Archive for the ‘Chocolate’ Category

First Timer

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

I did something today that I have never done before. I made molten chocolate cake.

I don’t know that I ever really considered making a molten chocolate cake before. It’s not that I actively avoided it, sneered at it while calling it names like “cliche”, or “washed up” behind it’s back.  No, I harbor no resentment towards molten chocolate cake.  It just never entered my mind as an option.

In fact, I can’t really remember ever eating one. Which seems odd, because for a long while they were everywhere. And for a long while, I had an aching sweet tooth, which sat in the back of my mouth, next to an aching chocolate tooth. (Thanks to my daily intake of sugar, my sweet and chocolate tooths have been quieted and given way to a potato chip tooth, and a bacon tooth, but that’s a different story.)

But this dessert is sooo cliche, and sooo over it’s prime, that it’s not even everywhere anymore.

Despite all this, today I made molten chocolate cake. Actually, I made 9 of them, at the request of a very special birthday girl. And I have to say, I can see why these things were everywhere.

Warm, gooey chocolate inside warm soft dense cakey chocolate. What’s not to love. I even garnished it with raspberry coulis, in little tear drops, and a dollop of whipped cream. If I had it on hand, I would have done this dessert right by itself, propped a sprig of mint in the top, and dusted the entire thing with powdered sugar.

When I began looking into making this birthday wish come true, I consulted my research assistant, Google.  Google led me to the original recipe, from none other than Jean-George. This recipe turns out to be in the category of urban kitchen legend I call, “fortunate misfortunes.” In other words, a blunder that turned out to be better than the intention.

Legend tell us that Jean-George pulled the cake out of the oven too early. Upon unmolding it, and cutting into it, the unbaked center oozed chocolate goodness. And they all lived happily ever after.

That is to say, the American public and the molten chocolate cake have been in love ever since.

Like I said, I get it.  It’s pretty dang good. And not only is it good, it is not hard to make. Whip the eggs and sugar. Melt the chocolate and butter. Fold together. Fold in a little flour. Bake in ramekins for 10 minutes.  Unmold and voila! Since the batter can be preset in the ramekins and kept in the refrigerator until you want to bake them, they are a dream for service.

I believe it’s safe to say that the molten chocolate cake has joined the ranks of new American classic. Desserts, like the brownie sundae, that are well on their way to being classics, but without the tenure of strawberry shortcake, or creamsicles.

And of course, this dessert will start teasing me, making me wonder how I can make it mine. How can I translate it through my present state of experience, filter it through my personality, and what would come out the other end?

It may never see my menu, but then again, I doubt I’d have a hard time selling a modern twist on the new American classic, the molten chocolate cake.

Molten Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
extra flour and butter for coating 4 – 4 ounce ramekins

1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2.  Use your fingers to smear some of the extra butter inside the ramekins, coating the entire inside evenly. Put a spoonful of the extra flour in each ramekin, and shake it around until all the butter is coated in flour. Pour the extra flour back out of the ramekin, tapping it on the bottom lightly to make sure anything that isn’t stuck to the butter comes out.

3.Melt the butter and chocolate together. To do this, make a double boiler by setting a large mixing bowl over a medium pot of simmering water. Put the chocolate and butter in the bowl and let it melt slowly, stirring a few times to mix it together.

4.  When the chocolate and butter have melted together, turn the heat off the double boiler, and use pot holders to take the bowl of chocolate off the pot of water. Be careful of the steam from under the bowl, it could be very hot.

5.  Place the eggs, yolks, and sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on a medium to high speed. Continue mixing until the eggs become pastel yellow, thick, and glossy.

2. Pour the melted chocolate and butter into the bowl with the eggs, using a rubber spatula to scrape all the chocolate from the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer on the lowest speed, and carefully mix the chocolate with the eggs, until it is even.

5.  Take the bowl away from the mixer, and add the flour and salt. Use a rubber spatula to carefully fold the flour into the chocolate, until it is very evenly mixed together.

6.  Divide the batter evenly between the four ramekins.

7.  Put the ramekins of chocolate batter on a baking sheet and bake them in the 450 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes.  The outsides should start to set, but the center should feel soft when you press on it lightly.

8.  Let the cakes cool for about 1 to2 minutes, to cool just a touch.  Using a dry dish towl, hold the hot ramekin with one hand, and carefully turn the cake out into your other hand. Quickly set the hot ramekin down, and use both hands to gently place the tender cake onto a plate.

9.  Serve immediately, with raspberry sauce and whipped cream.

Raspberry Sauce

2 cups frozen raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
the zest of 1 lemon

1.  Put the frozen raspberries in a bowl. Sprinkle the top with the sugar, and grate the lemon zest over the top of the sugar.

2.  Toss the berries with the lemon zest and sugar until they are evenly coated.

3.  Put the berries in a small sauce pan, and put it over low heat. Cook the berries for about 5 minutes, until the berries release all of their juices.  You will notice the sauce start to bubble and thicken a bit.

4.  Take the pot away from the heat, and carefully transfer the berries and juices from the pot to the cup of a blender.  Put the lid on the blender tightly.  Turn the blender on the lowest speed first, just to get the berries moving around a little, then turn it up to a medium speed to puree the berries into a smooth sauce.  If you turn the blender on a high speed right away, the hot berries might splash out of the blender!

5.  Pour the raspberry sauce into a strainer set over a bowl to remove the seeds.  Let the sauce cool in the refrigerator.

6.  You can make this sauce up to 3 days ahead of time.

As the cookie crumbles

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I smiled to myself as I flipped through the 5 recipes contained in the first chapter of Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts, taking delight in her notation that her “favorite” recipe for chocolate chip cookies strait-up was temporary.   It’s a life long obsession for many pastry chefs, that of chasing the perfect chocolate chip cookie, one I like Falkner have been pursuing for years.

While I don’t make chocolate chip cookies with the once-a-week frequency Falkner admits to, I have been remaking these ubiquitous treats since I was but a  wee thing.  For many of us with a passion for baking, chocolate chip cookies are the first recipe we mastered.  I remember at the tender age of 12, beaming with pride as a batch of cookies was in the oven.  Not at the dough on the worn sheetpans in the oven, successfully melting into golden disks, the aroma teasing my little sisters as they licked the beaters clean of raw dough.  I was looking at the dirty dishes in the sink.   I had honed my process to dirty the absolute minimal amount of dishes; the two beaters and bowl of my mom’s aging sunbeam mixmaster, the white sifter with a red triggered handle and daisy decal chipping from the side, a bowl to sift the flour into, a rubber spatula, 2 measuring cups, a teaspoon, and a spoon from the silverware drawer for dropping.  And if my sisters did their jobs well, the beaters would be clean before they hit the suds!

Perhaps a glimpse at the pastry chef I was to become, I was as interested in the entire process as I was the results, which I watched carefully.

My recipe at the time was taken from the back of the tollhouse package, which I learned to tear carefully lest I rip important information from sight as I snuck a few chips from the bag.  It served me, and millions of other cookie baking Americans, well.  However, as soon as I began pursuing my career in desserts seriously, I began to stray.  I have tried more recipes than I can remember, resulting in good, bad, and ugly.  However, the most important result I have experienced is finding my preferences.

Preferred by myself is a cookie thick with chips, half milk, half very dark.  At home this means Ghiridelli, in the restaurant it’s chunks from what ever I have on hand, Valrhona at the moment, Cacao Barry and Callabeaut at other times.  I enjoy a flatter cookie, with a crackly crisp shell, that yields between the teeth easily to a dense chewy center.  My cookies have a smidge of extra salt, the zest of an orange, or if I am feeling frisky, lemon, and I love the flavor of brown sugar, as dark as I can find.  If there are to be nuts, I like them to be toasted cashews.  Good vanilla extract, real vanilla extract, is a must, and I have long since allowed gold medal brand flour near my baked goods, trading that bitter flour for the better tasting King Arthur.

But like Falkner said, her favorite chocolate chip cookie is a transient friend, and my current favorite is just that, current.  Two years ago I couldn’t be bothered to make anything but the recipe I pulled from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, scented with orange zest and rich with ground cashew flour.  Chewy, yes.  Double chips, absolutely.  A little salty, check.  And it introduced me to the addition of orange zest.

This year, however, my favorite is a recipe found online, from one of those homey recipe sharing sites, titled simply “bakery style chocolate chip cookies.”  What caught my eye was the small amount of butter used in the recipe.  Melted butter.  What the heck I thought, I’ll give it a shot.  I haven’t looked back.

This recipe uses the concept that liquid fat coats the flour molecules much more efficiently, making for a more tender product.  And because the fat isn’t aerated by creaming the granulated sugar with it, there are very few air pockets for the chemical leavener to expand during the baking process, leaving a denser cookie.  I also use granulated sugar with larger crystals, not that superfine bakers stuff, which dissolves at a slower rate and migrates to the surface of the cookie during the baking process for that crackly crisp shell I love so much.

I simply added the orange zest and double chocolate I love so much, cashews if they are around, and presto a new favorite was born.  I have to say, with the ease of melting the butter rather than tempering and creaming it to a specific stage, this recipe might just stick around for a while.

As for you, are you the cakey cookie type?  Do you like them tall and fluffy?  Under baked and raw in the center?  Baked firm and crunchy?  Milk chocolate?  Semisweet?  Dark?  Peanut butter chocolate chip, or perhaps oatmeal chocolate chip?  Maybe you even like the variations with the box of vanilla pudding in them, or from a tub of premade dough!  (No judgement from me!!)  Does anyone else miss the mint chocolate chips they used to sell?

Here’s my current favorite recipe, for you to try along your own quest for your perfect chocolate chip cookie.  Current, fleeting, and sitting on my counter cooling while I write and ponder what the addition of ground oats might do to them.  You know what the kids are saying these days, best friends forever for now!

For the best results, use a scale and use my gram measurements.  I will provide approximate cup/spoon measurements, but it won’t be exactly the same.

300 grams King Arthur all purpose flour (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)

3 grams baking soda (1/2 teaspoon)

7 grams kosher salt (1 1/3 tsp)

170 grams melted butter, cooled (3/4 cup)

225 grams dark brown sugar ( 1 cup)

100 grams larger crystal white sugar (1/2 cup)

1 egg

1 yolk

5 grams neilsen massey Madagascar vanilla extract (1 tsp)

1 orange

200 grams dark chocolate chips (1 1/2 cup)

200 grams milk chocolate chips (1 1/2 cup)

( optional 100 grams chopped toasted cashews) (3/4 cup)

1.  Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl and whisk together until even.  Do not sift through a sifter as it will aerate the flour too much.  Set aside.

2.  Place the sugars in the bowl of a kitchen aid mixer (or prepare to use a large work bowl, a firm spoon, and your arm muscles).  Using a microplane zester, grate the zest from the orange directly over the sugars, which will collect every last drop of orange oil that is released.  Use your fingers to mix the sugars and orange zest, making sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.

3.  Add the egg,  yolk, melted butter, salt, and vanilla and paddle until smooth and even.

4.  Scrape the sides of the bowl well, working any uneven bits back into the mixture until even.

5.  Add the flour and mix on low until the dough comes together.  Add the chips and optional nuts and mix until even.

6.  Drop cookies onto cookie sheets and bake at 325 until done.  I use a  portion scoop with an ejection button found at kitchen supply shops or on amazon, often used as ice cream scoops or sometimes conveniently labeled as cookie scoops.  This will not only provide equally sized cookies which will bake evenly, but it will make perfectly round cookies as well.  Scoop 12 balls of cookie dough onto your sheet pan, which I always line with parchment, and press them down with your hand to a thickness just under half an inch.  This promotes the cookie to spread and be flat and even on top, just like you see in bakeries.

7.  Bake for 6 minutes, turn the pan around front to back and rotate it from the top of the oven to the bottom, or vice versa, and bake for 3 to 6 more minutes.  The top will crackle and will start to hint at golden brown when they are done.  Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet until they are firm enough to transfer without breaking, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

The Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA

Monday, May 7th, 2007

After a wonderful family filled weekend in Santa Cruz, attending my first Bat Mitzvah, discovering further joys in my uncle’s lemon tree, and riding the wooden roller coaster on the Boardwalk until my voice was horse from screaming, Russell and I headed north. A short and scenic drive up the coast took us into San Fransisco to spend the remaining 36 hours of our short vacation.

We didn’t have any touristy plans per se, but I had big plans for us, and our stomach’s.

Our first stop was, well, 5 minutes into town. I made Russell go to first In-n-out we could find. For years now, I have heard the buzz about the one fast food chain who was doing it right, and I was ready to experience this. I had a cheeseburger, and some fries, and it was good. It wasn’t mind blowing, but it was good. However, what really did blow my mind, was how far fast food has sunk away from this simple, good burger, to make In-n-Out such an anomaly. It’s true, In-N-Out is leagues above it’s competition, McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the box, etc. But nothing I tasted blew me away. It tasted like what your average, standard burger/fries should, nothing more, nothing less. A little shocking to realize that this simple standard is so hard to find. My burger award still goes to the local chain out of Oregon, Burgerville for their Tillimook Burger.

The first morning we were there, I took tips from every foodie website written in the bay area and headed strait for the Ferry Building. I don’t know what I expected to find. A food court, maybe a farmers market, but with every step I took further into the cavernous mall, my delight grew.

“Look Russell!!! There’s the Gelato we buy! and the Cowgirl Creamery!!! I can only get 3 kind of cheese from them in Seattle!!” I said, practically skipping

“OOH, this bakery is the cutest thing I have ever seen!” I gushed as I passed Miette

But I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the sign for Micheal Rechutti.

“No way. I didn’t even know he had a retail outlet.”

I approached the tiny store front with caution, slipping in the back side, looking at the jars of sauce and books, shuffling slowly up to the counter. I took my place, looking at each small chocolate under the glass as if it were a jewelery counter. The names alone took my breath away.

Cassis Stratta
Lemon Verbena
Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn
Cardamom Nougat
Force Noire
Tarragon Grapefruit
Honeycomb Malt
Spring Jasmine Tea

And then there were sparkling Pates de fruits, glistening like diamonds.

I purchased 6 different bites, and with Russell began to stroll the corridor, nibbling as we went. It was a mere 5 minutes before the uncontrollable desire for more had me standing at the counter again, ready to try everything else. The flavors were perfect. Rarely do I use absolute statements, but these chocolates here have made me do unexpected things. Like call them perfect, and revisit the shop 3 more times, once on the way out of town to purchase the complete collection “for the road”.

What makes these chocolate perfect to me? Balance. Each flavor was infused in perfect harmony with the chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but a carefully selected percentage of cocoa mass to best present the flavor.

Those fleeting tastes have left indelible flavor memories in me, and are something I will strive to replicate my entire journey through pastry. To recreate a singular taste that is nothing short of perfect.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate covered honey-rosemary cake

Monday, April 9th, 2007

For Erik, who is like me in noticing the nakedness of the post featuring a cake I made recently, here are the recipes I used to create the cake. And for Britt, the honey mousse recipe is included, however, you had mentioned dipping strawberries into them, really great idea! In that case, I would omit the gelatin and use it right away. It has a nice creamy structure on it’s own, and will actually keep that way for a day or two, but I added gelatin to give it the structure it needed to support the cake layers.

This cake is really a two day process. Not just this cake, all cakes. Professional cake makers always, always bake the cake at least a day before it is to be assembled, wrapping it and storing it in the refrigerator or freezer. This allows the cake to stale a bit, tightening the crumb, drying it a tiny bit. By doing this, the cake layers are ready for another professional touch, the soaking syrup.

A simple syrup is made with a complimentary flavor and brushed over the cake for lasting moisture. This gives the cakes a better texture, and allows for another flavor dynamic in the cake. We are soaking our cake in a rosemary syrup, which if made ahead of time and allowed to sit in the refrigerator overnight intensifies the rosemary flavor in the syrup.

Because the cake is filled with a mousse that must set for at least 4 hours before the cake is covered in chocolate glaze, the two day project truly requires a little planning. It also allows you to break up the work and fit into pockets of free time from various days. The cake and syrup can be made up to a week ahead of time, the mousse filled cake can wait for it’s glaze for 2 days. The mousse and glaze, however, must be applied to the cake immediately.

To assemble the cake, begin by cutting the top and bottom of the cakes off in a thin layer. Split the cake in half evenly. Place the bottom layer of the cake in the pan it was baked in, which has been cleaned and lined with a circle of parchment. Brush both cake with rosemary syrup.

Prepare the mousse according the the recipe, and immediately transfer into the cake pan lined with a single layer of cake. Spread the mousse evenly over the cake and cover with the second layer of rosemary cake. Gently press the cake layer with your hands to ensure it has adhered to mousse evenly, and there are no buckles in the cake. Wrap this in plastic and store in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

When the cake has set, run a hot paring knife between the edge of the cake and the pan. Place a cardboard cake circle exactly the same size as the cake over the top of the cake pan, and carefully flip the cake over. Set this on the counter and remove the cake pan from the cake by pulling strait up, shimmying the pan a little if necessary.

Brush any loose crumbs from the cake and place it on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Place this in the refrigerator while you prepare the glaze. Once the glaze is ready to pour, bring the cake out. Begin pouring the glaze focusing the stream in the center of the cake, and extending the stream about 8 inches above the cake. When all the glaze is on the cake, take a long cake spatula and push the excess glaze from the center of the cake towards the outside in 3 or 4 decisive motions.

Place the cake in the refrigerator to set the glaze for 10 to 15 minutes. When the glaze is set, transfer the cake from the wire rack to a serving plate. Store the cake in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it, wrapping it lightly, but completely in plastic wrap if storing the cake overnight.

Recipe: Honey Mousse

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Choosing a high quality honey from a small bee keeper rather than the honey bear from the grocery store makes all the difference in the world. I am not a food snob, so when standard grocery store ingredients are a fair substitute, I’ll say so. But here, because this mousse was developed to highlight the singular flavor of honey, every flaw in the honey will show.

I taught this honey mousse recipe a class last summer, and the two men who chose this recipe as thier project ended up making it 3 times. They admited later that they saw the sparse ingredient list and thought it would be the easiest recipe. They learned that the list of ingredients was intentionally simple to allow focus on the methods. On their 3rd try, they prepared themselves properly, paid attention to each ingredient and the temperatures at which they were worked with, and had everything prepared in advance before they started making anything. They were amply rewarded with a beautiful mousse, and learned a great lesson about sucessfully aproaching a recipe.
The recipe seems wordy, but it includes tips on treatment of the ingredients that will help you take the simple list and turn them into something much larger that the sum of thier parts.

So read through the recipe, be prepared by having every thing measured, and all your equipment gathered before you begin.

If you are using this recipe to fill a cake, then you will need to have the cake layers trimmed, brushed in their syrup, the bottom layer sitting in the cake pan you baked it in as a mold. Have these on the counter ready to go, so when the mousse is completed, it can be used to fill the cake imediately, before the gelatin begins to set.

Honey Mousse

Prepare a double boiler using a pot with a wide enough mouth to fit a large bowl.

4 egg yolks

4 oz. honey (just over 1/3 a cup)

half a vanilla bean, seeded, or 1 tsp extract in a pinch

2 tbsp water
1 tsp gelatin

2 cups cream

1. Prepare the cream to whip by placing it in the bowl you intend to whip it in, and placing that in the refrigerator along with the whisk you intend to use.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin in the bottom of the smallest pot you own. (I use my stainless steel 1/2 cup measuring cup, which holds up to the low heat the gelatin is later melted over) Cover the gelatin with the 2 tbsp of water, making sure every granual is covered and can absorb water, using a little more water if needed. Set aside.

2. Making the honey sabayon: Place the yolks, honey, and vanilla in a large stainless steel or glass bowl, and place it over the pot of simmering water you have prepared as your double boiler. With the water simmering, but not boiling rapidly, start cooking the honey mixture while calmly whisking constantly. Continue whisking the honey and eggs over heat until they start to thicken, and lighten in color. This can take as little as 3 minutes, and as long as 10, depending on how much heat is transfering to the bowl from the simmering water in the pot. It is best to cook this slower as you will have a more stable base for your mousse.

3 . When the honey sabayon is finished, a little mound will appear on the surface when a small amount is drizzled from the whisk back into the bowl. At this point, remove the bowl from the double boiler and set aside.

4. Place the tiny pot of bloomed gelatin over low heat, and cook until it melts, stirring as needed. Transfer the gelatin to the warm honey sabayon and whisk it until the gelatin is evenly distributed. Set aside and allow the sabayon to come down in temperature. In preparing the sabayon for the incorporation of the whipped cream, it needs to be cool enough that it doesn’t melt the cream when it is folded in, but not so cool that the gelatin sets.

5. While the sabayon is cooling, remove the bowl of cream and whisk from the refrigerator and begin whisking. Whisk the cream to soft, thick, billowy peaks, by hand if possible. If using a kitchenaid mixer, turn the mixer on to speed 6, but no higher. The slower incorporation of air into very cold cream creates a denser whipped product, which adds structure to the delicate mousse, and creates a more luxurious mouthfeel. The more structure we can add from the correct cooking of the sabayon, and whipping of the cream, the less gummy gelatin we need to add making a delicately ballanced mousse.

6. When the cream has been whipped and the sabayon is at room temperature, begin incorporating the two. Place 1/3 of the cream into the sabayon, and whisk to incorporate. Place another 1/3 of the cream into the sabayon, and fold in carefully with a large rubber spatula. Finally, add the remaining 1/3 of cream to the sabayon and again, fold in carefully.

Recipe: Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

Monday, April 9th, 2007

The glaze I chose for this cake is a recipe I adopted from Alice Medrich’s book, Bittersweet. It is designed as a pouring glaze for desserts that are stored in the refrigerator, which is where your mousse cake will sit while waiting for it’s grand appearance. Medrich suggests pouring this glaze at 90 degrees for optimal results. This can be gauged with an instant read thermometer, or by taking a small dab of the glaze and touching it to your lip. It should feel to be the same temperature as your lip, so if it’s warm to the lip, wait another minute.

The chocolate glaze was made with a bittersweet chocolate containing 64 percent cocoa solids. Look for a chocolate of similar bitterness, but nothing higher. The acidity of extra bittersweet chocolate does not balance well with the sweet subtlety of the honey mousse, and the essence of the rosemary gets lost. If you can’t find anything at 64 percent, choose a semi sweet chocolate instead. For those who don’t live near a metropolitan area that provides many choices in chocolate, Nestle, the maker of toll house chips, has come out with a chocolatier line that is sold in large chain grocery stores like Safeway. If I even hear that you tried to make this with Bakkers chocolate, I will come find you, and slap your hand. Repeatedly. That stuff is not chocolate.

Bittersweet chocolate glaze

8 oz dark chocolate chopped finely

6 oz butter, (1 1/2 sticks)

1 tbsp light corn syrup

2 tbsp water

1. Place all the ingredients in a small heatproof bowl and set over a wide mouthed pot of simmering water.

2. Allow the chocolate and butter to melt, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the double boiler when it is almost, but not quite, melted. Set the glaze aside to finish melting, stirring once or twice until perfectly smooth.

3. Place the filled cake on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. When the glaze is smooth and shiny, pour it over the cake to cover it completely. Chill the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes to set the glaze before removing it from the rack.

4. Transfer the cake from the rack to a serving plate and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If the cake is to be kept overnight, wrap the cake lightly, but completely to avoid condensation forming on the glaze.

Baking Chocolate Covered Honey-Rosemary Cake

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

With my days now full of savory banquets rather than the pastries I had grown so accustom to in the 2 years past, I come home with a craving. Not a sweet tooth, per se, rather an overwhelming urge to bake. Cookies, brownies, cakes, you name it, I have been a home baking fool.

However, just picking up a recipe and making a few cookies isn’t the kind of satisfaction I come home burning for. No no no. My urges stem from my years developing recipes in a business setting, creating conceptual desserts. Thus, rather than making a few cookies from a recipe I have been looking to try, I have redefined my banana bread. But that wasn’t enough.

I started building a custom cake business. I couldn’t help it, really. It just happened! It’s been two months without a pastry outlet, and I have managed to come up with DC Customs. I even have business cards!

The concept is that I take on very few customers, making it possible to consult with each individually, and create a cake unique and individual based on the event and the person the cake is to please most. Starting from the inside out, I talk about flavors the client likes best, their favorite food as a kid, the bakery they trekked across town weekly to, just for their monkey bread, the cherry lime-aid from sonic that they guzzled in college. I have been building the cakes from the inside-out, choosing flavors and textures first. Then, we can decide how the cake is to look later, based on the limitations and allowances of the flavors, and the emotions you’d like the cake to elicit.

It’s taste I want to inspire each unique creation, not a picture seen in a recent wedding magazine.

To make my image reflect my mission, I have chosen to model it after a custom auto body shop. I am meeting with a tattoo artist soon to design the logo, and have chosen the simplistic name DC Customs to let everyone know, I’m not Martha.

Looking back, it’s almost silly. 2 months without a menu, without flour in my hair and chocolate under my nails and I have come up with a business.

Last weekend I developed a cake for a simple Sunday evening dinner party. Tim the cook, a friend and cohort at the Rainer Club, created his menu using the first of springs ingredients. The cake was to reflect the shifting season, to be elegant, sophisticated, yet humble enough for the intimacy of eight.

Because the world of desserts spends early spring in limbo, this was a challenge. The rich, comforting flavors of winter are no longer desired, yet the bright, acid pop of citrus didn’t fit the relaxed setting of the dinner. Rhubarb, the first hint that fruit is coming, is not quite here.

I chose to use Rosemary, and to scent a Brazilian cornmeal cake with it’s distinct flavor. The cake was split in two layers, soaked in a sweet rosemary syrup, and filled with honey mousse. To bring elegance to this rustic cake, I covered it in dark chocolate glaze. A crown of candied pine-nuts, which share the essence of rosemary, garnished the cake. I don’t often use inedible garnishes, but the petite lavender flowers blooming on rosemary bushes right now were to much to resist.

Thus, Tim’s cake was born.

You can see from the pictures, I had an expert taste tester. Bianka liked the cake so much she had to be sent to “time out” in the bathroom until the cake was safely on it’s way to it’s destiny.

Vosges Haut Chocolat

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Started and owned by the smart and talented Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut Chocolat is an up and coming high end chocolatier based out of Chicago. Among the special experiences I’ve had as an attendee of this year’s TED conference is that every few hours Katrina and her crew offer extensive tastings of a variety of different chocolate creations and experiments from their table. There’s something extremely positive about knowing that every few hours a table will be piled with free, delicious, and most importantly – interesting – chocolate deliciousness.

I haven’t been properly documenting all my eating so a proper writeup will have to wait. But there is something I found incredibly attractive about their chocolate. In general I don’t like anything other than nuts/caramels/toffees and the like mixed with my chocolate. So, fruit, herbs, liqueurs are out for me. But not only was everthing I tried creamy and deep, but the combinations were inspired. Every different configuration of sweet and savory mixed with chocolate was balanced and interesting. I felt like Katrina really has a thoughtful and disciplined palate and is not just trying combinations to be weird or different. I find that having a clear idea in your head of what something is supposed to taste like is a prerequisite for making something great. I intend to fully explore all the greatness from Vosges Haut Chocolate as soon as I can.