The Chrysalis

One of life’s biggest challenges is to walk as yourself. Society has its way of conditioning out our unique abilities in favor of conforming. For me, walking that authenticity is the creation of and dedication to founding a confection company that produces simple, elegant confection products of the highest quality.

Of equal weight is my desire to serve others by contributing in small ways to the events of their lives. I live, by extension, through gifts given by our friends.

Underlying it all is my commitment for this company to support organizations that feed others and to support food systems that nourish and heal.

Though not quiescent, the evolution of this company has been, and will continue to be, a process. I take the risk of putting into place whatever will be required to bring this organization to its full potential. Fulfillment and joy are by-products of exploration.

So, this is a personal note. Essential Confection is my company and today is the day. In the analogy of the chrysalis, that protective state or stage of being, what evolves upon its release is the internally complex but outwardly elegant creation.

I hope you’ll join us.     www.essentialconfection.com//Q3-2020

 

Linda

 

Flavor and Textural Development are our Hallmarks

Essential Confection’s focus is flavor and textural development of simple, elegant products using the highest quality ingredients, with preference given to local artisan suppliers.

This week we launch an annual purchase model. Confection products are delivered quarterly with non-recurring fees and no automatic renewals. First in our new lineup is the Mini Essential Butter Cake, the perfect confluence of savory and sweet.

We partner with our guests to empower people in our community and to support food systems that nourish and heal.

Essential Confection offers confection products through annual purchase with non-recurring fees, and for gift-giving (family, friends, corporate, holiday) and events. Each product offering has finite order and production periods to ensure top quality and freshness. Our products ship.

We would love the opportunity to partner with you to serve others as our products help to support equitable food systems.

The Essential Confection annual purchase launch is 7-Aug.

How I Terrify Myself into the Glorious State of Baking

Thrusts of gluten  evolve into an elegant savoring…

That pastry chefs seek challenge in our daily work is inherent in the role.  Working in the sweet spot of math, science and creativity every day is the best part of the challenge. Ingredient performance changes, evolves, is subject to barometric swings, increased or decreased humidity and deterioration of the ingredients themselves. What worked once may not perform the same way again.

The epitome of baking accomplishment is an artisan panettone loaf, the pinnacle of elegance, flavor and texture having its roots in the Milanese baking culture.

The best loaves are light, tall, ethereal cathedrals of pull-apart quality historically housing internal garnishes of golden sultanas and candied orange peel. Most significantly, the way to get there is through the use of only a sourdough starter – sans commercial yeast of any kind.

Essential Panettone is such a cathedral – an absolute joy to savor and an unmitigated challenge to execute, every single time. Our process takes 60 hours, devoted in the early stages to pushing the gluten-rich starter to its limit of performance. There are two doughs mixed on consecutive days designed to be built upon each other with 4-12 hour rest and rise times interspersed in between. Post-baking at 340 degrees to a 200-degree internal temperature, the loaves must hang  for 12 hours – upside down – to prevent collapse.

It’s the most stress and the most fun.

Essential Panettone is in two flavors: Essential Panettone Northwest garnished with Oregon cherries and toasted local hazelnuts, and candied Valencia orange peel. Essential Panettone  Artisan Milanese showcases traditional garnishes of golden sultanas and candied Valencia orange peel, the dough effused with lemon and orange zest.

This holiday season both panettone will be available. Unlike Italian-legislated size requirements of 1 kilo, ours is a half kilo and is perfect for gift giving to family and friends and gifting to business colleagues. They’ll be baked as orders are placed.

And, oh yes, they ship. One of the magical benefits of a 60-hour process is an extended shelf life – without sacrificing quality or tenderness.

We celebrate the events of our guests’ lives, one event at a time.

We serve joy. Celebrate with us.

Proprietary Spice Blend = One Savory Career Move

An elegant hand sips sweet notes of cocoa, nutmeg, vanilla…

Recently, the integration of a set of savory ingredients into my baking has opened the door into a new, intriguing and broader cooking niche.

A warm and savory roasted spice melange secured one end of the spectrum of a plated dessert this past Valentine’s Day. On the other end was a simple, house made creme fraiche. Both were tethered to a 72%-chocolate flourless torte, the spicy-cool juxtaposition that popped each deeply succulent bite.

I was both chef de cuisine and pastry chef for a wine dinner hosted by new Brookside Inn owners Liane and Rich Cabot. The Brookside, a B&B located in Carlton in the heart of Oregon’s wine country, partnered with winemaker Thomas Houseman of Anne Amie Vineyards, whose specialty is Pinot noir. This dinner christened their ownership.

Anne Amie’s Tudor Hall Solera Port was paired with my Spiced Flourless Chocolate Torte. The “fermentation of their barrel-aged dessert wine was arrested by fortification of a brandy of Pinot noir.”

The tastes of cloves,  nutmeg, vanilla and cocoa in the port aligned swimmingly with my spice blend of star anise, black peppercorns, cardamom and cinnamon. So, if a way to enhance the richness of a dark, silky chocolate torte existed, this was it. The final garnish was a candied hazelnut.

I love experimentation and pushing both sweet and savory flavor profiles in warm, even earthy directions… which allows me to circle back to my new niche.

My cooking partner, Paul Caloca, and I have a deep love for the exquisite ingredients inherent in Oregon – hazelnuts, white and black truffles, Dungeness crab, local salmon and other coastal seafood and crustaceans. Our niche are dinners of the highest quality, sustainable West Coast ingredients made more deeply flavorful using our own propriety spice blends, gentle roasting and smoking techniques, and partnering with Oregon and Washington vintners.

How unexpectedly spicy life can be…

 

 

 

Pie Baked in Humility

A sweet custard crevasse…

Two days ago I was trouble-shooting the unhappiness on my assistant’s face when he was pondering a batch of watery, curdled creme brulee. We decided the cream mixture was too hot to be tempered into the whisked eggs and sugar. My best advice: Have an inquiring, scientific mind and a small ego. Start over.

I’m living my own advice. The pastry goddess has her arms around me. That’s what I told myself each of the six times I failed to bake a perfect Creme Fraiche Pumpkin Pie. The dreaded pumpkin pie crack. Ugh.

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Research and experimentation are two of the things I enjoy most about being a pastry chef. Ingredients are notes on a page of music to me. I love evaluating ingredient performance. Nonetheless, my good humor spiraled downward each time I tweaked my recipe and had the same failure.

And tweak I did. Unbaked enriched crust; par-bake; fully pre-bake. Reduce whole eggs; increase yolks. Evaluate ratio of eggs to pumpkin custard. Evaluate ratio of sugar(s) to pumpkin custard. Does it stabilize or weaken? Analyze what effect the creme fraiche had as a liquid ingredient. I did a spreadsheet of three recipes to evaluate ratios of all the ingredients I wanted in my pie, and was prepared to swallow the frog of releasing or scaling down an ingredient, if warranted.

A major x-factor is my oven. I have the luxury (also interpreted as a curse) of using a combi oven… that is, a combination of convection and humidity. For the first three months I worked in the restaurant, the oven was smarter than me. Very humbling. Now, we hold hands. It only pokes at me occasionally, just often enough to ensure my ego never inflates.

Does a baked custard benefit from humidity? What percentage humidity? Is convection a detriment or an asset because it accelerates cooking? Set the (raw) crust and custard at a high heat as I do with my hazelnut cheesecake, then turn the heat down? To what temperature? 25 degrees less than a still oven? 50 degrees? How do you test for doneness? Dry edges and a slight jiggle in the center? None of this worked for me.

When I finally satisfied myself about ingredient ratios and a fully pre-baked crust, I remembered a blurb of advice from a pastry chef about baking any type of custard at a temperature below the 212 F boiling point in a convection oven. This was after the 6th failure. I also remembered the reco to bake to an internal temp (175 F), not a visual cue.

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The alternative at this point was to bake the pie in a still oven, a deck oven, and, frankly, that would have felt like another failure. So I loaded the pastry gun with every gram of steely determination I had left and went for it. Fully pre-baked the crust. Creamed the egg, yolks, sugars, flour. Roasted the pumpkin to remove excess moisure; processed pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, creme fraiche, spices, vanilla extract and salt in the Robot Coupe; blended custard and egg mixture together. Baked at 200 F for 1 hour, 30+ min; no humidity. Visual cues were not present. No dry outer ring. No jiggly center.

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Creme Fraiche Pumpkin Pie

1, 200-g recipe enriched pie dough

1 egg

4 egg yolks

1/4 C brown sugar

1 T all-purpose (AP) flour

2 1/2 C [610 g|7 oz] pumpkin puree

3/4 C [155 g|5.45 oz] sugar

3/4 C [175 g|6.15 oz] evaporated milk

1/4 C creme fraiche

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (VE)

1 tsp kosher salt

Roll enriched pastry dough to generously fit a 9″ glass pie dish, leaving 1/2″ excess. Turn excess under itself to form a small rim. Freeze dough for 10-12 min, or until thoroughly frozen. Fit a sheet of aluminum foil tightly over entire surface of pastry, snugly fitting foil over pie rim. Bake in 310 F convection oven for 12-13 min, rotating halfway through baking time. Remove foil. Bake for 2-3 min more until pastry is matte.

While pastry is baking, spread pumpkin puree onto parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 8 min at 310 F to remove excess moisture. Move warm puree to food processor. Add evaporated milk, creme fraiche, spice, VE and salt. Process until smooth.

In either a stand mixer or by hand, beat eggs, sugar and flour until smooth and somewhat light. Fold pumpkin mixture into beaten eggs.

Reduce heat to 200 F. Pour pumpkin mixture into warm crust. Bake until custard tests at 175 F on an instant-read thermometer, rotating every 20 min to promote even baking. Bake time is 1 hour 30-40 min.

Cool at room temp for 2 hours. Chill thoroughly.

 

We Should Aspire to Have the World’s Longest Arms

Anthony Bourdain had some of the longest arms in the world, a reach that included street food vendors, every professional cook and chef, former U.S. presidents, activists, heads of state, international journalists and the countless world cultures he humanized and helped us appreciate.

Primetime Creative Emmy Awards 2009

Declaring his French-origin surname was originally pronounced “boor-dah”, Anthony Bourdain first tasted an oyster as a teenager on a family vacation in France, the birthplace of his father, an event that would forever secure his love of food and cooking.

Anthony’s descriptors brimmed with the unabashed intellect and no-holds charm he cast, describing “flambe traveling up an inexperienced cook’s leg” or the loving castigation of his friend, Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert, for “dicking around with your insane professionalism”, or his assertion that “we deserted Detroit because it was full of black people.”

On CNN’s Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, he called street food “the path to true happiness and wisdom”, yet spoke of the loneliness of travel. He had a not-so-well-disguised undercurrent of love and empathetic appreciation for all cultures; yet he admitted to personally having “become harder in some ways.” Who among us cannot relate to the dichotomy.

Anthony authored blogs, essays, articles, fiction, historical non-fiction, cookbooks and travel-exploit books. Occasionally interwoven in interviews and commentary was the thread of his personal “struggle”, and always a deep honesty of the challenges he lived.

A lot has been written about the question of death by suicide. Others we’ve lost we’ve loved no less for their brilliance and courage when faced with what must have seemed insurmountable.

If only we could extend to him the arms he extended to us.

I, for one, am still in his reach and will miss him deeply.

Euclidian Geometry = Chocolate + Strawberries + Bananas

Flavors easing into one another, gently releasing their separation…

In mathematics, the first of Euclid’s five general axioms is: “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” IMAG1827Chocolate and strawberries and chocolate and bananas and, heaven knows, strawberries and bananas have affinity relationships with one another. So, in a somewhat Euclidian way I hoped that there was a flavor triad among the three.

The strategy also centered around quickly ripening bananas and my personal commitment to minimize waste to every extent possible when I cook for myself and as pastry chef at Nicoletta’s Table. Restaurants have a great responsibility to reduce waste.  For inspiration, I began with a banana bread recipe from Massimo Bottura‘s book, Bread is Gold.

The second goal was to create the greatest intensity of flavor. I’m a huge proponent of roasting, smoking and dehydrating fruit to maximize flavor. Using techniques that enhance the singularity of individual flavors is a core practice. Throughout last season’s fruit harvest, I slow-roasted local fruit for Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Jam, Rustic Apricot Jam, Dark Sweet Cherry Compote and Elberta Peach Jam.

Euclid’s 5th general axiom is, “The whole is greater than the part.” Reading and researching flavor affinities is an important tool in professional cooking. Confident creativity arises from research and experimentation. And, it’s fun.

Roasting bananas removes some of the moisture present in the fruit, intensifying flavor and allowing an increase in the quantity of bananas from 3 to 5. Using brown, clarified butter and brown sugar also benefit the overall flavor profile.

BROWN BUTTER BANANA BREAD

1 3/4 C (8 3/4 oz) all-purpose (AP) flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp kosher salt

5 very ripe bananas, peeled

8 T ( 4 oz) brown clarified butter

2 large eggs

3/4 C packed (5 1/4 oz) light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract (VE)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Slice peeled bananas; place on parchment-paper lined sheet pan. Roast for 15 min or until soft and liquid separates from the bananas; strain the liquid. Cool to room temperature. Spray a 9″x 5″ loaf pan with vegetable oil spray.

In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together. In mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until light. Add VE; add eggs one at a time until mixture is smooth. Add banana puree. Add dry ingredients all at once. Reduce speed to low; mix just until dry ingredients disappear. Scrape into prepared pan.

Bake on parchment-lined sheet pan until skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes.

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A simple strawberry-banana compote is a great accompaniment; garnish with chocolate gelato and banana chips.

Strawberry-Banana Compote

2 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ slices

1 pint strawberries, cleaned, hulled and sliced

3 T unsalted butter

2 T light brown sugar

1 T lemon juice

1/4 C bourbon

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; add bananas,  strawberries and brown sugar. Cook until sugar has fully dissolved. Add bourbon; continue to simmer until the alcohol has cooked off, 7-10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice.

 

 

 

 

How Breadcrumbs (and Milk or Broth) Will Feed the World

An explosive web of silence, thrusts of gluten birth an ancient and savoury cadence…

Isn’t it an interesting evolution to realize that baked bread can sustain people even if they have nothing else to eat, while raw flour cannot?

Bread in its most basic form is often composed of nothing more than flour, water and salt. Bread can be combined with other very simple ingredients of nutritional value to form a basic diet that sustains us.

I am deeply inspired by Italian chef, Massimo Bottura, whose Osteria Francescana restaurant in Modena, Italy was named the top restaurant in the world earlier this summer by World’s 50 Best. Bottura has founded a non-profit organization, Food for Soul, that is partnering with Gastromotiva, founded by chef David Hertz,  to promote social change through gastronomy.

Refettorio Ambrosiano, Hertz’ community kitchen in Rio de Janeiro, will open its doors on 9-Aug to offer free meals to Rio residents who need food services. It will be open for dinner every day and Bottura and more than 30 guest chefs will cook with whatever surplus ingredients are available from the Olympic Village, local catering services and sponsors.

There are additional components to the future success of Bottura’s plan to open soup kitchens in other major cities around the world, including creating recipes with leftover bread, leveraging food waste and creating a sustainable food culture. It’s a much broader mission than just one event.

Lara Gilmore, Bottura’s wife says: “Massimo is very interested in creating recipes with leftover bread, so perhaps a pasta such as passatelli made with breadcrumbs in a broth of ‘everything’ or a dessert inspired by ‘Bread of Gold’, a recipe we serve at Osteria Francescana based on a milk and breadcrumb dessert from Massimo’s childhood.”

I often say that bread is my favorite food group. I love the easy juxtaposition of crunchy crust and crumb. A focaccia of humble beginning is easily elevated to art through the addition of fresh, inexpensive ingredients such as heirloom tomatoes, fresh garlic, onion, basil, fresh herbs and a bit, yes, a bit, of Parmigiano Reggiano. Oh yes, a few gobs of glorious olive oil. Accompany as you wish: roasted fresh vegetables, pickled and grilled local fruit or, oh well, a berry dessert.

Roasted heirloom tomato, onion, garlic and herb focaccia
Roasted heirloom tomato, onion, garlic and herb focaccia

Bread’s simple complexity has the power to sustain the world. As projects of this type and scope succeed and we, as a society, find ways to successfully redistribute food resources, we can, indeed, feed the world.

As a pastry chef, that’s a process I plan to actively support.

Riding the Tide of the Season

A green brush stroke at its base the last remnant of the life force that thrust into being its violaceous stalk, each tip pricked a muted gold…

The idea of local-seasonal food choices as a component of food ethics has been under my skin since it was first discussed in a food ethics class at the Oregon Culinary Institute.

Now that the seasonal tide has turned in favor of the freshest, most beautiful and most flavorful produce, the choices become easier.

Hoods!
Hoods!

Each week for the past month I’ve bought flats of tiny, early berries for strawberry-rhubarb compote, fresh strawberry sauce for strawberry-Moscato torte and as garnish for strawberry

Baba au Rhum
Baba au Rhum

shortcake and Baba au Rhum.

If I back this season up up by 45-60 days, my fruit choices are limited to Central Valley California, Mexico and Chile, a completely different depth of flavor and tenderness, and a whole lot of food miles.

I look at the issue professionally and personally. While baking and pastry is my profession, the Nicoletta’s Table pastry department also IMAG1059bakes daily savory tarts for the customer. Easy access to out-of-season zucchini, IMAG1054asparagus and onions, although convenient, does not equate to the baby zucchini, lithe IMAG1055asparagus and spring onions (particularly cipollini) currently in the market.

 

To me, choosing fruit and vegetables in season means not choosing them when they’re out of season.

Asparagus-Chevre Tart
Asparagus-Chevre Tart

If I’ve made a personal commitment to eat seasonally, I then must extend that commitment to my profession.

Let the sweetness of the season begin…

 

 

Autumnal Pastry Wedding

Fleeting ripeness portends kisses of chewy, jammy wine… 

A year, a seeming heartbeat, has passed since Oregon’s plum and grape bounty first revealed its intensely sweet succulence to me.

Now, with a Baking & Pastry Management degree from the Oregon Culinary Institute in my back pocket and as pastry chef at Nicoletta’s Table in Lake Oswego, I’m interested in ways the local bounty can be translated into fall desserts.

Enter Spiced Plum and Grape Tart. I felt the puritanical feature of IMAG0277my personality that surfaces as a love of intensely singular flavors falling away as I considered how best to enhance plums and grapes. The barest pinch of cloves, a few grindings of nutmeg, orange zest and a blush of cardamom. Vanilla bean-seeded sugar… just enough to support the flavor profile.

The Santa Rosa plum, Damson, the culinary plum, and Jupiter IMAG0279seedless Muscat grapes with a mildly tart skin. Amazing natural sweetness and depth of flavor.

As a new pastry chef, learning the keys to successful pastry feel linear and are, hopefully, cumulative. Use ingredients of similar temperature. Aerate the butter for crustier tart dough. Don’t overwork the dough after the flour is added.  

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The finished tart, teased quickly to room temperature in the blast chiller. Thin, tender, flavorful crust juxtaposed wit the rich, married flavors of plums and grapes. Cream whipped to soft peaks adorned with gems of candied orange.

A happy marriage, indeed.

 

SilentThingsWithinUs

What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us. –Gaston Bachelard

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