Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Check, check. Is there anybody out there?

When I went to type the web address of my blog into my browser tonight, it didn't come up in my recent searches. For once, I actually had to type the full address instead of just scrolling down and selecting. I have been a reticent blogger and I know it. 

A combination of exhaustion both physically and with all things baking related along with a feeling that I'm not really sure where this blog is going left me feeling pretty uninspired. 

But tonight, through various other blogs I read, I found a really sweet website I wanted to share. It's A Vintage Poster and they have really cute prints that have a really nice simple, vintage feel. I'm sort of still developing my vintage aesthetic, which is something I've always been drawn to but sometimes have a hard time putting into practice. Sometimes it's just easier to put on jeans and a turtleneck. Or, now that I'm living in Manhattan, all black.

So to spruce up our (very black and white) kitchen, I ordered the whisk and egg beater posters in blue and yellow. I like that they're simple enough that they will likely fit in anywhere, and I had to seriously restrain myself from not ordering about 5 more. 

Just thought I'd throw this post out there to see who's still listening (and the 25% off doesn't hurt either).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Viennoiserie is really just a fancy word for bread, or pastry made with yeast-leavened dough. I was really excited about this unit because I've never really worked with yeast before and certainly hadn't ever made bread. At least, not without a bread machine. I attempted Soft Pretzels once before, and while they turned out OK, they weren't perfect. And if there's anything I've learned through school, it's that pastry chefs are perfectionists. I didn't actually think I could make bread without a dough hook for my mixer or a baking stone. 

I was wrong.

We've never used a baking stone in class. The dough hook? Quite helpful, but not essential. 

Spiked Pecan Sticky Buns made with Orange Bread Dough 

So remember the Easy Sticky Buns?

Well these weren't exactly easy, but this is an example of when hard work pays off.

The day we made these was probably the hardest day I've had in the kitchen, but it was also one of the most rewarding. I was working without a partner on possibly the busiest day yet. It was like trying to cook with one arm tied behind my back. There were moments when I feared I would break down into tears for the first time since I started classes. But I'm a big proponent of Kelly Cutrone's favorite saying: "If you have to cry, go outside." I may retreat to the privacy of a bathroom stall and have a small hysterical breakdown, but you can be damn sure that's not going to happen in the kitchen, in front of my peers or professional chefs. Besides, taking a break to have a minor panic attack only would have put me further behind. So I sucked it up and carried on. 

And thank goodness I did because these sticky buns were insanely good. We made an orange scented dough that was used for an Orange Cinnamon Swirl bread (also Delicious, with a capital D), and also for these little gems. The topping was a combination of brown sugar, butter, honey, whiskey, and chopped pecans. The dough is filled with brown sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. 

I'm not a big fan of nuts, and especially not pecans, but that didn't stop me from eating these almost straight out of the oven. Technically, you should really let yeast doughs cool completely before eating or cutting them so that the internal structure can fully set, but these were too hard to resist. Plus, I like when sticky buns are just a tiny bit gummy inside; it adds to that great stickiness and I just think they're so much better when they're still warm. And since I was working without a partner the day we made these, I got to take the entire thing home. Ah, the silver lining.


The same day we made the Sticky Buns, we also made these beautiful Challah loaves (I told you it was a busy day). Eating challah my whole life, it was something I held on a pedestal, thinking I would never be able to make it successfully.  It's an enriched bread dough filled with things like sugar, egg yolks, honey, and olive oil, all of which add a great sweet flavor and soft texture to the dough. We also learned how to braid the loaves, which is how they're made traditionally.

I froze one of these loaves and brought it home to my mom's a few weeks after we made it, and I think it was even better than the fresh loaf we devoured in a few days. Challah makes great french toast, and this was no exception. I don't like eggs, so french toast isn't usually something I eat, but Dan was the lucky recipient of my mom's version, made with my delicious challah.

Carrying home my loaves of challah on the subway, I had two people ask me where I got them, and one even asked for my card. Most days I see people eyeing my caddy, wondering where I got the delicious-looking items I'm bringing home, but this was really the first day it seemed people were more than just curious. Yet another sweet ending to my sour day.


I had no idea croissants had yeast in them! Butter? Yes. But yeast? Croissant dough is made very similarly to puff pastry. We made a yeast dough with a small amount of butter in it and rolled it into a rectangle. Butter is spread over 2/3 of the dough, and the dough is then folded and rolled again. And again. And again. The dough is finally cut into triangles and rolled into croissants, proofed, and baked. These were, of course, heavenly. And with croissants comes...

Pains au Chocolat
 Chocolate-filled Croissants

The same croissant dough is rolled into small rectangles, filled with chocolate batons, folded over and cut into small packages. They are then proofed and baked. And DEVOURED. These are just so obviously delicious that they really need no further description. If you feel like you're missing something, go out and buy one. But please, make it a good one.


I had never heard of this cake before, but my roommate was pumped when he found out it was in our curriculum. It's a traditional German fruitcake, usually made at Christmastime. It's packed with nuts and dried fruit and coated in melted butter and confectioner's sugar. All of these things means this keeps for a loooooong time. And it's also very rich and dense. There's also a complicated method of turning and folding the dough before baking, that's supposed to make it look like baby Jesus. I thought it looked more like a hot dog.

Savoy Scones

In my opinion, scones are something you either love or hate. They're texturally more like a biscuit, and usually aren't that sweet. My mom loves scones, and I know she would particularly love these. When I was thirteen, my best friend's mom died suddenly. That summer, she and I went to visit her mom's sister in Albany. We stayed in the room her mom grew up in, and she held my hand as I went on a roller coaster for the first time. For our plane ride home, her aunt gave us homemade blueberry scones. Up until now, they were the best scones I had ever had. But these Savoy Scones are an even tie. Bread flour, a flour with a higher percentage of protein, is mixed with baking powder, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Cold butter is cut into the dough until it's the size of small peas. The currants are added. One whole egg, an egg yolk, and some heavy cream are added and mixed just until the dough comes together. It is then rolled and cut into the desired shapes. The unbaked scones are brushed with cream and sprinkled with a coarse sugar for texture. This method yielded a perfectly light, sweet, and tender scone.


Totally adorable, right? Sadly, not so delicious. The base is brioche dough baked into a small column and then covered in Italian meringue. The meringue is then bruleed with a blowtorch and a wee little marzipan bee is added to up the cuteness to near impossible levels. There's also honey dripping down the sides. I know, you can hardly stand it. 

We made a ton of other delicious products in this unit that I sadly neglected to photograph, like muffins, brioche rolls, and danish. But don't worry, there's another bread unit coming up, so stay tuned for more yeasty goodness!

Hmm, yeasty. Not exactly the most appetizing adjective to end with. Sorry about that. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Puff Pastry

Wow, I haven't posted anything in almost a month. Worst. Blogger. Ever.

And since I know you don't want to hear me bitch and complain about how hard my life is (sigh), getting to bake pastry all day (ugh), and meeting people like this:

"Mr. Chocolate," Jacques Torres

I'll just skip to the good stuff: Pate Feuilletee or Puff Pastry.

So you know that delicious buttery, flaky pastry dough you can get in the white box in the freezer section of your grocery store? You can actually make that yourself! It takes some time and effort, but the final product is particularly delicious. Although frankly, there are some really good frozen products out there that are perfectly good for personal use at home.

There are 3 different kinds of puff pastry: Classic, Quick, and Inverse. The method is basically the same for each (Roll dough, fold, rest, repeat.). Classic puff pastry is made by wrapping dough around a big hunk of butter. Inverse is the other way around: butter wrapped around a big hunk of dough. And Quick is made by working little cubes of butter right into the dough itself. I know that all sounds confusing, and it's kind of hard to explain without actually showing you, but instead of that, let's just look at the yummy final products, shall we? 

Tarte Feuilletee
Bar Tart

For this tart, the puff pastry is rolled thinly and baked between two sheet pans to inhibit the rise (a waste of delicious buttery layers of dough if you ask me, but oh well. I do what I'm told). For the final 5 minutes in the oven, corn syrup is brushed on the dough and allowed to crisp as the pastry finishes baking. Once cool, a thin layer of almond cream is spread onto the pastry and topped with sliced fruit. The pastry is baked again and then garnished with chopped nuts. Not my favorite in terms of taste, but pretty to look at.

Mille-Feuilles de Forme Ronde
 Round Napoleon

The puff pastry for this recipe is also baked so it is very thin and crispy. It is baked in one large sheet pan and then cut into three circles so they are perfectly round. The dessert is then made by layering the discs of pastry with layers of lightened pastry cream.

The top is sprinkled heavily with powdered sugar, and the diamond pattern is then made by heating metal skewers until they are red hot and then laying them down on the sugar, caramelizing it. The sides are covered with crumbs of the leftover baked dough.

Tarte Tatin
 Upside-Down Apple Tart

This. was. AMAZING. Perfect. So, so delicious. Here's how you do it. Heat a large saute pan with butter and add halved apples, flat side down. Once the apples are just barely tender, flip them over and continued to cook. Add a generous amount of granulated sugar. Once the sugar is caramelized and the round side of the apples are tender, flambe the apples with some apple brandy. Remove the pan from the heat and cover the apples with a circle of puff pastry, tucking it around the edges of the pan. Place the saute pan in the oven at 350 degrees and bake until the pastry is nicely browned and baked through. Remove the tart from the oven and immediately unmold it onto a parchment lined sheet pan. There will be a lot of yummy juice that escapes, and that's fine. Just wait a few minutes before lapping it up shamelessly. This is best served warm. AND OMG SO GOOD.

 Tarte aux Bananes et Chocolat
 Banana and Chocolate Tartlettes

This tart was made with a base of chocolate puff pastry, made by adding cocoa powder to the dough. It's baked using the same method so it is flat and crispy, and then topped with pastry cream and bananas. The fruit is then sprinkled with sugar and browned with a torch. They are plated with chocolate sauce and sweetened whipped cream. Sadly although I love chocolate, I hate bananas, so this wasn't exactly a favorite of mine. I got to pipe the whipped cream on everyone's plates though! Yeah, it's the little things.

Mille-Feuilles au Chocolate
Chocolate Napoleon

This Napoleon is made with chocolate puff pastry, filled with Creme d'Or, and finished with chocolate glaze and white chocolate. Creme d'Or is made by quickly folding warm, melted chocolate into whipped cream. The consistency is similar to chocolate mousse. The pattern on top is called a Chevron, and is made by piping lines of white chocolate on top of the glaze, and then running a sharp point in different directions before the glaze and chocolate has a chance to set. Easier said than done, but I think it turned out pretty well. As opposed to the traditional round Napoleon which was too heavy with all that thick pastry cream, this one was really tasty. Huh, something made with chocolate dough, filled with chocolate cream, and covered in chocolate glaze, and I love it. Go figure.
Dartois aux Pommes (top) and Mille-Feuilles (bottom)
Apple Dartois and Napoleon Strip

The first pastry, the Apple Dartois, was sort of like a really big apple turnover. Unbaked puff pastry dough is covered with cooked apple compote and then covered with a lattice of more dough. The whole thing is then baked until bubbly, golden, and delicious. If you're feeling whimsical, you can also add some little leaves made out of dough and dust the edges with powdered sugar.

The second pastry is yet another Napoleon. Apparently the French have a bit of a Napoleon complex. This one is essentially the same as the round Napoleon (plain puff pastry filled with lightened pastry cream), but is finished with fondant and melted dark chocolate. We used the Chevron pattern again as that's traditional for this dessert. 

Oh, hey Jacques. What's up? You want me to sample another of your eclairs? Well OK, if you insist!

Recently some of the other people in my class have asked about my blog. At first, I was shocked they had found it and a little embarrassed. I see blogging as pretty self important. As if I think what I have to say is so important that I need to put it in the most public forum possible for everyone to read and comment on it. 

Because I can't bear to self-promote, it's not something I generally talk about or publicize on my own. So when people randomly started telling me they had found it, I was a little taken aback. And self conscious. It was fine when my close friends and family were reading. Or complete strangers. It's not like I'll ever have to meet them and face their judging eyes. But classmates? Our class is small. Like 20 people small. And 19 of those people are women. Catty women. It's like a scene out of Mean Girls except that we have access to sharp knives and fire, so I think you can see my concern. But so far it's only been a few people and they've only said positive things to me. Well, to my face at least. But it is nice to know that I have a few more readers out there. 

Of course, now this means that I can't use this blog to talk shit about any of them. JK LADIES! Like I would ever do that! *Air kisses*

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pate a Choux

(Updated: For a step-by-step recipe for pate a choux check out this post!)

The second unit we conquered was pate a choux, or cream puff dough. This has probably been my favorite unit so far. I mean, profiteroles, eclairs, cheese puffs...does it get any better than that? 

There are lots of methods for making pate a choux. Some use the food processor, others cook the flour and water mixture for 2 minutes, 3 minutes. I've tried other recipes before, but have never gotten the results I wanted.

Until now.

This is by far the best method I've ever used. Like I would expect anything less from a school specializing in French methods.

First, you place water, butter, and salt in a saucepan over high heat. You want the water to boil just as the butter is melting so that neither evaporates, so cut the butter into cubes. When the mixture boils, remove it from the heat and stir in bread flour all at once using a wooden spoon. Return the pan to the heat and cook the paste to dry it out. A thin film will form on the bottom of the pan and the paste will start to come away from the sides. Cook it for about a minute, total. (Sidenote: to clean the pan with the leftover film in it, return it to the heat and scrape off the film as best you can with a wooden spoon).

Drop the paste into a mixing bowl and paddle it on medium speed to release steam. It is ready when very little steam is left. This will take a minute or two. 

Add eggs, one at a time with the mixer on until the dough has absorbed enough liquid. Depending on the humidity, your flour, etc. the numbers of eggs you need may vary from day to day. There are 3 ways to test the readiness of your dough: the ribbon, the trench, and the hook. 

The trench test is the easiest to use. Once you think you have added enough eggs (or maybe just before you think so), run your finger through the batter to make a trench. The trench should fill in, but do so slowly. If it fills in too quickly, you've added too much egg. If it doesn't fill in at all, try adding half an egg, and then test again. Add the other half if necessary.

Once your batter is made, pipe it into whatever shape you want, egg wash, and bake*. 

 Choux piped into small rounds and baked. The tops are sliced off and they are "filled" with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about it


These, I thought, were just a little silly. As our assistant Chef-Instructor put it, they are very French. The batter is piped into shapes for the wings and neck and head and baked. Once baked, each swan is assembled using a filling of pastry cream, sweetened whipped cream (Creme Chantilly) and fruit. We used pineapple. Not the best tasting dessert, but they look kinda cute, especially in a flock!

Gateau St. Honore
St. Honore Cake

This is a very traditional French dessert, that you don't see much of nowadays. The base is a disc of pate brisee topped with rings of pate a choux dough piped in several circles around the edges, and then baked. Separately, pate a choux is piped into rounds (like with the profiteroles) and baked. They are then filled with Creme St. Honore*, and one side is dipped in caramel, which is then purposely left to harden on a flat surface.

*Creme St. Honore is something used specifically for this pastry. It's essentially a vanilla custard, thickened with gelatin, and lightened with an Italian Meringue. There is a special pastry tip used to get the distinct pattern on the top of the gateau.

The filled choux rounds are then "glued" to the outer edge of the brisee disc with more caramel, and the center of the gateau is filled with more Creme St. Honore. 


We spent the last day of the unit making these adorable little towers. They are the traditional wedding cake in France, but more modern couples are beginning to request American-style cakes instead. They were really fun to make and decorate. 

Ours was technically hollow, since our choux rounds were empty, not filled with pastry cream as they usually are. To serve a croquembouche, rounds are broken off the pyramid and about 3 are served to each guest. Since ours were just for display, we left them empty. 

We also used a special croquembouche mold to ensure we all had nice pyramids. A croquembouche can be assembled freehand, but it is much more difficult to get the perfect shape. It is easier to ensure all your puffs are evenly spaced, though.

Looking down into our mold once we were finished.

Of course, this was a multi-step process, which is why we took a full day to make them. First, choux is piped into rounds and baked. The inside of the molds are oiled and caramel is prepared. Each choux puff is dipped in caramel and then into decoration (or left plain with just caramel). We used cocoa nibs, dessicated coconut that had been colored blue and pink, and white pearl sugar. This process an be challenging and dangerous. It is necessary to continue to heat the caramel so it is the proper working consistency and doesn't get too thick or stringy. As you continue to cook caramel, it gets darker and darker, and can be very easy to burn, which results in a really unpleasant color and bitter taste. Not only did we have to be careful that our caramel didn't burn after multiple reheatings, we also had to be careful not to burn our fingers! Boiling sugar to caramel stage means it is well over 250 degrees. And when boiling hot sugar makes contact with your skin, it sticks. Having an ice bath nearby for quick first aid is ESSENTIAL. 

Once all the puffs are decorated, one is placed in the very bottom of the cone. This becomes the top once it is turned out. From there, the side of each puff is dipped in caramel and then placed inside the cone, and stuck to the puff right below it, forming circles that gradually fill the whole mold. One the entire mold is filled, caramel is drizzled inside to provide extra stability for the structure. The caramel is allowed to set for a few minutes and then it's time to unmold!

Thankfully, my mold was oiled well, and the caramel hadn't hardened too completely, and my croquembouche came out without a hitch!

With some extra batter, we piped the designs and baked them separately, attaching them to the final product with caramel. There are a lot of ways to finish a croquembouche, but my favorite is with a veil of spun sugar. Sadly, I don't think they trusted us enough to go around flinging hot sugar around the kitchen.

All the croqumbouches from our class! Mine is the one all the way to the left.

Oy. That's enough pastry for one day. Now I have a tummy ache. 

*A note on baking pate a choux. Again, there are various methods, but here's the way we do it. Preheat your oven to 500 and put the batter in. Turn off the oven and bake the choux for 15 minutes. Turn the oven back on to 350 and continue to bake until the choux is baked through. It should be well browned with no white spots. Check the bottom and look into any cracks to make sure they are thoroughly baked. Turn the oven off, and open the door slightly to let the choux dry out for 5-10 minutes more. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tarts and Cookies

I've been a culinary student for six weeks now and have made my way through four units so far: Tarts and Cookies, Pate a Choux, Puff Pastry, and Viennoiserie. I haven't posted about school yet solely because I had older posts I still wanted to publish, but now that I'm all caught up, I'm ready to fill you in!

Preparing the Best; that's me!

I've been taking pictures of some of the more interesting or visually impressive pastry we've made, which I'll of course include here for your viewing pleasure, but I don't think I'll be posting all the detailed recipes. I did have to take out loans to get my hands on them, after all. If I can, I'll definitely give you the basic steps and ingredients though, so you'll at least get an idea of the components and procedure.

Sadly, I haven't been doing a lot of recreational cooking or baking since school pretty much satisfies my sugar cravings. Plus, after being in the kitchen for 6 hours, all I can really do is collapse on the couch when I get home and mainline Diet Coke like it's my job. So for now, you'll have to be satisfied living vicariously through my culinary school adventures, but I promise as soon as I get back into my own personal kitchen, I'll let you know.

The unit we started with was Tarts and Cookies. This was the longest unit so far, and by the end of it, I was so sick of tart rings, blind baking, and rolling pins, it almost soured me on pie baking all together.  Almost.

Keep in mind most of these pictures were taken with my iPhone under lots of fluorescent lights. Nothing makes food look less appealing than fluorescent lights.

Tarte aux Pommes
Apple Tart

This was the very first thing we made over the first two days of class. The powers that be who designed the curriculum certainly know what they're doing. So elegant. So delicious. And yet so simple. 

They like to build us up before knocking us down.

The crust is pate sucree, or a sweet pastry crust, but brisee, or flaky crust could be used instead, filled with an apple compote and topped with slices of very thin apples, baked until browned, sweetened, and irresistible. The apple compote was very simply flavored with a vanilla bean, and cooked until tender before placing it in the raw pastry. I think I'll be making this for Thanksgiving this year, maybe with some additional Fall spices in the compote, and definitely with some homemade ice cream. Cinnamon or Caramel?

Tarte Alsacienne
 Alsatian Apple Tart

This tart was also made with pate sucree, and is filled with flambeed apples and a simple custard. Maybe not the prettiest one, but we got to play with alcohol and fire and no body singed their eyebrows off.

Tarte aux Fruits
 Fruit Tart with Pastry Cream

This tart was filled with pastry cream and topped with apricot quarters. Probably not my first choice of fruit in terms of flavor, but it made for a very pretty picture.

Tartelettes aux Fruits Frais
Fresh Fruit Tartlets

These are a miniature version of a 9'' tart that was made a day I was absent. They're composed of pastry crust that is baked, then filled with pastry cream, and topped with fresh fruit glazed with apricot jam. I love how these look and really liked how they tasted as well. I've come to realize that I don't really like pastry cream, but the fresh fruit help to cut the richness of the cream. The key is not to fill the tart shell with too much pastry cream that it becomes too sweet and rich.

Tartelettes au Citron
Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Your basic Lemon Meringue Pie: pastry crust filled with a lemon curd and topped with Swiss Meringue. I made and decorated the 4 at the top of this picture that are only slightly browned as opposed to dark brown. The rest are examples other students in my class made. The darker browning comes from using a hardcore propane torch, something wasn't quite ready to take my chances with. Instead, I baked mine in a hot oven for just a few minutes. This causes the meringue to brown only lightly, and also sets it slightly, which I like.

Tarte Bavaroise au Chocolat
Chocolate Bavarian Tart

Finally, some chocolate! This tart has the typical pastry base and is filled with a chocolate Bavarian and chilled until set. The Bavarian starts with a creme anglaise base. While still hot, chopped chocolate and gelatin are added. Once cool, whipped cream is folded into the custard base, which is then poured into the baked pastry and chilled. The decoration on top of the tart is just some melted white chocolate. The surface should be smooth, and was before I wrapped it in plastic to bring it home. Since this is filled with a Bavarian, the chocolate flavor is a little subtle, but still nice and satisfying. The addition of the gelatin results in a pretty firm filling, so when the tart is cut, each slice will hold its shape, but it was a little Jello-y for my taste.

Tarte au Ganache Chocolat
 Chocolate Ganache Tart 

Now this was a chocolate tart. Simply pastry crust filled with chocolate ganache, which is made by boiling cream and pouring it over chocolate and butter, stirred until melted.

This tart had a much more intense chocolate flavor, that was almost a bit too much when I tried it. By my second piece, it had grown on me. This tart will set up at room temperature, and thanks to the natural cocoa butter in the chocolate and addition of butter to the ganache, will also hold its shape when sliced.

 Please note the glass of milk. And two pieces of pie. Both clearly necessary.

Linzer Torte

This was one of my favorite tarts we made in this unit. It is comprised of a Linzer dough and filled with a layer each of almond cream and raspberry compote. The Linzer dough is made with hazelnut flour (or ground hazelnuts), cinnamon, and cloves, all of which give it a really beautiful complex, spicy flavor, that still manages to be a little subtle. Although you think it may sound busy, somehow all of that pairs deliciously with the almond and raspberry filling.

We all know by now that I'm not a big fan of nuts, but for some reason, I love almond cream. It's probably the same reason I hate tomatoes but love salsa, kethup, and tomato sauce. Almond cream is basically just butter, sugar, ground almonds, eggs, and a little starch. It has a wonderful sweet, slightly nutty flavor that I have just really come to love. Combine that with homemade raspberry jam inside that yummy pastry- DELICIOUS.

Our next unit? Pate a choux. Stay tuned! Think eclairs, profiteroles, cheese puffs....

And if you have any questions about culinary school or pastry classes, feel free to ask! I'll probably have no idea what the right answer is, but I'll make one up.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Easy Sticky Buns (and how to clean up a crime scene)

1:19 PM Text to Roommate: "When you return to the apartment, it may appear as if someone has been murdered. Don't be alarmed. The only thing that has died is the bottle of red wine perched suicidally on the top of the fridge."


12:50 PM Walk into the kitchen to get a glass of water. 
12:51 PM See bag of pretzel rods and immediately want one. Take one out and hold the end in my mouth to close the bag and put it away. Get glass from cabinet while still holding pretzel rod in mouth.
12:52 PM Open freezer to get some ice. Hear rumbling sound. Sense something coming toward my face. Realize it is a bottle of wine on top of the fridge. Attempt to catch said bottle. Fail. Watch helplessly as it falls to the floor. Pray it remains intact.
12:53 PM Bottle of RED wine shatters all over the wood floor, which has not been finished in decades, leaving it a veritable sponge. Stand in the middle of the carnage, pretzel still in mouth. Also, BAREFOOT. (Now may be a good time to mention that one of my biggest fears is getting glass stuck in my foot ever since my mother had a particularly unpleasant experience involving multiple exploratory needle sticks to retrieve a rogue shard of glass implanted in her foot.)
12:54 PM Slowly put pretzel down. Feel small chunks of glass directly under three of my toes. Gingerly pick foot up and escape to a tiny dry piece of floor. Determine there are no pieces of glass actually in my foot. Assess the damage. Watch as red wine spreads out menacingly across the floor. Wish Roommate's friend had brought us white wine instead of red.
12:55 PM Begin to spread paper towels out in an attempt to thwart the wine's slow creep toward the new couch. Once situation is mildly under control, step around disaster area, sit on edge of couch to minimize foot-floor contact. Propel self over coffee table matrix-style and retrieve flip flops from room. 
12:56 PM Return to kitchen and attempt to do damage control. Waste the equivalent of 5 trees via paper towels. Begin to pick up huge chunks of glass. Envision slicing finger open. Put on rubber dishwashing gloves. Continue to pick up large pieces of glass. 
12:58 PM Find piece of glass approximately 7 feet away. Not good. Find a few more.
1:00 PM Hear Gilmore Girls starting in the other room. Wish I were watching it instead of cleaning up the murder scene. 
1:01-1:08 PM Pick up largest pieces of glass I can find. Soak up as much blood wine as possible with paper towels. See tiny shards of glass. Panic. 
1:09-1:16 PM Vacuum entire apartment. Think our downstairs neighbors must hate us. Swiffer. Vacuum again. Imagine angry letter our downstairs neighbors are writing to our landlord.
1:17 PM Finish cleaning. Finally get glass of water. Pick pretzel back up. Decide I deserve a reward for all my hard work. Retreat to my room with entire bag of pretzel rods and jar of peanut butter.
1:18 PM Turn on Gilmore Girls. 

4:30 PM Update- The floor is, in fact, not stained red. I'm not exactly sure what happened to all that wine (because I can assure you I did not use nearly enough paper towels to absorb an entire bottle), but I'm guessing that when our downstairs neighbor discovers red liquid dripping from his ceiling he'll most likely call the police, and when they show up at our door to arrest us for murder, please direct them to this blog post.

So since I clearly can't be trusted with anything sharp, made of glass, breakable, or would otherwise be used by an adult, here's another Ina recipe since they're generally fool-proof. Seriously, the word "Easy" is in the title.

Plus, after the brownies, I was sort of on a Barefoot Contessa sugar high.

I had one sheet of leftover puff pastry still in the freezer after making the Old-Fashioned Eccles Cakes so I looked through my cookbooks for something I could do with it. These looked fast, simple, delicious and were a breakfast food; my FAV!

These little beauties certainly lived up to their name: they were easy and sticky (but in the best possible way). And no doubt went straight to my buns. The outer layer of dough had a delicious crunch from baking in the butter and sugar but the inner dough was perfectly sweet and tender. The raisins added yet another layer of sweetness, but I'm really dying to know what these would be like with chocolate chips inside! 

Sinful. That's what they'd be. 

These are perfect to make on a lazy Sunday morning when you're too hungover impatient to wait in a long line at your favorite brunch spot, when you have overnight guests you really want to impress, or when your kids have a slumber party and you want to get their friends all sugared up before releasing them back to their parents. 

Easy Sticky Buns

Yield: 6 sticky buns (or double it to make a dozen)

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted

For the filling-
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a 12-cup standard muffin tin (or 6-cup if you have it) on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
2. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, combine the 6 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Place 1 rounded tablespoon of the mixture in 6 of the muffin cups.

3. Lightly flour a wooden board or stone surface. Unfold the sheet of puff pastry with the folds going left to right. Brush the whole sheet with the melted butter. 
4. Leaving a one-inch border on the puff pastry, sprinkle the sheet with the 1/3 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. 

5. Starting with the end nearest you, roll the pastry up snugly like a jelly roll around the filling, finishing the roll with the seam side down.

6. Trim the edges of the roll about 1/2 inch and discard. Slice the roll in 6 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place each piece, spiral side up, in the 6 buttered muffin cups. 

7. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sticky buns are golden to dark brown on top and firm to the touch. Allow to cool for 5 minutes only, invert the buns onto the parchment paper (ease the filling out onto the buns with a spoon), and let cool for about 20 minutes.

From Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Free-Form Italian Plum Tart

When you're a poor student faced with loans that reach high into the six figures, you start to get creative about making and saving money. Although I only have class from 8:30-2:30 during the week, that still makes finding a part-time job kind of a challenge. Plus, the thought of working retail (unless that retail store is Tiffany & Co.) or waiting tables is just way too nauseating (although given how incredibly bad the wait staff is in this city, I probably wouldn't have a problem finding a job or making decent money at it, but it would mean selling my soul and I'm saving that for when I really need it, like when I want to intern at Jean Georges). 

Since I can't exactly make a steady paycheck, I'm focusing on saving money. Or at least I'm trying. For example, out of all the numerous menus for Chinese food we have, my roommate Shaun and I chose the cheapest option possible for dinner Friday night. We ordered enough food to feed a small village, and it was only $20. We still have enough left over for probably 2 more dinners. I may have to call the CDC, but what's a little Salmonella in exchange for pinching pennies?

And here's another money-saving tip: grow your own food. Dan planted a garden this summer and we've been eating peppers, beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers for just the cost of the seeds. Not only does this save money and give him a hobby, but you don't get more local than your own backyard. Given all of these interests, imagine our delight when we discovered the plum tree growing on Dan's street. 

Local, fresh produce that is also FREE? JACKPOT.

They are much smaller than the plums you find in the grocery store, but they taste exactly the same, with sweet, flavorful fruit and tart skins. After harvesting a big bag of plums, conversing with the tenants whose house the tree is in front of, being offered a cocktail and a ladder (great combo), and almost being eaten alive by mosquitoes, we had more than enough plums for this free-form tart.

I really liked the tart dough and the plums were nice and flavorful, but it seemed a little one note. I did really like the addition of the lemon zest in the dough, which is not something I've ever done before; I think it may have been my favorite part, and is a technique I could apply to lots of different pies.

One of the only problems we encountered was when we checked on the tart after about 20 minutes, things didn't look promising. The plum juice had formed a pool around the tart and the uncooked dough almost looked as if it was going to dissolve. But we pressed on. After the full cooking time, the tart looked much better.

While Dan loved this, I thought it was just good. It wasn't too tart and it wasn't too sugary, but there was just something about it that I didn't absolutely love.

Of course, that didn't stop me from eating two pieces and, between the two of us, finishing off more than half of it the night we made it. What? It was small! 

Free-Form Italian Plum Tart 

For the Pastry
1 cup All-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Grated zest of a small lemon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
8 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1-2 Tablespoons cold water

For the Fruit
20 or so Italian plums
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

1. Make the pastry. Combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a bowl. Cut in the cubed butter until it is the size of peas. 

Hydrate the dough with the cold water and mix, just until the dough holds together. Wrap well and chill for at least 30 minutes.

2. Next, prepare the fruit. Wash the plums, cut them then half and remove the pits. Set aside.

3.Roll out the dough into a circle about 10'' in diameter and 1/8'' thick.

Leaving a 2 inch border, cover the middle of the dough with plums, cut side down. Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit (Note: We found we had way too much sugar and were almost burying the fruit. Use your judgment and add according to your taste. If the plums are particularly sweet, less sugar will be needed). Top the fruit with the cubed butter. 

4. Fold the excess dough up and over the fruit. 

 Remember, this tart is free-form, so you can leave the edges rough, or crimp them decoratively. I was feeling particularly lazy free when I made this. 

Place the tart back in the fridge and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

5. Bake the tart at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until the crust is browned and the juices of the fruit are bubbling. 

Allow to cool slightly before slicing. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Or both.

Adapted from Tasty by Roy Finamore

Nom, nom, nom
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