I don’t know why we need a special day to honor our moms. They are there for us every day! For Zoe Nathan, chef-owner (with husband Josh Loeb) of the wildly popular restaurant “Huckleberry” in Santa Monica, the lessons she learned from her mom set her on the incredible path her life would take. But her mom did more than just teach her recipes.
“My mom was the first one to show me that food can create space, express love, and slow life down in a way nothing else can.” Nathan writes in her cookbook “Huckleberry” (Chronicle, $35). More than offering a mere collection of recipes (and if you’ve tasted the pastries at Huckleberry, you know they’re awesome), Nathan tucks in some life lessons – baking imitating life or life imitating baking.
“When I told people that I wanted to open a bakery in West Los Angeles, I was informed over and over again that it wouldn’t work because people don’t eat bread and pastries anymore,” she recalled. “Well, luckily the naysayers were wrong. I constantly want to yell, ‘Get off your juice fast! This is healthy. Sitting down for a few moments and slowly eating a homemade muffin with a beautiful latte is good for you. Yoga is not the only place you should slow down and breathe.’”
I had always thought of myself as a dough-phobic until I caught Nathan demonstrating her Mini Strawberry Galette recipe from “Huckleberry” at a book-launching event. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but this old dog learned a thing or two about pastry dough that changed my baking forever.
Mix pastry dough until it resembles cornmeal, we’re usually instructed. Not so, said Nathan. “We’re going for bigger chunks, big flat pieces. Add enough ice water to just bring it together and remove it when it’s still pebbly. It may feel as though it’s not nearly enough water, but don’t add more. With faith, a little patience, and some elbow grease it will come together.”
I would have expected the dough at this point to be more consistent. “It’s still quite shaggy when you wrap it in plastic,” she instructed. “Refrigerate it for an hour or freeze it.” When she retrieved previously refrigerated dough, I was surprised to see it was still quite crumbly. “Just roll it and fold it in over itself,” she advised. “We use this incredibly versatile dough at Huckleberry for our Thanksgiving pies, crostatas, quiches, chicken potpies, anything really.” And that extra dough? “Reroll it one time and then throw it away.”
In making the fruit filling, “the most important thing is taste your fruit,” she said. “Follow your palette and trust yourself.” Another surprise: salt. “Salt is not a flavor; it is a flavor enhancer,” she explained. “If your fruit tastes a little flat, before you add sugar, add salt.”
Lastly an egg wash on the edges helps to seal everything together. “Putting in too much stuff is a good idea. It gets a little messy but tastes so good. And nothing has to be perfect,” she assured us. “Just have fun baking.”
Time to bake? Not yet. “Now throw them in the freezer and freeze until they’re hard.”
Another mistake people make is baking too light, she cautioned. “At Huckleberry we do not use timers. It removes you from the process. I do this because it makes me present in the moment. I don’t know your oven. Color is an ingredient. It’s the difference between a good pastry and an okay pastry. That’s what makes a baker a baker. Bake until the dough is a deep brown, and the flavor will really pop.”
One of the most versatile recipes in the book is her Fresh Blueberry Brioche. “One of my happiest moments while writing this book was taking this bread out of the oven on a Sunday afternoon and sitting around our dining room table with a few friends ripping it apart while it was piping hot,” she recalled. “Everyone enjoyed it so much that by the time I thought of getting a knife it was all gone, and that is, hands-down, the best way to serve it. Don’t slice it, just drop it in the middle of your table and have people rip it apart right from the oven. That’s love.”
Substitute this rich brioche in other recipes where you may be using challah. Nathan recommends it for her Maple Bread Pudding, Vanilla French Toast with Brown Sugar-Cranberry Sauce and her Mom’s Egg in a Hole, all excellent choices for your Mother’s Day brunch. “I make my mom’s egg in a hole exactly the way my mom made it,” she writes. “It’s the same perfectly salty and sweet sandwich that fed me on so many mornings and help to make my taste buds the way they are today. I love you, mom.”
Mini Strawberry Galettes
Serves 10 to 12
1 batch Everyday Flaky Dough (recipe follows)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups halved strawberries
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 batch Egg Wash (recipe follows)
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
- Allow flaky dough to soften at room temperature 10-20 minutes until cold but malleable.
- Melt butter; toss with the strawberries. In separate bowl combine sugars and salt.
- On lightly floured surface, roll dough to 14-inch square about 1/8 inch thick. Trim edges; slice into nine 4-inch squares. Transfer them, evenly spaced, to two greased sheet pans. Press scraps together; re-roll for 1-3 more squares.
- Toss sugar mixture with strawberry mixture. Evenly pile strawberry filling into center of each square, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Lightly brush border with egg wash. Fold border over filling like a picture frame. Press corners to seal. Freeze at least 20 minutes, or up to 1 month, tightly wrapped.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush crust with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and bake from frozen until deep golden brown, 30-35 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack to keep crisp. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.
Everyday Flaky Dough
This will keep in your freezer for up to 1 month. Just be sure to double-wrap tightly in plastic.
Makes 1 batch
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup water
- To mix with a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt once to blend. Add the butter to the work bowl and pulse about three times until pea-size pieces form. Pour the water over the flour mixture and pulse another three times until the dough is only just starting to come together. To mix by hand, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a very large bowl. Stir to blend. Add the butter, working it between your fingertips until the pieces are pea- and lima bean–size. Add the water and lightly toss to distribute.
- The dough should be shaggy, dry, and clumpy. Dump it onto a clean work surface to bring the dough together by hand. (Do not flour the counter, as you do not want to add any more flour to the dough.)
- Begin by firmly pressing the entire surface of the dough with the heel of your palm. Toss and squeeze the dough to redistribute the wet and dry patches. Repeat, pressing thoroughly again with the heel of your palm, and continue pressing, tossing, and squeezing until the dough begins to hold together. But be sure not to overwork the dough! It should stay together but you should still see pea-size bits of butter running through.
- Press the dough into a disc 3/4 in/2 cm thick, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or freeze for up to 1 month.
- When you’re ready to use the dough, if refrigerated for longer than 1 hour, allow the dough to warm up at room temperature for a few minutes. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before shaping. The dough should feel cold to the touch but malleable. Never allow the dough to become too soft or warm. Chill as needed while working.
You can use whole milk if you don’t have cream kicking around your fridge. You can always use one whole egg instead of the two yolks. And if you have no eggs, you can use just the cream, but it will be a little less shiny. And, finally, if you don’t have any dairy in the house, use the eggs alone. Just make sure to always use the salt.
Makes about 1⁄4 cup
2 egg yolks
2-tablespoon heavy cream
Pinch of kosher salt
Combine the egg yolks, heavy cream, and salt and whisk until homogeneous. Refrigerate until needed. This keeps, refrigerated, for up to 2 days.
Fresh Blueberry Brioche
Yield: 1 loaf
1 1/2 cups fresh (not frozen) blueberries
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons bread flour
6 1/2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1 batch egg wash (recipe follows)
Place fresh blueberries on a plate; freeze in single layer.
2. Slightly warm milk and pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook. Add yeast; whisk by hand to combine. Add both flours, 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, salt, eggs, and egg yolk. Mix on low speed until the deal comes together, 1-2 minutes.
3. Increase speed to medium-low and work dough 6 minutes. Pause every minute to push dough down into bowl and off hook until it pulls off sides and looks like strong bread dough.
4. Reduce mixer speed to low; slowly add butter, a little at a time, over the course of 2 minutes. After 1 minute, scrape down bowl and hook. When butter begins to blend in, increase speed to medium-high to fully incorporate butter and bring dough back together, 5-6 minutes longer.
5. Dump dough onto lightly floured work surface; press into approximately16-by-10” rectangle. Position dough vertically, with short side nearest you; distribute blueberries and 2 tablespoons sugar along top edge and gently roll down, toward you, into a log.
6. Place log on greased sheet pan, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or preferably overnight.
7. Grease a 9-by-5” loaf pan. Press dough into approximately 12 x 6” rectangle; cover with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. With dough position vertically, tightly roll down toward you.
8. Place into greased loaf pan, loosely wrap in plastic, and let rise in warm place until more than doubled in size, about 3 hours.
9. As brioche nears readiness, preheat oven to 350°F. Carefully brush dough with egg wash, making sure egg doesn’t pool around edges. Liberally sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden, 40-45 minutes. Let cool about 10 minutes in pan; transfer to rack.
Source: “Huckleberry” by Zoe Nathan with Josh Loeb and Laurel Almerinda
JLIFE FOOD EDITOR JUDY BART KANCIGOR is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.