30 March 2011

Sorry for the hiatus. But I am working on some great posts!
I recently joined Au Bon Pain. They are brand new to Nashville, found predominately in the north. It seems like a great company, and I'm not just saying that. To be honest, I was a little hesitant to consider this position. I'm used to baking from scratch, and I freely admit that I'm a bit of snob when it comes to that. However, Au Bon Pain makes all the products. It's not contracted out or just Sysco products. It's their recipes made by their people in Boston, where headquarters is also located. The bread is prepared and shaped by an actual person. Breads come in parbaked, and everything else is frozen, raw dough. Everything is proofed, baked, and finished in house everyday.
From a customer's viewpoint, they have some great options. Sure, you can have a ham and cheese, but you can also have salmon on a freshly baked dill onion bagel with herbed cream cheese, wasabi mustard, cucumbers, and tomatoes. (left) Heavenly! They also have hot sandwiches, such as grilled eggplant with mozzarella on a ciabatta. (below) Their soups are awesome, as are the fresh salads. Every 3-4 months, new items are featured, so there is always something new to try. They have a more than decent selection of pastries, excellent cookies, bagels, bread, and breadsticks. (Oatmeal cookies are something special. Fleur de creme is the most sinful-but-worth-it pastry. It's a croissant baked with sweetened cream cheese, then stuffed with more sweetened cream cheese and dusted with powdered sugar.)
Portions are by far my favorite thing. They are bites, accompaniments, snacks, etc. There's fresh fruit, brie, hummus and veggies. (My favorite is the turkey rolls, filled with cranberry chutney, fresh asparagus, and Gorgonzola.) The cool thing is that whatever is inside will not exceed 200 calories. Great idea if you are watching your intake.
Speaking of watching your intake, the most innovative thing I've ever heard--a "nutrition kiosk." It's a touch screen computer where you punch in your meal, and it gives you the full nutritional value of your whole meal. Awesome for those with special diets, allergies, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
I spent two weeks in Chicago with their training baker, so I will have a post on that coming soon. I found some great bakeries and snarfed stuffed pizza. I even mastered the CTA!
If you are in Nashville, definitely check it out. June is the grand opening. It's located at Vanderbilt Hospital, across from Light Hall. It will be open 24/7! This makes my heart super happy. Night owls can rejoice in a late night option that isn't a bar or Waffle House.

04 March 2011

Red Velvet Cake

I recently picked up a copy of Baked's first cookbook, New Frontiers in Baking. Baked is located in New York City, and a colleague of mine was their cake decorator for some years. I first picked it up, because his recipe is featured, however all the recipes are great. They pull inspiration from nostalgic desserts and candies and give it a little kick. I can't wait to work my way through this book. The first recipe I tried was red velvet cake.
Red velvet is a classic Southern staple. Who can forget the armadillo cake in Steel Magnolias? Or Tom Skerrit's line "Nothing like a good piece of ass." I have noticed that red velvet has gained popularity as a wedding cake flavor here.
Unfortunately, I have run across some dry, crumbly, radioactive-looking versions. Not so with this recipe. It is well-balanced, moist, and has actual flavor beyond sugar. I did not make the recommended cinnamon frosting, a cooked icing without a trace of super sweet powdered sugar. It sounds very intriguing, but I had to make use of vanilla buttercream to which I simply added cinnamon. Of course, the traditional cream cheese frosting would do as well.

1. In a bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/4 cup boiling water, and 2 Tbsp red food coloring. Let cool.
2. Cream 6 Tbsp unsalted softened butter, 2 Tbsp vegetable shortening, and 1 2/3 cups sugar until fluffy. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, til well combined.
3. Add 1 cup buttermilk and 1 tsp vanilla extract into the cocoa mixture.
4. Sift and combine 2 1/2 cups cake flour and 1 tsp salt together in a separate bowl.
5. Mix half the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Mix in the cocoa mixture, then the remaining half of the flour mixture.
6. In a small bowl, stir together 1 Tbsp cider vinegar and 1 tsp baking soda. (Don't worry. It's supposed to fizz.) Stir into the batter just til combined.
7. Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes, til center springs back or toothpick comes out clean.