu.”) I always knew it to be true, but you can’t really know until you do it yourself. The bread that I make at Lawrence is very similar to Tartine Cafe’s pain au levain, which is tangy, sour, and emerges from the oven with a hard, caramel-colored shell and a sometimes-sticky interior, flecked by grains of whole wheat flour. On a good day, the crumb is light and fluffy and soft, like cotton candy.

I already call this bread my baby. It’s something I look after and care for, and I feel weirdly emotional about it. When things go well, I feel a swell of pride that’s greater than any article I’ve written or event I’ve organized. Creation is powerful, especially when it comes from the hands.

A SIMPLE TART, ADAPTED

Now, I know I’ve written in the space before how much I love David Tanis’ easy fruit tart. It’s a simple, clever dish from a book packed to the gills with simple, clever recipes. I recently adapted Tanis’ recipe to make an easy savory tart, topped with tiny zucchini from the market. (That it looks like a pizza was entirely unintentional, I swear!)

I rolled out the pastry, cut it into a circle, then brushed it lightly with heavy cream. To make the topping, I sprinkled a cup of finely grated gruyere, and layered baby zucchini, sliced thinly on a mandoline, and drizzled with good olive oil. After 30 minutes, the tart was finished! We ate big slices with a lemony salad of bitter greens and radishes, and the meal was just the right balance of sumptuous and lightness. In the future, though, I would cut the zucchini thicker and use even more cheese — the buttery, rich crust can handle more aggressive toppings!

TARTIFLETTE SNACK

Adam and I had a lot of fancy food when we were in Provence, so it figures that one our most memorable meals was actually a cheap wood-fired pizza made in the back of a truck. It was inspired by the Savoyan “tartiflette,” a creamy, rich gratin made with potatoes, lardons, Reblochon cheese, and crème fraîche. If only I could find thin-crust pizza this good in Montreal! Read my report at Serious Eats’ Slice here.

OFFERINGS: FANCY ON THE CHEAP, VOL. 1

[A few months ago, I started writing for the righteous noise zine Offerings, which is edited by a group of my Toronto friends. It's worth it just to read Doc Dunn's far-out astrology readings, trust. Anyway, they asked me, however, not to write about music, but food. I thought hard about column ideas and eventually came up with 'Fancy on the Cheap,' a series of short little essays centering on the quandary of how to bring luxury into your life when you are as perpetually broke as I am. The first column was on DIY creme fraiche and my very favorite cake in the world — Lulu's walnut gateau, which I love so much I have also written about it for Kinfolk Magazine — and I've reproduced it below, here! Enjoy. Oh and the photo above — there's a jar of creme fraiche in there somewhere.]

Great restaurant food, as we all know, can be fantastically expensive. Perfect for the 1%, but not for the average citizen whose financial state tends to oscillate between “despairingly broke” and “mildly poor,” with occasional spikes of “temporary, illusory wealth.” My experience as a baker has taught me sneaky ways to still enjoy elusive culinary luxuries, and this column is all about sharing those strategies with you.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s often the simplest things that are the best. I live in Montreal, a pricey dining city, so I prefer to spin my own culinary magic in my humble apartment. I gravitate towards pastry and confection, and cheapish ingredients like flour, eggs, and sugar let me play around as much as I want. (Dirty secret: Some people substitute margarine for butter, with no one the wiser).

In the last year or two, I became obsessed with the curmudgeonly, indomitable, brilliant food writer Richard Olney, whose legendary volume Simple French Food singlehandedly changed my life. (You want cheap and easy? Make his luscious, neon-hued ratatouille in the height of summer). One of his finest cookbooks is Lulu’s Provençal Table, which features gorgeous, inventive recipes straight from the brain of the eponymous Lulu Peyraud, the second-generation proprietor of Provence’s famed vineyard, Domaine Tempier.

I was immediately drawn to Lulu’s recipe for walnut gateau, which has a complex, mysterious flavor and an unleavened, moist crumb. Despite its rustic origins, this is a delicate, elegant puck of a cake, impressive in its simplicity. I make it often, for birthdays, dinner parties, or just for myself, and it never disappoints. The ground walnuts and butter are worth the splurge, and the results are grand.

Even better is pairing a slender wedge of gateau with homemade crème fraîche, which seems difficult to make but is disturbingly easy. Store-brand crème fraîche is prohibitively expensive; this is a no-brainer way to enjoy it at a fraction of the price. This tangy, lightly fermented crème is terrific with everything, and it’s an effortless way to fancify pantry soups, potato salad, salad dressing, pot roast, or a bowl of cut fruit. Try finishing your next sauce with a dollop of crème fraîche; its high-fat content will ensure that your sauce will not curdle but stay silky and supple.

Please, bake this gateau for your next dinner party, and serve it with a cheap, cold bottle of cider or ice cider. It’s just great restaurant food, except you get to pick the music.

Lulu’s Walnut Gateau

(Recipe slightly adapted; serves eight)

8 tablespoons butter, softened

1 ½ cups white granulated sugar

Pinch salt

5 eggs, at room temperature

½ lb walnuts, ground finely

¼ cup carrot, grated

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 orange, zested

—Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a 12” cake pan, and fit a circle of parchment paper at the bottom. Set aside.

—In a medium-sized bowl, cream butter, sugar, and salt until smooth. (This can even be done with a wooden spoon if you have the fortitude and forearm strength).

—Add eggs, one at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon.

—Then add nuts, gently folding them in, then carrots, then flour, then orange zest, until just combined, being careful not to overmix.

—Pour into pan, and bake 40 minutes, or until set.

—Slightly cool in the tin, and serve immediately with a big spoonful of crème fraîche.

Crème Fraîche

1 cup heavy cooking cream (look for 35% fat)

1 tablespoon buttermilk

—Gently bring the cream to just warmer than room temperature, stirring occasionally.

—Remove from heat, and stir in 1 tablespoon of buttermilk.

—Transfer cream mixture to a clean mason jar, and loosely screw lid on. Leave in a warm area (I keep mine on my kitchen counter) overnight, or at least 8-12 hours.

—Remove lid and give a good stir with a fork. The cream should have considerably thickened.

—Screw the lid on tightly, and put in the fridge. Let sit for at least 12 more hours.

—The crème fraîche has finished its brief ferment, and is ready to eat. It should last in your fridge, tightly closed, for at least a week.

—Note: Now you have a lot of leftover buttermilk, right? I use leftover buttermilk for quick breads like scones, muffins, or cornbread. Don’t let it go to waste!

TOOTHACHES

Holidays are always a fun time for me at the Dépanneur because I get to bust out my campiest baking. (Last year for Valentine’s Day I made “blue valentines”: heart-shaped sugar cookies covered with a blue glaze and a frowny face). For Easter, I made this carrot cake “bird’s nest,” a few fruit tarts, some chestnut turnovers, and my favorite — my own maple tart. It’s a Quebecois-inspired homage to Lindsey Shere’s infamous almond tart. I swap sugar for local maple syrup and Shere’s slivered almonds for chopped walnuts. The end result is super sweet, sticky and delicious. (Oh, and if anyone wants a foolproof carrot cake recipe, I swear by Thomas Keller’s, which uses cake flour and is crazy moist.)