Last week was a whirlwind of flour, sugar, cool fall evenings, early morning drives to the industrial part of the city and some new baking friends. I enrolled in a one-week intensive baking course through San Francisco Baking Institute in methods and ingredient functionality. It was fascinating to learn the science behind what I do and love (the “why’s and “how’s” lurking behind recipes and formulas). I haven’t done the whole commute thing in a long, long time so after a few days of really bad morning radio I gathered up a new play list. And you know what I’ve found about this particular playlist? Not only is it fabulous for weaving in and out of traffic on Highway 101, it’s also great for shaking your booty while you’re making butterscotch pudding.
Here are a few of the musical highlights. Picture me weaving through traffic peacefully at the crack of dawn:
Carolina Chocolate Drops This North Carolina string band trio learned their skills from old-time fiddler Joe Thompson. Joe was in his 80’s when they would head over to his house and sit on the porch observing, learning, absorbing. “Memphis Shakedown” is the best song for stirring butterscotch pudding like there’s no tomorrow.
The Living Sisters are perfect late afternoon or Sunday morning music. There’s a quiet deliberation that I love, and a breathy old-timeyness. Check out “Blue” and “Double Knots.”
I don’t completely know how to describe Joanna Newson other than magically odd and mildly addicting. You have to be in the right mood, but if you haven’t experienced the crazy stuff she does with the harp and her eerily powerful vocals, you’re missing out.
My crush on Eddie Vedder is deep-seated, and it hasn’t ended with the few songs he did for the Eat, Pray Love soundtrack. Regardless of what you thought of the book or the movie,”Better Days” and “The Long Road” make me smile and slow down.
Oh Regina Spektor, your lyrics are smart and your voice stops me in my tracks. Check out “Better” and “Fidelity.”
She and Him‘s Volume Two is my go-to shower or driving to work album. Turns out it’s great for pudding stirring as well. Who knew? My two favorite songs are “Thieves” and “Don’t Look Back.”
And of course, you can’t go wrong with some Bob Dylan, Jay Z., old Violent Femmes, Wilco, Gillian Welch, or Jenny Lewis. Happy listening, driving, stirring, baking…or whatever you’re up to this week.
And now for some pudding. This recipe is from the Baked cookbook. I’m obsessed with Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s first effort and their newest book, Baked Explorations, is just as exciting. The Baked boys have a little bakery in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and a location in South Carolina as well–they do classic American desserts with playful, innovative ingredients (malt, pepper, milk powder). and I can’t wait to actually visit the bakery while in New York in November. For now, we’ve got their pudding.
Adapted from: Baked
Put the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water and stir gently with wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to combine. Avoid splashing the sides of the pan. Cook over medium heat until sugar’s dissolved, then increase the heat to medium-high and cook until mixture reaches a dark amber color. Don’t stir during this time–to keep the color consistent, you can swirl the pan if necessary. Remove from heat and let stand one minute before slowly stirring in the cream. Pour the caramel mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
In another small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt and stir in the milk with a whisk to combine. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, and using the tip of a knife, scrape the seeds into the milk mixture. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until it comes to a full boil. Remove from the heat and add the caramel. Whisk until combined, then pour one third of the mixture over the eggs to temper them. Don’t add the entire mixture at one time. Keep whisking the egg mixture and add another third of the hot milk mixture. Transfer the egg mixture back to the saucepan with the milk mixture and, whisking constantly, bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, continue to boil for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly, or until it reaches a thicker almost pudding-like consistency. Pudding will also thicken as it sets, so don’t worry if it’s not the perfect pudding consistency at this time.
Remove from heat and add the butter and the whiskey. Keep whisking for about one minute to cool the pudding. Remove the vanilla bean. If your pudding looks chunky, filter through a mesh seive. Cover the top of the pudding with plastic wrap and press lightly down so it touches the surface of the pudding. This will prohibit the pudding from getting a thick skin on top. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pudding will thicken and continue to set.
To put together: whip the heavy cream (with a teaspoon of sugar if you’d like) and add a dollop on top of each serving of pudding. Then top with chocolate shavings.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.