It’s raining today in New York City, but that doesn't matter because it’s National Doughnut Day! This morning I stood in line with 30 other people to get a free chocolate-glazed doughnut at my local Dunkin' Donuts
is giving them away all day, too), and I might buy a mid-afternoon crème brûlée version from Doughnut Plant
(last Friday, I saw three New York City police officers on horseback outside the store—wish I’d taken a picture).
I might even keep the celebration going this weekend by making the Doughnut Holes with Raspberry Jam
(pictured) from F&W’s July issue and bringing them to a friend’s potluck on Saturday night.
to find more amazing recipes, like Doughnuts in Cardamom Syrup
, Spiced Cake Doughnuts
and Fluffy Yeast Doughnuts
I love cupcakes, and I love that they continue to be so popular—I was worried the trend would die out, but it's still going strong. This weekend, I attended an event called Taste of the Upper West Side and had what could be my favorite new NYC cupcake, from Joanne Gregory, the new pastry chef at Citarella. Joanne served mini versions of four cupcakes: coconut, red velvet, chocolate with fresh strawberry frosting and chocolate with chocolate frosting. Each cake was moist and light (the style I prefer) and capped with a thick, fluffy swirl of excellent, not-too-sweet frosting. For the sake of research, I will have to go to Citarella and buy some full-size cupcakes. If they're as good as the ones I had this weekend, they may be right up there with the incomparable cupcakes from awesome pastry chef Jennifer Giblin at Blue Smoke as Manhattan's best.
© Photo Courtesy of Meg Connolly
Sandro Micheli creating chouquettes
Baking can be pretty intimidating—the precision and delicacy required to craft things like pâte à chou and soufflés leave many home cooks ambivalent about giving pastry a try. This past weekend, though, I got to see how simple and satisfying dessert-making can be with pastry chef Sandro Micheli of Adour, Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in New York City’s St. Regis hotel. He led a class of 10 through the basics of French pastry, from financiers to pâte de fruit. Even though the creations we ended up with appeared precious, Sandro showed us the (relatively) easy steps required to make them, taking much of the mystery out of the process. When our chouquettes came out of the oven puffed and airy, I knew I would be making them again within the week.
While Sandro takes the summer off from classes, expect him to return in September with more, focusing on fall sweets like pies and fruit tarts. Call Adour for details starting in late August, 212-710-2277.
Easter is this Sunday. This means that my mother has started baking her annual batch of pizza rustica using a recipe from her aunt, a stubborn woman who, because of a lamp, did not speak to her sister (my grandmother) for six years. Per this aunt's instructions, my mother will whisk six eggs and some flat-leaf parsley with half a pound each of fontina and Parmesan cheeses before adding six pounds of ricotta and half a pound each of cubed salami, soppressata, prosciutto and ham. This will make three to four double-crust pies. Clearly, we’re not light eaters.
Curious about its origins, I discovered that pizza rustica is an Easter staple in Naples. Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of Cucina del Sole, has heard of it among the Pugliese and the Abruzzi and confirmed that it’s pretty widely eaten in the whole southern Italian boot. In my house we actually call it “pizza gain”, a phrase that’s an Italian-American corruption derived from pizza ripiena or piena, meaning “stuffed” or “full” in Italian. In short, piena, or chiena in certain dialects, became chien', then “gain” as it got passed down across generations (and an ocean). These pies, most made from some combination of cheese, meats and eggs in a sweet crust, are meant to break the Lenten fast by offering many of the rich treats given up as a sacrifice.
And break the fast it does. David Greco, who runs the Arthur Avenue Café and Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, makes a Neapolitan-style rustica based on his maternal grandmother’s recipe that’s very similar to my mother’s – and one that weighs in at a little over three pounds a pie. He’s been selling 200 a day for the past week. His secret is a touch of lemon zest in the crust. He also makes a Calabrian version from his father’s family with chunks of soppressata and thinly-sliced prosciutto baked into an eggy focaccia. Frank Generoso of the Royal Crown Pastry Shop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn says the key to his rustica is using the best quality ricotta that’s firm but still creamy. A thick ricotta, he says, will hold up and not run all over the place.
My mother's is still the best, especially a couple of hours out of the oven. I should start fasting now to heighten the enjoyment of that first bite.
Last night, Electrolux hosted a demonstration of their dreamy ICON kitchen equipment at their new showroom, the Desiron Gallery in Soho. River Café chef Brad Steelman cooked an early spring dinner on the induction cooktop, convection oven, warming drawer and high-speed oven—four impressive appliances.
I loved learning how the air in the small high speed oven circulates at 60 miles an hour to bake the molten chocolate cakes in a mere 8 minutes. “I admit the desserts are a cliché,” said Steelman. “But they’re always delicious and impressive.” (True and true: In fact, our own Grace Parisi created amazingly gooey variations on the cakes here).
But the thing I learned that I could take to my own kitchen (the ICON equipment, while beautiful, is a bit out of my price range) is to make risotto with water…at least partially. Since good chicken stock is gelatinous when cool, it can quickly help turn your runny, creamy risotto into a thick, gluey mess. Steelman said he likes to lighten risotto by using water most of the time and adding stock toward the end to enrich its flavor. A great tip, I think.
Oh, and for those curious about the fate of the horrible bitter taste caused by evil pine nuts, it is thankfully, gone! Just in time for the Best New Chef party.
Straining yogurt drains excess water, making the yogurt super thick and creamy. In the March recipe for Honeyed Yogurt and Blueberry Tart with Ginger Crust, we call for yogurt to be drained overnight. Here's how to do it:
Line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set the strainer over a bowl. Scrape the yogurt into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and refrigerate overnight. Alternately, if you have a very fine mesh strainer, you can let the yogurt drain directly in the strainer with no need for the cheesecloth. Discard the water that collects in the bowl and use the thick yogurt as desired. Strained yogurt is great used as the base for dips and for breakfast. Straining low-fat or nonfat yogurt makes it taste more like the full-fat version-a good tip for healthy eating.
With little notice, we are moving our Test Kitchen to temporary digs across town. Not only do we have to pack up equipment and tools, we have to empty our freezers—freezers that (in my case) have housed long-since-forgotten items, held on to for some future use. (I've had this fridge since 2002...) It's sort of liberating to get rid of things, but I must say, I'm very sad at tossing my two quarts of rendered duck fat. Yes, I could take it home to fry potatoes, but I'd like to someday meet my grandkids....
I did find several packages of frozen sweet cherries that I couldn't bear to toss (remember how thrifty/cheap I am). I didn't feel like baking them into a clafouti or pastry, so I threw them into a food processor with some honey and lemon juice and made a superfast sorbet. Since I can't eat it all in one sitting, it will have to go back into the freezer, but with a few more days until the move, I'm sure it won't get lost in there.
QUICK CHERRY SORBET
MAKES 4 CUPS
Two 10-ounce bags frozen sweet cherries
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup honey or agave nectar
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to a shallow bowl and freeze until firm, about 1 hour. Scoop and serve!
At the end of 2008, our trend-spotting restaurant editor, Kate Krader, broke my bread-loving heart when she predicted the extinction of free bread service. So I have to applaud Curtis Duffy, the visionary young chef who recently took over the kitchen at Avenues in the Peninsula Chicago. Bread isn’t just free at Avenues, it’s thoughtfully paired with each course as if it were wine. Curtis takes an egalitarian approach to each dish, so much so that no one element—not even the bread—is ever overshadowed.
The bread, like the rest of the Avenues menu, changes seasonally, and just like the food, it is highly creative, surprising and delicious. My most carb-fearing girlfriends would be hard-pressed to resist the coconut-basil waffle or the mint-infused English muffin. I shamelessly admit that I was so obsessed with the bread that I turned into a bread voyeur when I returned to New York, obsessively checking Curtis’s blog to see what baked masterpieces I was missing out on, like the savory cake-doughnut he is currently conceptualizing for his next menu.
If you can’t make the trip to Chicago for a meal, you can read about the philosophy behind the bread service and be tempted by the gorgeous food photos that Curtis posts on his blog.