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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.