Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gluten free baking!

A friend of mine was hosting a shower for her sister and her gluten free connection fell through, so she asked me if I might be able to help out. I was eager to help out and learn more about gluten free baking, although it was a little nervewracking as you have to be extremely careful with cross contamination and surprise gluten sneaking in from unexpected places.

This challenge really gave me a window into the world of someone with a food allergy/intolerance, it is so difficult to make sure that nothing contaminates your food. I can imagine on first diagnosis, one might just lose interest in food as it is just so hard to find something to eat.

To combat this I made sure to clean all my equipment, and I checked all my ingredients. I also opted not to use my mixers, since both could be contaminated with flour, it could puff out while I'm mixing. Bob's red mill is a supplier that can be trusted, so I got my almond meal and the baking mix from them, and I also opened a fresh packet of sugar and new baking powder, cocoa and salt, just to be sure I hadnt contaminated any of them with flour. I also checked the labels to ensure that they hadnt been produced in a facility with wheat, or contained wheat. I was disappointed not to be using my favorite callebut chocolate.

I knew one of the cupcakes that would go really well was the kumquat almond cupcake that I've made a few times now, and I just needed another option.

I came across this lovely sounding recipe from gluten free girl and decided to use that. I had some wonderful sour cherries in a jar, and decided to use those. They worked beautifully, adding a sour component, and keeping the cakes moist.

Something to note with gluten free baking is that the consistency is often very peculiar in comparison to regular baking, and with these cupcakes you'll never get a pretty dome, they will just spill over the top of the cases, so only fill 2/3 full, they will sink a little, but think yourself lucky you have extra room for your frosting! Since it is cherry season, I topped with fresh cherries.

Cherry chocolate gluten free cupcakes (adapted from gluten free girl)

150g bittersweet chocolate or choc chips
300g unsalted butter
260 g sugar
5 large eggs
150 g bob's red mill biscuit/baking mix
20g cornstarch
20g grams cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
200g sour cherries (from a jar, drained)
50g dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 350f

Melt together the chocolate and butter in 15 second increments in the microwave. Mix in the sugar.

Meanwhile, whisk together the baking mix, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt.

Whisk the eggs until frothy, mix together with the chocolate mixture and whisk. Add the dry ingredients, mixing until combined, add the cherries, then scoop into cupcake cakes, making sure not to overfill.

Bake for around 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cherry Buttercream
500g sugar
250g egg whites
500g butter
75g sour cherry preserves
5ml lemon oil
5ml vanilla

Whisk together the sugar and egg whites over boiling water until the temperature reaches 160f. Place on a stand mixer and whisk until cool and fluffy. Cut the butter into chunks and add slowly while mixing on medium. When the butter has been incorporated and the frosting is silky smooth, add the preserves, lemon and vanilla, whip for a few minutes until combined.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Living the dream with a farm to table dinner

I had the enormous honor of working with Julie at Dining details on the desserts for a dinner at Bewise Ranch. I saw the dinner advertised since I get my veggies from them on a weekly basis and I offered to help with the desserts. After some communications we did a tasting and I showed up the day before to start the prep.

I knew that it would take a while to get things done for 150 people, but I just didnt realise quite how long, I spent a long 4 hours working away, trying to find things in the kitchen, making my pastry dough on ice, since it was nearly 100 degrees in the kitchen, and finding that making several quarts of pastry cream is a lot different to a pint or two!

I then returned the next day to make my pies, and assemble the trifles.

The part that really got me was making the peach pies. Each pie had a little fan of chopped peaches arranged elegantly in the tart shell. Since we only had muffin pans, there was a little bit of miniturization required, and I started to rue the suggestion I'd made. Even more galling, they looked extremely 'rustic' at the end of the baking process, and it was a bit disappointing.

I was much happier with the trifles I made. This dessert made sense on this scale, since it was just a case of cutting circles of cake, drizzling with sherry, adding a little compote, pastry cream, doubling up the layers, piping a little cream, sprinkle of praline and a few blueberries and I was done.

Something that made the job more difficult is that I only had a small corner of the kitchen to work in. If I was to do this again, I'd definitely find a time when the kitchen was nearly empty, and then I can spread out and get things done efficiently, and get out of everyones way.

I learned:

  • Commerical kitchens can be very hot in the summer, this adds to exhaustion!
  • Things always take much longer than you expect

  • Scaling is difficult for large numbers, make more than you possibly expect and calculate carefully

  • Making food for people is hard work

  • Some things need fast hands, and some things(like pastry cream) require patience and slow cooking, there is no way to speed things up, remember how much time you're saving by not having to do it twice!!
  • Carefully think through your preparation and make sure that you can produce consistent results, making 1 or 12 desserts is easy, making 150 exactly the same can be hard, also consider making desserts on a different day, they must always be the same.

  • On the same note, precise recipes are important, and must be tested carefully, consider that scaling them up can change results.
  • It is important to consider efficiency, I should have reworked the peach pies so that I could get them done in less time

  • Most of your work in this industry will be doing calculations, working out how to make money out of it, and washing dishes. You'll be surprised how little time you'll actually end up creating masterpieces! I'm not even going to start on the business side of things!
  • Attending some kind of culinary school, whether its the CIA or your local community college actually is useful, in my opinion. You get a handle on how commercial kitchens work, you learn about proper technique, and its much easier to hit the ground running when you do make your debut in a kitchen.

Anyone have any more tips to share?

I certainly will be going back to my day job with a new outlook! It is a fairly serene atmosphere in a lab, we do have deadlines, but for the most part, everything takes as long as it takes, and we just have to be patient and careful with our work.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere at the kitchen of Dining Details, everyone was extremely helpful and polite and it was wonderful seeing food treated with such respect. The dinner that they conjured up for the people at the farm was absolutely incredible. If I had an event coming up, I wouldnt hesitate to book them right away. Julie also has a company that does childrens meals, Chickpeas, and it was wonderful to see the little packets brimming with delicious veggies and healthy food instead of the insipid sandwiches that I often see given to children these days.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sherry Trifle with Lemon, Thyme and Blueberries

This weekend was a big one for me, I worked with dining details to make desserts for many, many people at a farm to table dinner. I thought I'd share the recipe here, and then in my next post I'll share some of my experiences on my first paid pastry job. I know so many people who feel like working in the culinary industry would be a dream come true, so I'll share a little of my 24 hours 'living the dream'! It was a blast, but I wont lie, it was one of the hardest days of my life. There is no such thing as late with catering, you have to be done in time. Very stressful! Anyway, I thought this dessert came out very well. It can be served in little verrines, like at the party, or I've served it in little clear plastic wine cups. Be very careful when adding thyme to the compote, it can be overpowering.

Sherry trifle with lemon, thyme and blueberries developed with Julie at Dining Details
3oz almond meal
2 oz powdered sugar
1 1/4 oz cake flour
3 eggs
3egg whites
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/4 oz sugar
1 1/4 oz butter melted
Sift together the almond meal, powdered sugar and cake flour
Beat egg whites with cream of tartar, adding sugar slowly until the eggs reach medium peaks.
Whisk the eggs into the flour mixture, fold the egg white mixture in followed by the butter. Be sure to make sure the butter is integrated, but don’t overmix.
Bake on a parchment lined half sheet pan at 350f convection for 5-7 mins until light brown (conventional oven 375 for 10-15 mins)

Lemon Pastry Cream
1 cup (235 mls) whole milk
1 cup (235 mls) heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
6 tbsp (75 grams) sugar
Zest 2 lemons and juice 1 lemons
Mix the cream, lemon zest, milk and sugar and simmer.
Whisk together the eggs
Slowly pour half of the warm milk mixture into the eggs, whisking vigorously. Pour the egg mixture back into the milk, whisking. Whisk in the lemon juice and simmer until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Pass through a sieve/chinois to remove any lumps and the lemon zest. Cool for 4 hours or overnight.

Blueberry Compote
2 cups blueberries (10 ounces)
1tbsp thyme infused simple syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Mix together the sugar and blueberries and heat until gently simmering. Whisk together the lemon juice and the cornstarch and simmer for a couple of minutes until thickened. Cool.

Almond praline
2 cups sugar
1 cup slivered almonds
Salt to taste
Heat the sugar in a small saucepan until melted, watch it carefully in the pan, swirling until it becomes amber. Add the almonds, mix quickly and pour onto a silpat, spreading out as much as possible.

Cut small circles of the jaconde, put into the shot glass, drizzle with sherry, then add a layer of blueberries, a layer of the pastry cream, then top with a little whipped cream, chopped praline and a few fresh blueberries. For the event I repeated the cake, compote and pastry cream (soaking the cake before assembling).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Food 4 Kids

This is a really excellent program. Families who are having trouble coming up with enough food for their kids usually do ok while school is on, most schools provide some sustinence, breakfast and lunch, but in the summertime the kiddies are left high and dry. This program helps with that by giving them backpacks filled with food.

The 2010 “Food 4 Kids” fundraiser has three (3) main components:
• Monetary Fundraiser: A fundraising site has been set up on to allow interested individuals to make monetary donations, add comments and keep track of the fundraiser’s progress. All donors are eligible for prizes donated by local restaurants and businesses which will be awarded by random drawing at the end of the event. Inquiries about the First Giving fundraising page or the prize drawing may be directed to Alice Robertson at
I am very happy to be involved in this part of the program, I will be donating a cake or some cupcakes (or I will make something ship-able if someone is out of town!) to whoever wins my prize!

• Backpack and Food Drive on August 21 at Little Italy Mercato: On August 21, a food and backpack drive will be held at the Little Italy Mercato. Members of the community are asked to bring neutral backpacks (as in no logos and preferably black or red) and kid-friendly non-perishable foods (such as applesauce, cereal, fruit cups, mac ‘n cheese, pretzels, etc., and other healthful foods) to the Little Italy Mercato between 9 AM and 1 PM, where Food 4 Kids volunteers and Food Bank personnel will be on hand to collect them. Inquiries about this event can be directed to either Alice Robertson at or Caron Golden at

• Dollar-a-Dish Program: August 1 – August 31: A “Dollar-a-Dish” event is set to run throughout the month of August at participating restaurants. These restaurants will select one of their best selling menu items and will contribute $1 to the Food 4 Kids program for every order of that dish sold during the month of August. At present, 30 restaurants have signed on to participate including: Alchemy, Bencotto, Café Chloe, Cosmopolitan Restaurant, Cowboy Star, Croce’s, Cucina Urbana, Dining Details (Catering,) Gaglione Brothers, George’s at the Cove, Hilton Garden Inn - Del Mar, JRDN, JSix, Kensington Grill, Lotsa Pasta, Nine-Ten, O’Brothers, Pizza Fusion, Playa Grill, Ritual Tavern, Royal India, Sessions Public, Soleluna Café, SoNo Trading Company, Starlite, Stingaree, Terra, The Red Door, Urban Solace and Zenbu. Inquiries about the Dollar-a-Dish event may be directed to Caron Golden at

For more information on the San Diego Food Bank and their Food 4 Kids Program please visit, or to donate visit

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The butcher and the vegetarian

As soon as this book came out, I knew I had to read it. I hang on Tara's every word on her blog, Tea and Cookies, so I knew I was in for a treat, word wise, but also it is a topic that is very dear to my heart. The butcher and the vegetarian is a book I recommend everyone reads.

When I refer to my diet, I just say I dont eat meat. I became a vegetarian at the age of 14, after a particularly harrowing project where I wrote an english essay about animal cruelty. I guess the people with the posters got to me. My mum's delicious sunday roast finally sent me over the edge, I just couldnt eat another mouthful. Somehow the huge hunk of meat, which seems so much closer to the animal than a burger or some innocent nuggets made me realize that I just couldnt take any more.

I have slowly re-introduced fish over the last few years and I've always eaten eggs and dairy, but it leaves me with all sorts of moral confusion. I think on principle I would eat the odd piece of grass fed, free range meat, but when it actually comes down to it, I just cant stand the thought of chewing on a hunk of muscle.

Reading this book was incredible, as Tara explained many of the same feelings about meat as I have. Forced by medical worries, she found herself trying to reintroduce meat into her diet, but ended up with a freezer full of meat that was just so much more hassle than a bowl of beans and rice, or noodles and tofu. I know this would be exactly what would happen to me!
This is a really good read, and it explores nicely the dilemmas that I feel everyone should consider when they think about whether they want meat in their diet, and how much they should be eating. I feel strongly that the animals should have the utmost respect and should be treated the best way possible before they become our food.

These idyllic farm pictures from Wales are nothing like the reality of most farm animals lives, I dont think most people like to admit that, but it seems that, especially in the US, price comes before everything, and people are content to eat animals raised on feedlots, eating food that was never meant to be eaten by those animals, the byproducts of these productions becoming toxic waste.
I understand that there are problems, people below the poverty line dont get to stand around in wholefoods debating another dollar per pound of whatever fancy cut they are considering for dinner, but poisoning our land and possibly ourselves cant be the answer can it?

*Pictures from my october trip to the UK including the totally awesome Gene Simmonds sheep!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Island Style Wedding

This weekend I had the enormous pleasure of making a big showy display of cupcakes with a cutting cake for a guy that I've known for a while. He was our honored team-mate on our bike team, and I've ridden on teams with both his parents, so it was great to be involved in his wedding cake and to see him so healthy and happy.

The couple wanted a hawaiian theme to their wedding and it was more on the tasteful side, so I learned to make frangipane flowers and got some moulds to make little frangipane flowers and hibiscus for each of the cupcakes.

I was so happy with how well this theme came together, it all looked really professional and the flavors were just divine. It sounded like they were all gone with no leftovers so that is a success!! I can never find a general consensus on how many cupcakes should be provided for guests, my intuition tells me around one and a half per guests as some people often take a couple!

There were four flavors, mango macadamia with mango buttercream, chocolate mocha mudcakes with poured chocolate ganache, guava chiffon cakes filled with guava, and topped with guava buttercream and a delicious hummingbird cake packed with pineapple, coconut, pecan and banana, topped with cream cheese. The cutting cake was the mango macadamia flavor.

This cake is a wonderful cake, the original recipe is for strawberry, but I've made it with mixed berries, and it worked very well with mango and macadamia. Keep in mind that this is an extremely rich cake!

Mango Macadamia Butter Cakes adapted from Sky High Irresistable Triple Layer Cakes by Alicia Huntsman and Peter Wynne

Makes around 24 cupcakes

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) soft unsalted butter
1/2 cup mango puree
4 egg whites (100g)
1/3 cup milk
1 diced mango
1 cup chopped toasted macadamias

Preheat the oven to 350f and prepare cupcake pans

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl with the sugar, baking powder and salt and mix briefly. Add the butter and puree and beat for a couple of minutes until fluffy.

Meanwhile, whisk together the milk and the egg whites, adding to the batter in 3 additions. Mix for another 20 seconds until combined, then add the madadamias and diced mango, mix just to combine.

Scoop into cupcake wrappers until 2/3 full and bake for around 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Top with your choice of topping, I used a standard swiss meringue buttercream with mango puree added, and topped with a fondant flower!