Results tagged Chez Panisse from David Lebovitz

Almond Cake

almond cake

Seeing as I don’t get out as much as I’d like to, I’ve never really thought about what would be my “desert island” cake. Or should I say “dessert island” cake? As in, what is the one cake that I would want with me if I couldn’t have any other kind. Chocolate figures largely into the equation, but as much as I love Chocolate Orbit Cake or a custard-filled Coconut Cake, I’d have to say that this Almond Cake would be the one that I would choose to sustain me through thick and thin.

We made almond cake at least once weekly when I baked at Chez Panisse, which I’ve adapted from one of my baking bibles, Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere. Lindsey was the executive pastry chef of the restaurant, and co-owner, since the beginning, and she told me she used cook and bake everything in a home oven stowed away in a shed behind the restaurant, which is those days, was akin to the backyard in Berkeley. I always imagine something like a kid’s rickety fort, except one that smelled a little better.

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How to Take Care of Your Knives

drying knives

I can deal with a lousy oven. I can use crummy cookware. And I’ll admit that I can bake a cake in a flimsy pan. But I refuse to use a dull knife. It’s not only that they’re hard to use, but a bad knife is downright unsafe. Some people are terrified of sharp knives when in fact, when used properly, they’re actually safer: Most people cut themselves when a knife slides off something they’re slicing rather than when it makes a clean cut right through it.

Professional cooks bring their own knifes to work and take care of them themselves. It’s something I still do to this day. And when I go away for a weekend to someone’s house in the country, if I plan to do any cooking (which I usually do), I bring along at least one knife of my own so I know I’ll have a good, sharp knife to cook with.

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My Favorite Cookbooks of 2009

I have a stack (actually, about four stacks) of cookbooks that arrived this year, many of them riddled with bookmarks for recipes. Some of them I managed to get to, presenting recipes on the blog or baking for friends and neighbors, and a few I didn’t get around to yet. In this year’s round up, I did sneak in a few recipes from favorite classics cookbooks in my collection, but there’s a nice representation from books that came out in 2009. Included are a few guidebooks that I found indispensable, plus I tossed in a couple of cookbooks that I’ve had my eye on, which are en route, that I’m looking forward to getting dusty with flour, and smudged with butter.

Here’s my annual round-up My Favorite Cookbooks from 2009:

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Rustic Fruit Desserts by Corey Schreiber and Julia Richardson

I met Corey Schreiber a decade or so ago when he launched a restaurant in San Francisco. Shortly afterward he moved up to Portland to re-connect with the outstanding ingredients of the Pacific Northwest. This best-selling book features everything from a lemon-swathed Blueberry Buckle to Caramel Apple Steamed Pudding with Ginger. But it’s the Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake that is sitting in my batter’s box (or batter box?) to try.

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New Flavors of Appetizers: Classic Recipes Redefined by Amy Sherman

I’m the first to admit that when I invite people for dinner, because I live in France, it’s easy to stop at the charcuterie for a few slices of country ham or hit the Arab market for a bag of salty olives. But Amy Sherman’s book is full of do-able recipes. I’m a bit fixated on her Baked Asparagus, Leek, and Goat Cheese Bites, and as soon as spring rolls back around, I’m going to tackle that one. In the meantime, there’s plenty to get me through the winter, like Olives and Feta Marinated in Lemon and Ouzo and Smoky Eggplant Dip with Cumin-Crusted Pita Chips.

I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita

I get so many inquiries about macarons that I had to compile a post of the best advice out there. (Making French Macarons.) But this little book, in English, promises a fool-proof method of making the little devils. Because of their popularity, I did a special write-up of I Love Macarons!, which offers more details about the book.

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Crêpes Dentelles

When I worked at Chez Panisse, we had a customer who would come for dinner several nights a week and eat downstairs in the kitchen. Jean lived by herself in San Francisco and took a cab across the bridge to Berkeley for dinner once or twice a week. When the waiters knew she was coming, they’d set up a small table next to the pastry department and she’d eat there. And because she was a generous soul, she’d treat her regular cabdriver to dinner upstairs in the café.

Other customers would come in and say, “How do I get to sit there?” I’m not sure what the attraction was, since we were all busy working, chugging water, tracing around, dishwashers hauling dishes, garbage and compost bins, but the concept caught on and eating in the kitchen became de rigeur for foodies. Oddly, for a while, whenever I went out for dinner and they knew me from the restaurant world, they’d always seat me near the kitchen, so I’d have a view of it. And I always asked if I could sit somewhere else. Who the heck wants to watch someone else work on their day off?

Jean was born and raised in San Francisco. Her parents were fur traders and they’d take long boat trips back and forth to Asia, and she and her sister would accompany them. During the long voyages, she told me, Jean and her sister would sit in the chef’s office and rifle through his cookbooks, picking out things for him to make.

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Warm Baked Goat Cheese

cheese plate

It’s funny, because some people get the impression that I don’t like where I live. Which is kind of strange, because I don’t understand why anyone would think that I’d live somewhere where there was a dearth of clothes dryers if I didn’t like it. And if you saw the paperwork that I have to fill out just to stay here, well, let’s just say that one really has to want to live here to plow through it all.

I’ve read a lot of books extolling what a glorious place Paris is, with tales of skipping along Left Bank streets, happily shopping for new shoes whenever the mood strikes, and resting in one of those cafés on the boulevard St. Germain sipping a $7 coffee.

They certainly paint a rosy view of the city. But then I realized something: The authors of those books no longer live here.

Like all cities, Paris is a real place. A lot of people understandably come here looking for old bistros and quaint cafés, often to find those kinds of place disappearing, or disappointing. Then they’ll step into La Maison du Chocolate, take a bite of a Rigoletto Noir, filled with caramelized butter mousse, and realize that life doesn’t get any better than that.

Sometimes I’ll be riding my bike around at night by the Seine, under the softly-glowing lights. I’ll look around, and think, “Paris is breaktakingly beautiful.” Other times, I’ll scratch my head when the bank tells me they have no change that day. Or stare at the pile of paperwork that’s arrived in the mail, filled with endless forms that need to be filled out, and think, “Can someone remind me why I moved here?”

Anyhow, I still live here and accept that like anywhere, Paris is a real city with its flaws and its fabulousness.

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Hidden Kitchen, Chien Lunatique, Spring & Frenchie

smoked trout

Three of the hottest, most sought-after tables in Paris are lorded over by les américains. A few are part of the “underground” dining scene, which seems to be a global phenomenon, another is a one-man show (for now), and the forth is a cozy little resto located in a back alley where a French chef, who trained mostly in America, is combining the best of both cultures.

Hidden Kitchen

When two young cooks moved to Paris from Seattle, they began hosting dinner parties in their apartment, which was stark and nowhere near as sumptuous as their current digs. I can’t tell you where it is, but once you reserve, you’ll be in the know soon enough.

Hidden Kitchen is now in a more luxe location and the open kitchen overlooks the dining table where a multi-course dinner is served, and ten courses isn’t unusual. The chefs head to the market beforehand to scope out what’s fresh, so you won’t know what’s on the all-inclusive menu until you arrive.

But the courses are small, impeccably fresh, and inventive. So you won’t leave feeling overstuffed. And multiple wines are poured to compliment the food. They’re booked months in advance, naturally, but you can also follow them on Twitter, where they post last-minute cancellations, if you want to be in-the-know.

UPDATE: As of October 2011, Hidden Kitchen is no longer operating. The owners have opened Verjus wine bar and restaurant in Paris, and you can visit them there.

Chien Lunatique

One of my most frequently asked questions is: “Hey David, do you know those two guys from Chez Panisse who….” and I cut them off right about there and finish the sentence for them, since I know what’s coming.

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Chocolate Biscotti Recipe

chocolate biscotti

The pastry department is always the most popular part of the kitchen amongst the rest of the staff. (Unless I’m in it, though. Then that’s debatable.) For one thing, anytime there’s a staff birthday, you’re called into service to make the cake. And since everyone has a birthday, folks are usually nice to you the other 364 days of the year. Another thing is that regular cooks like…no, love to snack on anything sweet.

Whenever I made biscotti, the ends and broken bits would end up on a plate in the pastry department, and almost immediately the staff would swoop down for the kill the moment the rounded end hit the plate.

After chewing for a moment, invariably, someone would always say, “You know…(pause)…I like biscotti better only once-baked.”

I’m sure they were certain I was hanging on to their every word, and how I managed to resist the urge to say, “So what?”—I’ll never know…

But since biscotti refers to being twice-baked in Italian, you can’t have biscotti unless they are, indeed-twice baked. I believe truth-in-advertising extends to pastry professionals.

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Another thing I found constantly annoying, since I’m on a roll, was that anytime I had to walk through the kitchen or staff area carrying a cake or tart, without fail, a cook (usually a new one who didn’t know me better) would say, “Hey! Is that for me?!” followed by a smug chuckle at their brilliant humor.

Little did they realize that each-and-every new cook said that, and while they’ve only said it once, it was hardly original and I’d heard at least 973 times prior. The first few times, I just smiled gamely and let them pretend they were actually amusing me.

But after a while, like nine years, I finally got to the point where I would say, “Sure! Here’s ya go…” hand them an entire cake or pie, and walk away.

I like to think of it as a lesson in be careful what you wish for. So if you want to only bake biscotti once, that’s fine with me. But crisp, twice-baked biscotti are the perfect dunking cookie for a shot of espresso or glasses of vin santo. I’m particularly attracted to these chocolate biscotti, which are slightly-sweet but pack a nice wallop of chocolate flavor. I make these a lot since it’s nice to have on hand something chocolaty to snack on, but isn’t rich, sweet, or loaded with butter.

Just don’t ask if these are for you, because I think you already know the answer to that question. Instead I’m handing over the recipe. And you’ll need to come up with your own smart-alecky retorts.

Chocolate Biscotti
50 to 60 cookies

Use a good-quality cocoa powder. You can use natural or Dutch-process for these, whichever one you like. Just remember that the chocolate flavor of the finished cookies is dependent on the quality of cocoa powder you use. So it’s worth using a decent one. I used Valrhona. See notes below on ingredients.

If you like extra-crisp biscotti, you can flip each one over midway during the second baking, in step #6. I sometimes smear one side of the cookies with melted dark chocolate. When dipped in a warm espresso, I can’t imagine anything better.

For the biscotti

  • 2 cups (280g) flour
  • 3/4 cups (75g) top-quality cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup (125g) almonds, toasted and very coarsely-chopped
  • 3/4 cups (120g) chocolate chips

For the glaze

1 large egg
2 tablespoons coarse or crystal sugar (see Notes)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.

2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, and vanilla & almond extracts. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, then mix in the nuts and the chocolate chips until the dough holds together.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two logs the length of the baking sheet. Transfer the logs onto the baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.

5. Gently flatten the tops of the logs. Beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the logs liberally with the egg. (You won’t use it all). Sprinkle the tops with the coarse or crystal sugar and bake for 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch.

6. Remove the cookie dough from the oven and cool 15 minutes. On a cutting board, use a serrated bread knife to diagonally cut the cookies into 1/2-inches slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets and return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies feel mostly firm.

Once baked, cool the cookies completely then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If you wish, the cookies can be half-dipped in melted chocolate, then cooled until the chocolate hardens.

Notes: The sugar I use in France, is called cassonade, a coarse-grained, naturally-colored sugar that resists melting.

In the United States, one can find similar sugars, such as C & H Washed Hawaiian Sugar or Florida Crystals demerara, available in supermarkets or natural food stores. Turbinado or demerara sugars are also available online. If you don’t have any, you can skip the egg wash and sugar glaze.

Valrhona cocoa powder is available in bulk at ChefShop. The best-value is the 3kg pack, which conveniently comes in three separate sealed bags so if you have two baking friends, it’s easy to go in on a shipment.

Related links and recipes:

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa powder FAQs

Chocolate-dipped Florentines

American Baking in Paris

How to Temper Chocolate

Chocolate Idiot Cake

Cheesecake Brownies

Chocolate-Coconut Macaroons

Dave T’s Spinach Cake

spinach cake & ham

I don’t know when it took hold, it was well before I got here, but le Brunch is somewhat popular with a certain segment of the population in Paris. Unlike the Bloody Mary and Mimosa-fueled repasts I have fond memories of back in San Francisco, here, I don’t know if the concept really works. For one thing, Sundays are blissfully “sacred” and no one seems to want to wake up and go anywhere until—well, Monday. And the places that do serve brunch are pretty crowded with misfits who probably didn’t get to bed the previous evening, as well as the clad-in-black, chain-smoking bobo crowd.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do on Sunday morning is wait outside in the freezing cold, breathing second-hand smoke from a bunch of bleary party-goers, both of us desperate for coffee, while waiting for a table.

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