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A Day in Napoli

After our beach time, we were ready to get back to a city.  With our schedule tightening up, we decided we could only spend a day in Naples before moving onto Rome.  We arrived via train on a Sunday, and for me there was only one place to go once we got settled. 

The shrine to all things Sfogliatelle!

The shrine to all things Sfogliatelle!

Sfogliatelle Attanasio!  I believe I read Mario Batali gushing about it in some food mag or online, and what got me curious was that this place serves these incredible pastries still warm, or even hot, from the oven.  I can't say I have much experience with these "lobster tails", other than a New York version that's been sitting in a case for 3 days.  My mouth was just watering for the original!  So we made our way through the busy city and into a smelly alleyway to find a small bundle of locals & foodies huddled outside this tattered and revered bakery.  Nudging my way through the crowd to get my ticket and order in was a little intimidating, but I managed to make myself understood with my barebones Italian.  After about a 30 minute wait for my number to be called, I finally got to the front of the counter.  I had ordered 2 sfogliatelle and the man behind the counter asked me if I wanted "1 crispy, 1 soft".  I didn't know there was a difference, so I just said yes.  Upon leaving and opening the bag on the sidewalk just outside the bakery, I admit I was a little disappointed to find I only got one of the signature flakey sfogliatella, also known as "riccia".  The soft one encased the same fragrantly orange scented ricotta filling, but looked more like a bread bun.  We tackled the riccia first, and it was everything you could want in a pastry!  Warm, super crispy, sweet and creamy with little bursts of candied orange bits!  My husband got us a coffee while we were waiting in line, and it made the perfect pairing.  Moving onto the "frolla', or shortcrust version, I had little hope that it would be as good.  It was surprisingly just as divine!  What it lacked in ultimate crispiness, it overcompensated in pure buttery (or lardy?) tenderness!

Dive right into those layers!

Dive right into those layers!

As soon as we cleared the crumbs from our shirts, the day's rain started pouring down.  We found ourselves under a bus shelter wondering what to do next.  We were still hungry from our morning's travel, so pizza was the only logical option!  We were a little annoyed to find that many pizza places that were recommended to us were closed on Sundays.  50 Kalo was the only one on the list that was open, so we got in a cab and waited yet another 45 minutes under an umbrella outside for a taste of Naples' most popular dish.  Pizza! 

Surprise! It's pizza!!

Surprise! It's pizza!!

Admittedly, I wasn't as blown away by this pizza as I was with the one in Pompeii.  The flavors had a bit less pop and the dough was a bit soggy.  Overall though, the vibe in the restaurant was cool and the appetizer of fried bucatini was delicious... like fried mac n' cheese! 

The rest of the evening became a dud, as I managed to catch a slight cold while standing in the rain for pizza.  Such is life!  The next morning, I mustered the strength to get out of bed early to to try out another famous bakery one of my cooks recommended.  Pasticceria Angelo Carbone!  They were also serving warm sfogliatelle, so I couldn't resist ordering one.  So so good!  I'm almost afraid of eating one of these outside Naples, because I feel like nothing will ever come close. 

Breakfast, Italian style!

Breakfast, Italian style!

London Times

You will never hear me say "no" to a trip to London.  Ever since I visited with my family as a teenager, this city has grabbed my attention and never let go.  At first, it was probably the typical Brit-American differences that made me fall in love:  the accents, the old architecture, the "smallness" of everything from cars to sinks to front doors, the Tube, the boys, the fashion, the Spice Girls, etc.  When I moved here in 2002 to study, I was fulfilling a dream to live in another country and I couldn't wait to immerse myself in what I was soon to realize was a completely different culture.  I've only been back a couple times since moving to New York 11 years ago, so this first stop on our European excursion was a must.  Always on my list is to check out one of their many markets, interesting pastry, have a curry, and just walk this wonderful city.  Sadly, I didn't get a chance to photograph the utmost delicious Indian food I had at this little hole-in-the-wall place near London Bridge.   I highly recommend Mango Tree just off Southwark Street!

Banana Cake, Chocolate Cookie, Blondie and a coffee from Violet Cakes. Not all for me! I shared with @theboywhobakes.

Banana Cake, Chocolate Cookie, Blondie and a coffee from Violet Cakes. Not all for me! I shared with @theboywhobakes.

The counter of goodies at E5 Bakehouse. I forgot to take a pic of the bread, ugh!!

The counter of goodies at E5 Bakehouse. I forgot to take a pic of the bread, ugh!!

Too many Scotch Eggs at Broadway Market in Hackney.

Too many Scotch Eggs at Broadway Market in Hackney.

Delicious looking sourdough doughnuts at Broadway Market, by Crosstown.

Delicious looking sourdough doughnuts at Broadway Market, by Crosstown.

The cutest ever butcher shop in Hackney.

The cutest ever butcher shop in Hackney.

Lovely looking bread.

Lovely looking bread.

A leisurely walk along the canals.

A leisurely walk along the canals.

Pure pastry artistry at Yauatcha. And lovely meeting the pastry chef, Sarah Frankland!

Pure pastry artistry at Yauatcha. And lovely meeting the pastry chef, Sarah Frankland!

Chocolate Starburst at Paul A. Young, suggested to me by @theboywhobakes. LOVED the Bakewell Tart flavor!

Chocolate Starburst at Paul A. Young, suggested to me by @theboywhobakes. LOVED the Bakewell Tart flavor!

5-Hour Wedding Cake

I like to think of myself as a fairly organized person at work.  Making lists, checking schedules and calendars, spreadsheets, emails, etc. (btw, this in no way filters into my personal life; I'm a mess at home).

What a surprise to me, then, when our events manager asked me, "How's that wedding cake for tomorrow coming along?". "Uh,

what

wedding cake?"  Her face drops.  I die a little inside.  I check the wall of the week's events, and there it is in plain sight.  Wedding cake for 70 people.  I assure the poor soul the cake will be awesome!  Luckily, the party requested a vanilla-vanilla cake with berries..easy.

It's already 9pm, and my normal list is far from being done.  The party doesn't start till 5:30pm tomorrow, so I decide to take a chance and trust that my few years of pastry experience can make a nice wedding cake in half a day.

Next day, I have four sheet trays of chiffon in the oven by 11:30am.  A silky vanilla buttercream is done in a flash, and my sous prepped a batch of créme legére for the filling the night before.  And before you ask, no, we do not have wedding cake mise en place stored in the freezer for emergencies like this.  I have to slow down to complete the tedious task of measuring and cutting strips of acetate out of full sheets to fit our ring molds.  On to unmolding the sheet cakes and stamping out three circles for each of the four tiers.  Layering, soaking, and filling ensues, with the delicious addition of Harry's Berries (epic) strawberries embedded in the créme legére.  A quick freeze sets everything into place before removing the rings and acetate.  The "cake turntable-buttercream smoothing thing" takes the most time and focus, especially with four separate cakes, and especially if I want all the tiers to be the same 3 1/4" height... and especially if you're rusty at it like me.  Another quick freeze before assembling, using our bar straws as support stilts for each ascending tier.  It's 4 pm and the cake is built..whew!!  Now for the business of making it look wedding-worthy.  A little more buttercream to seal any seams and gaps, and some simple piping to make it look elegantly finished.

Technical cake ability aside, the success of this endeavor came down to luck and equipment.  Lucky that the couple chose a cake flavor that required all readily available ingredients.  Lucky that their impeccable taste in flowers allowed me to garnish the cake with gorgeous color and shape.  I would've been severely set back without our trusty blast-chiller.  And our stock of ring molds and gadgets kept the process running smoothly.  And I feel most lucky that I have a team to help me out and/or stay out of my way when I need them to.

When it came time to cut the cake, I stole half a slice, to taste of course!!  The freshness and integrity of the ingredients were so apparent, the taste so delicious, that it almost convinced me to make EVERY wedding cake this way.

Easter 2014

A post on chocolate eggs and bunnies a week after Easter?  Perhaps it's a testament to how busy we were during the holiday.  Or maybe the fact that sitting at a computer for more than 45 minutes gets me nodding.  Instagrammification might also be the culprit.

But anyway... Here it is!  Our 2014 Easter Collection!

The obligatory chocolate bunny definitely came into play this season.  Dark, milk and pink lapins were cast by the dozens and dressed up in bow ties in the bakery's colors.  Some bunnies hopped solo in their own sealed bags, cushioned with shredded paper.  We fashioned a "bunny run" out of a vintage wood tray and moss.


Others got to nest in green paper berry baskets filled with marsmallow eggs and malt balls.


And others just went rogue...




Our 10" tall eggs made quite an impression with fans, intrigued to know what surprise would lie inside.


Non-chocolate items included fun egg shaped petits beurres dotted with homemade jam and zagged with a little royal icing.


Also on offer, though less popular, happened to be my favorite: fruitcake!  Not just for Christmas, guys. Easter fruitcake really is a thing and it's delicious and NOT dry.  We loaded ours with Armagnac-soaked fruit and chunks of marzipan that caramelized and almost turned date-like in baking.


Overall, I'm happy with what we put out for our first Easter.  There is always room for improvement and now, we have about 10 months to start preparing for next year!  I am determined to make creme eggs in 2015!!














Crème Brulée Éclairs

Our latest addition to the éclair line-up at the bakery is this über yummy Chai Tea Crème Brulée. 
Bite through the candy-crunch shell of amber caramel, and you'll be rewarded with a frangrant and silky cremeux center.
This was another collaborative project with one of my cooks who came up with the crème brulée idea. Chai tea is one of my favorite flavor "profiles" because it can be so complex yet warm and homey feeling at the same time.  The filling gets much of its creaminess from a fair amount of Dulcey, a caramelized white chocolate product of Valrhona, which also enhances the flavor of the tea.

Chai Tea Cremeux
Fills about 50 5-inch éclairs

500 g  heavy cream
550 g. whole milk
40 g. loose chai tea (we use Harney & Sons brand)

200 g. egg yolks
100 g. sugar

550 g. Dulcey chocolate, melted
6 g. gelatin leaves

Scald cream and milk and whisk in tea.  Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to steep 5 minutes.  Pour this liquid into the yolks and sugar that have been previously blanched.  Return to a clean pot and cook slowly, stirring with a rubber spatula, until it reaches 85C.  Strain this anglaise over the chocolate and bloomed gelatin.  Buzz everything together with a hand blender and chill over ice with a sheet of plastic on the surface.  It is best to hold the cremeux overnight in the fridge before using.

Sweet Hearts





































"Cray cray adorbs!".  Those were the words uttered when one of my cooks spotted the multiple trays of these Valentine macarons.  I must say I have to agree!  We make A LOT of macarons at the bakery, so why not make heart-shaped ones too?  And while we're at it, why not stencil little love notes on them?  And while we're STILL at it, why not stack them on a bed of pink krinkeleen and put a bow on it?

We used a chablon to help us pipe the same chubby heart shape every time.  And just as every hipster has a tattoo "guy", we have a laser cutting "gurl" who helped us make itty bitty font stencils.  These "petits coeurs" also make great cake decorations, seen below on our "gateau for two".  Who's gonna be YOUR lucky Valentine??