Holiday Confections Class Recap: When a Mistake is the Missing Ingredient

Earlier this month, I taught a holiday confections class at The Brooklyn Kitchen. We made peppermint caramels, maple-glazed hazelnut halva, sugarplums (my favorite) and chocolate toffee brittle.

When I teach, it feels like I learn just as much as the students. For example, while demonstrating the caramel recipe, I became distracted (talking + cooking = sweat) and added the coconut milk all at once. It was supposed to be in two parts; one at the beginning and the rest after the mixture reached 230 degrees. So we also made a second, true-to-recipe batch.

It wasn’t necessary–the first one turned out perfectly.

I should have pretended to do it on purpose. Earlier, I’d told the class how it’s a misconception that baking/pastry/dessert-making is an “exact science.” On the contrary, my best discoveries are sometimes made through improvisation, tinkering and mistakes–and this was a perfect example.

Sugarplums (left) & maple-glazed hazelnut halva (right). Thank you to Nashville Wraps for the perfect, 100% recycled candy boxes.

Later in the class, one of the students added some whole hazelnuts to a bowl of confectioner’s sugar to make the maple glaze. I caught her just before she was going to add the syrup and vanilla. After explaining that the hazelnuts were to decorate after glazing, she fished them out of the sugar and placed them aside.

After glazing, each piece of halva was topped with a hazelnut–now coated with a light layer of confectioner’s sugar. The result was more beautiful, elegant halva. The sugar gave the candy a snowy, wintry look and a French patisserie feel.

Just like mutations create beneficial properties so that species can evolve, a chance mistake caused an unforseen improvement I never would have thought of otherwise. Next time I make this recipe, I will incorporate this new step.

Thank you students! You have no idea how much you inspire me.

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Dear Girl With the Purple Highlights


Thank you for visiting my table this weekend. No, I did not make my own ice cream from scratch. Just everything else. I have before, when I was a pastry chef, but those desserts were $12, not $7. And since you and your friends want to complain about the prices here, I hear there is a McDonalds over on Grand St–they use tortured vegetable fat for their fries now instead of tortured animal fat.

Sorry I didn’t have time to make signs touting my organic, fair trade ingredients. Please feel welcome, the next time you have 48 free, consecutive hours, to accompany me through two sleepless days of prep and work. You will encounter countless, happy customers on the tail end that will make it worth your while. One snot-nosed punk does not a bad day make.

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My Summer of Smorgasburg: A Vegan Street Food Gallery

Over the summer, I was one of the inaugural vendors at Smorgasburg, the huge outdoor food market on the Brooklyn waterfront. During that time, I was the only vendor to prepare a different food option every single weekend. My philosophy was that non-vegan Smorgasburg customers had access to infinite food options, so vegans deserved the same variety. I gave them the experience of many different vegan food vendors, over the span of a summer.

The funny thing is, most of my customers were non-vegans. My biggest takeaway from the experience is that people will eat something if it looks, smells & tastes good. I relish being able to sell out of food alongside other vendors selling fried chicken sandwiches and bacon on a stick. I can hold my own among them because my food is good. That is the bottom line. Not politics, not publicity, not ego.

Pictured above are (click thumbnails to view): Continue reading

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The Baskin Robbins Americans Aren’t Supposed to Know About

In honor of my 31st birthday, I plan to make ice cream cake for the August 20th Smorgasburg.

The look I am going for is 1980’s kitsch–the Baskin Robbins/Carvel creations of my childhood. Except the artificial color will be replaced by fresh blueberry puree, the plastic jimmies replaced with custom made vegan confetti sprinkles, and the hydrogenated shortening and bleached sugar replaced with unprocessed, organic ingredients.

In my research I came across these two Baskin Robbins ads, one from the Middle East and the other from Japan–and dayum! That stuff does not look anything like fudgie the whale! Apparently, while we’re asking for extra jimmies their cakes are getting showered with gold leaf. While we’re lapping up artificially colored corn syrup, they are having Creme de Cassis topped with fresh raspberries.

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From Bentos to Burgers, a Secret Ingredient Money Can’t Buy

A few years ago, when I was just starting to write about food, I really loved this Japanese blog. The author would post a daily picture of a bento box and list the contents. I was hooked. Each lunch was completely different, and made with extreme attention to detail.

I started to notice that the author had her own style, in the colors she picked to go together, the shapes she made with the food, and her flavor combinations. And all the while, everything was made in tune with nature and the seasons. A pink flower shape in the rice was colored with ume plum. Orange hearts were cut out from carrots.

Most of the blog was in Japanese, so mysteries remained in my head. Who did she make these lunches for? Herself? A spouse? A child? A customer? Whoever it was, I could not help but picture someone opening the box and smiling from ear to ear about the contents, before digging in heartily.

Everything I cook is dictated by love. When home alone, I rarely put effort into meals. The best food is reserved for loved ones. Amy Sedaris said it best when she titled her first cookbook I like You, because that’s what you’re implying when you set down a plate in front of someone. Continue reading

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Just in Time for the Cupcake Backlash: My Baked Vegan Spelt Donuts

It has been 9 months since I baked my first donut. I used a special pan that my fiancee (now husband) found at an outlet kitchen store in northern Florida, a pit stop between tour dates with his band. He knew I loved donuts, but enjoyed them rarely. If I did find vegan ones, they were either too expensive, too sweet, or fried. I craved a donut I could treat myself to every day and still feel & look great.

In the beginning, there were sad imploded donuts. There were stubborn, sticky donuts that refused to come out of the pan. There were hard donuts that could crack your teeth. There were countless sleepless nights. But for some reason, I could not stop until the recipe was perfect. Continue reading

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World’s Laziest Nori Rolls; Homemade Sushi for the Underacheiver.

If you are like me, when you’re home alone, meals consist of whatever is around and fits in the palm of your hand. I cannot be bothered to cook for myself. If there’s nobody around to oooh & aaah over my food, what’s the point? That was the case today.

But, by dinnertime, I was hungry for more than just fistfulls of cashews, bittersweet baking chocolate, flaked coconut, and other remnants raided from my baking cabinet.

The next easiest thing was to throw some rice in the rice cooker. Once it was done, but still hot, I decided to mix in some shredded kale and carrot. The next thing you know, I was adding grated ginger and horseradish, sesame oil, sesame seeds, rice vinegar, dried herbs, lemon, and a little of that flaked coconut for a nice touch of sweetness.

By that time, I realized it would be pretty easy to roll it all up inside some sheets of nori. Because the filling ingredients were already mixed into the rice, there was no fussing around layering perfectly cut vegetables of uniform size, like you have to do with real sushi rolls. All I had to do was spread some filling on the nori, roll it up, and cut! This was surprisingly easy because everything was sticky from the rice. There was no need for pickled ginger or wasabi because those flavors were already in the filling.

I topped each piece with a dollop of raw vegan blue cheese dressing, and had my first real homemade meal in days. It felt like cheating. The meal took less than 20 minutes from start to finish. This recipe could be made with any vegetables, seasonings and sauce you have around. You could even throw some seeds or nuts in the mix.

You just might catch yourself saying “Aaah.”

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