Throughout the year I have taken photos of my work as it comes out of the oven. If you’re interested, you may follow along.
I love making frittatas since they feel like baking more than cooking even though they really are a traditional breakfast cooked-dish. I love bacon, cheese and sautéed onions (and if I have them, scallions, shallots, red peppers or yesterday’s asparagus or broccoli). When people are staying at my house, I always make a 10-egg frittata that can basically stay warm on the stove until people wake up.
If I feel certain about anything, it’s that my apple cake recipe is a winner. However, as people who know me know, just because something is good doesn’t mean it’s good enough. For this reason, I must continue to try and innovate as much as I can. In this case, it was a recipe that caught my eye called “Apple Cider Donut Cake” that I thought I absolutely had to try. Unlike my other apple cake, it doesn’t use whole fruit, favoring apples cooked in apple cider (I use the boiled cider extract) and then pureed and added to the dry ingredients. For the final step, a shower of cinnamon sugar. I really loved the overall feeling of the cake, even if I found it wasn’t at all donut-like and lacked OOMPH. It was still a hit at parties.
October is time for Halloween and that means making things for special occasions. For the most part I don’t want to do that since mostly the holiday is about candy, and I don’t want to compete with candy. That said you can only eat so much candy before you want something substantial and non-chocolate or non-candy bar for dessert. And so, the creation of orange-filled (but not flavored) Oreo-style sandwich cookies and meringues in the model of the candy corn. These didn’t work out ideally as candy corns, partially because getting the shape right was a challenge that I couldn’t solve the first time around, instead creating a lot of BB8 looking things. Overall they were both a hit.
I continue to experiment with savory items, not content to just serve up the final act in a meal’s performance. Above potato knishes, made in response to having a surplus of mashed potatoes made with onions and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Growing up in NY knishes were available everywhere–whether from the venerable old deli or an umbrella-carted kiosk. They were available in round and square versions, with the round having a very delicate and thin baked skin where the square ones had a thicker, fried outside, more akin to a dimpled egg roll in look, if not taste.
Gratefully, I have naturally started to get requests on a larger scale than previously. So instead of “Yeah, bring something” it’s more like “We’re having a party and…” I have liked the challenge of trying to understand the audience and plan for meeting their needs for baked goods. Sometimes there are requests (weddings, funerals, other celebrations); sometimes the event’s theme dictates the structure, i.e. religious holiday and sometimes I am sharing duties with another baker or chef and so coordinating flavors, tastes, etc. becomes something that needs to be done. Hitting up the restaurant supply store has been great for my imagination, because they have all the things that young up and coming bakers need to plate, carry and deploy the product. Above, two sets of identical setups for the holiday.
I love to do the ‘copycat’ recipes. In fact, the reason I started really baking in the first place was to make things for my kids that would be less harmful (if only slightly) than the supermarket brands of the same thing. I never wanted to say ‘don’t eat twinkles!’ I just wanted to say “the corporations make bad decisions regarding what goes into twinkles, and so I will show you we can make them without artificial flavors or colors or unnecessary preservatives.” Of course, mine will go bad within three days and theirs will still be edible after the zombie apocalypse has subsided (see Zombieland for details). Above, I was not content to use anything bottled, so I made the marshmallow creme filling, the ganache and icing for the squiggle on top for these Hostess-lookalikes. This is the ‘piping the marshmallow creme’ stage, which was a lot of fun, but somewhat challenging to fill the cupcakes without breaking them open.
I really love making bread. I don’t love it more than anything else, but it is a true exercise in faith. You make it, and then go to bed. When you get up in the morning, you expect the sun to rise and the bread to rise. Having both makes the world seem like it might be OK. It’s true that all the real estate advice talks about making chocolate chip cookies before an open house, because it creates a welcoming aroma second to none. However, I have found that the wafting scent of baking bread causes a kind of drunken happiness that seems like a mix between coming home and the anticipation of a welcome sensory experience of a crunchy, soft, chewy repository for butter or jam that recalls a childhood zenith of satisfaction–even if it wasn’t necessarily your childhood.
Of course once you have a level of comfort with something, as I started to have with meringue cookies, then I wanted to do something more exciting with them (except for some of the flavors they are a rather boring off-white color). For my friend Jill’s wedding, I wanted to create something that honored her but I realized quickly that color creation was a whole skill unto itself, that I wasn’t going to master in a few hours. I did manage a pretty good green and purple, which were the colors of the logo of the first company we worked at together. I created a rudimentary double-pastry bag from two small and one large zip-loc bag, and experimented with the shape, height and colors. I think I got about 25 usable ones at the end.
In the past few years I have been perfecting the art of SCALE. And that is, how to plan for more than just ‘a few cookies.’ In this picture, I had just made gefilte fish to serve about four nights of Passover—of which I was only going to be at two of. This recipe for Salmon Gefilte Fish came to me from my brother. It is a dish that really doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but it deserves no respect because the flavorless, chewy, gelatin-soaked fish-sponges they sell in the jar are horrible and should be avoided at all costs. Right up there with box cake mix (comments turned off, sorry).