the perfect apple-almond cake photo

There’s something about fall that screams baking! During the summer months I run away from the oven with terrorizing memories of the sticky and sweaty kitchen years I endured as a baker, but as soon as the backyard fills with leaves my little inner baker wakes up.

apple-almondcake

The falling leaves and crisps nights make it irresistible for a warm and sweet baked good right out of the oven, together with a cup of coffee and a good book. The heat of the oven helps me warm up the house in the absence of a fire-place, which would make this story seem more fairytale than it really is; and if I had a say, my fairytale would include year-round mild weather and an ocean view.

Fall’s slow death into winter also slows life, or at least it feels that way. I rediscover books with folded pages and pencil notes from before the rush of summer. A bit dusty, but not at all forgotten, they guarded their message and waited for me and our daily afternoon coffee, or evening glass of wine. 

One of those books I’m a few pages from finishing is Best Food Writing 2015, a yearly compilation of food-related essays, which has been done for more than a decade now, by Holly Hughes. I got hooked on these books a few years back when my interest shifted from cookbooks {yes, i still buy some of those} to food writing as narrative, a way to tell food stories. 

As I planned for this post, an essay from this book came to mind, “The Imperfect Family Kitchen,” by Debbie Koenig.

The essay begins with: “Food writers are lying to you,” yikes! and I agree, for the most part. She talks about the behind the scenes of recipes development {or recreation} and food photography, and the reality we don’t show on blog posts like this…Nope, I don’t have any pictures of dirty dishes for you, sorry.
We ‘lie’ because ugly pictures don’t sell, and pretty pictures DO, they attract people to follow and click on a link. 

When I first started this blog, my pictures were ugly, as not pretty or appealing, my goal was to share a recipe and a story, and didn’t understand that the photos made a difference. There were many reason for my bad photos {not to say they are absolutely great now, but better} besides my lack of skill.  My kitchen is dark, with orange-yellow maple cabinets and dark green-blue counter tops. My pictures reflected that, even worse when I’d turn the lights on to photograph dinner the yellow hue would translate onto the photo. 

honeycrispapples

Hours of reading about food photography and a full week of deconstructing and reconstructing my office made my photos crisper and cleaner. The office became a white box, I took the carpet off and installed plywood planks on the floor, and painted walls, floor and ceiling a crisp white, to bounce the window light and not alter the color of the food. 

My pictures don’t reflect the dated refrigerator, the broken-down microwave, or the prop I use to keep the oven door close because the hinges don’t work. They show an “edited” idea of how cooking really happens here. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kitchen and many great meals successfully come out of it, including this apple cake, but how many people really want to see a load of bad pictures full of reality? 

germanapplealmondcake

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Apple-Cream Tarts, A Pastry Lesson

Pretty desserts, the one reason why I decided to venture on to pastry instead of the hot kitchen. Well, the sweaty hours chained to a grill or a sauté station helped further convince me that my future was where the pretty things live, the pastry kitchen. That became the topic for a talk I gave at a culinary school in Oaxaca, Mexico last week, a trip I’ll share in a post in the coming weeks.

apple cream tart

Of those pretty pastry things I have a certain infatuation with tarts – of any shape and size. I love the intricacy of the simple looking tart. The crunchy shell with the delicate ruffles, like a well-made princess dress. The layers of creams, fruit, chocolate, caramel, nuts, and anything else one can imagine.

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Poached Apple Muffins with Oat-Sunflower Seed Topping

The cold of winter inspires me to bring warmth into the kitchen, and what a better way than by poaching fruit. Apples’ delicate floral essence surfaces when poached, specially when paired with spices like cinnamon and vanilla, and a few strips of orange peel, creating the fragrant melody of a garden in bloom.

Back in my pastry days I used to poach apples and pears for tarts, to fill wedding cakes, or to serve alongside ice cream and a buttery cookie. At the restaurant, the first few tries were agonizing since we used a pot big enough for me to bathe in and the apples that stayed on the bottom for too long became mushy and unmanageable for slicing.

My boss used to say, whenever we (the pastry cooks) made big no-no’s, “Next time just put the money directly on the trash!” I had to find ways to use the apples to escape the wrath of the budget chat, and to avoid convincing myself that I was better at math than pastry.
The apples smelled and tasted just as good as the non-mushy ones so I pureed them and made a sweet and velvety applesauce perfect for breads and muffins, and to fill cakes – Ahhh! the little victories.

This week I poached a dozen apples, some to use in a cream tart and mini tartlets for a dinner party, and some to puree and make this muffin recipe.poached apple muffins with sunflower seeds

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Apple Crisp with Oats and Rye Flour

This crisp topping became my number one, most favorite, can’t live without trick for easy, delicious and healthy desserts after years of avoiding excessive pie dough making. Pie dough takes skill and practice, I have neither.
I had never made a pie crust or a pie when I started pastry school back a million years ago. The dough seemed complicated compared to a pâte sucrée, or sugar dough use to make European style tarts, plus the obsession with flaky layers as a required end product for a dough that looks more like a crumbly mess when first mixed than a dough frightened me.

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Apple Dropped Scones + thoughts on living in the present

This weekend we had friends staying over for a night before they flew out to their new life in a land faraway. I’m terrible with goodbyes, ask you’ll see I’m not lying. Maybe I have learned over the years of loosing friends to ‘enchanting’ places like England, Jamaica, El Paso or Los Angeles, that friends are never lost, simply refiled. Yes, refiled. From ‘you lived next door to now you live across thousands of droplets of water, or millions of sand cubes.’

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