Wednesday, July 13, 2011

WA Berries

In Seattle at this very moment, you can get some utterly amazing berries. This week for instance, I saw the emergence of blueberries, raspberries and these beauties (above) red currents. For those of you who haven't experienced these they are really quite tart, and the seeds are quite large. They kinda remind me of pomegranate seeds, as they are lovely and juicy. Last year I made Bar-le-duc out of red currents but I found the seeds pretty overwhelming. So this year, rather then make a confiture, I decided to treat them like pomegranate seeds and add them to greens. 

As for strawberries (which have been around since the beginning of the month) I'm not sure people realize how many varieties are really out there. I have seen (and tasted) Shuksons (AMAZING - buy if you see these guys!), Totem, Puget and Albion. They all vary in size, consistency and taste (especially in intensity of flavor and amount of tartness). My favorites (so far - although I am waiting for the Hood variety) is the Shukson variety (as if you couldn't tell from my exclamation point above!). They were sweet, incredibly flavorsome and a good size. I made a strawberry and rhubarb jam from them, and they were so flavorsome and sweet that they completely neutralized the tartness of the rhubarb. However, the flavor is so good that I really didn't mind. 

If you're in the state of WA - specifically the Western part, seriously get out there and get some berries because they are just magnificent at the moment. Thank you farmers - you are loved!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pump up the Jam: Strawberry Mint Jam & Strawberry Rhubarb

Being obsessed with fruit since a young kid (fresh strawberries squished on rye bread with a sprinkle of sugar), blueberries and cream on a simple sponge cake base, going cherry picking and eating as many as I could before we got tired, and working in a fruit and veg shop for many years before I came to America I have learned to seriously appreciate seasonal fruit. 

Seattlites have been waiting and waiting for some sort of berry to come to the markets for many weeks now, but the past two weeks have been strawberry weeks. Early varieties are available, not as sweet or flavorful as some later ones ("Hood" strawbs are the BEST <- underlined and bolded) sweet, full bodied, rich and so much "strawberry" packed in a little bundle. But, while I wait a few weeks for those guys to come into their peak I have been making some jams out of local strawberries. The latest are: strawberry & rhubarb and strawberry mint. 

Strawberry rhubarb is amazing. I have to admit I never had this combo until I came to the USA, but let me tell you, the American's were onto something. You have tart and sweet all at once, just the way I like it. I also decided to make a strawberry mint jam. It's a slow cooked jam with no pectin added, instead the berries are left to macerate in sugar and lemon juice overnight so the juice of the berries is removed from the fruit. I then let this cook down on a very gentle simmer for a couple of hours, and perhaps at two hours in I added some fresh mint leave and then a couple of grinds of pepper. It's a tart, rich and refreshing jam. 

I'll be making plenty more jams as the seasons progress, I'm looking forwards to integrating some good local wines into my jams as well. I have some good baking ahead!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mushroom Tart

I was talking to a friend last week, and she expressed disappointment in the fact that all I have on this blog is macarons. Sorry Deniz! Instead, today I decided to write a quick write up about a tart I made for dinner on Monday night. It was pretty darn tasty. 

At Lake Forest Park Farmers Market there is a vendor there who sells foraged things (hence where I got the fern fronts a few posts back). But, this week they were selling freshly foraged morel mushrooms. They are sublime if you can clean them well enough. He suggested that you put it in a bowl of water and sort of let them sit there for a moment to wash the bits of sand out of the folds. I've always wanted to hunt for morels, but I'm pretty new to the whole mycology thing so the past year I didn't get out in time to forage. This year is nuts, so I haven't had any time. However, it's awesome to have access to some lovely mushrooms, even when I don't get the chance to find them for myself. 

Back to the tart. It's a mushroom tart. It contains the wonderful morel, white mushrooms, and crimmini mushrooms for a local store. I made a pate brisee crust and while that was doing it's thing in the freezer, I cleaned and sliced them and sauteed them with a bit of olive oil, salt and some shallots. Then I made custard out of eggs from the farmers market, creme fraiche from the market and some milk from another farmers market (I know, how many markets can I visit in a week?!). I seasoned it and added some fresh thyme, then quickly grated some parmesan over the layered mushrooms, and that's it. 

A lovely dinner with a giant salad of fresh red leaf lettuce and lemon dressing from, you guessed it the farmers market. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sourcing: Transparency

One of the reasons I started this business was about control. Sure, I am a control freak, I'll totally admit to that, I want to make what I want to make, and how I want to make it.  But I also really want to be conscientious about my product, and in doing so I'm incredibly picky about my ingredients. I've decided to be completely open and transparent about my ingredients, where they come from and why I chose them. This is up-to-date as of today, but in the future it may change.

My almonds come from the Californian supplier Mandelin who use almonds supplied by Vetsch Farms of California. They are not organic, but they use a method of pest control called "Integrated Pest Management" or IPM. It's not the greatest method, but it is a environmentally sensitive approach to pest management (see more about IPM at: 

My powdered sugar comes from "Wholesome Sweeteners". It is both organic and fair trade, and I buy it because of this and the fact that the type I use doesn't use the typical corn starch, but uses tapioca starch. 

My sugar, I use conventional sugar, C&H to be precise. I have used organic and fair trade sugar before, I just find that when I make caramel that the added color (slightly brown) confuses my sense of caramel! It also has a molasses taste that I don't want in the macarons. 

My egg whites come from two places, Wilcox farms, and Organic Valley. Wilcox is a transition farm, meaning that it is on it's way to becoming certified organic (cage free). It is also Salmon Safe and certified Humane, and it is local they are located in Roy, WA.  Organic Valley is a large supplier of egg whites, they are certified Organic by Oregon Tilth. 

Food coloring, I know this is a quite a contentious issue at the moment. I use conventional food coloring, not natural at all. The reason for this is unfortunate. I would love to use all natural food coloring, I really would and have experimented with it. Unfortunately, there is a reaction between the food coloring and the  egg whites. This reaction means that when I go to whisk my egg whites, the food coloring makes them collapse, and not whisk to the meringue consistency. So, at this point in time I use conventional food coloring. 

Butter, I use Wholefoods 365 Organic butter in my butter creams. However, I do use different butter as well, it depends on price and convenience.

My cream comes from Organic Valley.  It is certified Organic, part of a food co-op and last but not least it tastes good, and is widely available.  

I have so many other ingredients, that change all the time. My chocolate however mostly comes from the Swiss chocolate maker "Felchlin". They pay more than fair trade prices to farmers, they know where their cocoa beans originate, they also disassociate themselves from those farms that use child labour (they only purchase from farms that comply with the International Labor Standards in regards to child labor. They also produce awesome chocolate and cocoa powder, so I'm very happy using their products. 

As for other ingredients, I have no issue discussing where they come from, or how they were produced. I think it is incredibly important to be aware of where things come from, and that price not just be the bottom line, but to make conscientious decisions based on facts, as far as I can know them. 

Menu for the week:
-Orange and Rhubarb (Rhubarb from Five Acre Farms). It's a rhubarb jam cooked with orange zest and fresh orange juice. It has a dollop of orange buttercream in the center.
(Almonds, organic fair trade powdered sugar (cane sugar, tapioca starch), sugar, egg whites, food coloring, rhubarb, orange zest, orange juice, organic butter, organic cream, orange oil).

-Chocolate Ganache (a 65% 'Better than Fair Trade' chocolate from the Swiss Chocolate maker Felchlin). Rich and lovely.
(Almonds, organic fair trade powdered sugar (cane sugar, tapioca starch), sugar, egg whites, food coloring, cocoa powder, 65% bittersweet chocolate (contains soy lecithin), organic cream, organic butter, salt).

-Lemon and Rosemary. A rich lemon buttercream, with fresh rosemary integrated into the shell.
(Almonds, organic fair trade powdered sugar (cane sugar, tapioca starch), sugar, egg whites, food coloring, organic lemon, organic cream, organic rosemary, organic butter, lemon oil).

-Mocha Ganache (coffee is the Organic Santa Teresa Estate Pacamara from Perkins Roasting Company)
A complex combination of bittersweet chocolate and freshly roasted coffee. Not too bitter, a good balance with a nice kick!
(Almonds, organic fair trade powdered sugar (cane sugar, tapioca starch), sugar, egg whites, dehydrated coffee, cocoa powder, 65% bittersweet chocolate (contains soy lecithin), organic cream, organic butter, salt).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Risky Business: Black Licorice Caramel

In part starting this whole business thing was to try and keep me engaged and interested in what I make (also I'm a control freak so umm yeah). With this I have risks. Like this weeks experiment with Black Licorice Caramel Macarons (the above photo). I love black licorice, adore it so I personally have no issue adding that flavor to a whole lot of things, but, and here it gets risky; how many other people actually like black licorice in America? I have to admit it seems to be rather limited. 

I have a friend Lisa, who told me and also gave me some caramels that were licorice caramels and I thought they were absolutely delicious. So I thought that I would use the same idea in a macaron. A simply caramel (sugar, cream, butter, salt) and add some pure anise oil to the mix. 

The test this week: how many people will buy it? My suspicion, very few. BUT, I'm thinking that the few who do find it will be awfully excited about it (just like I would be). 

We'll see!

The menu this week: 
Homemade Rhubarb Jam (5 acre Farm WA)
Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache ('Better than Fair Trade' chocolate)
Zesty Lemon Buttercream (organic butter, organic cream, organic and fair trade confectioners sugar) and
Black Licorice Caramel (organic butter, organic cream)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Asparagus, I adore you!

Seriously I loovvee asparagus. It is chewy and juicy, it can be smoky, sweet, pungent and salty.  Right now (and I mean 'right' now ladies and gentleman) is asparagus season in Washington State, and I have consumed close to five pounds of it in the past couple of weeks. 

Tonight I decided to continue the asparagus theme. So I decided to make a simple tart out of the stuff I had in my fridge/freezer. This consisted of some good quality puff pastry (good quality = butter + flour and maybe some salt. But that's the type of good puff that I like), some asparagus, some stinky cheese, a couple of onions and some fiddle head fern bits.  All the produce has come from the local farmers markets, so pretty top stuff. 

 I love to caramelize onions, as I feel they always add a nice slightly sweet base to any savory dish without adding too much texture. The asparagus was roasted with some olive oil and a bit of salt for 15 min, then I sauteed the fiddleheads in some nice cultured butter. 

To construct I placed (rather messily I totally admit) the puff in my tart ring, layered a whole lotta cheese on the bottom, placed the onions, then asparagus and fiddleheads. I sprinkled it lightly with salt then Josh helped me make a quick cream custard (cream + eggs + salt + pepper = custard) I poured it over the top. 

It is baking as we speak ... I have tasted the components separately - and they are all pretty tasty. So my guess is that the tart will be pretty delicious!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First Markets

Wow, what a reception. I really had such incredibly low expectations about who was going to buy my product that I was incredibly delighted to find that people were a. really curious about it or b. very excited about finding macarons. So thank you everyone who came and checked out the stall!

I had a blast selling them, although I had forgotten how fatiguing customer service can be, it was great to be able to gauge how much people liked the product because they were right (literally) in front of me. I always find the kids the most telling though - it's all about whether they can keep eating it after the first bite or not. 

This past week I made 4 types of macarons, which I think is a good number (a good variety and I can experiment enough to keep myself interested!). So I'll keep the 4 macaron varieties per week. 

This past week I made:
 Hazelnut Buttercream Macaron,
 Fleur de Sel Caramel Macaron, 
 Bitter Sweet Chocolate Ganache Macaron and 
 Fresh From the Market Rhubarb Jam Macaron. 

My personal faves amongst that lot were the Fleur de Sel and the Rhubarb. I think having grown up with my opa growing rhubarb and my nana cooking it has giving me a healthy regard for its good and bad qualities (sometimes they can overlap... I love the tartness, but sometimes it can be waaaayyy too much), but I do tend to like my rhubarb on the tart side, and I also incorporate a healthy dose of lemon zest for extra zing.

While at the markets I did keep a look out for rhubarb, but unfortunately I didn't find any. So this coming week at the markets I will be doing all dairy based fillings (verses a homemade jam which is dairy free). 

I'm hoping for sunshine! On Sunday it absolutely bucketed down, and was generally a tad sad and cold, so I plan on having sunshine and a little warmth on the weekend!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thank you!

Wow, the trials and tribulations of starting a food business in the lovely state of Washington. 

I thought it would be easier - but I have learned a ton in the past year about organization and most of all persistence. I'm pretty nervous about selling my product - one that I have invested so much thought, effort and time into and having people choose to or not to invest in it. However, there have been some awesome people who have really helped make it easier:

Josh you are one of course! My Mum, my mother-in-law Jane, Jenny of "Jenny the Pie Lady" who has always been so encouraging, my friends Ayumi, Tricia, Lisa and Deniz who have been listening to me talk about this for a seriously long time! My baking buddy Jamie - why did you have to move to Texas?! my old boss Elena (of the awesome choc. shop GrendelSweets - I know shameless plug, but their chocolates are really lovely)- so thank you all so so very much, because let me tell you this has been no easy task, as I am not usually one to take a lot of risk (or any really...). But here I am, on the cusp of starting the markets.

I was talking to a baking buddy yesterday actually about a project we had to do in Baking school. It was the crappy "5 year plan" assignment. We were told to try and figure out what we wanted to do in a five year period, and my plan was to sell tarts at a farmers market as I've always loved to make tarts. We were also required to interview someone that we admired in the industry to ask advice. This is where Jenny comes in. I had been eying of her beautiful pies for quite some time (huge, medieval looking pies like the ones that little blackbirds would pop out of) and so I asked her to be my interviewee....In other words, I'm pretty close to where I hoped I would be in 5 years. Maybe not tarts, but with another product that I find satisfying and challenging to make; French Macarons. 
I think I need to say "thank you" to the people who have been reading this blog. It has been incredibly encouraging to read the comments and support people have shown me, and it has certainly kept me baking. 

So here is to a new chapter - let's see where it leads!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Quick: Memories of Australia

I've been traveling around quite a lot recently. And one of the places I went was my hometown Melbourne, Australia. At the risk of sounding like a tourist advertisement it's a beautiful city. 

above - the Vic Market

They have some seriously good bakeries, some hippy (organic, local etc), some traditional (Italian bakeries with hundreds of different biscuits, coffee and the ridiculously rich "European hot chocolate" thick enough to stand a spoon in it! well, not quite but it sounds like a good schtick to me!), and some good ol' Aussie bakeries. While I was there I managed to scarf down a good amount of hot cross buns (some good some not so good - I love the doughy kind,  to me a fail in the hot cross bun department is when it requires butter in order to appear good and doughy) but no vanilla slice (serious disappointment!)

The food scene is really nice there - so many places to eat, so much good food, and again I totally recognise I'm biased as hell - but I do love Melbourne.  

above - Hot Cross Buns from Prahran Market

We also went to Boston, Napa and Austin before the Aussie trip. I'm pretty exhausted from traveling and am eager to start the new business at the Farmers Markets in May (Yay!) We were going to go to Italy but decided against it due to well, I guess just being so tired from much travel within a 4 month period. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I have just finished a 9 month stint as a chocolatier at a awesome chocolate shop. I haven't really shown what I worked on in this blog yet, so I thought that I would briefly show some of the things I helped produce. 

This is a fleur de sel caramel - made without the use of corn syrup. Seriously delicious, and pretty satisfying to make really. 

The marzipan - simple but lovely. 

These were both slabbed and hand dipped. I did quite a lot of molded chocolates as well, butter creams and such. It was an interesting medium to work with as I had briefly done some chocolates at school, but never worked with chocolate that much. I learned nice tempering methods (ice bath!) and that you have to be in a good mood to work with chocolate, as I swear it can sense your weakness!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Business

I'm trying, yet again to begin a small business making food. Specifically I have decided to concentrate on baking French Macarons with various seasonal fillings (cherry, apricot, peach, sour plum) as well as some not so seasonal fillings ie. dark chocolate and Fleur de sel Caramel. My idea is that I will sell them at local farmers markets (as I love love LOVE the markets) and maybe do special commissions and such. 

I am currently underway to getting my commercial kitchen (note to self - HUGE expense), but I am looking forward to working in a space that a.) has natural light, and b.) has other people obsessed with food in it. I realize that I miss school for this reason, I love food talk, I love seeing food being made and learning how other people make it/consume it, so this part of the kitchen is a massive bonus for me, as is natural light obviously!

I have a facebook page for my business:

and a twitter account: LilliPilliBaked

So if you like a lot of food talk, and some picts about being obsessed with food, please join me on my new adventure. 

I plan on traveling quite a bit until June (Massachusetts, Hawaii, Australia and Italy) but June is my real starting date for the markets, but until then I will be concentrating on recipe testing, a whole lot of paper work, applications, exploring local bakeries and planing where to visit in those various locations. 

Thank you everyone for your support!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Macarons - Valentines Day

I made a ton of macarons for Valentines Day. They reminded me of my favorite ice cream I used to get as a kid:Neapolitan. I'm sure my grandparents bought it because having three grandkids meant that we were all bound to be pleased. And we were! I loved the strawberry, and I remember Jesse (my little brother) loved the chocolate. I'm not sure about my older brother, but I suspect it worked out that he liked vanilla. 

The flavors of these macarons were: beige = fleur de sel caramel (note to self: salt burns and looks blackish and weirdly peppery, so maybe don't do that next time...), the pink were raspberry filled with homemade jam and the brown were nutella with a nutella buttercream filling. 

This was a tough project. My oven broke (again, this is the 2nd time within three months and it makes me very sad!) but as I live in an apartment we have a shared kitchen space downstairs which I commandeered and so I dragged the sheet pans down 17 floors and baked in community kitchen in the middle of the night. At least these smell delicious!

I'm also finding the packaging a massive hassle. Who knew that there isn't any packaging in the States that suits macarons specifically, so I had to make do with what I found and make sure I lined them with food safe paper. 

This was a lot of work, but I'm pretty happy with the results!

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Heart Butter (specifically cultured butter)

I love butter, there is no hiding that fact. However, I'm pretty picky with the butter that I do consume, especially when I'm at home. For the past several months I have been making cultured butter at home. It takes a couple of days (mostly wait time) but the end results are pretty amazing.

Cultured butter is butter that has some cultures that are added to it to add flavor. I use a mesophilic lactic culture (lactic ferment) which thrives at room temp and imparts this amazingly buttery flavor to well, butter (people also add it to cheeses such as brie and camembert for the same buttery flavor). It's well worth the time and energy it takes.

As I really don't wish to lose this recipe I will document it here.

Cultured Butter (makes a ton of butter and buttermilk)
3 Lt Heavy Cream (I use organic)
Meso II or Aroma B starter culture

1. Cool cream to 14-16C in a cool water bath.
2. Add 1/8tsp culture and gently stir in.
3. Allow to ripen at 14-16C for 20 hours.
4. Place cream in fridge for 4-6 hours.
5. Pour into churn and allow temp to rise to 12C.
Churn at 12C it will take 15-30min. Don't let the temp increase too much (if it hits 13C cool down in cool water bath).
6. Strain butter through cheese cloth and squeeze out excess buttermilk (save the buttermilk!)
7. Knead the butter gently and remove excess buttermilk, add salt then pack the butter and put it away in the fridge.
It has a shelf life of around 4 weeks in the fridge or several months in the freezer.

Use the buttermilk for anything you would normally use it for (cakes, pancakes, scones, biscuits etc).