Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Oven's Mark

I used to work in the dining hall at Skidmore College. Correction: I spent most of my time working at the bakery at the dining hall,  traying (and tasting, how could I resist?) cookies whilst talking with the pastry chefs. I vividly remember the warnings from Robin, Chucky and Matt about burns.

"Watch out hun, this rack is fresh from the oven," or "tray these ones first, the rest are much too hot!" I asked Robin once about her burns. They're inevitable. You reach for the wrong rack and OUCH! Or you pull out a hot tray and ZAP, there's a line across your forearm. Their battle scars were heroic--lining their skin like tattoos.

I'm certainly not that epic. I just haven't been baking long enough or to scale to earn my scar cred, but a little sloppy haste yesterday and I have a line and a bandaged hand to show for it. And the sick part, as I'm sure you've already guessed by the tone in this post, is that I revel in my burns. My battle wounds! The evidence that I made ten dozen Biscaitie, three batches of cookies, orange poppyseed muffins and mini cheesecakes all in one day. I'm careful, but enough working in a kitchen and I'm slowly becoming branded a baker.

What they Say About Practice

In one week I will have officially completed 3 months working at Odradeks! I finally have my routine down and that allows me to experiment with baking and of course, improving my latte art. I had a particularly good run today of pouring (helped by a sunny day, a good night's sleep, and the friendliest smiling baby). I snapped this photo before I handed a very happy customer his drink. "I come for the art, not the cappuccino." Aw. Well, it feels good to be appreciated.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

BK Swap Haul

Another wonderful night! I got: Pumpkin cake cookies, snickersnaps (a combo snicker doodle-gingersnap), lemon cardamom cookies, homemade soymilk, hard cider, xxx spicy relish, Earl Grey granola, roasted garlic spread and spicy dill pickles. I got home late (after dancing) and ate a ton of relish. It's amazing! I can't wait to indulge in the rest of it. Thank you BK Swap! Thank you Mealku!

BK Biscaitie

On my way to my second BK Swap hosted at Mealku in Tribeca. I made Mint Chocolate Chunk, Mexican Hot Chocolate and Chai Biscaitie. Stay tuned to see what I bring back!

Belated Cheesecake

I'll be honest, I've never baked and not referenced a recipe. Sure, I've memorized recipes and not looked at them, but completely improvising from what I know? Never done it until this past rainy Tuesday afternoon.

I've been craving mint chocolate. Surely it's the arrival of fall that brought it on--who doesn't love a peppermint mocha? That and playing with flavored chocolate is utterly delightful. How did it turn out? Not good. Not bad either, the flavor is right but the texture is all wrong: crumbly instead of fudgy. The only bright side to desserts with the wrong consistency is that they can make a great base for something else. It's like you bought a box of pre-packaged cookie crumble to make a pie crust out of. Or a mini cheese-cake crust.

Well, I've had some cream cheese sitting in the fridge for over a week now, so I put it to use. Here is the recipe for the cheesecake:

Mini Cheesecake*:
16 oz creamcheese room temperature
2 eggs room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Cream creamcheese and eggs in a bowl until well combined.
3. Add sugar and combine well, then lemon juice and vanilla.
4. Pour mixture over prepared crusts in muffin cups (really this can be any dessert that has the right flavor and the wrong texture. The drier the better).
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the center no longer jiggles when moved.
6. Enjoy!

*Recipe based from Simply...Gluten Free  by Carol Kicinski.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Is it really that time of year again? I anticipate autumn for all of August (and some of July...well maybe it starts in June). Apple cider donuts, apple picking, acorn squash and pumpkin pie. It's harvest season and the best time of year to be in the northeast. My sister came home with a sack of apples on Tuesday after a birthday visit to an orchard upstate and I've been staring at it longingly all week. Amidst my morning routine of coffee brewing, greek yogurt eating and checking email, I threw in some apple peeling and voila! Applesauce. I always imagine it will last me into those cold winter evenings when I crave warm autumn flavor, but let's face it, the sauce will be gone before the weekend is out.


1 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
Juice of one lemon

1. Peel, core and quarter the apples. I take a large saucepan and fill it with apples as I peel them to get an idea of how many will fit (usually 10-12).
2. Add ingredients to prepped apples and mix well before covering and bringing the mixture to a boil.
3. Reduce heat and let sauce simmer for 20-30 minutes.
4. Take in the scent of autumn and warm your soul.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Peanut Butter White Chocolate Biscaitie

Who knew that it'd be a good combination? I'm a huge fan of dark chocolate and peanut butter so I never tried peanuts with white chocolate. I was pleasantly surprised! The sweetness of the chocolate is countered nicely by the salty peanut butter (especially if you get all natural creamy peanut butter). I'm curious about trying peanut butter with texture next. I imagine the extra crunch could be very nice. As for the chocolate drizzle (you were deceived by the photo, no?) I couldn't resist...it's a fun way to draw on food, and surprisingly hard to pull off! Want one? Stop by Odradeks in Kew Gardens!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Improvised Kitchen

You scrape together the ingredients for dessert, lay them out and realize you're missing one thing: the right pan. Baking in a variety of poorly equipped college kitchens, I've learned a lot about how to simply "make it work."

Inspired by my step dad's innovation for my sister's angel food birthday cake (listed below), I've compiled a list of go to baking tricks when you don't have the right picks:

Bundt Cake Pan (Credit to James Racheff)
 A tin can in the center of a circular cake pan works well when you don't have a bundt pan. Be sure to grease the can well!
Double Boiler

 I like to use two stacked pots although a bowl over a pot works as well. The nice thing about the pots is having a handle to grab as metal bowls get very hot over boiling water.

Rolling Pin
Any bottle works well for rolling out dough although I am a particular fan of wine bottles because they have more weight. Nalgene style bottles work as well. Be sure to take off all labels and rinse well.

If a recipe requires sifting, try whisking the flour or sugar in a bowl rigorously instead. This breaks up the chunks for a finer texture. A tea strainer works as well if you have one big enough.

Let me know if you've come up with any of your own and I'll add them to the list!

*All illustrations courtesy of yours truly. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Plus Side to Bad Baking

I made the worst breakfast ever yesterday. And I made it twice. Worst of all? It was an attempt to make my sister's birthday breakfast. First attempt: gluten free crepes with banana and mango, a simple recipe from my guru. Result? Salty sweet, thick & eggy omelets.  Second attempt: gluten free pancakes. Result? Soggy chickpea flavored patties. Yuck and yuck. I felt terrible. An hour of work with nothing to show for it.

Baking is an art. The preparation, presentation and aroma, the taste, texture and scale: they all contribute to the same basic elements of design. I studied art for 8 years, so it's hard for me to think in other terms, and I've learned that the creative process cycles. I saw a great Ted Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert (check it out here) where she discusses how the Greeks and Romans viewed creative genius as a separate being from oneself. Instead of taking all the credit for your successes, and punishment for your failures, the muse is the culprit of all things and comes and goes as they please. And my muse has not been with me...I have bakers block.

Of course I've been baking. I made 5 more loaves of cornbread, cooked more peaches in the residual basil sauce and even had the birthday breakfast bust. But sparks of genius are far from your control and the rest is discipline. Keep at it. Don't give up. Bake crap, throw things away--it's the bitter process of learning. The easy part is to practice with what you already know, and the hard part? To take a risk, fail, and continue forward.