Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why are marshmallows and cocoa so good together?

Is it something in the added creaminess without the addition of cream? A textural element? Nostalgia?

The cocoa was a gift, given generously by someone in my chosen (rather than birth) family. It's not handmade, the marshmallows came from who knows where, but it is all worth savoring anyway. In fact, it's delicious.

Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The weather outside is frightful...

It's pretty much the worst thing that could happen.

Imagine you are a small business owner in troubled economic times. You are doing ok, you're holding your head up above water and it's the busiest time of the year. Then during the busiest week, the money maker, the big cheese, the work until you drop time, the snow starts falling. And falling. And falling.

And the city shuts down. For days.

So what does this mean to me, lowly employee? It means that bread is still a living product. It means my detrempes are still active, the starters still need feeding. It means, in a nutshell, that I am still going to work. It means that if (when) I get the call saying, "well, you know how you said you could..." I'm already in boots getting ready for my walk.

We go in to work, however we can get there. We work a long day, but not as long as it should be, and we're vaguely grateful for the break, bittersweet. We are grateful for the work; we're decidedly less stir crazy than most of our customers, and many of our significant others. It's nice to have a purposeful way to fill the hours. There is also that tiny voice that tells us how lucky we are to be working at all. The gift for my labors was an extra day off. I'm not sure what to do with myself.

Holidays are always rough in this business. I think I'd rather have it the other end of the spectrum, though. Of course, I know that next December, when I'm completely in the weeds, I'll look back and dream of a white Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Share or Horde?

It baffles me that sometimes people, in this day and age, won't share recipes. I mean, really, is there a recipe for anything that can't be found in some fashion online? No, it may not be your Uncle Edgar's secret recipe for dumplings, but still, the dumplings are there. And why not make it YOUR recipe for dumplings?

I think Jeffrey Steingarten, in one of his essays (gratins, maybe?) talked about an endless quest to perfect a recipe. He tweaked and puzzled and got one that he could make and make again and it was perfect. And it turned out to be nothing like the original recipe. So really, what difference does the original recipe make?

I have one recipe that I won't share. One. And I won't share it because the chef who gave it to me is someone that I respect, and he specifically asked me not to share it. I also won't flat out copy a recipe exactly from a book and post that as my own, but that relates more to my opinion of copyrights, and why it was unfair that Sam Clemens was broke so often. Otherwise, there is too much of a teacher in my blood to horde.

Chocolate Moelleux for Diane.

100 g dark chocolate (this is the meat of the thing so a good dark chocolate is in order. I prefer a 70-75% bar for deeper flavor)

70g butter (you don't have a kitchen scale? But, um, why not? Ok, 5 tablespoons)

45 g (4 Tablespoons) all purpose flour

13 g (1 Tablespoon) cornstarch

60 g (3 Tablespoons) agave syrup

a pinch of salt

2 eggs

flavoring (see gilding the lily)

1. Preheat the oven to 350. This may take longer than anything else depending on your oven, so yeah, do this first. Spray four small tart rings or one 9" tart ring (or pie pan) with pan spray and place on a sheet pan. Love the pan spray. Fear it not. It is your friend.

2. Melt together the butter and the chocolate over a double boiler, or, if you are like me, a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water. stir together every once in a while as it melts.

3. In another, larger bowl, whisk together everything else possibly including any appropriate lily gilding. This is really tough, eh?

4. When the butter and chocolate are completely melted but not hot, whisk chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. The batter will thicken up as the chocolate cools. Spread the batter into the prepared tart rings.

5. Into the oven it goes. Now is the time to not get distracted. Before, not so bad. Now, well, this cooks up in about 10 minutes, maybe less depending on your pan, so if you hear the cat making the incoming hairball noise? Pretend it is just CNN and ignore it for a few minutes. You are cooking this until the edges feel set to the touch, but don't wait for the middle to set completely. It's going to be fudgy.

6. Let it cool in the pan. If you can. I mean, it's good while still warm. So it can be kinda hard to wait. It depends on what is happening next. If what is happening next is fancying it up, and serving for company, go ahead and do that after it has cooled a bit. If it is just an immediate chocolate fix, I recommend a nice cuppa (Earl Grey is also stellar with dark chocolate) to go with it while it is still warm. Do you have any idea how hard it is to write out recipes? Man I need another piece now...

Gilding the lily

Ok, I'm better now. The beautiful thing about this recipe is that you can do a gazillion things to it to suit your menu. Easy rustic? Mix in some chopped roasted nuts like hazelnuts, and serve with your favorite ice cream variant. Tropical? Try a sauce of passion fruit and mango nectars and serve with starfruit and lychee. Classic? A dash of grand marnier in the batter, and some candied orange zest and ganache on top. Seriously versatile. And then there is the Chocolate Mint version here, where I flavored the batter with a bit of mint extract, and topped it with ganache and some crushed sugar free peppermint candies.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Spirits for Bakers

No, no, I'm not talking about alcohol, although I do have an idea for a Christmas punch recipe that would kick. In every job, there is that same meeting every year. "This is it don't screw it up we make all our money now and you like getting a paycheck, right?"

Something to that effect.

It's the most wonderful time of the year; where clients get even more crazy and the work gets even more hectic. Suddenly you look up and see you have stood on your feet for something like 13 hours and didn't even notice even though you have been checking timers in twenty minute intervals at least forty times. Online shopping is the only thing that is saving you from disinheritance if you remember to shop at all. Your house appears to be festively decorated with fake snow, but you know that's just flour you've brought home with you.

Embrace the spirit.

I look at it this way; eventually, the endorphins will save me. I can dread it, prepare for a month of misery and exhaustion, or I can make chemistry work for me. I will come home and bake cookies after spending all day baking cookies. I will fill the house with the scents of the season - citrus, cinnamon, clove. I will think of new ideas for festiving up our regular products while churning out what I need to. I will NOT sing carols to my coworkers every day because they have limits, and I don't know who owns a gun. I will, however, try and remember pleases and thank yous because after 15 hours that can go a long way.

I will probably crochet up a few festive hats. sorry.

And then, when all is said and done, I'll rest, and let my brain do it's thing, flooding me with chemicals that will make me say, "Hey, that wasn't so bad. It was actually kind of fun. How long until next holiday season?"

And then I will duck so nothing that got thrown at me will hit me in the face.