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Chocosphere

February 7, 2013

Pastry chefs work hard but we get some nice perks. One is the ability to source, buy, bake with, and eat a seemingly endless variety of good quality chocolate.

I feel sorry for consumers who don’t have access to these amazing companies when they go to the store. It can be frustrating too as I write some recipes with a particular chocolate in mind or I just want everyone to enjoy what I have.

Luckily there’s chocosphere.com.

I discovered them years ago when I was writing the Resources section for one of my cookbooks. I googled something generic like “good quality baking chocolate retail sources ” and up they popped. Keep in mind this was around 2000. Now if you type in that same phrase you get 338 million results.

Joanne and Jerry Kryszek started Chocosphere, located in Portland, Oregon, in 1997. Joanne didn’t care for American chocolate and after tasting some imported chocolate given to her by a friend she decided 1) she had to get more and 2) if she liked it others probably would too.

In the first year they sold 5 different chocolate brands. The billiards table in their 800 square foot basement was the shipping and billing department for many years. Today they have 50 brands sourced from around the world that they sell both retail and wholesale. On any given day 1-3 pallets are shipped out. They moved out of the basement in 2003 to a 6000 square foot facility- 5000 square feet of it at controlled 60 degrees and 1000 square feet at 55 degrees.

Chocosphere has the widest selection of Valrhona, Guittard and Callebaut and also more obscure specialty companies like Amedi, from Italy, Caffé-Tasse from Belgium and Chocovic from Spain. They get as much chocolate from the source as they can. It would take too much space to list everything they have. You will have to check it out yourself. Be prepared to me impressed.

But Joanne and Jerry operate more than an impersonal internet sales company that sells chocolate. All you “see” of them is their website but behind that internet page are two people who live and breathe chocolate. Every Thursday morning they sample chocolate with their coffee group.  When I asked them what chocolates (not brands but specific varieties) were their favorites this prompted a 20 minute conversation about the chocolate’s many nuances and how impossible it is to pick one or two. They are truly a passion driven service oriented niche distributor.

I have a goal of trying every chocolate they sell. I’m getting there. I imagine by the time I get near the end of the current list they will have discovered more. I hope so.

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Dream Stand Mixer Attachments

December 15, 2012

I, like other professional pastry chefs and serious home bakers, love my stand mixer. It’s an extension of my hands but more powerful and quicker. It’s also an extra pair of hands. It can do its thing while I pull cakes out of the oven or refill the sugar bin. I especially rely on it this time of year when holiday baking is at its peak.

 

But there’s a lot a stand mixer can’t do. I’m not complaining but with long to-do lists I dream and brainstorm about new mixer attachments.

Large commercial bakeries have industrial equipment which perform many mundane tasks. Independent restaurant or bakery don’t do enough volume to warrant these big machines that are bigger than our kitchens and cost more than a pastry chef’s annual salary.

So here’s my list of stand mixer attachments I wish someone would make. I realize these are far fetched but they definitely would make baking faster. I know pastry chefs besides myself would appreciate them. Maybe Santa Claus and his elves can get creative and I will find one in my stocking.

  1. Segment citrus segments
  2. Scoop cookie dough into balls
  3. Pipe pate au choux into éclairs and profiteroles
  4. Separate eggs
  5. Pencil sharpener like machine to pick fresh herbs
  6. Roll tuiles into desired shapes
  7. Chocolate temperer
  8. Sift dry ingredients directly into a machine
  9. Instantly soften butter to room temperature

10. Grate citrus zest

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Sweet Jules Caramels

November 29, 2012

These Caramels will Decorate by Holiday Table

 

Not surprisingly, I make the majority of the edible gifts I give,  but I also like to hunt for unique, great tasting treats that others make. There are so many choices in catalogs and on shelves at specialty and gift shops it can be overwhelming. And most of them really aren’t worth the calories.

I was delighted when I heard one of my ex-Stars Restaurant colleagues, Jule Vranian, and her sister Hope Klocker are making caramels, Sweet Jules Caramels. Caramels are a perfect gift to give at Christmas and Chanukah. They symbolize the holidays and they have a longer shelf life than other sweets. You don’t need to eat the whole box in a couple of days just so they won’t go bad.

Jule Vranian was the pastry chef at Stars before I took over. Like me, Jule came to pastry from the savory side of the kitchen. I have always been a big fan of her food, whether savory or sweet. Her caramels are no exception. Jule’s parents owned a restaurant and her siblings are involved with food. Jule moved back to her home town in Minnesota after Stars, but three of her brothers own restaurants in the Bay Area (Mark – Parkside Café in Santa Rosa; Alex – All Seasons Bistro in Calistoga; and Drake – Café Sarafornia, also in Calistoga) so she comes out often to visit.

I am going to decorate my Christmas Eve table with Jule and Hope’s  caramels. It will make a festive table that everyone will help “clean  up” at the end of the meal.

I also talked with Jule and Hope about their business and passions:

EL: What made you start your caramel company?

JV & HK: Each year at Christmas we would receive a big box of caramels from an aunt. As kids it was one of the holiday highlights. We never could get caramels out of our heads. We tweaked the recipe to make them creamier and smoother and created more flavors.

What flavors do you make?

We have nine: Classic Vanilla, Beer and Pretzels, Fleur de Sel, Café Italiano, Caramel Apple Tart, Bananas Foster, Dark Chocolate and Pecan, Jules of Paris (dark chocolate sprinkled with Fleur de Sel) and Sicilian Orange. We have also already started testing new flavors for January and February of 2013.

Do you each have a favorite?

HK: Caramel Apple Tart and Café Italiano

JV: Caramel Apple Tart and Jules of Paris

I assume you make them in small batches?

We have six, 6 quart copper kettles. Small pots let us control the cooking process and get the exact temperature we need. We don’t use any extracts. For the apple caramels we reduce apple juice from organic apples grown on our own farm. The Beer and Pretzel caramels are made with Award Winning Town Hall Brewery’s Scotch Ale from Minneapolis. We use a banana liqueur to get the correct flavor profile for our banana foster’s caramel. We have experimented with natural syrups like agave and brown rice syrup but it affects the final texture and the caramels have a grainy texture.

What kitchen tool would you be lost without?

Our Matfer candy thermometers. We have tried a lot of different ones. Also a flat rubber spatula.

What tip would you offer home candy makers?

Use good quality ingredients – bittersweet chocolate, French sea salt, real cane sugar, vanilla, no extracts. Keep in mind humidity affects candy making. In the summer in Minneapolis we have to cook the caramel to a higher temperature – almost 8 degrees. Once you have made the same caramel recipe many times you can tell when it’s close without reading the thermometer. Know your caramel. When making candy you have to be patient.

You can find their caramels at www.sweetjulesgifts.com.

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Two Benefits Near to My Heart

November 16, 2012

One Warm Coat Logo

One Warm Coat

Most of the fundraisers I participate in I don’t blog about but I am involved with two this month that are important. Well they are actually all worthy but with Hurricane Sandy news still fresh, the cold weather in the Bay Area, and the holidays approaching these are really near to my heart.

The first is a benefit dinner for The Red Cross and Hurricane Sandy victims on Thursday November 29th at 1300 Fillmore. It’s a dinner collaboration with David Lawrence chef/owner of 1300 Fillmore and Hoss Zaré of Zaré at Flytrap. I barged by way into this event. I happened to be sitting at my computer just when the SF Eater announcement popped on to my screen. I immediately emailed them both to ask if I could join in and prepare dessert. It’s a good cause plus these are two chefs I like, respect and haven’t had a chance to cook with before. It will be a fun evening with good food and wine. I will be serving my Double Chocolate Napoleon. Its cocoa nib tuiles stacked with Hawaiian Milk Chocolate pudding, and served with coffee crème anglaise and salted peanuts. Guittard Chocolate has been kind enough to donate the chocolate, cocoa nibs and cocoa powder.

To entice you more here’s the menu for David and Hoss’ savory food with the wine pairings:

Amuse

Pistachio Pork Meatball w/Red Harissa, Honey, Pomegranate

Barbeque Shrimps and Grits 

First Course

Buttermilk Fried Quail Salad Poached Quail Egg, Bacon-Creole Mustard Vinaigrette  2008 Miura, Pinot Noir, Monterey County

Second Course

Classic Southern Persian “Ghalieh Mahi” Clams, Mussels, Prawns, Crispy Saffron Rice Cake Chateau Musar juene viogner, Vermentino & Chardonnay

Third Course

Pan Roasted Muscovy Duck Breast Caramelized Onion Yam Potato Rosti

Huckleberry Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate Gastrique Sauce, 2010 1300, Tempranillo, Tejada Vineyard, Lake County

To buy tickets go to: sfchefsfoodwine.com/events/11/29/soulful-supper-club. Please come. New Yorkers are hardy people and will endure this tragedy but they need our help.

The second charity is a coat drive I have organized between One Warm Coat and San Francisco Pastry Chefs. It runs from November 26th through December 10th. For every coat donation you drop off at any of the participating restaurants the pastry chef will give you a little something sweet. It’s not really necessary to give a reason for this drive. Everyone deserves to have a warm coat. Clean out your closet and bring us those coats you haven’t worn in a year and deep down you know you never will. Not only will you feel better when you do, you’ll get a sweet reward.  All coats will be donated to Glide Memorial Church. Participating restaurants are:

Name                                                  Address                                   Donations

One Market                                        1 Market Street                              Noon-9 PM

Tartine  Bakery                                    600 Guerrero                          8AM-6PM

La Folie Restaurant and Lounge         2316 Polk Street                      10AM-10PM

Farallon Restaurant                            450 Post Street                        5PM-10 PM

Waterbar                                            399 The Embarcadero                        11AM-10PM

Goody Goody Cream & Sugar             1830 Harrison                         8AM-3PM

Kitchen                                                1750D Cesar Chavez               9AM-3PM

Range                                                  842 Valencia                           6PM-10PM

Town Hall                                            342 Howard                            11:30PM-6PM M-F

Brasserie S&P Mandarin Oriental      222 Sansome                           7AM-11PM

Bourbon Steak                                     335 Powell, 13th Floor             9AM-5PM M-F

Zare’s Flytrap                                      606 Folsom                              9AM-5PM M-SA

COCO500                                            500 Brannan                           11:30AM-10PM

Prospect                                              300 Spear St                            4PM-10PM

Absinthe Pastry                                   201 Ivy                                     9AM-5PM

Tout Sweet                                          1750 Cesar Chavez, Unit D     9AM-3PM

Noe Valley Bakery                              4073 24th St                            7AM-6PM

1300 Fillmore                                      1300 Fillmore                          4:30PM-9PM

Baker and Banker                              1701 Octavia Street                   9AM-5PM W-SU

If you are not in San Francisco go to onewarmcoat.org and you can find coat drives in your area.

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving filled with good food, family and friends.

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Almond Harvest

October 13, 2012

Earlier this week I travelled to the little town of Hickman near Modesto to visit an almond farm. The almond harvest is winding down and I wanted to see the process at work. I always love driving through the Central Valley. When you are in the middle of it surrounded by fields and groves of trees you fully appreciate the huge role agriculture plays in California both economically and as a food producer for the country and in many cases the world.

The farm I visited was 3000 acres and had over 400,000 trees. Everywhere you looked all you could see was trees. As almonds are my favorite nut it was pretty awesome. For me, meeting the farmer, Casey, was like meeting a rock star.

When the trees are ready to be harvested a machine called a shaker attaches to the trunk of the tree and shakes it. 5-10 seconds later all the almonds have fallen to the ground. Next a sweeper comes and with a couple of passes blows them all in a row so the picking machine can scoop them up. Then they are then put in trucks and taken about 5 miles down the road where they are hulled. Once hulled they are sorted, graded and finally sold.

Shaking Almond Tree

 

Almonds ready to be hulled

I always have freshly roasted whole natural almonds in my pantry. Natural almonds have the skin on. I buy them raw and roast them myself. I stock up on them when I go to the Valley as they are about $3.50 a pound! To bake them I spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast them in a preheated 350 degree convection oven for 15 minutes. You can check to see if they are done by cutting one in half. If light brown they’re ready. My husband has a handful for breakfast every morning. I like them as an afternoon snack with a little bittersweet chocolate.

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Bayou Bakery

September 21, 2012

When I was recently in Washington DC for the Chefs’ State Department reception I took the metro to Arlington, VA to visit David Guas’ bakery. David is originally from New Orleans. Luckily for those in Arlington you can take the boy out of New Orleans but you can’t take New Orleans out of the boy. His bakery, Bayou Bakery, is a delicious homage to his roots.

The first thing you notice when you walk in the door (after the pastries piled high in the case) is a row of plantation shutters on the wall. David found these, and practically all the other fixtures, in salvage shops in New Orleans.  It’s a creative and fitting display which makes you feel you were in the French Quarter. The tables, which David made himself, are a pressed composite made from sorghum and cane.

David, like many chefs fell into cooking half by accident, half planned. His Aunt Boo from Abbeville, LA gave him his first cast iron pan and taught him all the Creole basics- how to make a roux, etouffee and seafood gumbo. After two years of college he decided it wasn’t for him and thought he would try cooking. He attended a vocational savory cooking program in New Orleans and after graduation he set his sights on working at The Windsor Court Hotel. After numerous phone calls and interviews he had about given up hope and was about to take a job at a high volume lower quality place. Then magically the Windsor Court called and offered him a pastry cook position. He jumped at the chance, not caring what he was doing. He was in the door.

David worked there for two years, first under German master pastry chef Kurt Ebert and then Lisa Ligget. Jeff Tunks, chef on the culinary side, lured him to Washington to be the opening pastry chef at his restaurant DC Coast. David stayed with Jeff for 10 years eventually running 4 restaurants and managing a large crew.

He knew he eventually wanted to open up his own place so while he pursued this dream he started a consulting business and wrote his first dessert cookbook, Damn Good Sweets: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style.

In between bites of airy beignets piled high with powdered sugar I learned more about David and his love for desserts.

EL: What flavors/ingredients do you like best?

DL: Spices like nutmeg, lemon verbena and passion fruit.

What flavors/ingredients do you like least?

Nothing really. I’m pretty open.

What dessert first comes to mind when I mention the following ingredients:

 Lemon- Lemon Ice Box Pie

Passion fruit- An ice cream float. Ginger beer with passion fruit ice cream

Coffee-Tiramisu when it’s done right. Also we grind coffee beans to very fine Turkish grind and add it with steeped Mexican cinnamon and sour cherries to brownies.

Strawberries- I’m envious of California’s long strawberry season. Our season here is very short so I use them heavily when they are around. One of my favorites is our strawberry hand pies. We make our own jam and fill the pies with a cream cheese filling with the jam folded in.

Almonds-We caramelize almonds, coat them in chocolate and toss them in a mixture of cocoa powder, sea salt and smoked paprika.

What dessert has someone else created that you loved?

Commander’s Palace Bread Pudding Soufflé. It’s a blending of several different pastry techniques.

Who’s influenced your dessert style?

A bunch of women! Nicole Plue, Emily Luchetti, Claudia Fleming, Sherry Yard and Lisa Ligget

What ingredient would you like to see appreciated more by diners?

Vanilla. People take it for granted.
What kitchen tool would you be lost without?

My microplaner

What’s your least favorite pastry trend?

Foams. Fortunately they’re on the way out.

What do you do to get recharged creatively?

Completely unplug. No phone, no internet and spend time with my family.

What flavor birthday cake did you have growing up?

Every year I would get a Doberge Cake from Gambinos. The bakery has been around for 100 years. Its two halves, one chocolate and one lemon, put together. I go back for one every time I go home?

14. Where do you like to eat when you come to The Bay Area?

What was the last thing you made outside of work?

Fried catfish and oysters at the house last night, along with Kemp’s (my 10 year old son) secret sauce.

Where do you like to eat when you come to The Bay Area?

On my last trip there I was checking out all the amazing coffee shops- Blue Bottle, Rituals and Fourbarrel.

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My Trip to the White House

September 13, 2012

Bill Yosses and Susie Morrison, The White House Pastry Chefs and me

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the State Department reception in Washington, DC announcing The Diplomatic Culinary Partnership with The James Beard Foundation. Michael Bauer wrote about it in his blog on Tuesday. Hillary Rodham Clinton conceived the idea as one more way we can engage with other countries. This will happen on several levels- JBF will help The State Department identify chefs to cook for visiting dignitaries, be a resource for foreign chefs who come to The United States, and work with American chefs traveling abroad to meet with chefs in their respective countries. The initiative exists regardless of who is President. Its non partisan as food should be.

About 40 chefs attended the event. Before the reception the chefs got a tour of The White House. Chefs, a casual group for the most part, were all dressed up for the occasion. I haven’t ever seen that many chefs wearing ties. We all recognized how unique this experience was.

The Green Room, which is now a sitting room, used to be Thomas Jefferson’s dining room. To stand in the room and envision him eating his meals there was humbling to say the least. We were all surprised by the size of the kitchen- it’s quite small- about the size of the upstairs kitchen at Waterbar. Seven people are on The White House culinary team. A small number considering the number and caliber of the people they serve.

We walked down to see the infamous culinary garden full of late summertime produce and greenery. It was impressive to see the garden on one side of the lawn and an urban city with cars and pedestrians on the other. There’s been a lot of talk about White House beer but did you know they have a bee hive?

It was inspiring to witness, and not just hear, that The White House looks at food the way we do.  Hillary Clinton is right. Sharing food and cuisines can only heighten our relationships with others.

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