It’s been six years since I said “So long, Seventh Avenue.”. I really thought I had expunged the last remnants of my fashion career from my life. For instance, my work wardrobe, despite the season, now consists of elastic waist yoga pants and oversized T shirts. Everything’s the same, too, so I don’t have to stand in front of the mirror holding hangers of clothes in front of myself, wondering if this outfit or that matches my mood for the day. I just have to decide: ”clean or not clean”. The only time I thumb through “Vogue” Magazine is to get to a Jeffrey Steingarten piece. And, you can bet your bottom dollar, by the time I actually embrace a fashion trend said trend is officially on Rachael Zoe’s discard rack.
So, it was curious to me the other day when I began thinking about denim. It began with my jacket. Now that it’s getting warmer, I started rooting around in the closet looking for some lighter weight outerwear. There it was…my old friend the denim jacket. I’ve had this one for at least 10 years, if not longer. In my humble fashion estimation, it’s the perfect topper for everything from a pair of elastic waist yoga pants and sneaks, to the latest Armani wide-leg pants and Christian Louboutin gladiator sandals (not that I’m wearing the latest wide-leg pants & gladiator sandals).
As I gently touched the faded, broken- in sleeve, I smiled as I thought about all the ways denim is used today. From construction workers’ uniforms to toned-down black tie casual.
There’s a version of denim for everyone and every occasion.
It’s the same way with cake. Stay with me here. To me, it’s the confectionary equivalent of denim. For instance, gussie up a genoise in perfectly fondanted and stacked tiers. Then festoon it with delicate sugar flowers and that cake is ogled every bit as much at a wedding reception as a supermodel in Roberto Cavalli jeans is on the catwalk. The ‘Mom Jeans’ of my gateaux world? Marble poundcake. Then, there are…..cupcakes. Need I say more? You know those sexy little babies can be as naughty as a pair of Daisy Dukes.
But, here’s the rub. I like my cake the way I like my denim: without unnecessary additives. That’s why my cakes are always made from scratch. Always and only with fresh ingredients whose names I can pronounce. Xanthan gum, maltodextrin, sodium stearoyl lactylate? You can keep ‘em, Betty. And you, Duncan, I don’t want your partially hydrogenated soybean oil. The same way I don’t want 74-percent rayon/23-percent polyester/3-percent spandex turning my 100% cotton dungarees into, heaven forbid, jeggings.
I want cake flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. See?
And, I’m going plunk in some unsalted butter, see?
To this I will add, in 3 intervals, eggs, milk and vanilla. See?
Then, after it’s mixed not too much, not too shy, I’ll have this:
And, after I’ve baked it, I’ll have this cake. See that beautiful, soft crumb? The only other ingredient I added to this recipe was tender loving care.
Now that’s a cake that’s as classic as a pair of Levi 501′s.
Rose Levy Beranbaum’s All-Occasion Downy
Yellow Butter Cake
Adapted from The Cake Bible (1988)
6 large egg yolks
1 c. whole milk
2 ¼ tsps pure vanilla extract
3 c sifted cake flour
1 ½ c sugar
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
6 oz room temp unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350º. Butter and flour two 9 inch cake pans.
In a medium bowl, combine eggs, ¼ c of the milk & the vanilla extract.
In electric mixer mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients and
mix on low for 1 ½ minutes to combine AND sift. (this aerates and begins to develop the cake’s structure)
Add butter and remaining milk to dry mix. Pulse to lightly combine. Then mix on speed 2 for 2.30 minutes. Stop, scrape down bowl and add 1/3 egg/milk, vanilla mixture. Mix on speed 2 for 20 seconds. Scrape down bowl and repeat two more times w/ remaining egg mixture. (This strengthens the cake’s structure.)
Scrape batter into prepared pans and bake for 25-35 minutes til cake springs back to the touch or inserted tester comes out clean. Cool on rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and let cakes continue cooling on racks.Read More »
Sometimes I wonder why cookie recipes are written the way they are. Is anyone really testing them? Because if they were, this little secret would have been exposed long ago.
Many’s the sugar cookie recipe that instructs you to collect the dough, pat it into a disc wrapped in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or so til firm. Firm, as in, impossible to roll out without the upper body strength of [insert favorite superhero's name]. You are then instructed to roll the dough out. What you’re not told is that you have to beat the living daylights out of the dough in order to make it malleable enough to roll out. To add insult to injury, these recipes tell you now is the time to sink your cutters in and cut desired shapes. What they don’t tell you is that the dough is so soft that it can’t hold any shape, regardless of how many spatulas, shovels or other kitchen accoutrements you’ve purchased to carefully transfer that dough to a cookie sheet. And no matter how careful you are, that gingerbread man is starting to look like Salvadore Dali made him. AAARRRGGGHHH…..daunted before you even get to the fun part of decorating. Maddening, isn’t it? You feel like a failure before you even begin.
Well, I’m going to share a little secret with you. The one that no one will tell you. The one that switches on the lightbulb over your head while you slap your knee and say “OMG…that’s brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?” Take note my friends. The secret lies between the sheets. Sheets of parchment paper, to be precise.
Ready? Here you go. Take a scoop or two of the dough and place it on a piece of parchment paper. Top with another sheet. Roll it to desired thickness. Repeat til all dough is rolled out. Use the rolling pin bands if you’re not good at judging desired thickness. Place these sheets of dough in your freezer, not your refrigerator, for at least 30 minutes. Do you see where I’m going with this? While the dough is resting, which, by the way, is what it’s doing when you plop that lump of unrolled dough in the ‘fridge, you can kick back. I promise you that your resting dough is relaxing whatever glutens you might have stirred up while combining the ingredients. Consider this the power nap of resting cookie dough.
Prepare your cutters and cookie sheets. Preheat the oven to whatever temperature your recipe calls for. Put a tablespoon or so of flour onto a small plate so you can dip the cutter in and coat the cutter’s edges. Your cookies will have a very sharp, clean edge after you do this. Remove a frozen sheet of dough from the freezer and rip the paper from top and bottom of the cookie dough. You’ll struggle if you don’t loosen that bottom sheet. Cut the cookies (don’t forget to dip the cutter in the flour) and move them, oh so gracefully to the prepared cookie sheet. See how quickly and easily you’re sailing through? See how the cookies are keeping their shape? If you’re not moving at lightning speed, and the dough begins to get too warm to work with, don’t freak out. Re-cover it with the parchment paper, place it back in the freezer and take out a fresh frozen sheet. Keep on going til you’ve filled your cookie sheet. You’re ready to bake your beautiful cookies that, I promise, won’t be shape shifters.
That wasn’t so hard, was it? Look at those beautiful cookies. No need to thank me…I’m just doing my job. And, the recipe tester’s, too.
Oh….what’s that? You need a good sugar cookie recipe? Here…use this one. Just follow til it tells you to refrigerate that lump of dough, then try my way.Read More »
Hey..I’m blogging! See? Oh yeah, I’ll be chitting and chatting about my confections and savories, opining on foodie matters. What’s that you say? There are already food bloggers out there? Gazillions of ‘em, for like, 10 years or more? That’s okay with me. So I’m not the first one to arrive at the party.
I am a late bloomer. Literally, starting with being born 3 weeks past the due date. Daring to take my first steps at 17 months of age. It’s not like I was a total dud….I practically spoke in full sentences at that age. I just couldn’t talk AND walk. Speaking of athletic endeavors, I took tadpole swimming lessons at age 12. Me & my breast buds flailing about with 6 year olds. So, I’m not athletic…big deal. Artistic leanings? Nope. Not that either..I got a ‘D’ in 7th grade art class (only one grading period, not the whole year). That one might not be entirely my doing; Mrs. Whatshername wasn’t particularly inspiring.
When I reached my forties, I had two life-altering revelations that normally occur twenty years earlier: (a) that there were more ways of doing things than my mother’s way or the wrong way, and (b) that you can make what you love to do into your work. The second one was almost as powerful as the first one (more about that one in posts to come). It was particularly important because it explained why I didn’t have that fire in my belly for selling designer fashions, and why my daydreams were only about all aspects of food. I liked clothes well enough, but never qualified as a fashionista. Frankly, selling fashion isn’t as glamorous as you might think. Imagine holding up a dress that’s been made out of what looks like car upholstery and crooning to unwitting buyers “it’s fabulous” when you know it’s really not, but there are 750 of those puppies hanging and collecting dust bunnies in a faraway warehouse, and SOMEBODY has to buy them. All the while fantasizing about a cake featured on Martha Stewart, a new recipe in the late, great Gourmet Magazine. It’s a wonder I ever made a sale.
In the spring of 2003, I said goodbye to fashion or should I say, it said goodbye to me. I was collateral damage in a downsized business. That was a curve ball I didn’t expect to have to catch. But after that freaky feeling wore off, it was time to act so, I enrolled in The French Culinary Institute’s Pastry Arts Program. 21 students in the class between the ages of 18 and 28, and me. Late bloomers like moi don’t worry about age differences, no-siree. We’re the same as the other kids, except we have some money, own our apartments, and have a car. Yes, we’re all alike…..except when it came to pulled sugar roses and chocolate sculptures, but that wasn’t an age thing. That damned art thing got in the way again. Six months later, we’re graduating. And, I graduated with honors, mostly because moxie trumped artistic flair. But it didn’t matter. Honors are honors and I felt great.
In all this time, though, it never dawned on me that I would be embarking on a new career that takes a physical toll on its grunts. Standing on my feet (almost 50 year old feet, don’t forget) for 12 – 14 hours/day is exhausting. But, it also feels really good: a feeling of a task completed from beginning to end. And, when I began to work at a popular Chelsea bakery, I learned I could really whip out the product when someone else washed mixing bowls, pans, and utensils. I became an unstoppable baking machine, dressed in elastic waist pants and wearing clown shoes called clogs to make room for the bunions that were sprouting like onions on my feet. So long Manolo Blahnik, hello Crocs.
Then, I got it into my head to intern for a famous cake designer. I thought it would develop help my art skills. Failing gumpaste accents (hippopotamus feet, terra cotta roof tiles, ribbons, bows and tissue for a gift box cake) it became abundantly clear that sculpted cakes would never be my game. I switched my focus and began working with a cookie designer, creating little bites of edible art. One could argue that if sculpted cakes are the confectionary equivalent of the Great American Novel, decorated cookies are nice little short stories. It all came together: outlining and filling those cookies, I was the “Rain Man” of this cookie business toiling (for peanuts) practically 14-16 hours a day, 5 days a week, another 8 -9 hours on Saturdays. This is devotion. This is love. This is madness. There has to be another way.
There is. June 2005: One Tough Cookie, Inc. was born. At the age of 50, I opened my own business when most pastry chefs my age are considering consulting gigs. I’m getting orders, lots and lots of orders. People compliment my ‘art’. MY ART! DO YOU HEAR THAT, 7th GRADE ART TEACHER? Magazines want me to make cookies for ad meetings, cookies for photo shoots. Urban Baby wrote the first press piece about me. I’ve even dubbed myself ‘a confectionary artist’. I’m learning new tricks and even inventing some. I’m still standing on my feet for a good 12 hours a day, but, I swear, it doesn’t feel like work, because it’s what I love to do and think about 24/7/365. If I say so myself, I’m getting pretty darned good at this. Good enough that other bakers come to me for advice….and expertise. Me. Art class almost- dropout.
Which leads me here. Blogging. Joining those ten gazillion food bloggers who’ve paved the way for newbies by sharing their work, how-tos, and photos. The blogosphere party is in full swing and I’ve just arrived. You see, in my world, better late than never is perfect timing.
Note: This post looks very barren because I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to add a photo. I click and click, and nothing happens. By the time I add another post, this should be remedied.Read More »