Archive for October, 2011

Round Peg, Square Hole

October 18th, 2011 | Rachel

Square Cake?

It’s amazing what a difference following directions can make.  Having rated that last yellow cake recipe a lowly C-, I decided to give it one more try, this time using the instructed quantities of milk and eggs.

The result was a very tasty and moist cake, although it felt a little bit gritty.  I have a 5 lb bag of organic cake flour coming in the mail this week, and I am curious to taste and feel the difference.  FYI, if you find yourself in need of cake flour and only have all-purpose flour, cornstarch and a flour sifter on hand, I find the ratio of seven parts all-purpose flour to one part cornstarch sifted together at least once to be a perfectly decent substitute.

Speaking of flour sifters, does anyone know the proper way to wash them?  I’ve been rinsing mine, but I hate the little hardened pieces of flour that get trapped inside.

Steve and I have less than a week until our California trip, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I think I am still a little traumatized from my last job when it comes to planned vacations.  With that job, no matter how far ahead a trip was planned, there was always this lurking fear that something would come up and the trip would either have to be cancelled or I’d have to spend half the time typing away on my laptop.  That never happened to me, of course, but I heard stories.

I was recently reminded of a fateful weekend back in 2010 when I decided to take Steve on a last minute trip to Nova Scotia for the Fourth of July weekend.  The plane tickets were going to be $800 each, but I cashed in some frequent flyer miles and found us a beautiful lodge up in Cape Breton.

A couple of days before the trip, I got an email at work looking for a few extra people to work on a document review project.  I needed the extra hours, so I volunteered for the project and explained at the meeting that I was going to be out of town for the weekend but would work as much as I could before I left and after I got back.

Apparently, I was expected to either cancel my trip or spend all of my time in my hotel room reviewing documents because I got a scathing “I’m disappointed in you” email from the partner when the project was over and an even more scathing review at the end of the year — one that the practice group leader made sure I never forgot.  It didn’t matter that my other reviews and day-to-day feedback (on projects that were actually substantive) were overwhelmingly positive.

For a long time, I looked back at that experience with mixed emotions.  I felt I had made the right choice, but I knew within the context of being an associate at a large law firm it was the wrong choice.  When things started to unravel at the beginning of 2011, part of me wished I had played it safe so I would have gotten a big end-of-the-year bonus (the denial of which was attributed to that very same negative review) and job security.

Only recently did I realize that the decision to go on that trip isn’t quite the albatross that I’ve been making it out to be in my head.  As some of you know, I am an avid traveler (this year alone I’ve been to China, Tibet, Nepal, Taiwan, and France, in addition to California wine country with my mom and Yellowstone with my brother), and one of the ways that I have traveled so much is I have made it a top priority ever since I took a three-week trip to Australia and New Zealand when I was 18.  I still plan on living abroad one day.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about working at a law firm, but being too afraid (and overworked) to make vacation plans — as most people seemed to be — isn’t the kind of life I want to live.  Life is too short for that :-)  So, as it turns out, making the decision to go to Nova Scotia with Steve wasn’t me sacrificing my cushy, New York law firm job.  It was me choosing to stay on my own path and not get trapped on someone else’s.

Now that I have been away from that job for six months, I am started to see a completely different future take shape ahead of me.  It might not be as lucrative, but it is going to be a whole lot more fulfilling.

Stay tuned.

Hiking in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia


A Moose!


Driving the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Sunset in Nova Scotia

Follow The Yellow (Cake) Road To Bakerytown

October 4th, 2011 | Rachel


Although I haven’t been writing about it the past month or so, Operation West Coast Bakery is in full effect.  There are about a thousand things that need to be done, but right now I am focusing on recipe development and educating myself in the area of business management.

For the latter, I am reading this book, which has proven to be a great overview of the necessary steps and components to opening a small business:

I have also begun the process of developing my recipes.

The owner of the Three Green Ducks told me her business started with her recipes, and she has made product quality a top priority ever since.  It’s taken 20 years to get where they are now, but the bakery has earned itself a dedicated repeat customer base and are regularly ranked the “best of” in New York City.

I agree with this approach, and therefore I have drafted a preliminary list of recipes that need to be perfected:

Like the Three Green Ducks, my bakery is going to focus on classic American baking.  I’ve done a little bit of market research to see what other kinds of bakeries currently exist near the area Steve and I think we want to live, and so far I’ve only found a few large-scale baking operations with a decidedly European influence.

My favorite item on the menu so far is the puddings.  I’m going to start with chocolate pudding, but the plan is to offer a standard selection of puddings (vanilla, butterscotch, etc.) and rotate a menu of more interesting flavors.  I think pudding might be on the verge of a comeback.  I said the same thing about pie when I was in law school, and I was right about that.  It’s too bad chocolate pudding is so far down on my list.

I figured one of the most basic bakery recipes is yellow cake, so that is where I am starting.  I collected a number of yellow cake recipes that received rave reviews and put them into a chart so I can compare the proportions of each ingredient.  With the exception of baking soda and in one case buttermilk, they all use the same ingredients but in markedly different amounts.

As an additional step, I had to learn the volumes of the different pans so I could take that into account when comparing the recipes.  Who knew baking was so scientific and mathematical (other than Alton Brown and America’s Test Kitchen)?

The makings of yellow cake

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be sharing my bakery recipes with you.  Its trade secrets, so I hope you understand.  I will still be mixing in some french cooking into the blog and maybe some other random recipes, and those I will definitely be sharing.

The paranoid lawyer in me is nervous about sharing any information about the bakery.  I’ve actually come up with a name and a prototype for a logo, but I am still weighing the pros and cons of publishing it this early in the game.  If anyone has thoughts on that matter, I would love to hear them.

First attempt at yellow cake

I’ve always been a little intimidated by made-from-scratch cakes.  The boxed cake industry has done a great job artificially creating super moist cake mixes that are hard to recreate texture-wise with just the traditional ingredients.  Fortunately for us bakers, the flavor of the boxed mixes can’t compare to the real deal.  And that is why we take the more labor-intensive road and make our cakes from scratch.

That being said, my first recipe wasn’t dry at all.  I was making half of a recipe and failed to notice that the full recipe called for 8 egg yolks.  I used four whole eggs in my half recipe.  The result was a very eggy but moist cake.  I also left my cake pans at my apartment (right now I am living at Steve’s apartment), and I tried using a ceramic dish.  This clearly effected the way it baked.  Ceramic is good for recipes that need to be slow-cooked — like pies.  I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect cakes benefit from the fast cooking of metal pans.

Perhaps I’ll add that to my list of variables to test.

If you are in the New York City area, there will be some tasting parties in a month or two after I have some recipes figured out.  Stay tuned.

Between this and working at the Three Green Ducks, I need to join a gym.