April Cooking Hacks with Natasha Pickowicz
Our friend Natasha Pickowicz, the NYC-based chef and three-time James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef Finalist (responsible for putting together some of the most epic bake sales of all time!!)—shares her baking secrets.
by Natasha Pickowicz | @natashapickowicz
April Cooking Hacks
Fresh Pastries 24/7
Often I crave pastries in the morning but I don't have the time to bake from scratch. Taking cues from my years spent in restaurant kitchens, I strategically store pastries in my fridge, freezer, and pantry for fast and efficient bake offs. Muffin batters and proofed focaccia dough can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge and portioned right into the pan before baking. Unbaked pastries like scones, biscuits, and scooped cookie dough can be baked right from frozen.
Edible Leaf Pan Liners
Forget parchment paper—whenever possible I use edible leaves instead to line my muffin pans, cake tins, and sheet trays. Swiss chard, cabbage leaves, and fresh corn husks briefly soaked in warm water are great for savory pastries like dinner rolls and cheesy cornbread. Shiso or perilla and fig leaves are lovely for sweeter pastries, like upside down cakes, berry-studded muffins, and rolled sugar cookies. In addition to looking gorgeous, the leaves will impart their own unique flavor into whatever you're baking.
Easy Flavor Layers
Build an extra layor of flavor into your single-layer cakes and quick breads by adhering a flavorful sugar, seed, or nut onto the parchment paper coated in non-stick spray or melted butter before you add your batter. Turbinado sugar adds a sparkly crunch; black sesame seeds and poppy seed add a speckled pattern and sneaky, nutty flavor. Finely chopped herbs, ground nuts, and uncooked millet seeds enrobe your pastry with a beautiful pattern, while protecting the tender pastry from drying out.
Toast Your Flour
To deliver even more flavor to your pastries, lightly toast your unbaked flours in a 300 degree oven or in a wide skillet over low heat, until fragrant and nutty (about 15 minutes). Let the flour cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature. I love using toasted flours in chocolate chip cookies, tender chiffon sponges, and hearty muffin batters.
Have a few sheets of dried nori seaweed languishing in your pantry? I like to buzz it up in a blender or food processor until I get a fine, sparkly dust, which I use instead of kosher salt for seasoning flaky pie doughs or stirring into flat icing for sugar cookies. The hint of oceanic flavor adds something really special to anything you're whipping up.
Caper Cake Toppings
Nothing beats baking with olive oil because the flavor is rich and complex while being flexible in both sweet and savory bakes. Try garnishing a classic olive oil cake, drenched in a good finishing oil, with something more savory to play up the fruity brightness of olive oil. Crisp up a tablespoon of capers in olive oil in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes then pat dry. A spoonful scattered over cake makes any dessert feel instantly gourmet. And they add an addictive savoriness to other desserts too—try them sprinkled over chocolate mousse or a vanilla bean panna cotta (with extra olive oil drizzled on top, of course).