Rolling in the Dough

So last month I found myself tackling croissant dough in an attempt to recreate the Cruffin.  While I can appreciate the finesse and skill it takes to make a respectable croissant dough–I mean who doesn’t like those buttery flaky layers–I’m more a brioche kind of gal.  Brioche is richer and more tender, chock full of luscious eggs and butter.  It’s the type of enriched dough I love to use for everything from sticky buns to donuts. Like pizza dough, brioche is a good staple to have in the freezer–goodness knows I have quite a few staples in there already–though I must admit I very rarely just bake a simple loaf of brioche.  I use brioche like a blank canvas, manipulating it into different forms, layering it with different ingredients, like dried fruit and citrus for my Easter loaf.

My last batch of brioche dough produced two rather different, though equally delicious breakfast pastries (oh who am I kidding, I’d be eating them any time of the day or night).  The first was inspired by a photo of an apple creme bun in one of the Flour cookbooks.   I had the makings for all the components.  There were a few farmer’s market pink lady apples sitting around, just waiting to be sautéed in brown butter and sugar.  I needed egg whites for another baking project, which conveniently meant there would be egg yolks for vanilla pastry cream.  All I needed to do was make the brioche dough, which I then halved (stashing one half in the freezer for later use). Instead of forming a bunch of individual buns–I was too impatient to eat it–I made one large apple “galette” or as my friend Toni called it an “apple pizza.”

Brioche Dough 

  • 2 1/4 cup bread flour
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 packages rapid rise yeast (instant yeast)
  • 6 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 11 oz. butter (2 1/4 sticks), cut into small pieces, room temperature

In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the dry ingredients on low speed.  Whisk together the eggs, water, and milk, then add them to the dry mix.  Mix everything on low for about 4-5 mins. until the dough comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl about halfway through.  Increased the speed to medium low and begin adding the butter a little at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough.  Kick up the speed to medium and continue mixing for another 12-15 mins.  The dough should be somewhat sticky and shiny.  Transfer the dough into a greased bowl large enough for double its size, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm space.  Punch down the dough and divide in half.

Brioche Project #2 was a slightly more decadent affair.  I decided to make sticky buns…but not just any old sticky bun.  No, these buns were going to be drenched in homemade brown butter salted caramel sauce…and filled with vanilla pastry cream.  If that wasn’t enough, I went the extra mile and laminated the second half of my brioche dough with BUTTER! Yeah, you heard me…I added more layers of butter into an enriched dough.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  I got the idea years ago from Nancy Silverton, who is a genius.  The process for laminating the brioche is similar to that for croissant dough.  I used about 4 oz. room temperature butter for a half batch of brioche dough.  Once the laminated dough was thoroughly chilled and rested, I rolled it out into a 1/3″ thick rectangle, slathered on some brown butter (which I had leftover from a previous recipe), sprinkled on a thick layer of cinnamon and sugar (heavy on the cinnamon) and rolled it into a log.  At this point you can wrap the log tightly in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight if you are planning on finishing them up in the morning, which is what I opted to do since I wanted to make a big batch of Brown Butter Salted Caramel Paste first.

img_6013

Brown Butter Salted Caramel Paste

Yield:  3 pints

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 oz. butter, cooked to dark golden brown, cooled to room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Place the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a large heavy bottom sauce pan, then stir to completely moisten the sugar.  Cook the mixture on medium heat until it becomes a medium dark amber color.  Turn off the heat and carefully whisk in the cream, then the brown butter, salt and vanilla.  Turn the heat back on and let the caramel come back to a boil.. Whisk and boil for about 1 min.  Remove from the heat and transfer into heat proof containers (e.g.  mason jars).

To finish the sticky buns, grease a 9″x 9″ pan (I used a glass pyrex baking dish) with non-stick spray and pour in about 1/3″ layer of the salted caramel to fully cover the bottom of the pan.  Divide the roll into 9 thick slices (I goofed and accidentally cut 8) and arrange them in the pan 3 x 3.  Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the rolls proof in a warm space until double in size.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Fill a piping bag with vanilla pastry cream (there should be plenty left from the previous recipe), insert the tip into the center of each roll and pipe in a generous amount of pastry cream.  Set the pan onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.  Bake the rolls for about 30-35 mins. until they evenly golden brown.  Let the rolls rest in the pan for about 3-4 mins. then carefully invert the pan onto the parchment.

img_6020 img_6023

 

 

 

Halloween…Or Confessions of a Scaredy Cat

I’m an unmitigated scaredy cat when it comes to horror movies and not ashamed to admit it–blame it on a neurotic, overly dramatic, “waiting for the apocalypse” mother and my own active imagination.  No doubt many of my friends have hunkered down in front of their television sets with pizzas and big bowls of popcorn for a Halloween fright fest, binge watching horror flick after horror flick this weekend–savoring every blood curdling scream, dismembered body part, and demonic possession.  I, on the other hand, am crafting cocktails, baking bundt cakes and assembling Halloween treats (see recipes below) while watching Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)–low on the horror, high on kitsch.  Okay, true Austenites might be truly horrified by the mash-up but I find it oddly entertaining… given my love of Austen’s novel, quirky zombie films, and Doctor Who (11th Doctor Matt Smith plays everyone’s favorite buffoon Mr. Collins).

The image of butt-kicking zombie assassin Bennet sisters had me from the get-go.

Suffice it to say I don’t do the standard scary horror movie, like Saw (2004) or The Exorcist (1973), not so much because I’m squeamish about blood and gore or extreme violence (which I’m not given the number of Quentin Tarantino films I’ve seen), but because they dredge up my own fears about the pitch black ugly side of the human psyche.  All you have to do is watch the news and you’re reminded there really are seriously deranged individuals out there committing unspeakable acts against humanity.

While we’re on the subject of scary movie themes, paranormal ghost stories are also not high on my watch list either…because, yes, I do believe in ghosts.  I made the mistake of watching The Others (2001) on a cold dark night by myself (hey I got sucked into the story before I realized it was a “horror flick”) and nearly jumped out of my skin when my roommate came into the apartment.  I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen the film, but it scared the crap out of me.  I think I made myself watch some stupid sitcoms for an hour and eat dessert afterwards just to settle my nerves!

They say screaming is cathartic, but I prefer to laugh…much less stressful.  For those of you like me, who like their gore peppered (intentional or not) with humor, here are a few movies to check out this Halloween night:

The Lost Boys (1987) – I have fond memories of this 80’s teenage comedy horror flick starring the ubiquitous two Corey’s (Feldman and Haim), set in my college town of Santa Cruz.  Before he became known as uber operative Jack Bauer in 24, Kiefer Sutherland play one menacing vampire gang leader.

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-5-29-41-pm

An American Werewolf in London (1981) – The original is still the best.  I watched this with friends when I was at university in England.  Having traverse all through London on the tube, we laughed and screamed with horror at the werewolf mauling scene inside the Green Park tube station.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) –  George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play fugitive bank robbers turned would-be vampire killers.  It’s a delirious, campy adrenaline rush.  Clooney is a eye-candy dish full of sexy snarkiness.

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-5-58-52-pm

Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Leave to Brits Simon Peg and Nick Frost to make a fun zombie movie.  Dawn of the Dead this ain’t!

Less I forget, here are the recipes I’ve been working on while watching my non-scary Halloween movie.

Cocktail:  

I know I could’ve given it a more Halloween-y name but Fall Breeze is a more apt description of this effervescent drink.  It’s got all the flavors of fall with a spicy kick that perks you up like a crisp breeze.

img_6001

  • 2 oz. Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 oz. Apple Cider
  • .75 oz. Fresh Ginger Syrup*
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 5 dashes Persimmon Bitters
  • Chilled Seltzer Water
  • Fresh Sage and Sliced Fuyu Persimmon for Garnish

Combine the bourbon whiskey, cider, ginger syrup, lemon juice and bitters in a cocktail shaker.  Add 4-5 ice cubes and shake vigorously to blend.  Strain the liquor into a chilled martini glass and top with seltzer.  Garnish drink with a slice of persimmon and a small sprig of fresh sage.

Fresh Ginger Syrup:

Place 1 1/2 cups peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger root and the zest of a lime and a lemon into a medium saucepan and cover with 3 cups cold water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 mins.  Turn off the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for about an hour.   Strain out the ginger and pour the strained liquid back into a saucepan.  Whisk in 3 cups sugar and the juice of the lime and lemon.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then pour it through a fine mesh strainer.  Cool to room temperature, transfer into mason jars or glass bottles and refrigerate.  This recipe makes enough syrup for many drinks!

Dessert:

Pumpkin bundt cake is a homey staple on Halloween, especially when it’s decorated to look like an actual pumpkin.  Alas, I went a different route with mine…mainly because it was a belated birthday cake for my favorite aunt and she’s not crazy about big frosting laden cakes.  Her cake was not overly sweet or heavily spiced–simply moist and flavorful, with a dulce de leche cream cheese filing and bittersweet chocolate ganache glaze, tastefully decorated with tiny strips of dried mandarin orange.

Chocolate Glazed Pumpkin Bundt with Dulce de Leche Filling

Batter:

  • 1 1/2 cups Golden Brown Sugar
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Oil (Canola, Sunflower, etc.)
  • 4 oz. Butter (1 stick), cooked to a nutty brown and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 1/4 cups Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 Tbsp. Bourbon
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp. Maple Extract
  • 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 3/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. Cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg

Whisk together the sugar and all the wet ingredients.  Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and center a well in the center. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and whisk everything together until well incorporated.

Filling: 

  • 6 oz. Cream Cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Dulce de Leche
  • 1 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

  • 18 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate (60-70%), finely chopped
  • 2 cups. Heavy Cream
  • 3 Tbsp. Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Espresso Powder (or Instant Coffee)
  • 1/4 cup Sour Cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Rum, Whiskey or Brandy (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl.  Combine the cream and corn syrup in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt and espresso powder.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, wait about 2 mins., then gently whisk the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate has completely melted.  Whisk in the sour cream and liquor.

To glaze the bundt, set the wire rack with the cooled bundt over a sheet of parchment and ladle the warm glaze over the top.

There was, of course, still plenty of ganache leftover from glazing the bundt…so I decided to use it for my next Halloween treat–Chocolate Peanut Butter Pumpkins.  I’ve wanted to make something with this pumpkin-shaped silicon candy mold I bought on sale last year and these were the perfect treats to make.  There’s no baking involved!  I simply filled the molds with a white chocolate peanut butter truffle, topped them with a thin layer of ganache and sprinkled on some crushed salted pretzels and leftover peanut butter toffee I’d whipped up for a batch of cookie dough I’d made earlier in the week.  You can substitute any kind of crushed toffee-like candy (e.g Butterfinger, Heath, etc.).   I placed the mold into the freezer to set up, then popped the little pumpkins out.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle

  • 1 cup Chunky Peanut Butter
  • 10 oz. White Chocolate Chips (I like Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Place everything in a heatproof bowl (starting with the peanut butter).  Set the bowl over a pot of simmer water and stirring occasionally until the white chocolate is completely melted and fully incorporated into the peanut butter.

Keep these treats refrigerated until ready to serve.

img_5983

Happy Halloween!

img_5978

Sunday Bake–Savory Pop Tarts

Ever since I abruptly decided to jump off the crazy train that was my day job (or more like leaping off a runaway train a few stops before it plowed spectacularly through the main station), I’ve spent my time working on consulting projects (aka playing with food).  Consequently, I find myself with a whole lot of odds and ends in my refrigerator–leftover ingredients from various recipe experiments, like thick béchamel sauce, caramelized onions, and black forest ham.  I’d already managed to use some of it on a pizza, mixing together the béchamel and caramelized onion and using the savory concoction as the base for my pizza bianco. But what to do with the rest?  There was only a scant cup left over, not really enough for a pot pie and I was pretty much done making croque monsieurs (one of my experiments).  As I was standing near the empanadas food truck waiting for my friend at the Farmer’s Market this morning the idea hit me.  Why not make Savory Pop Tarts!  I could bulk up the leftover caramelized onion béchamel with sautéed mushrooms and cheese to make enough filling for at least ten pop tarts.  Layer in some chopped black forest ham and we’ve got a winner.

Now you can make pop tarts with any variety of doughs, from puff pastry to pie.  My pastry of choice is a buttery, flaky pate brisee.  It’s richer than pie dough, more tender than puff pastry, and provides just the right structure for pop tarts.  A word about Pop Tarts (the boxed kind)–I’m not a fan.  I tried to like them as kid, but simply couldn’t get past the dry texture and teeth achingly sweet frosting and filling.  I think my mom bought me a box once, which I refused to finish…much like that box of Lucky Charms…and that was the end of that.  During my sophomore year in college, my roommate used to get care packages laden with boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Rice-a-Roni, and Pop Tarts.  I gave Pop Tarts another go…no dice.  It really wasn’t until I began re-making pop tarts with handmade pastry dough and filling them with really tasty stuff–homemade preserves, Nutella, caramelized fruit, peanut butter, etc.–then I became a convert.  Like Lorelei Gilmore, I had a pop tart epiphany (only not about the crappy artificial kind).

The tricky thing about pop tarts is getting the consistency of the filling, whether it’s sweet or savory, just right.  If it’s too wet or loose the filling will leak and explode out the sides, leaving you with a sad deflated pop tart.  A rich thick béchamel sauce, for example, is an excellent binder for all kinds of savory fillings.  Also, it’s important to brush the edges of only one side of pastry with egg wash or cream so the seams will stick together securely.  Brushing both the top and bottom halves will merely cause the pastry to slip and slide.

For my savory pop tart filling, I sautéed about 1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms with a little olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, hard apple cider, and chicken stock, then added 1/4 cup frozen organic corn, and a tablespoon each chopped fresh parsley and chives.  I combined this mixture with the leftover caramelized onion béchamel and 1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese.  I placed a heaping tablespoon of the filling at the center of 10 pate brisee squares (cut approximately 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″),

img_5898

layered on a little julienned black forest ham, brush the edges with heavy cream, then topped each one with another pastry square, sealed the edges and crimped them with a fork.

img_5899 img_5900

Each pop tart was brushed with more cream, pierced with a fork to allow steam to vent, and sprinkled with grated parmesan and black pepper.

img_5902

I baked the pop tarts at 400°F for about 25 mins., until they were golden brown.

img_5907

img_5909

Savory Pop Tarts are the kind of “out of the box” pastry worth making!

Bechamel Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Whole Milk, slightly warmed
  • ½ tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • ⅛ tsp. Ground Black Pepper
  • Pinch of Ground Nutmeg

On medium low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour to form a paste.  Stirring constantly, cook the mixture for about two mins., then gradually whisk in the warm milk a little at a time to avoid lumps.  Turn the heat back up to medium and continue whisking until the mixture begins to boil.  Lower the heat and cook for another three minutes, seasoning with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Transfer the thickened sauce into a bowl and press a film of plastic onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming as the sauce cools.  Chill the sauce until set to use for filling.

Pumpkin Spice Be Damned!

Anthony Bourdain is right–this pumpkin spice madness must stop! What started out as a harmless cup of pumpkin spice latte to signal the beginning of fall has turned into a marketing tsunami that’s threatening to engulf us in a sea of mediocrity.  I won’t go so far as Bourdain in wishing the trend “drown in its own blood”–because after all I admittedly still have a jar of pumpkin pie spice in my pantry (hey, it’s used judiciously to occasionally spice up actual pumpkin). But I would like to do away with a great many of the pumpkin spiced products out on the market, especially the non-food variety–pumpkin spice body lotion/bath gel (no, I’d rather smell like pumpkin pie because I’m actually baking one), pumpkin spice air freshener (again, better to get that smell from baking the real thing), pumpkin spice dish soap (ugh, really?).  Over saturation of pumpkin spice reminds me of that commercial for Febreeze–you know the one about becoming “nose blind to odors.”  In a way, all this generic pumpkin spice can dull your senses and fatigue your taste buds.

Years ago, long before the pumpkin spice mania took hold, I worked with a chef who barred me from putting pumpkin creme brûlée on the restaurant dessert menu–well, any pumpkin pie-like custard actually, including pumpkin cheesecake (unless it was in bar cookie form).  His reasoning, other than his own personal distaste for the American classic, was that it was too pedestrian, too expected, and unimaginative. Consequently, I had to come up with other, more creative ways to incorporate pumpkin into my fall repertoire, like roasting a medley of autumn squash/pumpkin in brown butter, maple sugar, and warm spices for a sweet crostata filling, then serving this alternative pumpkin pie with a scoop of almond brown butter ice cream.  Being forced out of my comfort zone not only expanded my creativity but made me appreciate pumpkin for all its natural beauty and tasty potential…beyond the pumpkin pie of my childhood.  Truth be told, I wasn’t even that big of a fan of pumpkin pie when I was a kid.  It was simply a vehicle for the whipped cream.

Pumpkin spice is like that whipped cream.  It’s a way for people who don’t necessarily love pumpkin pie, or pumpkin for that matter, to enjoy the trappings of fall– call it pumpkin lite.   I’m sure there are also plenty of pumpkin pie lovers out there who are obsessed with pumpkin spice, but I would venture to say a vast number of pumpkin spice aficionados probably wouldn’t eat pumpkin…perhaps unless it was heavy masked in that particular spice blend.  That’s a shame really, because pumpkins and other autumn squash are fantastically versatile, delicious in sweet and savory applications.

To take the chill off of a crisp fall day, I like to whip up a hearty batch of Pumpkin Vegetable Curry, using a combination of Japanese curry paste, curry powder, and coconut milk for a rich and flavorful sauce.

img_5884

While a bright orange firm fleshed pumpkin is the star of this dish, you can add any combination of vegetables to compliment it.  At the Farmer’s Market, I found some deep dark purple long beans, vibrant red bell peppers and zucchini.  The vibrancy of the vegetables reminded me of the peak fall colors in Maine.

img_5865

To make the curry, I simply sweated some chopped onions and garlic in hot oil until translucent, then added all the vegetables and tossed them around with a little bit of curry powder, salt and pepper for a 3-4 mins.  I then added in some chicken stock, water, a can of coconut milk, and 3-4 squares of Japanese curry paste (conveniently packaged and portioned out like a chocolate bar), and simmered everything on low heat for 10-15 mins., until the vegetables were tender.  Serve the curry over some steamed basmati or jasmine rice.

img_5777

On the sweet side, I like to compliment my pumpkin desserts and baked goods with equally deep, warm flavors like bourbon and maple.  I haven’t banished pumpkin spice, but I tend to use less of it in proportion to the other ingredients in my recipes.  My tender Maple Bourbon Glazed Pumpkin Scones are a delightful way to start the morning…or rejuvenate your afternoon.

Maple Bourbon Glazed Pumpkin Scones

Yield: 12 scones

  • 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 4 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice (or 1 tsp. Cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. Ginger, 1/2 tsp. Nutmeg, pinch of Clove)
  • 4 oz. or 1 stick Chilled Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 2/3 cup Buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Heavy Cream or Egg Wash for brushing tops

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter pieces, then using either two forks or your fingers quickly work the butter into the dry mixture until the butter pieces are the size of popcorn kernels.  Make a well in the center.  Whisk together the wet ingredients, pour the mixture into the well, and stir everything together to form a dough.  Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic film, lightly dust with flour, and pat it down into a 1″ thick square, wrap and freeze the dough for about 15 mins. to firm up.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F.   Turn the chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface, dust with more flour, then pat or roll the dough out into a 3/4″ thick rectangle.  With a pastry cutter or chef’s knife cut the dough in half horizontally, then into thirds vertically to form six squares.  Cut each square in half diagonally. Place the pieces on a parchment-lined sheet pan and brush with cream or egg wash.  Bake the scones for 18-20 mins. until golden and test done. Cool the scones completely before drizzling on glaze.

Maple Bourbon Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp. Maple Extract
  • pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Bourbon
  • 1 Tbsp. Whole Milk

Whisk together ingredients until smooth.

 

img_5775

Take heart John Oliver, not everything “pumpkin” has to taste like candle wax!

Taste for Travel…Or Where to Eat in Maine

One of the joys of traveling back to Maine, aside from the obvious pleasure of spending time with good friends, is eating fabulous food.  Those who follow my posts on Instagram and Facebook are well-acquainted with my seemingly endless appetite for good eats.  So in the interest of those who are thinking about a trip to Maine, or Portland in particular, here are my top five food/drink destinations:

Back Bay Grill –  If you’re going to splurge on a fancy dinner, then do it here.  Regardless of the fact that my friend Jesse works at this fine establishment, it is still hands down one of the best restaurants in Portland.  Their seasonal menu is exceptional, but what really keeps me going back time and again is their foie gras.  The accompaniments change with the seasons but the preparation is essentially the same–handled with utmost attention to detail, seared to perfection.  I recommend starting your evening off with an artfully crafted cocktail from the bar and a nibble of truffle popcorn.

Duckfat – The name pretty much says it all–duck is the fat of choice and forget about the calories.  They love the stuff so much it’s in quite a number of their dishes, including duck egg aioli, duck fat Belgian fries, duck confit, and duck fat fried donut holes (have them with the Duckfat milkshake if you’re feeling extra decadent).   A poutine aficionado, I’m obsessed with their version–duck fat fries, studded with locally sourced cheese curds and drenched in duck gravy.  Since the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, be prepared to wait.  I guarantee it’ll be worth it.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-35-47-am

Hot Suppa – While they do serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I’ve somehow managed to only go there for brunch.  The fact that you can order a Bloody Mary or Mimosa to go with your French Toast and Pulled Pork Hash is no doubt the attraction–makes having a cocktail at breakfast entirely respectable.  Like all great brunch places, this one’s especially busy on the weekends, so put your name on the list and stroll down a couple of blocks to Tandem Coffee and Bakery for a latte and maybe a small pastry to tie you over until your name is called.

Eventide Oyster Co.– Yes, this is yet another popular, often busy restaurant (just down the street from Duckfat), which specializes in phenomenally fresh and tasty seafood.  I’m a late bloomer when it comes to my love and appreciation of raw oysters, only having begun enjoying them in the last seven years or so.  Eventide’s selection of these “kisses from the ocean” is extensive, about ten Maine varieties and another six from other regions, not to mention a choice of eight accoutrements–from the traditional cocktail sauce to kimchi ice.  If their raw seafood menu isn’t enough to satisfy you, I highly recommend their version of lobster roll (glistening with brown butter, served in a Chinese steamed bun) and buttermilk fried chicken sandwich.

img_2644

Central Provisions –  It’s taken four trips to Maine, but I finally made it here.  Central Provisions is the type of place that defies expectations–an ever-changing small plates menu hyper focused on seasonality, so much so that there’s a new menu every week, taking cues from a variety of global influences.   The night I went, the menu featured both Japanese and Spanish inspired dishes–from the gorgeously presented blue fin tuna crudo served with rice cracker, avocado creme and goji berry puree to the suckling pig with marcona almonds to the squash cheesecake with housemate rum raisin ice cream.  All the flavors were on point, from the small plates to the expertly fashioned cocktails.

img_5675

Vena’s Fizz House –  I discovered this gem on my last day in Portland.  For fans of mixology and craft cocktails, this place is the real deal.  The front section is a haven for mixology enthusiast with shelves brimming with bitters, syrups, shrubs, tonics, infusion kits, mixers, and cocktail paraphernalia of all kinds.  I spent a good fifteen minutes just browsing the bitters section alone.  For more inspiration, take a seat at the bar and sample their dizzying menu of craft cocktails, mocktails, and housemate sodas.  If I didn’t have to fly out that afternoon I would’ve spent a few more hours there.

img_5768

 

Travel Log — Autumn in Maine

I’m back in Maine again…this time to experience the technicolor splendor that is Fall, in what has become my “happy place.”  Summer in Maine is all about sunshine, ice cream, big fat juicy berries, crisp pink rhubarb, warm days kayaking on the lake, and bbq.  During the fall peak, however, Maine is a spectacular feast for the eyes, the lush greenery of summer briefly transformed into a vibrant kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, yellows, greens, browns and plums.

img_5646 img_5652

 

img_5742

Having spent most of my life in California, where the change in seasons seems a mere suggestion by comparison, my time in Maine has been a glorious sensory overload.  It’s not that there aren’t opportunities to experience the wonders of fall in the Bay Area–like driving up to wine country for the first crush or visiting a pumpkin patch in Half Moon Bay.  But when you wake up to this intoxicating scenery every morning, the instinct to head to the nearest orchard to go apple and pumpkin picking seems almost a moral imperative!

Rocky Ridge Orchard
Rocky Ridge Orchard
Already harvested cortlands
Already harvested cortlands
Heading to the back orchard...
Heading to the back orchard…
img_5696-1
Cortlands ripe for the picking
img_5699
Apple pickers
Photofinish pumpkins
 Picture Perfect Pumpkins

Fortunately, I’m staying with friends who are granting me all-kitchen access, so I can indulge my culinary whimsy…because you gotta cook what you’ve picked…otherwise you’d sitting on a pile of apples and pumpkins!

Not one to pass up an opportunity to mix a little business with pleasure, I came up with a kind of “deconstructed” apple crisp, topped with an apple cider zabaglione.  I dusted the surface with a sprinkling of turbinado sugar then used my handy dandy blowtorch to caramelize it to crispy perfection.

Brown Butter Spiced Apple Crisp with Cider Zabaglione

Serves 4

Apples:

  • 5-6 Medium Tart Apples (Cortland, Granny Smith, Pink Lady), peeled, quartered & sliced
  • 4 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1/3 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • pinch of Sea Salt
  • ¼ Vanilla Bean, split & scraped
  • ¾ tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1 tsp. Cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 3 Tbsp. Hard Apple Cider

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, cook the butter until it turns a nutty dark golden brown. Add the sliced apple, brown sugar, salt, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and ginger, and sauté until the apples begin to get tender. Dissolve the cornstarch in the lemon juice and cider, then stir into the apple mixture. Continue simmering until the apples are tender. Remove from the heat and discard the vanilla pod.

Oat Streusel Topping:

  • 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • ¾ cup Rolled Oats
  • ½ cup Light Brown Sugar
  • ¼ tsp. Sea Salt
  • ½ tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • 6 Tbsp. Butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Drizzle in the melted butter, then working with your hands, rub the ingredients together to form a coarse crumble topping.  Spread out the crumble in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 12-15 mins. or until the streusel is a golden brown.

Deconstructed Apple Crisp
Deconstructed Apple Crisp

Cider Zabaglione:

  • 5 Large Egg Yolks
  • 3 Tbsp. Honey
  • ¼ cup Hard Apple Cider
  • ¼ cup Apple Cider
  • pinch of Sea Salt
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream, whipped to medium soft peaks

In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the yolks, honey, ciders, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk continuously until the mixture is very pale and thick (should register 160 degrees).  Remove the bowl from the heat and chill the mixture over a bowl of ice.  Fold the whipped cream into the chilled zabaglione.

Assembly:

Divide the sautéed apples between four plates, then scatter a generous amount of oat streusel topping on each one.   Ladle about ½ cup zabaglione over the apple crisp. Sprinkle the surface of the zabaglione with a teaspoon of raw or turbinado sugar and caramelize with the blowtorch on medium flame.

img_5735-1

More delicious recipes to come…

Cruffins…Or when a muffin just won’t do

It was my friend Kimberly’s birthday.  I knew she was having a hard week at work…my quitting as her boss didn’t help matters…so I wanted to make her something special.  While I’m sure she would’ve appreciated a birthday cake (I mean who wouldn’t) to go with one of my homemade pizzas (her favorite), I went for the unexpected–Cruffins.  I’d never made them before, much less eaten one (yeah, I know, hard to imagine).  But my friend Karen told me about waiting in a long line at this bakery in the city called Mr. Holmes Bakehouse just to try one of these much buzzed about towering creations–a heavenly marriage of croissant and muffin.  Apparently it’s the next big thing, following in the footsteps of the beloved Cronut.  At Mr. Holmes, the cruffins are filled with an ever changing selection of fillings like strawberry custard and chocolate with passion fruit creme.

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-5-42-01-pm

The Mr. Holmes cruffin has developed such a cult following, in fact, that when the recipe was stolen in an overnight heist a while back, the story made headlines!  Given all the hype, I figured why not give it a go.

Okay, full disclosure…I still haven’t made it to Mr. Holmes to try the real thing.  I have, however, tried something similar recently at another bakery, which was what got me thinking about the cruffin in the first place.  I’ve made croissant dough in the past.  I’ve also made kouign amann, a round crusty, melt in your mouth flaky pastry–essentially croissant dough layered with butter and sugar, which when baked becomes beautifully caramelized and crispy.  It’s nirvana in your mouth!  Whereas the kouign amann starts out as a square of dough layered and crusted in lots of butter and sugar, folded onto itself, the cruffin is a wide strip of dough rolled into a pinwheel log and cut down the middle lengthwise. Each layered strip is then pinwheeled and set into a buttered muffin mold.  The wider the roll the taller the cruffin.

Needless to say making large commercial-sized batches of croissant dough for work is completely different than making a small batch for home.  Consequently, I’ve tried out numerous “home recipes” over the years, some using all-purpose flour, some all bread flour, some 50/50, some using instant yeast, some dry active.  The one I like the best so far is the butter croissant recipe from Standard Baking Co.  Their recipe calls for all-purpose flour, but I decided to sub out a portion of it with bread flour for just a little more gluten action.

Butter Croissant Dough (courtesy of Standard Baking Co)

  • 3 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Bread Flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. Instant Yeast
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter, room temp cool, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 cup Water, about 70 degrees
  • 3/4 cup Whole Milk, about 70 degrees
  • 10 oz. Butter, chilled (for the butter block)

Laminated doughs like croissant require time and patience.  You have to commit to all the steps, letting the dough rest enough in the between “turns.”   In other words, plan at least 2 days ahead.  I laminated the dough one day, let it rest for a good 16 hours before shaping it.  This croissant dough recipe yields about 2 dozen cruffins, so I cut the laminated dough in half, with the intention of saving half of the dough for later use…later being the next day as it turned out.

I kept it fairly simple for my first batch of cruffins–just cinnamon and sugar.

 

img_5545-1

There was a bit of a time crunch getting the cruffins and pizza baked in time for Kimberly’s birthday lunch delivery, so I decided to forgo piping a filling into the cruffins.  They were by no means as tall and regal looking as the cruffins at Mr. Holmes, but they were delicious nevertheless and definitely a nice sweet surprise for the birthday girl.

Not satisfied with baking off just one batch of cruffins, the next day I decided to turn the other half of the croissant dough into caramelized apple cruffins–this time stuffing the center with slices of honey crisp apple sauteed in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon…and showering them with even more cinnamon sugar!

img_5553

I can see why people have become obsessed with cruffins.  They are fun to make…that is if you can get past the time it takes to make the actual croissant dough…and the possibilities for creating new and exciting flavors are endless.

Now if only I had a commercial dough sheeter at my disposal for those impromptu late night croissant-making dates…