Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A pizza and pastry marriage at Olio Pizzeria

This pastry and pizza dough hybrid pictured above is a nice change from heavier pastries and comes from the belly of a wood-fired oven.  You can find these "wood fired danish" treats at Olio Pizzeria, located among the West Third street business district.  With nearby neighbors such as Magnolia Bakery, Joan's on Third, Doughboys, and the Little Next Door, this area is fast becoming a bakery hunting destination.  (Although beware West Third Street, Santa Monica's Montana Avenue is right behind you with the recent soft opening of Sweet Lady Jane's 2nd location, the arrival of Via Dolce, and new kid on the block Everything Bundt the Cake opening next door to Cafe Luxxe.)

It's helpful to note that while Olio only serves these pastries on weekends, they will let you order a few ahead of time if you call the day before.  Best of all, they're good for sharing with a friend over coffee!

Monday, November 29, 2010

365 days of service launches!

We interrupt all bakery hunting for a brief announcement:
Fellow bakery hunter April Uyehara has started a blog called 365 days of service, a blog based on service, volunteerism, and all-around good deeds.  I was able to write a contributing article for her about a recent volunteer experience.  You can read the article here.  Also, consider submitting a post about an act of kindness you have done to
Onward bakery hunters!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The authors of "Bite Me" take a bite out of Santa Monica with The Great American Bakery Hunt

Last week, the authors of "Bite Me", also known as the saucy sisters, joined The Great American Bakery Hunt for lunch in Santa Monica.  After a morning preparing the last touches of their cooking demo, Lisa Gnat and Julie Albert took a break from a busy day of bringing the flavorful pages of their cookbook to life in LA. 

If you visit the "Bite Me" website, you will notice the sisters described as Lisa "whisk girl" Gnat (the chef) and Julie "ink-slinger" Albert (the writer).  But beyond their technical backgrounds, it's undeniable that both sisters bring a sense of carefree fun, humor, and wit to the table.  When I met Julie and Lisa, it was no surprise that just like their cookbook, the sisters were full of life and food-related witticisms.  

In "Bite Me," clever pop culture references peppered throughout the pages combine with music playlists to rock out to while cooking.  This gives readers the opportunity to question conventional cooking habits, for example: who says you can't air guitar while in an apron? While I adore cookbooks of all sorts, this is a unique question that not many in the food writing genre would stir up.  Fresh and original, Lisa and Julie are like the Chuck Klosterman of the food world, giving you nibbles of pop culture and morsels of music to snack on even as you focus on the main recipe.   

Best of all, with featured quotes ranging from TV-series How I Met Your Mother lines to Bill Cosby sound bites, this book is approachable to members of whatever generation happen to be in the kitchen that day.  Julie commented that the sisters have received feedback from parents who have used "Bite Me" to reconnect with their teenagers through cooking.  But beyond the hip appeal of the book's fresh design, their philosophy is all about creating tasty but approachable food, which lends itself well to teaching cooks of all ages about how to make great meals.  

Wanting to give one of the recipes a try before our lunch, I whipped up the cinnamon swirl breakfast bread (page 224) and proceeded to consume it for both dessert and breakfast.  This comforting  recipe is perfect with a piping hot cup of coffee and I am sure to have it in my back pocket for many years to come.  Best of all, most of the ingredients in the bread are probably in your cupboard already, so it's quite simple to make if unexpected guests come into town.

Since the sisters hail from Canada, I quizzed them on where I could find a good Nanaimo bar.  I assumed these originated in Canada ever since a 3rd grade report I did on the country in which I had to make a regional recipe, and my Canadian neighbor gave me her written version of this layered bar dessert. However, I have since learned that the Nanaimo bar's origins are forever under historical dispute.  Despite the Nanaimo mystery remaining unsolved, Julie and Lisa enlightened me about their culinary philosophy and reminded me why fun is an important part of the kitchen.  (My belief in this philosophy probably explains why I own things like this guitar spatula.  One can't resist a little rock and roll twist in a spatula design!)

Perhaps one of my favorite anecdotes from lunch was when Julie handed me a sticker with a recipe for their chunky white chocolate cranberry cookies.  She said that when offering them to others, such as the postman for example, she will ask them if they bake.  And if they don't bake themselves, she'll suggest "Well give it to the little woman!" Lisa charmed me with her approach to chocolate chip cookies, deeming herself a "chocolate chip cookie purist."  Anyone who takes chocolate chip cookies seriously is a friend of mine.  Generous in spirit, fun, and chocolate chip cookie philosophies, Julie and Lisa were a pleasure to meet and I hope the rest of their travels leave them with some time to take a bite out of life! 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Little Tokyo honorable mention

The best place to do some soul searching in LA?  Do some wandering around Little Tokyo, where you'll find delicious bowls of ramen and $1 mochi ice cream.  It may be the best and most satisfying dollar ever spent. (I know it's not technically a baked good but it's worth an GABH honorable mention.)  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cornbread is highly underrated

I question why one can't obtain reliably tasty and fresh cornbread at cafes and bakeries.  Cornbread is not only delicious on its own, but it's the perfect accompaniment to soups and dishes like red beans and rice, not to mention gumbos.  Maybe we're just not eating enough gumbo.  Maybe that's it.  I made this recipe from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours" cookbook.   I'll continue in my quest to keep fresh cornbread on America's table.  It deserves our love just as much as any fancy yeast bread.       

Tips for living alone and combating cheddar cheese apple pie crust skepticism

If living alone leaves you feeling like you've got no good treats to come home to, then I guess you've never tried this apple pie with cheddar crust recipe.  This all started when I was about to go out of town for work and didn't have enough time to complete all the steps of my recipe.  My empty suitcase awaited packing and the necessity of a good night's sleep beckoned me to my pillow.  

Into the freezer went my two disks of dough as I begrudgingly abandoned my original intentions to bake my second pie of the night.  This was not the first time my overly ambitious culinary nature led me to stop mid-recipe.  If it's possible for an individual to be too inspired to cook and bake, this is definitely my predicament.  Like many passionate food loving folks, my love for all things culinary borderlines on the obsessive, and my drive to create is blind to the realities of time management.  I'm a student of such philosophies as "Why buy ____ when you can just make your own from scratch?" So I find myself spending a lot of time on cooking projects that others (who care less about what they eat) would probably find mundane.       

Lack of time is no friend to a woman trying to master a plethora of baking recipes.  But on the upside, freezing the dough left me with a pie crust that was waiting for me after a busy weekend of hard work. Not only was the dough easier to work with as a result of its stay in the freezer, but with only the filling to make, the hard part was over and I was ready to reap my reward. 

Of course, friends and skeptics alike questioned the idea of cheddar cheese in a pie crust, but I held my ground and the results filled my belly wonderfully.  And there started the chain of pie slice giveaways to neighbors, friends, and loved ones, because as satisfying as it was to fill my own belly, it's even more satisfying to sway the opinion of a cheddar cheese pie crust skeptic.   There's a lot of them out there and I've been called to duty to bake for them.

A few simple steps  delivered my welcome home pie after an out of town trip.  After rolling out the dough, the filling ingredients were tossed together and nestled into the pie dish

With the the top layer of crust placed atop the filling, it just takes a brush of milk (below) to prepare the pie for the oven.  Don't forget to add some slits to allow the steam to escape! 

 Voila!  The welcome home pie is ready!  
Find this recipe in, originally from Gourmet magazine.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Friendship through the lens of a pear tart, kindred spirits, and my first of many Dorie Greenspan recipes

One of the very joyful parts of having good friends is that they encourage your passions.  Such was the case when my friend gave me the gift of Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours" cookbook.  Dorie herself feels like she could be a friend because we are kindred spirits when it comes to our love for baking, cooking, Paris, and French food culture.  Her book "Paris Sweets", which explores the city's best pastry shops, is definitely in the spirit of The Great American Bakery Hunt.  Ever since discovering it I have had a bit of heartache over the fact that I did not have it as a resource years ago during any of my Paris trips.  Luckily, now I own three of her books ("Baking with Julia" being the 3rd) and I'm sure all of her writing will eventually find its way to my shelves. 

With my love of food, I've become a bit of a cookbook addict.  When I received "Baking From My Home to Yours," it sat sadly on my shelf for awhile because I received it during an incredibly busy time at work.  Since returning to a more normal schedule, I have recently taken advantage of a reunion with my tiny but well-loved studio apartment kitchen.  A potluck invitation was all it took to allow Dorie G's recipe to finally reach its destiny at my table. 

After searching around its pages, I chose the French pear tart.  I believe that creating a simple fruit tart is an art.  Even with such basic ingredients, fruit tarts have an elegance that  transforms dessert into more than sweet tooth satisfaction and adds to the feeling that the last course is indeed a special conclusion. 

This tart was perfect for preparing most steps ahead of time since the recipe prompts you to partially bake the pte sablée dough in the tart pan and prepare the almond cream and fruit topping before the final hour of baking.  It was the perfect situation for carefully transporting the tart across a few west LA neighborhoods before its final stage of transformation, though beware this might be a disaster during peak traffic times.

Before being placed atop the tart, the pears are poached in a syrup of lemon juice, water, and sugar , then brought to room temperature

Blanched almonds are prepared for the almond cream that will form a delicious foundation under the pears 

Once I arrived at the potluck, we put the tart into the oven to bake for the remaining hour as we enjoyed our dinner.  While not necessary, I think this created a nice effect of additional anticipation as the scent of the tart wafted through my friend's house during the savory portion of our feast.

While I have not yet made every dessert in existence, I am going to state right now that fruit tarts will always be among my favorite treats to share at gatherings.   A special sidenote of thanks goes out to my lovely friend who gifted me Dorie's cookbook.  There's a pear tart waiting for you with your name on it the next time you're in California.