© Eric Biermann
Tariq Hanna and his blue cake
© Eric Biermann
© Andrew Sessa
© Con Poulos
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.
Click here 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.