Monday, July 25, 2011

Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity

Simplicity is the probably the most valuable lesson I have learned in my years studying pastry. Foams, gels, liquid nitrogen ice creams are fun, technically challenging and a wonderful way to impart texture and flavor to a dessert. But without having to apply all that molecular stuff into desserts, all you are left with are ingredients.

Keeping the integrity of ingredients and making the flavors naturally stand out or making it taste like a better version of itself has always been the underlying philosophy of pastry for me. Death defying, architectural desserts half-swinging off the plate was never my thing. Cages of sugar wrapped around a ball of sweetened chemicals never caught my attention as something I wanted to eat…photograph, maybe, but never eat.

Cut to: The other night when T and I were craving something sweet. I took out a bar of Valhrona (my preferred brand of chocolate) 41% Jivara Lactee. The flavor of this chocolate is already spectacular; very milky, silky and lively to the senses. The temperature of my apartment was a little warm which gave the chocolate, lower in cacao some smoothness. I cut a few pieces, scattered some roasted, salted peanuts on the board and sprinkled some flaked sea salt on top. No fancy cooking techniques, no processing, just chocolate, peanuts and salt eaten off a cutting board and my sweet tooth was satisfied.

I would proudly serve this to anyone. Whether they paid for it or just came to my home because it was just so delicious and didn’t leave me overly full of sugar. The way sushi can be just raw fish and rice wrapped in seaweed, dessert can be a simple presentation of ingredients that just taste good together as a chocolate peanut picnic.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Alternative Music, Flax Meal and Peanut Butter Cookies!

Flax-Bran Muffins with a Soy Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
 I listened to the Alternative Rock station in San Jose when I was about 13 or so. KOME was the station to listen to if you wanted to hear Smashing Pumpkins, The Cranberries, Bush, Butthole Surfers and the like. My father walked into my room on a Saturday afternoon after hearing the lyrics, “The world is a vampire sent to drain…” and asked, “what is this noise? Where’s the music?” Of course his tape deck had a self recorded Beach Boys mix on it so what could I expect? It was what he knew and what he was comfortable with. I had no expectation that he would grasp the depth of Marcy Playground or the sheer genius of Thom Yorke’s brash voice solemnly crying, “But I’m a creep. I don’t belong here…”

He now holds his puzzled gaze toward the plate of gluten free cupcakes in front of him.

“Um, garbanzo flour? How is this supposed to taste like a cupcake?

Rest assured, father. It does!

Alternative flours have made their way into my father’s diet. He has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. A new way of eating has become a part of our lives and especially a new way of eating dessert. Whole wheat cookies, muffins made with oat bran and flax meal and cupcakes made with starches and garbanzo flour. We are just trying to stay away from processed foods, refined sugar and empty calories.

To my dad, alternative flour sound as melodic as Rage Against the Machine. But he listens, to me…stubbornly and that is all I could really ask for.

This recipe for Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies is what I used for ice cream sandwiches a few days ago. I spread a little jam on one side, scooped some vanilla on top and smashed them together. They are very soft and have a really wonderful honey flavor.

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies

½ cup Butter, soft

1 cup Peanut Butter

¼ cup Honey

¼ cup Maple Syrup

⅓ cup Brown Sugar

2 ea. Eggs

1 tsp. Salt

1 ½ cup Whole Wheat Flour

1 tsp. Baking Powder

Preheat oven to 350°

1. Combine butters and mix in honey, maple syrup and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until smooth.

2. Add eggs and salt and mix to combine.

3. Sift flour and baking powder together then add to the peanut butter mixture. Mix until a dough forms.

4. Drop cookies on a baking sheet 1 inch apart and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on the edge.