Not So Much A Cake Walk

Well, I finished my second full week of pastry school. I can't truthfully say it was the best week ever - mostly because I got dreadfully sick and spent the week fighting a fever and trying to keep my lungs from being coughed out of my chest, but there were some pastry-related incidents as well.

Because of the fever, I had to miss éclair day. My pastry cream came out lumpy. I burned a pan of caramel so badly it ended up looking like a pan of dry, blackened charcoal. Oops. Also, we made croquembouche, which were supposed to look like holiday-themed, conical towers of pâte à choux (pat-ah-shoe... cream puff dough). I tried to decorate mine to look like a snowman, but instead of looking clean and elegant like these ones,

it ended up looking like someone threw up all over a perfectly good croquembouche.

Ah well. No one said this pastry thing was going to be a cake walk. I mean, we haven't even gotten to cakes yet. I'll keep you posted. For now, I'll just stick with cookies.

Bourbon-Pecan Cookies
From the French Culinary Institute Classic Pastry Arts, Level 1

  • 170 grams pecans
  • 170 grams butter, room temperature
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 230 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, for egg wash
  • extra pecan halves or pieces, for garnishing


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the 170 grams of pecans in the oven or in a dry pan until lightly browned. Cool completely. Pulse the nuts in a food processor, until they're the size of coarse cornmeal.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the ground nuts, egg yolk, salt, scrapings from the vanilla bean, and bourbon, and mix until thoroughly combined.

Add the flour, and mix gently until just incorporated.

Shape the dough into a log approximately 2.5 inches thick. Roll the log up in a sheet of parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator, about 30 minutes.

Once chilled, slice the log into 1/4-inch thick slices, and place the sliced cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Lightly brush the tops of the cookies with egg wash, and place a pecan half (or some crumbled pecan pieces) on top of each cookie.

Bake the cookies for 7 to 10 minutes, or until nicely browned on the edges.

Makes 50-60 cookies.


Tally of Tarts

Shall we tally up? Let's see. The past eight days of pastry school have yielded me:
  • 4 apple custard tartlettes
  • 8 vanilla crescent cookies
  • 1 tarte aux noix
  • 6 shortbread cookies with candied citrus zest
  • 1 pear tart with almond cream
  • one dozen homemade fig newton cookies
  • 1 banana cream tart
  • 4 lemon meringue tartlettes
  • 6 Scandanavian butter cookies
  • 1 caramelized onion tart
  • 1 cherry clafoutis
  • 1 chocolate ganache tart
  • 8 fresh fruit tartlettes
  • one dozen gingersnaps
  • 1 baked apricot tart
  • 1 chocolate Bavarian tart
Apple Custard Tartlettes

Vanilla Crescent Cookies

Lemon Meringue Tartlettes

Homemade Fig Newtons

Baked Apricot Tart

Scandanavian Butter Cookies with Raspberry Jam

Cherry Clafoutis

Um, yes. That's twenty-four tarts and forty-four cookies. In my first week and a half as a pastry babe. Do you even know how much sugar I went through this week? Do you even know? How many pounds of butter? Do you know how hard it was, how much I toiled to bake all of these delicious, delicious things? These twenty-four tarts and forty-four cookies? ...WELL? DO YOU?

Just kidding. I love my life.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But Molly, WHAT in the name of Santa Claus do you DO with so many sweets?" Well, dear reader, I'll tell you. I eat them.

...Not really. Gotcha again.

While the thought of ingesting one billion pounds of buttered sugar does sound enticing, I thought I'd do well to keep my arteries clear(ish) for now, so I've been pawning off my sixty-eight treats to friends. And classmates. ...And school staff and homeless guys and fellow subway riders. Really anyone who looks like they could use a cookie or two. Could you use a cookie or two?

Here, try one. Or two. I don't know. Start your own tally.

From the French Culinary Institute, Classic Pastry Arts Program, Unit 1

Although I'm swimming in cookie recipes these days, this one seemed the most seasonally appropriate... they're also just really good. They're gingery and snappy and full of warm, winterish, gingery snappiness. I hear Santa likes them.

  • 150 grams butter
  • 400 grams white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 160 mL molasses
  • 20 mL white vinegar
  • 525 grams white bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • extra sugar, for rolling
*Note: I realize this recipe gives amounts in metric units. I'm sorry about that. However, I've found it extremely useful to weigh out ingredients while baking - and it's much less of a pain than it sounds. Buy a cheap kitchen scale and give it a try. If you don't feel like scales are your thing but still really want to make these, let me know - I'll do my best to convert it to the standard American measurements for you.


In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Add the molasses and the vinegar slowly, to avoid separating the mixture.

Sift together the dry ingredients, and add them all at once to the creamed butter mixture. Mix just to combine - try not to overwork the dough.

Form the dough into a log, wrap it in parchment and chill it until firm. Once firm, divide the dough into 50 small, equal portions (about 15 grams per cookie), and roll the pieces of dough into balls. Dredge the raw cookies in sugar, and place them on a parchment-lined cookie pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes. If you like chewier gingersnaps, take them out closer to 7 minutes, when the cookies are just browning. For snappier snaps, leave them in a bit longer. The cookies will spread in the oven, the sugar crust will crack, leaving behind a map of gorgeous cookie crevices, and your whole kitchen will smell like the holidays. Enjoy.

Makes 50 gingersnaps.


Official Chefdom, and Thanks

I'm feeling overwhelmed. It's been almost a month since my last post, which is, frankly, unacceptable. I've done approximately no writing and no recipe sharing in the past 27 days, and I'm not happy about it. I mean, even if no one actually reads these little posts, it makes me happy to have them here, dotting the internets with pictures of risotto and tales of apple tart.

At any rate, I have almost a month's worth of news to share, so you may want to settle in.

Firstly - and this is kind of a big one - I, uh... I graduated from the culinary program at FCI last week.

...YAY official chefdom! You're looking at a real, live chef here, people. It's true! Okay, so you're not really looking at me, but trust me, I'm a chef. At least, I have a ridiculously tall hat and a laminated diploma that confirms it. ...Laminated, you guys.

Yep, after a month spent in the level six kitchens, churning out stuffed calamari and venison and clam consommé, and then after a day spent completely freaking out/taking the final exam (during which I had to make clam consommé and pear tartlettes, among other things), the powers that be (ahem, the folks down at the French Culinary Institute) declared me worthy of chefness. Yes!

Soooo yeah, I'm kind of excited about that. I'm also kind of sad that it's over. I mean, it's not really over - I have another six whole months in the pastry program (a regular chef I may be, but a pastry chef I am not. Yet.), but it's not the same.

Which brings me to news item number two: yesterday was my first day in the pastry program. So far things are going well - I successfully managed to make a bunch of tarts (banana cream tart, pear & almond tart, fresh fruit tart, yadda yadda yadda tart), but, as I mentioned, it's not the same. I miss my old classmates. I miss Nadine and Steve and Rodney and Tina and Big Rob and Dave and everyone. Sigh. At least I know I can find consolation in pastry cream.

Next is news item number three, which isn't really a news item so much as a major national holiday. Yeah that's right, I am talking about Thanksgiving. Thaaaanksgiviiiiiiing! Ahem, yes. It was on Thursday. I know Thursday was six days ago and you're probably tired of talking about giving thanks and family and mashed potatoes, but it's my very favorite holiday (by a landslide. A huge one.) and I'd like to discuss it further. Besides, what kind of food blogger would I be if I wrote nary a word about the most gluttonous holiday of them all?

So yes, Thanksgiving. Mine involved a raucous game of football,

numerous pies,

a video camera, a pan of stuffing that was accidentally dropped on the sidewalk, a delicious batch of macaroni and cheese (to replace said stuffing), a turkey carve-off, a rogue batch of whipped cream, and, of course, a lot of Gramma's chopped chicken liver. All in all, another wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with much to be thankful for, including:
  • my family
  • electric mixers
  • tall chefs hats
  • old classmates
  • new classmates
  • chicken liver
  • Grandmas

Finally, we come to item number four: this year, six days after Thanksgiving, what are you, invisible reader, thankful for? I, as a chef (!), would like to know.

Gramma Inez's Chopped Chicken Liver

Remember that time I wrote about offal, and how darn awful it is? Well, this one doesn't count. This is my Gramma Inez's Chopped Chicken Liver, a staple at every Thanksgiving since the beginning of time, and a shining beacon in the world of organ meats.

If you're feeling a little wary of a recipe that involves chicken fat, chopped livers and hard boiled eggs, it's okay. I'll admit, it's not my normal, everyday fare, but, smeared on a crispy cracker, with a glass of wine in hand and my family chattering around me, this stuff is downright delicious. Creamy and salty, with a nice crunch from the cracker... happiness in an appetizer. Still feeling skeptical? Fine, I won't make you try it. ...More for me. Thanks, Gramma!

  • 2-3 Tbsp chicken fat (schmaltz)
  • 2 lbs chicken livers, rinsed and dried with paper towels
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 10-12 eggs, hard boiled
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • paprika, to finish

In a large skillet, melt the chicken fat. Add the two large onions and cook over medium low heat, until onions are soft and translucent. Add the chicken livers, and cook over medium heat until the livers are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the liver mixture is done, transfer it from the pan to a large mixing bowl. Using two table knives, chop the chicken liver mixture into pea-sized pieces. Add the hard boiled eggs and continue chopping, until the mixture is thoroughly diced. You can use a food processor to chop and mix all of the ingredients, but you're looking for a grainy, chopped texture, so be careful not to completely purée your livers. Mix in the remaining 1/2 onion (uncooked), and more salt and pepper, to taste.

Grease a bowl or round jello mold with more chicken fat. Pack in the chopped liver, and chill in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can just skip the molding part and pile the chopped chicken liver onto a platter. If you go with the mold method, unmold the liver by running a sharp paring knife around the edges of the mold and turning it out onto a large platter. If the mixture sticks to the mold, don't worry, it's easy to patch up. And in all honesty, it's hard to get chicken liver looking that pretty, anyway, so don't worry about any unmolding mishaps. Just dust the unmolded chicken liver with a bit of paprika, surround with table crackers, and serve to a room full of hungry Jews (...or non-Jews who are into things like chopped chicken liver. I mean, it's possible... right?)

Serves about 20, as an appetizer.


The Last Level

Level six! Level six! Level! Six!

Yeah. I've made it to Level six at school. Level six, for those who are counting, is the last level in the culinary program at the FCI. The last level! Gah. In a few short weeks it'll be au revoir, culinary program, and bonjour, pastry!

It's all very overwhelming to think about but, to be honest, I haven't really had much time to think about it. I've been busy sweating over searing pans of venison and beef, trying desperately to clarify pots full of clam consommé, attempting to keep my fingers away from the bubbling oil frying our cod cakes (apparently my fingers just can't stay away, which is unfortunate, because it's freaking hot) and getting surly, french looks from our surly, french chef.

Chef M. is very tall and very serious, and likes to say things like "zere is nuh-zing worse den 'ard beans. Make sure you cook zem all de way tru guys, eh? What are you, crazy?" To which you reply "No, Chef. Yes, Chef." This will prompt him to then say something along the lines of "Who is ze best? I am. I run zis place." Level six is great.

Here, we have a Seared Fish Combo in a Clam Consommé:

And here, Pan-Seared Venison with White Bean Ragout, Bacon, Cipollini Onions, and Caramelized Apples with Lemon-Ginger Jus:

And here, something a little less schmancy:

Pantry Pasta

With all of the new Level six recipes to learn and my internship with Liddabit Sweets still going strong, I haven't had much time to venture out to the grocery store lately. After a long day of searing off beef tenderloin and making double batches of caramel, I found myself home at 8pm, hungry for dinner and staring into a practically empty refrigerator.

Sometimes, this game is fun. What can I make with an eggplant, half a box of crackers, a jar of coarse mustard and a rind of cheese? Sometimes I'm too tired to play, and I end up eating half a box of crackers for dinner. Tonight, though, I decided to skip the box of crackers and do something about the Sicilian-herbed olives and half jar of crème fraiche sitting in my fridge. This is the something I came up with.

Note - I'm not including amounts in this recipe, because I threw it together, all willy-nilly-like, and I don't think it's important to know precise measurements for this type of meal. Add however much butter and lemon and crème fraiche (and whatever else you feel like throwing in there) you like - just taste as you go, and adjust to your liking. Feel free to add red pepper flakes or some parmesan cheese to your pasta - I would have, if I'd had them around.

  • Orecchiete pasta
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • butter
  • crème fraiche
  • fresh lemon juice
  • fennel seeds
  • Mt. Athos olives with Sicilian herbs (I found these at Whole Foods)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • chopped parsley

Cook your pasta in boiling, salted water to al dente. Drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Drizzle olive oil over pasta, and stir in a bit of butter. Add the crème fraiche, lemon juice, and fennel seeds, and stir to create a light, creamy sauce. Add the olives and pepper, to taste, and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.


A Liddabit Delicious

If you're a fan of caramel (and I really think you ought to be), I think you'll enjoy learning about Liddabit Sweets, the candy company where I currently intern. I've been spending a few days a week with the Liddabit girls, measuring out ingredients, stirring pots of boiling sugar, tempering chocolate (and then dipping things in it!),

molding lollipops, twisting caramels into wrappers,

coating fresh apples in soft, salted caramel,

and, on the weekends, selling the bundles of various deliciousness to people at the Brooklyn Flea and New Amsterdam Markets. Sweets for the sweet, and all that.

It's pretty awesome. Not only is all of the candy handmade with local ingredients, it's also cute and clever and, most importantly, downright delicious.

It's so caramelly.

And chocolately.

And lollipopish.


Caramel Frosting

Adapted from Bon Appetit

This isn't a Liddabit recipe, but I recently used this rich caramel to frost cupcakes, and I think, given it's thick, smooth consistency, it would be pretty delightful as a coating for fresh fall apples. Just stick a thick bamboo skewer in your favorite apple (Jonagold and Honeycrisp are good choices), make this caramel and dip away. The cream cheese in the recipe is pretty unorthodox, but it gives the caramel a slight, subtle tang, which, incidentally, is surprisingly lip smacking.

  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 Tbsp sea salt

Whisk whipping cream and cream cheese in small bowl until smooth.

Combine sugar and water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high; boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, occasionally swirling the pan, about 10 minutes. Once the sugar has turned a nice, caramelly amber, slowly and carefully whisk in cream cheese mixture (caramel mixture will bubble vigorously). Add butter; whisk until mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat; cool caramel about 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Stir in sea salt. Use for dipping caramel apples or frosting your favorite cake.

Makes about 4 cups caramel frosting.


Almost Like a Real Chef

Well people, apparently it is almost the middle of October. How does that keep happening? I look away for one second, and all of a sudden it's time to get another haircut and I can't leave my apartment without a coat. A coat! Yesterday I was clamoring about the oppressive summer heat radiating from the city's sidewalks, and today I need a coat. I bet tomorrow I'll be asking for a warm hat and mittens.

You know what else? I'm already in level 5 at school. Level 5! Level 5 means that, when I go to class everyday, I'm not actually in "class" - I'm one of the students working the lunch shift in the school's restaurant, L'Ecole. Kind of crazy, no? I cook lunch for people! REAL people, who will eat the REAL food that I cook for them. Almost like a real chef! ...Almost.

We rotate stations in the kitchen, from garde manger (appetizers and cold salads) to entremetier (specials) to poissonier (fish) to saucier (meats and sauce) to patissier (pastry). I haven't hit all of the stations yet, but here are a few highlights from my rotations in saucier and patissier:

Pork Osso Bucco with Risotto Milanese

A Dessert Special - Brown Butter Cake with Caramelized Bananas and Pumpkin Ice Cream

Doesn't look half bad, huh? I've also been responsible for making buttermilk-poached chicken, a mango-yogurt terrine, mint-chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches and and braised rabbit, but alas - no pictures.

In addition to our everyday work in the kitchen, we level 5 students were assigned a menu project which was, incidentally, due today. The project consisted of designing a menu, including at least 4 courses, and writing a report on it, complete with pictures of your plated dishes, a wine pairing, and a food cost analysis. In short, a glorified blog post (minus the cost analysis business). Needless to say, I kind of enjoyed doing it (again, minus the cost analysis nonsense. Me and math are not the closest of friends.)

I chose to create a seasonal menu, complete with my favorite, toasty warm fall flavors (note the ample use of apples and butternut squash). Here is the menu I chose:

Course 1: amuse-bouche - ham and cheddar toast with pickled apple

Course 2: curried squash soup with apples, crème fraiche, and a popover

Course 3: herbed goat cheese and zucchini tart, served with baby greens, pumpkin seeds and apple cider vinaigrette

Course 4: chicken cassoulet with white beans, roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash (apologies for the horrid photo)

Course 5: apple meringue "cupcake" with cinnamon-sugared doughnut holes

Sound like something you'd like to eat? Maybe? The squash soup, at least? Ok.

Curried Squash Soup with Apples, Crème Fraiche and a Popover

To me, squash soup is the epitome of fall - warm and smooth, with a hint of sweetness and spice. Eating it makes me want to own lots of cozy sweaters and watch football and drink hot cider. My recipes for the soup and popovers are adapted from Ina Garten and Gourmet magazine (rest in peace, old friend), respectively.


For soup:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 5 pounds butternut squash (2 large), peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 1 1/2 pounds McIntosh apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • crème fraiche, for garnish
  • pumpkin seed oil, for garnish

For popovers:

  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • melted, unsalted butter for brushing the pan

Warm the butter, olive oil, onions, and curry powder in a large stockpot, uncovered, over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, thyme and chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash and apples are very soft. Remove the sprig of thyme. Puree the soup coarsely with an immersion blender, or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

Adjust seasoning and serve hot, garnished with a dollop of crème fraiche and a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil.

To make the popovers, first preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Next, sift together the flour and the salt in a medium bowl.

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs and the milk. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, stirring, and stir the batter until it is smooth.

In a preheated 450°F. oven heat one or two 6-cup muffin pan for 5 minutes, or until hot, and then brush the cups with the melted butter, and fill them half full with the batter (you should be able to fill about 8 muffin cups).

Bake the popovers in the middle of the 450°F oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F, and bake the popovers for 20 minutes more, or until they are golden brown and crisp.

Makes roughly 3 quarts of soup and 8 popovers.