In a new video from ICE and Direct Eats, Chef James Distefano, former executive pastry chef of the acclaimed Rouge Tomate, delves into baking with alternative butters. First, he shares the recipe for a mouth-watering maple butter crepe cake. Then, he shows us how to whip up blondies made with cashew butter, with an added touch of yum from chocolate chips and salted cashew brittle — delicious and (sorta’) nutritious. Finally, for those of you with peanut allergies, Chef James has a new best friend for you — sunflower butter, a great alternative for recipes calling for peanut butter. He uses sunflower butter to bake his sunflower seed financiers, a light, airy and peanut-free sponge-cake with just a hint of vanilla. Grab a whisk and check out this inventive butter exploration, then scroll down for the complete recipes. 

Cashew Butter Blondie
Yield: Makes about 18 1½” x 1½” squares

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 cups cashew brittle
1½ cup chocolate chips
6 ounces unsalted butter, lightly softened
⅓ cup salted cashew butter
2 cups light brown sugar
2 cups sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Stir together the all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • Combine about two tablespoons of your dry mix with your salted cashew brittle and your chocolate chips in a separate bowl and set this aside as well.
  • Place the lightly softened butter, cashew butter and both sugars in to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to medium speed and allow the mix to blend sufficiently until it is light and fluffy and well mixed. It should not look waxy.
  • Combine the vanilla extract with the eggs.
  • Turn the mixer down to low speed and slowly add the eggs to the mixer (one at a time) making sure the egg is fully absorbed into the sugar base. Repeat until all of the eggs and vanilla have been incorporated.
  • Add all of your dry ingredients (not including the brittle and chips) and mix on low until barely combined.
  • Turn the mixer off, add in the bowl containing the brittle and the chips and turn machine back on and mix until no flour is visible.
  • Spread blondie batter onto your prepared baking tray. Be sure to spread the batter evenly.
  • Bake the blondie for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the blondie is firm to the touch with a golden brown color.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to fully cool (overnight is best) prior to cutting.
  • Cut into small 1 ½ x 1 ½ inch squares and store in an airtight container for up to three days.

For the salted cashew brittle:
Yield: Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
¼ stick unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1⅔ cups cashews, toasted (toast for 7 minutes at 350°F)
½ teaspoon baking soda

Preparation:

  • Line a baking tray with a nonstick silicone mat.
  • Place sugar, light corn syrup, water, butter and salt in a medium sauce pot. Gently stir to combine.
  • Bring syrup to a boil over low to medium heat. Be sure to wash the sides of your pot down to prevent the sugar syrup from crystallizing. To do this, dip a pastry brush into a small container of water and apply the wet brush to the sides of the pot.
  • Once the syrup comes to a boil, insert a candy thermometer and allow the syrup to cook until it reaches 300° F. Once it reaches 300° F, turn the flame off and remove the pot from the stove. Be sure NOT to stir the syrup as it boils.
  • Stir in your vanilla extract and the toasted cashews.
  • Wait about 30 seconds before stirring in the baking soda. The addition of the baking soda helps aerate the brittle and gives it a more delicate bite.
  • Pour the hot brittle on your prepared baking tray and, working quickly, spread the brittle as thin as you can with a buttered spatula.
  • Allow the brittle to cool sufficiently before breaking it apart into small, bite-size pieces.
  • Store the brittle in an airtight container for up to two days.

 

Sunflower Seed Financier
Yield: Makes about 15-18 3” cakes

1½ sticks unsalted butter
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
½ tablespoon salt
1¼ cup egg whites (about 8-10 eggs)
4 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
⅔ cups sunflower seeds, toasted (toast for seven minutes at 350° F)
3½ cups powdered sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¾ cup dried cranberry

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. (If using a convection oven, lower your temperature down to 325° F with low fan.)
  • Prepare your molds or baking tins with cooking spray, or butter
  • Place butter, vanilla bean and salt into a small pot and begin to melt over a very low flame.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together your egg whites and sunflower seed butter to form a smooth paste. Set aside.
  • Combine the toasted sunflower seeds, powdered sugar, all-purpose flour and the cornstarch in the bowl of a food processor process until the sunflower seeds are finely ground.
  • Place the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  • Add the egg white-sunflower paste and whisk to evenly combine and form a stiff batter. Turn the speed down to low while you check on your melting butter on the stove.
  • Increase the flame on your melting butter and continue to cook the butter until the butter begins to turn a deep golden brown and gives off a nutty aroma. Whisk the butter to incorporate the toasting milk solids at the bottom of the pot and continue cooking until it foams. Once the butter is a dark, amber brown, turn the flame off.
  • Turning back to the stand mixer, increase the speed to medium and steadily pour the browned butter into the bowl containing the cake batter.
  • Once all of the butter has been incorporated, turn the mixer on high to thoroughly blend all of your ingredients.
  • Turn the machine off and using a piping bag or spoon, divide the batter into your prepared molds.
  • Garnish the individual cakes with some dried cranberries.
  • Bake the cakes at 350° F until they are golden brown around the edges and gently spring back when lightly touched.
  • Allow the cakes to cool in their molds for 15 minutes before unmolding on to a clean tray or plate. Cakes will last up to one day in an airtight container.

Maple Crepe Cakes
Yield: Makes 1 cake

For the crepes batter:
Makes about 30 crepes

Ingredients:

⅞ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup oat flour
1½ teaspoons sea salt
⅓ cup sugar
1 tablespoon maple butter
1⅓ tablespoons maple syrup
1½ cups milk
5 eggs
¼ stick butter

Preparation:

  • Crack the eggs and whisk them together with the whole milk, maple butter and maple syrup. Reserve in a pitcher and keep cold.
  • Combine your dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, oat flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  • Create an opening in the center of the bowl and begin to slowly pour your liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients a little bit at a time to avoid any lumps from forming. The batter will be very stiff initially; however, as you incorporate more liquid it will begin to thin out. Use all of your liquid, making sure to avoid any lumps from forming.
  • Melt the butter in a small pot then whisk the warm butter into the crepe batter. Stir to evenly combine.
  • Strain the crepe batter through a large mesh strainer making sure to remove any large lumps in the process. Store the crepe batter in an airtight container for up to two days.

To make the crepes:

  • Gently heat a nonstick pan or a cast iron pan over low heat. Allow the pan to sufficiently warm up.
  • Spray pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Using a small ladle, add some crepe batter to the pan and quickly rotate the pan to evenly coat the bottom in a thin layer.
  • Cook the crepe until the batter has set and it begins to curl up around the edges. Flip the crepe over (you can use a small rubber spatula for this) and cook the other side. The whole cooking process for one crepe is roughly two minutes.
  • Place crepes onto a parchment-lined baking pan in a single layer, cover with another sheet of parchment paper and repeat until all of the crepe batter has been used.
  • Wrap the crepe-filled baking pan with plastic and refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

 

For the pastry cream:
Yield: Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

2 cups milk
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
4 egg yolks
½ stick + 1 teaspoon butter
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation:

  • Whisk together the cornstarch and the sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Place the milk into a medium pot and slowly bring to a boil over a low flame.
  • Whisk the whole eggs into the cornstarch mixture, then whisk in the egg yolks.
  • Pour one third of the boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to thoroughly combine. Return the remaining milk mixture to a boil.
  • Whisk the egg mixture into the remaining boiling milk. Make sure to whisk and stir with a spatula until the pastry cream comes back to a boil. Maintain the boil for another minute, whisking and stirring continuously with a spatula to avoid any scorching.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract.
  • Pour the pastry cream onto a plastic wrap-lined baking pan and spread it out into a thin layer. Place another piece of plastic wrap directly touching the hot pastry cream so it doesn’t form a skin. Poke a few small holes with the tip of a small knife in the plastic to vent out some of the steam.
  • Place the pastry cream in the refrigerator until it cools down and feels cold to the touch.

To assemble the layered crepe cake:

  • Place a crepe on a clean flat plate.
  • Spread enough pastry cream onto the crepe to evenly coat it without it being too gloppy or overly thick. There should be just enough pastry cream on there to thinly and evenly coat the crepe.
  • Place another crepe on top of the pastry cream and gently and evenly press down to “glue” the crepes together.
  • Repeat steps two and three until you have used 17 layers of crepes and 16 layers of pastry cream.
  • Once the layered crepe cake has been built, wrap with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight so it can set firm. When ready to serve, top with maple-glazed bananas (recipe below).

For the maple-glazed bananas:
Yield: Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

2 sticks butter
2½ tablespoons maple butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
⅓ cup maple syrup
¼ teaspoon sea salt
5 ripe bananas

Preparation:

  • Melt the butter in a 12” sauté pan over a medium-low flame.
  • Stir in the maple butter, vanilla extract, light brown sugar, maple syrup and the sea salt.
  • Bring this mixture to a boil and allow to boil for one minute.
  • Peel the bananas and cut them into half-inch slices.
  • Immediately place the bananas into the maple-butter mixture and glaze the bananas for one minute in the hot mixture.
  • Remove the crepe cake from the refrigerator and generously spoon the maple-glazed bananas on top of the crepe cake, allowing the maple glaze to run down the sides of the cake.
  • Cut the cake into wedges and serve immediately.

Ready to master pastry & baking with Chef James? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs. 

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In a new video from ICE and PEOPLE magazine, ICE Chef Jenny McCoy
 shares the secret to impressing your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day (hint: it’s CHOCOLATE).

Chef Jenny layers her ultra-rich chocolate cake — with an extra dose of delicious from the addition of espresso — with piles of velvety Nutella-mascarpone frosting and adds an exciting crunch from chopped hazelnuts. What’s more; though it looks and tastes impressive, this simple recipe requires minimal ingredients and no stand mixer or fancy tools — who needs the extra stress on the big day? Trust us: it’ll be love at first bite. Watch Chef Jenny demonstrate how to create the cake in the video below — then keep scrolling for the full recipe and her pro tips for whipping it up at home.

Here are some cake-baking tips from Chef Jenny, so you can stress less about dessert and focus more on giving that romance a chance. We can hear Barry White already…

  1. The components of the cake can be made up to two days in advance and assembled right before serving.
  2. Don’t let the cakes cool in the pans for more that 10 minutes, as this can cause them to shrink and stick to the pans.
  3. Can’t find mascarpone? Swap for cream cheese!
  4. Use the plate and wheeled ring in your microwave as a cake turntable substitute. (Want to see how? Check out this video.)
  5. If you don’t have a pastry bag and pastry tip, just use a spatula to spread the filling over the cake layers.
  6. Lining your cake pans with parchment will ensure they don’t stick — but how to cut a circle of parchment to perfectly fit the size of your pan? Watch this.
  7. Thinking about going pro with your cake deco? Check out ICE’s Professional Cake Decorating Program.

Decadent Dark Chocolate Cake Recipe with Nutella-Mascarpone Filling

For the Dark Chocolate Cake
Yield: Makes two 8-inch round cake layers

Ingredients:

1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1¼ granulated sugar
1 cup brewed coffee, at room temperature

Preparation:

  • Position rack in center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray. Sift flour, cocoa, espresso, salt and baking soda together in a bowl or onto a piece of parchment.
  • In a large bowl, add eggs, sugar and coffee, and whisk until thickened and light in color. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients until smooth.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer cake pans to a cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Gently invert and cool to room temperature before using.

For the Nutella-Mascarpone Filling
Yield: Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients:

3½ cups Nutella or chocolate-hazelnut spread
1½ cup mascarpone cheese

Preparation:

  • In a large bowl, fold the Nutella and mascarpone together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use or up to 3 days. If needed, stir the filling to soften before using.

To assemble:

Ingredients:

1 recipe Dark Chocolate Cake
1 recipe Nutella-Mascarpone Filling
1 cup roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Preparation:

  • Place one Dark Chocolate Cake layer on an 8-inch cardboard cake round. Pipe a 3/4-inch thick layer of the Nutella-Mascarpone Filling, starting at the edge of the cake and working your way into the center. Scatter the top of the filling generously with the chopped hazelnuts. Gently place the second layer of cake on top of the filling. Pipe the remaining filling on top of the cake, swirling into a decorative pattern, and sprinkle with remaining nuts.

Want to take your pastry & baking skills to the next level? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

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By James Distefano – Chef Instructor, School of Baking & Pastry Arts

When I was the executive pastry chef at the original Rouge Tomate, my job was to incorporate more fruits and alternative grains into my baking while cutting back on the refined sugar and flours. I saw this directive as a positive challenge — one in which I could expand both my knowledge of ingredients and also my palette.

My medjool date sticky toffee pudding is a great example of this. It combines sweet medjool dates with whole wheat and buckwheat flours. Using the dates allowed me to cut back on the sugar and still retain the cake’s sweet decadence. I added a touch of cocoa powder to play into that richness while counterbalancing with the cocoa powder’s bitter qualities. Finally, I topped it off with a little banana caramel sauce. You might think that’s bananas, but who doesn’t love a date on Valentine’s Day?

sticky_pudding

Medjool Date Sticky Toffee Pudding
Servings: Makes about 8-10 servings.

Ingredients:

170 grams medjool dates, pitted
6 grams vanilla extract
10 grams baking soda
392 grams water
85 grams butter
227 grams dark brown sugar
75 grams eggs
122 grams all-purpose flour
85 grams whole-wheat flour
14 grams buckwheat flour
56 grams cocoa powder
6.3 grams baking powder
1.5 grams salt

Preparation:

  • Heat oven to 350° F.
  • Place the dates, vanilla extract and baking soda in a medium-size bowl and set aside.
  • Bring the water to a boil, then pour over the dates and cover with plastic wrap to soften them. This should take about five minutes.
  • Once the dates have softened, puree them into a smooth paste utilizing a blender. Set this loose date paste aside.
  • In a bowl fitted for an electric mixer, cream the butter and dark brown sugar on medium speed until it is light and fluffy.
  • Turn machine down to low speed and gradually add the eggs.
  • Alternately add your dry ingredients and the loose date paste, beginning and ending with your dry ingredients until all of the dry ingredients and the date paste have been incorporated.
  • Portion batter into individual molds and bake at 350° F until set. They will feel lightly firm with a soft spring to them.
  • Allow them to cool to room temperature before unmolding.
  • Serve with Banana Caramel (recipe below) or store until ready to serve. These cakes will last up to one day stored in an airtight container.

Banana Caramel Sauce                  

Ingredients:

75 grams granulated sugar
375 grams banana (about 3), very ripe, chopped into small pieces
125 grams whole milk
125 grams heavy cream
3 grams vanilla extract
1.5 grams salt

Preparation:

  • In a small pot heat the whole milk and heavy cream. Set aside.
  • In a second small pot, begin caramelizing the granulated sugar utilizing the dry sugar method.
  • Once all of the sugar has been added to the pot, allow it to turn a deep amber color, right before it begins to smoke.
  • Add the chopped banana to the caramelized sugar and gently stir, allowing the bananas to cook in the hot caramel for one minute.
  • Deglaze the pot with the warm milk/heavy cream and simmer the caramel sauce for five minutes.
  • Place the banana caramel into a blender and begin to process, making sure the blender is on its lowest setting first.
  • Gradually increase the speed until the blender is on its highest setting. Blend for 30 seconds more.
  • Strain the banana caramel through a chinois and immediately chill over an ice bath until it is cold.
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

This is a great sauce for the Date Sticky Toffee Pudding and for just about anything else you’d serve with a traditional caramel sauce.

Sweet tooth piqued? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

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By Caitlin Raux

If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a celebration happens and there is no cake, is it really a celebration? While the first question is debatable, the answer to the second is clear: no cake, no celebration. And with hand painting, air-brushing, sugar flowers and more, celebratory cakes are more elaborate than ever. In anticipation of the upcoming start date for ICE’s Professional Cake Decorating program, which kicks off on February 13, we’re taking a closer look at one popular technique — piping buttercream roses.

Piping_roses_4

I recently had the chance to sit in on one of Chef Toba Garrett’s hands-on cake decorating classes in which she was instructing students on this topic. As it turns out, a lot of books on cake decorating contain dated techniques and cryptic instructions. ICE’s Professional Cake Decorating program demystifies popular cake decorating techniques. “When you become a cake decorating professional, you learn that there are better ways to do things. We’ll teach you those better ways,” said Chef Toba. As she piped gorgeous, buttercream flowers and gave the class step-by-step instructions on how to do the same, I soaked up the following sweet tips from ICE’s resident cake decorating master:

  1. Soften up your frosting. Before the icing even hits the piping bag, it’s important to make sure it’s not rock hard. Starting with a couple of cups, use a small offset spatula to mix the icing. Keep mixing until the frosting is workable but not too soft — the frosting needs to be on the stiff side in order to pipe the details. Try piping some on parchment paper first to test the consistency. Once the frosting is ready, it goes into a pastry bag fitted with a petal piping tip, which has a thin, slightly triangular slit at the end.
  2. Necessary tool: A flower nail. I had never seen this nifty little tool before, but it makes the piping process much more doable. Hold the nail part between your thumb and forefinger, then pipe your rose onto the flat top, turning the nail as needed. Later, when you finish your rose, use kitchen shears to carefully snip the flower base and slide the rose onto your cake. Piping_roses_1
  3. Start with the base. You need a base to support your rose petals. Begin by piping a base — a small mound that tapers at the top and looks more or less like a Hershey Kiss. Speaking of which…Piping_roses_2
  4. Try a chocolate (surprise!) base. Don’t forget that at the end of the day, someone is going to be eating your beautiful creation. Adding in delicious details, like a Hershey Kiss as the base of your rose, will make the eating experience even more enjoyable.
  5. Roses aren’t replicas. When piping flowers with less petals, like lilies and daffodils, you can attempt to pipe the exact number of petals usually found on the flower. But for roses, which at their full size can have 20-40 petals, you’re better off not trying to replicate them exactly. Start by piping one petal for the base, then, in a rainbow-like shape, pipe three petals around the base, then five petals around them, then seven petals around them, for a total of 16 petals.

Piping Roses

Though Chef Toba made piping buttercream roses look like a cinch, it definitely wasn’t as easy as it looked. The only way to become a piping pro is lots of practice and listening to expert tips on how to do things better.

Want to decorate cakes like a pro? Click here for more information on ICE’s cake decorating program.

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By Jenny McCoy — Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

I’m nearly two weeks into my resolution to create zero food waste in January, and surprisingly, it’s going well. I expected to be throwing out a lot more food. There have been a few losses — like what to do with the food that my toddler refuses to consume. (I don’t yet have an answer, other than compost.) But there have also been some unexpected wins, like the amazing facial scrub I Instagram’d last week, made from coffee grounds and egg shells. Plus, dinner time is no longer a rotation of the same couple dozen dishes. Everyone in my family is pretty happy.

The biggest secret to my success? My freezer.

Jenny's stock

A while back, I contributed to a great article by Marian Bull for Bon Appétit, “The Right Way to Freeze Basically Everything.” In short: I am obsessed with my freezer. I cannot emphasize that enough. Obsessed. Before my family goes out of town, I freeze anything that might not last until our return. That might mean tossing the whole chicken I didn’t get a chance to roast into a freezer bag. It could also mean putting my half full gallon of milk directly into the freezer, plastic jug and all. I asked my husband to clean out the fridge before we left for our Christmas break and upon returning two weeks later to find brown slimy spinach, I sadly asked, “Why didn’t you freeze that?” He thinks I’m a neurotic food hoarder, but really, I just hate seeing good food get dumped. As the BA article indicates, you can freeze anything. So if you notice something in your fridge inching closer and closer to its expiration date, do something about it! Eat it, or freeze it.

Make This: Kitchen Sink Stock

So what about all of those kitchen scraps? Sure, you can compost them. But why not put them in your freezer, too? Each time I prepare a meal, I toss all my vegetable and meat scraps into freezer bags. Once I have two gallon-sized freezer bags stuffed full, I make stock. I call it my kitchen sink stock. It might have a variety of meat bones — chicken, pork, beef. It might have veggies that most wouldn’t add to stock — broccoli stems and bell pepper seeds. But I don’t mind. I toss it all into my pressure cooker, cover it with water and 20 minutes later have great stock. If it tastes like too much bell pepper to use for a cauliflower soup, I use it for a bean soup. If it’s not as flavorful as I’d like, I use it when I cook rice or couscous. And everything goes in it; from garlic and onion skins to herb stems and kale stalks. I’m sure some chefs will read this and weep, as stock making is a very time-honored tradition and the backbone to many cuisines. But in my case, I just want to avoid spending money on store-bought stock — and cut down on food waste in my own home.

Kitchen sink stock

Then Make These: A Couple of My Favorite Recipes

Once you’ve got your Kitchen Sink Stock made, here are few of the hit dishes I’ve made in the last couple of weeks that put it to good use.

Cream of Stem Soup
Servings: Makes about 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:
1 pound broccoli stems, chopped
1 pound cauliflower stems, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnishing
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery
½ stick unsalted butter
6 cups Kitchen Sink Stock
1 cup cream
Dash or two of nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the chopped broccoli and cauliflower stems in olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown and caramelized. Set aside at room temperature until ready to use.
  2. In a large pot, sauté the onion and celery in butter until translucent and tender. Add the roasted broccoli, cauliflower and stock, cover and simmer about 10 minutes.
  3. Transfer the mixture in batches to a blender and purée until completely smooth (do not fill the blender completely full and be sure to hold the top on with a kitchen towel to protect your hands — the steam from the hot liquid can push the lid off). Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the cream and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm, with freshly grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

 

Savory Mushroom Stem and Stale Bread Pudding
Servings: Makes 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients:
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
¾ stick unsalted butter
1 pound mushrooms, sliced with entire stem intact
1 bunch kale, chopped
¼ cup water or stock
¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 pound stale bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups crème fraiche or sour cream
8 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup grated parmesan or gruyere cheese

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish with butter. Place the bread in a large mixing bowl.
  2. In a large skillet, sauté the onions, celery and garlic in the butter until translucent and tender. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender and light golden brown. Add the kale, cover and let cook about 2 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to sauté until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Add the sautéed vegetables to the bowl of bread and stir to combine.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the cream, crème fraiche and eggs together until smooth. Add the mixture to the bowl of bread and vegetables and stir until combined. Add the salt and pepper and mix well. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish, sprinkle with the grated cheese and bake until golden brown and the pudding slightly puffs, about 1 hour. Let stand about 15 minutes to cool slightly before cutting and serving.

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By Michael Laiskonis—ICE Creative Director

Forward, always forward. That’s the email signature of a friend of mine and the message never fails to resonate with me. The dawn of a new year acts as a slightly arbitrary but nevertheless symbolic occasion to take stock of one’s goals, past and present. As a cook, I see the arc of my career as a series of obstacles surpassed, an upward trajectory of constantly changing ambitions. Whether a student or seasoned professional, I think it’s crucial to keep leaning forward.

Chef Michael Laiskonis

Five years ago this month, I completed an eight-year run as the pastry chef at Le Bernardin, satisfied (as much as one can be) that I had achieved a handful of notable accomplishments: a James Beard Award in 2007 and playing a role in the restaurant’s many accolades. More difficult to measure is the effect that experience had on my evolution as a cook, in particular, my ability to organize the many moving parts of a top-flight kitchen and my overall confidence in myself. Moving to New York from Michigan in early 2004 was a considerable test of that confidence — while “making it” was always a long-term goal of mine, I never imagined I would enter at the level I did. I was terrified, but when you jump into the deep end of the pool, hard work and perseverance keep you afloat. As I look back on my career, each move I made presented similar challenges. Rather than simply rest on whatever laurels I’ve earned, I still find it vital to press forward in pursuit of new opportunities, to refine and redefine my goals.

That we chefs cook because we love to – the manual act itself, the connection with the materials, the sharing with others – is a given. How we express that passion, however, is something quite personal and something that evolves. At every stage of our career, we should be calibrating our professional lives, making sure that our day-to-day work is getting us closer to our ultimate goals. Of course, those goals can, and perhaps should, change over time. Almost twenty-five years ago I fell into the business, by accident in a sense, while working with bread. Seduced by the complex nature of bread-baking, for some time I was convinced I would specialize in bread alone. But as I started reading about the glories (and rigors) of haute cuisine, I soon drifted into dreams of one day working at that highest level of refinement. From humble beginnings in a small bakery, I took the leap and found my first restaurant job.

michael_laiskonis

Working in a restaurant, everything I thought I knew about cooking technique and navigating a kitchen was turned upside down. My previous exposure to cooking was broad but not very deep. This first restaurant position not only provided the depth I lacked in terms of skill set, but also greater respect for the craft, ingredients and tradition. Having a strong mentor at the helm of that kitchen greatly accelerated my drive to cook better. Under the chef’s watch, I created a pastry chef position for myself out of thin air, while st