Wednesday

hello spring, hello SMORG!

Hey y'all!

I'm especially cheery today because the sun is shining outside my window, it's bright and breezy and feels like spring, and because Smorgasburg (www.brooklynflea.com/smorgasburg) is kicking off this SATURDAY, APRIL 7TH from 11am-6pm.  The team and I made our s'more-vending debut last November at Smorg, selling mountains of s'mores to the hungry people of Williamburg, Brooklyn and beyond.  This year, we're setting up shop at the beginning of the season and will be there, almost each and every Saturday, until the tail end of November.  S'MORES + SUMMERTIME  = YES.

Here's a peak of what to expect in the coming weeks & months:




hibernation comes to a halt!

To my coterie of readers, 

Do you still exist five months later? It's pathetically embarrassing to admit that my last post was sometime in August, when New York was still agonizing over the heat of an indian summer, and when I was in the throes of writing my master's thesis.  It's not that I've forgotten about you, or Ode to Sugar, or to baking more generally.  It's actually really the opposite. I've just been really, really busy with my own baking business. Which is good!

I took the month of September to unwind from writing about Don DeLillo's White Noise for the thesis that had been looming over me like one of those ominous cartoon thunder clouds--even though, FYI, White Noise is one of my favorite books ever, so it really was a rewarding and mentally stimulating process.  By the middle of September, after days and days of baking and distributing my treats to people in my building and neighborhood, the idea of starting my own business didn't seem so terrible or frightening or impossible. 

Side note: have I ever mentioned how enamored I am with s'mores? I've eaten them at almost every major milestone in my life.  They make me the happiest!

By the end of September, I decided that I'd start a business selling handmade s'mores.  Because let's think about this now--have you ever had a s'more that wasn't made from store bought marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey's chocolate? Not that there's anything wrong with them; there's something nostalgic and quintessentially American about that combination, and I think it still deserves a place in our food culture.  

I feel about s'mores the way I feel about Domino's Pizza.  If Domino's can coexist with a Mario Batalli thin crust, wood-fired pizza, why can't we do the same thing with s'mores? What if, in addition to the s'mores we've had as kids, there was a s'more made with handmade graham crackers, flavorful marshmallows, and really decadent chocolate ganache? 

By the beginning of October, I had asked myself this question so many times that I officially started S'more Bakery, an online retail bakery selling s'mores.  I'll go into more details in upcoming posts, but for now, scroll through the images below for a snapshot of the past months. 


 {bottom left: my first big shipment across country}


{bottom left: gearing up for Valentine's Day & heart-shaped s'mores}



Ode to Sugar is backkkkk! And this time around, you'll get an inside look into my crazed and frequently disheveled life as a business owner.  Get PUMPED. 





Thursday

red velvet goes retro: 90's nickelodeon

I dedicate this post to Devon Blitz, the girl--my best friend's sister--who celebrated her 21st day of birth at my apartment.  The theme?  A tribute to the glory days of 90's Nickelodeon, a time when commercials for Warheads and Ring Pops played on loop between shows like Clarissa Explains It All, Doug, and Salute Your Shorts.  My job was to create a cake worthy enough to take part in all of this nostalgic 90's madness.

N.B.  Nickelodeon has epically just begun to replay these old shows every night between midnight and 1 a.m.  DVR that shit so you can watch something like Are You Afraid of the Dark and wonder why you (or maybe that was just me) ever thought it was pee-your-pants scary.

The cake:

A basic red velvet cake, the kind that has lots of red food coloring.  Something about all that artificiality screams early 90's to me.  Remember Hawaiian Punch? That shit could kill you.  

Superfluous bit of trivia: Sources say that bakers during the Second World War used beet juice to enhance the red color in their red velvet cakes.  These days, we use acidic ingredients like vinegar and buttermilk to accentuate the cake's color.  

Here's the recipe I consulted and tweaked.  Ina is nothing short of a culinary goddess.

The frosting: 

Red velvet cake is traditionally smothered in cream cheese frosting, essential a combination of unsalted butter, cream cheese, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla extract.  It's helpful to keep your butter and cream cheese at room temperature before mixing everything with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.

I found the cake to be a little dryer than I would have like, so I opted to make vanilla-scented simple syrup to brush on each cake layer.  Makes for a supremely moist cake.  

Vanilla-scented simple syrup: 

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat all ingredients in a small saucepan, then use a pastry brush to slather the mixture evenly on each layer of cake. 


LOOK AT THESE DECORATIONS: a crucial "fun to be 1" oversized candle, neon candles, confetti sprinkles, Ring Pops and Push Pops and a Warhead "wreath" that surrounds the cake.  All that sugar makes me giddy.  

To you, Devonius.  Happiest of days.

all hail the glorious peach


There's nothing like baking with fruit during the summer months, and here are my top three reasons why:

one.  Tons of fruit is in season, and all of it is mad cheap--at least relatively speaking.  A pint of blueberries in Manhattan during the winter can cost up to $6, but during the summer you can make a deal with a fruit vendor on the street and get two pints, mark that TWO, for as little as three bucks.
I've seen it happen.

two.  All of the fruit that's in season is delectable on its own, by itself, so it's easy to whip up something with few ingredients that a) gets you in and out of the kitchen quickly, and b) so that fruit is the breakthrough star in your dessert. 
    
three.  Because summer is an especially nostalgic time for people, which means that they're more inclined to indulge and eat the delicious fruit concoctions you make.  

With all this said, I present to you a basket of peaches, perfectly ripened and freshly picked.  I learned recently from Jeffrey Steingarten, (I'll tell you all about my interview with him later), that the area around the stem of the fruit, the "shoulder," should have a slight give if the fruit is at optimal ripeness. 



I looked at these glowing orbs and said to myself, "You will be mine, oh yes. You will be mine."  What I actually said was, "I think I'll make peach pie with these lovely little suckers."



For the flakiest, butteriest pie dough around: 

4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound unsalted butter, cold and cubed

1/2 cup ice water


Combine dry ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the cold, cubed butter, mixing on the lowest speed until the butter breaks down in size, no smaller than the size of peas.  Add the ice water and mix as briefly as possibly, only until the dough begins to come together.  Turn the dough onto a work surface, knead minimally, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 


On the top left is the dough after it has been kneaded and chilled.  Roll the dough to an even thickness, no thinner than 1/8 inch thick, and wrap the dough around the rolling pin to transfer it easily from the work surface to the pie dish.  I like to flute the edges--makes it all a bit more special--by pushing my thumb between my index and middle fingers in intervals around the perimeter of the dough. 


The peachy filling: 

5-6 peaches, skin on and cut into slices

dark brown and granulated sugar, about 1/2 cup each (or more, depending on how sweet you like your pie)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon cornstarch

a dash of freshly squeezed lemon juice 

pinch of kosher salt

pats of unsalted butter before baking 


I made this filling to taste and adjusted the sugar and vanilla levels based on my own liking.  Bake at 325 until the crust is golden and bubbly, making sure to rotate the pie once during the baking process. 



Here's to you, peach pie, for making my summer that much more delicious.  

Friday

from carly, with love

One of my best friends, Carly, gave me this outrageously AWESOME vintage-inspired cake stand for my 24th birthday back in June.  It's engraved with my name, and it'll be the first stand I use to display the first cake I make at the bakery I plan to open in the coming years.  If that makes any sense.

So here's to cake, to stands that make them look particularly purty, and to the eating of caloric sweets in general.  I salute you.  

Wednesday

i make my return, at last, at last

I write this post shamefully because I've been away from Ode to Sugar since the middle of June--not because I'm fed up with the blogosphere or because I've suddenly decided that baking isn't fun, but because I've undergone three major life changes in the last seven weeks.  I've moved into a new apartment, I've started a new job, and I've quit a new job.  Let me explain.

The new pad: Union Square.  I'm obsessed.  It's wonderful. 

The new job: pastry cook at Maialino, Danny Meyer's Roman-style trattoria in the Gramercy Park Hotel.
Hours on the job: 3pm-1am, Wednesday through Sunday. 

The new job that I've since left: I left my job at Maialino after only six weeks because the task of writing my master's thesis and working 50+ hours a week proved to be nearly impossible.  For the next month, I'll focus on writing this thesis and using extra time to get back to Ode to Sugar (and bake in the comforts of my new kitchen.  Pictures to follow in upcoming posts!)

So for now, I leave you with a promise.  I'm back to Ode to Sugar for good.  No more silly breaks.  I won't leave you like that anymore.  You deserve better from me, and I'm sorry.

Posts begin...tomorrow. Get ready for lots o' butter.

xo

Thursday

blackberry tartlets

My last post was all about the importance of using an ingredient to its fullest capacity--tweaking it slightly to accompany different desserts, incorporating it into a variety of ingredients.  I've been thinking all week of ways to use my leftover flaky dough and eventually settled on making blackberry tartlets (with my new tartlet molds! one of the baking items I have been pining for and received for my birthday) for a night of rooftop eating, drinking, and sunset-watching with my friends Carly and Ashley. 



Look how they shine! And glisten!  I love them more than I should probably admit, but alas.


I keep unused dough chilled in the refrigerator but always take it out ten minutes prior to using it; this ensures that the dough has softened enough to make it pliable and rollable.  For tartlets, I like to roll the dough evenly between 1/4-1/8 inch in thickness.  Working quickly is also KEY--my apologies for what look like harsh capital letters, but mark my words: cold dough always makes whatever you're eating ultimately taste better.  So keep that shit cold. 

The pie weights on the top left are used to fill tartlet shells if the dough is to be baked, at least partially, without a filling.  Baking the dough without the filling ensures that it will not overbake once the filling is added.
Each of the tartlet shells is lined with aluminum foil and weighed down with pie weights before baking.  I checked the oven periodically to prevent the dough from cooking entirely.  Remember: the dough will eventually go back in the oven with the filling.


Look at these blackberries!  They're perfectly plump, juicy, and mildly tart.
Adding about a tablespoon of fresh lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon of zest brightens the flavor of the berries and helps to cut through the richness of the dough.  To macerate a pint of blackberries, I used roughly 3/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of kosher salt.

Once thoroughly macerated and juicy, spoon the berry filling into the partially-baked shells, making sure to leave behind any excess juice in the bowl.  Top the berries with a sprinkling of sugar and a couple small chunks of butter.


You know they're done when the crust has reached a golden brown hue and the berry filling is simultaneously bubbly and beginning to thicken.  Allow them to cool completely so the filling will become more of a solidified mass. 


Sprinkling of powdered sugar to finish.