Archive for May, 2006

Cutting Cake into Layers

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

For our round cakes, we generally cut them into 3 layers on a revolving cake stand.  The best way to cut the layers is with a long serrated knife; its tip should never get trapped inside the cake.  Hold and spin the top of the cake with one hand, and with the other, hold the knife horizontally so that it makes a shallow cut into the side of the cake.  When it’s gone all the way around, saw the knife into the cake more as you continue spinning, using the groove created by the first spin as a guide for the knife, until it is cut all the way through.  It’s amazing how smoothly and evenly the cake will be cut.  Generally, it’s best to cut off the domed top of the cake, and then mark two lines that divide the cake into thirds before going for the full cuts.  If the layers that you cut are very thin, you can slide them onto cardboard rounds so that they don’t break in transit.  I like to stack the layers back into their original order; some stack them in reverse order and upside down so that the layer with the most defined edges (that was the bottom of the cake) winds up on top.
For our 1/4 sheet cakes, we bake the batter in a thin layer in a parchment-lined sheet pan, let it cool, put a parchment on top, and flip it over.  If you peel the parchment halfway off (folding it down to make sure), then you can cut the cake almost perfectly in half.  Then peel the remaining parchment off starting from a side that is perpendicular to the halfway fold and again peel halfway off (folding it down to make sure), so that the parchment is now folded into a size that is a quarter of the cake.  Cut the cake.  There are now two perfectly cut quarters.  Lift up one quarter and place it on top of the other side of the cake so that you can use it as a template to finish cutting the cake into quarters.  The benefit of this method is that it saves you having to cut a large rectangular cake into layers, but because it’s baked so thin, the batter has to be evenly spread in the sheet pan or else there will be thick and thin areas.  Once you start stacking and filling the cake, it’s a pain to try to compensate for the bumps.  Also, this method will leave you with 4 layers per sheet pan, so either you’ll have an extra piece or you can use the extra piece in another cake.

Bouchon Revisited – Yountville

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

Unlike my last visit to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, I was thoroughly smitten by the food this time… but the service turned out to be virtually non-existent. So, even though I was happy to pay for the food at its price (and I craaaave my Croque Madame), I was disappointed that our table of six was given so little attention. And it’s not like we wanted much — for instance, all we wanted to do was order our food in the beginning of the meal, and to decline to dessert before the waiter tossed down two dessert menus without asking us about it and then running away. We probably could have saved almost half an hour from our meal; we gave no signs of desiring to linger. We also sat in the banquette-lined back section this time, which was much louder and livelier than the secluded front table for two we had last time. So, it felt busier, but not detrimentally so.

Bouchon Pate

Pate de Campagne — Country Style Pate with Watercress, Cornichons, & Radishes. The pate was smoother than pate de campagne that I’ve in the past, but that was fine because it was very good. I believe that there is bacon wrapped on the outside of the pate, which I didn’t realize until I surprised by a wonderfully smoky bite. I didn’t want to drown the flavors with mustard, but it’s such a good pairing that I had quite a bit. My only criticism, which applies to many dishes of this type, is about the paltry amount of bread. How can so much pate fit onto so few pieces of bread? I truly never know.


Croque Madame (bottom — Toasted Ham and Cheese Sandwich on Brioche with a Fried Egg and & Mornay Sauce, served w/ French Fries) and Open-Faced Lamb and Pickled Red Onion Tartine on Toasted Levain w/ French Fries (top). I didn’t want my Croque Madame to end — I liked how every single element of the sandwich held its own and combined into a wonderful cascade of flavors and textures. Butter, ham, cheese, egg, and a clean bread and butter finish. I was especially happy with the amount of sauce — usually I have to scrape some off, and went to do so reflexively, but it was a perfect thin layer that added juat that little bit extra cheesy creaminess.

The Lamb Tartine was served chilled, which was a surprise to us. And it worked. It was like a refreshing Spring sandwich and the flavors came out so well through the chill.

Roast Chicken

Poulet Roti — Roasted Chicken with a Ragout of Fingerling Potatoes & Garden Arugula. I was a little surprised by the plating of this dish — I think it’s a bit vertical for bistro food. Otherwise, juicy and delicious.


I finally got to try their cocktails.  The Bouchon (left) — if I remember correctly — Lillet Blanc, Vodka, and a French Peach Liqueur.  I really like combining wines with hard liquor, and here, it was slightly sweet and somewhat tart combination; I think fortified wines act almost as a liqueur so that they blend more easily with hard liquor.  And a great Kir Royale (right).

the girl & the fig Revisited- Sonoma

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

Another visit to the girl & the fig confirmed that it’s one of my favorite restaurants in wine country. If I knew more about unsugared food, I’d love to have a restaurant like this — quality Californian/French Bistro food in a homey yet elegant setting.   If I had a list of things I want to do in my life, two of them would be: try everything on the menu (including their cheeses and cocktails) and go to their fig cafe in Glen Ellen, which has some of the same dishes but is supposed to be even homier.  The second goal, at least, is a sure thing.


Rabbit Pappardelle w/ Braised Sonoma Rabbit, Fava Beans, Roasted Garlic, Peas, and Lardons. I couldn’t quite figure out what the sauce was – it turned out that the rabbit is braised in chicken stock, and then the juices released by the rabbit are mixed with mustard to make the sauce. I loved the whole roasted garlic cloves that are mixed into it all. Brilliant. And the lardons were just a perfect touch of elusive smokiness.  I like pappardelle a lot, too — how it’s ever so slightly meaty at first in strength, and yet breaks down so nicely.

Duck Confit

Duck Confit w/ Roasted Potatoes, Olives, Wilted Greens, Capers, & Sonoma Mustard Vinaigrette.


And that Burger again.  Top Sirloin Burger w/ (Chad’s choice of) Cambozola Cheese, Grilled Onions, and Matchstick Fries.

Martini House – St. Helena

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

We got to The Martini House at the end of a very long day of wine tasting, and many of us were hoping to tuck into a comforting steak. But they were out… Out of their beef tenderloin on a Friday night. Now, I was held to the reservation — threatened by a $25 charge per person if I canceled in less than 24 hrs or didn’t show up — so it would have been nice if they upheld their part of the bargain to have a key ingredient like steak on hand. Sigh…

It’s hard to hold that against them too much, though, because everything that we ordered was fantastic… And exploring a menu a bit never hurt anyone. It even turned out that the Duck Breast had a magnificent earthiness that approached that of steak. Their cuisine is very much Napa-style – seasonal ingredients, intriguing combinations, and as it happens, perfectly prepared.

There is a tasting menu comprised of all mushroom dishes, which I think sets a tone for the rest of the menu. Most of the plates seem anchored with an earthy element (often mushrooms; or in the case of the salmon, brisket ravioli), and the other flavors are supple enough to build themselves up around it. And if you like mushrooms, the chef is certainly passionate about them, and the Martini House serves a wide range of them.

The decor is that of a luxury lodge that still feels comfortable enough around the edges to relax in. I liked how the main floor had a large square opening in the middle of it for a staircase to the floor below and its bar; the arrangement of tables in the remaining square edge looked interesting.

My only regret was that none of us could even think about getting dessert — we were just completely full. So, I have very good reason to go back. Soon.


Amuse bouche of puff pastry, and I believe I heard something about a butter mousse… Creamy, crispy, and very welcoming.


Cream of Mushroom Soup with Toasted Croutons and Chives. I loved this soup, which tasted like a cream of mushroom should. And even better, I liked the subtle layering of it — on the bottom were minced mushrooms, then the soup, and then the half soft/half crispy croutons on top. I liked being able to regulate each spoonful, and that it had such a large ration of mushrooms and croutons so that you don’t run out prematurely.


The waitress wasn’t kidding when she told us about this off the menu Salad that was basically just lettuce and dressing.


Roast Veal Tenderloin with Maitake Mushrooms, Fiddle Head Ferns, Pot Roast Carrots, and Mushroom Veal Jus. I like how maitake mushrooms are served as a big wedge, with the thin mushrooms as a cascade on the side. Cutting into them somehow feels interactive and fun.


Sonoma Duck Breast with Potato Rosti, Sage, Pineapple and Green Peppercorn Chutney, and Chamomile Jus.


Roasted Lamb Loin and Braised Lamb Shank with Peas, Carrots, and Fresh Chick Peas, with Horseradish Cream and Lamb Jus.


Seared Atlantic Loch Duarte Salmon with Sour Cream Potato Puree with Peas and Carrots, Brisket Ravioli, and Salsa Verde. I love the plating of this dish — the ravioli on top of the salmon and all the concentric circles with different textures.

The Zen of Shaping Marzipan

Monday, May 29th, 2006

We had to shape marzipan as a homework assignment, and we will have to make marzipan roses for our practical; we use them as decorations for cakes. I highly recommend it as a stress-reliever. Marzipan has the perfect amount of give, so that it can be shaped into almost anything within reason, without fear of overworking it. And it’s just challenging enough to give you a certain satisfaction with what you shape; half the fun is figuring out the most elegant design for a desired shape. It can be colored, too, but I’m happy with its natural tone… especially since washing food coloring off my hands or constantly changing pairs of gloves wouldn’t be nearly as zen.

The roses are made by rolling one piece of marzipan into a conical shape. Then, marble-sized pieces are put between the layers of a ziploc bag and flattened with the back of a spoon into petal shapes before being wrapped around the cone. The petals should be wider on the outside of the rose. And the edges are flattened just a little bit thinner for a petal effect.