Sunday, November 28, 2010

Joanne Chang ~ Book Signing

"Make life sweeter...Eat dessert first." ~Joanne Chang

About the Book: Flour is not only an excellent cookbook with a million recipes I can't wait to try, it is also a genuinely good read.  Each recipe features an introduction by Joanne about when she first encountered the dessert, how it effected her, and how she has elevated it into something divine.  My favorite story goes along with her Nutella tart.  She talks about spending time abroad, and how at breakfast they put out bread and a variety of spreads, and how she avoided the Nutella because she was skeptical of the brown goo (despite the assurances of her host that it was "schokolade"). When she finally gave in and tried it, she was hooked and amazed that people actually ate chocolate for breakfast.  The book is also packed full of beautiful color photos of each recipe that make you want to lick the pages.  Seriously.  I have yet to try any of the recipes from the book, but my one experience at her bakery tell me that everything inside is going to be phenomenal.  

About the Author: Joanne Chang, who owns the Boston bakery, Flour, is known for traditioal American desserts, muffins and other breakfast treats, rich cakes, fruit tarts, good cookies. Her trademark is a little extra crunch, more richness, caramelized edges that only come about from well-made components and enough time in the oven. Essentially she like to reinvent the ordinary and make it extraordinary.  Her oreo (I've included the recipe below), pop tart, and fig newton recipes are excellent examples of her transformations. Since Joanne didn't have many sweets growing up, she sees even the simplest desserts, that the rest of us take for granted, as something worth developing into an upscale treat.

She also beat Bobby Flay in a Throwndown with her Sticky Sticky Buns.

I find it funny how two people on opposite end of the world can be doing practically the same thing at the same time...well, almost.  Take Lisa's post about Nigella Lawson, swap in Joanne Change, remove the healthy foods in place of all-American dessert, and you have my recent book signing experience in Boston.  I was not first in line and I had no kids in toe but, like Lisa, I had been looking forward to this meet-and greet for weeks, since I had seen it advertised in the window at the Brookline Booksmith.  I stood in line for about 15 minutes wondering what I wanted to say to this Harvard-educated mathematician turned distinguished pastry chef.  When I made it to Joanne, I said hello and handed over my new book, and the post-it with my name spelled correctly, and said "I love that you began your career as a mathematician and that you were able to give up such a practical career for such an impractical one and be a success."  She smiled and said that it was an easy transition once she knew what she wanted and was willing to work for it. 

"Melanie - Eat dessert first! - Joanne Chang"

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from: Flour

1 cup (2 sticks/228g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (200g) semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg
1 1/2 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (90g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup (1 stick/114g) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups (230g) confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch of salt

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined. You may also use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix in the vanilla and chocolate until just combined, and add the egg, continuing to mix until thoroughly incorporated.

2. In another medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda until well mixed. Using a spatula, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture. The dough will start to seem pretty floury, so you can just mix with your hands if that's easier. It should have the consistency of Play-Doh.

3. Divide the dough in half and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

5. Remove the disks from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 5-8 minutes to make them easier to work with. Using a rolling pin roll out each disk to about 1/4-inch thickness.

6. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out as many circles as you can out of the dough. Quickly bring it back together and re-roll the scraps, repeating the process of cutting out the circles. If it become tacky or difficult to work with, place back in refrigerator for ten minutes to firm back up. Repeat with second disk.

7. Transfer the dough to parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch. Check them frequently after 18 minutes. Unfortunately, you can't judge by color because they're already black. Allow to cool completely on baking sheet before you fill.

8. To make the filling: beat the butter on low for 30 seconds until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla and beat on high for 2-3 minutes until nice and fluffy. And milk and salt and beat again until smooth - it will resemble white spackle

9. Assemble the cookies: Scoop a heaping teaspoon of filling onto the bottom cookie and press a second on top until the filling spreads to the edges.  Repeat until you have 16-18 homemade oreos.

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