Archive | March, 2013

Visiting Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, NJ

31 Mar

Some people get excited about shopping for vintage records and antique furniture at flea markets. Others love waking up at 6 a.m. for an early morning spin class. What gets me giddy is walking into a great bakery on a cool spring morning, inhaling the smell of freshly baked bread, and going home with a bag of pastries that are still barely warm from the oven.

I traveled to New York City last week to spend time with family, visit museums, and eat at amazing restaurants. Balthazar is one of my favorite bakeries in New York, offering carefully crafted, high-quality baked goods with a rustic Parisian influence. Balthazar’s little store in SoHo is always packed with people looking for a good cup of coffee and a quick pastry. While there is something undoubtedly charming about waiting in line at a cramped French bakery in one of NYC’s hippest neighborhoods, I visited Balthazar’s factory in Englewood, New Jersey (just half an hour outside Manhattan) to escape the hustle-bustle for a bit and observe bakers at work. 

From top: Charlotte aux Fruits with raspberry mouse and homemade ladyfingers, 
Chocolate-Almond Torte, and Lemon-Ricotta Torte. 
The Chocolate-Almond Torte was subtly sweet with a tender, nutty crumb. 

Balthazar is a wonderland for all things sweet. You walk in and you are immediately taken aback by the pastry case packed with beautiful products. Rustic loaves of handmade bread line the back wall, some speckled with oats, seeds, and nuts, some dusted with flour or cornmeal, each a distinct shape. Workers scurry about in the massive kitchen; it is fascinating to see them so engulfed in their different tasks, be it shaping dough or glazing danishes.

My family and I ordered more pastries than we could possibly consume in a single sitting. We laid everything out on our dining room table and sampled small pieces of almost every treat. Good dessert makes people smile, temporarily satisfying their sweet tooth. But only excellent dessert halts conversation as people savor and analyze each bite. That is exactly what happened to me. With every item I tried, I declared it my favorite and urged everyone at the table to experience it with me.

From top: Seasonal Vegetable Quiche and Mango-Passionfruit Tart. 

It is virtually impossible to go wrong with anything on Balthazar’s menu, but I have a few favorites that you must try. The Rhubarb and Sour Plum Crisp is filled with sweet, seasonal rhubarb preserves and plums and sprinkled with buttery crumble topping. The Chocolate-Almond Torte is light with a tender, nutty crumb. The Chocolate Chip-Walnut Cookie is crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside. I have tried chocolate chip cookies from around the world in pursuit of “the one,” and Balthazar’s version ranks in the top of my list. You can always judge a bakery’s character from its take on this classic baked good. 

Balthazar Bakery 
214 South Dean St. 
Englewood, NJ 07631
(201) 503 9717
– – – – – – – – – – – – 
Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. 


Almond-Date Breakfast Bars

15 Mar

Are you someone who follows routines? 

In some parts of my life, I have developed a system for doing things and rarely do I deviate from my approach. Take writing newspaper articles for example. I email my sources, record my interviews and take notes for back-up, highlight the most important quotes, and structure my story around these quotes. It’s a methodical structure that produces solid results every time. But there are some tasks that I have not gotten used to, such as waking up before school every morning. I stumble out of bed at least 10 minutes after my alarm goes off, throw on my uniform, and sprint down the stairs. No matter how hard I try to maintain a schedule, going to school will always be an unpredictable scramble out the door.

This past week, however, I broke a routine that I have stuck to religiously: breakfast. Weekday breakfasts consist of three options: eggs, bagels, and granola. I craved a change- something tasty and special, but healthy enough that I would feel energized after my first meal of the day. 

Leave it to Deb Perelman to devise the perfect recipe to relieve my breakfast slump. These almond-date bars are nutty from the almonds and oats, and naturally sweetened with honey and chewy, plump dates. Their golden brown edges and slightly crumbly texture are features only attainable in wholesome, homemade treats. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, these little gems happen to be 100% vegan. It was only after I enjoyed my first bar that I discovered this fact. 

So, what are you waiting for? It’s not so bad to break routines once in a while. 

Recipe courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup chopped dried pitted dates 
1 1/4 cups rolled oats 
3 tblsp barley or whole-wheat flour 
1/3 cup wheat germ*
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds 
1/2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 cup almond butter 
1/4 cup olive oil 
1/4 cup honey 
1/4 tsp freshly grated orange zest 
1/4 tsp almond extract 

Yields 16 2-inch square bars 

*I did not have wheat germ on hand, so I substituted wheat bran instead. 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square ban in one direction with parchment paper, allowing the paper to hang off the sides a bit. Do the same in the opposite direction. This parchment “sling” makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan later on. 
2. In a large bowl, stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ/bran, almonds, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth. Pour these wet ingredients over the dry mixture, and stir them together until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. 
3. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan, pressing it firmly to the bottom, edges, and corners to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. Bake the bars for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the tops have a bit of color too. They will feel soft when you touch them, but will set up once completely cool. 
4. Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. Once they’re cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. If they seem crumbly, chill them in the fridge for an additional 30 minutes, then cut them cold. 

Big Cluster Maple Granola

8 Mar
Granola is my go-to snack; it is something I always have in my pantry and that I munch on by the handfuls. What makes it so delicious to me are the big, clustery chunks. I shamelessly dig through the bag in search of these precious clusters and rejoice upon discovering every oat-y, nutty clump. But after I have extracted all of them, the last thing I want to do is break out a spoon to gather the remaining scraps. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could find a granola recipe composed entirely of clusters

My wish came true when I received my copy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Deb’s maple granola is subtly sweet, golden, and oh-so-clustery. I love the freshness and crisp texture of homemade granola, and the tart cherries offset the oats’ earthiness perfectly. An egg white is the secret ingredient though, the protein that binds everything together during the baking process. I love the aroma of oats, nuts, and coconut, glazed with maple syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon, permeating my house. Even though I want to dive right into the tray as soon as it comes out of the oven, it is crucial to let the granola cool completely so you can break it up into clusters later on.

Wrapped in a cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon, this wholesome treat becomes a simple and easily transportable homemade gift. It was a hit when I made it for my pop-up bakery at The Summer Opportunities Fair, and I am sure that it will be well-received by whoever you choose to give it to (if it even lasts that long in your kitchen). 

Recipe courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook 

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats 
1 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut 
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped 
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ*
2 tblsp olive oil
1/2 tsp coarse salt 
1/2 cup good quality maple syrup (I use Trader Joe’s organic brand)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 
1 large egg white 
1 1/2 cups dried cherries or other dried fruit of choice 

*I substituted wheat bran for wheat germ and it worked perfectly. I do not recommend omitting it entirely because small pieces help to bind the granola together. 

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Pour the wheat germ/bran onto a baking sheet and toast it in the oven just until aromatic, about 5-7 minutes. Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour in the olive oil and maple syrup, coating everything evenly. Whisk the egg white in a small bowl until frothy. Stir it into the granola mixture, distributing it throughout. 
2. Spread the granola in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until it is golden brown on top and feels dry to the touch. Transfer the sheet to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Once the granola is completely cool, break it up into desired-size clusters. Sprinkle in the dried fruit.