This June, my husband and I picked up and moved across the country to the Connecticut Shoreline. The first question people ask when we tell them that we're new to town from San Francisco is, "WHY?" There are a few reasons, but one big factor is seasons!
I'm really looking forward to the fall colors here in New England. With that change of season will come all the best holidays! And that gets me thinking of desserts!
But unlike all the big box retailers. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's focus on Halloween first. I'm going to give Labor Day some space, let kids get back to school, but once the temperature drops, I'm going to be thinking of warm spices and comforting flavors. I'm thinking of all the fun pumpkin desserts, apples, pears, quince, kumquats. Halloween Candy! Pies! Bouche de Nöel!
Ok. Like I said, let's not get carried away.
Maybe it's because my birthday comes right before Halloween, but I start feeling all nostalgic. My absolute favorite sound is the crunching of crispy leaves windswept across the sidewalk. I'm one of those weirdos that will veer from my path to step on a singular crackling leaf.
Halloween also brings the prospect of a sack full of candy. My parents weren't the ones buying us candy, so this was our chance to load up! As an adult, I've become more discerning with my sugar intake. But I've learned to make homemade versions of classic candy, which somehow makes it okay to eat a dozen.
Mom's the bomb!
My mom is the person who inspired me to bake. We didn't grow up with much processed food despite my scrawny pleas for Lucky Charms or Coke on our trips to Jewel. Dinner was a healthy, home-cooked family affair that I may not have appreciated at the time, but I feel so fortunate to have had now that I'm grown. One little indulgence I could look forward to were my mom's fresh baked cookies, brownies, and bars.
My mom wasn't much of a cook when she met my dad, who grew up in a restaurant. But she could read a recipe and had enough creative spark to master some tasty treats. Now that I think of it, I'm sure it was slightly self-serving, because I inherited her enormous sweet tooth.
So for my first Mother's Day menu years ago, I created the Mom's Bombe as a tribute to my mother. I like alliteration and my mom likes chocolate. She's a bonafide chocoholic and proud of it.
The dessert has evolved over the years, but the prototype began with me wanting to kill it with chocolate as an homage to my Madre.
With this one I thought of my mom....and chocolate. But what else would I give my mom on Mother's Day?
Flowers! In a restaurant, clearly those would be edible flowers.
And what else likes flowers? Bees of course.
And what do bees make? Honey!
So add in some alliteration and you have the Mom's Bombe made of chocolate devil's food cake, Marshall Farms honey mousse, chocolate torte glaze, sabayon, crunchy cake crumbles and a garnish of honey droplets and flowers.
Mind you, this is close to a decade ago, so the plating has also evolved. But the sentiment remains...
"Mom, you're the bomb!" I love you! And your super-sized sweet tooth.
HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!!!
Like most holidays, Easter to me is another excuse to gather around family and eat. We did the usual basket hunt in the morning, sometimes with Pillsbury biscuits baked into the shape of a bunny with raisin eyes and a cherry nose. A Honey-baked ham was usually on the docket and my aunt's trip to the local bakery to buy pastel challah. When sliced, each strand of the braided bread revealed a different color, like those of the RIT dyed Easter eggs. But for nearly a decade it has become another "all hands on deck" day at work.
There's a joke about the busiest days in a restaurant being New Years Eve, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. I really don't think there's a punchline, unless you work in the kitchen and you become the punchline. But I would rank Easter Brunch up there.
When I think of Easter now, I think of the memorable Easter brunch when the power went out during the last turn. The hoods stopped drawing air above the wood fired grill and the dining room began to fill with smoke. Dishwashers obviously didn't work, nor did refrigeration, leading us to bail out our fridges and wash EVERY single utensil and dish by hand. All the chefs banded together and laughed to keep from crying.
But back in pastry land...I enjoy getting a little tongue in cheek with holiday dessert items. Over the years, a few were so awesome that I circled back to them. The photos don't do them justice, but I'll try to explain the method to my madness.
I used to LOVE peeps as a kid. Now as an adult, I realize it's the stale, firm but chewy ones that I preferred. They're kind of nasty, but simple. I figured..."I can do that!" In fact, I tried piping a little chick with freshly made marshmallow. I don't know what it looked like, because it wasn't recognizable. But I thought...you can't get more Easter than a rabbit! So the "homie" was born. More colors evolved over the years. But I stuck with the elderflower flavoring and coconut nest of grass.
Another winner was the carrot cake ice cream sandwich.
Follow my train of thought for a second...
But how do you take a spin on carrot cake? Keeping it recognizable, but elevate it to restaurant caliber? Take your favorite ginger-laced carrot cake recipe, and sandwich it with rum raisin swirled cream cheese ice cream ...obviously.
The tiny carrots I candied were almost cuter than the homies.
It's fun to find inspiration for the holidays and create new traditions to weave into the old.
I recently exited the restaurant industry. Not necessarily forever, but for a breather. I like to tell people that your time spent working in a restaurant is equivalent to dog years. The time and energy you put in (especially as a manager) is 7 fold that of a "normal" job. So, by my calculations, the last 5 years I spent as Executive Pastry Chef at a singular restaurant was really like 35 years of my life. And I have the gray hairs to prove it.
Taking a little time off has been great. I know not everyone has the luxury to do this. Especially living in San Francisco. But not having to set an alarm clock, or look at a calendar to know what day of the week it is, has been kind of awesome.
But it has been by working at restaurants and bakeries over the last decade through which I could mark the passage of time. Living in San Francisco's mild climate without snow flurries, tulip bulbs breaking ground or even humid mosquito outbreaks (I'm not complaining... just saying), leaves me unaware of the season.
It dawned on me that it's the restaurant holiday hustle that tells me it's February, or May, or almost a New Year. Yesterday I realized that I wasn't planning a price fixe menu for Valentine's Day barely a month after crushing it on New Years Eve, only to roll into Easter, then Mother's Day and even Father's Day.
How will I know it's Valentine's Day? I haven't been pulling out my sharpie to write the date on masking tape for an egg white label in weeks.
Well, luckily I do follow a bunch of other super talented pastry chefs on Instagram and see that they are all working on bright red lipstick colored desserts. All the chocolate companies seem to be hiring extra labor. Obviously I can't miss the myriad shades of crimson hearts spilling out of the grocery store. Nor has every restaurant in my neighborhood's flyers for a romantic Valentine's set menu for $90 been lost on me either.
But mostly, I'll probably know it's Valentine's Day when I wake up to a sweet card from my husband, only to tell him to "hold that thought" while I run out to buy a card.
Here are a few Valentine themed desserts from the last decade.