Chocolate & Cherries

My new sous chef at Birch, Rigo, is great! One of those dive-right-in kinda guys. When he said he wanted to do a dessert with chocolate and black pepper for restaurant week I had one thought…. Yum!

So Rigo made a ganache with black pepper and it was tasty. I mean really tasty. But it was missing that spice/heat that I love so much about black pepper. So I thought it would be nice to feature the pepper in another component on the dish that would help the flavor of the pepper pop. We’d decided to pair the choc/pepper with sour cherries (we made a TON of purée when they were in season so it was time to use those up) and hazelnuts.

Cherry-black pepper sorbet sounded delicious. Turns out, it is! We also added layers to the ganache starting with a flourless chocolate cake studded with hazelnuts, then a layer of crunchy hazelnut and topped with the perfectly rich and smooth ganache with a sprinkle of Maldon salt. Served with fudge sauce, cherry-pepper sorbet, candied hazelnuts, cocoa nib brittle & plumped dried sour cherries and we had a dessert I liked so much we kept it around after restaurant week. But we’ve got 8 qts of our house made cherry purée left and when its gone that’s it… Until next year


Summer Scones

We make A TON of scones every week for Buzz, Peregrine, Misha’s, GBD… Between the 6 flavors we make a total of about 1500 scones a week. Damn.

While there are 6 flavors available at a time we have a repertoire of about 16 flavors, each suited for the season its served in. I thought it was time to add a few more for summer, inspired by some great farm-fresh produce.

When 12 cases of great, local, bing cherries show up in your bakery you do a little happy dance then make delicious desserts with them. (I mean there may have been a 4 hour cherry pitting party somewhere between the happy dance and delicious desserts but we’ll leave the grueling work part out of this story.) Kandis, one of my assistants, and I slow roasted some of the cherries and added them to a scone base that replaced some if the AP flour with buckwheat flour. Topped with a little raw sugar for crunch and we had a new summer classic!

And then there was corn. Its always one of my favorite ingredients of the summer. Corn pudding. Corn ice cream. Corn panna cotta. Fresh corn bread. Ya, I’m kinda addicted. So I thought a little sauteed yellow corn added to a scone would make for a very flavorful savory vegetarian breakfast option. We added some sautéed Fresno chiles, scallions pepper and cheddar to the dough and we had a great sweet & savory scone.

Enjoy them until fall!


RECIPE: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Growing up in Hawaii I didn’t eat a lot of berries.  Don’t get me wrong, as a child most days started with a just-picked papaya filled with yogurt or a guava sliced and topped with soyu, so I’m not complaining. I’m just admitting that I didn’t fully understand how amazing spring and summer berries can be until I moved to NY. And even then I wasn’t drawn to strawberries until I worked at Union Square Cafe. I’d go to the Union Square Farmers Market with the chef and only after trying the tristar strawberries from Franca at Berried Treasure Farms did I really get just how special they can be.

Then came rhubarb. That was completely foreign to me. I remember being sent down to the walk in to get rhubarb, also at Union Square Cafe, and having no idea what I was looking for. When I asked the chef what it was I got a big eye roll and “its the pink celery” as a response. I immediately loved how tart and crisp it was. And then learned how well the two go hand in hand.

I don’t normally do desserts at the restaurants combining rhubarb and strawberries because in spring there isn’t a ton of produce available so I like to make one flavor the focus of each dessert. But classic Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie is one of my favorites and luckily I have Buzz so I get to make it there. The last few weeks of rhubarb in DC is right in line with the middle to end of strawberry season so if you hit the market just right you can get everything you need.

The recipe below is for 2 pies because lets be honest… If you are going through the process of making a pie at home you might as well make two. I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding a home for at least one of them.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Recipe

2 Pre-baked Pie Crusts plus additional raw dough for lattice top (store bought or try my recipe here) OR 1 qt raw brown sugar – oatmeal streusel topping 
2.25 Pounds Local Strawberries, stems removed and cut into halves or quarters
1.5 Pounds Rhubarb, cut into 1/2″ dice
1/2 Vanilla Bean
1 tsp Orange Zest
2 tsp Lemon Zest
1 cup Sugar, divided
1/3 cup cornstarch


1) Take 1/2 the strawberries, 3/4 of the rhubarb and 1/2 cup sugar and mix to combine.  Allow to sit 15 minutes. In a high sided saute pan combine fruit with the scraped seeds of the vanilla bean (add the pod to sugar to infuse vanilla sugar) and the zests and cook over a medium heat until the fruit begins to bubble. Stir every so often to prevent scorching.
2) Place the remaining sugar and cornstarch in a bowl and whisk smooth. Make a slurry by whisking in some of the soft fruit to the sugar/cornstarch mix until smooth. Add to the hot fruit mix and stir constantly until it returns to a simmer for 5 minutes.
3) Add the remaining rhubarb then after 3-4 minutes the strawberries. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the rhubarb and strawberries soften but don’t allow them to turn to mush. These will give the pie some texture.
4) Pour the finished fruit mix onto a cookie tray or into a bowl and allow to cool to room temp. Or you can refrigerate, covered, up to 5 days before proceeding (making this a great make-ahead option).
5) Place about 3.5 cups of fruit compote into the pre-baked pie shell. Not you can choose to top with a lattice crust, made by weaving raw strands of dough between each other (I attach the piece to the edge of the crust using a little egg wash) or you can top the pie in a layer of your favorite crumble topping. I love cornmeal or brown sugar-oatmeal.
6) Return to the oven at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and cooked through. It will really depend on the oven but remember, your bottom crust and filling are fully cooked so just keep an eye on the top crust/crumble.
7) Cool to room temp and enjoy! (Or dig right in, just expect it to be a bit messy!)

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PEANUT BUTTER – Dessert Break Down

My sous chef Hannah wanted to do a dessert with Chocolate and Peanut Butter so I threw in raspberries, and some other summer fruit to lighten it up.  We put some fun surprises on the plate too!

The Breakdown:

The main component is a peanut butter mousse that is filled with a liquid raspberry gel.  We cook down raspberries with sugar and some citrus and set with a tiny bit of gelatin until its thick but still fluid.  We freeze the gel and as we will the mold with mouse we place the gel disk in the center, sealing it all around with mousse.  When the guest breaks into it it bleeds raspberry.

Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry and Raspberry make up the sorbet.  Its nice and bright from the tart raspberries and strawberries but the dark flavor of blue and blackberries really rounds it out.   This is one of my favorite summer sorbet flavors.

This is probably my favorite part of the dessert: chocolate dipped, crunchy peanut butter buckeye  It’s a mixture of peanut butter, chocolate, rice krispies and honey roasted peanuts rolled into a ball and dipped in chocolate.  We top each one with more peanuts and maldon salt.  They are addicting

The sorbet sits on a bed of crumbled chocolate meringue.  There is a piece of peanut “brittle” and some lightly marinated raspberries.  Fudge sauce is painted onto the plate.

I rarely order chocolate desserts but I’m a sucker for chocolate and peanut butter so this is what I would order if I were a guest at Birch and Barley!

pb rasp dessert

Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, ATLANTA

Best. Ribs. Ever…. Period.
If you are ever in Atlanta seek this place out. It’s a tiny shanty with a line out the door. Inside you’ll find the best ribs I’ve ever had. The collard greens were also the perfect balance of tang and spice. And the customer service made you feel like you were sitting in someones back yard at a picnic. It’s officially on my “must visit list” any time I go to Atlanta… Next time I’m bringing back a bottle of that magical BBQ sauce!
Matt's Fat Rib Shack

STRAWBERRIES – Dessert Break Down

I’ve been wanting to do a dessert with sesame and strawberries for a couple of years but for some reason or another every year strawberry season passes without it happening.  This year we started testing well before local strawberries were available so we were ready to go at Birch and Barley!

The Breakdown:

Cheesecake laced with fresh grated ginger and crusted in homemade graham cracker crust is the main component on the dessert.  I was worried people might be hesitant to get something with sesame and miso so I wanted to throw a familiar word in there to make it more “orderable”…  Cheesecake usually does the trick

Ginger-Caradamom pound cake pieces are placed around the plate for a dense, bready quality to cut through the richness of the cheesecake

Strawberries are represented in several ways on this plate.  There are lightly marinated fresh berries, strawberry sorbet, pureed and dehydrated “fruit roll up”, a reduction of strawberry juice and fresh extracted ginger juice and strawberry dust.  Lots of textures

Sesame is a strong flavor but I wanted to use both black and white.  The black were toasted and pureed into an ice cream base infused lightly with orange zest.  The white seeds were baked into a tuile with a brittle like quality but so thin you can see through it.

Salty-Sweet Miso caramel garnishes the plate as does torn pieces of shiso leaf.