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Oat Cake with Blueberries and Blackberries

10 Jun


Just two days ago, I graduated high school. My classmates and I wore white dresses and held bouquets, walked down an aisle to an outdoor stage (sounds like a wedding, doesn’t it?), and waited anxiously to receive our diplomas. During stressful moments and late-night study sessions, I vividly imagined this day in my mind, maybe even counted down to it. Now that toasts have been made and achievements celebrated, it hasn’t sunk in yet that I will not return as a student to the place where I spent the past six years of my life.

Picking blackberries from my backyard garden.

Change is a funny sensation, because transitioning from one chapter of your life to the next never feels the way you imagined it would. I thought it would be easy to say goodbye and look forward to entering college, but this past month has been incredibly bittersweet. 

How do I thank my amazing teachers and advisors, my peers, and my family members for all they’ve done to help me grow? How do I prepare for a completely new environment filled with thousands of unfamiliar faces, historic buildings, and dorm life? Well, for right now, I’m focused on savoring the moment. I want to let my experiences come naturally rather than always look ahead or to the past. I plan to spend this summer doing what I am passionate about; no strings attached. 

Obviously baking ranks high on my list of passions. Which leads me to this cake. A cinnamon-scented oat cake filled with ripe, seasonal berries. The top is crunchy from a sprinkling of turbinado sugar, but has a soft, tender crumb on the inside. I love the cake’s rustic simplicity, because during this time of year it’s all about allowing the produce to shine. 

Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Living, July 2013

Ingredients 
4 tblsp unsalted butter, softened 
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pan 
1 cup plus 3 tblsp quick-cooking oats, divided 
2/3 cup water 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
1/2 tsp baking powder 
3/4 tsp coarse salt 
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar 
1 large egg 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
2 cups mixed ripe blueberries and blackberries 
3 tblsp coarse sanding sugar (turbinado sugar) 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Butter and flour an 8-inch square metal baking pan, tapping out excess flour. Combine 1 cup oats and water and let stand until oats have softened, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and beat in egg and vanilla until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary. Add flour and oat mixtures and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Do not overmix. Gently fold in about half of the berries.

3. Spread batter in pan and sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons oats and sanding sugar. Scatter remaining berries evenly over top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before serving. It’s best served on the day of.

Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo

31 May
Top: The Paris-NY is Dominique’s twist on a Paris-Brest, a traditional French pastry made with choux dough and filled with pastry cream. This variation pays tribute to an American candy bar with its peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate flavors. Below: Cloud-like lemon madeleine cookies that are baked-to-order.

Has a bakery ever blown you away? Have you ever tasted a dessert so masterfully executed, so perfectly delicious, that you intensely admire its creator? In my book, only an handful of pastry shops have achieved this level of excellence. Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City was one of these rare experiences. 


I first heard about Dominique Ansel through a fabulous show on Cooking Channel called Unique Sweets. Unique Sweets profiles notable sweet spots throughout the country, featuring mouth-watering video footage and interviews with innovative pastry chefs. When my family and I traveled to NYC over spring break, visiting this bakery was at the top of my to-do list. 

We ordered a variety of items to sample, including pistachio, hazelnut, and chocolate macarons, chocolate chunk and chocolate-pecan cookies, a Paris-NY, 10 mini madeleines, and a cannelé. You cannot go wrong with any of these options, but my personal favorites were the Paris-NY, the chocolate chunk cookie, and the mini madeleines. 

The fact that each batch of madeleines bakes within minutes of arriving to your table shows incredible attention-to-detail and thoughtfulness. These petite French cakes, though seemingly simple, can be made several different ways with subtle textural and flavor nuances. Dominique’s are light as air, practically melting on your tongue. The chef’s chocolate chunk cookie, another ubiquitous classic, is crunchy on the outside and soft and melty on the inside, with notes of caramel from the brown sugar. 

ABC News – Cronut from ABC News Now on Vimeo.

A few weeks ago, Dominique made waves with his newest invention, a croissant-doughnut hybrid called the cronut. Layers of flaky croissant dough are deep fried, filled with Tahitian vanilla cream, rolled in rose sugar, and finished with a pale pink rose glaze. Dominique tried 10 different recipes before he found the one, and now people line up at 5 a.m. to get their hands on this unique pastry. 

Ansel inspires me with his ability to transform familiar baked goods into amazing works of art. His creativeness with flavor combinations and presentation are unmatched. Though Dominique has received much recognition for his work and is a James Beard Award Finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef, he continues to push the boundaries. When I visited, I was surprised to see him working humbly behind the counter with the other employees. This dedication and passion for his craft makes Dominique Ansel a stand-out in the pastry world.  

Dominique Ansel Bakery 
189 Spring Street
New York, New York 
10012
(212) 219 2773
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Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. 

My Pop-Up Bakery at Kaldi Coffee

27 Apr


Starting my own pop-up bakery business in February has already been such a fruitful and exciting experience. I have learned so many valuable lessons about entrepreneurship and have improved my baking skills by 110%. It’s neat for me to take part in every step of the production process, from buying ingredients at the market to baking at home, and eventually seeing people enjoy my baked goods right in front of me. This meticulous, hands-on approach gives each one of my pop-up bakeries a special homemade touch. 

For the past several weekends, I have set up shop at Kaldi Coffee in Atwater Village, a hip and rapidly developing L.A. neighborhood. I load up the trunk of my car with baskets of chocolate chunk and oatmeal-raisin cookies and cake stands for citrus-poppyseed loaf and almond cake. Creating treats to pair with coffee has been an interesting challenge for me. All of my offerings are subtly sweet with ingredients like orange zest, clover honey, and Medjool dates that provide complex, refined notes of flavor. 


To me, an excellent dessert is one you eat slowly and mull over the different components that make it so good. I gain inspiration by going to bakeries, ordering a handful of items along with a glass of water, and spending time analyzing each one in between sips of water to cleanse my palette. For most people, this process is too time-cosuming and tedious, but doing it makes me even more passionate about my own little bakery. I hope that eating my products gives people the happiness and excitement that I feel when creating these baked goods.  


One of the most rewarding aspects of my pop-up bakery at Kaldi is receiving compliments from customers in-person and online. If you would like to connect with Maral’s Bakery online, “like” www.facebook.com/MaralsBakery for updates on where I’ll be and when, new menu items, and special orders. If you are an L.A. local, visit Kaldi Coffee tomorrow April 28 to meet me and pick up a treat. 

Maral’s Bakery at Kaldi Coffee 
3147 Glendale Boulevard 
Los Angeles, CA  
90039
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Most Sundays, 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. 

Baking for the Pasadena Civic Ballet

26 Feb

As many of you know, I have started my own pop-up bakery business for my high school Senior Project. I recently “popped up” at The San Gabriel Mission Playhouse for the opening weekend of Peter Pan presented by the Pasadena Civic Ballet. It was a beautiful show, and the environment around the auditorium was joyful and bustling.


I decided to use a green and purple theme to match the colors of the performance. I loved the way the plush green tablecloth made everything pop. Various shades of green and purple ribbon dressed up basic cellophane bags and differentiated products from one another. My mom’s flower arrangements really completed the look of my table; I love the freshness and ease that they add to the spread.

These chocolate friands with mirrored chocolate glaze are a French take on a traditional American cupcake. Rich and decadent, they resemble flourless chocolate cake in flavor and texture. They looked absolutely adorable in mini liners, perfect for popping into your mouth during a few minutes of intermission. 


My chocolate soufflé cakes have become something of a signature item. How could you resist a cloud-like chocolate dessert served in one of these mini baking molds? I loved watching little kids jump up and down at the sight of them, pointing excitedly and tugging on their parents’ arms to ask for money. So cute! 


I made zimtsternes for my first event at the Summer Opportunities Fair. After receiving such a positive response from customers, I had to bring them back. A traditional Swiss cookie made with ground almonds, honey, powdered sugar, and cinnamon, they are barely crunchy on the outside and soft in the center. Other items included grapfruit-olive oil loaf cake, and oatmeal raisin, lemon shortbread, and chocolate chunk cookies. 

The event was a great learning experience for me, because I branched out to an unfamiliar venue and catered to a unique crowd of people. It is important for me to adapt my presentation and tweak menu offerings based on where I am and who I am serving. After this event, I appreciate the expression, “It’s all about the customer.” While I have to stay true to my aesthetic, I must also be aware of my audience’s desires. 

It is exciting for me to learn new lessons with every project I take on. Follow Let’s Live La Vida on Facebook to see where I’ll be popping up next. If you have any inquiries or would like me to cater a private function, please email me at maral.lavida@gmail.com. 

Senior Project: My Own Pop-Up Bakery

3 Feb

At my school, every senior pursues a project about a topic she is passionate about and wishes to explore further. For my Senior Project, I have started my own pop-up bakery, and will chronicle all my experiences on this blog. My first event was the Summer Opportunities Fair at my school, where I set up my own table filled with homemade, “rustic French desserts.” 

Chocolate soufflé cakes and brownie drop cookies with walnuts, by far the two most popular items of the day. 

I came up with the idea for my project during the middle of my junior year, but have fantasized about opening my own bakery for a while now. I daydreamed about designing a space and baking dozens of beautiful goodies, but never thought about the hours of meticulous planning and labor required to open up shop for a day. 

After a week of deliberation, I decided to make rustic, French-inspired goodies because they felt the most natural to me. I baked until 2 a.m. the morning of the fair, and woke up at 6:30 to finish up some last-minute items and package everything. The final menu included heart-shaped chocolate soufflé cakes, citrus-glazed poppyseed mini loaf cakes, chocolate pecan torte, brownie drop cookies, zimtsterne cookies, lemon shortbread cookies, and big-cluster maple granola. 


I learned so much from this experience, and everything sold out within a few hours! It was so satisfying to tell people about my project and to see their genuine interest in my baked goods. I felt great when customers returned to my stand two or three times to buy additional items or to tell me how much they enjoyed something. I love to bake for family and friends, but receiving genuine compliments from complete strangers elevated my excitement to a new level. 

One major lesson I learned is that presentation is key. Many people stopped at my stand because of how aesthetically pleasing and professional it looked, with a vibrant yellow tablecloth and bouquets of flowers fresh from the farmers’ market. Investing time and care into packaging products and arranging them on beautiful platters really paid off. 

Zimtsternes are traditional Swiss cookies made with ground almonds, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and honey, and topped with a simple glaze.


For my first pop-up bakery, I was thrilled with the outcome of the day and everyone responded so well to my desserts. I also recognized many aspects that I can improve upon, mostly related to the business side of things. I’m still figuring out appropriate pricing, and would like to optimize my time in the kitchen by prepping certain recipes in advance. My sister and my mom helped me with every step of the process, from brainstorming menu items to assisting me with baking, and I could not have succeeded without them. 


Starting in March, I will pop up at various locations in the Los Angeles area. Follow Let’s Live La Vida on Facebook for specific details about location and time. If you would like more information about my project, or would like me to appear at a private event, please email me at maral.lavida@gmail.com. I cannot wait to see how my business grows in the coming months!