cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A bit of Travel Writing

Salty Sunday of Philosophical MusingFriends--I can call you friends, after all you're crazy enough to keep coming back to poke a nosy eye into my life, ergo we're friends. And now it is time for Salty Sunday; a moment of philosophical prose. lucky you. It is time for a house clarification: there are three main components of the Salty Cod: fancy pants baked goods, photography, and travel writing. It says it right there in the header. Often the last is forgotten though. We have never been nor ever will be uniquely a food blog. Sometimes food sometimes travel, and sometimes neither? Perhaps this removes me slightly from the community, but what can i do; i'm a slashy.

About a month ago i wrote this article for a travel writing contest on ah-ha moments. I knew i would not win as i exceeded the 200 word count by nearly double. what can i do, i'm a brat. But perhaps on this Salty Sunday of Philosophical Musing, i should resurrect it for someone other than a rejection inbox to read. I will preface it by letting you into something personal; i miss Brasil and what i left in it so much that it hurts.

Under the Stars in Ouro Preto
What a bloody tourist town. We walked past the main square, Tiradentes, as a group of tourists crowded around a gaggle of street performers syncing a drum beat. Tonight was not my mood for entertainment. In our hands were plastic cup caipirinhas purchased from a sticky floored locals-only bar; half the price but twice the flavor. One block past the square—all was deserted. We climbed the stone wall surrounding the Cathedral, Aleijadinho's masterpiece. Are we allowed to sit here? No one near to stop us. I looked at the sky while swinging my legs against the centuries old brick; “you know,” I began with a slight hiccup, “I see the same moon in lets see...where is the big dipper?” “The big what?” my accomplice replied. I stopped short—ah yeah, southern hemisphere. i had forgotten I was somewhere else. How the hell does an American forget that they are in Brasil. So we have the same moon, but different stars. A connection yet a cut. It looks like the difference is merely in the details; big picture little picture. “I don't know what is a dipper,” he went on, “but there are, others you can see...” he resolved as he pointed ubiquitously “up” toward the constellations whose distances, in reality, dwarf our own perceived continental chasms into minute scales of nothingness. My eyes filled and began to salt my caipirinha. Was a bit too sweet anyway. Why do i feel no pangs of homesickness. I looked again to the moon, the same moon, and I knew I was not so far away; how could one feel homesick whilst in their own backyard.
Revelations: The medical test for the feeling of place is simple: if when stabbed with the realization of being far from home there occurs no pain or remorse at or around the injection site—then the diagnosis is that you are home already. Ah-ha.
I scraped the last crystals of sugar off the bottom of my cup. That was the strongest mojito i've ever had. I slid off the stone wall, I won't feel it on my bare legs until tomorrow. For a tropical country, Brazilian winter nights are pretty damn chilly. But enough with the stars, my lemony lips tell me. In a cobblestone town, you have to watch where you place your feet; eyes to the ground, and give me your hand. It is now time to walk home.

A bientot

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Boston Cream...Tea Cakes

What's So Boston about it Anyways?

Confession: I have never, ever, consumed or created a Boston Cream Pie--though i have always been a fan of the yoplait of the same name. But until today, i didn't even know what the trifled layers consisted of. So since confessions are being made; i will admit one more: i've never actually been to Boston either, Holyoke and Amherst are as close as i've gotten. But guess what; though i don't give a damn about baseball, i own a redsox cap and curse the yankees. And Boondock Saints--that's a quality film. So though i've never been, Boston definately deserves some love. And who cares if a Boston Cream Pie is merely a dumpy yellow cake mid-layered with a basic vanilla cream custard, and topped with chocolate sauce; everybody's gotta start with something. So let's make it a little more stereotypically Boston, if you know what i mean. With tea and liquor. Now that's what i'm talkin about.

The Boston Cream Pie carries the name for the sole reason that it was first created in a hotel kitchen in Boston, and according to Wikipedia that hotel was the Parker House Hotel (Bobby Flay was just going on about some biscuit rolls of the same name....i'm haunted) by a French pastry chef named Sanzian (apparently sans prenom). After learning that the pie was merely layers of yellow sponge cake, vanilla custard, and chocolate--i was somewhat dissapointed. Custard and a cake? Hmm, well, not much of a challenge there (sorry Sanzian). But the Salty Cod won't settle for basic bakery mediocrity, no. No, we insist on mucking around with classics that have held their own against the test of time--until now.

Thanks to Christy, Aussie pastry chef of 5 Types of Sugar, we have a couple of boxes of high quality black tea leaves--untaxed no less. To incorporate the leaves into the yellow cake, the milk and butter used were steaped in the leaves, that were also crushed into powder and incorporated in. Thus, we give you a tea-sponge. Boston and tea, can't get more cliche than that. Oh wait--yes we can. The vanilla custard is a little bland; Irish cream liquer mixed in? yes please.

Boston Cake:
ingredients: 1 cup flour ~ 2 eggs ~ .5 cup sugar ~ 3 tbsp butter ~ .25 cup milk ~ 1 tsp baking powder ~ pinch of salt ~ 1tsp vanilla ~ lose leaf tea

method: 1) sift flour and baking powder together 2) boil butter and milk in a small sauce pan, add tea leaves and steap 3) beat sugar and eggs in mixer, add flour and milk mixture. pour into lined baking sheet (this is a flat cake, you cut circles out of it) bake at 325 for 10~15 minutes. cool, and cut circles.

Cream: Martha Stewarts vanilla custard cream + 2 tbsp Irish Cream.
Chocolate: boil heavy cream and poor over dark chocolate.

Assemble: using pastry rings (or aluminum foil and duct tape) layer cake, cream, cake, and top with chocolate. freeze until set, and then paint top with gold dust.

We do intend to go to Boston some day--someday. I've visited my sister who studies at Mt. Holyoke, but, as anyone will testify--Holyoke is no Boston. But it's nice for, well, for studying, and breaking into churches after hours--but that's another story. A Boston Cream Pie has nothing to do with Boston; but it has everything to do with a Salty Cod afternoon of baking to get through....well, life. Boston Cream Cakes to pass the time away instead of looking out the window in a dream; busy yourself to make the missing of another lessen. Damn i need a job already...but i believe this Boston Cream shenanigans desserves further investigation: my editor and i will have to take take a business trip there someday soon--and get back to you on our findings.

In the words of Holy Golightly and Fred-Baby: The British are coming the British are coming! But in this case, the Brazilians. -exactly. oh how things come together.

And a word to our dear friend and Associate S--we at the Salty Cod want to tell you today, tomorrow, and the next day: cool story Hansel. so don' worry, be happy. i'll buy you a caipirinha.

a bientot

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Salty Cod Special

A Salty Poissant and a Frozen Banana Mousse

Is a fish taco shaped like a fish? no. So does bread shaped like a fish taste like fish? Not this time. Every time i interview a baker or bakery owner, i methodically ask (as does every one in the business) so, what's your specialty? the best seller? what is the self named product? After posing the question a couple dozen times to others, the astoundingly obvious though blatantly ignored fact finally hit me in the face: what the hell is my specialty? Oh right, i don't have one. But i need one? Yes. Magazines and food writers always focus on the one show stopping killer at each joint, so we gotta start experimenting with this now, while we're still young nobodies. Young? Yes. I'm younger than you. And we have a fish croissant now, or rather a poissant. on y va.

I had an unlucky run with polenta the other day, much trickier than it seems. Therefore we were very anxious for this one to work, two slips is a lost audience. Flipping through The Bread Bible, looking for the type of bread that would best hold the fish shape, we fell on croissants. of course, croissants, c'est francaise, pourquoi je ne la pas pense? Did you know we spent a year living in Paris. we did. But can you shape a croissant like a fish? We shall see, never made a croissant before...never made puff pastry before....gulp.

Have you ever attempted this type of pastry dough? No? good for you. It's a bitch. It takes how many turns and at how much time in the fridge in between? gawwwww. But, baking for adventure, relaxation, and stress release (yes, i synonymed myself, poets license) caters the allowance for 9 hours, right? right. just keep telling yourself that. The process from start to finish was indeed 9 hours, and they turned out "alright" as croissants, however not as flaky and a little denser than i would have liked. meh. First times just mean that the next will be better. I turned the dough four times, refrigerating 40 minutes between each turn, but it is a bit hot and muggy here, and my man-handling of the final rolled dough into freeform cut fish perhaps made it a bit overworked. I learn from my mistakes. Regardless, the scaly (flaky) wrigglers emerged from the oven tasting as croissant like as possible. good thing too, because they were made with wheat bran and parmesan cheese. yes.

You know i can't do anything exactly according to directions. So i put wheat bran in it. Take that you age old perfected French pastry technique! All it does is give it a look of a robbins egg. The main taste difference in the Poissant, is the half cup of parmesan cheese massaged into the butter square. A cheese croissant. Like a pao de queijo, but not. The chewy flaky cheesy croissant shaped like a fish; that is our special. At least it is until we make fish shaped dinner rolls.

Banana mousse has nothing to do with the fish biscuit. It was a leftover dud from the polenta dissaster, don't ask. Well, poissants for the next dawn's breakfast, which is a summer breakfast, so banana mousse....frozen! much nicer in photos. I do all this for the photos. you do know that right.

ingredients: 2 cups flour ~ 3 tbsp wheat bran ~ 12oz butter ~ 1/2 cup ground parmesan cheese ~ 1.5 tsp yeast ~ 2 tbsp sugar ~ 1 tsp salt ~ 3/4 cup tepid milk ~ an egg for the wash

method: 1) mix flour, sugar, and yeast THEN salt (you will murder the yeast if you don't mix it first) then with the dough hook, mix at slow speed while you add the milk, once all wet, mix on #4 (kitchenaide) for 4 minutes. 2) greese a bowl, cover and rise 30 minutes, then refrigerate for 2 hours. 3) make butter square: sprinkle bran and a tbsp of flour on plastic wrap, then plop down butter (soft) and cover with another peice of wrap. massage until you make a sqaure ~4.5 inches. refrigerate, but not until its hard, just dont let it melt. 4) roll out dough to a square, and splace the butter sqaure inide at an angle offset, then fold over the dough edges to make an envelope around the butter, and seel with water. refrigerate for 30 minutes, then roll out, fold in half, press down, and refrigerate for 40 minutes. repeat 4 times. 5) Roll out, cut into fish, arrange on lined baking sheet, and refrigerate for 2 hours. bake at 400F for 20 minutes, rotating after 10.

Frozen Banana mousse:
ingredients: 2 bananas ~ 1.25cups heavy cream ~ 2tbsp cointreau ~ .25 cup sugar ~ 1tbsp water ~ 2 gelatin leaves ~ 1 lemon, squeezed

method: 1) soften gelatin in water 2) puree bananas, sugar, cointreau and lemon, add soft gelatin. 3) whip cream to soft peaks, gently fold in puree mixture, and pipe into a mold, bowl, or form that can be frozen. then freeze.

Perhaps it is time, after two years of gaining, losing, mixing, and holding readers from various coordinates around the globe, that we spend a moment on our namesake. Why would anyone ever name a bakery The Salty Cod? Well, the cod, morue, bacalhau--what have you, is a guide. He keeps you going straight on your course, or he makes sure he breaks you from it. He is the scapegoat when you can't explain how your life has taken you to this present day. He is to blame when you do what appears a "crazy" act in the eyes of the world; the cod made me do it! Crazy is in the eye of the beholder, if we were endowed with cod eyes, following what you want would not seem such a crazy concept. But we don't have cod eyes. That is why we must trust that he knows where he is leading us. Even if you don't know what you want, he does. So follow him.

a bientot.