Summer becoming fall finds spices — and emotions — swirling in the air.

Image for post
Image for post
Image by Author.

At no time of year is it easier for me to understand the word “bittersweet” than when the long, golden days of summer begin to shorten, and fall starts to nudge in. Summer is the fun season, for many of us a time of greater leisure and travel (in certain times), and fruit is bursting from every vine. …


Is there a clinic for this?

Harissa in a Mortar and Pestle
Harissa in a Mortar and Pestle
Image by Author

Hi, my name’s Julian. “Hi, Julian.” I’m a harissa addict.

In the event that you’re not familiar with harissa, I’m going to use a word I use very rarely, the “S” word: You should find some and explore it. This Moroccan condiment is a mixture of chiles, garlic, lemon (preserved lemon, if you can), seasonings (chiefly: cumin, coriander, caraway, and maybe paprika), and olive oil. Even if you’re not a fan of spice, you could get a broad view of everything harissa has to offer, while adding barely more heat than you would with black pepper. …


Sometimes the messy answer is the truth.

Shallot Tart
Shallot Tart
Image By Author

When I first sat down to write, I knew I wanted to introduce you to my shallot tart. I call everything my favorite, I realize this; it’s somewhat the price of having deeply personal feelings about food — everything is my favorite. When I call this food “among my favorites,” however, that slight rhetorical adjustment should tell you everything you need to know: I’m serious. This is in the pantheon of all food that has ever given me calories. And that’s a lot. The next time you’re having steak, take the time to make this; it’s a positively bewitching side. …


Worthy of a fine marble counter

Cinnamon Walnut Coffeecake with coffee
Cinnamon Walnut Coffeecake with coffee
Image by Author

Earlier this year I quested to create the perfect cinnamon-walnut coffeecake. It wasn’t merely a flavor I was after, it was a luxurious, velvet crumb that held together cleanly when sliced, studded with just enough crunchy, cinnamon-crusted walnuts; a crumb topping that went from firm to liquid just a moment too quickly, leaving you wanting just one bit more. I needed to create this marriage of flavor and texture that persisted in my mind. Rounds of testing (and too much eating) later, I was finally satisfied with what I’d produced — and for a reason I couldn’t yet state, I immediately called my production “Department-Store Coffeecake.” No one, including me, understood why I’d call it that. …


It’s easy to put together this perfect, iconic morning treat

Fresh baked blueberry muffins
Fresh baked blueberry muffins
Image by Author

(Recipe originally published on Medium in “How to Get Better at Baking”)

This blueberry muffin recipe is one I’ve been using for many years, which I further developed and refined at New York City’s Crosby Street Hotel as the pastry chef there in 2009. Many recipes for muffins involve creaming the butter and sugar, practically as one would for cake; however, I tested that method against the much simpler step of using melted butter and found no material difference. …


The answers were not where I expected to find them

Cherry pudding, Northern peach cobbler, Berry pudding, Southern peach cobbler
Cherry pudding, Northern peach cobbler, Berry pudding, Southern peach cobbler
Image by Author

Of all the cobblers I’ve ever baked, 65% of them happened over the past few weeks. As I prepared to teach a class for a Cornell alumni group, I researched and tested well over a dozen recipes, with different kinds of fruit, ultimately in pursuit of the perfect peach cobbler.

The first thing I learned in my cobbler research (which is my new favorite kind of research) is that there is apparently a Mason-Dixon line when it comes to cobbler. Southern friends I asked described a peach cobbler as a baked dish where the cakey part and the peachy part are all sort of baked “mushed up together,” as one of them put it. When I asked my Yankee friends (and being one myself, this corresponded to my experience), they said it was a dish where peaches are baked with a biscuit-like topping on top of them. …


Essential and affordable

Image for post
Image for post
Happy family

I have a pretty functional kitchen at home, and I notice that I’m constantly reaching for 5 things that I don’t see very often in kitchens — home or otherwise. You might find some of these more commonly in the home kitchens of other countries, and some of them appear in every restaurant kitchen. All of them are indispensable to me now, and here they are!

  1. Sizzle Plates & Quarter-Sheet Pans

I’m counting these as one thing because I use them similarly. A sizzle plate, or sizzling platter, or very commonly just a “sizzle,” is a small oval plate, usually aluminum, with sloped edges and a flat bottom. They are just a few bucks at a restaurant supply store and are almost indestructible. Stop loading chopped ingredients onto your knife edge and taking them to your pan one precarious knife-full at a time: load them all on a sizzle and transport them all at once. Need to reheat that piece of meatloaf in the toaster oven? Sizzle. Defrosting a chicken breast in the fridge? Sizzle. Baking just two shortcakes? You get the picture. …


a fishy haunting

Image for post
Image for post
(not pictured: daurade)

Here at the HQ of the Simple Foods for Simple Dudes movement (note: not a real thing), there’s a ghost that visits me, often, and tells me to get a hold of myself. The ghost reminds me that sometimes there are two voices in my head, duking it out. The ghost further informs me, most emphatically, that I usually know which voice I should be listening to, whether I care to admit it or not.

Most of what you are about to read is true.


Spoiler alert: You’re already better at it than you think

Image for post
Image for post

I’ve met many cooks — including chefs — who are exceptional in the kitchen but who say they’re terrible bakers. Conversely, I know great bakers who have no interest in cooking, who grow wide-eyed in terror at the idea of cutting loose from a recipe, like a kid on the raft he really thought was going to stay tethered to the dock.

How is baking different than cooking, and why do the required skills for each craft seem so different? And how can you use the skill you have in cooking to become a better baker?

First, let’s talk about recipes. Remember that elementary school teacher who WOULD NOT let you go to the bathroom unless it was during the fifteen minute period specified in the Teacher And Student Interrelational Handbook? (You know who you are, Ms _________.) Baking has a similar notorious reputation for promising disaster if you try to do anything that isn’t allowed. The Almighty Recipe, that wondrous and omniscient guide: all you need to do is do exactly what it says, and you’ll be cranking out unimpeachably perfect cobbler in no time. …


It’s not as much stuff as you think

Image for post
Image for post

“What’s the best paring knife?” my friend asked me. My undoubtedly aggravating answer to this simple question was, “The one you will take care of.” Ouch. I promise, this wasn’t a cop-out, nor do I aspire to be a Zen Master and provide pithy, well-chosen answers with deep meaning. However, on top of being a nerd who relishes exploring things down to their finest detail, it is (arguably) fortunate for this friend that I am also unusually loquacious. So I went on to explain myself, and I’ll attempt to recreate that explanation here. Just be glad you’re not getting it in a series of seventy two text messages. …

About

Julian Plyter

Pastry Chef, Author, Consultant, Founder of Melt Bakery, Level 6 Food Nerd

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store