Dessert

Kitchen Tech Saturday: New York Public Library Digital Collections

Normally, when we’re talking technology, we think of the future, as in, new technology. The latest digital, computerized whatchamacallit that will change the way we cook, or shop, or go out to eat.

But today’s Kitchen Tech Saturday is actually kind of a time machine… one that only goes backwards.

A few years ago, the New York Public Library put all of it’s digital collections online, for free, and available to the public. The collections grow all the time, and you can look up everything from old political campaign pins to pin-ups, but today, we’re talking about a couple of search terms I’ve been using lately: recipe and cookbook. I’ll warn you up front– this website can become quite the rabbit hole.

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Right off the bat, the word “recipe” will get you not only cool, old images from, oddly enough, a tobacco company, but also their corresponding recipes. Decades ago, tobacco companies were the source of a lot of collectibles… things like baseball cards, and obviously, recipes.

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But as you dive deeper into the search results, you’ll see everything from old advertisements for a variety of products, handwritten recipes, snippets from old cookbooks, recipe collection brochures and their covers.

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For a real treat, also add “menu” to your list of search terms. You’ll see some really great menus from restaurants, events, and even hotel room service menus!

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If you’re a big culinary history nerd like me, you’ll find that this time machine also has the odd effect of also speeding up time. You sat down for a quick little poke around in the archives, and before you know it, it’s 2am, your tea’s gone cold, and some random infomercial for people who have a hard time with pancakes is playing in the background. Seriously. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Online digital archives are a real treasure trove of information, and the NYPL collection is definitely my favorite. There’s material in there on a huge array of subjects, although, obviously, this is the one I come back to time and time again for not only a NerdyFunGoodTime, but also some serious culinary inspiration.

I am not a chocoholic…

NOTE: This post is not sponsored. I wasn’t given any free product. I just really had a lightbulb moment at this little shop. They were incredibly warm, welcoming, and generous with their time and knowledge, and I wanted to share my experience.

I have never considered myself a chocoholic. Therefore, beyond what little bit we learned during my semester in Latin Cuisine at culinary school, I’d never really had an overwhelming interest in learning more about it. After this week’s visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico, however, I’ve realized that maybe I’ve just been eating the wrong chocolate. I’m hooked, you guys. I’m hooked on the good stuff… and I want to know more.

I think, in this age of Let’s All Get Educated About Food, most of us are aware of the differences in the Hershey bar you grab as you’re checking out at the grocery store and the stuff you might get from the Godiva store in the mall on Valentine’s Day. However, from the moment I entered Kakawa Chocolate House, or, well, let’s back up, from the moment I dove into Kakawa’s website, while doing research for my day trip to Santa Fe, my cluelessness about what really makes “next level” chocolate became painfully apparent. I’ve quickly learned since then that the good stuff (the BEST stuff) may not come from a big, expensive factory full of fancy pants machines, but rather, from the tiny kitchens where its made by hand, by small groups of chocolatiers who care more about each and every batch of chocolates they produce than you or I might ever care when we eat it. All we know is that it’s something special. But, if you want to know more, they’re happy to teach you.

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Tony Bennett, the owner of Kakawa Chocolate House for the past five years, was in the fashion business when he bought the tiny shop nestled among the prolific art galleries along Paseo de Peralta. He was looking for a business opportunity, but hearing him talk about his team, and seeing his face light up when he looks around the shop, it’s clear he loves being there and he’s proud of every piece of chocolate produced.

“We don’t use any machines, other than the tempering machine… We blend all the chocolate in house.”

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As I’m writing right now, though, I realize I’m burying the lead. Let’s talk about my “A-ha!” moment, which happened when I was handed a tiny mug of Zapoteca chocolate elixir topped with a generous dollop of house made whipped cream.

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Swiss Miss Cocoa this is not. Made from 100% chocolate and a just a little coconut sugar, it’s bittersweet, fruity, and rich, and one sip tells you this is probably what chocolate is supposed to taste like.

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Kakawa has over 18 different elixir blends that include a few more modern takes, as well as traditional Mesoamerican blends like the Zapoteca, European blends based on historic recipes from the Italian and French royal courts (try the Marie Antoinette blend!) and even one developed by Thomas Jefferson. Their selection spans the history of chocolate, and if you get the sense that its past is as full, rich, and complex as the chocolate itself, you’d be right. I highly recommend reading through the origin story provided on the website as a great primer. If you’d like to dig a little deeper, The History Channel website has a super informative section on the history of chocolate that takes the story even further.

If, after doing all that reading, you’re ready to have your own “A-ha!” moment about chocolate, Kakawa ships their granulated elixir blends all over the U.S. via website ordering, and internationally by calling the shop.

How ya like them apples?

Valentine’s Day. It’s a thing. If you’re not part of a couple, you can either choose to ignore it, wallow in your singlehood, or celebrate not having to feel any obligation to do anything at all about it. If you’re part of a couple, there’s generally a range from, “Oh geez. This again?” to, “Gimme all the romance! All of it! Now!”

The boyfriend and I are somewhere more towards the low energy end of the spectrum, but we usually end up caving and at least getting cards or something. If you’re like us, and you want to acknowledge the day, but would like to keep the Fuss Factor to a minimum, you might enjoy this little treat.

This is what would happen if your typical Rice Crispy treat was us, and decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It takes a little extra effort to dress up, but doesn’t go too far out of its way to make it a whole production. For this version of what is an infamously low maintenance dessert, we’re going to do two things to make it just a little more special– we’re going to brown the butter, and we’re going to make a topping. The brown butter gives it a nutty flavor, and makes it a little crispier. As the boyfriend describes it, “More like a baked good.” The topping, a very simple apple pie type concoction, spices things up just a little, and gives the whole she-bang another layer of flavor.

Equipment
Large sauce pan
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing spoon
9″ x 11″  baking pan
Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth
Small bowl
Knife
Cutting board
Saute pan

Ingredients
For the treats:
4 tablespoons butter
10 oz (one package of the large ones) marshmallows
6 cups puffed rice cereal
Pan spray to coat the baking pan

Melt the butter over medium heat in the large sauce pan, swirling occasionally, until the butter becomes a golden brown color. The solids in the butter will brown and sink to the bottom. Strain the butter through the strainer or cheesecloth into the small bowl to remove the solids, then add the butter back to the pan along with the marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows have melted completely into the butter.

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Then, add the rice cereal and stir to coat. Pour into the baking pan and press to make sure it’s evenly distributed. Set aside.

For the topping:
4-5 small apples (enough to make one cup), peeled and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Melt the butter and the brown sugar together over medium heat until the sugar is melted, stirring constantly. Add the cinnamon and continue to stir until the mixture becomes a loose caramel. It might look a little dry, but don’t worry, once you add the apples it’ll loosen up a little. Add diced apples and stir until the apples are well coated and cooked through.

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Spread the apple topping over the treats and cut into whatever shape you want.

Alternatively, you could spoon the apple topping over each treat individually when you serve them, if you want to be a little more fancy pants about it all.

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From start to finish, this shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to put together. I recommend ordering pizza or Chinese food, opening a bottle of wine, and making these while you wait for the food to arrive, but if you just don’t give a crap, grab a pile of napkins and a fork and go to town. I’m not judging!

Two Ingredients = Magic

Hi!

This one is going to be a quicky, but I just had to share this amazingly quick and easy recipe with you, courtesy of Tasting Table. When it first came across my Facebook news feed I thought, “No way is it that easy. This will never work.” But, it is, and it did. And if you’ve ever felt cornered into bringing something to a bake sale or potluck, or gotten stuck on what to make for dessert, you’re gonna wanna bookmark this because it may just become a go to recipe. The great thing is that you can make it a different flavor every single time without ever changing the number of ingredients. Just pick a different ice cream flavor!

Tasting Table’s Ice Cream Bread

Equipment:
Loaf pan (I just used an aluminum throwaway recycle one from the grocery store)
Large mixing bowl
Mixing Spoon

Ingredients:
2 cups (1 pint) any flavor full fat ice cream – I went with Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia
1.5 C Self rising flour (AP won’t work here)
Pan spray

Instructions:

1. Preheat your oven to 350.

2. Let the ice cream sit out for an hour or so to melt/soften. Then, dump it into a bowl and add the flour. Mix the flour and melty ice cream together until it’s a smooth batter. It will be a fairly thick batter.

BLOG_mix3. Spray your loaf pan with the pan spray, and then pour in the batter. Smooth it out a little on top if you want.

4. Bake for 25-35 minutes. Their recipe says 25-30 minutes, but I’m horrible about letting the oven fully preheat, so mine took a little longer. Just test it with a table knife or a skewer at around the 25 minute mark. If it needs to go longer, no worries.

5. Remove from the oven when it’s done and let it cool slightly, then remove it from the loaf pan to let it finish cooling completely.

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The Tasting Table recipe/article says this bread will come out sweet enough that you could top it with more ice cream. I also think you could use any sort of sweet sauce and some whipped cream, or some fruit and whipped cream, depending on what flavor ice cream you use, but it’s also not super sweet, so you could just use it as is. The texture is somewhere between cake and bread– dense and sturdy but not heavy.

BLOG_insideI seriously could not believe how easy it was. And since there’s really just some stirring involved, you could even get the kids in on the fun.

Happy Weekend!

I am not a morning person.

So, I’m taking Intro to Baking & Pastry this quarter. It is on Monday and Tuesday mornings from 7am to Noon. Yeah. 7 MOTHER EFFING AY-EM. It’s kind of sucked some of the fun out of Sunday afternoons with the boyfriend, because there’s this huge “You have to go home and finish the ridiculous amount of handwritten homework for Baking and Pastry tonight” cloud looming over the whole thing. It stinks. And also, the waking up early on Monday morning so I can catch the bus to school. That isn’t fun.

Fortunately, there’s only three weeks left in the class. Also fortunately, I have managed to function well enough to learn something. Mostly, that if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to make them a pretty, edible dessert or face my immediate demise, I could now do it and save myself from death by massive head wound. So, yeah, I’ve got that going for me.

There will be a recipe coming later this week, I hope, but just to prove to you that things have been learned, I thought I’d share some photos of the work I’ve been doing this quarter.

We spent most of the first four weeks working on breads… including one of my favorites– Challah. That braid is a lot tougher to learn than you might think, but once you figure it out, it sure is pretty, yeah? I had tried Challah once before on my own and it was ok, but this time I was really pleased with the results. I love using Challah for French toast and bread pudding, so I’m glad to have finally learned how to make it properly.

CHALLAH

After week four, we moved on to slightly more advanced stuff. This was about when I started to figure out that I like plating desserts a lot more than I like baking them.

We made pate a choux dough… which I’ve made before here on the blog so I felt a little more comfortable with this one. We’ve made it three or four times this quarter, and I feel a lot more confident. I’m not really sure when I’ll use it again, but it’s good to have in my repertoire.

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File this one under, “I can’t imagine why anyone would do this to themselves on a regular basis.” It’s puff pastry from scratch. Granted, once it’s made you can turn it into so many things, from cookies to tarts to napoleons, like this one. But getting there… hoo boy. It felt like the never ending recipe. Make the dough. Roll out the dough. Beat the butter into submission. Roll out the butter. Cover the butter with the dough. Roll it out, fold it, freeze it. Wait. Repeat at least five times. Someday, when I have an entire day to do nothing but make puff pastry, I’ll show you how. (Don’t hold your breath.)

PUFF PASTRY NAPOLEON

 

Cake week was the first time I’ve ever tried to actually frost a cake with any sort of intent. My fallback for cakes has usually been to just frost the whole thing with white icing and then stick candy or cereal or something all over it. That, or sheet cakes, which require very little skill at all in terms of decoration.

I don’t think any professional cake decorators anywhere should be quaking in their boots that I’m about to steal their livelihoods. But, it was sorta fun and turned out pretty ok for a first try, I think.

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And that brings us to last week, which was Plated Dessert Week. It’s the week we spend a full class period prepping elements we’ve learned how to make all quarter, so that on the second day of class we can plate them all up in interesting ways and invite in all the other classes to try out the goods.

One of mine was this chocolate torte, which I garnished with chocolate sauce, salted caramel sauce, and some pepita brittle I whipped up in a hurry because it needed some crunch. Flavor-wise, I think this one was the biggest hit. I think my plating got a little sloppy, though.

TORTE

 

We also made a batch of crème brûlée. The dessert itself is already in a pretty ramekin, and I can’t imagine jacking up that lovely crispy sugar topping by putting anything else on there, but we added some interesting touches to the base plate to up the glamour factor.

HINT: If you’re ever making crème brûlée at home, do your sugar topping in three layers to get a restaurant quality crust. Lay down your first layer of sugar, brûlée it, then let it harden. Repeat that two more times, and you’ll have that lovely caramelized, crunch sugar we all love about crème brûlée.

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Until next time… Bon Appétit!