First of all an update is in order. In my last post I talked about the nesting phase of pregnancy that I am now in. I told you about knowing where to draw the line in reference to my cabinets. Well dear readers, I am here to confess that this passed week I crossed that line. With the help of a kind friend and a crow bar I waddled up unto our counters and demolished our kitchen cabinets. Currently our kitchen wall is covered in a history of wall coverings and colors ranging from peach to blood red to a delightful wallpaper print that is reminiscent of the 60’s. My hope is that I can cover the formerly cabinet covered walls with Spackle in a texture that is similar to frosting on a cake. Which is both visually attractive (not to mention yummy looking) and will also help to cover up the multitude of oddities that are now adorning the walls.
My husband now for sure thinks that I am crazy – but can you blame him?
As for the garden, well I was finally able to start planting my seedlings as we layered the garden with peat moss and topsoil. I hope that that amendment to the soil will be enough to provide us with fresh and abundant produce this summer. I will post photos soon.
On another subject I am so honored to have been able to review a wonderful new baking book, The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy who is the chef and owner of Sweet Melissa Patisserie in New York City.
Melissa opened this acclaimed bakery ten years ago after gaining her experience at the French Culinary Institute and then working with some of the best in the industry. Her gorgeous and delicious pastries have been featured in numerous publications and she recently participated in a Food Network Challenge where she managed to win the grand prize for her beautiful “Edible Ornaments”.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Melissa a few questions about her career and her new book, The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. Thanks again to Melissa for being so open and willing to share with all of us. Her passion for pastry is evident in her enthusiasm and her incredibly tasty recipes.
Your book focuses primarily on classic “home-y” desserts and pastries done exceptionally well. What were some of your favorite homemade sweet treats that you remember from your childhood?
Well, my mom is a great baker, and she used to bake all kinds of homey treats for us as kids. The book is loaded with stories of my childhood and the baking that she and I did together. I loved writing the story about the Strawberry Shortcakes. Picking the berries from the patch and then running them home to make shortcakes is one of my first memories of “farm to table”. That experience has greatly influenced my style and baking approach.
Who was your baking inspiration when you were growing up? Who inspires you now?
My mom taught me to roll pie dough before I could recite the alphabet! She and I spent a lot of time baking together, because my older brothers would refuse to play with me, which would immediately put me in tears. To cheer me up, she’d whip out her Fanny Farmer, and we’d pick out something yummy to bake.
My family, my customers, and the seasons inspire me now. I know I can make anything lemon for my mom, and she’ll love it. My sister loves, loves, loves peaches. My customers always have special requests, and I love rising to the challenge of making them their favorite dessert, better than they’ve had it before. I get very excited with the changing of the seasons, and the different fruits that become available.
What are some of your favorite culinary books/references that you turn to for inspiration?
I am drawn to classic bakers with a style similar to mine. I love Dori Greenspan, Maida Heater, and Emily Luchetti. I think Martha Stewart is amazing, and I love her style as well. I still turn to Fanny Farmer and Marion Cunningham when I need an answer I can trust.
What dessert that you have created have you been most proud of?
I am very proud of my Butterscotch Pudding, because it really took a while to get it just right. It was part of a dessert menu that I was producing for a restaurant I loved and worked for long ago. When the restaurant was reviewed by Gael Greene of New York Magazine, I was very nervous while reading it as it was my first real review. She was tough on the restaurant, but then at the end, when it came time for the dessert critique, she said
“…only a masochist could pass up Melissa Murphy’s desserts. Prepare for cosmic conflict. If you choose Murphy’s marvelous butterscotch pudding, then you have to pass up that memorable cobbler or the hot fudge and peanut brittle sundae (unless you can induce your companions to share). Someone had better order the chocolate mud cake with bourbon hot fudge, too. And if you’d call ginger ice cream and a gingersnap in your root beer float sacrilegious, think again.” NYM 4/28/97.
I still make all of those desserts in my shop, and they are in my cookbook, The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, (which you can buy through my website, www.sweetmelissapatisserie.com ). That was one of the best days of my career, and I am very proud of that menu.
What one ingredient could you never live without?
Valrhona Cocoa Powder, it is the difference between good and unbelievable.
You have a very successful bakery and now a beautiful baking book, what is next for you? More books? Television? More Food Network Challenges?
I am currently renovating and expanding my original Court Street store. Thank goodness, because it is soo tiny! In the additional space, I am building a dessert and ice cream fountain, and I am going to make my own ice cream! I am so excited to do my Butterscotch Banana Sundaes with Salted Almonds, and Hot Fudge Peanut Brittle Sundaes for my customers. So at this moment I am focusing on that.
I am filming more podcastgo! baking videos (www.podcastgo.com) , in preparation for doing my own baking show. I really want to do a show, in the style of Barefoot Contessa, that revolves around all things baking and desserts. And yes- I would love to do another baking book!
Sounds like she is a very busy baker! I wish her the best of luck and I am so excited to see what comes of the potential show and new book. But first things first… let’s start with her first book.
I was intstantly drawn to Melissa’s baking style. She combines classic recipes that have an elegant touch. Her primary focus is on taste but also puts great care into making her desserts a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Of course after talking to Melissa I immediately set out to make the Butterscotch Pudding. The texture that comes from the careful process of gently baking these puddings is out of this world. They are so incredibly creamy without being overly “eggy”. There is nothing is worse than an “eggy” custard. The kind that has a slight rubbery mouth feel when you bite into it – you know what I am talking about? Well, rest assured that these puddings are pure silk. I have been on quite the Butterscotch kick lately and these satisfied that taste. They are sweet with a complexity that comes from the dark brown sugar. These little puddings can easily be given a caramelized sugar crust and converted into a Butterscotch Brulee.
Melissa’s Butterscotch Pudding
6 large egg yolks
¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
1 tsp fine table salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Before you start:
Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 300*F. Place six 6-ounce ramekins in a 9×13 roasting pan.
1. In a large bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks until smooth.
2. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the brown sugar, milk, and heavy cream and heat to scalding, or until the milk is steaming and tiny bubbles have formed along the edges. Do not boil. Stir frequently to dissolve the brown sugar. Remove from the heat.
3. While the cream mixture is heating, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, stir together the granulated sugar and water. Increase the heat to high and boil the sugar. When the sugar starts to sputter, use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down the sides of the pan. As soon as the sugar turns amber in color (like clover honey), remove from the heat and slowly and carefully pour in the hot cream while stirring to stop the cooking. (The caramel will bubble as you add the cream, so use a long wooden spoon or whisk to stir them.)
4. In a slow, steady stream, slowly and gently whisk the hot caramel mixture into the egg yolks. Stir in the salt and vanilla.
Strain the mixture into a clean pitcher and skim off any air bubbles with a spoon.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins. Fill the roasting pan with hot water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until just set. Begin checking after 45 minutes. When gently shaken, a pudding should no longer look liquidy; it will move as one mass (albeit somewhat jiggly) and register 150* – 155*F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove to a wire rack to cool to room temperature in the water bath.
6. Remove the ramekins from the pan. Refrigerate for several hours until chilled. Serve. For longer storage, one chilled, wrap each individually with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Serve chilled with freshly whipped cream. The puddings keep covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
The other recipe that I had to try was her scones. I like to think of myself as a scone connoisseur. So often I find scones to be too tough, too cakey, too sweet, too chewy, too “baking powdery” and just plain “blah”. Because of this quest for the perfect scone I pride myself on being a very good scone baker.
My ideal scone is more tender than Elvis singing his classic love ballad on the subject. They have a light crisp exterior, which lends itself to a slightly sweet and creamy interior. There is no off taste from the amount of baking powder that is added to these pastries and the additions are simple and perfectly distributed throughout.
Melissa’s recipe has the addition of oat flour, which you can purchase or make yourself by simply processing or grinding oats. This gave her scones a slightly nutty texture and a hearty taste. They were also very tender with a slight cakey texture. I, the self-proclaimed scone connoisseur, was quite pleased the end result.
Melissa’s Orange Scented Scones
8 tbl cold unsalted butter
½ cup oat flour or 2/3 cup whole oats (to be ground)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
1 tbl sugar
2 tsp freshly grated orange zest
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
For the glaze:
2 tbl heavy cream
1 tbl sugar
Before you start:
Place a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350*. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
To make the scones:
1. Cut the cold butter into ½ inch pieces. Keep refrigerated.
2. If using the oat flour, place the flour in the bowl of a food processor. If using whole oats, place the oats in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to course flour. Add the all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and zest, and pulse to combine. Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until the size of medium peas. (At this point, the mixture can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month.)
3. In a medium blow, whisk together the heavy cream and egg until smooth. Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture to combine; the dough should hold together. Don’t overmix.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a flattened round disk measuring 7 inches across. Using a sharp knife, cut the disk (pie style) into 6 even triangles. Place at least 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet.
5. For the glaze: Brush the scones with the heavy cream and sprinkle with the sugar.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove to a wire rack to cook.
Melissa says, for the additions, if you want fresh fruit fold 1 cup into the flour mixture. (Decrease the cream if the fruit is very juicy). For dried fruit add ½ cup to the cream mixture then proceed as directed.
The Sweet Melissa Baking Book is a wonderful addition to any baker’s library. It contains numerous classic recipes done impeccably well and some with a slight twist from the classic. The book highlights breakfast pastries, cookies, special occasion cakes, desserts using seasonal produce, specialty desserts (puddings, cheesecakes, etc.) and favorite gifts.
My only complaint about this book, and I may be biased, but I was a bit disappointed with the photos. I am a very visual person and usually devour the photos just as much as the recipes themselves. I would have loved to see more photos. I love to compare the final product of my baked good and compare that to an image so I can see if I followed the recipe correctly. For example, when I made the Butterscotch pudding I thought the color was slightly light but I followed the recipe to the “T”. If there had been an image of Melissa’s finished pudding then I would have been able to see if I should have caramelized the sugar a bit longer or if indeed this was the intended final result. This is a minor critique but I wanted to give an honest review and honestly this is the only critique I have of this new book.
A special thanks goes to Melissa for giving me the opportunity to review her wonderful new book and for allowing me to interview her.