Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

Let’s get back down to the basics!

IMG_0112

I think I’m finally starting to get settled into this new school and new city.  I’ve had some practice in my life on learning to love a city, and Chicago for the most part has been making it pretty easily.  Found my go-to tacos, go-to pizza, go-to Thai – still in the progress of finding my go-to sushi place, though.  For me, finding the perfect sushi spot is like unpacking the very last box.

The best find thus far, though, is this cocktail bar at which we’re practically already regulars.  Really, we keep going back because of the bartender.  Brock is the definition of charisma, not to mention has impeccable taste in drinks.

IMG_0111

Apparently he thought I was joking when I promised to bring cookies next time.  Clearly, he doesn’t know me well enough.  Anyone who does would know that I’d take his (joking) request for chocolate chip as a challenge to finally sit down and do the research on the definitive best chocolate chip cookie recipe.  The go-to of all go-tos.

IMG_0113

The thing about chocolate chip cookies is, they’re classic.  You can’t mess with people’s idea of a chocolate chip cookie too much – but the problem is, everyone has their own idea of their perfect chocolate chip cookie.  Thin or thick?  Crispy or chewy?  I can’t be a mindreader, but I can at least turn to the science.  Serious Eat’s Food Lab hasn’t let me down yet, and their brown butter chocolate chip cookie with a dash of coarse salt isn’t going to be the one to break that winning streak.  Crispy edges, chewy middle, perfect balance of salty sweet butterscotch goodness.  Seriously, I didn’t know that a simple basic chocolate chip cookie could be this good!  It’s not just me either – that moment when everyone closes their eyes and the room falls silent as they eat your cookies… no other feeling like it.

IMG_0109

This was my first time playing with brown butter, and I might have to start incorporating it into everything I do now.  Like, even brown butter on toast will probably transform that toast into a creature of rich nutty caramelized magic.  Sadly there isn’t a dairy-free substitute for brown butter – the definition of which is essentially caramelizing the milk solids in butter.  So for the vegans or lactose-intolerant out there, I’m still on the search for that perfect vegan chocolate chip cookie for you.

Then because why not, I also threw in a hit of rum in honor of Brock.  But seriously, the guy even washed the tupperware the cookies came in!  Ah, Midwestern hospitality…welcome to Chicago.

IMG_0110

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes approximately 28-36 cookies

recipe from Serious Eats’ The Food Lab

  • 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 ice cube, approximately 2 tablespoons
  • 2 cups (10 oz) all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (5 oz) white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • *optional – whatever other extracts/flavoring you choose, for example rum
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 oz) packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups (8 oz) dark chocolate chips/chunks – I just used chips already on hand, original recipe recommends chopping baking chocolate for optimal texture
  • optional – coarse salt for garnish
  1. First, brown the butter.  Melt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, swirling constantly until the milk solids begin turning golden-brown.  Remove from heat and continue swirling for about 15 seconds, until the color has deepened to a darker “hazelnut” brown.  It should smell distinctly nutty and caramel-like.  Don’t get too lost breathing in that goodness – transfer to a heatproof bowl and whisk in the ice cube.  Cover and chill for about 20 minutes, until the edges are starting the solidify but the butter is still mostly liquid.
  2. While waiting for the brown butter to chill, whisk together in a medium bowl the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the white sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract as well as any other flavorings you might be using.  (For rum, I threw in a couple tablespoons – didn’t measure exactly).  Whisk by hand, electric, or stand mixer until the egg mixture pale yellow, quite thick, and grown in volume, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the chilled brown butter and brown sugar to the egg mixture.  Combine using the paddle attachment if using a stand mixer, or by hand with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.  Add flour mixture to the egg-butter mixture and combine.  If you added additional liquid via additional flavoring, add a few tablespoons of flour to compensate.  Lastly, stir in the chocolate chips/chunks.
  5. Chill dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes if you’re a hurry, preferably overnight and up to 3 days.  Chilling allows the dough to absorb moisture as well as develop flavor for a more richly flavored cookie in the end.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 F.  Prepare baking sheets with greased foil, parchment paper, or silicone baking liner.  Form balls of dough 2-3 tablespoons big.  Tear each dough ball in half and stick the halves back together with the craggy sides facing outward – this improves the outward texture of the final cookie.  Stick a few more chocolate chips/chunks on top for a prettier cookie, if desired.
  7. Bake for 13-15 minutes, rotating and switching top to bottom halfway through.  For a cookie with a more tender middle, the edges should be set though the middle might still look slightly undercooked.  I prefer keeping them in on the longer end, when the edges and the middle are just set, for a crispier outside.
  8. Sprinkle with just a dash of coarse salt per cookie; lightly press it in (don’t burn yourself)!  Cool cookies on the baking sheets for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack (or at least a cool surface if you haven’t invested in cooling racks yet).  Eat warm for chocolate gooeyness, room temperature for chocolate-studded crunchy chewiness.  You can store completely cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for at least 5 days.

Nutritional description: not much nutrition involved, but better than the ultra-processed stuff you find in the grocery aisles.  I made them slightly smaller than the original recipe for portion control and also easier sharing, so they’re really not that bad calorically.

Nutritional information (based on 36 servings): Calories 133, Total Fat 7.1g, Saturated Fat 4.3g, Cholesterol 23.8mg, Carbs 17.2g, Fiber 0.4g, Sugars 10.7g, Protein 1.6g, Sodium 31.6mg

“Mai Tai” Cream Puffs with Chantilly Frosting

Somehow this first week of medical school feels like it’s flown by in a blur but also been going on forever.  Rationally I know that this does not follow the law of physics, but

But actually, none of this has felt like real life so far.  Partly it’s because the first couple weeks of classes are taken up by this super chill block meant to ease us into the school year.  The professors literally and explicitly have told us not to study for it and instead spending our time getting to know our class.  Honestly, I’m kind of looking forward to the start of biochemistry in a week and coming back down to reality.  I’m not sure my liver can handle much more of this extended vacation!

FullSizeRender_3

Last night in the ongoing quest to explore more of Chicago, I found myself up in Boystown celebrating Market Days – basically the unofficial LGBT pride celebration of the year – enjoying a Market Days Mai Tai special that brought me right back to my recent family vacation in Maui and O’ahu.  If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine sandy toes and clear blue-green waves and a ukulele playing in the background instead of smoke and sweat and Prince on the corner TV (rest in peace!).

Hawaii was a magical place of poke and malasadas and mochi and mostly more poke – it’s hard to play favorites, but one gustatory memory that stands out crystal clear in my mind was the legendary cream puffs at Liliha Bakery.  They’ve got a number of delicious flavors like chocolate or green tea, but the true revelation was the contrast of textures between the cool, smooth cream filling and the little cap of rich, denser chantilly frosting on top.

IMG_9777

The thing is, when I first tried googling “chantilly cream”, something completely different comes up.  Chantilly cream refers to basically a type of whipped cream, absolutely not what I had in mind.  If you google “chantilly frosting” or “hawaii chantilly frosting” on the other hand, you find something like custard or pastry cream – but pipeable – that’s just begging to be eaten with a spoon.

IMG_9774

But if you can hold off from inhaling the whole pot in one go, chantilly frosting tastes decadent and pipes beautifully.  It may be my new favorite type of frosting – chantilly frosting cake is an amazing treat as well!

FullSizeRender_2

And if you want to close your eyes and imagine a warm salty breeze and a seaside sunset, then throwing in a little rum and orange zest for a Mai Tai inspired cream puff never hurts 😉

Mmm….aloha!

FullSizeRender_1

“Mai Tai” Cream Puffs with Chantilly Frosting

makes approximately 2-3 dozen cream puffs

choux pastry – recipe from Gesine Bullock-Prado

  • 1 1/4 cups (150g) bread flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) water
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 7 tablespoons (100g) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into small pieces
  • 4-5 large eggs, room temperature

pastry cream – recipe from Joanne Chang

  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour + pinch of cornstarch, or 1 tablespoon cake flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • zest from 1 orange

chantilly frosting – recipe from Guava Rose

  • 6 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons salted butter
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 eggs
  • 1 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoons cornstarch
  • rum and/or rum extract to taste (approximately 1 tablespoon extract worked well for me)
  1. First, make the pastry cream: heat the milk in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until just scalded – meaning, it’s not boiling but bubbles are forming just at the edges of the saucepan – then take off heat, but keep the stove on.
  2. While the milk is heating, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the egg yolk and whisk to incorporate into a uniform paste.
  3. Important – do NOT add all the hot milk to the egg-flour mixture all at once, otherwise you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Instead add a tablespoon of hot milk, then whisk, then another tablespoon, whisk, then again until about a third has been added (this is called tempering – you’re getting the eggs used to the temperature of the milk). Then you can add the rest of the milk, whisking constantly and vigorously. From this point on, DON’T STOP WHISKING!
  4. Pour the whole egg-flour-milk mixture back into the saucepan over medium heat. DON’T STOP WHISKING! At first, the mixture will look thin and frothy, but in a few minutes it’ll start thickening. Once you feel it start thickening, stop whisking for just a few seconds every once in a while to check if the mixture has started to boil – or as I like to call it, “blurp”-ing. What you’re looking for is if the mixture is forming big bubbles that “blurp” – it doesn’t look exactly like boiling in the hot water sense. Once you see that “blurp”, whisk madly for another 10 seconds then take off heat.
  5. If your pastry cream seems a little grainy, or if you just want to be extra careful, pour the pastry cream through a strainer into a heatproof bowl – this is in case something went wrong with the whisking and some of the egg got scrambled. But if your pastry cream already seems quite smooth, feel free to just pour it straight into the bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  6. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap so that the plastic wrap is actually touching the surface of the pastry cream, to prevent it drying out and a skin forming. Chill for at least 4 hours, or until the custard has set. Pastry cream can be stored in the fridge in this fashion for at least 3 days.
  7. Second, make the chantilly cream frosting: melt the butter and salt in a small or medium pot/saucepan.  Remove and allow to cool a little.
  8. Whisk in milk, sugar, and vanilla extract.  Then, while continuously whisking, add the egg and egg yolk one at a time.
  9. Put back on medium heat and let it come to a boil, whisking occasionally.  Continue to whisk every once in a while as it cooks for 2 more minutes.
  10. Remove from heat.  While whisking vigorously and constantly, sift in the cornstarch.
  11. Stir in the rum or rum extract to taste.
  12. Transfer the frosting to a pyrex pie or casserole dish, or some other shallow dish.  Cover and chill for at least 3 hours, until the frosting has set.  Like the pastry cream, the frosting will also last in the fridge for several days in this fashion.
  13. Now you can make the choux pastry!: preheat oven to 375 F.  Prepare baking pans lined with parchment or silicone baking liners.  Prepare a large pastry bag with a large open circle tip and set aside.
  14. Combine in a large saucepan/pot the milk, water, sugar, salt, and butter.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is melted and incorporated.
  15. Bring to a boil and then immediately take the pan off the heat.  Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until smooth with no lumps.
  16. Return the pot to medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula but carefully making sure not the scrape the bottom of the pot.  Continue cooking and stirring until you see a starch coating the bottom of the pot.  Not all pots will form this starch coating unfortunately (for example my nonstick pot does not) – a surefire way of knowing it is cooked enough is to check if the temperature has reached 170 F.
  17. Transfer the dough to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Allow the dough to cool to 140 F.  Meanwhile, whisk together 4 of the eggs in a small bowl.
  18. Start the stand mixer on medium-low speed or stirring the mixture with a spoon or spatula at moderate speed, and slowly add the whisked 4 eggs until fully incorporated.  Test the hydration of the dough by wetting your finger and dragging it through the dough, lifting your finger up sharply at the end.  If the dough/paste is at correct hydration, it should form a trough that does not fall in on itself and form a peak when you lift the finger up at the end.  If the paste is too dry, whisk the last egg in a small bowl and slowly add just as much as you need to get to the right hydration level.
  19. Fill the pastry bag with the choux dough.  Pipe 1.5-2 inch diameter half-spheres spaced an inch apart on the lined baking sheets.
  20. Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Turn off the oven, remove the puffs, and use a small paring knife to poke a little slit near the bottom of each one.  Return the puffs to the still warm (but turned off) oven to dry out the insides for 5-10 minutes.
  21. Choux puffs should be filled shortly (at most the same day) before serving.  If you would like these to be make-ahead, you can store in an airtight container for a few days or freeze unfilled puffs for longer.  Reheat at 350 F for about 5 minutes, until crispy again.
  22. When ready to fill, prepare one pastry bag fitted with a Bismarck tip and another pastry bag fitted with a tip of your choice (I used a star tip).  Fill the Bismarck tip bag with the orange zest pastry cream and the other bag with the chantilly cream.  Allow puffs to cool completely before filling and frosting.  Serve immediately or at least within the next couple of hours for optimal crisp/creamy texture awesomeness, but honestly even after they’ve lost their crispness these beauties are still delicious.

Nutritional description: this sweet treat may not have the nutrition of a salad, but calorically it’s actually not a hard hitter.  And making these yourself from whole natural ingredients like eggs and milk is at least than those ultra-processed 100 calorie cookie snack packs!  Bonus, these disappear so fast you won’t have the chance to eat the whole batch.

Nutritional information (based on 3 dozen servings): Calories 96, Total Fat 6g, Saturated Fat 3.6g, Cholesterol 49mg, Carbs 9.6g, Fiber 0.1g, Sugars 6.2g, Protein 2g, Sodium 17mg

Hibiscus Glaze Chocolate Rum Ganache Cronuts/Doughsants: A Saga of Homemade Cronuts

Hello everyone!  Sorry for the impromptu hiatus – turns out vacationing is a whole different beast of FOMO-driven-busy from the typical daily-work-day-busy (not that I’m complaining 😉 )  In the past two months, I’ve been to Paris, northern/central Italy, went back to my childhood home in LA for a spell, then Hawaii, and then back to NYC to pack for Chicago!  Lots of firsts this summer – and probably the last of vacations I’ll see for a while, now that I’m starting medical school and will soon be earning the opposite of an income.

Can you believe that today is my last day in this magical city?  For most of the week I’ve been too exhausted from packing to let the nostalgia to sink in, but last night I just wandered the skyscraper-lit streets from downtown to uptown, letting the reality just sink in.

FullSizeRender

This post is a chapter in my ode to NYC, most specifically its most notorious pastry: the Cronut.  I first tried a Cronut a few months ago, the genuine article from the original mad genius who started it all: Dominique Ansel.  Seriously, if a pastry god exists it would look like, sound like, and bake like this amazing creator.  If this was Ancient Greece, there would be a constellation named after him.

For those living under a rock, PSA: the Cronut is the lovechild between a sophisticated, perfectly flaky, charmingly French croissant and a fried, cream-stuffed, all-American donut.  Dominique Ansel’s Bakery in SoHo makes around 300 every day, people line up for hours before the bakery even opens, and they always sell out early.  Don’t feel too intimidated though – if you can swing it, weekday mornings are the best time for the shortest wait.  Though the Cronut game is still going strong, thankfully the lines have died down a little in recent times so it’s usually just about an hour or two wait from lining up to paying.

FullSizeRender_1

Looking through Dominique Ansel’s At-Home Cronut recipe, my respect for the man just skyrockets even further.  The official recipe details a laborious three day process requiring lots and lots of patience, skill, and butter.

The benefits of making your own croissant-donut hybrids at home?  One, you can eat a Cronut-like thing whenever you want, wherever you want.  Two, you can go wild with whatever flavor combinations you want for the glaze and filling (for the pictured batch, I’ve glazed an ode to my favorite donut flavor at my favorite donut place in NYC, Dough famous hibiscus-flavored doughnut – see my list of NYC recs for more on why I so adamantly declare Dough’s as the best donut in NYC – plus a chocolate-rum ganache filling thrown in, because all the favorite things).  And finally three, definite bragging rights and star baker points from all your taste testers. (BONUS: CRONUT HOLES)

FullSizeRender_3

And yes, through multiple experiments I was able to successfully make At-Home Cronuts.  (Best staycation ever?  Or just the nerdiest?)  Though clearly I am still far from an expert, as can be noted by my less than graceful amateur glazing skills.  But while there is no denying the the pure joy (and bragging rights) of creating a Cronut with my own two hands, I wanted to see if there was an easier, faster, and frankly less aggravating method out there.  After all, my favorite part about blogging has always been when people let me know that they’ve tried making something on my blog.  And also no way am I or anyone else (other than the man himself) making Cronuts on any sort of reasonably frequent basis if they take three days hard labor to make less than a dozen.

Many more experiments later, the best taste for your time I have found is Edd Kimber’s (from the Great British Bake-Off fame) “Doughsant” recipe, using his “cheat croissant dough”.  Where Dominique Ansel’s At-Home Cronuts utilize a method very similar to traditional croissant dough – where the butter and the dough must be at just the right temperature, and the lamination process rolled out in just the right way and all these multiple steps must be done over multiple days in just the right order and even then the cut out dough might throw a temper tantrum in the end – Edd Kimber’s cheat method is more akin to a slightly more nuanced puff pastry.  It only takes about 20 minutes hands-on time the day before, and then maybe an hour or two of frying and filling/glazing the day of.  Even better – no stand mixer or other fancy equipment needed!

That’s it, you say?  And does it still turns out a pastry as flaky and tender as the three day original recipe, you say?  See for yourself:

FullSizeRender_2

Disclaimer, in a side-by-side comparison, yes, you can definitely see more distinct layers in the original Dominique Ansel recipe versus the Edd Kimber cheat.  But the taste and texture is all there for a fraction of the time and work.

And then because I love you guys (and butter) so much, I experimented even more so you wouldn’t have to.  I’ve chilled and frozen the dough and pastry at various steps along the process to see how make ahead it could be, customization to your specific time restraints for whatever your week throws at you.  I’ve toyed with vegan substitutions for those with dietary preferences and/or allergies.  I even tried baking instead of frying for those who want a healthier and/or less messy method.  Now honestly if you’re about to eat a Cronut, excessive worrying about nutrition really has no part in it because no matter what swaps and subs you make it will not be healthy! – so just accept it, indulge, and fully enjoy this special occasion.  But in fact, sometimes depending on my mood I actually like the baked version better!  Fried anything is obviously delicious, but not throwing the dough into an oil bath allows for the also extremely delicious flavor of the butter to truly shine in the baked goods.

IMG_8371

Thus, with this epic Cronut saga I wrap up my time in the best city in the world.  It’s been an amazing couple of years, New York, and I’m hoping not the last.  Do you hear me, New York?  I WILL BE BACK!

Homemade “Doughsants”

from Edd Kimber’s recipe with additional tips/suggestions

makes 10 doughsants and many, many glorious doughsant holes

egg free

dairy free/vegan options available

  • 125 mL milk of choice
  • 125 mL water
  • 2 packets instant yeast (each packet ~7g)
  • 250g all-purpose flour
  • 250g bread flour
  • 60g light brown sugar (dark brown, white, or a combo are ok in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 300g unsalted butter, cut into approximately 1cm x 1cm x 1cm cubes, kept chilled (if using vegan butter, keep VERY chilled in the fridge)
  • neutral tasting vegetable oil for deep frying (not needed if baking, instructions for both included below)
  • glaze of choice – see here for recipe used for hibiscus glaze
  • filling of choice – for chocolate-rum ganache, melt dark chocolate, thin with milk to your preferred texsture, and stir in your favorite rum to taste/booze levels of preference
  • optional – sugar to finish, but in my opinion it’s sweet enough without it

Day Before

  1. Mix yeast, both flours, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Add the butter cubes, as chilled as possible.  Toss in the flour mixture and use your hands to rub the butter pieces in just a bit – be careful to keep most of the butter cubes/spheres around 1cm in size!
  2. In a microwave-proof mug/bowl, combine the water and milk.  Heat to lukewarm (around or just slightly warmer than body temperature).  Pour over the flour-butter mixture.  Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix everything together into a dough, again taking care to not obliterate the chunks of butter.  As the dough comes together, you can finish it off with a few kneads of the hand.  The dough WILL look a complete mess, don’t worry it’s supposed to look that way – its ugliness now just adds to your appreciation of its beauty later!
  3. Lightly oil some plastic wrap, wrap the ugly baby up, and pop in the fridge to chill and relax for a few hours.
  4. After it’s chilled, prepare a large clean work surface.  Flour the surface and a nice big rolling pin.  Take the dough out and roll it into a rectangle about 20cm x 40cm in dimension.  Brush off any excess flour as you fold it “business letter” method – take one third and fold it in, then take the other third and fold that over (think like how an envelope works!).  Rotate the folded dough 90 degrees so that the open seam of the last fold is facing you.  Repeat the roll, fold, and rotate two more times.  As you go along, you’ll notice the dough will visibly become prettier and more put together with every fold – such shiny magic!
  5. Wrap the dough up in oiled plastic wrap again and chill in the fridge for 6-8 hours (overnight typically, but technically if you start earlier in the morning you can do the “day of” steps at night) – if it works better for your timeline, the dough can also be stored at this step in the fridge for up to a couple of days before moving on to the next step.  Take a rest, phew!

Day Of

  1. Prepare a large clean work surface.  Flour the surface and your rolling pin.  Take the dough out and roll it into a rectangle about 20cm x 45cm and about .5cm thick.
  2. Cut out 10 large circles about 9cm in diameter (you may want to mark out using your cookie cutter before going all the way, to double check that you can fit 10 of them).  Then cut out the holes about 2.5-3cm in diameter.  Feel free (read: DO) cut out extra “holes” from the leftover dough outside the edges of each large cut circle. (FYI – yes, I used a heart cookie cutter instead of a circle for the holes.  No, I wasn’t trying to be cute, I just couldn’t find a circle cutter of the right size…)
  3. Arrange each doughsant and holes with plenty of space in between on a baking sheet lined with a baking liner, oiled parchment paper, or oiled foil.  Cover with oiled plastic wrap.
  4. If baking, preheat oven to 375 F.  Either if baking or frying, let the cut dough rise at room temperature for a few hours – it may not be doubled in size, but should at least be noticeably puffier in both size and texture (give it a gentle poke to check for the last bit).
  5. If baking, remove the cling wrap gently and bake for 12-18 minutes, until the sides are slightly browned but the tops and bottoms aren’t too dark.  If the top looks like it’s browning too fast, cover with foil.  An egg wash made everything brown too fast for my liking, so I would not recommend.
  6. If frying, set up a pot of oil at least several inches deep (I use a little pot to save oil) with a candy/oil thermometer clipped to the edge.  Heat up the oil to 170 C/ approximately 325-350 F.  Keep doughsant dough that you’re not working on covered with cling wrap.  Fry them up one or two at a time to avoid drastic changes in oil temperature from adding too much.  They fry fast, only about a minute or less on each side – you want them golden but not brown – so be vigilant!  Remove fried doughsants to a workspace lined with paper towels to let the oil drain/blot off a bit while they cool.  Don’t forget to fry up the doughsant holes!
  7. Let the baked/fried goods cool before filling and glazing.  At this point, you can freeze the baked/fried goods BEFORE filling and glazing.  You should only fill and glaze if you plan to serve that day – they don’t last well when filled and glazed beyond a day especially if the filling is cream-based.  To thaw, leave on the counter uncovered until room temperature.  Isn’t that awesome – cronuts at the drop of a hat for when guests surprise you!
  8. Shortly before serving, fill up a piping bag fit with a “Bismarck” tip or a squeeze bottle with a narrow long tip with your filling of choice.  Poke the tip the doughssant from the top downward (don’t poke all the way through) and fill via four locations evenly spaced (like points of a compass).  You will actually feel the pastry getting heavier as it fills up.
  9. Two choices to glaze: 1) you can glaze the side with the holes to cover them up or 2) if the glaze is a little thin like mine was, it will not look even with option one so use a little glaze to plug up the holes, turn the pastry over, and glaze that side instead.  Garnish with sugar (roll the sides in the stuff) and/or something pretty on top (in this case, I went with hibiscus petals).
  10. I’m going to say it again – once filled and glazed, serve the same day!  Keep stored in a NOT airtight container (ie like a cardboard box, NOT plastic/glass tupperware) at room temperature.

 

Nutritional description: what with the scraps of leftover dough and the deep frying, it’s impossible for me to actually give an accurate calculation of the nutritional information.  So I’ve decided to defer to BBC Good Food’s website’s information instead.  If you’re eating a Cronut/doughssant though, don’t worry about the nutrition for one blissful minute.  It is not going to be healthy, I repeat, it is not going to be healthy.  Savor and enjoy!

Nutritional information (taken from BBC Good Food’s posting of the recipe): Calories 572, Total Fat 37g, Saturated Fat 17g, Carbs 55g, Sugar 19g, Fiber 2g, Protein 7g

 

An Ode to NYC

A number of people have asked me what restaurants I’m going to miss the most when I move from NYC to Chicago – in other words, an “NYC rec list”.  While I’m definitely going to miss the diverse foods inspired by the melting pot and salad bowl of cultures that is so uniquely NYC, most of all I’m going to miss the people.  My favorite NYC foods and restaurants are all on my “best of” list because of the people I associate with them.   The following food/restaurant recommendations is more than just a (very long) list of places, it’s a list of memories.  I will of course be glad if someone tries some of these recs and enjoys it, but honestly I mostly selfishly created this list as a way of writing down this collection of snapshots, word-salad best-hits memory bank so that I can read through years later and conjure up images, tastes, and conversations from the past.  To everyone I shared these memories with, you know who you are! ❤  Looking forward to new memories coming up in the future!

Cafes

  • Housing Works Bookstore (Soho) – nonprofit secondhand bookstore and cafe with chill but cool vibe, one of the few good spots to read/study until relatively late (9 pm on weekdays)
  • Uncommons (Greenwich Village) – board game cafe!  shelves and shelves of options you’ve never heard of!
  • Cafe Jax (Upper East Side) – great vibe and free wifi with a selection of the best coffee, donuts, and ice cream to keep your study game strong
  • Gotham Cafe (Upper East Side) – free wifi, flat bagels (ie more cream cheese to bagel ratio), what else do you need?
  • Ground Central (Midtown East, the one on 51st, not 43rd) – the whole back area is bookshelves and couches which gives a cozy and homey vibe complete with free wifi
  • Hi-Collar (East Village) – for the true coffee connoiseur, charmingly tiny and unique Western-style Japanese cafe with sophisticated coffee options and light breakfast/lunch options like katsu sandwiches, the thickest hot cakes you’ll ever see, and mentaiko (spicy cod roe) pasta

Super Casual/Grab&Go Lunch or Dinner

  • Smorgasborg (summer only; Williamsburg on Saturdays, Prospect Park on Sundays) – huge outside food festival with tons of unique options influenced by every culture and cuisine, not really a “casual grab and go” because you’ll want to stay forever and see everything! On that note, there are tons of fun food festival pop up things around the city that usually are out and about during the city – google Broadway Bites for example
  • Cinnamon Snail (in the Pennsy near Penn Station) – 100% vegan with a large clientale that’s not thanks to flavor-packed sandwiches/wraps (any of which convertible to a quinoa salad bowl) and a huge selection of vegan baked goods for dessert
  • Taim (locations in Greenwich Village and in SoHo) – best falafel in Manhattan with three different flavors (all delicious) – also shoutout to Mamoun’s in East Village for the best value for really good falafel, just not as good as Taim’s!
  • trying to narrow down your pizza musts in the city of pizza?
    • Motorino (multiple locations including one in Brooklyn) – my favorite Neopolitan-style (very thin crust, fast cooked, individual sized) pizza, has a great lunch deal
    • Prince Street (SoHo) – for when you want something more solid than Neopolitan pizza, go for the Sicilian square (get the Spicy Spring slice here!)
    • Artichoke Pizza (multiple locations) – yes the hype is real, their signature slice is like artichoke dip on a glorious slice (like many things in life, best in the early morning after a long night out)
  • Shanghai Cafe (Chinatown) – hands down the best soup dumplings in the city! yes Joe’s Shanghai are good, but Shanghai Cafe is better
  • Om (Upper East Side) – my go-to Indian restaurant delivery in UES, the popular orders of chicken tikka and lamb curry are excellent but branch out to some of their regional specialties or dishes you haven’t tried before and surprise yourself (pleasantly)
  • Urbanspace Vanderbilt and EVERYTHING IN IT – unlike other urbanspace food court/festival projects, this one is indoors and open during all seasons, showcases some of the best NYC has to offer including my favorite donuts, Dough (more on that later)
  • Pokeworks (Midtown near Bryant Park) – way too obsessed with this place…I’ve tried many poke bowls across Manhattan and in my opinion this place has the best value, variety of options, and quality of ingredients that I’ve found yet
  • Lan Sheng (Midtown near Bryant Park) – my favorite Sichuan restaurant in the city, used to be Michelin star but got taken away probably for the no-nonsense service typical of Chinese restaurants
  • Num Pang (multiple locations) – Cambodian sandwiches reminiscent of bahn mi. most people go for the pork, but my personal favorite is the catfish
  • Halal Guys (53rd & 6th for THE Halal Guys) – lines grow fast and moves fast. can’t leave NYC without trying this iconic street food!
  • Dinosaur BBQ (Harlem) – BEST BBQ IN THE CITY DON’T ARGUE WITH TRUTH
  • Com Tam Ninh Kieu (Bronx) – best bowl of pho in the city if you’re willing to trek up to the Bronx for it, maybe if you happen to be visiting the zoo!

Nicer Sit-Down Lunch/Dinner (many of these are still pretty casual and/or affordable)

  • Mancora (East Village) – my first taste of Peruvian food, now one of my favorite cuisines. definitely try the lomo/pollo saltado here!
  • Pio Pio (multiple locations) – more popular semi-chain Peruvian restaurant, known for their green “crack sauce” that comes with their kitchen, their Hell’s Kitchen location is a great place to bring friends from out of town for a dining experience that feels fine-dining-esque but is actually surprisingly affordable
  • Momofuku Ssam (East Village) – my favorite of the Momofuku empire (they are all pretty good though), they have some more affordable pricing for lunch including a drool-worthy duck rice bowl
  • Soccarat (Chelsea or Midtown East) – my favorite paella, great for celebrating with a group (came here for my birthday)
  • Darbar Grill (Midtown East) – for when you want Indian with a nicer vibe than Om but still pretty affordable, because naan is life
  • Hide-Chan (Midtown East) – everyone has their personal favorite ramen place in NYC, and they’re all solid, but I like how at Hide-Chan the bowl is customizable to your taste by noodle shape and firmness!
  • Beyoglu (Upper East Side) – best Greek food, good prices, hoppin vibe even on a weekday night! the octopus appetizer melts in your mouth
  • Pasha (Upper West Side) – very very delicious Turkish food, solid portions
  • Uva (Upper East Side) – best Italian I’ve had in the city, the ricotta gnocchi is one of the best bites I’ve ever had in all of NYC
  • Up Thai (Upper East Side) – favorite Thai food in the city, go out on a limb and try more than your standard Pad Thai or Pad See ew (which is still pretty fantastic too) like the Claypot Fried Rice
  • sushi for every occasion
    • Sushi Para (Upper East Side) – best AYCE sushi deal if you like AYCE, as it includes a bunch of special rolls and non-sushi appetizers (mm takoyaki) as AYCE options
    • Wajima (Upper East Side) – very affordable high quality traditional-style Japanese sushi and dishes (so don’t expect special rolls slathered in sauce)
    • Ootoya (multiple locations, only been to Times Sq) – Japanese chain that turns home-style meals and sushi into a fine dining experience
    • The Loop (East Village) – my favorite sushi place of all time, not traditional style but immensely creative selection of specialty rolls
  • Sik Gaek (Woodside or Flushing) – if the still moving octopus tentacle appetizer doesn’t impress/intimidate you, the seafood hotpot (come in a group!) will literally make your mouth drop
  • Asian Jewels Seafood Restaurant (Flushing) – skip the pricey long line tourist traps in Chinatown and go to Flushing for all your soul-satisfying dimsum needs
  • 99 Favors (Chinatown) – best hotpot in Manhattan (many stellar options in Flushing and Sunset Park of course) and super amazing deal for value
  • looking for brunch?
    • Forager’s Table (Chelsea) – great New American brunch place with amazing orange ricotta pancakes
    • Yuca Bar (Alphabet City) – great option for last minute brunch plans since there’s usually no wait, creative spins on brunch dishes like gooey soft arepas eggs benedict and fluffy tender pancakes with dulce de leche butter syrup
    • Cafe Mogador (East Village) – best Moroccan restaurant in the city hands down, known for a great brunch but I like to go for lunch or dinner for their tagine
  • recs for restaurant week?
    • Asia de Cuba (Noho) – delicious, creative Asian/Latin fusion with a lively atmosphere
    • Nobu/Nobu Next Door (TriBeCa) – fancy sushi/Japanese, their signature miso black cod is like butter in fish form
    • Almayass (Flatiron) – delicious Lebanese fine dining that convinced me of the virtues of savory yogurt, you will want to try everything but definitely get the manti!
    • Fogo de Chao (Hell’s Kitchen) – yes it’s a national chain but it’s the best national chain EVER because what better deal for Restaurant Week can you have than all you can eat top notch quality Brazilian steakhouse goodness?

Sweets and Baked Goods 

  • Dominque Ansel Bakery (SoHo) – genius creator of the Cronut and cookie shot, as well as a variety of other delicious goods like the DKA (which I actually think is even better than the Cronut!)
  • Rice to Riches (SoHo) – charmingly kitchy rice pudding that can be a bit pricey but is very rich indeed so not bad if you come with a friend or group to split
  • Cha-An (East Village) – charming tea and dessert cafe with Japanese-inspired flavors like their heavenly black sesame creme brulee
  • Veniero’s (East Village) – Italian bakery with the best cheesecake in NYC!
  • you’re a fan of cupcakes?
    • Sweet Revenge (TriBeCa) – a cute date spot that pairs cupcakes with wines and beers! disclaimer I’m not a huge cupcake person but my favorite cupcakes ever are Baked & Wired in DC.  Sweet Revenge is the closest I’ve found in style (denser, rich cake, balanced not-too-much frosting ratio) but falls down in that the place is tiny so has a limited selection of cupcakes (4 signature available every day, 2 rotating specialty flavors that can get pretty creative)
    • Two Little Red Hens (Upper East Side) – Baked by Melissa made mini cupcakes a fad, but Two Little Red Hens is far superior! their other baked goods (mmmm pie) are also pretty good
  • Magnolia Bakery (multiple vendors/locations) – skip the famous cupcakes in my opinion, go for the amazing banana pudding! they also have breakfast scones and muffins that are divine
  • Dough (multiple vendors/locations, I usually go to Urbanspace Vanderbilt) – I don’t actually particularly like donuts but I have tried many many donuts in the city so that I could definitively say that Dough is my absolute favorite! their hibiscus flavor is tart and unique and delicious, but more than that I am in just complete awe of the perfect pastry artistry that is each donut, so perfectly proofed just on the edge of almost becoming overproofed so that they are supremely huge yet light and fully, and you can tell that they are perfectly fried meaning just the right temperature and timing so that they are removed right when they’re perfectly cooked through so that the oil doesn’t have the chance to absorb very much in, and the result – light, fluffy, not too greasy, BEST DONUT EVER!
    • some honorable mentions – the frying technique isn’t quite as perfection as Dough, but Doughnut Plant has a huge selection of crazy creative flavors, Pies and Thighs feels too heavy for my liking but is also just frankly delicious (they also have great pies as the name might imply, in addition to savory Southern food for a whole meal), Cinnamon Snail gets points for everything being vegan but as might be expected unfortunately their yeast donuts are always a bit dry – but wow that gluten free cake donut was surprisingly good!
  • Lloyd’s Carrot Cake (Harlem) – just get their carrot cake, with nuts and raisins of course (if you don’t like them, fine, there is an option without). featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network!
  • Levain (Upper West Side) – these are my brother’s favorite cookies in the world and perfect for sharing because they are HUGE. but I won’t judge or tell if you eat one or more by yourself
  • Grace Street (Koreatown near Herald Sq) – shaved snow and you can customize your own flavors and toppings!  good selection of pastries and coffee here too
  • saving the best for last of course – ICE CREAM!
    • Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (Chinatown) – the black sesame ice cream is absolute bliss, your heart will melt faster than your ice cream
    • Sundaes & Cones (East Village) – perfect dessert stop after dinner in East Village, got tons of creative flavors including many Asian flavors like taro, sesame, green tea, lychee…
    • Ample Hills Creamery (multiple locations in multiple boroughs) – obsessed with their “salted caramel crack” flavor, it is legitimately addicting
    • Emack & Bolios (Upper West Side or Upper East Side) – Cape Cod transplant with the best, wackiest flavors of any ice cream store in NYC to go with the wackiest cones (rolled in oreos, fruity pebbles, you name it)! my go-to flavors are “deep purple cow” (raspberry with chocolate and white chocolate chips) and “salted caramel chocolate covered pretzel” (it is as good as it sounds)
    • The Good Batch (multiple locations, including a stand at Smorgasborg) – yes you can’t go wrong with a ice cream cookie sandwich, but I never knew you could go so right

Drinks

  • some places mentioned before but gonna shout out again for their drinks selection
    • Mancora – $6 drinks & tapas during happy hour, so if you’ve never had a pisco sour, get one NOW!
    • Sweet Revenge – $10 cupcake + drink deal during happy hour, cupcake and drink pairing suggestions during all hours
    • Yuca Bar – happy hour and specials for various days of the week, check their website
  • margaritas? (don’t forget Mancora and Yuca Bar as mentioned above)
    • Blockheads (multiple locations) – I come here waaaay too often, but cheap frozen margaritas can’t be beat, except maybe by their amazing steak nachos grande
    • Maya (Upper East Side) – generous times for happy hour and reverse happy hour times for when you want to feel classier than Blockheads
  • beer?
    • Pony Bar (Upper East Side) – awesome craft beer selection, cool crowd
    • The Pullman Kitchen (Midtown East) – smaller (but still great) craft beer selection than Pony Bar and also great vibe
    • Shoolbred’s (East Village) – BOGO happy hour deal! small beer selection but decent one
  • Rathbone’s (Upper East Side) – chill casual pub with some of the best happy hour/nightly special deals I’ve found on the UES, go check their website for all the deals!
  • Piano’s (Lower East Side) – happy hours. dark and stormy.
  • Amelie (Greenwich Village) – favorite wine bar in the city not just because of their great selection but also because of the amazing kindness and friendliness of the service.  if you’re a wine noob like me, try some of their suggested wine flights for little tastes of a variety!
  • The Winslow (East Village) – gin fan? here’s a whole place dedicated to gin and gin-based cocktails
  • Bar Seki (Times Sq) – the bar area upstairs of the restaurant Sushi Seki, this is where I had the best cocktails I’ve ever had in NYC, and the best I’ve ever had in all my life. Asian-inspired flavors for cocktails, like the must-try matcha one!

BONUS

Kalustyan’s (Kip’s Bay) – if looking for a hard-to-find spice or ethnic ingredient, 99% chance they have it! my favorite store in all of New York, I could spend hours here just browsing…but I’m also a total weirdo

Cherry Walnut Baklava

So this was my last week of work as a research assistant – in fact, I’m typing this up in the airport at Stockholm during a 5 hour layover to PARIS! Adventure is out there! (CAW CAW)To be honest, it really surprised me how sentimental these final days have been at the hospital. Not that it’s been a bad experience, far from it – I’ve just felt so ready to move on and take that next step in medical school. But I could never have anticipated when I started this job how deeply this community would resonate with and change me, not only on a professional level but also on the ongoing path of personal growth, and it’s been overwhelming to fully realize this. So I refuse to say that this is goodbye, but rather – until we meet again!

Bizarrely – whenever people heard that this week was my last week, it felt like I had announced a funeral instead of my resignation. One of my patients started tearing up (which of course made me tear up too!); I have also received multiple threats (I think they’re kidding…right? :P) from people joking to sabotage my medical school acceptance or make me miss my flight to Europe. Like, guys, it’s not like I’m moving to the mountains and becoming a hermit. I’ll still visit New York from Chicago whenever I can!


It’s also somewhat amusing (and possibly a little freaky) how extra nice everyone has been to me this last week. I mean, definitely puffed up the old ego a bit (quick, someone please help deflate with some Perspective!), but I do get a little suspicious when my very Greek-from-Greece-and-goes-back-to-Greece-every-year boss raves that this baklava recipe is THE best baklava he has ever tasted! Like, better than Astoria, better than Greece, THE best – and this was my first time ever trying to make baklava, so what gives?


Perhaps one of this recipe’s virtues is that it can’t really be directly compared to traditional Greek or Turkish baklava – to my understanding, cherries or fruit in general aren’t a typical ingredient in these flaky pastries (of course please correct me if I’m mistaken). I actually was not all too sure it would work, but for some reason I really wanted to try it because I love the thought of cherries and walnuts together. Thankfully, according to my very happy taste testers, the cherry adds a unique and definitely welcome element both in flavor and texture – a layer of chew to contrast the flaky nutty crunch, a sweet and tart floral pop amidst the richness of each buttery bite.


And then I threw in some cardamom, well, just because. I think cardamom may be my new favorite spice, even over cinnamon! Next time a recipe calls for cinnamon, maybe try substituting some cardamom just for kicks – cardamom’s warmth and sweetness keeps it within the same flavor profile, but adds a element of novelty subtly reminiscent of chai.


So while I don’t want to overhype expectations that this baklava actually beats out authentic baklava from Greece, I and my loyal taste testers certainly can attest that this is Very Good Baklava. Maybe even Great. Why don’t you give it a try and let me know how you think it ranks? After all, this world certainly is big enough for more than one “favorite” baklava 😉

Cherry Walnut Baklava

inspired loosely by Natasha’s recipe 

makes one 9×13″ pan, cut as you wish – about 48 generously sized diamonds or double that for smaller triangles

egg free

dairy free/vegan options available

  • 1 lb package frozen phyllo sheets, thawed per package instructions
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) melted butter or vegan butter (oil works as well if preferred)
  • One 9 oz (~3 cups) bag walnuts, finely chopped/coarsely ground
  • 3 teaspoons ground cardamom, divided
  • 16 oz bag frozen or fresh pitted dark sweet cherries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup water
  • optional – reserve a garnish of ground/chopped walnuts and cherry juice to sprinkle & dab on after baking
  1. First, make the cherry filling by mashing them up and reducing in a pot until the consistency of thick jam. Set aside to cool.
  2. Next grease a 9×13 pan well – you can also line with parchment paper to make removing the finished baklava easier later.  Preheat oven to 325 F.
  3. Next, see how many 9×13 sheets you have in your phyllo dough package.  If they are full sheet size, cut in half to make double of roughly 9×13 sheets.  Numbers may vary from package to package, which will influence your strategy on how many layers and how many sheets per layer your baklava will have.
  4. The basic structure of baklava is: a thick (more sheets) bottom layer, then alternating filling and thinner (fewer sheets) layers, then a thick top layer.  In my case with the phyllo brand I got (Filo Factory, if you wanted to know), my baklava blueprint ended up being: 8 sheets bottom layer, walnut filling, 5 sheets middle layer, walnut filling, 5 sheets middle layer, cherry filling, 5 sheets middle layer, walnut filling, and finally 8 sheets top layer.  You can adjust these numbers as needed based on how many sheets of phyllo your package has.
  5. With this blueprint in mind, onto what to do with it.  A few tips to keep in mind as you’re working: Keep any sheets of phyllo you’re not working on covered with a lightly damp towel so they don’t dry out.  Don’t stress over rips and tears as it really doesn’t matter in the final product.  Trim sheets as you go because pans get slightly wider as you work your way up from the bottom.
  6. Lay your first sheet in the greased pan. Use a pastry brush to lightly dab and brush the sheet with a thin layer of melted butter.  Lay down a second sheet on top and repeat until your bottom layer is done.
  7. Brush melted butter on the top sheet of the bottom layer.  Sprinkle about 1/4th of the ground/chopped walnuts and a teaspoon of cardamom.  Repeat with another middle layer, walnuts/cardamom, and another middle layer.
  8. Take the cooled cherry filling and spread evenly over the topmost layer.  Repeat the sheet & buttering process for another middle layer, walnuts/cardamom, and then the final top thick layer.  Brush melted butter on the topmost layer.
  9. Cut the baklava BEFORE baking.  Bake for about 60-80 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through for even baking, until the top looks flaky and lightly golden.
  10. While baking, combine the water, sugar, and honey in a pot (can just use the same one as with the cherries honestly) and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Bring down to a simmer and let simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
  11. Immediately after pulling the baked baklava from the oven, evenly pour the honey syrup all over the baklava.  If you wish to garnish with some chopped/ground walnuts and cherry juice, now is the time.
  12. Let cool, uncovered, to room temperature. Store uncovered at room temperature or covered with a towel/not in an airtight container.  Baklava is best after an overnight rest at least to let the honey syrup soak through and set, but is delicious anytime 🙂 since there are no preservatives in the cherry layer, I would suggest storing for no more than 3-4 days – which shouldn’t be a problem, honestly!

Nutritional information: These pastries are rich and they taste like it too.  It definitely gave me a chuckle to see the phyllo sheets advertised as a “low fat” product, which yeah I guess it is technically – but it kind of defeats the purpose if you need to slather it in butter to prepare it!  While marginally better nutritionally than cake because of the nutritional contributions from the nuts and fruits, enjoy these as a treat.

Nutritional information (calculated without vegan subs, estimating about 48 generously sized pieces):

Levain-Style Nuts 4 Nuts Cookies

Apparently, Sunday May 15th was National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!  (How do people come up with this stuff anyway?)

I think almost every American kid has got their own perfect memory of a chocolate chip cookie.  Perfect not necessarily because it’s some chemical masterpiece of flour and fat and sugar, but because of the people you eat and cherish it with.  For me, that perfect memory actually and fortunately is because of both: a beautiful sunny day in Central Park, sitting on a bench with my best and only big brother, breaking apart warm gooey chunks of a freshly baked Levain Bakery cookie.

Levain-Style Nuts 4 Nuts Cookie

If you don’t know what a Levain cookie is and you live in NYC, go get one now.  If you don’t live in NYC, Google it, salivate, and start saving up for a trip (or have them mailed to you).  Yes, it’s basically just a huge ginormous monster of a cookie, but that doesn’t simply mean more cookie for you.  A Levain cookie is crunchy caramelized on the outside, chewy soft in the middle, practically underbaked dough on the inside, melty pockets of bittersweet chocolate throughout – like the best of every cookie world for those who can’t decide which is better – crispy cookie or soft cookie or raw cookie dough?  This is the cookie that my brother considers the best he has ever eaten (and jokes when he comes to visit that he’s actually here just for the cookie, not for me).

My brother’s favorite flavor is the chocolate chocolate chip – he’s a bit of a chocolate maniac.  Me, I can never decide between chocolate peanut butter chip or oatmeal raisin.  But the chocolate chip walnut is the first and the classic.  Today though, I’ve decided to spruce it up a bit with the addition of another NYC classic – the ubiquitous candied nuts from the Nuts 4 Nuts street carts.

Levain-Style Nuts 4 Nuts Cookies

Per Wikipedia, Levain Bakery started as a bread bakery, then the owners created their signature cookie as a caloric bomb while training for the Ironman and history took off.  They keep their recipe a closely guarded secret, but inevitably bloggers around the world have tried their hand at it.  Parsley Sage Sweet takes a pretty darn good stab at it, using other published recipes by the Levain bakers and watching them make the cookies on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown TV episode as research.  I’ve made a couple adjustments to the instructions, but either way it makes a scrumpiously delicious cookie.
Levain-Style Nuts 4 Nuts Cookies

Nuts 4 Nuts also has some interesting backstory.  According to their website, honey-roasted nuts have a culinary heritage tracing back from France to Argentina, and was originally brought over to NYC by Argentinian Alejandro Rad in the 1980s.  From one pushcart, a whole business was formed, and the NYC streets would forever be changed.  Other than the 53rd & 6th Halal Guys carts, Nuts 4 Nuts are my favorite NYC street food.  Sure, you can take any simple old candied nuts recipe and make some delicious crunchy yum for yourself at home, but something about them isn’t quite the same.  Maybe it’s the copper bowl for even heating that the street carts use, or maybe the recipe needs to include the smell of car exhaust and the bustle of people bumping into you for the experience to be complete.

Levain-Style Nuts 4 Nuts Cookie

left: coconut chunks; right: mixed nuts

For this particular batch, I couldn’t make up my mind so went with a bag of mixed nuts.  Then I found out that the mixed nuts didn’t include coconut chunks… my disappointment must have been written plainly all over my face, because the Nuts 4 Nuts vendor kindly took pity on me and threw in a handful of coconut chunks which are hands down the BEST.  So most of the cookies have a mix of candied peanuts, cashews, and almonds, but a few special ones are blessed with chopped-up crunchy chewy coconut chunks.  How’s that for alliteration?

Levain Nuts 4 Nuts cookies – if I had my own bakery, I’d call this baby the “NYC-Squared”.  Guys… I’m really going to miss this city 😦 ❤

IMG_6302

Levain-style Nuts 4 Nuts Cookies

adapted from Parsley Sweet Sage
makes either 12 ~4oz cookies or 8 ~6oz cookies
egg free/dairy free/vegan options available

  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter or vegan butter, room temperature
  • ½ sticks unsalted butter or vegan butter, cold and finely diced
  • 2 cups light brown sugar or 1 cup each of granulated sugar and dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, or vegan substitution (EnerG egg replacer or flaxseed eggs both have worked fine for me)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1½ to 2 cups semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips or roughly chopped baking chocolate bars – if you can, go with dark chocolate bars for the best mmm-mm goodness
  • 1 cup candied nuts of choice, from a street cart or homemade
  1. Cream together the room temperature butter and sugar.  Stir in the cold butter chunks.  Add eggs and mix thoroughly – it’s fine to leave some of the chunks of butter still chunky.
  2. Add the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda) and mix until the dough comes together.  If using coconut as your candied nut of choice, chop into smaller pieces at this point.  Stir the chocolate and nuts into the dough, evenly distributing throughout.
  3. Divide the dough into 12 equally sized balls.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  While the oven is preheating, pop the dough balls into the freezer to chill briefly, or you can chill in the fridge if you need to step away for a longer period of time.  Prepare two baking sheets with greased foil, parchment paper, or silicone baking liners.  When the oven is done preheating, space out six of the dough balls on each baking sheet (flatten slightly or not at all), and bake for 15-20 minutes depending how underdone you like the insides to be, at least until the outside looks fully baked and not doughy.  17 minutes is a sweet spot for my oven.
  5. Let cool for at least 10 minutes on the baking sheet, longer if you want the outside to be even crunchier.  Serve warm and gooey if possible, but leftovers can be stored for several days in an airtight container at room temperature.  Little tip – stale cookies can also be revived by sticking an apple slice or a slice of bread into the airtight container with the cookies overnight.

Nutritional description: as might be expected, a cookie created for the purposes of fueling Ironman runners is no simple feat for the average weekly treadmiller.  Yes, I have eaten whole Levain cookies (plural) in one go before.  Yes, I had a huge stomachache afterwards.  Yes, for me, it was worth it 😛 when making these at home, the nice thing is you do have the luxury of making them slightly smaller (4 oz instead of 6 oz; per Parlsey Sage Sweet, any smaller than 4 nullifies the crunchy-chewy-doughy progression that makes Levain cookies special), but they’re still quite a whopper.  Save eating them whole for a day of indulgence, but better yet split them with your friends and family because sharing is caring!

Nutritional information (calculated without vegan substitutions, assuming 12 ~4oz cookies): Calories 539, Total Fat 27.3g, Saturated Fat 14.6g, Cholesterol 71.5mg, Carbs 74.2g, Fiber 4.2g, Sugars 45.3g, Protein 7g, Sodium 234.1mg

Conchas (Mexican Sweet Bread)

Let me ask you – how is it right that it’s actually colder and wetter this year in May than in December?!  Weather, stop playing hard to get with us…

Conchas - Mexican Sweet Bread

I love rainy days for baking, especially baking bread.  Right up there with hot cocoa by the fireplace, there’s something about the smell of freshly baked yeasty bready goodness that just warms the heart.  Not to mention turning the oven on keeps the room nice and toasty too!

In defiance of the gray and gloom and in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, I finally tried my hand at baking one of my favorite uber-colorful pastries.  If you’ve never had a concha from a Mexican bakery, then you’ve been missing out… run out and grab one now, or roll up your sleeves and make a batch yourself!  Your family, neighbors, and any other taste testers will love you for them.

Conchas - Mexican Sweet Bread

Conchas get their name from the pretty sugar-paste topping pattern that traditionally is scored to look like seashells.  I played around with a couple of designs and think that the variety makes for a very pretty basket.  The colors I chose for Cinco de Mayo as well, though instead of plain white I opted to throw in some cinnamon for a little burst of flavor.

Conchas - Mexican Sweet Bread

Interestingly enough, around the same time that the Spanish introduced wheat-based bread to Latin America and the first conchas arose, on the other side of the world a similar introduction was happening in Asia due to Portuguese influence.  If anyone has had Japanese melon-pan or Chinese pineapple bread (and there are other examples as well across different Asian countries and cultures), then these are very similar.

Conchas - Mexican Sweet Bread

Personally, I think that I like these homemade conchas even better than the ones I used to buy in bakeries.  Maybe it’s because they’re fresher than the ones sitting in the bakery cases, or because I can make the designs any way that I like – regardless, this recipe is a keeper.  The key to a cottony soft, fluffy sweet roll is the most precious commodity of all: time.  They are not hard to make, but can test your patience and take the better part of the morning or afternoon to make as you wait, and wait, and wait for them to rise.  But trust me when I say that the end result is worth it – soft fluffy pillows of buttery sweet bread, topped with a surprising crunch… just sit back and enjoy these little joys of life.

Conchas - Mexican Sweet Bread

Conchas (Mexican Sweet Bread)

adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

makes 16-20 rolls, depending on what size you want

dairy free/egg free/vegan options available

bread dough

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm (body temperature) water
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk of choice – I used cashew milk as I had it on hand
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter or vegan butter
  • 1 egg *if needed, can substitute egg with another tablespoon of butter, as the egg’s main purpose is to add richness to the dough
  • 3 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 – 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • optional flavorings in the dough – a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon or two of cinnamon, etc. – feel free to be creative!

sugar paste topping

  • 1/4 cup margarine or vegan butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • optional flavorings in the topping – a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon or two of cinnamon, etc. – feel free to be creative!
  • 7 – 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • optional food coloring of choice

 

  1. In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together with a spatula or paddle attachment all the ingredients for the bread dough EXCEPT only add 2 cups of flour for now.
  2. Add an additional cup of flour and stir to combine.  If using a stand mixer, switch out for the dough hook attachment and knead until smooth and elastic (the dough is so soft that it may still feel a little loosey-goosey, but when you poke it you should be able to see the indent in the dough spring back up), about 5-7 minutes total, scraping down frequently and adding additional flour up to 1/2 cup more as needed.  The dough should still feel a little tacky to touch but not so sticky that it is unworkable.  If kneading by hand, turn out the dough onto a well-floured clean surface and knead with well-floured hands, adding more flour as needed up to 1/2 cup more, to the same visual and tactile markers as mentioned in the instructions for stand mixer.  You will probably need to knead longer, about 10-15 minutes, depending your kneading style.
  3. Form the dough into a large ball and place in a large well-greased mixing bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise (in the oven turned off, near the radiator, etc.) for 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has approximately doubled in size and feels very pillowy and soft.
  4. During this first rise, prepare the sugar paste topping.  Cream together the margarine and sugar in a medium-sized bowl.  Add any optional extracts or spices you may be using for flavor at this point.  Add flour tablespoon at a time, mixing well to form an almost cookie-dough consistency paste – you don’t want it to get too crumbly.  If using food coloring, divide dough equally into one part per color and add the food coloring to each part.  Mash together with a small spoon to distribute the color.  Add a little more flour if the paste is too wet after adding the food coloring. Wrap each ball of color in plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out and set it aside.
  5. Prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone liners.  Prepare a lightly floured working surface.  Turn the risen dough out onto the workspace and punch down to evenly distribute the air – you don’t want pockets of huge bubbles deforming your beautiful rolls.  Pat into a rectangle and divide into 16-20 equally sized pieces, keeping anything you’re not working on directly covered with plastic wrap so as not to dry out.  For context, dividing into 20 will make rolls about the size of an average fist, while 16 will make rolls about the size of…a larger, manlier fist 😛
  6. Take a piece of dough and fold the corners under to form a nice little round ball.  Place on the baking sheet, and keep covered with plastic wrap.  Repeat for all dough pieces.
  7. Working with one color at a time, roll out the sugar paste to about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out circles about 2 – 2 1/2 inches in diameter.  Use your circle cutter or the blunt edge of a knife to score seashell-like designs on the circles.  Transfer the circles to the tops of the buns – the easiest way to do this I find is using a small spatula.
  8. Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Set the assembled rolls in a warm area to rise for the second time – depending on how long it took for you to assemble the sugar paste toppings (as the dough has probably been rising a little the whole time even at room temperature), you may only need to wait 20 minutes, or up to 40 minutes.  When you gently poke the dough it should feel distinctly pillowy and fluffy – that’s when you know they’re ready to bake.
  9. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the bottoms of the buns start to turn golden-brown.  Keep a close eye as the bottoms like to burn – it’s all the sugar in the dough.  No worries though, even with a slightly burnt bottom people will still eat and enjoy!
  10. You can store any leftovers in an airtight container for a couple days.  Tip – I like to store baked goods in airtight containers lined with paper towels, to ward off any soggy moisture that may result from minor temperature fluctuations and condensation throughout the day.  I guarantee these will not last long enough to get stale though 😉

Nutritional description: Cinco de Mayo is a celebration, so celebrate!  Yes, this is a treat of refined flour, saturated fat, and added sugar, so treat yourself 😛 I also consciously portioned these smaller to 20 per recipe instead of 16, so while not nutritious they are not too bad calorically if that is your concern.  If you bring these to work, they will disappear so fast that you can easily avoid temptation to eat three in one go.  But I did anyway.

Nutritional information (without vegan substitutions, assuming 20 rolls): Calories 157, Total Fat 5.7g, Saturated Fat 2.6g, Cholesterol 17.4mg, Carbs 24.3g, Fiber 1g, Sugars 6.4g, Protein 3g, Sodium 142.3mg

 

 

Red Bean Mochi Bars

One surprising side effect of baking like a mad woman this past year is that I’ve regained the ability to do simple math calculations in my head.  Remember how as kids you would spend exam after exam practicing additions, subtractions, multiplication tables?  And then how jipped you felt when you learned that there was a magical little gadget called the calculator that all adults used to do math without actually doing any work?  And forever after, you reach for the calculator on your phone to figure out the tip on a check instead of wasting energy multiplying percentages in your head.

But when baking and tinkering with recipes, practicing math helps with adaptability.  Scaling down for a little batch between best friends or scaling up for a big fiesta keeps my left brain from getting too rusty.  I also like to scale down when I anticipate needing to try a recipe a couple times to work out the kinks – way more economical than wasting a bunch of ingredients on multiple failed full batches.

Red Bean Mochi Bars

Things that need to be made in a pan (bars, brownies, cakes) are a tad trickier to scale down than things dropped on a sheet (cookies), but with a little trusty division it becomes a cinch.  Don’t want a whole 9×13 pan?  Divide the whole recipe by three and throw into a loaf pan!  The perfect solution for those recipes where you don’t want to be tempted to eat half the batch – like these soft, chewy, perfectly sweet-but-not-too-sweet red bean mochi bars.

Red Bean Mochi Bars

Have you seen yet this viral video of frenzied mochi pounding that’s been going around?  No worries, this recipe is nowhere near as strenuous of a workout – just whisk, pour, bake, and done!  People will be insanely impressed that you made mochi from scratch, not realizing it can in fact be incredibly easy.  And trust me, these treats are well worth ten times the minimal effort that you put into them – as always, it’s the greatest compliment to watch your taste testers keep reaching for one more, then another, then another.  Melt-in-your-mouth “QQ” mochi against rich little pockets of red bean paste is as addicting as it sounds!  Though if you’re not a fan of red bean, you can also bake up bars of plain mochi or substitute with something else.  Some ideas – peanut butter (mmm chunky of course), pumpkin puree, good old classic chocolate chips?

Red Bean Mochi Bars

Make a whole pan in anticipation of their disappearing act, or make a nice little loaf pan batch to keep yourself from eating it all yourself! Orrr just eat it all yourself 😉 no judgement, only complete understanding.

Red Bean Mochi Bars

Red Bean Mochi Bars – small batch

adapted from Chew Out Loud – see link for recipe for full 9×13 batch

makes approximately 12-15 bars, depending how large you cut them

gluten free

dairy free/vegan options available

  • 1/3 lb sweet rice flour (also called glutinous rice flour or mochiko flour)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cups milk of choice – I used cashew milk, my new favorite non-dairy milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 scant tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 bag or can smooth red bean paste (approximately 6 oz)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a loaf pan (can be 9×5 or 8×4 – doesn’t make much of a difference) and line with parchment paper (optional, but highly recommended for ease of removal later).
  2. Mix all ingredients except for the red bean paste in a large bowl.  Whisk vigorously until batter is smooth – can be done by hand or with an electric mixer.
  3. Pour about half the batter into the prepared loaf pan.  Break off little pieces of red bean paste with your hands or a spoon, distributing about half of the red bean paste throughout the loaf pan.
  4. Pour the rest of the batter on top.  Distribute the rest of the red bean paste drops throughout this layer of batter in the loaf pan.
  5. Bake for approximately 1 hour, until the top is puffy and golden.  If unsure, you can use a toothpick or skewer to check if the mochi has set all the way through.
  6. Let cool to room temperature.  Trim edges with a serrated knife (optional – it looks prettier, but the crunchy edges add another textural element that is quite yummy).  Cut either 3 x 4 for 12 pieces of 3 x 5 for 15 pieces.  Store at room temperature in an airtight container for several days – do NOT put in the fridge as the chilling will alter the texture for the worse.

Nutritional description: mochi is essentially made from a type of rice that is extremely starchy, contributing to its chewy sticky texture.  It doesn’t contain any nutrients in line of vitamins or minerals, but is naturally gluten free for those who have those concerns, as well as low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium.  Store-bought red bean paste does contain a lot of sugar, but provides some nutrients in the form of fiber and protein.  In short, enjoy these as a delicious but occasional treat.  Interestingly, I and other taste testers noticed that these made me feel pretty full even after just one bar – though tasty, it didn’t feel like it spiked my blood sugar like a cookie or something.

Nutritional information (assuming 15 bars): Calories 131, Total Fat 5.5g, Saturated Fat 0.5g, Cholesterol 12.3mg, Carbs 18g, Fiber 0.6g, Sugars 8.2g, Protein 1.6g, Sodium 13.7mg

 

Artichoke Deep Dish Pizza

So, I have some good news to share with everyone.  I’m extremely excited to commit to starting medical school in August at Rush Medical College, in Chicago, IL!  I’m really going to be a doctor guys 🙂 From the very beginning on interview day, I had such an amazing feeling about Rush.  It was like I already fit in with the students, the faculty, even my fellow interviewees.  Even the whole city of Chicago just felt right – everyone was so genuinely friendly, even (especially) my Uber drivers!

What struck me the most was how much every Chicagoian I met wouldn’t stop talking about their huge love for their city – a stark difference from how New Yorkers seem to love to hate NYC 😛  But as much as I might grumble about subway rudeness at rush hour or the horror that is walking through Times Square… I’m really going to miss this city.  Any ideas for bucket list items before I move in the fall?

Artichoke Deep Dish Pizza

One thing that had been on my to-do list since moving to NYC was to check out Artichoke Pizza.  Mostly highly recommended from NYU alums as prime yum in the early hours of the morning after a hot night out.  The firs time I grabbed a slice of their signature artichoke pizza was after a 12+ hour day at work, most of which had been spent standing and running around in a heavy lead vest (protection against the radiation used in the surgery).  I was tired to the bone but high on life after having the opportunity to watch this awesome surgery using an investigational device that’s only been used five times before worldwide!  So pizza celebration seemed like a good idea.  My instincts were absolutely spot on.

If you live in NYC and haven’t yet tried the artichoke pizza at Artichoke Pizza (there are multiple locations) – just go!  At least so you know whether the hype is worth it or not.  Apparently their other slices are very good as well, but for my first time I opted for their signature namesake which is basically like a cheesy artichoke dip of delicious ooey-gooeyness over a nicely substantial crust that manages to be both crunchy and fluffy at once.  Just don’t burn your mouth eating too fast like I did!

Artichoke Deep Dish Pizza

Meanwhile, this past weekend I revisited Chicago for Rush’s Second Look event and had a taste of the infamous deep dish pizza at Giordano’s.  It wasn’t bad – other students had their own opinions about where to find the definitive best deep dish – Gino’s East, Lou Malnati’s – but I guess I’ll have plenty of time to explore and decide on my own in the next four years!  The cheesy goo factor was definitely there, but I kind of missed the fluffy chew of the crust which was basically all dry crunch.  The whole time I kept thinking, man, this deep dish would be so much better with an artichoke dip topping.

Artichoke Deep Dish Pizza

…so of course I went home and made it myself.  Think of this as an homage to my upcoming transition from NYC to Chicago!  For the crust, I fell back on good old reliable America’s Test Kitchen, as featured on Brown Eyed Baker.  One note about this recipe for Chicago deep dish purists though – America’s Test Kitchen does indeed fall prey to the myth that deep dish crust includes cornmeal in the mix (from what I have read at least, deep dish enthusiasts all seem quite certain that there is no cornmeal in the crust, and my own taste of deep dish in Chicago seemed to confirm this – but please correct me if I am wrong!).  I ended up just going with it though because the end result is just so darn tasty and I’m already making a pretty unauthentic deep dish anyway 😛 I also deviated from the typical artichoke pizza toppings by adding some chicken, because it seemed like a classic combination – but if you would prefer to keep it vegetarian, you can definitely just throw in more artichoke hearts instead.

Artichoke Deep Dish Pizza

Mmm… cheesy, gooey, a crust with a crunch and a fluffy chew all at once.  Just like the artichoke pizza, but even better because there’s just MORE!  Can we call it the best of both worlds?  I will certainly miss NYC, but am looking forward to finding much to love about Chicago!

Artichoke Deep Dish Pizza

makes one 8-9″ deep dish pizza, cut into 8 generous slices

vegetarian and vegan substitutions available

crust – adapted from America’s Test Kitchen/Brown Eyed Baker

  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 heaping teaspoon instant yeast
  • 6 tablespoons water, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or vegan butter, room temperature, divided

toppings

  • 1 1/2 cups shredded low moisture part skim mozzarella cheese or vegan cheese
  • 1 large or 2 small (around 8 oz) boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts (if making vegetarian, substitute chicken breast with an additional cup of artichokes for a total of 1 1/2 cup, approximately one whole can)
  • 1 1/4 cups of your favorite alfredo/creamy sauce- here is my favorite recipe for healthy creamy sauce made with cauliflowers
  • handful (about 1/2 cups) baby spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, or nutritional yeast

 

  1. First, start the crust.  Add all ingredients EXCEPT for half of the butter (so only add 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, leaving out 1 1/2 tablespoons butter) in a large bowl or stand mixer bowl.  Knead until the dough is smooth, supple, and elastic – I like the poke test, where you poke it and see if the dough rebounds pretty quickly, indicating that gluten has developed pretty well.  This takes about 6 minutes on medium speed in the stand mixer, but can definitely be done by hand (knead for about 10 minutes, but go by sight and feel more than the length of time).
  2. Lightly grease a bowl, place the dough inside, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel.  Set aside at room temperature to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
  3. While waiting to rise, you can take the time to prep your toppings – if using homemade sauce, make it now and set aside to cool.  If using chicken, cook the chicken breast in a pan on medium high heat and dice or slice into bite-sized pieces; set aside to cool.  Cook the spinach until wilted and set aside to cool.  Break up the artichoke hearts, either by chopping roughly with a knife or just breaking them apart with your hands.
  4. Lightly flour a clean workspace and rolling pin.  Turn out the risen dough and roll into approximately a 12×8 inch rectangle.  Spread the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon butter on the rolled out dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border on the edges.  Roll the rectangle up into a cylinder.  Flatten the cylinder seam-side down into a rectangle again.  Fold the rectangle business letter/envelope style: take one end and fold over 1/3, then take the other end and fold over.  This process of locking in a layer of fat and then making folds to create multiple layers is called laminating.
  5. Place the laminated dough back in the lightly greased bowl, cover, and set aside to rise until doubled in size – if room temperature is not too warm, then room temperature is fine, but if it’s very warm then I would suggest letting it rise in the fridge, which may take a little longer than an hour.
  6. Set the oven rack to the lowest level and preheat oven to 425 F.  Roll the risen dough out to a 12-13″circle.  Lightly grease a 8-9″ cake pan and pat the dough into the pan.
  7. It’s topping time!  First, lay down the cheese.  Then, the chicken (if using) and the artichoke hearts.  Top with the creamy white sauce and stir in the wilted spinach.  Lastly, sprinkle the grated parmesan or pecorino romano on top.
  8. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown but not burnt.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.  Leftovers store well in the fridge and freezer – to reheat, I would suggest heating in the oven until warmed throughout.  Microwaving makes the crust soggy – though honestly, I kind of like it that way too, as it becomes less a pizza and more a sort of savory cheesy bread pudding.  Can’t really go wrong 😉

Nutritional description: surprisingly, this deep dish isn’t that deep on the junk food spectrum!  Not saying it’s a salad or anything, but the heavy topping to crust ratio keeps the amount of refined carbs per serving down, there’s plenty of veggies from the artichokes, spinach, and cauliflower (if using the cauliflower sauce), and a good dose of protein from the dairy and chicken.  Using my favorite cauliflower sauce really keeps the fat content in balance too – if you’ve never had creamy cauliflower sauce, you’re in for a treat!  Calorically, every bite is more than worth it – depending on your daily needed caloric intake, feel welcome to enjoying two to three slices for a satisfying but not too heavy meal!

Nutritional information (per slice assuming 8 slices, calculated without vegan substitutions and with chicken): Calories 250, Total Fat 9.9g, Saturated Fat 5.5g, Cholesterol 45.4mg, Carbs 24.3g, Fiber 1.6g, Sugars 1.5g, Protein 15.5g, Sodium 373.5mg

Matcha Mocha Babka

Despite growing up in largely Jewish neighborhood in California, the first time I experienced the magic of babka was after graduating college.  I’d been working in New York for not quite a year and was tagging along to a friend of a friend of a friend’s Superbowl potluck.  While my contribution of sadly soggy quesadillas went largely untouched, some genius brought a loaf of chocolate babka from Bread Bakery just around the corner.  The thing was devoured in no time, buried under a tackle pile of ravenous potluckers.

Matcha Mocha Babka

I barely had time to appreciate the incredible beauty of the loaf before the babka was literally torn to pieces.  Still, the image of the alluring buttery braids and veins of crumbly chocolate filling stuck with me.  At the time my baking itinerary hadn’t ventured much beyond cookies and cupcakes, so I never even dreamed of making something so beautiful in my own home.  I relegated babka to an untouchable pedestal of pastry heaven in the back of my mind.

Fast forward to today – while I still have a looooooooong way to go, I certainly am much more comfortable with a greater variety of baking techniques and goodies than I was a year ago.  When someone at work mentioned that Passover is coming up, all of a sudden the image of that glorious babka popped into my head and refused to budge.  I began researching recipes and shaping techniques, finally deciding on Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe as featured on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen.

Matcha Mocha Babka

…and then I couldn’t control myself and threw in some matcha in the bread dough and espresso powder in the filling –  like a matcha latte in pastry form!  I toyed with the idea of trying a red bean filling, but taking out the chocolate somehow seemed morally wrong… plus I just couldn’t pass up the name Matcha Mocha Babka.  Try saying that five times fast without smiling!

Matcha Mocha Babka

matcha mocha babka matcha mocha babka matcha mocha babka matcha mocha babka matcha mabka bocha? 🙂

I think my first try at babka came out pretty well!  At least, no complaints from my coworkers when I brought this in (far from it; another tackle pile was witnessed).  Thankfully, the shaping process is actually pretty forgiving, as any oopsies end up kind of smoothing out while baking.  I found this visual guide to be very helpful.  Despite Deb’s warning that the dough can be difficult to work on without an overnight rise in the fridge, I found the dough a dream to play with at room temperature – soft and supple with a nice stretch.  (Perhaps because it’s been a little bit chilly in NYC recently?)  This recipe makes two loaves and I only have one loaf pan, so I baked up one loaf the same night and stored half the dough in the fridge overnight to bake the next day.  I noticed no difference with the dough left to rise room temperature and baked the same day versus the dough chilled overnight and baked the next day.

A few other modifications I played with – while the original recipe states to roll the dough out to about 10″ width (short end), I find it easier to shape if you actually roll it out to a little less than that, about 8″ or 9″ width.  This way you can roll it out thinner length-wise to about 15″ (instead of 10″-12″ per the original recipe) for even more swirly flakiness in the final baked babka, and more importantly it makes the shaping process easier as the braiding part naturally tends to stretch the dough out a little longer.  I also swapped out the recipe for simple syrup (to be brushed on the loaves fresh out of the oven) for natural raw honey, because honey and green tea go so well together.  For veganizing, I found that vegan butter worked great; I haven’t tried any substitutes for the egg in the dough, which provides some of babka dough’s characteristic richness, but this recipe for vegan challah by My Darling Vegan suggests chickpea flour as the best substitute in yeasted breads – will definitely give it a shot next time.

Matcha Mocha Babka

Bonus: the trimmed ends of the dough look and taste great twisted up into little mini babka wreaths!  Not so packed with chocolate as is the middle of the loaf, but makes a great snack and good way to taste test without cutting into the pretty loaf.

Orrrrr just slice that bad boy open and revel in the swirlage!

Matcha Mocha Babka

swirlage.  revelllll

Mark my words, this will not be the last time I attempt babka – any applications for taste testers? 😉

Matcha Mocha Babka

adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, as featured on Smitten Kitchen
makes 2 loaves, around 16 slices each (32 slices total)
dairy free options available

dough

  • 4 1/2 cups (530 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons matcha powder (culinary grade)
  • 3 large eggs, or 9 tbsp chickpea flour + 9 tablespoons water (this vegan substitution has not been tested by me yet – will update once has been tested)
  • 1/2 cup water + more if needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 2/3 cup (150 grams) unsalted butter, softened, or vegan butter (reduce salt if using vegan butter)

Filling

  • 4 1/2 ounces (3/4 cups if using chips) dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter, or vegan butter
  • Scant 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
  • 4 tablespoons instant espresso powder

Honey Glaze

  • 1/3 cup honey

 

  1. Combine flour, sugar, yeast, and matcha in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl. Tip – if not in a hurry, chilling the bowl in the freezer/fridge for a bit first will help with the following steps to keep the butter cold while mixing.  Add water and eggs and mix on low speed or by hand (a dough whisk like this is a great cheap hand tool for mixing dough, especially wet doughs) until dough comes together into a rough mass (add more water a tablespoon at a time if dough does not come together at all, but it’s fine to be a little dry.
  2. Add salt, then butter gradually one pat at a time while continuing to mix.  Dough will look very sticky.  Once all the butter is incorporated, turn the mixer on to medium speed and let it run for about 10 minutes, scraping down whenever needed, until you see the dough pulling away from the sides of the bowl and the dough looks smooth, soft, and elastic.  If mixing by hand, you will be getting quite a workout, but I know that it is completely feasible to make rich eggy buttery doughs by hand – especially with the help of a dough whisk.  If I can do it you can do it!  Bonus, you’ll get to show off your arm muscles while presenting the babka later!
  3. A few options at this point.  If you want to bake one now and one later, lightly oil two bowls; if planning to bake them both at the same time, just oil one.  Divide the dough in half (or not) and place in bowl(s), covering with plastic wrap or a wet dishtowel/paper towel.  If wanting to bake the same day, let rise at room temperature for about 3 hours.  If you want to bake later, or it’s very warm where you’re at, let rise in the fridge for at least half a day or up to several days.  Note – the word “rise” is a bit misleading, as this dough will not rise much at all.  Don’t worry, it’ll all turn out beautifully in the end.
  4. While waiting for dough to rest and rise, make the filling.  Melt together the butter and chocolate, then stir in the cocoa, powdered sugar, and espresso powder.
  5. Lightly oil or flour a clean working surface.  If you haven’t divided the dough in half yet, do so now and wrap up one half while working on the first.  Gently press out any air and stretch/pat out into a rectangle shape.  Lightly oil/flour a rolling pin and roll out the dough half into a rectangle about 8-9″ one side and about 15″ the other, about 1/4″ thick.
  6. Use a spoon/knife/spatula to spread half of the mocha filling evenly on the dough rectangle, leaving 1/2″ clean border all around.
  7. For a visual guide to the shaping process, see here.  Moisten one of the 8-9″ borders with a little bit of water.  Starting at the other end (8-9″border facing you), roll cigar style tightly.  Place roll in the fridge to firm up for about 10 minutes.
  8. While waiting for roll to chill, prepare a loaf pan (or pans) by lightly greasing and cutting a parchment paper rectangle to fit the bottom.
  9. Take the roll out of the fridge.  Wet a large sharp knife and slice the roll in half length-wise (like a hot dog bun).  Braid the two halves together, veins facing outward.  Trim off the ends for a nice neat loaf and transfer to the loaf pan.  Repeat the shaping process with the other dough half (either now or later, whatever you prefer).  Cover loaf pan(s) with plastic wrap or damp towel and let rise at room temperature for 1-1.5 hours (again, the dough will not rise super high so don’t worry).
  10. In the last minutes of proofing, preheat oven to 375 F.  Bake the loaf for 25-30 minutes – to test for doneness, insert skewer into center of loaf; if it feels at all gummy, it’s still raw inside, but the skewer goes in easily with no resistance then the loaf is done.  If you have an instant read thermometer, you can check if the temperature in the center has reached about 185-190 F.  The trimmed ends (which I twisted into little wreaths) baked up faster, taking about 10-12 minutes to reach doneness.
  11. While baking, microwave the honey for 10 second bursts until the consistency of maple syrup.  Immediately brush the liquidy honey on the baked loaf right after removing from the oven – use up all of it, it will soak in nicely.  Let rest in loaf pan for about 10 minutes then remove to cool on cooling rack (not essential, just cool on the room temperature counter if you don’t own a cooling rack) the rest of the way.
  12. Slice and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.  You can store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days (do NOT store in the fridge as it dries out bread), but if making ahead more than three days then you can freeze the baked loaf by wrapping tightly in aluminum foil, placing in a ziploc bag for further protection from freezer burn, then freezing.  Unwrap and place on the counter an hour or more to defrost before serving.

Nutrition description: just enjoy it and savor each rich bite of buttery chocolatey goodness.  Babka is truly the definition of indulgent, though Ottolenghi’s recipe actually uses fewer eggs and less butter than others I’ve seen.  At least this particular one also happens to be caffeine happy so it might give you a nice boost of energy!

Nutrition information (calculated without vegan substitutions, based on 16 slices per loaf about 1/2″ wide): Calories 171, Total Fat 9.2g, Saturated Fat 5.8g, Cholesterol 34.8mg, Carbs 22.3g, Fiber 0.9g, Sugars 9.6g, Protein 2.3g, Sodium 61.2mg