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A Note from Marcy

 

A Note from Marcy



 

 

Please also note our January 2006 Issue will be out January 9th while the BB Test Kitchen enjoys its holiday.

Welcome to the Bake It Forward Issue of BetterBaking.Com
Holiday Baking, December 2005 

Is there a better time of year to bake? The winter holidays, with regards to the baking population, is very much like January at my neighborhood gym. Post holidays, the newbies show up with good intentions. Alas, and bless them, but they never last through March. Still; I like the extra and diverse company.
 Ditto for holiday baking. We veteran bakers get all aflutter seeing butter on sale and laying in the stock for the baking season ahead. But to a large extent,  everyone, bakers or not, get into the act –even if all they do is a tray of cookies for the office party. Perhaps, like the post-holiday gym people, they will exit the kitchen come New Year’s Day. Happily, at this point in the season, the bakers’ ranks increase disproportionately and you can just feel the energy. Everyone in the pool! It’s all good. No bah. No humbug. It’s a most wonderful time of the year. You can shop Ebay and Amazon till you drop off to nod on your keyboard, or roam the malls till dawn and nothing, but nothing, will be as good or as lovingly received as the gift of home baking.  In food talk, baking, particularly cookies, is the perfect black dress. Always appropriate and always……perfect.

Bake It Forward, our theme for this festive month, takes its inspiration from the movie Pay It Forward. Discounting its shocking ending (and if you haven’t rented or seen it, do so but you can just not watch the ending –there, I warned you). The concept is about taking a nice gesture you receive and instead of paying it back; you ‘pay’ it forward and pass on the goodness to the next person in your path. I take it to mean, to give without expectation and wholly pure intention. Hence, bake it forward. This being the case, I have provided some exceptionally special but easy to make, easy to pack and give, recipes. For Recipe Archive members, don’t forget the fruitcakes, more cookies, deluxe holiday cakes and more, plus wonderful things for the Festival of Light. As far as the archive memberships go, yes, you can still join and your subscriptions will be honored until September 2006. We apologize for any confusion.

Speaking of business matters as well as new friends in flour, we also take this time to welcome our new association with www.AuroraImporting.com who in turn, represent the finest pizza flour we know, imported and now starring, from Italy, Molini Pizzuti, “OO” Flour.  We are working with this flour now, creating special recipes for you such as . Alas – the flour is not yet available to consumers. That is where you come in. If you love this flour (and you will – it makes the finest, crispest, best bistro style pizzas at home you can imagine your oven can produce), ask your local retailer, American or Canadian to bring it in. Meanwhile, we too, are chatting with some potential online retailers. Recipes for Molini Pizzuti flour are always free. This month, you might enjoy the Rustic ‘OO” Pizza Dough in a White Christmas Pizza Blanca rematch.

Some things you should remember for holiday baking is don’t skimp: pure butter, pure vanilla, fresh nuts and great chocolate. If you are sending or packing cookies for baking, by the way, the best approach is to stack them with pieces of parchment paper between layers of cookies (or wax paper) and then tin or box them up. Think unusual when it comes to what you pack them in: oversized Mason jars with a ribbon, old cookie tins or flour canisters, wrapped or painted coffee tins, ceramic cookie jars from Wal-Mart or TJ Max and Winners (in Canada). You can pack a good bunch of tiny butter cookies or mini-shortbread in an oversized white espresso coffee mug from a local restaurant supply shop. -just have tons of colored cello paper on hand. People eat with their eyes – so great baking starts in visual perception.  I know – who hasn’t brought in an aluminum pie plate covered in Saran wrap? That is also just fine but dolling up the goods tweaks the offerings ten-fold.

As for baking, don’t forget to double up your baking sheets (stack two together) when baking on the bottom rack and use a single sheet for the upper oven rack. Line all sheets with parchment paper. We tested out the Silpats and those are fabulous but you will need tons of them (and they are pricey) for holiday baking. I suggest you invest in one and see how you like it. (I am still more of a parchment pastry chef). The Silpat mats you use for rolling dough however – are one of the best inventions. Nothing sticks, clean-up is a breeze and they are generously proportioned. All Silpat products, whether you buy their commercial products or domestic line are available at kitchen supply places from Sur La Table, King Arthur, La Cuisine, Golda’s Kitchen and Ares stores in Montreal. My best cookie idea is to treat yourself to this gift: a mobile baker’s rack. There are those aluminum, rolling carts you can stack cookie sheets on. They hold anywhere from 12-20 baking sheets, in the size you need (check the measurements).

So – grab a stack of commercial, aluminum baking sheets from your restaurant supplier and ask them to order you a mobile baker’s rack. Yes, every home needs one. They are relatively inexpensive, they move around, and the fact of the matter is, as you take hot cookies and biscotti out of the oven, you quickly run out of counter space to cool them on! It is a huge bottleneck. A baker’s rack offers you precious vertical space, cooling space -which is baker's real estate. Prices range from $100-$250, depending on size or supplier but my baker’s mobile rack is almost as treasured as my Pro Kitchen Aid mixer and Garland range.

 And now, a holiday Note From Marcy,
Enjoy....

The 12 Pastry Chefs and the Buche That Stole Christmas
Marcy Goldman

Every once in while, a recipe, such as this month’s Buche Noel, takes me back, yet again, to my hotel school days. I have a Passover tale yet to be shared but this one, concerning my first Christmas  still takes the cake.

My class was comprised of 14 fine chefs; 12 male, 2 female (one was me); 13 professionals and one, aspiring (again, that would have been….me). This was the first session, which ran September through December, of a rigorous cycle of Pastry and Baking in which we learned the basics. By mid December, we had done the usual gamut of things, from Industrial Apple Pie (check out The Tao of Pie for the scoop on hotel school apple pie, in the July Note From Marcy Archives) to shortbread, mincemeat tarts and miniature quiches and no end of things involving angelica (Yes, Virginia, people do still use angelica), meringue, spun caramel nests and dangerously dark and delicious truffles. Classes were Monday and Tuesdays and ran six straight hours. Usually Monday was the preparation day wherein the elements for the next day’s assembled recipes were prepared. For example, that might mean for Black Forest Cake components such as vats of whipped cream, chocolate layers, and chocolate shavings  - the usual things one needs but in quantities to serve the Cirque du Soleil. The following day would be the assembly of the components.  Ah, for the sanity of this approach. We should all bake this way. You bake, you rest, you assemble. Smart.

On the first night of pastry class that particular, pre-Christmas week, we were told to bake up many batches of white and chocolate jellyroll cakes. We spent goodly hours rolling out marzipan, carving little axes, tinting thick, white ganache, made of what is called Compound Chocolate, green and red for holly leaves and little berries. Finally, seemingly three lifetimes later, we were told to bake up dozens of trays of all sizes of meringue mushroom, each dusted with a bit of cocoa to look (I thought) very Hanzel and Gretel-ish. By my 182nd meringue mushroom, I balked. Honestly, I thought, I am growing liver spots here making an entire meringue ‘tzachkas’ collection!  Tzachkas’  is phonetic Yiddish and refers to all manner of little, odd and often useless things. What were we making, I wondered? What on earth could this be for? What it was for, having finally asked one of my colleagues, who looked at me as if sweet but not terribly bright, was for the next day’s battalions of classic Yule Logs, or Buche Noel. Buche Noel, a French and certainly lovely French Canadian treat for the holidays, was something I had only seen in those rectangular cake boxes with cellophane windows with the words Joyeuse Fetes emblazoned on them. I had never eaten one nor made one.

That night I went home and boned up on my ‘décor’, researching Buche Noel in Time Life Cook’s series.  I decided I would make the most sophisticated, minimalist Buche Noel. I had been admiring my friend Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recent wedding cake feature in a Bon Appetit magazine and thought – less is more. Rose was then and now a purist which appeals to me as well. Looking at the layout of her gold and white simple wedding cake, which was lovely but less, as the approach, reminded me that less could be more –even in Yule Logs.

It struck me that Buche Noel needed an ‘underhaul’ versus an overhaul. I kept my ideas in my mind for the next day’s class when we were to assemble our masterpieces. I noted too, the Buche Noel figured in some 30% of the year-end marks. At class, everyone, comme tout jour, made a mad rush for the cakes and pre-fabricated ….. well what can I say, the inevitable trays of Buche Noel tzachkas collection.  Holly berries, leaves, axes, meringue mushrooms and thick showers of confectioner’s sugar ‘snow’ anointed each chef’s Yule Log.  Except of course, and quite deliberately, mine. I frosted mine in whipped chocolate ganache, so as not to lighten it too much, showered it with imported cocoa and place a crafted, wholly realistic, marzipan birch branch in a Cordon Bleu Meets Canadian Wilderness Buche Noel. I thought it was nature-oriented as befitted a log, edible or otherwise. To me, it was winter wonderland all right but in a mode that made tasteful sense.

The hustle and bustle in the class seemed to still as everyone finished their logs and prepared to take the class coffee break. I thought I heard a few guys whispering. “Qui a fait ca?”  . Indeed, it became a refrain, albeit sotto voix. I ignored it. Let them eat cake. My Yule Log was one of a kind and it was authentic, in ways both to nature and my own spirit. The guys in class, whilst competitive, liked me, and I took their dismay and concern with a grain of salt. I liked them too but their Hollywood Yule Log approach was simply not my style and I could not decorate as they did. Although they were infinitely kind about it, they truly thought I was inept.. We were simply pastry chefs of with a different legacy.

At coffee break, surprisingly, most of the class was missing. Our cakes were to be judged afterwards and I figured some of the chefs were putting some finishing touches on their cakes  (another axe, a reindeer, a sled, a sack of marzipan toys). When we got back to class and awaited the master chef/teacher to enter the room, I noticed 5-6 chefs hovering around the area where I had left my cake.

They sprang back as I entered the room and had barely disguised, conspiratorial smiles on their faces. I had no chance to investigate because our teacher had started his Buche Noel assessment tour.  The chefs, flanked around the long pastry worktables, opened like a sea of white, as he walked through. I could not even see my cake until he stopped and the sea finally parted fully.  At my cake, he (and I) gasped simultaneously. Instead of my quiet, demure Yule Log, there was a log that was more Macy’s parade float than anything else.  Christmas elves, dressed as big, bumbling and well-intentions male pastry chefs, had bestowed an unprecedented amount of axes, holly leaves and berries, birds, reindeer and an ungodly amount of meringue mushrooms. I could not see the log!  Talk about the forest for the trees! Frankly, it looked like a very strange stalagmite or at least, a log that was in the last throes of something environmentalists do PBS telethons about. I was appalled. I gripped the wood pastry board for support. Surely I would fail! It looked like something Snow White’s elves would have hallucinated on.  I waited for the master chef to spit out some biting words, for he, unlike the rest, had seemed to wait, since the term began, and at every turn, to reveal me as a counterfeit.

No one, as far as I could tell, and discounting Paul Bunyan, would be able to even lift the damned log to box it up nor could anyone tell where one could even see to cut into it to eat it …which in hotel school pastry circles, in those days, was hardly a priority.  “Garnished gornish’ snorted my grandmother when I later told her about the cake. Garnished is English of course, and again, ‘gornish’ is phonetic Yiddish and it means: ‘nothing’ – as in airy or not substantial. Actually, Grandma called most things I did at hotel school, ‘garnished gornish’.

The teacher paused, and swept his ruddy, baker’s hands to his chest, heaving in emotion. I waited for the (real) axe to fall and could almost hear his outcry.  Instead, he lifted his nose and looked heavenward as if thanking the pastry powers that were. Bien, he said – perfectione. Perfect. I got the best mark in the class. The other chefs beamed, I cringed but smiled outwardly.  And then I realized their generosity. It wasn’t about taste in Yule logs, it was about making sure I was protected and even, shone. I thanked each and everyone outside class and blessed them for the angels they were, for caring about me so much that they would intervene, upstage their own cakes while doing so, and ensure ‘la petite chef Anglaise’  did not embarrass herself, nor get a poor mark. They did it in a way that made me feel incredibly welcome by my own. It was a mini Christmas miracle.

I think of the men of tango as my erstwhile dance ‘husbands’. But I think of my fellow pastry chefs at hotel school, who gifted me in many ways in our 3-year internship, as my brothers.

As you can imagine, I can hardly every look at Buche Noel or Yule Logs with an indifferent gaze. It is not born of my baker’s bent; it comes from that night, that time, those chefs and a host of meringue mushrooms. I still don’t give meringue anything much respect, but the gift of Christmas, as evidenced by 12 French pastry chefs, is one more memory, courtesy of baking, life and the goodness of people, that I treasure. At the very least, I no longer think of a Yule Log as something commercial and boxed up – it is a recipe that has a warm and unique context.

With that jolly thought, and speaking of warmth, I thank you all for another year, almost a decade in fact, of BetterBaking.com. BB is a cyber refuge of fine baking and finer company (you!). Thank you for sharing your kitchen ways and days with me, as I do, with you.

Wishing you all a spectacular Christmas or a joyous Chanukah . Mostly, I wish always, and ever, warm times with friends, family or perhaps, if you get lucky as me, the kindness of strangers.  May all our days be bright.

Marcy Goldman
Editor and Host
Baker and Writer
www.BetterBaking.Com
The Magazine For Bakers
Established 1997

The December 2005 Recipe Collection

Buche Noel or Yule Log Cake !!!FREE!!!
A piece of cake, right? A classic recipe and another hotel school adventure.

Bonus !!!FREE!!!
Our newly created ‘OO” Flour Rustic Pizza Dough
I’m dreaming of a white pizza……a free recipe for amazing pizza dough and a pizza, using BB’ Test Kitchen favorite, best pizza flour, Molini Pizzuti’s ‘OO” Flour.  Want that blistered, bistro style pizza toney restaurants serve? It starts with this flour.

Hot Buttered Sticky Toffee Caramel Latte
Smooth as silk, this potable is a new warming trend. This one is worth the price of the whole issue.

Classic Steamed Christmas Pudding
Charles Dickens would have approved.  Adapted from a classic from our beloved Julia, updated for now.

French Chocolate Mint Biscotti
A French mint chocolate bar in a biscotti. Dark chocolate batter with a minted white chocolate ‘over coat’.

Five Roses Sugar Cookies, or Heritage Sugar Cookies
The secret behind generations of Canadian grandmothers’ holiday cookies. A gift of a recipe.

Gingerbread Men Shortbread
These are gingerbread men with shortbread complex. You can also use mini teddy bear cutters for this. The best cutters around, btw, are www.rochowcutters.com in upstate New York. Tell ’em BB sent you.

Pralines and Cream Pecan Bread
Fruitcake is fine but nothing is more nutty and nostalgic than a Southern style pecan bread.
 
Cream Cheese Holiday Sugar Cookies
The new Nielsen Massey orange, lemon and almond extracts make these uniquely festive.

Sugar and Spice Toasted Hazelnut Biscotti
Biscotti, Round 2; biscotti with a bullet – these are tiny, spicy, good nutcrackers sweets.

Gift Baking
Make it, assemble it, wrap it, give it….bake it forward in action.
Some recipes that are especially good as gifts….

Country Inn Buttermilk Scone Mix
Secret and perfectly ratio-ed dry ingredients just need a touch of liquid to come to life in fresh scones, quick as can be. Preheat the oven, open the mix and go!


Ye Old Tea Shoppe tea in minutes, all dolled up in a tea tin or Mason jar.
The spice is subtle, the tea is divine.

Layered Brownie Mix in a Jar
Hope you kept some of the Mason jars from summer canning. This is pretty, convenient, gourmet and easy. Have extras on hand as last-minute gifts.

Marcy's Blue Ribbon Pancake & Waffle Mix
Add a can of pure maple syrup (Vermont if you are Stateside, Quebec if you are north, a ways), along with this great dry mix. Perfect for the holidays as a gift or to keep on hand or for yourself on those lazy breakfasts.

Sweet'Sassy Honey Bee Gourmet Shop Mustard
Hot, sweet, spicy, this is the condiment turn to for sandwiches. It makes a beautiful gift if you tuck it in a basket with a dry smoked sausage, fresh rye bread, imported beer or nippy cheddar cheese and fine water crackers.

Holiday Amaretti
Bravo and bis: morsels of almonds and sweetness, all wrapped as mini gifts in pretty tissue paper.

Cranberry, Sour Cherry and Almond Granola
Packed in cello bags, tied with a scarlet ribbon that has someone’s letter on it, this makes a fine gift. Add two bowls from Pier 1 and the New York Times, tuck it in a basket and hand it over.

Caramel Popcorn
Hey, sweet! Pack it in a tin or big Mason jar, attach a classic DVD and you have a perfect last-minute gift for a cocooner.

Plus Chanukah  Treats
Latkes and More – Happy Festival of Lights!

New Way Famous Potato Latkes !!!FREE!!!
If you thought my Matzoh Buttercrunch was good, these will wow you again.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Rugulah
Who said Chanukah was just for the kids?
 
Triple Chocolate Chip Chanukah Challah
More decadence, more manna. Offer this on a gelt covered bread plate for a real statement.

Salute New Year’s Style....
 
New Year’s Crepe Cake
Stacks of crisp pastry crepes, pastry cream, whipped cream, a little chill, a little compression and voila! Give this cake two more months before it becomes the tiramisu of the new year.


Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, Ive know the feeling; I know the place. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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