Archive for September, 2007

Candy Bar Days Are Here Again… And Possibly For You

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
I’ve been pretty quiet on the candy bar front recently, but it’s not for lack of obsession interest. I still work on them everyday in some form, and I’ve been concentrating on getting familiar with the business and non-edible side recently. As someone who’d spent most of her life counting on her screenplays to support her… well, you can imagine how much there is about business and commercial food production that I’d never considered before. So, I’ve been taking measures to fill in some gaps.

And just as I respect the seasons of my farmers market produce, I’ve also had to bow to the fickleness of chocolate. Summer is not a good time for chocolate. “Heavy” considerations aside, the summer is just too hot for it without reliable temperature control. Chocolate generally likes to be at about 68F. Neither the chocolate nor the ganaches/caramels/nougats will set up properly or store well at a hot room temp — and the refrigerator is too cold. Our wine fridge isn’t much better. Only the kindness of chocolate-babysitting friends with central air saved my chocolate from ruin this summer — as well as discovering how perfectly delicious the Milk Chocolate Sorbet recipe is in Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow.

BUT… this is not merely a post of excuses. Oh, no. Autumn is upon us. Prime chocolate weather is imminent. I even made batches of newly-formulated Malt Bars and Coffee Bars this past week.

That’s another benefit of this summery reprieve — I’ve thought more about the bars and how they could be better. The perspective of time has cleared up a lot of issues. I’m committed more than ever to fresh, wholesome ingredients with clean flavors, and the revamped versions will reflect that. (Edit on 10/11) I just wanted to be more clear about my ingredients. I am using as many organic and/or local ingredients as I can find, especially from farmers markets. Right now, organic ingredients include cream, walnuts, hazelnuts, malt syrup, coffee (also fair trade and shade grown), strawberries, oranges, cinnamon, and ginger. Hopefully, that list will get even longer.

So, I thought it would be fun to send some candy bars out to my readers in the next few months and hear your feedback. To enter, just leave a comment on this post or email me telling me:

    1. Which bar(s) you’d most like to try.
    2. Whether you prefer milk or dark chocolate, or either.
    3. Your location (preferably city or state, but region is ok). Sorry, I won’t be able to ship internationally.
      As I test out more versions of the bars, I’ll randomly email interested readers in order to arrange to send them out. I’d like to have at least one reader taste each bar.Probable flavors include:

      • Malt – Malt Ganache with Shortbread.
      • Banana – Banana Ganache with Walnut Shortbread. Contains a little Rum.
      • Coffee – Coffee-Hazelnut Caramel and Chocolate Nougat. May change a little.
      • Peanut Butter – Compartments of Peanut Butter Praline alternating w/ homemade organic strawberry preserves, local honey, and caramel syrup.
      • Coconut – Coconut Ganache with Passionfruit-Coconut Marshmallow.
      • Spiced Caramel Nut – Roasted Peanuts, Cashews, and Cacao Nibs in a Cinnamon, Ginger, and Allspice Caramel.
      • Spicy Caramel Nut – Roasted Peanuts, Cashews, and Cacao Nibs in an Ancho Chile Caramel.
      • Salty Caramel Nut – Roasted Peanuts, Cashews, and Cacao Nibs in a Salted Caramel.
      • S’More – Chocolate Ganache, Vanilla Marshmallow, and Graham Cracker.
      • Orange – I’m reformulating this one b/c I want it to be simpler and better relate chocolate with orange. It could be orange caramel with chocolate nougat… or not.
      • Scotch – Scotch Ganache and Caramel topped with Maldon Sea Salt.
      • Bourbon – Bourbon Ganache and Pecan Caramel. This one used to be Jack Daniels, but I’m thinking that Maker’s Mark Bourbon would be better. The caramel may include homemade coconut milk or shredded coconut, or not.
      • Beer – Guinness ganache topped with enrobed Corn Nuts, Potato Chips, and Pretzels. Possibly finished with Candied Bacon.

The Heirloom Apple Pie-Cake

Thursday, September 20th, 2007
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Ah…. couldn’t you just lose yourself in those dunes of dough?

With the form of a pie and the texture of a cake, this Russian Grandmothers’ Apple Pie-Cake from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan is just the sort of comforting fall dessert that almost makes you want to throw on a sweater and rake some leaves before you sit down at a sturdy wooden table and settle into a soft slice… preferably accompanied by a touch of creme fraiche, vanilla ice cream, lemon verbena ice cream, or even a glass of milk. Somehow, a traditional pie, with its crunchy crust, seems so harsh in comparison.

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The pie-cake gave me a chance to show off the heirloom apples that I’d picked up at the Santa Monica Farmers Market that morning. I sampled each apple amidst my cutting and peeling — there were spicy Bellflowers, resonant Spitzenbergs, the most exuberant Fujis that I’ve ever had, subdued Hawk-Eyes, and zesty Annas. They were rounded out with golden raisins, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and nutmeg (my own humble addition, out of habit, I suppose).

The Bellflowers from the See Canyon stand were my revelation of the day — when I tried a sample slice at the market, it tasted like it had been infused with cinnamon. So flavorful and alive. They’re rather large, oblong, and yellow-ish…

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I originally wanted to make an infused liqueur to preserve that flavor, but they’re so delicate that they were pocked with too many little bruises for me to use them in good faith. So, into the pie-cake they went, while some hearty and singularly delicious Fuji apples became acquainted with the brandy.

As for the dough… Whenever I’m sizing up a dough or batter that I’ve never made before, I compare to another recipe that I know. I often think about my favorite basic cookie recipe — in which I simply combine butter with sugar, salt, and flour. It makes for a crunchy, buttery cookie. Since this dough is creamed and also has tenderizers such as baking powder, eggs, and lemon juice, I knew that it would turn out soft and tangy.

My baking dish was smaller than the prescribed one, so I piled the extra apples into my mini-pie dish, covered them with extra dough, and topped it with leftover crisp topping that I’d had in the freezer…

I hereby dub it the Apple Pie-Cake-Cobbler-Crisp.

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Let Apple Pie Season Begin

Sunday, September 9th, 2007
You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows a
http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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Edit: The LA Times has an article by Russ Parsons about heirloom apples this week, along with an apple guide.

Only one fruit coaxed me into happily employing my oven during its well-deserved vacation… no less than the pride of Sonoma county…. the Gravenstein apple.

On Aug 19, I saw organic Gravenstein Apples for sale at the Hollywood Farmers market, and I knew I had to make pie, in all its kitchen-heating glory. After all, I hadn’t made pie this summer… perhaps not all year. I also bought some Pippins (green & tart) for variety, esp since neither the vendor nor I was sure at the time about how Gravensteins would take to baking.

I’d been putting off pie. Part of it has to do with my beloved Emile Henry pie dish. It seems like no matter how much pie dough I’ve made in the past, there’s never enough to cover the top and bottom of the deep dish. I don’t even like crust all that much, so it seemed like a frustrating problem of low priority.

This time, I tried out Sherry Yard’s Master 3-2-1 Flaky Pie Dough recipe in the Secrets of Baking. It uses the same ingredients as most pie recipes, but it was so delicious, even as raw dough (maybe it has to do with the touch of sugar in it). I couldn’t stop nibbling, however much I knew that it was making the possibility of having enough dough even more remote.

And it turned out that… there was not enough. To give you an idea of how disturbing this is, consider that the recipe called for 2 sticks of butter. A half pound of butter is not enough to take care of my pie dish! That’s double the amount of butter that is in a single batch of my chocolate chip cookies. I estimate that scaling up the recipe to 2.5 sticks of butter should be enough.

For the filling, I was torn btw cooking the apples beforehand (so that they wouldn’t release too much liquid in the pie or create a steam pocket under the top crust) or just chancing it with freshly sliced apples. Yard herself has an Mile High Apple Pie recipe extravaganza in her book that involves caramelizing the apples (in batches, no less!), and mixing in butter, cream, apple caramel glaze, and creamy caramel glaze… and topping it off with ice cream. I didn’t have the, er, apple juice that it called for… yes, that was it… and I continued to look around for other recipes.

The apple pie recipe in Chez Panisse Desserts specifically calls for Gravensteins, and is the most humble of them all… Just 3 Tbs of sugar (or less! to taste), apples, and cinnamon. No starch to bind the juices… and no pre-cooking.

In situations like this, I stop and ask myself, “Do I want to do it the simple way because I’m being lazy or because I think it’ll taste better?”

I honestly thought that the Chez Panisse version would taste better for what I had in mind… That it would bring out the best in the apples. I’m a little wary of cinnamon these days, though — it’s good, of course, it is, but it’s a little mundane. I find myself turning to allspice more and more — it’s a bit more complex and delicate and different; I think I absorbed an appreciation for it from Pierre Herme’s cookbooks. So, that’s what I used, along with some whiskey-soaked dried cherries for some added excitement. And I made rounds out of the rmg dough as the top, brushed them with cream, and sprinkled on turbinado sugar.

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And it was an amazing apple pie. True to the apples, with some wily background of spice, whiskied cherries, and oh, the butter. The apples on the bottom were a bit more moist than the apples on top and little liquid collected in the dish, but I was cool with that. Why not have different textures of fruit in a pie? The bottom crust held up admirably for a while, but it turned soggy eventually. Again, though, I like multiple textures of a single element… including pie crust. Maybe since I don’t like crust much to being with, I view soggy crust as more flavorful… and somehow more comforting.

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Anyway, we just had our first officially cool weekend in LA — about the mid-70’s during the day — and I’m itching to bake anything with apples. Yesterday, I stocked up on ever-coveted Honeycrisp apples at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, and came home to have Google lead me to the truth — they’re crisp due to their high water content… which makes them bad for baking. Yep, they’re just right for eating out of hand, as if you didn’t want to bother turning your oven on.

Lesson learned.

Irony registered.

Apple-y plans brewing.

Late Summer Fruit without the Heat

Sunday, September 9th, 2007
You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows a

http://www.bonbonbar.com/

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Melons, grapes, and figs bring theories of natural selection to mind. It’s as if they realize that by the time they arrive, you’ve already had your fill for the year of stone fruit in baking and compotes, and even if you hadn’t, your apartment may be too hot to justify turning on the oven. You may also be a little tired of hunting through boxes for the ripest fruits of the lot.

So, they cater to you. You have to buy a rather large amount in one go — either a whole melon, or a bunch of grapes, or a basket of figs — and preparation involves little more than a few cool strokes of the knife. Sure, you could heat them and play around with them, but only if you want. This year, I did not.

Two of my best melons came from a booth at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market on Aug 8. Both were relatively small and oblong, and grown near Auburn.

The honey pearl melon was a type of honeydew with a vibrant flavor and equally firm flesh throughout.

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The sugar nut melon was a type of canary melon. I don’t usually like canary melons, but this one had a delightful clean flavor.

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Inside…

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When looking for melons, choose the ones with as much netting as possible and the least amount of green on the outside. They’ll be the ripest and most flavorful.

I always wash them well, too, because the rind touches the cutting board and knife an awful lot.

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These are Kyoho grapes, which are a Japanese variety that has a lovely deep grape flavor. They’re a worthy substitute for Concords, which are hard to find in LA markets. Their skins are a bit thick, so you can also make a spectacular sorbet out of them if you prefer. Macerating the pureed grapes with sugar overnight makes the flavor even more intense. And it’s the dreamiest purple color that you ever did see. I adapted Claudia Fleming‘s recipe for Concord Grape Sorbet, which also calls for ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to preserve the color.

Good grapes are hard to come by — crisp orbs of sugar are much more common. I get a little disappointed by fruit signs at the market that advertise how sweet, sweet, sweet the fruits are. Anyone can eat a spoonful of sugar at will. I would trust signs that advertise flavor, flavor, flavor much more.

As for figs, I haven’t found any good ones at the farmers markets yet, but once again Trader Joe’s is selling some pretty fine conventional and organic ones. And how low maintenance am I being with them? Well, I haven’t even taken their picture yet…

And figs are easy fruits to test for ripeness. They should be jelly-like inside, so once you pick one up, it should feel a heavy for its size and a little squishy. If it feels light or stiff, it’s not worth the bite.

All my raw fruit antics eventually circled back to my peaches and nectarines, which usually wound up like this.

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Also, if you want to preserve the fruit a bit longer without the heat of boiling preserves, you can, of course, make sorbets… or homemade fruit liqueurs. I’ll write a post about this some day — as I have about a dozen of them going right now — but again, they require little more than chopping, mixing, and waiting… which sounds like just the right kind of project for long August days. This site is an excellent resource.

And if you already know a little something about making your our fruit liqueurs, feel free to show off your knowledge by answering this question that lingers in the back of my mind every time I look at my glass-cloaked infusing legions…. If it takes maybe 30 minutes to infuse the flavor from, say, orange peel into hot cream, why does it take maybe 4 months to infuse it into alcohol?

The Chronicles of Napa, Part 1

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

So, last weekend, Chad and I journeyed up to Napa for a wedding… and well, to eat.

First, we rushed off from the Oakland airport to have lunch at Canteen in SF. We paid $3 worth in quarters for the privilege of an hour’s parking, only to arrive at 2:02pm… and be told that they were closed. We’d once had a wonderful lunch there, watching the chef and his assistant cook from our perch at the counter. I remember that teasingly moist skate sandwich well, and still do… b/c my memory remains unclouded by any new dishes there. Sure, I could have mentioned that we’d just flown up from LA, loved the restaurant, and were dying to eat there again (along with their rmg guests)… but the stove was empty and I felt like it was right to accept that their shift was over. I hope someone used up the 53 rmg minutes on the meter, so that I can stop regretting my wasted laundry quarters.

In any case… to Tartine! Where parking was free and there was practically no line at 2:30 in the afternoon!

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Their Croque Monsieur is one of the better consolations you could come across. They’re displayed unassumingly on the counter, but once their heated up and cut into…

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…they’re beacons of comfort and deliciousness. The secret is in the bechamel sauce, which soaks into the bread to provide a silky canvas upon which the Niman ranch ham, gruyere cheese, thyme, and pepper play. The bread is also just soft enough, even though it looks like it’d be hard to cut into.

Unfortunately, Chad’s Ham and Gruyere Sandwich was rather soaked through with mustard, and he only felt fortunate that the nasal passages behind his nose hadn’t caught fire by the end of the sandwich.

And my pickled carrot was shockingly spicy… which I liked.

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The chocolate eclair was also a little funky. The pastry cream was very runny and the glaze very thick. I made a mess of myself trying to eat it, and turning it upside-down helped only until the pastry cream started spurting out the sides. The glaze was also a little too harsh with cocoa flavor for the rest of the eclair.

We also had the Lemon Meringue Cake again, but the chiffon cake was too dry for it to do its magic.

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And then to Emeryville, to catch up with the good people at Charles Chocolates, where I worked with the chocolatiers during the holiday season. They now have a retail store which has a seating area that overlooks the chocolatiers at work, and where tours are given.

I was lucky enough to be lavished with the peanut butterflies and lemon-pistachio clusters that I once daily rationed to myself… 12+ hr days were never so much fun before. I also got a jar of their newly offered Meyer Lemon Marmalade. It’s made with just organic meyer lemons and sugar — no commercial pectin, so it has a slightly more delicate set and the lemon flavor is bright and delicious. It’s nice on bread… or just on a spoon, if you’re me.

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By the time we got to Napa later that night, I was too excited to laze into the hotel room, so Chad and I went to have dessert at Redd, where Nicole Plue is the pastry chef (formerly of Julia’s Kitchen). We shared Sweet Corn Fritters with Cherries and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. I loved how creamy the fritters were inside, and everything was good on its own but I wasn’t totally in love with everything on the plate together — even though the subtle yet brilliant apricot sauce did its best to tie it together. I do like corn as a dessert, but I think it’s hard to match its flavor and intensity with other components. I also really liked the corn pop-like puffed corn kernels. I wonder if they do that themselves… and how.

It was cool to have microgreens on a dessert dish, and actually, they probably fit in best with the corn according to my taste buds. And the texture of the leaves was something novel and nice in a dessert. When we inquired, we were told that they were baby cilantro, which was interesting b/c they neither looked nor tasted like mature cilantro.

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The next day, we set out on an exploratory mission to Wild Flour Bread, committed to basking in the scenery, turning onto mysterious roads, and otherwise finding pleasure in getting lost.

We happened upon the historical Kenwood Depot this way.

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A walk around back brought me under a canopy of what I thought were possibly long-lingering apricots, blushing orange in the sun.

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So, when I reached out to touch them, I was surprised by their smooth texture… and the fact that they were plums. I’m not sure which variety. Rather small and yellow, with a smooth honeyed taste, a bit like greengages. If anyone cares to guess what they were, please let me know.

There were also thorny blackberry bushes rambling here and there around the tree and fence. If only we’d also come across some puff pastry and an oven, I think we would have had the galettes of our lives.

As a city dweller, even this little bit of wild fruit chase was enough to give a glow to the morning. Even when I lived in Napa, I realized that for all the lush landscape, it’s hard to feel truly outdoorsy without some effort. Driving through it or walking past it on the way inside a winery is far more common, unfortunately, if you live in an apartment.

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Once we made it to Wild Flour Bread, we got three loaves for our lunch. All were still hot from the oven, including this gloriously chunk-laden fougasse. We also got a goat flat and the egyptian, with a cinnamon bun-like form flavored with fig, ginger, and pear. All wonderful.

And this was the first time that we wandered into the beautiful garden behind the bakery, and next to the pile of wood used in the oven. It’s full of vegetables, berries, and flowers… and just enough wildness.

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Our little traipse in the garden must have given us time to digest, b/c we went to Patisserie Angelica in Sebastopol for dessert. On the left was the cleverly-designed Peanut Envy, with peanut butter, caramel and nuts in a cylinder of chocolate, and on the right was the key lime tart. Both were flavorful and fresh, and miraculously, completely consumed.