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 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.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
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.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.