From plate to cone

Almost 3 years ago a friend asked me “if you were to open your own place, what would it be?”
As a pastry chef, it was a tough question to answer. I had been working the fine dining pastry station for 15 years. My first thought was “can’t I just open a restaurant built around my pastry station?”

Maybe as a future dream project, but realistically in my small town, it would be way too much of a gamble.
For a restaurant chef, I think that question opens up many possibilities. Fine dining, casual, market driven, seafood, bbq, gastropub, winebar, French, Italian, American, Mexican, Vietnamese influences…now chefs are opening restaurants that cater to casual and fine dining, pleasing everyone, in buildings with multiple floors!
For a pastry chef, especially one that solely worked at very intimate, high end restaurants, the avenues are a little more limited. A dessert bar WOULD be a dream, like a sushi restaurant where I could stand behind a counter and do 3 to 4 course tasting menus, where the pastry chef has control over the front of house, the design, the service standards, where I could engage with the guests and not be considered an afterthought, as sometimes happens in standard restaurants.

So I gave the question serious thought. Chocolates (I’m not that disciplined), pastries, cakes, viennoiserie (those already exist in my neighborhood and they make some quality stuff), breads (would really love to but I’ve barely got my fingers sticky in the natural leavened sourdough tub)…..
What I have been doing consistently for 15 years in fine dining restaurants is make ice cream. Every single restaurant I’ve worked in we have made ice cream in house. On almost every dish. With a Pacojet, with a small batch freezer. With liquid nitrogen.
In thinking about it, within the last 5 years most of my plated desserts would stem from some kind of crazy ice cream flavor.
Beeswax, celery root, parsley and shiso, fermented pear, sunchoke, cucumber and pineapple, even uni and foie gras ice creams…basically anything in the kitchen was up for grabs in my book.

And that thought answered the question of “what style of business would you like to open”.
And now I have exited the restaurant and entered the ice cream shop.

The question asked isn’t an uncommon one for chefs. But I do think for a pastry chef it proposes some interesting limits.
How does a pastry chef stand out from the chef and restaurateur? How do they establish their own names? How do they even set up a future for their livelihood? That is a huge question we should ask ourselves. I want to own something, to support my future, something where I have control over, because I don’t have that total control within the small restaurant within the hotel within the restaurant group that I had previously worked for. Or any of the other restaurants that I worked in.

Now I am a business owner. Now I am able to open a direct dialogue to my guests. That is what I am excited about.

Odds and Ends

While the last few posts I’ve written have been singular in focus (palm sugar, mochi), this one is a grab bag of techniques. Not only did staging in Asia introduce me to a variety of foreign ingredients, but also many new ways to treat already familiar foods.


Pandan (a.k.a. Asian vanilla)

Pandan, the ubiquitous green leaf used in Asian desserts and also known as screwpine, is often tagged as Asian vanilla because of its prolific use and vexing flavor profile. Just as it is difficult to describe the nuance of the flavor “vanilla,” it is equally challenging to explain how pandan tastes without having any on hand. Floral and sweet, somewhat nutty, but also starchy in the way good horchata smells, pandan is an essential ingredient in Asian desserts, the “1 teaspoon vanilla extract” that is included in every cookbook for every cookie and cake in America. After tasting fresh pandan leaves, pandan juice, pandan extract and pandan paste in Thailand, I’ve found the best way to describe it to Westerners is that pandan tastes the way an ice cream shop making fresh waffle cones or pizzelles to order smells.


Here in the U.S., pandan extract is readily available at Asian markets in small green plastic bottles. And to cook with it, making kueh is a good gateway recipe. Kueh are the Southeast Asian analogue of American bars (brownie cheesecake, raspberry streusel) or Australian slices (chocolate caramel, oatmeal raisin). A two-layered sweet, roughly an inch high, the bottom half of a kueh is comprised of sticky rice (or rice flour) that has been steamed with coconut cream and pandan leaves and compressed to condense it into a chilled sliceable bar. The top layer is typically a baked or steamed pandan custard that is set with egg yolks.


If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with some serious Asian markets, you may be able to find fresh or frozen pandan leaves, which can be run through the vita prep with a little water and passed through a chinois to produce pandan juice.



Asian desserts are big on texture. Shaved ice sundaes will often be topped with three or four flavored jellies, all slightly different in their jelly-ness. [Agar is king when it comes to setting liquids in SE Asia, and it’s common to have a single dish include pandan, coconut, palm sugar, and grass jellies, set at 0.25%, 0.5%, 0.75% and 1.0% agar, respectively.]*

Rubies are another common dessert element, a clever way to incorporate soft and crunchy textures within a single component. Something mildly sweet and firm (water chestnuts, apples, Asian pears) is diced and soaked (or compressed, if possible) in a flavored syrup. After infusing for a few hours the fruit is drained and tossed in tapioca flour. The excess flour is shaken off and one by one the pieces of fruit are dropped into simmering water. The fruit is cooked until it floats to the surface (~1 minute) and then immediately shocked in ice water, setting the tapioca gel on the outside of the fruit. For service (i.e. while you’re standing on a street corner in 100 F heat making coconut milk slushies for passersby), the rubies are kept in the same syrup they were compressed in.


*These amounts are rough estimates—when I watched a street vendor making their agar jellies, they were using the cap from a liter bottle of Coke as their measuring device.


Foi Thong

The Portuguese love egg yolks. Egg yolk tarts, egg yolk beverages, egg yolk candies—they’ve covered every texture, temperature, viscosity, and density when it comes to egg yolk products. Nuns would use egg whites to stiffen the laundry and the surplus of yolks had to get used. At some point during the 16th or 17th century, Portuguese explorers introduced fios de ovos (“egg threads”) to Thailand and Malaysia. Now called foi thong in Thai (meaning “golden threads”) the candy is made by whisking egg yolks until they’re runny, placing in a bag, and cutting a very small opening. The yolks are then drizzled quickly (as if you were making a funnel cake) into gently simmering simple syrup. The protein in the yolk sets the strands and after a few minutes the excess water is driven off and what remains is a crunchy egg yolk candy that is similar in texture to instant ramen noodles, pre-boil.



Honeycomb Cake

Backpacking through Jakarta on my way to stage in Bali, Indonesia was one of the more terrifying and legitimately dangerous things I’ve ever done. However, were it not for several sunrise to sunset walks in my attempt to cover as much as I could of the 250 square mile city, I would never have discovered bingka ambon. Translated as honeycomb cake, the sweet contains no honey but is prepared and baked in such a way as to have a structure similar to its namesake. Rice flour, coconut water, palm sugar and yeast are mixed and left to proof for 30 minutes. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were starting to make Indonesian brioche. In a separate bowl, eggs and more sugar are beaten to the ribbon stage, coconut cream and melted butter is added, and finally tapioca flour is folded in. This is then combined with the yeasted mixture, poured into a pan, and left to proof for three hours.

Once the surface is dotted with air bubbles, the cake is par-baked on a contraption that inspires awe with its ingenuity and jankiness. Using a propane tank and a wok burner, a stone is heated to about 375 F, the pan is placed on the stone, and a larger pan is inverted over it. The idea here is to create an “oven” that only heats the cake from the bottom. As the proofed yeast on the bottom of the cake creates CO2 and expands, the direct bottom heat pushes the gas upward through the cake, creating its signature rivulets. The cake bakes this way for an hour and every 15 minutes the inverted pan is lifted to release excess steam. Finally, the cake is transferred to a regular oven set at the same temperature and baked for an additional 15 minutes to set the interior structure.


After cooling, the cake is sliced with a sharp chefs knife. This process is fascinating to watch when performed on street carts—unlike an American kitchen, where I might slice something delicate using a knife, a clean towel and a torch or bain of hot water, Asian hawkers slice honeycomb cake using a knife that is repeatedly rubbed with oil.

This bottom-heat-only technique is also often used on very thick (think ¾ of an inch) pancakes in Singapore. The pancake batter is cooked at a low temperature on just one side until fully set. Then the surface (which has gelled and is not raw, but is extremely soft and pillowy) is scattered with chopped peanuts and granulated sugar, the pancake is folded in half and sliced into wedges. The crusty, caramelized exterior gives way to an almost custardy center. Sometimes the vendor will ask if you would like sweetened condensed milk drizzled on top—the answer is always yes.


Some Things I’ve Learned About Mochi


Before working for Dana Cree, I knew mochi to be a chewy topping for frozen yogurt or a thin veil wrapped around adzuki bean paste. The Blackbird pastry kitchen offered a primer on microwave mochi, as I watched chef Cree apply flavored pieces to her legendary bubblegum dessert and sous-chef Krystle roll out sheets of it for an impromptu mignardise. It wasn’t until staging in Asia, though, that I really dove down the rabbit hole and discovered the seemingly endless variations of pounded rice products.


Alright, lets talk mochi.


Traditionally (as in, 100 A.D. traditionally) mochi was made by soaking glutinous rice in water overnight, steaming it, and then vigorously pounding the rice into a sticky mass that could be shaped. To avoid confusion, I think it’s important to point out that no, glutinous rice (short-grain rice) does not contain gluten. The name comes from the glue-y, adhesive quality the rice has when cooked.


A quick science break. All starch is made up of a combination of amylose and amylopectin. Medium- and long-grain rice mostly contain amylose, whereas short-grain rice is almost entirely amylopectin. Amylopectin is much more hygroscopic than amylose (it holds onto water), so, when cooked, the grains are able to swell more and create the chewy, elastic product necessary to make mochi.


In the nearly two thousand years since mochi’s birth (which may have been in Korea, Japan, or China, the jury is still out on that one) the process has stemmed dozens of variants. Most are still made with rice, but with one important caveat—with the advent of milling, rice can now be processed into a flour that eliminates the many hours of kneading and mashing the cooked grains. Whether mochiko (glutinous rice flour) or shiratamako (a finer flour than mochiko that creates a more elastic, stretchy mochi), rice mochi can now be made in minutes. As the technique developed popularity other Asian countries like Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia, other base ingredients were used that contained a similarly high ratio of amylopectin to amylose. Potato starch, tapioca starch, arrowroot flour and sago starch (extracted from palm trees) are all suitable alternatives.


In its most basic form, mochi is a starch gel comprised of nothing more than fully hydrated amylopectin and air bubbles. Rice and water. That’s it. Given a few millennia, though, it was bound to become more delicious. Sugar is now a common ingredient, whether in the form of sucrose, sweetened condensed milk, or palm sugar. The liquid used to swell the powdered starch can be anything with a high water content and low viscosity: tea, beer, liquor, milk (mammal, nut, soy), fruit juice. The most recent additions have been fats like vegetable oil and Crisco, which increase the elasticity of the mochi and greatly improve its shelf life. Any extract, essential oil, or ground spice can also be used to impart flavor.


There are surely dozens and dozens of different mochi making techniques, here are a few of the variations I saw while staging.


Dumpling Versions

-The raw dough is portioned, indented, filled, shaped and boiled.

-10% of the raw dough is boiled and kneaded back into the raw dough before being portioned, indented, filled, shaped and boiled.

-The raw dough is portioned, indented, filled, shaped and steamed.

-The raw dough is portioned, intended, filled, shaped and baked.


Cold Versions

-The ball of dough is steamed, chilled, rolled out, cut into circles and stuffed.

-The ball of dough is cooked in a pot, chilled, rolled out, cut into circles and stuffed.

-The ball of dough is cooked, transferred while warm to a bowl, kneaded with fat, chilled, rolled out, cut, and stuffed.


As a Garnish

-The ball of dough is cooked in a pot, chilled, rolled out and cut into pieces.

-The ball of dough is steamed, rolled out, cut and deep fried.

-The dough is microwaved briefly, stirred, and microwaved again, rolled out and cut

*Microwaving for too long overheats the starch and results in an inedible             hockey puck.

-The dough is cooked, portioned and grilled over charcoal.

-The dough is cooked, rolled out, and cooked again in a waffle maker.


Below are a few basic recipes I picked up while staging, each calling for a different cooking method.


Microwave Mochi

65 g milk

50 g mochiko

40 g granulated sugar

2 g baking powder*


*Only in the microwave method does mochi require a leavener like baking powder. When reducing the cooking time down to a mere two minutes, we need to artificially create the air bubbles that would naturally occur over a longer time if steamed or boiled.


-Mix all of the ingredients in a plastic container into a smooth paste.

-Cook for 1 minute in the microwave, stir, and cook for 1 more minute.

-Immediately transfer the contents onto a cutting board dusted with cornstarch and roll to your desired thickness.

-Allow to cool before cutting.

-Use within one day.



Steamed Fruit Mochi

15 g all-purpose flour

30 g mochiko

30 g rice flour

30 g granulated sugar

135 g fruit juice or puree

2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk

30 g butter


-Knead all of the ingredients into a soft dough.

-Steam for 8 minutes.

-Chill in the fridge for 2 hours.

-Knead on an oiled surface until smooth and shiny.

-Roll out to desired thickness before cutting.


Stove-top Mochi

15 g mochiko

35 g rice flour

40 g granulated sugar

80 g water


-Mix all ingredients in a small pot and cook over low heat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot.

-Transfer to a cutting board coated in cornstarch and immediately roll to desired thickness.


Boiled Mochi

40 g mochiko

45 g tea

15 g granulated sugar

5 g potato starch

10 g all-purpose flour

10 g Crisco


-Paddle all of the ingredients together on low speed.

-Let rest for 15 minutes.

-Divide into 10 g portions.

-Flatten each in your palm, fill with desired mixture, wrap and seal.

-Boil the mochi dumplings until they float (about 5 minutes).


Now go make some mochi!

Trust the Process: Building Desserts at Blackbird

Change happens slowly– or so I’m told. In a professional kitchen, however, change is just part of the day-to-day. Controls are in place to anticipate change and inform reactions to it: a hierarchical system of chef, sous chef, cook; detailed inventory systems and recipes, the concept of “mise en place” and how it rules a cook’s mindset. Still, every new day is a possibility for a wrench to be thrown in the system, whether in the form of an unannounced eight-top during a busy service or a cook putting in their notice. However, the sort of change that challenges me the most is of a different sort– deliberate change.

With time, with seasons, with pressure from managers or expectant customers– menus change. Desserts in particular are meant (at least to me) to be in a constant state of flux, at once complimenting the savory dishes they follow and standing alone as a representation of a certain time of year or state of mind. The pastry kitchen at Blackbird never rests. Once a new dessert, workshopped over the course of (up to) several weeks, tasted and revised and tasted and tasted again, finally makes its way in a completed form onto the menu– it’s time to start working on another. Before Blackbird, I had only witnessed this process as an observer, but being a pastry cook here means undergoing the process yourself.

In my current position, I’m in charge of coming up with two different desserts for the lunch prix fixe menu. One takes the form of a “coupe,” basically an ice cream sundae, and changes almost weekly. All I need is an ice cream flavor of my making and three to four textural components to go with it: typically some sort of sauce, a cake/cookie element, a flavored whipped cream, and perhaps a finish of meringue, candied fruit/nuts, or just maldon salt. This is (relatively) easy, since the format is so well-defined and I can repeat components if I like them and they work well.

The other option on the prix fixe menu is a plated dessert, intended to change on a loosely seasonal basis. Something on the small side, not too heavy, and easy to execute. Within these boundaries, the challenge is to create something compelling that will appeal to a lot of people– with perhaps one “wild card” ingredient, that surprise element that elevates a dish to Blackbird standards.

For someone with little experience conceptualizing plated desserts (such as myself), this is all more difficult than it initially sounds. And it doesn’t particularly sound easy.

Luckily, I’ve had some guiding forces to help me get whatever’s in my head to make sense on a plate. I distinctly remember approaching Chef Dana one morning when we were the only ones in the kitchen. I had recently moved up to the lunch cook position and was eager to begin exploring the opportunities of the role– but, admittedly, at sort of a losses to where to begin. A born perfectionist, I hate the process of trial and error, but every composed dessert (or any creative project, really) begins from this point. “I think I might have an idea for a dessert?”

Chef Dana was all enthusiasm, and immediately grabbed a piece of paper. My dessert began as a grilled peach panzanella, using day-old service bread as buttery croutons. From there, Dana began to show me her technique of mapping out a dessert: the central flavor occupies a main bubble on the page, off of which other ideas begin to branch out. What goes with peaches? Coffee, creme fraiche, bourbon– but also sourdough, parsley, zucchini. And what goes with zucchini?

In this way, we were able to pare down the dessert to its most distilled, necessary components. Make no mistake– the process unfolded over the course of several weeks, with multiple different ice cream test batches and a brief deliberation over whether the dessert might be better suited to the dinner menu over lunch. However, one of the most essential things I’ve learned during my time at Blackbird that critiques are not necessarily born out of mistakes. “This component doesn’t need to be on this plate” does not imply that it was error to include it in the original idea– everything must be tested, tasted, and questioned. “Mistakes” often breed more ideas, or turn up in another later dessert, or can be simply written off as a learning experience.

From these first impromptu scribbles on a piece of scrap paper to an actual, real-life, approved-by-my-bosses dessert to be sold on a Blackbird menu, we ended up with a bourbon-poached peach panzanella with walnut butter, sourdough croutons, and a zucchini bread ice cream. This, and subsequent dessert development projects that I’ve taken on, work well because the Blackbird pastry kitchen is a collaborative environment. (It’s really too small of a space not to be– nothing occurs in a vacuum!) I am still developing my confidence as a pastry cook, but fortunately for me in this industry, if at first you don’t succeed– at least your mistakes double as snacks.

Pastry School- How to make Ganache


My latest installation for Lucky Peach’s Pastry School is about ganache, the chocolatey backbone to so many pastry techniques. Read about the not-so-simple mixture of cream and milk, and try your hand with the three recipes I’ve written, firm ganache for truffles, medium all-purpose ganache for frostings and fillings, and thin ganache for glazes and sauces. 

Ganache and I go back to my freshman year of high school. My early interest in baking was encouraged by Marcel Desaulniers’s Death by Chocolate Cakes, and, armed with Baker’s brand chocolate and my mother’s Sunbeam mixer, I dove in headfirst. I whipped up dark chocolate cakes and covered them with a shiny chocolate-and-cream-concoction called ganache. With half a year of high school Spanish under my belt, I guessed at the pronunciation of French words in the recipes, and assumed the word ganache rhymed with apache. I continued to proudly make guh-nat-chee throughout high school, rolling it into truffles, drizzling it on my dilapidated attempts at crepes, and covering those deadly chocolate cakes.

Ganache is one of the easiest—but easiest to mess up—recipes in the fundamental pastry canon. At its simplest, ganache is no more than a velvety paste of chopped chocolate mixed with hot cream that will solidify when chilled. And, for the most part, it really is that easy. If you’re lucky, you could go your entire ganache-making life never knowing what a pain in the butt ganache can be.

When ganache does fail, it’s a runaway train of seized grainy chocolate or a curdled and oily disaster. It can happen with a recipe you’ve used a thousand times—even the best ganache recipes split—and the failure is usually caused by technique.

Look a little closer at ganache…………. Here at Lucky Peach! Click through to read the full article. 

Or head straight to these recipes…

Thick Ganache for Truffles

All-purpose ganache for frostings and fillings

Thin Ganache for glazes and sauces


One of the most interesting parts of my job at Nico is the exploration of a different cultures’ food traditions. It’s Easter, so naturally there are multiple Italian traditions. What’s really interesting is how these traditions differ among not only regions, but among families. In Italy, Pasqua (Easter) celebrates not only the traditional religious aspects, but also the Spring harvest.


Introducing the Gubana! This traditional Easter bread comes from a region northeast of Venice near the Austrian and Croatian border. It’s not just for Easter, but is also used during Christmas as well as other celebrations. The easiest way to describe a Gubana is an Italian version of a babka. It’s a brioche-type egg dough with a filling of chocolate, dried fruits, and nuts. It’s usually formed into the shape of a snail.

This delicious bread has a rich history as well. The word Gubana comes from a Slavic word “guba”, that means to fold, which makes complete sense given how it’s made! It is said that it dates back as far as 1409 and was made for the Pope.

But let’s be honest about Easter: I’m in it for the bunnies and the food! So here it is: The Gubana!


First the dough. This dough is very similar to a brioche dough as it is enriched with eggs and butter. We adjusted the dough recipe because often times, Italian doughs are a little bit dense for my taste. The dough is then split into 2 portions.


The dough is then rolled out and hangs out in the cooler for a little bit before it gets filled. The filling I used is butter, cocoa powder, chocolate pieces and dried cherries rehydrated in Marsala wine.


It then gets rolled up like a cinnamon roll and goes back in the cooler for about an hour.  This particular recipe made 2 logs. The logs then get cut in half lengthwise and the two halves are twisted together. This is what creates that beautiful swirled effect.


Now it’s time to put the dough in a “snail” shape- but in reality, any shape is good. I used an 8” cake pan that was lined with parchment.


The “traditional” Italian recipe that I used did not call for this dough to proof, but since I wanted a little bit more air to it, it’s proofed for about 30-45 minutes before it goes in the oven.

And then here it is! This beauty is on our Easter brunch menu!


Happy Easter!!!


How to Make Meringue


My latest piece over at Lucky Peach is filled with very graphic information about making meringue. I feel like it should come with a warning label, since even I started to get cross eyed after writing the word “denatured protein” for the umteenthousandth time. 

My friend Marc Shermerhorn took one of my baking classes and chose the recipe with the fewest ingredients, thinking it would be the simplest. Instead, he discovered that the recipes with the fewest ingredients are often he most complicated, because they rely on the precise interaction of the few ingredients involved. Meringue is right up Marc’s alley, with little more than egg whites and sugar. However, the way we combine them dictates the ultimate texture, and I’ve got every detail covered for you guys. 

I’ve also written three recipes for you to apply your newfound knowledge of meringue, French meringue, Italian meringue, and Swiss meringue.



The kind of meringue you get from a bakery—the impossibly light cookie, so brittle that it crackles at first bite and dissolves immediately, leaving behind only an echo of flavor—is just one version of what “meringue” is. Meringue, whipped egg whites and sugar, is one of the most fundamental techniques in pastry. It’s the base for desserts like soufflés, mousses, semifreddos, marshmallows, chiffon cakes, and some cookies, to name just a few. As such, it is crucial for a pastry chef to master—and is a useful technique for every home cook to have in his or her arsenal.

First, some science. There are three generally observable states of matter in the physical world: liquids, solids, and gases. Meringue is a foam, which forms when a gas is suspended in a liquid or solid.

Combining states of matter is not particularly difficult, but encouraging them to stay combined is. When creating a stable foam, two things need to be present: a foaming agent, which traps the air, and a stabilizing agent, which keeps the air in place. In a meringue, albumen, the family of proteins in egg whites, acts as the foaming agent. Albumen has dual-action surfaces. Some elements are hydrophilic, meaning they love water, and others are hydrophobic, meaning they fear water and will grab onto anything else present to avoid coming in contact with it. When the egg whites are whipped, the hydrophobic parts of the proteins search for air, seeking refuge from water. When enough proteins cluster around an air bubble, hiding their hydrophobic parts inside it, the bubble will become completely surrounded by proteins, and in turn, trapped.

Though the hydrophobic parts of the albumen have trapped an air bubble, the hydrophilic parts are attracting water. The proteins themselves aren’t durable enough to hold the heavy water molecule steady and keep their hydrophobic parts inside an air bubble at the same time. Think of the proteins like little teeter-totters with a water balloon on one side, and a balloon filled with air on the other. If you’ve ever whipped plain egg whites, you’ll know that they will begin to deflate almost immediately after you stop the motion of the whisk.

This is why we need a stabilizing agent, and in meringue, we use sugar. The sucrose molecules act to stabilize the foam, bonding with the proteins and water, gluing everything in place and helping meringue holds it’s shape. If sugar is added incorrectly, however, it can act as a destabilizing agent, which brings us to the first tip to making a good meringue……

Head over to Lucky Peach to read the 8 tips for making meringue!

A Brief Introduction to Palm Sugar


What I’ll always remember about Singapore is the haze. Unbeknownst to me, my month of staging would directly coincide with the peak of Indonesia’s palm sugar harvest. As I stepped off the plane, directly across the Java Sea thousands of acres were being burned and the jet stream was dumping all of the residual smoke and ash down on Singapore. Consistently grey skies, headaches from spending more than a few hours outside—the price of keeping up with the demand for Southeast Asia’s primary sweetener.

While the environmental soundness and safety of intentionally setting a large part of a country ablaze is suspect, Indonesian farmers have found a variation of slash-and-burn agriculture the most efficient way of harvesting palm sugar. The fires burn away the tree’s leafy tops, which have no market value. The stalks, filled with water, don’t ignite and are later tapped to remove the palm sap. The rest of the process is similar to making maple syrup: the sap is cooked down to produce a thick liquid and impurities are skimmed away. This resulting syrup, called gula malaka, is jet black and tastes of smoke and burnt caramel, and is delicious over vanilla ice cream. Further refining leads to the product sold in most Asian markets across the U.S., which is palm sugar in the form of beige crystallized pucks. This type is much creamier, with a taste reminiscent of sweetened condensed milk, fresh coconut, and buttery caramel.

Solidified palm sugar can either be dissolved in water to make a syrup, or grated finely to be used in other pastry applications. Palm sugar has a few convenient properties, the first of which is its low glycemic index, which means spending an afternoon eating the various sweets sold at an Asian market doesn’t cause the kind of blood sugar spike/crash one would experience on a donut-crawl across New York City while eating an equivalent amount of refined white sugar.

One of the simplest and most delicious ways to enjoy palm sugar is in kaya, the national condiment of Singapore. A typical Singaporean breakfast consists of kopi (coffee with sweetened condensed milk), a soft boiled egg, and a thick slice of toast topped with butter and kaya, a coconut jam. I personally prefer nyonya kaya, which includes pandan (a green leaf, the juice or extract of which is used in Asia as Americans use vanilla and whose taste, just like vanilla, is impossible to articulate) and have included that recipe below.

            Nyonya Kaya

10 eggs

250 g thick coconut milk (often sold as coconut cream, but not Coco Lopez)

250 g palm sugar, grated on a microplane

200 g granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pandan extract (sold in Asian markets in a small green plastic bottle)

-Place all of the ingredients in a metal bowl, whisk to combine.

-Set over a pot of simmering water and whisk continuously until thickened (about 15 minutes). Strain through       chinois if you desire an entirely smooth product.

-Chill over an ice bath, then store in the fridge.

Palm sugar’s second convenient property is its extremely low pH, which the chef Will Goldfarb utilizes in making his Balinese meringue. While French, Italian, and Swiss meringues are all variations in technique but similar in their use of white sugar, Goldfarb developed a method for meringue that is 100% palm sugar. Acid, whether lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar (a derivative of tartaric acid), is often used to stabilize meringues. Lower pHs create more stable meringues—the protein in egg whites coagulate more strongly to form a tight, glossy meringue, rather than a light, frothy one. So, Goldfarb was able to create a product using local palm sugar that had a much lower sugar concentration than typical meringues because of it’s acidic nature. The trick to the technique comes in briefly using an ice cream machine—the meringue needs to be very cold in order to whip properly.

            Will Goldfarb’s “Balinese” Meringue

210 g egg whites

178 g palm sugar, grated finely

212 g water

-Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree.

-Transfer to a bowl set over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the mixture reaches 84 degrees C.

-Transfer to an ice cream machine and spin/chill just until the mixture reaches -9 degrees C.

-Eject the mixture into a mixing bowl and whip on high speed to stiff peaks.

-Use as you would any other meringue (pipe and freeze, bake, dehydrate, torch, etc).

A final note: if you pick up some palm sugar from your nearest Asian market and start playing around with it in your existing recipes, be sure to substitute it for granulated or brown sugar at a 1:1 ratio by weight not volume! Depending on the fineness of the grater/microplane/grinder you use to break down the palm sugar, equivalent weights will yield differing volumetric measurements.

how i steal all the best ideas from those savory kids

The first 2 years of my cooking career was spent as a savory cook. I really liked it. The day after I graduated from culinary school was my first day on Garde Manger at Patina Restaurant. It was in my opinion the best and most creative fine dining restaurant in Los Angeles. The chef had just returned from a season at el bulli. Mind you, this was in 2000, before everyone was staging everywhere. We were doing tomato water noodles and frozen snow in the Pacojet. Things that have either become common, dated, or simply overused. The thing is, we were super progressive and the menu was highly creative.
I was more than happy to be in that environment. And that is where my path into the pastry world began.

Still to this day, I feel a connection to the savory world. I love to see how their plates come together. How they treat ingredients. New techniques the savory team uses. It is always a source of inspiration.

One such technique is lacto-fermentation. A seemingly simple process of placing fruits or vegetables in a cryovac bag, along with 2% salt by weight, compressing them, and letting them rest in a warm place (between 62F-75F) for an average of 5 days. During this time the natural sugars are converted into alcohol and you get a very rich, umami-like product. Think miso, kimchee, or saurkraut. Currently at Aubergine we treat lettuce this way and serve it with abalone. The savory funk of lettuce cuts through the rich meatiness of abalone.
So as I see them doing this, I think, how can I get in on the action!

Still in winter tree fruit season I try it with pears. After 5 days the pears are fermented, slightly salty, and bathed in an alcoholic funk. Way too strong to put directly on the plate….so I poach them, and then puree them and add a little creme fraiche. That fatty, lactic tang just brings it all together.
It tastes great but I want more. Not just a drip on the plate.

Let’s make ice cream!
Our restaurant is small, really small. We use a Pacojet. I have come to the conclusion that when I make ice cream I want an intense punch without much lingering fattiness. Mostly because the ice cream is just one component among many for the plated dessert. I like it lean and clean. Mostly milk, very little cream, low in sugar, no yolks.
Ok, so that’s sherbet…or is it gelato?
Yes. So many technicalities….

I figure this funky pear would make a great ice cream.
900g milk
200g cream
400g fermented pear
125g sugar
75g dextrose powder
40g trimolene
60g milk powder

The ice cream tastes like a rich Poire Williams ice cream. I am loving it. It tickles the palate, makes you salivate, and crave more.

So now we had to come up with a dish.
We’ve been making our own walnut praline paste. Caramelized walnuts blended to make a creamy paste. Unfortunately for our purveyor I have stopped buying praline paste and just make it in house.
Walnut praline is bitter and toasty and we figured we should make a standard feuillatine with this delicious goop.
Simply walnut praline, cooca butter, feuillatine, and salt. Like an adult Watchamacallit.
Finish this off with a chocolate cremeux and we have the last of three dessert courses.
Rich, bitter, and a bit funky. Sounds like a George Clinton album.

Let’s see how we can push pastry this week.


Thoughts; a post by Amanda Rockman of Pastrylandia


“So, I think I’m moving.”


“No way- you’ve said this before and you never do- you would never leave Chicago.”


“No, really. Leigh. I’m leaving Chicago.”


That is when I knew it was really happening- I said it out loud to another pastry chef AND was convincing her to take my position. Nico- my amazing kitchen with my own walk in and freezer, a staff that had stuck by me (some for years and through different restaurants), availability to any product I could imagine, awesome equipment, and a chef that really supported what I did. What the hell was I thinking?


Everyone talks about the physical changes that one goes through as they work their way through our industry- knees get sore, back isn’t the same, you can’t bounce back from a clopen (closing- then opening) as you used to do. However, no one really talks about the mental changes that occur 10-15-20 years in your career.


So what was I thinking? A few things really.


Thought #1:

I was about to get married. I was about to share my life with someone and build upon that life and had to realized that when I made decisions it wasn’t just about me it was about “us.” I also didn’t want to miss every birthday and holiday as I had before because I had someone I wanted to share them with. We talked about having a family in the future and did we really want to have our kids go to public school in Chicago? Could we afford a home in Chicago-proper? Did we enjoy digging our cars out the snow in May? Do we enjoy the state AND city taxes?
Answer: No.


Thought #2:

Over the 11 years I had resided in Chicago I had worked at TRU, Spring, L.2o (twice), The Peninsula Hotel, Bristol, Balena, and Nico. I had opened three of those seven restaurants and re-concepted another three.

I build programs- I reorganize kitchen systems, stream line ordering, make recipes consistent in how they are communicated, and train pastry cooks. My dear friend Dana once called me “The Opener”- a name I hold near and dear to my heart. I enjoy opening restaurants- it is a personal challenge to go into a bare bones kitchen with a loose mission statement of what owners want the restaurant to be and to create something from their vision. I was offered a new opening challenge in Austin, Texas for an entire property: two restaurants, a coffee-juice-pastry shop, event space, and ice cream truck. Things are bigger in Texas and this opportunity was the proof.


Thought #3:

As a pastry chef you are an extension of the chef. You follow their lead. They go ultra modern? You order the liquid nitrogen. Paying homage to their roots? You find your grandma’s recipe. You listen to their needs and wants to have this or that concept. You are there to support their vision and to come up with the ideas of their pastry/bread program. It is rarely asked what a pastry chef wants in the long term and I suppose it is not really the chef’s job to do so. But as a pastry chef manipulating my own personal style to fit with what the chef wants, I would like to think that my future plans are just as important. It became very clear to me that if I wanted to ever have my own place, I would have to put my plans first. Saying that to the best chef I have ever worked with, Erling Wu-Bower, was one of the hardest things I ever had to admit. I couldn’t focus on his wants- I wanted to focus on mine.


When you start out in a kitchen you get to concentrate on the food and the technique- how to improve your abilities to be quick and efficient. You strain over every item on the plate. I try to remind my staff to enjoy that time. You don’t have to worry about food or labor cost, your relationship with your boss(es), whether or not your staff will stay with you… Oh and by the way, did you nail the reviews? Have you proven your relevance to the industry? None of that matters when a young cook is starting out in the kitchen; they just get to worry about the food. Cherish the growth, no matter how many miles it takes you from your comfort zone. As you move along in your career and life, thoughts you had as a young cook begin to compound and layer as you become a chef- a wife- a friend- a human being.


Nothing is as flaky and layered than a perfect Kougin Amann- something I became obsessed with during my time in Chicago. The many folds of butter and dough hit with sugar is an amazing feat of pastry. That is, once you’ve taken the time to make the dough, butter block, laminate the dough, form the kougin amanns, proof them, and lastly, bake- enjoy the process.



I was fortunate to learn how to make the Kougin Amann from Chef Michael Laiskonis and then brought it to Nico where we affectionately called them “Queens.”


YIELD: 1 Book: 24 Queens



997g APF

19g kosher salt

9g dry instant yeast

598g room temp water

37g plugra butter-melted



Place all dries in a bowl with a dough hook attachment

mix in melted butter on low speed

slowly add water allowing dough to hydrate

once dough is combined mix on medium speed

mix till dough is shiny and elastic (has good “window”)

spray bowl with pan spray and place dough inside

wrap top with plastic

chill overnight


Butter Block:

1650g plugra butter- on the warm side



On a piece of parchment slice butter into equal square butter blocks- make a rectangle the size of 11”X9” with that butter.

Place a piece of parchment on top the butter.

Using a wooden dowel and some of the day’s aggression- beat the butter so that the pieces start to come together- be sure to keep your rectangle shape.

You will need to use a bench scrapper to take pieces from the side and reintroduce them to the center.

Do this a few times and it will become a homogenous block of butter.

Clean up the sides and make sure that the butter is smooth top and bottom.

Place in a full sheet of parchment and wrap.

Chill overnight.



Take dough out and sheet to .5” thick- you want it to be a rectangle large enough that you can accommodate the block of butter being locked in between the dough.

Once you have that rectangle large enough place the butter block on the right side of the rectangle and fold over the dough. Be sure to seal the edges around the butter block.

Roll out the dough with the butter now inside the dough to a long rectangle (think 40”X15”: If you have a sheeter, CONGRATS- this will be a ton easier!)

You will then want to fold one end of your dough 1/4 th the way into the center and then fold the other end of the dough 3/4th the way matching the end pieces together.

Then fold the end of the dough to meet the other end as if it was a book.

Wrap and allow to rest for 1 hour.

After an hour take the dough out and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

Repeat the same fold you did before.

Rest another hour.

After an hour take the dough out and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

Be sure to have 320g of sugar weighed out.

Roll the dough out in a long rectangle (40”X15”) with sugar on the surface.

Sprinkle sugar on the dough rectangle and finish your book fold making sure to get sugar on all sides.

Roll dough out to ¼” thick.

Cut 4.5” squares of dough.


Forming: using your fingers place all the corners of the square into the center pressing down so they stay there.

The teardrop shape that is created from that fold you want to place your fingers in between the tear drop and press them in to make the shape of a heart

Place them inside a 4” ring mold and proof at 98F for 55 minutes. (spray molds with pan spray)

Bake them at 375F on high fan (if you have that availability)

When they come out of the oven allow them to cool for 8 minutes then carefully remove them from the molds and allow them to cool upside down.