Archive for May, 2008

Kaiserschmarren… Shkaiserschmarren

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

There are so many recipes that I want to make out of Sherry Yard’s latest book, Desserts by the Yard, but the picture of the tower of torn Kaiserschmarren atop an almost unbearable riches of strawberries won me over first. It also helped that strawberries are coming into their own at the markets these days (and stone fruit — cherries, apriums, peaches, and nectarines are already popping up at the farmers markets!), and I’ve been dying to do a little dessert project. Here’s the recipe.

As Yard tells us, “Kaiserschmarren is a large souffled pancake. The name means, literally, ‘the Emperor’s little nothing.'” Yard flavors hers with creme fraiche, fromage blanc, rum, and poached raisins; creme fraiche, btw, seems to be one of her go-to ingredients, it’s all throughout the book. When I found a store that carried both creme fraiche and fromage blanc, I was shocked to find them at a combined price of $12.58. I vaguely remembered a class in the early days of culinary school when we made a variety of fresh soft cheeses using ingredients like buttermilk and lemons, so instead I bought a little of both, for about $1.49. I already had leftover cream and milk from caramel experiments at home, so I felt pretty covered.

And I have to say, as much fun as it was to make the pancake, making the creme fraiche and fromage blanc were just absolutely thrilling… Really, they’re like magic! Even the most jaded kitchen hand couldn’t help but feel the giddy pleasure of having them come together (and with such slight effort… they practically form by power of suggestion). And the timing was perfect — since it was Tuesday, I had a day for them to come together before I bought strawberries at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market.

For the creme fraiche, I turned to page 5 of Chez Panisse Desserts. It’s the third recipe in the book, and all you do is heat cream, add a touch of buttermilk, and put it in a warm place for 12-24 hrs before refrigerating. And it sets up firm, just like what you buy! It lasts for a week, and you can keep it going ad infinitum by adding some to fresh cream and repeating the process.

The fromage blanc is only slightly more labor intensive — it involves straining — and is really fun to see come together. I used this recipe (x.25), from Emeril of all people. Again, just gently heat up the ingredients, this time to 175F while following the wonderfully exact instruction to “stir only twice, making 2 strokes each time” and appreciating the casual references to curds and whey, as if you encounter them everyday. As it heats, you see it separate…

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And when you strain it, it begins to firm up.

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I figured that it would firm up even more in the fridge (since it’s so fatty and it was already this thick when slightly warm), so I didn’t strain it to death. I think it turned out just right.

Both were very good, with an edge of buttermilk flavor that mellows out with a little time. I especially liked the fromage blanc, just pure freshness.

I have to admit that not everyone was so taken with it was I was. When I showed them to Chad, it was all he could do to avert his eyes while chanting quickly, “that’s great, that’s great, ok, great, really, that’s great.” Something about their live cultures and my ability to harness them so easily freaked him out. Oh, well, better view for me.

So, I went to the Market this morning, and got my strawberries. I generally like Camarosas, b/c I get the best strawberry flavor from them; other varieties have been too blandly sweet, watery, or sour for me.

Capturing the flavor of strawberries can be a bit difficult; there’s something elusive about their flavor, especially when you try to work with them. So, Yard’s strawberry sauce recipe was very interesting — she infuses the strawberries into a syrup of fresh orange juice, water, sugar, star anise and grand marnier; you can actually see the color leave the strawberries as the sauce becomes more and more vibrant. You then strain it and add in quartered berries over heat. The result is a flavorful, yet nicely balanced sauce. A touch sweet (and I decreased the sugar a little), but matches well with less sweet components.

I also poached some raisins, but didn’t use her recipe b/c I didn’t have all the ingredients or desire to make a lot… so just warmed in rum, wine, and water, to plump them.

And finally, I whipped together the souffled pancake. I kind of miss using the technique of folding egg whites into a base; for some reason, I just enjoy folding. Maybe because there’s a slight challenge to it — to be quick but gentle and thorough — and because it’s more active than turning the knob of a mixer. It’s like a race you can’t lose once you know how to do it right.

Mine baked up a little differently than specified. Yard says that it should be pudding-like in the center when you take it out, but mine seemed slightly firm in the center, so I took it out… and it was drier than pudding, but moister than a finished cake for most of the center of the cake.

Anyway, it deflated after a couple seconds (like most egg-rich batters), and it tasted very nice as a finished dessert — tangy from the creme fraiche and fromage blanc, and a hint of rum, with the dreamy hit of the strawberry sauce. Yard says to finish with confectioners sugar, but I put a dollop of whipped cream on top instead, which I can’t recommend enough — the cool cream on top of the hot pancake and warm strawberry sauce makes this an idealized version of a late night breakfast dish at a diner with friends. I’m afraid that my pic isn’t as glorious as the pic in the book (darn that raggedy piece on the side and my rush to eat it warm), but this is what it looked like…

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Weekly BonBonBar Photo: The Orange Bar Slab

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

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Orange Bars begin as slabs. First, there are separate slabs of orange caramel and pecan nougat, and then they’re combined to form one two-layer slab. I spread tempered chocolate on the bottom of the nougat (to help with dipping more securely), the top of the nougat (to curtail moisture migration), and the top of the caramel (to keep moisture from the air out as it sets), and then cut to size. The top layer of chocolate was a bit thick this time, so that’s why there are scrape marks from my small offset spatula. One of the challenges of the Orange Bar is that it’s essentially a three-layer bar — the slice of candied orange peel on top definitely adds height to it. Since the cellophane bag that I use to package my bars can only fit a certain size bar, I have to be very careful about the height of each layer. A few millimeters too tall or a jutting edgee of candied peel or a too-thick layer of nougat or too much chocolate on the sides, and the bar simply won’t fit into the bag… which makes it a reject! I try to re-appropriate it as a sample when I can. I’ve gotten pretty good about judging those millimeters in advance, but it’s always a concern.

BonBonBar Weekly Photo: The Weekly Inspiration… and Six Word Memoir

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

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I didn’t make the food in this picture… And it doesn’t even contain chocolate…. But it symbolizes an important part of BonBonBar’s development… not to mention ritual, and I think that it qualifies as part of my work.

As I never fail to mention, the business keeps me either busy or tired almost all week long. During the weekends especially, which are filled with sprints of production, and Mondays, when I package, I barely have time to eat, so after I go to the post office and UPS as late possible in order to protect the packages from heat for as long as possible, I’m usually very hungry and tired.

I usually go to California Chicken Cafe (CCC; which is mercifully near UPS) to get a Low-Cal Chicken Caesar Salad to take home, eat, and then digest while taking an evening nap. I happen to like that salad a lot, and in a good way, it always reminds me of the weekend that I got overwhelmed preparing orders for Valentine’s Day.

I was extremely tired and hungry after that difficult weekend, and I went to Urth Caffe for a green salad with grilled chicken. As I sat there, alone at a sidewalk table, I remember feeling hyper-aware — in a comatose-sort-of-a-way — of every sensation that I experienced… the feeling of the most wonderful fresh air against my face… the initially-cold metal chair that was in contact with as much of my back and legs as I could manage in order to support them… the lacing sunshine and shadows covering the tables and sidewalk… the varied voices of the patrons around me, discussing business and pleasure… and most of all, the way that the lettuce in the salad snapped, so refreshingly and satisfyingly. I found myself eating the pieces of lettuce one by one, savoring the cool crunch of each bite. A bite with chicken meant a little chewiness, a new flavor, a welcome occasional addition.

I knew I must have been quite a sight — tired, probably disheveled, and marveling at each bite with a stupefied smile — but I didn’t care — and don’t care how weird it may seem to write about it now — I can still feel that sense of relief and goodness that I knew that early February evening, eating that salad.

Salad can easily get short shrift. Some people see it as the go-to healthy option, but it’s often not — because it’s often drenched with dressing. But if dressed lightly or not at all, it really is a way to savor fresh ingredients; or if you like a ton of dressing, like I sometimes do, that’s great, but not healthy. I think of Suzanne Goin as the master of salads. In her cookbook, you can see how salads become a way to combine fresh, individual ingredients so that they can be appreciated for their flavor, texture, and color individually and in combination with each other. Part of her genius method is to arrange salads on plates, instead of bowls. I think it makes a huge difference. A bowl of food is something like an inverted pile… and I tend to plow through those without much thought (they are, in fact, my own staple, fast meals). But a salad of fresh ingredients laid out on a plate — again, not as a pile — has a striking poetry to it. You can’t help but taste it.

The beauty of the CCC Low-Cal Chicken Caesar Salad is that it has squares of toasted pita in addition to the lettuce and chicken. The dry crunch of the delicate pita, the bursting wet crunch of the lettuce, the cushion of chicken, the “sauce” of dressing… really, it’s quite luxurious. I always thought that cubes of croutons were too harsh to put in a salad, so the thin pieces of toasted pita are just brilliant to me. Oh, and the low-cal caesar dressing is salty… wonderfully salty. Others have railed against the mediocrity of the chicken caesar salad, but when done right like this, I love it — with layers of so many textures and flavors.

Anyway, since that V-Day weekend, I usually have a half-size Low-Cal Chicken Caesar Salad as my meal on Monday, and I’ve also made it a point to try something new — a pastry or variety of fruit, usually — every week as a way to be inspired. I haven’t really taken pictures or blogged about it, but it’s something that I take seriously. A year ago, I would have thought that only one inspiration a week is… well… weak… but when you’re busy, it’s just enough to avoid overload — and non-blog-posting guilt.

So… this week, I got a bad CCC salad — overdressed with NON-low-cal dressing (ie, regular Caesar dressing). Despite some popular sentiment, I don’t think that fat equals flavor. It can maintain heat and carry some flavoring, but often, I think it mutes flavor… and makes me feel greasy besides. Plus, the dressing wasn’t as salty as I liked. It was just a bland, limp, fatty salad.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt that my weekly inspiration shouldn’t just be a pastry, it should be a meal. So, I drove out to Square One Dining… and had just the most perfect experience ever. I was tired and wasn’t planning on taking a picture, but after I took a bite of the grits with cheddar and bacon — and experienced the slight pop of the cheese-inflected grits surrounding a piece of perfectly crunchy, smoky bacon — I just had to capture the memory.

And then there was the French Toast with Butter and Maple Syrup. Amazing… the airy brioche, with a curiously light and flavorful eggy batter as a coating. Again, I was in my signature hyper-aware-yet-slightly-comatose state, and I tried to figure out how they did it without asking (though the staff was super-friendly; I just felt like solving a puzzle, and as a backup, had a vague memory that someone asked for the recipe in the LATimes).

And you know how I’m not a big fan of sweet, eggy dishes… but this french toast didn’t taste like eggs… It tasted like heaven; it didn’t at all need maple syrup or butter, except as occasional novelty. I saw little black flecks, and deduced that maybe they infused the cream/milk for the french toast with vanilla beans before adding the eggs to the batter. The result was a combination that was a balance of eggs and vanilla that produced almost a new flavor — not quite one or the other. And incidently, they use local/organic whenever they can, and they use same eggs that I do for my pecan nougat — Mike & Sons.

When I got home, I found that the LATimes had indeed posted the recipe… and that the eggy batter was actually a creme anglaise! In culinary school, we were taught that eggs shouldn’t be cooked twice, so I’m a bit impressed at how Square One so flagrantly QUADRUPLE cooks its eggs in this dish — technically, the eggs in the anglaise are cooked twice and the eggs in the brioche are cooked twice.

It was also the first time that I’ve asked to take home leftovers from a breakfast-based meal, because I couldn’t imagine letting it go to waste. I thought that the leftovers would pale in comparison to the fresh version, but amazingly, they were delicious — cold, and then heated for under a minute in the microwave. Quintuple-cooked eggs… yum…(!)

And what does this have to do with candy bars and marshmallows? Well, I should mention — I’ve come a long way since that V-Day weekend, three months ago. I’ve sent out orders much larger than that weekend, still all by myself, with much greater ease, but I still feel humbled — and in a way, appreciative — of that experience… Even though now, frankly, I’m feeling a little fierce, or at the very least, more able. The new summer-related challenge is to make sure that they don’t melt after they leave me, but with fingers crossed, I’m feeling up to it.

And the inspiration of new food is so important. I taste my confections constantly because the process of making them has so many variables, but I’m always aiming for each to taste like one thing… and that can be a little confining, no matter how delicious. There are so many flavors and textures — that is, products — that I still want to explore and make. Consistent inspiration and quality is vital to me… and my company.

And Tommy, if you’ve read this far, I’ve finally thought of my Six Word Memoir:

She Tried To Do Things Right.

(with full awareness that “right” is subjective… after all, I’m not tagging anyone with this, b/c I just tend not to :))

BonBonBar Orders for Mother’s Day…

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Will close tomorrow (Saturday) at Noon PT.  They’ll be mailed out on Monday.

But if you live in LA, you can tune in to 94.7 The Wave every day next week during lunch to enter to win BonBonBar candy bars and marshmallows for Mom!

BonBonBars in Gourmet’s Weekly Newsletter, Alice Q. Foodie, and VigetAdvance

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Ok. The caramel update is still forthcoming… and so is the now “weekly…ish” BonBonBar photo post. I don’t know where the time goes… Well, maybe it goes towards running a chocolate business in LA by myself (and have I mentioned how Quickbooks is an interminable odyssey in its own right?). But I LOVED all of the suggestions that I got for the caramels, and was so touched by the creativity and thoughtfulness of the ideas. The downside of my business is that I tend to be either busy or tired, but whenever I get a comment or an email from a reader or customer, I am so deeply touched and grateful… and feel so guilty when I can’t respond right away, and when days slip by. In addition to having the privilege of working with chocolate and sugar on a regular basis, hearing from others (from all over the world!) is my favorite part of having my own business.

And this week was a banner week for that. Here are three takes on my products that talk about them in ways that I never would have imagined…

First, Kevin Vigneault, he of Candy Bar Lab, posted niftily about Learning Product Development from a Candy Maker.

Then, Alice Q .Foodie posted about enjoying my candy bars for her birthday. I always hold my breath a little bit when I start to read a post about my bars, but when it’s for someone’s birthday, I’m more like a deer in headlights than a person looking at a computer screen. But phew…. Alice liked them quite well!

My lungs barely had a chance to recover before I read Ruth Reichl’s write-up on Gourmet’s Weekly Newsletter. One of my beliefs for the company is that everyone is a VIP and wonderful for even considering my confections, but when an author, former New York Times (and LA Times!) restaurant reviewer, and current Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine raves about your passion fruit marshmallows, it’s hard not to get a little bit more flustered than usual. It doesn’t seem like Gourmet posts its newsletter on its site so I can’t link to it, so here’s a copy of the writeup by Ruth:

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