Hello from Mexico City. Then sun is shining and I am heading to meetings. I get a kick out of the VW Beetle taxis that are crawling the streets. Maybe I will be able to hitch a ride in one- although I have been warned about the taxis. Beep-beep.
Walking into Pinnies and Poppy Seeds the merry, recently-opened shop on St. Mary’s street, just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, is like falling face first into a butter pillow-topped mattress, welcoming, warm and so delicious. Jennifer Hunter flung open her white-wooden doors on August 1st after converting a dismal Danish cafe into her perfect spot to showcase her artinsanal, pure-butter shortbread and array of home-made pinnies (aprons for all you non-U.K.-based bakers). The pure-butter is not only evident in the smell of the shop, but the seven packs of gold-foil wrapped Scottish butter softening on the windowsill.
I was introduced to Jennifer by her, ‘biggest advocate and most remarkable customer’ and a mutual friend, Toni. Jennifer invited me to join her for a morning of baking to see her skills in action. I arrived coffees in hand and was greeted by an always smiling Jennifer sporting her white-logoed button-up and green pinnie with matching logo. She already had two batches of shortbread in the oven and several more varieties were well under way. Jennifer had accomplished all this in 30 minutes since early morning start. Her motivation is a trait she gets from her mother. I wondered: would I be able to keep up with her?
We went straight to work- Pinnies and Poppy Seeds is open everyday except Sunday, I arrived at eight o’clock giving us two hours to prepare the first round of daily baked goods. First up-white chocolate and dark chocolate billionaire shortbread truffles (better than a millionaire- Jennifer aims big!). This recipe developed by Jennifer makes use of the smaller cookies, combining home made caramel and medium-sized crumbs of her original shortbread biscuits. This mixture is rolled into bite-sized balls and then coated in melted chocolate and finally tossed in toasted coconut.
Jennifer found her inspiration while working at an Edinburgh institution, The Fudge House, while there, she began to notice a stream of tourists coming into the store, asking where they could find shortbread, which is considered our national biscuit. Seeing a gap in the market (Jennifer holds a undergraduate degree in psychology and a masters in management) and coupled with her love of baking she spent a year developing and perfecting her recipe. When she was ready she started selling on weekends at local farmer’s markets. Her impressions, ‘There was enough interest and I thought it might work, but at first I did not think I would end up here with this empire!’
Jennifer spoke enthusiastically about her mother and grandmother and the time she spent baking with them where she grew up in southern California. In fact her preferred treat and one of her best-sellers, Ballantyne toffee is a recipe passed along to her from her grandmother and angel investor. This top-secret recipe involves a candy thermometer and once cooled is coated on both sides with chocolate and crushed almonds. Jennifer’s family has Scottish roots and according to census records claims a baker from the Scottish borders in her family tree- this was meant to be. The décor of the shop is largely inspired by her mother, green, white and black with gunny-sack curtains. I can just picture Jennifer in her similarly-decorated family home enjoying what she says would be her last meal, ‘her dad’s tri-tip steak from the grill, her mom’s perfectly balanced potato salad and a glass of Californian wine’. Would there be shortbreads for afters? Jennifer did all the refurbishment herself, she takes her role of small-business owner very seriously and is an excellent manager- I enjoyed my three hours under her supervision. She was tough but fair!
We moved straight into the classic biscuits and Jennifer shared a secret, baking the batches at a lower temperature for about an hour, prevents an over-baked sweet. She also swears by an oven thermometer- never trust your oven! There are about five flavors on any given day at Pinnies and Poppy Seeds, during our session we worked on classic, almond, lemon, poppy seed and cardamon white chocolate. It was a challenge to resist a dough grab and taste- but I did!
My favourite and the cutest-looking treats are the ‘shorties’, chubby little shortbreads sandwiched with a ganache of varying flavours, the day we baked, the filling was a white chocolate variety with a swirl of local triple berry jam which is piped expertly onto a very small surface. I had a go and was not as adept as Jennifer who could probably do her piping blind folded. Other flavours she makes in the shortie style are chocolate and a chocolate orange, a new variety she is thinking of creating is Victoria sponge- with butter-cream and a touch of jam. I think Her Majesty might swing by the next time she is in town. How delicious does that sound?
The recipe process led to my curiosity about flavour development. Her biggest flavour invention is her cardamom white chocolate biscuit and while she admits to not being the first baker to have invented this combination, Jennifer says, ‘more than any of the other tastes, this is the one which I get the most intrigued reactions, and besides the all-butter, is the one which sells the best.’ While she cannot recall the exact origins of this shortbread, she knew she wanted to differentiate it from the other unfrosted varieties and the addition of white chocolate with a pinch of the fresh-ground spice was the perfect finishing touch. While confessing to some flavour-fails, ‘the market was great for that, I would do them [different flavours] and if people did not like them, they would just tell you then and there.’ Several lovely pairings which did not make the cut, ‘ there were some I was surprised that failed- like pistachio and rose, I think it is such a great combination, but nobody bought it, so sadly I do not make it any more. The lavender and honey which I usually do in the shortie did not really sell either.’ Which flavours would you like to see next?
Swing by and share the shortbread experience with Jennifer, she still has the same enthusiasm for her craft and her customers as she did when she sold her first piece of shortbread, ‘the first person to buy my shortbread was a lovely little old granny. She had a cup of tea with it and I watched her as she took her first bite – she smiled, it was amazing!’
Find Pinnies and Poppy Seeds on twitter:
What are you up to this weekend? Ben and I are maximizing our fun times together since this will be our last weekend together before my travels. With a bit of art festival fun and socializing with friends tonight- we might even stay out past midnight!
I head out on Wednesday to Mexico City, Bogota, Lima, Santiago, New York, Washington D.C. and Toronto. I am especially excited about this trip, I have loads of fun work events planned and the treat of seeing my brothers in New York. Where we might stand in the early morning lines to sample the cronut, but September’s flavor of fig and mascarpone leaves me wondering if it is worth it.
Have a wonderful weekend.
While in Seattle, we were in search for delicious baked-goods and we randomly stumbled upon an event at a local bakery organized by Bread Baker’s Guild of America. The bakery was Macrina and the location was SODO location- South of Downtown and their main baking facility.
We arrived early to and sampled their brunch menu, fabulous- smoked salmon on an onion bialy for me and Ben wolfed down his oven face egg and mushroom sandwich, I think we both had order envy. It was even double iced coffee morning, with the second almond version was with a freshly baked treat or two- a roly poly and a sugar bun- worth the gluten.
For the event, we were greeted by Leslie Mackie, Macrina founder and empress. Her enthusiasm for her profession and her cafes was evident in the way she described the bread we sampled at the start of the tour- my favorite was the baguette made with potatoes, moist and doughy deliciousness. Leslie had a much-deserved sparkle in her eye as she described the success of Macrina and the three locations in Seattle and the growth over the past twenty years. I am in awe of people who have found their passions and have become so happy doing what they clearly love. She also credits the team who support Macrina and its cafes and customers.
The small group was escorted through the spacious kitchen and showed the different areas where the team produces loaf after loaf of bread, flaky pastries, custom cakes and other scrummy treats (buns stuffed with Nutella- hello!). Ben was most fascinated by the bread starter which has been in the Macrina family for ages and is the foundation for many of their delicious breads. The oven set up they have is crazy- a rotating walk-in oven and the main beast of an oven which was built in the bakery and is an engineering marvel with its conveyer belts to transport the loaves into the heat and inject steam to give the best oven-spring and crackly crust.
In June, and since I have been posting irregularly since then, I have not had an opportunity to post the photos from our little dinner party. I am sure you have organized more amazing activities for your loved one’s celebration, but this year, Ben wanted a small get-together with several friends, Donal, Fiona, Sarah and James. Classy-surf was the theme of the meal it mirrored Ben’s gift- surf lessons and a coffee-table book full of inspirational surf photos from Leroy Grannis.
We served tasty burgers sandwiched in homemade buns. A choice of toppings- roasted tomatoes, guacamole or caramelized onions to accompany the charred beef or the healthy sweet potato chips. A beachy cabbage salad was served in a small craft paper box. Bamboo plates and cutlery made clean-up a breeze and we could move swiftly on to the dessert- brownie ice-cream sandwiches with freshly made mint ice cream. The birthday boy requested this classic combination. This meal had been our first encounter with gluten since we had started doing our healthy eating and this was so worth giving into temptation for.
We threw together a theme-cocktail, a blue berry margarita served in mini-milk bottles. Paper straws are all the rage these days, they look really cute and add some pizazz to your drink, but after about 10 minutes in liquid, they start to crumble, defeats the purpose of a straw. Have you tried the paper straw? Any tips to get it last? Keep it dry?
I have to start planning next year’s celebration- it is a big one for my sweet Ben.
Have you, have you? If you have not and you are an Edinburgh-based cake-lover, you should hustle yourself down to Westport to see the lady bakers (Holly and the gang) and sample the guest espresso they have in the hopper and try to resist the cakes and other baked goods with only free smells of the tasty treats. They have recently hired a new baker who works out of their Leith production kitchen creating combinations like Lemon and Coconut cake, a malted walnut tart, Lemon and Thyme sponge cake, pear frangipane and a beautiful looking Lavendar layer cake.
Ben and I headed for our coffee-fix one recent Sunday after the gym and Ben succumbed to the flour-less chocolate cake, ‘the healthiest option’ according to him as it was gluten free. I looked on in amazement as he lost weight before my eyes while eating this calorie bomb- oh to be Ben!
You can find more about Lovecrumbs and on twitter: @hellolovecrumbs
They are on INSTAGRAM too ans just posted a gooseberry meringue tart. Can you imagine the tart deliciousness in that slice? Saliva glands activate.
Start drooling NOW!
Even with bruises on my hips from slamming into the board, bruises on my shin from falling more than is recommended, sore arms and legs we had the most fun. We cannot believe it has taken this long to try this activity. The best part was spending the weekend with the team from Coast 2 Coast Surf School, Tim, Rory and Josh (serious surf handsomeness)- oh wait, no BEN! He was the one with whom I enjoyed spending my weekend. Learning something from the beginning was a challenge (especially at my age, can I say this yet?). I spent most of my time with my face in the water- I would become over-excited I was actually upright and focus my attention on my feet instead of the on the horizon as instructed and then BAM! Salt water up the nose.
Ben cottoned on to this whole surfing thing quite quickly. I would say it is was because he was given a stand-up paddle board to start- something to do with his height. This board was much more stable than the other boards in the group. Once I had a go on this board I improved and was able to get more confident which helped when I moved back to my smaller ride. Ben would say his natural talent is because he is so much more flexible than I am and has formed two to three new muscles during a few trips to the gym.
On the second day, the wind had blown away the surfing waves and left the sea choppy and chilly, so we spent the morning Coasteering. An outdoor adventure which involves climbing, cliff jumping and wild swimming. We warded off the cold with our 5mm wetsuits- they were surprisingly toasty. Getting the on and off was a mini-workout itself. Sunday afternoon we learned stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). It sounds easy, but involves a bit more skill than I had planned- again- loads of tumbling into the choppy water. I am even more impressed by mom who has done yoga on a SUP on a lake in Minneapolis.
I think we are going to go another morning (dry wetsuits) before I leave on my fall travels, it was that fun!
We are taking surf lessons this weekend. Yes, you can surf Scotland. These lessons were Ben’s birthday present from his parents and me! I get to go along for the fun too. Coast 2 Coast Surf School comes highly recommended from our other surfer friends of which we have two, but one is moving back to Switzerland in a few weeks. It is just down the road at Belhaven beach in Dunbar. We only need to bring a towel and swimming costume. Sounds easy- but what about all the fabulous apparel which comes with this sport?
We surf all day Saturday and Sunday. I do not know if my core is ready for this. Should be an exciting weekend. Hope to get some photos.
Have a great weekend.
PHOTO: From Leroy Grannis- the original surftographer.
After falling to the second most cycle-friendly city in the U.S.A (according to Bicycling), Portland might be looking to take the top place back from my hometown- Minneapolis. You go Twin Cities. Even the Portland Art Museum (P.A.M.) appears to be on board with the campaign, hosting Cyclpedia- a an exhibit featuring forty bicycles from the personal collection of Michael Embacher. It was impressive to see the cycles through history and for various activities, racing, touring, tandem, children’s and urban. They even have an Austrian example with a a blade instead of the front wheel to navigate the icy streets in the winter months. If you are in the Portland area, you should swing in to see all there is to see- it is on until September 8.