Weeks ago, as Sam and I were leaving my mom’s cabin to head back to our respective cities, we stumbled upon something pretty great. Something unexpected, largely because most little towns in Vermont aren’t necessarily known for wood-fired bakeries serving Intellegentsia coffee, perfectly flaky croissants and traditional cannelés. All of that and one of the lovelier open kitchens I’ve ever laid eyes upon.
It was mid-day and we were both starving, but before deciding on a good spot for sandwiches, we strolled down the street to peek into an unassuming little bakery: Vergennes Laundry. This isn’t the kind of bakery you can just peek into and keep on walking. The space is bright and airy with thoughtful details like chunky water jugs, menus on rolls of kraft paper, a cribbage board to post special orders, and a well edited menu with a select few items done very, very well. A pre-lunch snack ensued. We tried a croissant, a gougère made with local cheddar, a crumbly shortbread cookie and a shot of espresso. Sam read the paper and I asked to sneak back into the kitchen to chat with the women about how the bakery came to be in this quiet little town.
Julianne Jones is the owner and head baker. She started out at the farmers markets and, with partner Didier Murat, raised money through Kickstarter to build the wood-fired oven, and through their innovative CSE program, raised enough to help build out the actual space. I was impressed by how calm and quiet everything was in the kitchen. It was as if they had all day to produce the savory lunch items they were working on and couldn’t imagine a place they’d rather be. Julianne wore a simple white dress, pretty linen apron and light slip-ons.
The mad hustle was replaced with a cool repose, the baggy kitchen clothing was swapped for flowy dresses more familiar with garden tea parties than production facilities, and the fluorescent lighting was traded in for beautiful natural light and pendant fixtures hung from the ceiling. I was ready to move right in.
Julianne has built a kitchen that she wants to spend time in — one that can nourish — and immediately upon entering, this is evident. When I asked her if she’s happy now that the bakery’s open and she and Didier are doing what they want to be doing, she looked up at me, paused for what felt like a full thirty seconds and said, “it’s a lot of work.” I recognized this tone: I tell people something similar when they proclaim how amazing it is that I’m following my own dream and how they wish they could do the same. But you could see a certain pride in Julianne’s eyes as she instructed one of her bakers how best to roll out a mound of dough, and commented on how great Didier’s baguette sandwiches looked. They were doing it on their own, together.
Back at the table, Sam had ordered another gougère. It was just what we both needed before lunch: light and pillowy with generous pockets of air. If you’re not familiar with gougères, many people often call them cheese puffs. They’re made from pâte à choux, a great versatile dough that you use to make cream puffs or profiteroles. Here, the only difference is the addition of savory ingredients.
So on the first night of August — what is usually a too-hot-to-bake kind of night in the Bay Area — I broke out some butter, flour, and eggs. I chopped some rosemary and retrieved my good Dijon mustard and set out to make a plate of gougères. Last week I read Ashley’s post about giving boxes of cookies away randomly. Just because. Because it’s unexpected and makes people feel good and is just not done often enough. So I planned on saving a few gougères for myself, freezing a few for Sam’s next visit, and bringing the rest to my Heath coworkers in the morning. Just because.
To recognizing and enjoying the unexpected — stumbling upon a fantastic bakery in an unassuming town, seeing dancers on your ho-hum street doing their thing, coming home to a box of cookies on your stoop, getting a pie plate in the mail from your mom for no reason, or stumbling into work and finding an airy, cheesy gougère with your name written all over it. We need more stumbling, discovering, making, giving.
This recipe is based on a classic Dorie Greenspan recipe. Reading about making the pâte à choux may initially seem a little daunting, but it’s really not. This is a pretty forgiving dough and as long as you work quickly and stir like the dickens when you add the flour, you’ll be just fine. Also, listen to Dorie when she instructs you to add one egg at at time; it’s important for the structure of the dough.
While these are fabulous reheated the next day, they’re so, so good warm right out of the oven. Since I still have some rosemary leftover from Danielle’s garden, I chopped it finely and tossed it in at the end along with a healthy dollop of good Dijon mustard. Feel free to use cheddar if you’d prefer, and add any mix of finely chopped herbs you’d like. These also freeze beautifully if you have leftovers; you can even freeze the mounds of dough before you bake them and bake them off right from the freezer (good party trick).
Position two racks into bottom third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper (or just oil well with olive oil).
Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a vigorous boil in a heavy-bottomed small to medium saucepan over high heat. Whisk until the butter melts completely. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a ball. Keep stirring until dough is no longer sticky and is, instead, smooth, 1-2 minutes.
Transfer the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one at a time and beat until the dough is nice and shiny. At the very end, stir in the grated cheese, mustard, chopped rosemary, and pepper.
Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto each pan with about 2 inches of space separating each one. Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees F. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the gougères are golden, firm, and puffed, another 12 to 15 minutes. Serve warm, or transfer the pans to racks to cool.
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.