This is a beautiful brick of pu-erh tea (a highly oxidised & fermented black tea) that was pressed with a horse & the Chinese character for 'horse' on it to commemorate the new lunar year. I came across this while stopping in for a pot of tea at the Leaf & Kettle (a lovely tea shop here in northern San Diego) after work. Couldn't resist taking a picture. Forgive my blogging negligence! I've been really well though extremely busy! Expect more posts soon!
Amidst a very busy time (we’re preparing to leave for our wedding trek north!); I opted to make my work schedule so that I have my days off nearly back-to-back before slogging six consecutive days & having another day or so off in order for me & the fiancé to load up our trusty vehicle laden with wedding things to go northbound.
We’re pretty much down to the wire with our wedding preparations but what always manages to relax me/aid in churning productivity is to have some time at a coffeeshop – out & away from the apartment (don’t get me wrong, I love our apartment but to be honest, if I’m not at the bakery, I am almost always home – with the occasional venture to get groceries, etc).
As a Seattleite (in this case, the stereotype is true), you can imagine that for me, the coffeeshop standard is high. Somewhere where there is moderate-to-heavy foot traffic, a coffeeshop that preferably roasts their own beans & offers at least one delicious snack. Granted that I haven’t combed over San Diego with a fine comb – but I’ve encountered a lovely coffeeshop called the Coffee & Tea Collective and it is by far, the best coffeeshop in all of San DIego. Strong words, I know. But the coffee is fantastic, the roaster is visible behind the coffee bar. I’m a sucker for design – I really appreciate the minimalist decor & furniture. The place is also the perfect canvas for local art installations. I seldom go to C&T Collective (it’s a bit of a drive, kind of out of the way for my liking), so each visit has been a unique experience. But all-in-all, it’s a great environment filled with productivity. The din & racket of the bean grinder; the violent hissing of the frother/steamer – just brings back so many nostalgic memories (there was an espresso bar at my last job & especially, all the hours spent at various coffeeshops throughout university & afterwards in which I would be internet-ing, editing resumés, job-searching, etc) & of course, coffee dates with old friends.
I’m drinking a mug of pour-over-coffee from San Agustin, Huila, Colombia. It’s delicious, the acidity is there but palatable. A smooth coffee. The C&T Collective also serves some amazing waffles. Yes. Waffles. But just not any waffle – this is a Belgian Liège waffle. It’s not a batter that is pour onto a waffle iron, but rather, a dough (similar to brioche?) that is pressed onto the waffle iron. Yielding a flaky, layered, yet chewy & dense waffle – the outside has a bit of a caramelised sugary crust. It’s pretty amazing. A true treat for a mid-afternoon snack!
Above is a random shot of my coffee + waffle & a succulent table-accent. & a peek of my trusty & steady Mac. Excuse the horrid cluttered desktop – I’m all over the place (wedding guest lists, photo folders, .mp3s, documents upon documents, recipe edits, schedule drafts, wedding menu outlines, etc!!). Apologies in advance as I can’t imagine that I’ll be posting anytime soon….!
Last weekend, my fiancé & I trekked over to what we consider the biggest & best farmers’ market in all of San Diego: the Little Italy Mercato. They’re open year-round on Saturdays & feature 150+ vendors & have a sizeable array of local produce, poultry, meats, artisanal goods (cheeses, sausages, pastas, sauces, candles, breads, etc etc) & wares. The mercato is located in a neat area; historically it is a fishing colony of Italian ex-pats & in present-day times, located by the water & is really close to downtown San Diego. My first impression was that it vaguely reminded me of San Francisco.. though a bit more gentrified, very ‘branded’ (there is Little Italy signage on everything.. from public sidewalk tables, bicycle racks, benches & umbrellas to lamp posts) & not nearly as vertically built (or as hilly). But it’s definitely a neat part of town for sure. If you’re ever in the area on a Saturday; the Little Italy Mercato is a great place to check out.
Anyway, as we were perusing the booths with the mission of getting something delicious & meaty to put on our barbecue grill (it is summer afterall!); passing a baked goods booth, something caught my eye. As you can imagine, baked goods seldom impress me.. But what stopped me in my tracks were canelés (also spelled as cannelle or cannelés) ! It was kind of funny – they weren’t even displayed properly: they were in a covered plastic tub, tumbled in with some croissants, barely in view). But their shape & glossy dark & ambered crust was unmistakable. Also, seeing these coincided with my craving for some rustic European pastry. It was meant to be. I asked the seller how much they were for, she said $2 for one, $5 for three. Kind of steep! But worth it. I inspected them, they had a thick glossy crust, the gloss is from beeswax, which coats the canelé mold. The crust of these weren’t the most dark, but I was willing to give them a try.. but I knew I couldn’t settle for just one.. However I was $1 short of the $5 required, but luckily the seller was cool about it – I was able to leave the stand with 3 for $4! Small victories indeed. It was worth satiating my craving. My fiancé & I sat on the curb of the street by a crêpe stand & snacked on our farmers’ market spoils. We shared a crêpe, a huge organic donut peach, sipped on iced cold brew coffee & nibbled on the famed canelé. Pictured below is the last of the three canelés before I chased it down with some percolated coffee.
Granted that I have yet to have had a canelé from a Bordeaux in southwestern France – the last time I tasted one was from bar ferd’nand, a cool wine bar / bottle shop & cafe in my old neighbourhood in Seattle that also serves varying snacks – sometimes baguette sandwiches, oysters on the half-shell, charcuterie, cheeses, croissants & other extraordinary baked items. I remember seeing them for the first time & going over to admire the beauties. The shopkeeper touted that they were pretty much amazing. Curiosity killed the cat – I gave it a try & I’d gone back for more. The crisp & delightfully dark crust (for those that may be put off by eating beeswax, fret not – it just enhances the texture of the crust) juxtaposed with the airy yet custardy (some have described it as “a cross between a custard & a cake”) insides were pure indulgence. Scalded milk, cold butter, rum, vanilla, eggs & enough flour to bind it all together.
I myself have not dared to experiment with baking canelés though this link to Chez Pim seems like a decent start. The first crucial step in creating canelés is obviously to acquire the canelé molds. Though one could get the silicone variety – however according to canelé purists, that would be a mistake & considered cheating! The silicone molds do not yield the same crust texture compared to the real mccoy, which are made of copper. The copper is a great conductor of heat & is key in giving the canelé crust its unique attributes (the crisp crust, the amber-mahogany tone, the glossy beeswax finish, etc). However, copper canelé molds are muy expensivo. About $25 for a single 2″ mold! QUITE an investment that I’m not keen on making nor experimenting with right now. Therefore I’ll be content finding them on chance encounters & enjoying them then. (;
Canelés fascinate me because they are present-day derivatives (I suppose in all technicality, many pastries are) of centuries-old European baking methods. It’s almost like it’s edible history! (Forgive me for nerding out here)
Just thought to share this treat (via text & visually, so to speak). Aside from trekking into LA or even further north to San Francisco; anyone know of any notable canelés that I should sample for my ‘research’? (; Seek them out if you haven’t tried one yet!
Despite my lack of posts; in real life, I do often think of posting. In fact, on my desktop, I’ve got a folder of a cache of photos that I’ve snapped in hopes that one day I’ll actually create time to sit down & tap away at my keyboard to post a post but alas; busy days indeed. On top of my somewhat-more-than-full-time job of running a bakeshop; wedding planning/projects are being undertaken.. What was once ‘seven months till my wedding’ has quickly become ‘less than two months!!’
So in light of some wedding talk; my latest wedding project that’s been completed is sending off our gorgeous letter-pressed wedding invitations to our guests.. I’m sort of a repressed stamp aficionada (although perhaps at the very least, I have a profound appreciation of postage stamps)though I suppose that I’ve never really indulged in this interest of mine till now. Here are photos of some of the neat Forever stamps that USPS has issued recently. They are reprints of vintage (1910-1920) American floral garden seed packet stamps! What I love about this collection is that it invokes summer blooms & it also coincides with my wedding colour palette perfectly (as well as look stunning on the curry envelope). I’ve always thought that getting literal wedding stamps (i.e. the ones with a silly ruffled tiered white wedding cake, wedding bells, doves, hearts, etc) was a bit cheesy; therefore these are perfect. Elegant, feminine yet not too overstated. As for the postcard stamp (for the R.S.V.P. enclosure), I decided on these precious apple 33¢ stamps. Apples? Washington state of course! I mean, even though technically apples originate from Kazakhstan & were bred along the Silk Road & other trade routes before their genetic diaspora in Europe & colonial America.. across this country to the Northwest frontier & of course the modern day mainstream gene of these commercial varieties illustrated on these stamps – what? You haven’t read The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan!? Brilliant read, but I digress!
I love the mixed media work of these seemingly simple stamps (it’s a combination of pen, ink, watercolours & a bit of computer manipulation) by John Burgoyne, a reknowned illustrator. It’s his first piece for the USPS. If you’ve ever picked up hardcopies of Cook’s Illustrated, these apple stamps may remind you of the backcovers….Simply because Mr. Burgoyne has done issues-upon-issues of gorgeous illustrations of plant/herb/fruit/vegetable varietals as well! I’m sure you all find it absolutely shocking that I adore food as subjects of art (; .
My next major wedding planning project(s) is to finalise the cocktail hour & dining menus, beer & wine list…. (not to mention wedding favours?!) This means a lot of tastings!
I feel slightly silly about putting up a blog post documenting the progress of my herb garden but honestly, I am just so excited! Last week, I moved the herb planter outside onto the patio - these babies are happy in the full sun & I've been watering them daily - they seem to be thriving. It's definitely a therapeutic process for me, particularly after a long stressful hours, I get to look at these beauties - & doing so reminds me to take a moment to just reflect & revel in their complex yet seemingly quiet existence. & of course, I coo when I notice leaf development, excitedly showing my fiancé, haha If you are interested in growing your own herbs, I highly encourage the endeavour - especially if you have access to sunlight! Believe me, I honestly thought that I had an innate knack for killing plants - I am attesting that this is not so! (: I am greatly looking forward to harvesting these! Anybody else growing anything as we advance towards summertime?
My most favourite way to utilise almond meal/flour is to make macarons – however, I decided that I should experiment. I recently bought a pair of delightful fluted tartlet tins from Sur La Table & was scheming to create something delicious with them.. Naturally, it would have to involve a frangipane tart of sorts!
It’s relatively simple to make frangipane – the most crucial ingredient is of course almond meal. Almond ‘meal’ or ‘flour’ is interchangeable. It’s essentially raw blanched almonds that are finely ground. You can find it in the bulk flour section at your co-op, local natural foods grocery or Whole Foods Market &/or Bob’s Red Mill, for instance, sells it packaged in the baking section of most grocery stores. You will find that almond meal is pricey! But worth it.
My recipe for frangipane does contain a dash of almond essence – which I must point out is not necessary. It’s a matter of availability & personal preference (i.e. I really enjoy the pronounced taste of almonds!) One of my baking mentors said that when in France, almond extract is not used in a true frangipane since some people think that it overpowers the natural pungency of the almond flour. Another thing to note is that my recipe uses turbinado sugar (raw cane sugar), which can be easily substituted with regular granulated sugar. I just happen to really enjoy the subtle flavour of this type of sugar; not to mention, I love the crunch of this sugar when it’s topping scones or muffins.
I decided to do a pear-frangipane tart (the stonefruits that I love aren’t in season yet & I opted for a pretty organic Bartlett over apples). & besides, apples make me think it’s autumn – it’s mid-May afterall! But substitute as you’d like (: I myself cannot wait till plums & peaches are in season..
2 oz (¼ C) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 oz (¼ C) turbinado sugar
1 whole egg
5 oz (¾ C) almond meal
1 T all-purpose flour
a dash of salt, vanilla extract &/or almond essence
While creaming the room temperature butter & turbinado sugar until fluffy, set aside a bowl of the almond meal, all-purpose flour tablespoon & salt. No need to panic if the turbinado sugar granules do not dissolve completely; it’s frangipane! It will be fine. Incorporate the egg + essences into the sugar + butter mixture until well-combined. Fold in the dry ingredients until the mixture is well-combined & smooth. This yields about a cup & a half of frangipane – if you have excess, it can keep in the fridge for about a week. You can even freeze it & keep it for longer!
I figure that if you don’t have a tart dough recipe that you enjoy using, here’s one that I use. It’s from Smitten Kitchen! I first used it when I made some pumpkin chiffon pie on the fly at my parents’ last Thanksgiving – I was happy to try something new out & the results were fantastic. Making tart dough is less daunting than one would presume; it can be made via a stand-mixer, pastry blender, steel dough scraper or even a fork! My only advice about utilizing the stand mixer for this is that you must not walk away from it while it’s paddling away in action.. Elsewise your dough will be overmixed & that would be really unfortunate!
from Smitten Kitchen, more or less.
2 ½ C all-purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 t sea salt
1 C (8 oz) unsalted cold butter, cut into cubes
Cut the butter into the dry (in this case, the tablespoon of sugar is considered part of the dry) until well incorporated, to the consistency of coarse damp crumbly sand (how else to describe this?) A few pea-sized bits of butter is deemed fine! Drizzle some ice-cold water (about half a cup) while combining (use a wooden spoon or spatula for this, then knead with your hands last, as you don’t want the warmth of your hands to warm the dough much). When the mixture holds together but is still craggy, I would say that the dough is ready! Form into flat disks (depending on the size of your tart or pie shell) & plastic wrap them. Put in the refrigerator to chill for about 45 minutes (or if you are in a pinch for time, in the freezer, for about 20 minutes, depending on thickness). If you have an excess of tart dough; just double plastic wrap it & put it in the freezer. It will keep for a couple of months (surely you’ll make use of it before too long, eh?)
ASSEMBLING THE FRANGIPANE TART
Roll out your tart dough to an even quarter-inch thickness & press it into your tart tin. Dock along the bottom & along the sides. If you have your frangipane ready, fill the shells about 3 tablepoons or so each; spread the filling evenly. At this point, thinly slice your fruit of choice into your desired sections. Typically, one would either fan the slices or just slightly overlap them atop of the frangipane. Whichever way you’d like, honestly. Egg wash the tops of the fruit & the exposed tart crust edges; sprinkle with sugar & chill the assembled tarts in the fridge for about 15 minutes while your oven is pre-heating to 375ºF. Once your oven is ready; take your tarts & place them on a sheetpan & bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy!
Happy May. I am putting up this post amidst a very hectic time of long work days, time spent on my bicycle traversing some neat trails, decompressing on the beach & sporadic outings. Life is good & very busy!
I am trying not to fall away from posting but I will admit that it has been a while (okay, maybe four to five weeks ago?!) since I posted last – it is about a week into May afterall! Speaking of May, it’s funny how a lot of the locals here bemoan ‘spring’ & complain that it’s more like “April flowers & May showers”. Despite of a random passing of the Santa Ana winds last week (amounting to ~90º) – it’s been overcast, a bit windy & even raining – if you know me; you know that I am loving it!
Thanks to an Earth Day community event that I chanced upon, I had the opportunity to sow an herb garden! This is something that I’ve always wanted to do but had always lacked the space & accessibility to sunlight.
In Seattle, I had always managed to kill plants.. But I am finding that constant care & attention (water+sunlight) are key to their survival (this is common sensical I know but really!). I love growing them; it’s so amazing to see them come from such tiny seeds & flourishing. I look forward to being able to harvest them. I’ve also sown radishes – it’s all very exciting to me! Something about the little seedlings sprouting.
I’ve also got rosemary & lavender coming along; though they aren’t are lively as these three at the moment! Any advice about patio planting? Please share as I am clearly a novice. What’s everyone else planting? (: