Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Potluck Experiments: Plum Galette

Chez Panisse is a very famous restaurant in my hometown of Berkeley, notable for the fact that it basically started the California cuisine movement: use fresh, local foods to make fusion cuisine - very Californian.  I've never been there since a) I can't afford it and b) my mother and the owner got in a fight back in 90's and my mother holds a grudge.  Berkeley isn't a cosmopolis - it's really just a small town that happens to have a large university in the middle of it - and the personal interactions are what you'd expect to see in a small town in the middle of nowhere.  Imagine a Thornton Wilder play with more grumbling about the lack of state educational funding.  (I'm not kidding about this: Thornton Wilder went to Berkeley High.)

In any case, I have that Berkeleyan smug disdain for Chez Panisse that everybody there develops eventually.  "Oh, yes, Chez Panisse.  Did you know that the original Peet's is just around the corner?  And it's so much easier to just grab a slice of pizza at the Cheeseboard.  Chez Panisse is just okay now.  Oooh, you know what I heard?  Now they're using beets in everything.  Can you imagine?  Beets!  Chez Panisse is so overpriced."  We're allowed to complain about it but nobody else is.

The internet does not have the same attitude towards Chez Panisse.  For example, this website is run by a guy who loves Chez Panisse.  In fact, he posted this recipe because of a picture he saw in the flicr photostream for the Chez Panisse 40th Anniversary Party.

This photo, to be precise.  Original.
Now I completely get what he's talking about, because when I saw one of his photos on his website I decided that I had to try making a plum galette as well.

His photo.  Who wouldn't want to try making that?
I had to fiddle with his recipe a bit to make it work but it turned out all right in the end.  While I can't tell you is if this is the type of thing that they serve at Chez Panisse, I can say that the people at the potluck liked it.  I was expecting the crust to be softer but it's actually flaky.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Potluck Experiments: 抹茶マーブルシフォン (Matcha Marbled Chiffon Cake)

As part of my post-hurricane potluck baking experiments, I decided that I wanted to try baking a nice cake made with green tea.  I had bought some good quality matcha (a type of Japanese green tea) powder from Amazon and so far I'd only made desserts using green tea cream.  Why not bake a nice cake with matcha instead?

American baked desserts are notably sweeter than baked desserts in Japan.  I like the flavor of matcha in a dessert but it really does taste weird when the dessert is at American levels of sweetness.  My parents have mentioned that one of the things they had a hard time adjusting to when we lived in Japan was that the cakes were not sweet in the way that they were expecting.  I ended up with the opposite reaction: Japanese-style cakes that are made to American sweetness levels don't taste right.

All of the recipes I found that looked promising for matcha cakes were in Japanese.  I couldn't find English translations (or I couldn't figure out the right phrases to google).  Eventually I ended up using google translate and my horrible Japanese to translate several recipes that looked promising.

The Japanese was not the most difficult part of translating the recipes - the different measurement systems were.  Most Americans don't know that we're the odd man out when it comes to cooking measurements, and it's not Imperial versus metric.  Almost every other country (except Australia) uses weight or mass when measuring dry ingredients, but we use volume.

Unfortunately, it's a bit more complicated than that.  Liquid ingredients are generally measured by volume in most countries but with a different measuring system than in the US.  Most dry or bulky ingredients are measured by weight or mass instead of volume.

The worst problem is converting from US to Imperial (UK) or vice versa, where we use the same words but mean different amounts.  This is why we can have ounces of milk and ounces of butter in the US and mean two completely separate measurements.  Fluid ounces are not the same thing as solid ounces.  This is also why you can't buy a cookbook in England and use it back in the US.  I've got a UK version of one of Nigella Lawson's cookbooks and I ended up buying another US copy of it because it was easier than converting every single recipe.

There are different conversions for each ingredient.  One cup of milk and one cup of flour do not have the same weight.  If you do end up having to translate a recipe, make sure that you look up the conversions for each ingredient.  Don't use the conversion for flour when you are calculating the amount of sugar!

If you scroll down this page to the baking conversions, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Potluck Experiments: Blackberry Cobbler

Once a month, I meet up with a group of friends to play games and have a potluck.  It's perfect because I get to try out new games that I would never have heard of otherwise and I get to inflict any new baking experiments on a pre-arranged group of people and demand constructive criticism.  It's the best kind of two-in-one: fun for me, arranged by somebody else.

I always end up making more than one recipe because I can't choose just one thing to bake.  There usually isn't any link between the various recipes except that I thought that they sounded interesting.  We had another gaming potluck last Saturday, and since the weather has gotten cold and we had just been through a hurricane, I thought that blueberry cobbler would be a good dessert choice.

The definition of a cobbler is very broad: some kind of filling in a baking dish covered with a topping that is not crumbled (pie crust, biscuits, or batter).  Cobblers never have a bottom crust like pies do.  Although most people think that cobblers are an old European or British dessert, cobblers originated in the US as an alternative to pies and puddings.  There are lots and lots of regional differences and names for cobblers, most of which I'd never heard of before googling "cobblers" (grunt, slump, buckle, sonker, and pan dowdy's).  A Brown Betty is technically a cobbler because it doesn't have a bottom crust.  A crumble is like a cobbler but it uses oatmeal in the crust instead.

My mother would occasionally make a cobbler in the winter and tell us how great is was to have a nice hot cobbler when it's cold.  But we grew up in San Francisco, where it gets chilly instead of cold, so I never really understood what she meant.  The first time I had a hot cobbler for dessert in the middle of a Chicago winter made it all clear.

Although apple cobblers and peach cobblers are popular, I associate cobbler with blueberries.  As far as I know, there is no one type of fruit that is more popular for a cobbler than any other and this link with blueberries is probably just left over from my childhood.

So when I realized that I was going to a potluck less than a week after Hurricane Sandy (which is also when the temperature dropped from the 70's to the 40's - thanks, Mother Nature!), I immediately thought of a blueberry cobbler.  This was also a good idea because we found out that the furnace was broken during the hurricane and we didn't (and still don't) have any heat for the house.  I was not adverse to the idea of spending hours in the kitchen with the oven on.