Thursday, April 29, 2010

I like to run up the hill by my house, a mile and a half of constant, steep incline. It’s hard work pushing up the hill and sometimes I need to walk a small stretch, but something draws me up that hill, motivating me to plod on until I reach the top.

In the summer, a particular stretch at the top smells like blueberries and cream. I don’t know what it is, but it’s the most delicious aroma and the perfect reward for trudging up the hill. The sweet scent is accompanied by cow fields on both sides of the road and breathtaking views of the town framed by the neighboring hills and mountains. No matter the weather, this scent is always lingering and the views never fail to impress me.

I got my first whiff of the blueberries and cream this past Monday, and it was absolutely glorious.

And that was Monday. A beautiful day in the mid-sixties with warm sunshine and refreshing breezes. A day filled with long slow runs, fetch with Thor, and lounging in the sun. If I had guests, there would have been a game of croquet and pitcher of Pimms.

Clearly too good to be true.

It was snowing on Tuesday. It accumulated to five inches and resulted in a temporary power loss. Seriously? How is it that I go to bed after a day of warmth and sunshine and wake up to a snowstorm the next day? The only saving grace was that it was light, fluffy snow, the type that coats the landscape in such a way that even the ugliest of oil tanks or port-a-potties looks snug and cozy under the white blanket.

Despite my annoyance, I did suit up and play in the snow with Thor.

(He's looking for his brain.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Apricot Rosemary Sandwich Cookies

To be completely honest, I hadn’t read any sort of food blog until four months ago. It all started when I was given a laptop at work. There was a link on the internet toolbar called 'butternut squash'. I spent my first month wondering where this link led, but I never dared to follow where it may lead. You never know what butternut squash could be a euphemism for. A month later when I was given my desk (yes, I was sitting at a table in the sec’s office for one month), I finally had enough privacy to to click the link during a spare minute.

No porn. Just a link to a butternut squash recipe in a food blog. Yum! I searched the blog a bit and ended up on the ‘blogs I follow’ page, and I sent the link to myself. Later that night, I perused the various blogs. I had no idea there was such a wealth of professional-level food blogs written by ‘non-chef’, normal people. I spent the following weeks surfing through blogs, and copying all the recipes I was eager to try.

I have one favorite blog in particular. The author is a French woman living in the US who creates some of the most beautiful and delicious looking pastries, cakes and cookies I have ever seen. In addition to creating exquisite food, her photographs and food styling are better than most food magazines. Besides the wish to reach into my computer screen and eat all her creations, I want to bake every single recipe on her blog. For some reason I never did. Her recipes generally call for ingredients I simply don't have and will never use in another recipe. And if it's not an ingredient, it's a pan I don't own and would never use again.

In my quest to find interesting cookie recipes, I scanned her entire blog a few weeks ago and came across a Rosemary Apricot Sandwich cookie recipe. Minus having fresh rosemary or cornmeal (neither of which is too exotic to discount their purchase) I had all the ingredients for the recipe as well as the baking equipment. I was intrigued by the flavor combination and decided to give it a go.

It was a fairly simple recipe to follow. The only consideration was my lack of cookie cutters as I hadn't brought them to VT yet. So I used a glass to cut the cookies out, and I used the screw lid from my Sig Bottle for the hole in the tops. This slowed the process down quite a bit since neither have a sharp edge like of a cookie cutter which slices cleanly through dough.

The end product was a delicious cookie. The rosemary and apricot jam taste fabulous together and it's a combination that's different from anything I've ever had before in a cookie. The cookies stayed fresh for about four days and stored easily, which is perfect for baking for markets.


Lawyers and Logos.

Hello hello!

I have been fairly busy this past week. I met with a lawyer who is helping me create an actual trademarked business, complete with federal and state tax numbers. He also pointed me in the direction for purchasing liability insurance, so if someone becomes sick from one of my cookies or bangs their head on my tent, I'll be protected.

I've also been working on finding the perfect madeline recipe. I thought I was all set with the version I was baking, but then I looked in the cookbook Simply French, which has a very different recipe. I tried the different recipe and they are a lot tastier, but they won't rise properly and as a result are not very pretty. So I need to work on the madelines. I'll post about them as soon as I perfect the recipe (and have a freezer full of frozen madelines).

And this brings me to the best part of my recent work, the logo. My mom is a really talented artist, and she agreed to draw the logo. The name Le Petit Lapin was actually created around my idea for the logo. When my mom was in college she drew really beautiful illustrations on note cards she sent to my dad when they were dating. They were very much in the style of Tasha Tudor and Beatrix Potter- fairy tale in the country. A lot of the cards included little bunnies, and I immediately fell in love with the idea of a bunny baking a cake. And because I am obsessed with all things french, especially french pastries, I decided on the name Le Petit Lapin Patisserie.

And so, without further ado, I bring you the first rough draft of the logo. The bunny needs to be tweaked a bit (she's a bit rotund) and I'm changing some of the colors, but it's a start and I really love it.

Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Monday, April 19, 2010


Last week I tried two new recipes. The first was a tuile, which is French for tile. These cookies are named for the rounded oval roof tiles found on many of the homes in the Mediterranean. They're light and crispy and usually sprinkled with chopped nuts. Tuiles are commonly tucked in the side of a bowl of ice cream or sorbet adding decoration and crunch.

The recipe I followed was for brown sugar tuiles, and the ingredients were simple- brown sugar, all-purpose flour, eggs, vanilla, butter and sliced almonds. The challenge in baking tuiles is in the shaping of the cookies after baking. The soft dough is spooned onto a baking sheet by the tablespoon and spread into a 4-inch diameter circle. Only three to five cookies can be baked at one time. After the cookie is baked, it's immediately removed from the baking sheet and placed on a rounded surface such as a rolling pin to shape the cookie. If too many are baked at once, some cookies begin to harden before they've been shaped.

The cookies were pretty good. At the time I didn't have any of the Madagascar vanilla I usually use and instead used the imitation Shaw's vanilla in the kitchen (I have since bought a 32 oz. bottle of Madagascar vanilla to avoid such catastrophes). Because there aren't many other flavors in the cookie besides the vanilla, I would definitely recommend using a good quality vanilla. The other consideration is the storage of these cookies. They are thin and fragile and need to be stored carefully to prevent breakage. They also become soft and soggy if they’re not stored in an airtight container as they soak up any moisture in the air.

Due to the the storage and soggy factors as well as the necessity to be baked in small batches, I don't plan on selling these cookies. I would still recommend baking them, though. They’re light and delicious and make really pretty gifts. I have only one recommendation, which is toast the chopped almonds on the stove top before sprinkling them on the cookies. The cookies bake for such a short period of time, the almonds don't brown at all.

Everybody knows the moon's made of cheese, Gromit.

Deviating from baking, I recently took a cheese making class at the Healthy Living Grocery Store in South Burlington VT. I’ve been reading many books about cooking and eating in France, and I have more often than not found my mouth watering over the elaborate dishes described. Some of the most vivid descriptions accompany the famous cheese course, after dinner of course.

All this talk of cheese made me curious about the cheese making process. I learned the basics early on from an episode of Mr. Rogers, which showed milk being separated into curds and whey in a huge factory, but that’s about it. While researching local dairy farms that make their own cheese, I found the Family Cow Farmstand, which was advertising a cheese making class. Two and a half hours to learn how to make mozzarella and ricotta cheese for just thirty-five dollars? Sign me up!

Anyone who knows me is aware of my lack of directional skills. My maps usually have two dots on them, point A and point B. Point B is roughly in the accurate direction from the starting point but never distanced proportionally. I jot down a road name here and exit number there, but that’s about it. Needless to say, I had no idea where I was going with my hand made map. I eventually ended up at the grocery store after driving 70 mph on a 40 mph road and running two yellow/red lights and taking up two parking spaces in the parking lot. I was ten minutes late and missed the introduction and beginning of the mozzarella presentation, but I’m so glad I made it.

Both cheese were simple to make. We started with raw milk from the Family Cow Farmstand. Citric acid was added and the milk was heated to 90 degrees while stirring. Rennin, an enzyme that causes the milk to separate into curds and whey, was then added and the mixture was left to sit at room temperature. After about ten minutes the milk began to transform to the consistency of tofu as the curd and whey were separating. The mass of curd was then cut into one inch columns and heated until the curds became sticky and gooey and formed a large ball in the pot. This ball of cheese was taken from the pot and worked for about ten seconds to remove more of the whey and form a ball shape. The cheese was then dunked in an ice bath with salt, and that’s it. I made mozzarella cheese!

The ricotta was made from the leftover whey plus a little more raw milk, and the process was even simpler than the mozzarella. The whey and raw milk mixture was heated slowly to 195 degrees while stirring constantly. Upon reaching 195 degrees, the liquid was poured through a strainer lined with cheesecloth, and the cloth was bundled and left to drain. The curds in the ricotta mixture were very tiny and not discernible to the eye, so I thought the entire liquid would run though the cheesecloth. That was not the case, as after draining for three hours, there was a soft spreadable cheese in the cloth! I made ricotta cheese!!!

Both cheeses were delicious. The mozzarella had a slightly salty exterior from the salt in the water bath, and the inside was sweet and milky. The consistency was perfect, not rubbery at all like some mozzarella found in grocery stores. We ate it in class on French bread with tomato, basil and sea salt. Yum! The ricotta was even better. It was smooth and creamy with an even richer flavor of the raw milk, sweet and earthy.

Both cheeses can be easily made at home. Citric acid and rennin can be purchased at health food stores and raw milk can be purchased at farms around Vermont ( I'm not sure whether it is legal to sell in other states). The only tools you need are a food thermometer, large pot, large slotted spoon and cheesecloth. It’s totally worth the effort for the fresh and delicious cheese, and there’s nothing more satisfying than enjoying something you made yourself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Products in the works

The main task I am working on right now is finding suppliers of high quality bulk ingredients as well as finding and perfecting unique recipes that transport and store easily. I'm also looking into purchasing tables, storage containers, a tent, packaging supplies and display cake domes. Oh,and there's also all that fun insurance and tax info that needs to be sorted. Woo. Thank goodness someone else is workin on the logo.

As of right now, these are my standbys, products I know I can make well and taste great:

1. French Madeline
2. Iced Butter Cookies
3. Spiced Palmiers
4. Rosemary Apricot Sandwich Cookies
5. Victoria Sponge Cake
6. Battenberg Cake
7. Cinnamon Chocolate Cake
8. White Chocholate Grapefruit Truffles
9. Linzer Cookie
10. Hazelnut Meringues
11. Sea Salted Peanuts

And things I am working on are:
1. Neapolitan Cookie
2. Chocolate Financier
3. Really, really great chocolate chip cookie
4. Pear Pecan fruit tartlettes
5. Cloister Crescents



Le Petit Lapin is a start-up bakery run in the kitchen of my home in Stowe, VT. I'm in the process of applying to various farmers' markets in Vermont to sell my products. S0 far I'm a fill in at the Stowe Farmers' Market and am waiting to hear from the Williston Farmers' Market. I created this blog to document the birth of Le Petit Lapin and all the adventures, sticks of butter and baking induced incidents I encounter along the way.

How did I get here? I graduated from Wellesley College in May 2009 with a degree majoring in Biology. The plan was straightforward. I would work in a research lab for a few years to build my resume and study for the MCAT, then apply to medical school and become a doctor. I was working as a research technician in a lab studying lung cancer, but I found myself increasingly unhappy. I was depressed by the mouse work which was essentially breeding mice, giving them cancer, and treating them with drugs until they died. I hated the fact that virtually no one around me spoke English and didn't even bother to speak in English in my presence. I hated the protocol-dictated method of the work I did and the fact that tiny alterations would ruin an entire experiment. There was no room for creative thinking and the sterile, lifeless workplace was depressing.

My decision to leave the lab was difficult. Everyday as I walked through the lobby I saw sick patients hooked up to oxygen, arriving in ambulanes and sobbing loved ones waiting in the lobbey. On one hand, I wanted be a part of my research team to contribute to the search for novel cancer treatments. I have the upmost respect for everyone I worked with in the lab and appreciate the hard work they put in everyday. But the difference was that they were facinated by what they were studying and enjoyed the environment. I, on the other hand, was becoming so unhappy that I couldn't justify sacrificing my own happiness. Seeing the sick patients every day made me wonder, what if that's me someday? If I become sick and my life is cut short, how would I have wanted to have spent my life? In my heart, I knew I was unhappy in the lab and that the work was not suited for my more free-spirit personality. Life is too valuable and fragile to spend trudging through something mediocre dreaming of what you would do if you could do anything. I figured I'm young and this is the only time I can take major risks like this and try to follow my dreams.

So I left the lab. I have always loved food, cooking and baking. I love looking through cookbooks, reading the recipes and looking over the ingredients. I love shopping for ingredients and exploring grocery stores. I love creating healthy meals and beautiful desserts for my friends and family. I also love foreign recipes, especially the complex and exquisite pastries of Paris. Perhaps cooking and baking is not as noble as curing cancer, but I think that everyone has a special purpose in life, and curing cancer is not mine.

And so I'm on my way to reinventing myself and creating Le Petit Lapin, coming to a farmers' market near you, in the northern VT region.


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