Saturday, February 26, 2011

City Bakery

There are a few magical New York landmarks that've stolen my heart. This particular gem has been my home away from home for over eight years. An innovative twist on the classic cafeteria, City Bakery is a mecca for the foodie. Their blueberry corn muffin is a staple in my diet. My favorite bakery celebrated their 20th anniversary on December 8th, 2010 and we toasted their success with champagne and mac ’n’ cheese (of course).

I recently sat down with baker extraordinaire (and fellow Baltimorian) Maury Rubin to delve into the man behind the famous pretzel croissant. Maury discovered his passion for pastry on a vacation to France (bien sûr). His serendipitous trip to the French countryside was the beginning of a new path which ultimately transformed this two-time Emmy winner for sports broadcasting at ABC into a veritable pastry guru. "I had planned to do television for the rest of my whole professional life, but knew I didn't like the collaborative part of it," explains Rubin. "Watching this guy [Denis Ruffel] make pastry out of butter, flour, and eggs...that was an especially appealing process; it's you, your brain, and your hands."

Inspired by the yoga––the process––of making pastry, Maury embarked on a year-long apprenticeship in Paris (sigh) and then returned home, anxious to explore the pastry shops of New York only to discover that they fell short of his expectations. "I began to realize how much I'd learned and [that period] became about deciding that I could actually do this." His eyes lit up as he described the beginning of City Bakery. "I spent three years imagining the bakery, conceiving the bakery, and raising money, and we opened in December 1990. I made a good business decision by being close to the farmers' market and I didn't know how fabulous the timing would be because that market was the impetus for the refurbishment of the entire neighborhood. I picked the perfect spot and rode a very big wave."

Following in the footsteps of Alice Waters, Maury took the concept of local/organic/seasonal restaurants and applied it to his bakery. Collaborating with the farmers of the Greenmarket, Rubin laid the foundation for his ever-expanding collection of bakeries. In fact, Birdbath takes the green factor to the next level, infusing consciousness into every layer of the business from the rickshaw pedal delivery to the materials used in building the space. They even offer a 25% discount if you arrive by bicycle or skateboard! I asked Maury when his passion for the environment took root. "In third grade. Someone came and gave an assembly on the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and that stayed with me. That was my touchstone moment."

Homemade Marshmallows hanging from the ceiling.

I often find myself tucked away in his bakery, watching the world go by, and I'm struck by the community he's created. Fellow New Yorkers can find solace in their collective love of butter, flour, and eggs. The 19th Annual Hot Chocolate Festival is on as we speak, with a different flavor hot chocolate for each day (today, for example, is "Tropical Hot Chocolate"). Being in the midst of this great beacon of baked goods reminds me of the power of creativity. Maury's yoga is his devotion to the creative process. "I love that I get to think about ideas and then make them happen." It's a treat to see his ideas take shape and I, for one, look forward to the continued evolution of my beloved bakery.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Truffles

This recipe was inspired during a recent trip to Balthazar while practicing sutra 2.33, proving once again that good things happen when you do your yoga. These truffles make a beautiful Valentine's Day gift. I found the small, heart-shaped box at Kate's Paperie; it's the perfect size for your special someone. I had a lot of fun playing with chocolate and tweaking the recipe. Believe me, I tested each and every one with you in mind.

Rum Chocolate Truffles

4 bars of Green & Black's 70% Dark Chocolate Bars
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 t vanilla
1 T espresso (or hot brewed coffee)
3 T dark rum

Finely chop the chocolate and place in a bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil and then turn off the heat, letting the cream sit for 30 seconds. Pour the cream into the chocolate and slowly stir. Make this a meditation, watching intently as the chocolate melts. Pour in the vanilla, espresso, and rum, stirring well after each addition. Then go live your life for an hour, letting the chocolate rest on the counter to harden.

When you return, scoop out a spoonfuls of chocolate and shape them into small balls. Place the truffles on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and chill them in the fridge for a half hour. I was able to make 35 truffles with this recipe (so either you have lots of valentines or one very lucky person – perhaps yourself – who'll get to enjoy massive amounts of chocolate).

I rolled the truffles in either cocoa powder, coconut or a homemade orange sugar (1/2 c sugar and the zest of one orange, mixed finely with a food processor). Roll the truffles in your hands to heat the chocolate slightly and then roll them (pressing slightly, especially with the coconut) in your chosen topping. I found these pretty paper baking cups at Sur La Table and thought they were so festive for Valentine's Day.

I know you're going to love the combination of rum and orange sugar and the rum and coconut. Savor every bite!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Will Practice for Cookies

Yesterday I escaped the cold and popped into Balthazar to grab a cappuccino. I was in a hurry and felt relieved to see that the small, cheerful bakery was nearly empty. With only one woman in front of me, I knew I'd be able to get in and out in a New York minute. As I waited in line I couldn't help but eye the heart-shaped linzer cookies stacked on a tray in front of me. Dusted in powdered sugar with their glistening bright-red jam, they beckoned me to take them home.

Staring at those gorgeous cookies, lost in thought, I was unaware of the scene unfolding at the cashier. The woman in front of me was quickly proving herself to be a high-maintenance nightmare. "No, I wanted 2 sugar, 2 strawberry, 6 pistachio and 5 chocolate. You don't have strawberry? But she said you had strawberry donuts. Oh well, then fine...I'll take 3 sugar, 5 pistachio, 2 chocolate and some croissants". Her voice grated on my nerves. She barked her order and seemed to lack tact or class (or perhaps a little of both). I immediately lumped her into the pile where I put all unconscious, obnoxious people and was about to give her my standard "I want you to know just how much I disapprove of your behavior" stare. The minutes were adding up and I reassessed just how badly I wanted my beloved cappuccino.

The pros (a jolt of caffeine whose taste would transport me to Paris) outweighed the cons (being in the same room with this woman). Here was my opportunity to practice yoga and so I did the only thing I could manage in that moment; I breathed. Focusing on my breath, I concentrated on sutra 1.33: "By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness." Hey, it was worth a shot (of espresso).

I stood there breathing and trying to soften in the presence of the wicked and felt grounded by my efforts. There was nothing I could do about the fact that she was still ordering baked goods with an air of superiority. The only thing I could control was my reaction. I chose to disregard her and fixate, instead, on those supremely divine linzer cookies. I thought about Valentine's Day and let my imagination take me to my kitchen where I dreamed of making chocolate truffles dipped in cocoa powder. I melted and found my own inner calm by redirecting my attention (sutra 2.33).

As the cashier rang up this wicked woman, she caught a glimpse of me standing there with my lone cappuccino and stopped what she was doing. Moving like the wind, she started putting various goodies into a small bag: a few Madeleine's, a couple of donuts and one of those beautiful heart-shaped linzer cookies. I held my breath. Could it be? Was I about to be rewarded for good behavior...for practicing my yoga in the face of skin-crawling adversity? The cashier handed me the small bag and said "Thank you so much for being so patient and kind. Normally people start yelling and complaining, but you were just so patient. Thank you."

You're welcome. Thank you, chère Balthazar and you crazy New Yorker (who, by the way, hopped into her chauffeured car after I held the door for her, which of course she refused to acknowledge) for allowing me to practice my yoga. The cookie was a delicious reminder to look at each obstacle as an opportunity to practice.