#PastryProblems

Last week I read “Why this is the Dark Age of Desserts” by Adam Platt and it was the first time in a long time that I had such a visceral reaction to an article.  I spent the day reflecting on my career choices, going through a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  All spurred by Platt’s take on the current state of sweets in restaurants.  I felt like I was grieving for a job that, at times, feels like it defines me.

My first reaction was complete denial. “This is ridiculous!”  (I might have used a four letter word other than ridiculous but you get the drift.)  “He’s just doing this to get attention, right?”  I mean how could it be true?  All I could think about was all the passionate, talented pastry chefs I have worked with and around throughout the years.  And the talented pastry chefs whose desserts I have not just enjoyed but bene inspired by.  People like Jenn Yee at Lafayette, who is turning out stunning, delicious desserts and confections using what seems like every technique that exists with a level mastery I’ll always be envious of.  And Brooks Headly, who redefined the way I looked at desserts in just a few bites.  There is no way this article could possibly be right, right?  Not with chefs of this caliber representing us…

Yes, of course there are lots of bad dessert out there, I’ve had my fair share of disappointments at the end of a great meal.  But I’ve had just as many unseasoned appetizers, poorly composed entrees and generally bad meals that cost a pretty penny. I can even remember a time or two where the desserts saved the meal, convincing me to give a restaurant another shot when the first experience was less than extraordinary.

But after thinking about what Platt said all day, and reading the article about a dozen times, I had to finally accept that he’s right.  As much as I want to defend my craft, almost as if this article was a personal attack against me, I know there is a lot of truth to it. For more reasons than I can count on both hands pastry is, generally speaking, the lowest on the list of necessary restaurant components.  I’m not talking about the actual desserts, every restaurant has those, I’m talking about pastry as a driven department rather than an afterthought; as a priority, not an inconvenience.

And I get it.  It’s impossible to quantify what a pastry department does for the business.  Great desserts require talented hands to develop them, prepare them, and plate them. You rarely make your money back on a pastry chef let alone a department even if that “department” is only a chef and an assistant.

But how do you put a dollar value on the excitement of a guest when that dessert that was designed, prepared, and plated by those talented hands is placed in front of them?   Or the joy warm, fresh bread can bring to the beginning of a meal.   Or the reaction to a bite of ice cream so smooth and rich its unlike anything they’ve ever tasted.  I like to think those experiences are worth something.  Or even a lot.

So I guess the question is, “where do we go from here?”

We accept the issues and learn to overcome them.  Make ourselves as valuable as possible by being more organized, more efficient and being more about the bottom line of the business than we ever have before; to the point where a chef or restaurant owner feels like they’d be crazy not to have you on their team.  Train under great chefs longer, as a pastry cook, before taking the title of Pastry Chef.  Looking in the rear view mirror at my career I realize now that I wish I had taken more time studying.  And, of course, we must focus on the desserts we serve.  Being a chef is a balancing act.  You need to execute a menu that satisfies your passion to create, while ensuring the experience of the guest is always the main priority.  Many times I’ve eaten desserts that left me with mixed feelings.  First excited that the pastry chef tried a cutting edge technique or an “interesting” flavor profile. Then disappointed that I had to eat it.  If you take away the thrill the guest gets from ending the meal on a perfect note then don’t be surprised when the popular combination of a prep cook/garde manger cook might replace you.  They can make moderately satisfying desserts too…  At a much lower salary.

Nothing can be perfect 100% of the time. We all have hits and misses in this business.  But we have to get better at being indispensable or what little opportunity we have to create and contribute will, understandably, continue to shrink.  This is exactly the kind of article that should inspire a pastry chef to be better tomorrow than they were today.  Yes, it’s hard to think about working harder but as I always tell my interns and assistants when I can tell they are feeling frustration from the time it takes to truly understand our craft, “if what we did was easy and everyone could just do it then it wouldn’t be nearly as special to be a part of it.”  Chefs thrive on long hours, intense work and a constant uphill battle… And I’d be pressed to come up with something I’d be more willing to climb mountain to save. Yes, to some it’s just a few sugary bites at the end of a meal but to a pastry chef it’s so much more.  I know for me it’s not just a career but the career I’ve built my life around.

Happy Friday!

At BIJOUX we love weddings but the cakes engagements, birthdays and other parties can be just as fun to create!  The only thing we loved more than this trio of cakes and dessert spread was the bat mitzvah girl herself.  And we had the fun challenge of recreating her invitation, which had a 3-D multicolor flower on it.  The flowers on the cake ended up turning out so perfect they thought they were made of paper.  It was a total success!

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We LOVE Baltimore!

My husband, Kyle, and I are super busy.  That’s not a complaint, that’s a fact.  We both have multiple kitchens to run and find it easy to get so caught up in managing kitchens and cooking that we forget to look outside of our day to day for inspiration.  Surprisingly, a trip to Baltimore was just what we needed to refresh our outlook on food and service.  Not a relaxing trip, a cooking trip.

If you live in or around Baltimore, or into food at all, then you are probably familiar with Spike Gjerde and his flagship restaurant Woodberry Kitchen.  Kyle and I are huge fans, having made the hour plus drive to dine there many times, so we immediately said “YES!” when we were offered the opportunity to take over the kitchen of his cafe, Artifact Coffee, for three nights.  Kyle and I showed up to Baltimore with the fun task for cooking for 150 people each night, serving a comfort menu of warm biscuit sandwiches and pie.  We collaborated with Woodberry Kitchen on some of the toppings, like using their snake oil hot sauce to make our buffalo sauce or their pickled kohlrabi to make our kohlrabi slaw.  We also sold nearly 1,000 doughnuts from GBD on Friday morning.  It was great!  And Hannah and Alison, the front of house dream team Spike has assembled, really brought our vision to life in such  perfect way.  Gingham pick nick table cloths, Alice and Chains playing all night, beer and punch for cocktails.  It was pretty much perfect in every way.

What we expected was a fun time, which is was.  But we also found the challenge of cooking in a new kitchen, coordinating everything and working with a new team of total pros to be rejuvenating.  I went back to work Monday with new ideas and a lifted spirit.  Funny how in this business a change of pace can be just as refreshing as a vacation in some ways.  I think that’s how I know I love what I do!

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decorate with fondant or meringue decorations

Recipe: Bûche de Noël

In keeping with our gingerbread theme (tis the season, right?) I thought I’d use this post to share two special things with you. Step by step photo instructions on how to assemble a Bûche de Noël AND my recipe for gingerbread cake.

This technique can be applied to most, but not all, cake recipes. You need a somewhat tender cake to be able to roll it into the log. Traditionally a light sponge cake is used but I prefer a slightly more dense, moist cake. You can use my buttercream recipes or your own. I would just recommend homemade, not store bought, buttercream only because store bought brands tend to be really soft. My included recipes have a little more structure.

The gingerbread cake recipe is one of my favorite things about the Christmas season. It makes great cupcakes too. If you are really feeling fancy you can check out my instagram video demos on how to dress up your cupcakes for the holiday! Fill your cupcake liners a little more than half way with the batter if you decide to go that route.

Gingerbread Bûche de Noël

What you’ll need:
Gingerbread cake
Egg nog buttercream
Chocolate buttercream
Decorations (meringue or fondant holly and mushrooms)

Recipe:
Gingerbread cake
1 ½ + 1/3 c. AP flour
2 tsp. BS
2 tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3 oz. butter
½ c. dark brown sugar
½ c. molasses
1 egg
1 ½ plus 1/3 c. Hot water

Directions:
1) cream butter and sugar until lightened (about 5-7 minutes in medium high) be sure to to scrape the bowl once or twice
2) combine egg and molasses and pour in slowly while mixing. Mix to combine then scrape the bowl
3) sift dry ingredients and add alternating with the hot water in 5 additions, beginning and ending with the dry mix (dry, wet, dry, wet, dry)
4) line a brownie pan with parchment and spray with non-stick spray. Spread the batter into the pan evenly and bake at 325 degrees F until done (15-22 minutes depending on the oven)
5) reserve at room temperature until needed

Recipe
Eggnog Buttercream
5 oz. butter, softened
7.74 oz or 1 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. dark spiced rum
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:
1) place butter and sifted powdered sugar into a bowl with the paddle attachment and cream on medium high for 5-7 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl at least once
2) combine milk, rum and nutmeg. Slowly pour into bowl while mixing the continue to mix on medium high until fluffy, 2-3 additional minutes, scraping once or twice
3) reserve until needed

Recipe:
Chocolate Buttercream
13 oz dark chocolate (63-72%)
14.5 oz butter, softened
10 oz or 2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:
1) place chocolate over a double boiler and melt. Reserve warm but not hot
2) place butter and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment and cream on medium high 5-6 minutes, scraping at lest once
3) with the mixer running drizzle the warm chocolate slowly into the buttercream until completely combined. Add vanilla extract Scrape the bowl and mix on medium-high 1-2 additional minutes. Reserve until

To Assemble the Bûche de Noël:
(Additionally, see the pictures for a step by step visual demo featuring my lead decorate Alexandra Mudry)

1) Flip the cake out of the pan onto a piece of wax or parchment paper that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Peel the parchment you baked the cake on off the back of the cake.
2) Top the cake with a 2nd piece of sprayed parchment and roll gently with a rolling pin until about 1/8-1/4″ thick. Remove the top piece of parchment.
3) Spread the eggnog buttercream over the cake to all edges.
4) Use the parchment paper to start rolling the cake up. Don’t worry too much about breaks in the cake, jut use your hands to keep pressing the cake into a tight log
5) Refrigerate or freeze the log for 30 minutes
6) At an angle cut about 3″ of cake from both ends of the cake. Place them onto the log, flat edge attached to the cake with chocolate buttercream (see photos for visual instructions)
7) Cover the cake in a fairly thick coat of chocolate buttercream, taking your time to get into all the creases.
8) To create the “bark” texture use a fork, pulled along the buttercream with the tines of the fork pressed about 1/8″ into the buttercream. Go in straight lines and sometimes at angles/in circles to create knots in the “bark”. Don’t stress too much, it’ll look crazy at the beginning but once the whole log is covered it’ll come together (see photos for visual instructions)
9) Use an offset spatula in a circular motion on the 4 flat edges of the cake to create the look of a cut edge of a log.
10) decorate with hand made or store bough meringue or fondant mushrooms or holly. This cake cane be made up to 2 days in advance. Store in the refrigerator and place at room temperature at least 4 but up to 12 hours before serving.

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ginger 6

Recipe: Gingerbread Doughnuts

There is almost nothing that says Christmas more than the flavor of molasses, brown sugar, fresh ginger and spices.  I’ve found lots of ways to incorporate those flavors into all kinds of different desserts, some traditional and some not so traditional.  Cake, cookies, marshmallows, ice cream, panna cotta, rice krispies.  All are great vessels for the warm, dark, spicy blend.

This year we added doughnuts to the list of holiday indulgences.  A moist, dense cake doughnut infused with all the familiar gingerbread flavors.  I liked it so much I thought I’d share the recipe.  Imagine sipping hot cocoa and eating a warm gingerbread doughnut while you open gifts Christmas morning…  Yes please!

Gingerbread Doughnut Recipe (yields 9 doughnuts):

  • 3.5 cups (525 grams) All Purpose Flour
  • 2.25 tsp (10 grams) baking powder
  • 1 tsp (6 grams) baking soda
  • 1 tsp  (2 grams) cinnamon
  • .5 tsp (1 gram)  salt
  • 1.5 tsp (3 grams) powdered ginger
  • 5 grates nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup (56 grams) butter
  • 3/4 cup (163 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 2 each large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (127 grams) buttermilk
  • 3 TBSP (71 grams) molasses
  • gingerbread glaze (recipe to follow)
  • 1/2 cup pulverized gingersnap cookies

Directions:

  1. Cream butter and sugars in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until smooth.  Scrape bowl twice
  2. add eggs and yolk, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl between each addition
  3. add molasses and buttermilk slowly while mixing. Scrape the bowl making sure everything is evenly incorporated
  4. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add to the mixer and mix to combine
  5. Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap.  Pat into a square (about 6″ square) wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or to overnight
  6. Heat fryer oil to 325 degrees
  7. Dust a counter with flour. Roll the dough to about 1/2″ thick, or a 10″ square.  Use a round cookie cutter to cut 9-10 doughnuts.  cut holes.
  8. drop doughnuts gently into the fryer, 2 at a time.  once they float to the top of the oil fry for 1 min 30 sec then flip and repeat on the 2nd side.  Remove from oil and place on a cooling rack. Coat with glaze and immediately dust heavily with ground gingersnap crumbs.  Repeat with the other doughnuts, allowing the oil to return to temperature between each batch.  Serve warm

Gingerbread Glaze Recipe

  • 8 ounces (226 grams) powdered sugar
  • 3 TBSP molasses
  • 3 TBSP ginger juice (or 4 TBSP fresh ginger grated on a microplane)
  • 2 tsp water
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 3 grates nutmeg

Directions:

  1. sift powdered sugar
  2. Add all other ingredients and whisk smooth
  3. use immediately or store, covered, up to 3 days.  Stir before using

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quiche 7

Recipe: Sausage-Cheddar Quiche

I. Love. Brunch…  A lot.  The bad news is I hardly ever get to go to brunch because I end up working every Sunday. The good news is I get my brunch fix tasting everything while I’m working.  It’s a win win!

One of my favorite brunch items is quiche.  A flaky crust and silky custard is the perfect foundation for almost any filling.  Seriously.  I’ve done everything from classic spinach-parmesan to smoked salmon-goat cheese.  Once you get the basics of the crust and custard you can mix almost anything into them.  It’s that easy!

Today I’m sharing a recipe for a simple but delicious sausage-cheddar quiche.  At Buzz Bakery we make our own sausage (my husband Kyle’s recipe) and use a sharp cheddar.  But feel free to experiment.  Other fun combinations I’ve done include confit fingerling potatoes-leeks-gruyere and roasted corn-habanero pepper-cheddar.  Just keep the veggies and cheese in a roughly equal ration and you’ll be all set.  Even better you can make the quiche up to 4 days in advance.  Just let sit at room temp for 2-3 hours before serving.  Place in a 300 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until warm but not hot and you’ll have an easy and delicious brunch dish!

Ingredients:

Directions

  • Pre-Heat oven to 325 degrees F
  • Mix the sausage and cheddar together
  • place in the pie crust until full.  push down lightly so the filling isn’t higher than the top of the crust.  Any filling not submerged in custard might burn a little
  • slowly pour the custard into the pie.  Allow it to settle and top off until it’s completely full.  I recommend you do this on the tray you intend to bake the quiche on and near the the oven.
  • Place the quiche in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes or until set.  The best way to tell when the quiche is done is to tap the pie and watch how much it giggles.  It should move but as a single unit, not in waves.
  • Cool the quiche for 4 hours or overnight.  Serves 6 slices.

Quiche Custard

  • 3 large eggs
  • 10 fl ounces heavy cream
  • 3 fl ounces whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Directions

  • Place all ingredients in a bowl
  • Whisk smooth.  Reserve in the refrigerator until needed, up to 2 days
  • Whisk before using

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Holiday Gift Recipe: Good Life Bars

If you’re like me you are gearing up to make a bunch of homemade, food based Christmas gifts. I wanted to share one of my favorite food gift recipes with you. It’s beautiful, has a great shelf life and the end product is really delicious. Trust me, people will request them next year!

Good Life Bars are a homemade, baked granola bar that combines dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, granola, coconut and almonds with condensed milk.  Just bake, cool, cut and enjoy.  Of course you can always give the finished granola bars as a gift but this presentation fits perfectly into a 1 qt mason jar, revealing all the ingredients, beautifully layered.

Granola is only part of this recipe that requires preparation, and its super simple, I promise. Try the recipe for my easy honey-pecan granola  (or cheat and buy it but I know you wouldn’t do that…). And if you need jars look for pretty one quart mason jars. I like to use these jars because they are simple and really let the festive holiday colors of the food shine through. Also helps that they are less than $1 each!

I’ve also included a text you can copy and paste onto a word document and print on pretty paper. It includes the instructions to finish baking these yummy bars. Only recommendation I have is to make an extra jar… You’ll want to keep one for yourself!

Good Life Bar Jar

1/2 Cup slivered almonds
1/2 Cup sweetened coconut
1/2 Cup dried cranberries
3/4 Cup granola
1/2 Cup pumpkin seeds
1/2  Cups Quick Cook Oats

Directions

1) Layer each ingredient into a 1 qt glass jar, pressing down each layer gently.
2) Seal jar and attach recipe card with a piece of twine or ribbon. Feel free to use the text below on the recipe card you attach to the jar.  Just copy and paste the instructions, then print onto card stock and cut out.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED
10.5 oz Sweetened Condensed Milk • Mini Muffin Pan

HOW TO MAKE YOUR BITES or BARS
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix together jar ingredients in a medium size bowl. Add condensed milk and stir to combine. Spray mini muffin tins well with non stick cooking spray. Place mix into the individual cups, allowing to slightly dome over the top of each cup, and bake for 10-15 minutes until just slightly golden on edges. Allow bites to fully cool before serving.  Alternatively spray an 8″ cake pan, fill with the mixture and bake at 325 degrees 15-20 minutes until golden and set.  Cool fully and cut into wedges.  Store in an air tight container up to 1 week.

INGREDIENTS
Sliced Almonds, Pumpkin Seeds, Dried Cranberries, Sweetened Flaked Coconut, Honey-Pecan Granola, Rolled Oats

Testing: December Doughnuts!

Lots of testing this week.  Now that the holidays are here it means egg nog, gingerbread and panettone.  Lucky for me all 3 flavors should translate into AMAZING doughnuts!

My very favorite holiday flavor is egg nog.  I’ve made egg nod marshmallows, cheesecake, ice cream, whipped cream…  I love it!  Turns out it now also makes my favorite doughnut.  We make an egg nog pastry cream to fill the yeast doughnut with then glaze the doughnut with a spiced rum glaze.  I have a feeling this one will stick around for past christmas.

For the panattone doughnut we incorporated out homemade candied orange zest, lemon zest and plumped raisins into our sweet yeast dough.  It took us 6 tries to get the measurements just right.  when we finally did we glazed it with an amaretto glaze and topped that with candied almonds.

Since gingerbread is such a hearty cake I wanted to do it in  a cake doughnut rather than a yeast doughnut.  We took our apple code doughnut and took out the cider and replaced it with molasses, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and dark brown sugar.  We then press juiced ginger, which yields a very spicy liquid that we used to make the glaze along with more molasses and cinnamon.  It’s topped with ground gingersnap cookies.

Hope you can stop by GBD to try one (or all, we won’t judge) our winter doughnuts.  They should be on the menu in a week or two.

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