Chef Linda's Confection Commentary

Author: lindanaylor Page 1 of 13

The Pi Day – Pie Day Quandary

The third month; the fourteenth day. Pi Day! Pie Day! March 14 is the annual, worldwide celebration of the mathematical constant, pi.

NASA scientists and engineers use pi to solve problems and explore the universe. The constant is used to send spacecraft to other planets; to drive rovers on Mars; to find out what other planets are made of; or to determine how deep alien oceans are. NASA issues yearly math challenges to students and amateur explorers to critically inquire the way they do in solving questions about, say, density and volume of rock samples on Mars that the Perseverance Rover will one day bring back to Earth.

Though pi’s decimals are limitless and non-repeating, JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, uses 15 decimal places to calculate interplanetary navigation.

 

Simple creatures like pastry chefs use 3.14 to scale related baking formulae up and down. Satisfying a common need to calculate the volume of one pan vs the volume of another requires little effort with the use of pi.

And… there’s comfort in the constancy of feeling you can exercise a bit of control over a domain that morphs endlessly. (Liquid : dry ingredient ratios vary with the freshness of the ingredient; humidity in the baking environment quickly transforms a tried-and-true recipe into a seized mess, etc.)

Costing recipes – using the metric system, of course – to four decimal places allows us to be reasonably precise about our profit margins. High school math, in action every work day.

 

We also love supporting other creative, adventurous confectionery souls who have beauty and love to spread. (Check out Salvatore Hall’s launch of #oneeightyconfections with four kicking pieces of artisan chocolate. He partnered with super-cake maven Johannah Zuniga, owner of Dream Cakes on Valentine’s Day, and we we lucky enough to snag their offering.)

 

As a poet, I love the rhythm of 3.14159. Last year in the “Voraciously” column of the Washington Post, Aaron Hutcherson wrote the following little ditty, explaining it as “the cheer used at the math and science high school” he attended during sports games:

Secant, tangent, cosine, sine

3.14159!

We all have ways of amusing ourselves…

 

Pi Day – Pie Day

Here’s a snippet of a poem I wrote to new bakers that will be the intro to my e-book, published later this year:

“Science, now the clever, stealthy patron

lays in wait, tugging at the baker’s imagination; no mercy.

3.14159.

Raise the hem of mystery

to reveal the cook’s

new nourishment.

Curtsy to

The Light:

Pi.”

 

All of this is to say that we’re celebrating Pi Day – Pie Day, too. We’re making four, 6” (only) pies available to our Portland Metro customers for pickup or delivery on or before March 14. Essential Apple. Essential Oregon Cherry-Berry. Essential Shaker Lemon. Essential Cranberry-Citrus. All restaurant-quality. As we approach the end of the glorious Q124 citrus season, any excuse to use exquisite tangerine-essence Meyer lemons and luscious, sweet Mandarins is excuse enough.

 

This whole exercise falls into the category of “a little bit of something special” but mostly, it’s just fun.

We look for things that offer comfort and humor. I hope you’re looking, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Reality Behind Ingredient Tongue Twisters

The hidden ingredients – a hidden reality – behind baked products that appear to have flash, panache and demand are increasingly subject to consumer scrutiny. And rightfully so.

 

Courtesy Chef Salvatore Hall, #oneeightyconfections

Part of the confidence Essential Confection cultivates in planning and executing new product lines is, occasionally, modeling a detail or two of those whose work we admire. Chefs. Food photographers. Cooking teachers. Artisan pastry shops. The best businesses (and writers) do it. We hope, as well, that we can model best practices that others benefit from. We learn from, and teach, each other.

 

Discovering the hidden reality behind packaged cookies took us in an unexpected direction. We purchased and evaluated a competitor’s holiday cookie offerings expecting to be pleased and bit dazzled. Our educated eyes and taste buds were seeking that which you already know we value: intense single flavors, luxurious texture and a confection that marks time and place.

 

Our first, and it turns out unscalable, hurdle was each cookie’s list of ingredients. Six different cookies; minimal ingredient differentiation. Three or four artificial food colors (presumably used within FDA regulations); 50% saturated palm oil and 80% saturated palm kernel oil (listed five times in one set of ingredients and sub-ingredients); carnauba wax (prevents melting, increases shine); several combined sweeteners (corn syrup, glucose, dextrose, tapioca syrup, cane sugar), and a variety of gums and emulsifiers.

 

There are reasons for using several of these ingredients, particularly in the production of gluten-free baked items (which these were not). Several will improve a gluten-free cookie’s texture, and certain liquid sugars help to avoid sugar crystallization that improve shelf life. Those are choices people who select GF foods must make. Certain liquid sugars are also necessary for products that require a syrup.

 

After having been flash frozen prior to shipping, the cookies arrived in an insulated box with instructions to refrigerate, then microwave each cookie for ten seconds before eating. This, presumably, was to soften the fat to improve mouthfeel.

 

We persevered. We tasted fairly (minimally biased) and critically looking for features to appreciate. Quite sadly, all we really could taste was intensely sweet cookies that crumbled in our hands, the level of sugar significantly overshadowing every unique flavor (and, no doubt, good intention) the creator desired.

 

So, in January 2024 our only new standard remains the one we’re already very familiar with: our own – starting with a clean label. How to spot a clean label? Several quick criteria:

  • a short ingredient list;
  • ingredients that you recognize as food items and can pronounce;
  • no ingredients ending in “ose”;
  • no artificial colors, extenders or waxes; and
  • no dyes and numbered food colors.

 

Our promise is to use the highest quality, Pacific Northwest sourced ingredients, skillfully entangled as muses to one another and tempered with love and appreciation for the extraordinary bounty that is everywhere around us. We hope to return the magic you bring in supporting us with the tastes and flavors of the year ahead.

The Sweet Spot Between Elegance and Confection

Elegance and confection. Pleasingly ingenious. My own interpretation of the word elegance would include simplicity; however, simplicity isn’t always present in an elegant solution. In electronics, in technology, in manufacturing those solutions tend to be quite complex. We recognize elegance when we see it: in clothing design, in the manufacture of small appliances, in an iPhone. So, what does elegance have to do with confection?

 

One thing that makes elegance so attractive is precision. We admire products and services that are seamless and precise. Handcrafted furniture, a high-quality pen or watch, a beautifully engineered hygrometer that’s available to us for just a few dollars.

 

We’re mapping out our production through the end of the year, including the launch of an annual flagship confection product that will have its roots in elegance: the Essential Confection Box. Remembering that our two product qualifiers are superb single-flavor and textural development, we’re building a stable of our best recipes confected with the glorious fruit of the current Pacific Northwest season.

 

Cookies of impactful design like swirls of Italian amaretti; fat, cracked thumbprint cookies of house made hazelnut butter; three flavors of Essential Cantucci Mini™ we sell only to restaurants; our beloved HazL+Nutly™ (currently in use as bookends of summer gelato sandwiches); a glorious candied fig butter cookie (yes, we’re candying fresh figs next month); our never-before-released to consumers pistachio shortbread (have you ever had pistachio butter?) to name a few. Dark, sweet Oregon cherries and our own Marionberry jam (an Oregon-grown-only berry) will make appearances. And sparkle will definitely have its day.

 

 

Marionberry, blackberry, lingonberry, elderberry, black raspberry

There was a time when we didn’t know each other by name, only reputation

The reputation of my grandmother’s exquisite black raspberry jelly

So precious it only made appearance in the tiniest of jars as if incognito

And it changed my understanding of what gifting was about

Funny how a little fruit can do that

Elegance makes an entrance in the svelte silver cookie tin. We believe in functionable reusability, and this box will find a permanent home among your keepsakes.

 

At this writing, we can only hope to keep up with the infusion of flats of Marionberries, apricots and dark Bing cherries. Next month’s bounty includes peaches, figs and tiny artisan grapes.

 

For our personal use, we’ve been producing savory blueberry jam for turkey and lean meat sandwiches, and a fabulous savory umami Marionberry sauce for grilled chicken and fish.

 

Simple Excellence is Essential Confection’s tag line, and it’s hard to express how much value we place on simplicity and excellence as components of the gifts we create. It circles back to my interpretation of elegance: pleasingly ingeniouswith simplicity.

 

We love hearing from you and are most appreciative of your friendship and support.

 

 

 

 

There’s Healing in That Bird Feeder

Healing in bird feeders? Healing what, and what do bird feeders have to do with confection products? Do read through and choose your healing…

 

Birds & Healing

A recent Washington Post article entitled, “Why birds and their songs are good for our mental health” again supported the research that “contact and interaction with nature are associated with better body and brain health. Birds appear to be a specific source of these healing benefits.” Your mood will improve just reading the article.

Do read the May 26 Times opinion piece by Christian Cooper, the bird aficionado and science writer who gained notoriety three years ago while being aggressively confronted in Central Park. Here’s the remarkable update: “In 2021, National Geographic invited me to host a television show on birding, “Extraordinary Birder,” and I said yes. The result is that I now find myself living an absolute dream. I spend my time crisscrossing the continent in pursuit of iconic species, having close encounters with the rarest birds (it doesn’t get any closer than peering via endoscope inside the body of a Puerto Rican parrot, or iguaca, to check on its testicles) and having the privilege of telling the harrowing and inspiring stories of these birds’ conservation — and of the farmers, biologists and truly extraordinary birders dedicated to these efforts — in front of the camera to a mass audience.”

I have two hummingbird feeders and a songbird feeder on my patio. We literally feed and support dozens of birds that over-winter. For the past 4-5 years, I’ve actively participated in the extraordinary mating and birthing cycle of osprey in Loch Arkaig at Woodland Trust, the ancient Scottish Highlands. At this moment, the hatching of two osprey eggs is imminent. Here’s the link. The shared responsibility both osprey mates exercise in birthing and parenting is extraordinary. ORmeet the bald eaglets at the Cardinal Land Conservancy in Cincinnati, Ohio!

Bird songs are linked to alleviating negative emotions and improving mental well-being. How many times a day do we have the opportunity to simply listen to the songs offered all around us? Taking even a few minutes to observe bird interaction and conversation is uplifting. And it’s free.

 

 

Our Contribution to Healing

Essential Confection is a values-based organization. The decisions we make on topics like new product formulation, whom we choose as our restaurant partners and which organizations we advocate for must fit the values we state on our website.

Some are obvious: fidelity, honesty, professionalism. Others, perhaps not so much: diversity, elegance, ethics. Humility’s a big one. Appreciation and recognition are not about us so much as how we can support the people whose presence and work we respect, that we might all be better off for it.

While Essential Confection will always be committed to supporting the expansion of equitable food systems, we have another passion: animal care and well-being. Humans and animals are important partners for one another. It has been so throughout history.

 

Our Commitment

In the broader context of whom Essential Confection chooses to support, organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States and state humane society operations, such as in Oregon and Washington are at the top of our list. While wine tasting last weekend at The Great Oregon Wine Co  in the Willamette Valley, we noticed their commitment to do exactly that: support HSUS through wine sales of their Rascal chardonnay

So, a percentage of the revenue from Essential Northwest Cheesecake, Essential Tiramisu, Essential Douglas Fir Shortbread and all our dessert and confection products will, from this point forward, be dedicated to supporting those doing the important work of animal care and well-being.

 

There is joy and ease built into to simply observing the life around us. Is there healing in that bird feeder? You bet.

One of our Core Values Should be to Slow the Senses

The advent of a new year is a chance to slow the senses, to appreciate that which we created in the year past and to seed that which we would like to flower in the new year.

 

We are continually reminded to trust our instincts in professional partnerships. New retail relationships with New Seasons Markets and Zingerman’s mail order house. Sustained and budding relationships with our restaurant partners.

 

Our philosophy of placing products in the market is a natural development of four of our core values: excellence, elegance, fidelity and quality.

 

Quality – always. Simple excellence… so key that it’s our tagline. Elegance – in the marriage of ingredients and unexplored techniques. Fidelity in every relationship. New partnerships will continue to align with our core values. We love supporting what others do well, and standing side by side in ways that benefit our partners as we grow.

 

Why Slow the Senses?

We’ve found several ways to slow the senses.  First: dwell on remarkable tastes and textures with gauzy attention.  The simple act of paying deep, relaxed attention to flavors and scents that enrich us heightens the entire product development experience. Next: to slow the senses eases stress. Finally, creativity is enhanced with the simple act of opening space to notice flavor and texture. Each product we create has as its pedigree a s-l-o-w focus on taste and texture.

As an example, we’re working on a proprietary hazelnut cake for our restaurant partners. The richness of Oregon hazelnuts is foundational to flavors that punctuate and complement it: espresso, fig, almond. Figs – in this case, CA Mission figs because we’re out of season – offer sweetness, a lovely contrast to the robust, bitter flavor of espresso. Almond paste adds a succulence that’s savory and a bit mysterious. Through trial – and more trial – we find the sweet spot where distinct flavors are present in the senses and they become the building blocks of the whole.

 

 

A Writing Practice as a Core Value

Broadening my well-established writing practice is a personal commitment to striving for excellence. Like the process of clarifying what works in business, writing poetry and creative non-fiction spur choices for me of how to flourish in voice and in public presence.

 

Every new product helps us circle back to one of our fundamental purposes: to innovate and create unique, elegant and texturally luxurious, pleasureful products that have their roots in time and place. Slow the senses; slow the living.

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