Wow, guys, you don’t make things easy for a ruthless dictator, do you? So many great stories about Flour Bakery, from weddings saved by doughnuts and brioche, to a cross-continental flight undertaken in the name of sticky buns, even a brush with celebrity. In the end, and after much deliberation, I declare Manasi the winner of the Flour cookbook for demonstrating a deep and long-abiding love for the bakery, which remains as such despite the fact that she is now stuck in med school out in Worcester. A worse fate, I cannot imagine. Get this girl some sticky buns stat!
As for the rest of you, I have the recipe for Flour’s popular chocolate cupcakes, which I hope will distract you from any coups. I let the 5YO select today’s recipe since he is the keeper of all of my dessert cookbooks in a stack next to his bed. That is actually how he learned to read—by flipping through cookbooks with me, learning the correct pronunciations for “ganache,” “brioche,” and “meringue” (though, for the latter, I much prefer his own interpretation, “mangaroo”).
The 5YO was particularly taken with the photo of these cupcakes and what was billed as “crispy magic frosting.” I’ll admit, I was, too. They turned out fantastic and they have since superseded all others as our go-to cupcake and frosting recipe. I have a feeling this is going to make at least one of my readers (hi Marika!) very happy!
Flour Bakery’s Chocolate Cupcakes with Crispy Magic Frosting
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup water
½ cup milk
1 egg yolk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into chunks
1 2/3 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
In a small heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and cocoa powder. In a small saucepan, heat the granulated sugar, butter, and water over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot butter-sugar mixture over the chocolate-cocoa mixture and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is homogenous. Whisk the milk, egg, yolk, and vanilla into the chocolate mixture until thoroughly combined.
In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well mixed. Dump the flour mixture on top of the chocolate mixture. Whisk until are totally combined. Let the batter sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature (or transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 3 days).
Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a standard 12-cup muffin tin, or line with paper liners. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, dividing evenly and filling the cups just shy of the rim. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until the tops spring back when pressed. Let pan cool completely on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, in a small heatproof bowl or the top half of a double-boiler, whisk together the granulated sugar and egg whites to make a thick slurry. Place over a saucepan of simmering water (not touching the water) and heat, whisking occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is hot to the touch. Remove from heat and scrape the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment (or use a handheld mixer). Whip on medium-high speed for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture becomes a light, white meringue and is cool to the touch. Turn down the speed to medium and add butter, a few chunks at a time, beating for 3 to 4 minutes or until the butter is fully incorporated. Add the confectioner’s sugar, salt, milk, and vanilla, and continue to beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and satiny. You should have about 3½ cups. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. (If storing, beat with a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for a few minutes until smooth before using.)
Remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin. Spread the frosting on the cupcakes with a spatula or fit a pastry bag with a small round or star tip, fill the bag with frosting, and pipe frosting onto the cupcakes. They are best eaten immediately, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.
Source: Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café.
Guess what I have in my hot little hands? A copy of Joanne Chang’s recently released, much-anticipated cookbook, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café. I think I can speak for all of Boston when I say, yahoooooooo!!!! Or whatever the hip, young people are saying these days. W00t?
I have a soft spot for Flour Bakery having worked in the vicinity of the South End for several years. I had a friend from culinary school who was employed there when it first opened and so I was treated to a mini-tour. The space was not large—the tour took about two minutes, but it was just as charming as you might expect: heavy-duty mixers running at full throttle, neat, young apprentices painting things with chocolate, the smell of fresh baked bread warming the morning air. Joanne was always as sweet as could be, odd given that new bakery businesses require early mornings and long hours. Must have been all the sugar coursing through her veins. Since then, two other Flour outposts have been opened in the Fort Point Channel (well, not actually in the channel) and Central Square. Chang’s talents are also on display at Myers + Chang, the Asian diner she opened in the South End with her husband Christopher Myers.
This cookbook is substantial, heavy with the calories of nearly 150 of Chang’s favorite recipes. Much has been made of her sticky buns, which emerged victorious when pitted against Bobby Flay’s version on the Food Network’s Throwdown! Don’t worry—her secrets are well documented here. So are scrumptious recipes for éclairs, cream-filled doughnuts, focaccia, croissants, brioche, tarts, muffins, cakes, and cookies galore. I hope you like butter!
Chronicle Books was kind enough to send me two copies of this cookbook. However, I’m keeping one for myself since the library says I need to give their copy back. So, I’m raffling off one copy to a lucky reader. Actually, we’re doing the raffle thing differently this time. I’m going to pick the winner based on my favorite comment instead of leaving it up to random chance. This blog is the only power I have and I’m going to wield it like a despot. If I can’t decide between several excellent comments, I’ll randomly select a name from within that group with my iron fist briefly unclenched. But only briefly. To be considered, please leave a comment about a memorable experience you had at Flour or a story that revolves around something delicious you ate from Flour or, failing that, a story about flour. I realize this gives local people an edge, but I figure those of you who know the bakery well will enjoy this book the most. As a consolation prize for the rest of you losers, I’ll post a recipe from the book when I post the winner later this week.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Go!
Today marks a return to my sauerkraut obsession, which has been neglected for far too long. Oh, you thought I had given up? Never! I will not rest until sauerkraut perfection is achieved once again as it was the very first time I attempted it in 2008 when I had no idea what I was doing.
Feel free to play along with your own cabbage. In 3-5 weeks, when our sauerkraut is ready, we can compare notes/swear words and if you blog about it, I’ll do a sauerkraut roundup linking over to your posts. Okay? Here ya go:
The technique is from Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation. A similarly good method can be found in The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. I like to add garlic and other flavorings, but using only cabbage and salt is great, too.
5 lbs. cabbage, cored, shredded thinly
3 Tbsp. sea salt
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
1 Tbsp. juniper berries
2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 bay leaf
In a large bowl, mix the cabbage with the salt and other flavorings with your hands. The salt draws the water out of the cabbage and creates a protective brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour. Pack it all into a large crock as tight as you can, a little at a time, with your fists or a potato masher. Set a plate on top of the cabbage. It should fit snugly inside the crock without getting stuck. Set a clean jug of water on top. The weight will help force more water out of the cabbage as well as keep the cabbage submerged as the water level rises. Cover the whole crock with an old pillowcase to keep out flies and dust. Check the cabbage over the next 24 hours to make sure it has released enough water to be completely submerged. If not, add more liquid in a ratio of 1 Tbsp. salt to 1 cup of water (stirred until salt is completely dissolved) until the cabbage is completely covered.
Let crock sit in a cool dark corner for 3-5 weeks, checking every couple of days to skim off any foam and rinse the plate. Check the brine level. Water will evaporate over time, so you may need to add some fresh water to keep the cabbage submerged and prevent it from rotting. During the fermentation period, do NOT add salt water—only fresh. To find out why, read here. When sauerkraut, reaches the desired flavor, use on reubens, make bacon and sauerkraut strudels, bake with bratwurst or pork chops, or eat it all by itself. Get it right and it's worth the wait!
Local Ingredient Sources:
Cabbage, garlic: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
All right, I think I’m done ranting about grocery shopping. No, wait…okay, yes, I’m done. I feel so much better now. My apologies to the West Coasters who have an entirely different checkout culture. It’s just that I’m feeling very pressed for time, generally speaking, as if I have to cram 40 years of living into the next five years just in case. I don’t want to be stuck in line the whole time. Focusing my energies in the form of mentally hating unsuspecting strangers maybe isn’t the best way to seize the day, but, you know, it was worth a try.
Let’s now direct our attention towards the cheesecake. After all, that was the reason I was at the grocery store in the first place. To get cheese and figs. I was concocting a birthday dinner for my BFF, which included a homemade porchetta and various roasted fall vegetables from my winter farmshare. I thought almond cheesecake in an amaretti crust with fig preserves dribbled over the side would be the perfect seasonal ending to the meal. I was not wrong. For a change.
This cheesecake is excellent: smooth and rich with just the right amount of almond flavor. I’ve made it many times. The secret is almond paste (similar to marzipan) whipped into the filling. You can use a regular graham cracker crust instead of my amaretti/graham cracker crumb combo. Crushed almond biscotti would also be nice. Start a day ahead if you want to make the fig topping because the fruit needs to macerate overnight. If figs aren’t really your thing, you can serve the cake with whatever preserved or fresh seasonal fruit you like. Blackberries. Sour cherries. The world is your orchard.
Freeze any remaining almond paste for future baking: macaroons, pignoli cookies, croissants (or another almond cheesecake!).
1¼ cup crushed amaretti cookies (I use the food processor)
¾ cup graham crackers crumbs
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sugar
4 oz. almond paste
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. almond extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine amaretti and graham cracker crumbs in a small bowl and mix in melted butter. Press over bottom and 1 inch up sides of 9-inch springform pan. Bake until crust starts to color, about 10 minutes. Cool.
In a food processor, blend sugar and almond paste until mixture resembles a fine meal, about 1 minute. Add half of cream cheese and process until smooth. Add remaining cream cheese and process until completely smooth and no graininess remains. Add eggs, cream, and almond extract, and blend until just combined. Pour filling into crust.
Bake cake until just set in the center and beginning to crack at the edges, about 40 minutes. Turn off oven and open oven door to let the cake cool slowly for about 20 minutes. A gradual cool-down helps to minimize cracking. Take cake out of oven and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until well chilled. If your cheesecake cracks, it’s no big deal. These minor imperfections give things character. Run knife carefully along edge of springform pan, unbuckle ring, and remove cake. Slice and serve with...
These preserves would also dress up a Thanksgiving cheese plate alongside Manchego or a local blue goat cheese, for example.
1 lb. figs, both ends trimmed
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey
½ lemon, zested and juiced
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. wild fennel pollen or fennel seed (optional)
Cut figs into quarters and add to a medium bowl. Gently mix in sugar, honey, lemon juice, bay leaf, and fennel pollen. Let sit in the fridge overnight.
In a medium pot, bring mixture to a full boil and skim off the foam. (The foam is delicious, by the way, it just clouds up the finished product.) Reduce heat slightly to keep things boiling without overflowing the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, about five minutes. You want the syrup to be somewhat loose for the purpose of cheesecake topping. If you boil it too long, you’ll end up with a thick jam more suitable for biscuits. Ladle into a pint jar and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Before serving, let the preserves warm at room temperature to loosen up a bit, if necessary.
I was in line at Russo’s the other day (our nearest quality produce market), and I was suddenly overcome with seething rage and not for the usual reasons. I mean, yes, Russo’s is always a nightmare unless you get there between 8 and 10 a.m. on a weekday, which I hadn’t, and the cashier was slow, and my line had no bagger, and my kid was restless. But those were not the direct reasons for my anger. No, I was mad at the person in line in front of me who wasn’t bagging her own stuff.
Isn’t there some kind of unwritten rule about that? That if there is no bagger present and you have two functioning limbs, that you should go ahead and starting placing your groceries into bags? Even if you merely start the process, open the bag, toss a few things in, then let the cashier take over once it’s time to punch in the debit card info, shouldn’t you at least make a token effort? A half-hearted show of being a good citizen?
But no. The obviously-new cashier was taking 15 excruciating minutes to tabulate the bill and this woman, who was possibly younger than me and from my vantage point quite able-bodied, was just standing there waiting for her to finish so the cashier could then begin the mounting task of (slowly) placing each thing into a bag. No motion was made to help a sister out.
I find this kind of thing infuriating and, so, to try to calm myself down, I began speculating about the possible reasons why one wouldn’t put their own groceries into a bag. Was she foreign? Do they not have grocery stores in other countries? Nope, I’ve definitely seen grocery stores in other countries. Was she not aware of the bagging situation? She brought her own reusable, recyclable bags, so she seemed to have some level of bag-related awareness. She didn’t seem preoccupied with watching the prices as they were rung up to make sure no calculation errors were being made. That might have been a reasonable excuse. Maybe. Was she going through some kind of divorce, job loss, health issue, complicated child-rearing situation, bereavement of any kind? Impossible to say, but she didn’t seem anxious about anything at all. She looked perfectly Zen and at ease with the world. Does she simply enjoy spending her time standing in lines? Is that her “me” time?
It seems moderately petty now that I’m recounting it. Surely more egregious crimes of conduct have been committed at Russo’s, including but not limited to smashing your cart into someone’s Achilles tendon, maybe by accident, maybe not. I’ve seen elderly women nearly get into fistfights over tangerines. Clearly I was in an impatient mood, but I’m telling you, I was one step away from sidling over to the bagger’s station and, without breaking eye contact with Zen Woman, dropping her things into bags from a higher-than-necessary level.
Well, now. I thought cancer was supposed to make you a better, more forgiving person. Guess not!
I got another pound of shiitakes from my logs a few weeks ago. Half of them went into an Asian-inspired chicken noodle soup and the rest I saved in the fridge wrapped in damp paper towels. They keep for a long time that way, but not forever. Sooner or later, they dry out. In fact, drying them is a good way to preserve them.
Ever since I started growing mushrooms, I’ve been cutting off the woody stems of the shiitakes, drying them, and funneling the desiccated nubbins into a mason jar for future vegetable stocks. I did consider drying these October shiitakes for a future winter stew, but I also knew the tender caps would probably be the last fresh, local mushrooms I’d see before my prolific logs take their long winter’s rest. With that thought, I very thinly sliced the remaining shiitakes and tossed them with a bit of olive oil, chopped thyme, salt, and pepper. Then I roasted them in a 350°F degree oven for about 15 minutes, flipping once. My thinking was that I’d keep them in the fridge for filling omelets on the fly, decorating pizzas, or topping a fall-themed bruschetta. What I didn’t foresee was my inability to keep my hands off of them once they came out of the oven so nicely browned and generously salted. I kept snacking on them every time I walked by.
I did manage to set some aside for pizza and omelets, but I don’t think we should overlook the idea of mushrooms as a snack all on their own. Half crispy, half chewy, all long and tentacled, they were absolutely, drop-dead delicious.
To kick off our experimental loaner program, one of the first things I borrowed from The Concord Shop was a madeleine pan. I’ve never made madeleines before because I’ve never had the required pan, and I try not to make a habit of buying one-use items. Even one-use items that result in delicate, lemony teacakes.
[Husband would just like to interject to say that I have PLENTY of one-use-items, and he will refer you to Exhibit A: the cake pedestal. Which, yes, I own. And I will readily admit that not very many meticulously constructed, pedestal-worthy cakes get made on my watch. However, I got that cake pedestal as a wedding gift. I merely added it to the registry. If somebody else agreed that, yes, I should have a cake pedestal on my wedding day, that, in fact, one’s wedding day is the perfect day for such a gift, then I think certain husbands should take that up with the friend in question, not me. And, anyway, if you can’t satisfy your deepest, most profound culinary desires on your wedding day, then I’d like to know when you can.]
So, madeleines. Right. By law, I am now required to talk about Marcel Proust and his early childhood memories of France conjured up by tea-soaked madeleines in his epic, semi-autobiographical novel In Search of Lost Time. I have not read this book, nor do I have any similar nostalgic remembrances to report. My only memory of madeleines are from a Madrid subway station during my junior year abroad, where I purchased something billed as a madeleine and was struck by how genuinely tasty it was. This, I remember thinking, really illustrates the difference between Europe and the U.S. In Europe, you can buy quality confections in the bowels of the subway. Some days later, I returned to that same subterranean pastry case and bought a cream-filled something or other, and just barely made it to my stop before I threw up the whole curdled mess. It would seem that all of my autobiographical stories come back to vomit.
But not anymore. Here’s what madeleines conjure up to me now: a pleasant and windy Sunday afternoon spent nibbling the soft, buttery cakes with a mug of chamomile tea while everyone else was watching the football game. Warmth and comfort. Now I’m thinking a madeleine pan might be a one-use item I could stand to have around.
This makes enough batter to fill one standard-sized madeleine pan, plus a little extra for eating straight out of the bowl. No one, not even Proust, will cure me of that habit.
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the eggs to the bowl. Working with the whisk attachment (or a hand mixer), beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until pale, thick, and light (2-3 minutes). Beat in the vanilla. With a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate at least 3 hours, or up to 2 days. This relaxes the gluten and makes a more tender cake.
Preheat the oven to 400°F and center a rack in the oven. Take one end of a stick of butter and apply a thick, chapstick-like coating to the madeleine pan. Use a paper towel to smear the butter entirely into the crevices. Dust the insides with flour and tap out excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them not quite to the top. Batter will spread in the oven, so don't worry about smoothing the tops. You don't want to deflate your lovely batter. If you accidentally overfill the molds, you will end up with a lip around the edges like mine, which is only a very minor aesthetic issue. Bake 11 to 13 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the tops spring back when touched. Remove from oven and rap edge of pan against the counter to release the madeleines, nudging them out with your fingers. Transfer cakes to a rack to cool. Dust with sifted confectioner’s sugar before serving.
Source: Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan