Pate a Choux? Shooo’… (or, the post that was almost called “Piping: Not My Bag, Baby”)

Eclairs and Cream Puffs

On the presenting grid. My team is the back, middle square.

It’s close to the end of the semester, so it was time to tackle Pate a Choux (aka Eclair Paste, Choux Paste, or Cream Puff Paste, as was heavily stressed by Chef D., so I am guessing this bit of name trivia will be on the Final Exam. I can also think of several different names for creme anglaise, so just ask if you’re very curious). Not being a particular fan of the eclair or the cream puff, I was indifferent coming into this exercise. It also involved piping, of which I am particularly clumsy. This is, of course, quite vexing to me as I prefer to be smooth, precise and fluid in all my tasks. Well. Anyway, I was going to do a post just on the trials of piping, and call it “Piping: Not My Bag, Baby”  complete with photos of various mangled piping bags and wobbly, uneven eclairs, but quickly realized that would be super dorky, and I just don’t know y’all well enough for that yet. Yeah, I know, I tried this one earlier in my creme brulee post, but it hadn’t found its feet yet. I’ll keep at it.

So, instead of pastry bag detritus, I present to you the eclairs. And, I have to say, while they didn’t win me all the way over — I still don’t very much like the textures of pate a choux or pastry cream — they are indeed much nicer when they are freshly made and not cold from the refrigerator case. Plus, you get to dip them into chocolate glaze and watch the chocolate smooth out, shiny and perfect and calm like an untroubled brow. That is a peaceful proposition.

Pate a Choux, nude

Eclair and Cream Puff, pre-pastry cream injection and chocolate bath

Class Grid: Finished product

Momma Needs A Blowtorch

Creme BruleeIt was Custards night in Baking 124: pastry cream, crème anglais, crème brulee, and chocolate soufflé. I have always been a fan of pudding – I looked for a ginger cat specifically so I could name him Puddin’  — and I have fantasized many times about bringing puddings back big time, but flan has never found favor with me, and pastry cream just isn’t my bag, either. (Bag! Ha!).  So, I was prepared to be indifferent to custards. HOWEVER, that was before I torched my own crackly sugar crust on a freshly chilled crème brulee. The photo isn’t mine – I was too enamored with torching the tray of ramekin soldiers to get a good shot before the rest of the class descended upon them – -but it’s pretty much the same idea. The chocolate soufflé pictures are mine, though, as is probably obvious by the obnoxious glare from the camera through the oven window.

Chocolate Souffle in oven

Chocolate Souffle in oven

Chocolate Souffle, finished

Chocolate Souffle, finished

I’ve come to the preliminary conclusion that when leavening goods with egg whites (merengues) there is not enough juice to the squeeze. And by that I mean they are a hassle. Merengues are very temperamental and I think they’re just a little too big for their britches. I could just as easily – more easily, actually – have made a warm chocolate cake tonight and I wouldn’t have had to fold a thing. But, that’s neither here nor there. Back to the blowtorch: for all my family and friends who thought that I have everything necessary for the kitchen, I’m here to tell you I don’t have a blowtorch and I think it has just become an imperative. Or, at least a fun new toy. And all of you who know me I’m sure would agree that my having a blowtorch is an excellent idea! So, look for the post where I tell you I burned down my kitchen. It wouldn’t be the first time, but that wasn’t technically my fault. Well, maybe technically it was.

When Opportunity Knocks…

I went to, and walked away from, the Baltimore Food Truck Rally tonight. There were two cupcake trucks there, but that’s not why I left.  I left because the lines were hecka long. There was a South Carolina BBQ truck there that I had wanted to check out. I heartily wanted a pulled pork sammie. So, I did actually get in line, but then I had some time on my hands and it got me to thinking about how when I was parking the car I had seen a place I hadn’t known existed: a place called HarborQue. And it just happened to be Carolina style BBQ. Some might call that Coincidence. I call it Opportunity. So I waved goodbye to the trucks and off I went.

The place was crowded with other food truck refugees. We are an impatient people. Of course Harbor BBQ had the pulled pork sammie, but after watching three people walk past me with the Loaded Carolina Fries, I changed my ordering tune. Pulled pork with bbq baked beans, cheese and jalapenos over french fries? Whaaaat? Is this how they roll in South Carolina, or is this a Balto. hybrid? Either way, they had me. And the pulled pork was delicious; tender and smokey, which I love. I sat out on their deck while other food truck people poured in. I listened in on their tales of long lines and sold out food while I made a somewhat respectable dent in this DelMarVa delicacy. I’m glad I found this place they call the “best  barbeque on the Chesapeake.” I will definitely go back and I might do the Loaded Fries again, but next time, hold the cheese.

P.S. Did I mention that the last four numbers of their phone number spell PORK? I’m charmed. And, to make it even better,  it is a BYOB — an East Coast concept that really grows on a person…

More to love about HarborQue: Hickory smoked pit beef, pit ham, brisket, chicken-and-ribs and a bbq sundae of which I’m not sure how I feel yet. Here’s their menu (click). They do tailgating and catering, too.

Survey says…

The trades show was crowded, a veritable crush at its zenith. As such, I consider it a success. The Happy Owl table had a good turnout and I had the chance to really talk about how my bakery concept and the products I was sampling that day were connected. I believe I used the phrase “heart health” at least 100 times.

Here’s the interesting part: People like bean pie.

Well, duh. I knew they would.

Of the people surveyed, 100% were trying bean pie for the first time, and 100% reported they liked it. And to hear how surprised they were when they said it — they seemed mildly startled, actually — was funny to watch, and also very satisfying to me because I have believed in bean pie from the start.

So without further ado, here are the Trade Show pictures for which you have been clamoring:


Cupcakes? Bah, humbug.

People, they are just tiny cakes. Same formulas, same frosting, just smaller. Why all the fuss? I like a cupcake just as much as the next person — well, maybe not, actually, since the “next person” is busy rhapsodizing about cupcakes with a passion that borders on fevered — but they have just a simple, transitory appeal to me: someone offers one to me, I accept it, I enjoy it (“Yay, nice couple of bites of cake!”), I move on. I don’t drive/bus/bike uptown/downtown/anywhere to find them. I don’t pursue them with a single-minded determination. I don’t plan a ladies lunch around them. In fact, the list of things I WON’T do for a cupcake far outnumbers the list for what I WILL do for one.

So the fact that Williams-Sonoma has rolled out a section on their website titled “The Cupcake Shop” says more to me about Williams-Sonoma than it does to me about cupcakes. Don’t follow the trends, Wms.-S.; set them. Surely there is life after cupcakes.

To quote Jacob Goldstein at NPR, as he explores the idea of what he calls the cupcake bubble,  “Did they really think cupcakes were different than cake?” (See the short article, here, referenced in The Huffington Post.)

To be fair, some disagree. CNN Living entreats us to stop calling cupcakes a fad. Apparently, they are an industry. Click here to read that argument.

Well, goodness, now I just don’t know. Maybe if the box of cupcakes had three-dimensional sculpted modeling chocolate carvings of frolicking kittens I would mend my cupcake hatin’ ways…nope, still just a cupcake.

Pre- Faux Trade Show

For those of you who don’t know — and by that I mean all of you except for my first two followers (thanks KM and AC!) — I am in the Culinary Arts Entrepreneurship program at my school of choice here in Maryland. This mean that half of my classes are in cooking and baking, and half of my classes are business classes geared towards those of an entrepreneurial ilk. I’m also taking Italian language classes, but that is neither here nor there. These entrepreneurial classes are designed to help prepare people who want to start businesses, i.e. entrepreneurs, focus on their ideas and prepare their business plans. This semester I am in the Sales and Marketing portion of the program. We have been working on developing our marketing plans (target market, demographics, value proposition, etc.) and tomorrow we have our fake Trade Show where some faculty, some members of the local business community, and some unfortunate students who need to earn some Extra Credit points will come and check us out. I have been, as I am wont to do, taking this very seriously and have been pulling rabbits out of my hat for the last few weeks trying to pull together as if the business that has been in my head for the past ten years was actually getting ready to launch. So I needed a logo, a tagline, and marketing materials, pronto. Of these skills I have none.

Fortunately, what I do have is a friend,  who also happens to be a cracker jack graphic designer, the illustrious Ms. C.N., within driving distance of me. So, for the price of the Harbor Tunnel toll and some brownies that were basically just chocolate bits held together by butter, this Jane of All Trades cranked out, in short order, a tri-fold color brochure-cum-mailer-cum-menu, a killer postcard, and about 300 photographs of me in my chef’s coat to get that one, useable image. Oh, and she threw in a business card image, too. Done, done, and done.

The trade show is tomorrow, bean pie and olive oil brownies for sampling are baking, and business cards are ready to be picked up on the way to the show. Happy Owl Baking is born.

The fresh ham fake-out

Citrus and Mustard Glazed (Fresh) Ham

The ham that was a pork roast in disguise.

Turns out a “fresh ham” is just a pork roast! Yes, a 10 lb. pork roast. I love pork roast but a week of roast pork leftovers is not what I had in mind. One can’t make ham sandwiches, deviled ham, or ham balls with pork roast.  My ham hankerin’ has not been fulfilled so it’s back to the drawing board. My Aunt Pat and I put our heads together. We consider that perhaps I am thinking of corned ham. Corned ham is a Southern Maryland thing — especially around Easter —  and since the one-time only fresh ham I remember came from my aunt Pat and Pat now comes from Southern Maryland…well, it adds up.

We’ll get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, here is a recipe from Saveur magazine for Corned Ham where you literally corn your own ham by brining it in salt for seven days (and seven days was conservative. Many of the recipes I looked at stated eleven days!). Hmm. I don’t know if Corned Ham is 7-days-of-brining-in-your-own-fridge good. Fortunately, I currently reside in Maryland and can take a little country day-drive down Rt. 301 to Southern Maryland to get one, if I want. Yay, the South! Click here for Saveur magazine’s recipe for Corned Ham.

If you’re going to corn your own ham then clearly time is not an issue for you so why not keep on truckin’ and turn it into a Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham? Stuffed Ham is a whole ‘nother bird, so to speak. It’s like a country girl’s Tur-Duck-en. Check it out:

Find this picture, with links to recipes and info. about Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham, here:

Now I need to go online and figure out what to do with 5 lbs. of leftover pork roast.

Fresh Ham? It’s beginning to look a lot like Easter!

I believe I have had fresh ham just once before but I remember it being very delicious. Since I am in a state many consider to be the start of the South (Northerners say Maryland is the start of the South; Southerners say it is the start of the North), I decided to try to track one down. Not so easy, my friend. This is fresh ham we are talking about, not smoked, not cured, and certainly not spiral-sliced. Fresh. So fresh the supermarkets don’t carry it. Even the Dutch Farmer’s Market, which I assumed would carry such a fresh-farm-feeling kind of product, needed a head’s up on the ham, so I ordered it last week and picked it up on Wednesday. It looks perfectly hammy! Imagine my delight.

Fresh ham

Fresh ham from the Dutch Farmer's Market, Annapolis, MD

This particular ham came in as a whole hind part, which weighed in at about 20 lbs. Impressive, but beyond my needs, so the butcher cut it in half for me. The cut in the photo above clocks in at about 10 lbs. — perfect!

Now I need to give some thought as to how to handle this ham-some specimen. (Sorry, had to!) I’m thinking I will certainly score the fat cap and stuff the slits with garlic, and roast it slow and low (thinking 325 degrees in the morning, pretty typical, or even 225 degrees overnight — is that crazy talk?!)  but that’s as far as I have gotten. Thoughts?

French Apple Tart

This tart has a layer of caramelized apples underneath the scalloped apples, which is what won me over.

The rest of the menu is going to be down-home-Sunday-supper: biscuits, scalloped potatoes, asparagus, roasted beet carpaccio with lemon caper dressing, and sweet potato pie. I may throw in a French Apple Tart for the practice. I did the tart in class a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it (above). I even considered dyeing eggs, not normally my jam, after reading an interesting article about organic egg-dyeing which my friends over at he TreesOnSanPedroStreetProject blog shared (read the article here), but I decided to get real: I just wanted the eggs for deviled eggs so why not just cut to the chase, right? So, scratch the dyeing, keep the eggs, and the ham plan is a work in progress.

By Jove, I think she’s got it!

Bean Pie

I’ve decided that bean pie would be one of the things that I would demo at the faux trade show we are doing next week for my sales and marketing class, so I needed to get on the recipe, pronto. I had tried a few recipes in the past, but hadn’t settled on anything I especially liked yet. So, I played around with the recipe again last week, but it still wasn’t right. Also, I wanted to develop a savory bean pie recipe, so I made one up on the fly and tried that out on unsuspecting friends. The results were mediocre, at best.  I consulted my baking chef. We brainstormed. It was decided I would bring a bean pie in next class and have my classmates sample it. I tinkered with the recipe again last night, baked it up, and waited to see what would happen.

They liked it!

This is exciting to me.

I like it when people like bean pie.

So, it looks like I’ve got the  regular recipe nailed down. The sweetness is right, the texture is right, and, even more pleasing to me, the crust is right. I haven’t liked any of the crusts I have tried and I have secretly suspected that the answer is a vegetable oil crust, but no one talks about vegetable oil crusts so I just kept pushing the idea aside and continued working with butter and shortening combinations. But, last week I went back to the vegetable oil crust idea, tinkered with it, screwed up a good handful of batches, and then hit on one that I think I like. It even has some whole wheat flour in it, which doubles my pleasure.

All in all, a good night. Now, back to the drawing board for the savory bean pie.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Night classes are hard enough, but night classes that are 5 1/2-hour cooking labs take it up a notch. And having a 9:00 a.m. class the next morning takes it up another notch. And doing it all over the next day? Whew.  For the past two nights I’ve had about 10 hours of sleep total, so my edges are a little frayed. Even so, I am working, rather feverishly at this point between classes, on writing a Value Proposition for a college-sponsored competition called The Big Idea Elevator Pitch.The idea is to pitch your business concept by defining your product as the answer to a perceived problem, and then discussing its viability in terms of target market, competitive advantage, and potential for profitability. I’m pitching my bakery concept. The prize is worth $500, due tomorrow, so I guess I can handle another night of little sleep. Just don’t let me handle sharp knives in lab tonight.

Why bean pie?

Your Black Muslim Bakery Photo, Oakland, CA

Whenever I try to explain the kind of baking I want to do, it always comes back to bean pie. So, bean pie is where I will start.

Bean pie seems to have Southern roots, but I know of  it because I grew up not too far from a Your Black Muslim Bakery. I lived in Emeryville, California and at that time Emeryville was the raggedy jumble where the edges of Berkeley petered out but Oakland hadn’t quite picked up yet. We were the fringe, a slim section of San Pablo Ave. that was ratty but not necessarily dangerous.  All the cars were junky and the houses had panache, which is what houses have when nothing matches and half your stuff comes from thrifting.  Some of us were white, some Mexican, some black, but all of us were pretty broke and we all ambled along together, everyone pretty much minding their own business. That’s how it works on the fringe.

The Black Muslim Bakery was not much further down San Pablo Avenue from where I lived on 64th Street and it was a funky, run-down, exotic place to a kid fresh from the humid, lightning-bug summers of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t much but a tiny storefront with a counter where you ordered. They only had about 10 different things, and none of them made much sense: prune cake, honey carrot muffins, tofu burgers, fish sandwiches. And bean pie. All of the baked goods were cool, but it was the bean pie which fascinated me.  My mom would bring back a bag of stuff from their “day-old” section and there they would be, in clear plastic bags with twisty ties and ordinary white mailing labels where the branding should be.  It looked like the kind of stuff you would buy at a bake sale if the bake sale were run by plain-looking, somber women dressed in  faded single-color caftans and elaborately twisted cotton turbans to hide their hair. Later they jazzed up their packaging a bit (see photo below), but I remember them from back in the day.

Your Black Muslim Bakery products

"Your Black Muslim Bakery" baked goods in later years.

Those baked goods were the good stuff to me. I loved their strange, stark packaging, and the way the whole ingredient list could fit in the space where someone’s address should go: “flour, oil, eggs, honey, baking soda, cinnamon.” That’s all it took. That’s all they needed to make it work. So simple, so elemental, and so good. The simplicity in the design became the footprint of baking for me.

Even from the day-old section we didn’t see those goodies too often and things got pretty crazy at that house in Emeryville sooner rather than later. It wasn’t too long before I was spending most of my time over in Albany, a 30 minute bus ride down San Pablo Avenue in the opposite direction.  Albany — pretty, tidy, happy little Albany with the good schools and the nice librarians —  was my ticket out of Emeryville, away from Oakland and Black Muslim bakeries, and bean pie.

As I grew older I would make my way over to the Black Muslim Bakery every now and again, but it was always a strange sort of experience. It wasn’t my neighborhood anymore, and it wasn’t my mom bringing the stuff home in a paper bag.  Even so, bean pie was always in the back of my mind. I always thought that they were the coolest kind of baked goods even though they were more of a memory than anything else. The Black Muslim Bakeries had some bad years, then some very bad years, and then in 2008 they went under completely and were under investigation for corruption, torture, assault, murder, and more. Part of this long, sad, scandalous, tangled web was in the papers within the last year, but that’s a story for another day.