The classics

March 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

Valencia Street has this strange entrepreneurial culture where people sit in coffee shops for the entire workday and cultivate start-up business plans, occasionally chat with the people sitting next to them, and generally zone in on the social media pulled up on their Mac Books. I recently became one of these people. We drink fair trade coffee in the form of cappuccinos with pretty leaf designs in the foam and occasionally munch on empanadas from a start-up lady in the Mission or granola parfaits with yogurt from Strauss Creamery.

Nevermind. We relocated down the street, to one of the few casual hippie café spots on Valencia left over from before the hipster wave. The majority of the baked goods — standbys like frosted red velvet cake, peanut butter cookies and rice krispie squares — are in plastic wrap or on plastic cake plates and the lunch options are sandwiches and bagels. You know, like a normal café without the apple-bacon donuts. We have a whole booth to ourselves in the back, and honestly, it’s working out a lot better than the cafés that came before it. We remain, however, very open to café suggestions as we embark on this working café tour of San Francisco, so bring them on. Wait, nevermind, we switched again.

Now I’m sitting at the corner of 22nd and Bartlett under an awning and the heater while it sprinkles outside, on a couch with cigarette burns. A homeless man walks by and shoves a partially-destructed paper cup at us, and weed changes hands, and the guy sitting next to me is rolling as I type and a couple of tables down, two guys are playing chess and another is being interviewed and recorded as he sings about happy hours while strumming on an acoustic guitar. I had a burnt soy latte (the choices were soy or whole milk) and a huge chocolate chip cookie that the friendly guy behind the counter (but actually often hanging out in front of the shop smoking) dug out of the cookie jar with his bare hand. Um sorry, that sounds gross but it’s actually beginning to feel like home, except that my eyes are starting to water from all of the smoke. I kind of feel like the tool with the Mac Book here.

So I guess now’s the time to catch up on what you’ve been missing, A while ago, think way back to February 14th, my dad gave me a hand-held torch and a canister of butane fuel for Valentine’s Day. I’ve only been asking for one for a couple of Christmases and birthdays and no one ever seemed to believe that that was what I really wanted above anything. I mean, nothing can really beat the charm of being able to set fire to your baked goods on a daily basis in the comfort of your own kitchen.

The first thing I made was vanilla crème brûlée. The standard crème brûlée. The best crème brûlée. I would never prefer any other flavor. Sometimes the classics really are the best. These required very little time to make — just a while to set up in the fridge — and turned out smooth, creamy, and decadent without being heavy, the lightest custard I’ve ever tasted. And dusted with sugar, with a blast of heat from the new torch, it has a burnt caramel top coating that cracks like a windowpane when you take a spoon to it.

Recipe here

Choux Chantilly

December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

The metal gates of the passage du Grand Cerf clang open on a late Sunday morning to reveal a red carpeted passageway, off of which we find the apartment which will host our first, and likely only, cooking class in Paris. I should start by saying that baking is something I usually like doing alone, or with my family, or one friend. Several of my best friends can attest to times we have excitedly decided to make gingerbread houses for example, only to have me take over the whole project because I wanted it to look “just so.” Or times when I have refused to hand over the wooden spoon to my little brother because I like being the one mixing for that moment when the cookie dough begins to come together and starts looking like real dough.

I like sitting in front of the oven, peering into the little window, with the oven light on, watching cakes rise, watching the tops of soufflés turn golden brown, watching the edges of cookies crisp in the seconds before you take them out of the oven. I could do this for the entire hour it takes for the bread to finish baking. Or for the fifteen minutes in takes for these little choux pastries to rise and the pastry to puff around little balls of air, making perfect little capsules in which to pipe Chantilly cream or pastry cream, perfumed with vanilla bean and folded with some extra butter (you know for that glossy finish, and because, let’s admit it, it’s France, and a little extra butter goes into everything French).

So I’m afraid I spent much of this Sunday afternoon sitting on the floor in front of the oven window watching the first batch of choux puffs fail miserably as they turned into flat, eggy patties, and then smiling excitedly as the second batch puffed up brilliantly into sugar-crusted balls of hot air. And then I spent the second half of Sunday licking pastry cream off my fingertips, abandoning any semblance of dignified consumption.

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