Author Archives: btwitten

The Devil’s in the Details of the Modern Cupcake

Finished cupcakes croppedI teamed up with Red Ridge Farms – an Oregon Vineyard, olive oil press, and garden nursery – for a wine dinner event. We served a five course meal inspired by street food using Red Ridge Farms’ locally grown and pressed olive oils with wine pairings from Red Ridge’s wine label, Durant Vineyards. I always enjoy developing a menu, especially a tasting menu and especially tasting menus paired with wine (or beer or cocktails).Copy of Notes

While I had fun writing all the recipes, my time as a pastry chef makes me particularly partial to desserts. Therefore, we are going to focus on our sweet selection, the Malted Devils Food Cupcakes with Passion Fruit Cream Filling and Olive Oil Buttercream – and some of the science behind its chocolatey decadence. Continue reading

The Manhattan Project

VTR - Barrel-Aged Manhatten by Edsel Little (CC BY-AS 2.0)

VTR – Barrel-Aged Manhattan by Edsel Little (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you were wondering what to drink while you watch Manhattanhenge, the choice is obvious – a Manhattan, preferably barrel-aged.

As I grew into manhood, my father promoted a strong set of core values in me – politeness, gratitude, compassion, kindness – as well as respect for a good glass of whiskey and Winston Churchill. What, you may ask, does Winston Churchill have to do with this classic whiskey cocktails and science? Glad you asked.

The most common Manhattan origin story states that it was created in 1874 at New York’s Manhattan club for a banquet hosted by Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston’s mother. That was the same year Winnie was born. I doubt he, of all people, would discourage the notion that helping coordinate the creation of the Manhattan cocktail in utero may have been early practice for coordinating the Allied victory in WWII. At the very least, the Manhattan and Winston are akin to each other. Watch out Jagermeister! Continue reading

Food, Remembered: Dad’s Floating Island

Floating IslandFloating island is why I am a chef. My father, who is an exceptional cook*, was always in charge of preparing our special occasion meals. Christmas dinner, friends coming over, celebrations – he would turn out some kind of delicious feast without fail. On one such occasion, when a boss was joining us for dinner, my dad once more set off to pull out all the stops. In this instance, the boss happened to have a sweet-tooth. So, in order to pluck at his food soft spot, my dad decided to making floating island for dessert. The dinner preparation was a large undertaking so he enlisted my help. At 12, I would have been just about the right age to start an old world kitchen apprenticeship. In a life changing moment, he slid his copy of Julia Child’s The Way to Cook over to me and pointed to the recipe. I could practically hear Julia’s voice speaking from the pages as she told me that I “must have courage” in preparing the crème anglaise. To this day, that book is sacrosanct among my cooking library.

The recipe above is my recipe, for copyright reasons, not Julia’s. As floating island is extremely simple in its base components, there is little difference between the two.

*Editor’s Note: This is also my father. I can vouch for the truth of this statement.

Creme Brulee: The Science of Sexy [Repost]

Editor’s Note: Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we are reposting a slightly updated version of Ben’s crème brûlée recipe that was originally posted 31 August 2012. Not only is it delicious, but we have found the eggucation contained within will make all your attempts to cook an egg more successful. The recipe is the same, but we have updated the recipe PDF.

I have promised you sexy food, and the science behind it. Therefore, crème brûlée. Look at all those accent marks! Sexy, right? And, why not start with eggs – queen of ingredients, bringers of life, denizens of diner griddles, the heart of fluffy meringues, and the soul of silky custards. Crème brûlée is sexy because it is simple. Smooth, creamy custard1 contrasts with a thin, crisp layer of smoky caramel. Every flavor and texture is a balance – creamy and crisp, sweet and bitter, light and deep – harmonizing to enhance and elevate the dish.

Click image for printable PDF (74kb)

Click image for printable PDF (74kb)

If you want to know the steps to making crème brûlée, use the recipe above (PDF – 74kb). If you want to know how crème brûlée becomes sexy keep reading. The science of sexy can be unlocked by understanding the properties of its simple ingredients. Continue reading

The Last Supper

“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci


I recently received, as a gift, My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals and My Last Supper: Second Course by Melanie Dunea. As the titles suggest, the books ask chefs about their ideal final meal on Earth.

The gift was very appropriate because I regularly ask people this question. It was, I believe, one of the first questions I asked The Wife when she was still The-Really-Interesting-Woman-I-Want-To-Date, and it is a question that I ask everyone that I interview for a job. During one such interview, another manager exclaimed, “That’s a really morbid question.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Continue reading