I made that!

Lester muffins

Posted in Playing With Yeast by brandi on January 30, 2009

Known more conventionally as English muffins.

Today I’m taking Lester out for a spin, to see what kind of flavor he’s packing. John blows through English muffins like no one I’ve seen before, so it seemed like a good project. I KNOW they’ll get eaten. Well, unless they suck.

It seems like a tasty dough, with a cup of Lester, milk, butter & honey. But it’s funny how when I take photos, it looks like every other dough…I promise I don’t just have a closet full of dough that I keep shaping (wouldn’t that be nice though?). I let the dough rise for a couple of hours and then portioned into little discs to rise some more.


And then I get to pull out the cast iron skillet, a favorite in my kitchen that I definitely don’t use enough.


Cook them on low heat for a bit and then flip them and cook the other side.


Let them cool and I’ve got english muffins!


They really LOOK like english muffins!


Best Ever Browned Butter Pecan Pie

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Certified Pie Ninja, Southernness by brandi on January 28, 2009

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve got pecans falling out of my freezer every time I open the door. Since I need some of that space back, it’s time to start making some pecan pie. I have a special place in my stomach for pecan pie. So overwhelmingly sweet, not really high up on the culinary ladder, but still…there’s just something about it that makes me so happy. Then again, not to toot my own horn, I make a mean pie crust.


I already had some dough left over from Thanksgiving in the freezer (it’s like a clearance sale in there!), which really simplified the whole pie making experience. I have kind of a laborious dough making process (I’ll share another time, though if you’re a friend I’m sure I’ve already forced you to listen to me explain in great detail) and just THAT part can take me all day. But back to here and now…


I roll it out and shape it into a fluted quiche tin (a Tartine move that I’m especially into right now). I send it on a gluten vacation in the freezer for a bit and then bake it for always seems like forever. And then I stare. And stare. I think pie dough is the only thing that I stare at longer than meringue.


I know what you’re thinking: “Brandi, where the f*ck is the pecan pie filling?”. In due time my little pie-lings. A soggy crust makes me weep, and the only way to avoid that is to crisp that dough beforehand. So while it cools I make my filling. I like a browned butter and maple filling, because…well, because that’s what I like. I fill it up and bake it until it’s set.

And then I stare some more.


Now I go to the beach to keep from tearing into it before it’s had time to cool and finish setting. To be continued around 3pm.

It’s 3pm.


It was so worth the wait. Thank you Jennifer, Kevin, Mindy & Nir for coming over and helping me eat it. I wouldn’t still be thin without you.


1 single crust pie pastry

4 oz unsalted butter

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 vanilla bean

3 large eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

– Roll out pastry into a 12-13 inch circle, transfer and center into 9 inch pie pan. Place in freezer for 20 minutes.

– Line with foil, fill with weights (dried beans) and then bake in 400 degrees oven for about 20 minutes, or until beginning to brown and look set. Lower temperature to 350 and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes, until fully baked. Set on wire rack to cool.

– Using a shiny skillet or saucepan to melt the butter over medium heat. Stir butter and keep an eye on it as you wait for it to brown. You want the butter to be a good dark brown, but you need to catch it before it burns. Use your nose as your guide, it well smell nutty as it begins to brown. Once browned, transfer butter to a bowl to let cool slightly.

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use fingers to rub seeds from vanilla bean into brown sugar, breaking up any clumps. Combine eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Whisk well to blend. Add the browned butter and whisk again until evenly combined.

– Place the nuts in the cooled pie shell and pour in the filling.

– Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake until the filling, including the center, is set, 35 to 40 minutes. Rotate pie 180 degrees about halfway through. When done, the pie will have puffed slightly and developed cracks around the perimeter.

– Transfer pie to a wire rack and let cool thoroughly.

Introducing Lester.

Posted in Playing With Yeast by brandi on January 27, 2009

Let me just say this: I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO. It is home, and it is like no other city. That being said, I can’t afford to live here anymore (Do you have any idea how pathetic the salary is for a pastry chef?). So some day, I will leave. There’s a long list of things that I want to get done before saying my goodbye. I’d like to ride my bike along the California coastline, climb Mt Shasta, spend a summer working on one of California’s amazing organic family farms, eat at Gary Danko, drive through one of those big redwood tree tunnels (do those even exist?). Near the top of that list is to exploit something that the bay area has that no other place can (literally) touch: wild yeast.

For all my friends unfamiliar with sourdough, here’s a quickie – sourdough is made from wild yeast that is “caught” from the air around us and is grown in a container.  This is called a BARM. You feed it every day with a little water and flour, a total amount of half your BARM’s weight. I made a sourdough starter last year, nursed it for weeks, and then killed it. Somewhere in that exercise I missed the part about letting it out at room temperature before and after feeding it, to wake the little critters up for dinnertime.

I am now starting anew. I would like to introduce you to Lester, son of Fester, the BARM from my work.


Lester lives in my fridge and will provide me with sourdough bread for as long as I take care of him. How awesome is that?

Pizza! Pizza!

Posted in Because, like, I'm Italian, sort of, Playing With Yeast by brandi on January 26, 2009

Last night was a pizza sweatshop! 8 pizzas and still not enough…my friends can EAT. Thank you Nir for whipping up one of your delicious salads. And Jimmy, my dear pie apprentice for sharing your gorgeous banana cream pie.

Yesterday was John’s birthday, and we had about 16 people coming over for dinner to celebrate. In an attempt to be armed and ready, I made my dough the night before and let it hang in the fridge until it was needed. Dough is so weird (in a good way OBVIOUSLY). This was an especially wet pizza dough.


Bronson was on team pizza with me, running the toppings bar while I did the shaping. I’ve only made pizza a couple of times before, and Bronson is a veteran (though he’s from Chicago, and I bat for team thin crust). He helped keep things running smooth, saying things like “Add more flour” and “It needs more flour”.


We kept it in freestyle mode with the flavors, in hopes of appeasing the meat-eaters and vegetarians. There was red sauce. And green sauce (A pesto I had made in the summer with fresh basil and then froze). And sausage, peppers, sautéed onions, chanterelles, and of course: homemade mozzarella.




And my self proclaimed “Best in Show”: Pesto, Red  Yellow Peppers, Mozzarella & Meyer Lemons.


This was one of those meals that really gets my juices bubbling. I made EVERYTHING: the dough, the cheese, the sauces.  All I need now is a farm so I can grow my own veggies…

Blueberry Pancakes, Revisited.

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Celebrating with Cake! by brandi on January 25, 2009

Today is John’s birthday (Happy Birthday!). He turns 34(!) and to celebrate, we’re having friends over and partying like he’s turning 7. John likes his desserts sweet, so I went into the vault for this maple cake recipe.


In the past I’ve paired this cake with a simple glaze or a whipped cream. But I wanted to go further today, needed it to be sweet on John’s sweetometer.  So I made a maple buttercream and layered in some blueberry jam. I think it worked. You really can’t go wrong with obscene amounts of maple syrup and butter.


I rarely make cakes, cupcakes are so much…simpler. For me, cake decorating is the closest thing (that I do) to performing surgery. Obviously no one dies (I hope) if things don’t go well, but still. If you don’t have everything in place, it becomes a complete mess. It’s right around here that I start to wonder if I’m gonna end up with a giant blob of smear:


But it pretty much came together, and I used every last drop of frosting.


In the baking world, we just call that “rustic”. I’m just thankful for nuts. Rule #2: “Decorate to hide mistakes (or down and dirty spatula skills)”.


My god I’m good. Seriously, that was some fine cake. And it REALLY did taste like blueberry pancakes! I think John will keep me for another year.


Maple Cake (from Martha Stewart)

4 oz butter, room temperature
2 3/4 cups AP flour
2 cups maple syrup
3 eggs
1 TBSP baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz walnuts

– In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy.
– Add maple syrup, and beat until combined.
– Add eggs, and beat until combined.
– In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ginger.
– Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat to combine.
– Beat in the milk and vanilla extract until combined.
– Stir in 3/4 cup chopped walnuts.
– Divide batter between the two greased 8″ or 9″ pans.
– Bake until golden and a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
Maple Buttercream (from Martha Stewart)

6 egg yolks
2 cups maple syrup
1 pound butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

– In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
– Meanwhile, pour maple syrup into a medium saucepan. Place pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
– Cook syrup until 240 degrees, about 15 minutes.
– Remove the saucepan from the heat.
– While the electric mixer is running, pour the syrup in a slow, steady stream down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg-yolk mixture until the syrup has been completely incorporated, about 1 1/2 minutes.
– Beat until the bowl is just slightly warm to the touch, 5 to 6 minutes.
– Add butter, one piece at a time, until all of it has been completely incorporated and the frosting is fluffy, about 4 minutes more.

Home Creamery: Mozzarella

Posted in Because, like, I'm Italian, sort of, The Creamery by brandi on January 23, 2009

Sunday is John’s birthday, and we’re having some friends over for pizza and poker. When I hear pizza, all I can think is: I get to make mozzarella! I’ve tried making mozzarella once before, but didn’t get curds strong enough to stretch. I was using Strauss Creamery milk, which is unhomogenized and not pastuerized at high temps like some  conventional milks, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that. I blame my “vegetarian” rennet. I just ordered some real rennet from a cheesemaking supply website last week, so it is ON!

First I combined my milk with some citric acid, and heated it up a little to start the curd-making. Then I added my new and improved rennet and continued heating it.


Once I could see the whey go clear, it was ready to be stretched. I drained out the whey and popped the curds in the microwave to get them all melty. Then I started kneading and stretching until it looked like this:


It’s so nice when things do what they are supposed to do! That’s Bean in the lower right of the photo. She doesn’t like to be left out of ANYTHING. Since I’m not gonna be eating it now, I put it in some cold water to cool it off and keep it moist until pizza time.


I know, they look like little brain balls. I’m not sure how to make them round and smooth. Next time I’ll just do one of those twisty shapes. but anyways – Yay! Cheese! Stay tuned for pizza…

Day 2 as a girl scout.

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Don't BUY it, MAKE it! by brandi on January 22, 2009

It’s starting to wear on me. Maybe I don’t wanna be a girl scout. I probably would have been a better boy scout anyways.

Today I move on to the samoas, the more complex cookie in the girl scout arsenal.


I rolled out my dough and stamped out little donut shapes. I don’t think the originals have fluted edges, but for some reason that’s the only kind of cookie cutters I own.


I made me some caramel candy. Then I mixed that with some shredded coconut that I had toasted.


Then I tried to smear the caramel + coconut mixture (which was like a quick drying spackle) onto my cookies without crushing them. Probably the more torturous portion of the whole process.


I dipped their cute little bottoms in some melted chocolate and then drizzled some more on top and I’m done!


What I learned today was this: In life there are fun things. Things like kittens named Bean and rope swings and BBQs in Dolores Park. Making girl scout cookies is not on that list for me. Kind of tedious, and while they are certainly more healthy and “natural” than the boxed kind, in the end I spent 2 days making…cookies. And I don’t even really like making cookies.


But these ones are awfully pretty and shiny. In a short bus kinda way.

The day I became a girl scout

Posted in All Sugar All The Time by brandi on January 21, 2009

For some unknown reason my mom wouldn’t let me be a girl scout. She probably knew I was gonna grow up to be a misanthrope with a particular distate for hydrogenated oils. But today, I am a girl scout! One box of thin mints coming up!

First a little cookie dough action.


I rolled my dough into a log. I then let it spend a few hours in the freezer and it slices beautifully. The architect in me fights the urge to use a ruler.


It’s true: they’re not exactly perfect circles. But what can i say? I’m not made of magic and rainbows…


A little dip in the ol’ chocolate bowl and I’ve made thin mint cookies!


Now I think these guys have a little time to kill in the freezer, getting all nice and chilly for me.


from Baking Bites blog: http://bakingbites.com/2005/10/thin-minties/

Note: If you are using a quality chocolate (like what Scharfenberger used to be), I would go with a milk chocolate, or at least their mildest dark chocolate. I found that the mint was fighting with the intense chocolate flavor and not necessarily winning.

Today I’m celebrating America

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Playing With Yeast by brandi on January 20, 2009

With apple fritters!


I diced up my apples into adorable little cubes.


And then sautéed them in some butter, vanilla bean, apple cider & cinnamon.


I then dumped my apples onto my donut dough that’s been rising in the meantime.


It may look like just another dough, but there’s layers and layers of those apples folded into it, making it very special indeed.


After my apple laden dough rose a bit more, I cut some circles out of it.


I let my rounds chillax while I prepared my glaze.


Being an Alabama girl, I’m no stranger to deep frying.


Oh you… you…doughnut. You kill me. Literally. I need to get rid of these ASAP. Good thing I have a dinner party to attend tonight!


Between Barack Obama becoming president and me learning how to make apple fritters, it’s truly a great day to be an American. Man, haven’t said that in 8 years!

APPLE FRITTERS RECIPE (from Nancy Silverton):

makes 16-20 fritters

Special Items:

10″ to 12″ large skillet

2 1/2 inch round cutter

Heavy-duty, deep saucepan filled halfway with vegetable oil


2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

2/3 cup whole milk

3 1/4 cups plus 2 TBSP all-purpose flour

4 extra-large egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup sparkling apple cider

1/2 stick (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1TBSP pure vanilla extract

For the apples:

1/2 stick (2 oz) unsalted butter

1 vanilla bean

7 firm and tart Granny Smith apples (2 1/2 lb.), peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes to equal 7 cups

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup sparkling apple cider

For the white glaze:

1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp salt

– To prepare the dough: Place the yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, heat the milk until warm to the touch. Pour the milk over the yeast to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of the flour to the milk mixture, without stirring. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until the surface of the flour cracks, about 30 to 40 minutes.

– In a small bowl combine the egg yolks and sugar. Add the cider, melted butter, salt, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and 1 1/4 cups of the flour and mix until combined. Add this mixture to the yeast. Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, mix on low for half a minute, then turn up to medium for about 1 minute. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour and mix on low for half a minute, then on medium for another half a minute. The dough will be very sticky.

– Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface; scrape the dough out of the bowl, onto the work surface. Clean the mixing bowl and lightly coat it with vegetable oil. Gather the dough and return it to the oiled bowl. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

– To prepare the apples: In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Using a small paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise. With the back of the knife, scrape out the pulp and the seeds of the vanilla bean, and add the scrapings and the pod to the butter. Heat the butter until bubbly. Add the chopped apples, tossing to coat them with butter. Add the cinnamon and sugar, and saute 3 to 5 minutes until slightly softened and the majority of the apples are deep golden. Add the vinegar ad cider, and reduce over medium-high heat. If the apples are becoming too mushy, turn the heat up, so the liquid reduces quickly. If they are still very firm, turn the head down to reduce slowly. The apples should be cooked, but still slightly firm to the touch. Remove the vanilla bean and place the apples on a baking sheet to cool.

– Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and stretch into a rectangle about 2 inches thick. Spread half of the apples over the dough and fold into thirds by bringing the bottom up and the top down, patting with your hands to flatten slightly. Scatter the remaining apples on top and fold into thirds again. Gather the dough together by tucking under the edges and return it to the oiled bowl. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

– Heat the oil to 375 degrees.

– Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and gently roll or pat it into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick, flouring the surface of the dough as necessary. Dip the cutter in flour and, cutter as closely together as possible, cut out the fritters. Place them on a floured surface and allow to rest for 10 minutes, no longer.

– To prepare the glaze: In a small stainless steel bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, combine the powdered sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and salt. Heat until just warm, stirring frequently. The glaze should be thin and translucent; if necessary, thin it down with more cream.

– Dip your hands in flour, and stretch the fritters by pulling them gently elongating the round shape into a 4″ oval. Don’t worry if you puncture the dough as you stretch it. Drop directly into the hot oil and fry according to instructions.

– Brush the fritters with glaze while they are warm.


Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Don't BUY it, MAKE it! by brandi on January 17, 2009

After burning the granola at work today, I decided to come home and make some more. Kind of a hodgepodge of whatever I had in the pantry: oats, walnuts, pistachios, currants, brown sugar, coconut, maple syrup and some zest and spices. And butter, duh.


Before the oven…


and after the oven…



1 lb rolled oats

3.25oz brown sugar

4oz whole almonds

4oz whole cashews

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1.5oz coconut

1 oz flax seed

1 TBSP salt

4oz butter (it’s ok to replace up to half with oil)

3.5oz maple syrup

4 oz dried fruit