Thursday, October 23, 2014


Fleur d'Eclair!
I made eclairs! Ever since I saw Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery in Boston, demonstrate how to make choux pastry at Book Larder in Fremont, I’d had them on my list of things to try. The way the dough is cooked on the stovetop, starting all gloppy and then pulling together suddenly into a big cohesive ball, reminded me of making homemade play-dough for my kids when they were young. Joanne made the pate a choux look easy, of course. So I didn’t figure it would be tricky after having watched her (which was more than a year ago now). But my first attempt was not successful. The pastry wasn’t thick enough; they were super flat out of the oven. They browned too much on the outside, but were undercooked and doughy on the inside.

So I did some research online and consulted Jacquy Pfeiffer’s cookbook, The Art of French Pastry. I realized that adding the eggs is a critical last step; you can overdo it and end up with a soupy pastry that isn't easy to fix. The recipe had called for four eggs. Alas, it was too many. Next go round, I added them slowly, one at a time, until the dough reached the right consistency, described as holding a V shape off the paddle, or in another source, as pulling apart between two fingers easily without breaking up yet holding its form. The next batch was usable after coming out of the oven, but still not quite where I want them to be. It’s apparent that mixing, piping, and baking to the correct done-ness will all take some practice to perfect.  The good news is they are quick to make and require only simple ingredients, so practicing can be done without too much investment in time or materials.

The pastry cream from Joanne’s cookbook, eponymously titled Flour after her bakery, worked beautifully. She calls it St. Tropez Cream. It was easy to make using her directions, and turned out smooth and dreamy. I tried adding a wee dash of cold brew espresso into part of the batch, which gave it a nice coffee flavor. The chocolate ganache recipe also worked flawlessly and is astonishingly easy. How is it that I've never made ganache before? Sheesh. Chocolate, cream. Heat, melt, mix. Come on!

The pastries don’t keep very well after putting them together, so you should eat them ASAP. Which is a dangerously easy feat, even alone, because they absolutely melt in your mouth. They are aptly named. According to Wikipedia: “The word comes from French ├ęclair 'flash of lightning', because it is eaten quickly (in a flash)."
I brought all the components in to work and built them in the break room one morning. Before I could finish assembling them, I had several people lingering around waiting for one. Love that feeling when people are so excited for a sample!

To sprinkle or not to sprinkle, that is the question...
The 5th Avenue Theater stage is ready for the talented cast and catchy music of KINKY BOOTS!
"Ladies and Gentlemen, and Those of You Who Have Yet to Decide!"
Immensely enjoyed this show  - what an awesome birthday gift! Merci beaucoup!

A thick swatch of a marine layer is all nestled in on Elliott Bay, hiding the Seattle skyline.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Orange Nut Bread (aka Elsa's Bread)

This recipe came from my Grandma’s box of recipe cards. My sister and I got to browse through some of her recipes recently, months after she passed away. This is one that I plucked from the box because I was intrigued by the amount of finely cut orange peel it calls for. I really thought it would be overpowering and maybe bitter, so my curiosity compelled me to bake it up. It was so tasty! Just the right amount of orange flavor and so good with the walnuts. Lots of things my Grandma made had nuts and dried fruits in them, so as I snacked away happily on the bread, I got flashbacks of that old feeling of comfort while at Grandma’s.

Orange Nut Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup finely cut orange peel
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. butter, melted (measure then melt)

Mix the dry ingredients together, then stir in the egg, milk and butter. Bake in a loaf pan at 350 degrees until top is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (I used a small bundt cake and it worked fine. I also added Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips and that worked just fine too!)
The recipe card noted that this recipe was from Elsa-someone, who had the same last name as my Grandma’s father. I am on a quest to find out who she is and how I am related to her. I wondered if the bread was a staple in Elsa’s home, or maybe more of an occasional treat. And did I ever snack on this as a girl without remembering it now? How often did my Grandma make it? How will I ever know? Perhaps I should start writing short anecdotes to go with some of the things I bake, for my posterity. But hey, that’s exactly what I’m doing on here! Perhaps I should actually tell people about Ze Blog, n’est pas?

Here are some snapshots of happy October moments:
Here's what I saw as I walked to my car after work a couple weeks ago, taken from inside the parking garage.
One of the trees is already full of beautiful glowing golden leaves.

I have an October birthday! The glow from the numerous (gulp!) candles helps
prevent you from knowing exactly how young I am. My boyfriend made
this for me -- there are pumpkin cookies hidden inside and pumpkin
puree added to the frosting. Wow-sers! He knows me well. I love me some pumpkin!

A slice of delicious cake with vanilla gelato, salted caramel sauce and hot fudge on the side? Don't mind if I do!

Awesome birthday gifts!
Tickets to see KINKY BOOTS! at the 5th Avenue Theater in downtown Seattle this weekend,
and THEEE COOLEST little antique Japanese teapot. Made of cast iron and enameled on the inside.
Plus it's sitting on its own matching cast iron trivet. Sturdy as a rock yet dainty and graceful. Genius.
How did I not know I should've been wanting one all this time?!?