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:
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.
CAKE… Vicky and Ray, two of our fun friends, got married around Christmas, it was a small family affair- Ray does not like crowds or attention, so as their first compromise they hosted a bash for all their friends, unfortunately we were unable to make it- Thailand took us away for a different kind of fun.
In exchange, we invited the newlyweds round for an American-themed wedding reception dinner- steak, potatoes and wilted spinach. All elevated- a steak like Heston, individual ramekins of gratin dauphinois and wilted spinach with nutmeg butter. All that was missing were butter rolls and warm glasses of milk.
And since I think all the rage for wedding cakes these days remains red velvet, we had one of those topped with our asexual hugging salt and pepper shakers proving we too believe in marriage equality!
Have a long and happy life tougher Vicky and Ray!
Apologies these photos are not that great- night photography is something I need to improve.
To celebrate the holiest day of the Catholic calendar, Ben and I hosted a Good Friday Brunch for our newly engaged friends- Australian Sarah and Scottish James. They claim it was their first brunch, but being a well travelled duo, I highly doubt this, but they played ignorant brunchers quite well.
It also happened to be the first time we entertained after my epic trip (the adjectives will get more descriptive as I am distance from this journey!), so I might have gone a bit overboard.
On the menu:
- Blood-Orange Mimosas
- Cinnamon Pecans*
- Almond Danish*
- Grapefruit Cupcakes filled with Grapefruit Curd topped with Vanilla Bean Butter Cream and a nest of Candied Grapefruit Peel**
Sarah and James were generous with their praise of brunch, it could have been the influence of the blood-orange mimosas with the sneaky addition of Grand Marnier.
The Easter Bunny hopped by early to drop off mini-cocottes of goodies. He was season appropriate choosing Le Creuset’s rose-colored casseroles for table gifts (a big thing in the U.K.). Ben traded the red neck ties on the chocolate rabbits for pastel ones.
We had some fabulous waffles on Easter morning topped with grapefruit sections and the remaining tart curd. A spring explosion. Dont’ forget the whipped cream.
I have a soft spot for peppermint patties. I do not remember where this started, perhaps it was my Grandma that allowed us to pick a candy from the supermarket, but more likely it has to do with the effective marketing campaign of York Peppermint Pattie which led me to believe these were the ‘healthiest’ candy out there, being lower in fat than a Twix or Snickers (70% less fat than what York?). I probably sandwiched my full-sized pattie between some Snackwells (a popular low-fat cookie back in the day, probably now discontinued due to transfats).
Anyway, liking these candies, I thought I would like to make my own (using this recipe), it was slightly time consuming as there were numerous steps, but who knew butter and about two pounds of powdered sugar could make something so delicious. To make them more festive we used tempered white chocolate coating with red and green food colouring.
Finding food-grade peppermint oil was a challenge, it was recommended over the traditional extract for a more natural and authentic flavour, we tracked it down in an aromatherapy shop as a lot of oils can be used in cooking as we learned- the proprietor was working on a cookbook. Supposedly peppermint oil also helps with jet lag (we will see). It also burns your eyes- a good burn.
These bad boys have a bit of frost on them, they were photographed the next day out of the freezer. As the York people say ‘taste the sensation’- they are better frozen.
Ben’s sister Sarah has always claimed she is a fan of my baked goods, it could be family member flattery, and if it is, then she is now stuck with more cookies than she might ever want!
For their Christmas gift Ben and I baked a variety of cookies and sent a box down to Sarah, Richard, Emily and Adam.
We started with these gluten-free peanut butter cups. Ben is interested in the science behind the melting and tempering of chocolate and the temperature it needs to be to ensure it sets without refrigeration and without crystallising. He did an amazing job with these treats.
They are far better than your original Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, less waxy tasting and the peanut butter ‘nutella’ you make for the filling really elevates this snack.
We used the recipe from a great site called Brave Tart ( I love a good pun!) I am dying to try her 3 Musketeers Bar- maybe as a birthday treat.
I also learned that Ben is not a fan of the peanut butter cup, even when homemade and prepared with high-quality chocolate.
I say YUMMERS!
I swear this is not turning into a cooking blog, but it seems like I have been cooking up a storm recently- it must be the holidays. I will be showing some of the treats this week.
I attempted marshmasllows again- wanting to find the perfect consistency, I attempted two different gelatine amounts since you cannot buy powdered gelatine at our local shop, I used gelatine sheets. I think I figured it out, in several taste tests the green mallows won!
I used the same recipe from this post, just with six sheets of gelatine.
Ben’s mom and dad liked them as well.
There is a new lady in our neighbourhood, she has been here for a while, but she is quickly becoming all the rage, she is the Marshmallow Lady. She opened a small shop and cafe only about 2 blocks from here. She also sells her gourmet marshmallows every weekend at the Stockbridge Market. We have not indulged in any of her flavors, some of which include, maple and bacon, beer, key lime pie and the more traditional vanilla and raspberry.
Haven eaten plenty of jet-puffed marshmallows in my day, I figured, I can make these too and I did, they were tasty and quite easy to whip up (literally).
Here is the finished product.
These are vanilla bean flavour.
They were a big hit at our Sunday night pub quiz.
I found the recipe on the amazing baking blog Sweetpolita- I am in awe of this home-baker’s creativity and skill. I want to eat puffy cloud s’mores.
Here is the video.