Macrina Pumpkin Pie: From Seed to Table

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Little is more satisfying than cooking from my garden’s bounty. It represents months of work and patience. Every vegetable started as a seed I planted, nurtured and harvested. And while the process is on a much larger scale at Macrina, it is still just as fulfilling. Yesterday, the first crates of butternut squash (more on this secret later) were delivered for our Thanksgiving pies. I didn’t grow them myself, but I worked with local grower extraordinaire Oxbow Farm in selecting the seeds and establishing the quantities we’d need.

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Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Oxbow Farm gets their seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s has been around since 1972, is 100% employee owned and does not use genetically engineered plants or seeds. Our squash began with a hybrid seed called Metro PMR. It has superior flavor, resists powdery mildew and matures relatively quickly. Butternut is a moschata species of squash, which can be hard to ripen in our region’s limited growing season.

Butternut squash plants are tender, and their seedlings are especially susceptible to frost damage. Before planting growers have to wait until the soil is warm and the danger of a cold snap has passed. In the Pacific Northwest this means no earlier than May. The growers at Oxbow sow the seeds in a large protected hothouse to give them a head start. Because the seeds sprout quickly and are susceptible to becoming root bound, this can’t be done too early. Once they reach transplant size in the nursery there is quite a scramble to get so many tender plants out to the fields with enough time remaining for them to mature before the first fall frost.

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Like zucchini, the butternut squash plant sends off several vines as it grows, some as long as 15 feet. Lots of work is required to keep the plants weed and bug-free. After flowering, two or three young squash will grow off each vine. Green at first, tan vertical stripes emerge as the squash ripens. Eventually the green fades and is replaced by the matte tawny color of the mature fruit.

Depending on the weather during the growing season, the squash are harvested anywhere from mid-September through mid-October. This year, at Oxbow, the butternut were ready later than the other varieties of winter squash. The crew at Oxbow harvested them all in mid-October.

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Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

More than six months after choosing the seeds it was a joy to hold the ripe squash. Each is unblemished and heavy in the hand. Cutting one open, I found the orange flesh inside creamy and sweet. Perfect for pie.

Butternut squash are the not-so-secret ingredient in our pumpkin pies. Simply put, the pies made with roast butternut squash won our taste test. They had more flavor than those made with only pie pumpkins. While our pumpkin pies are predominantly made with butternut squash, we do add a bit of pumpkin.

To make our pie, we cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and roast them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Once the roasted squash cools, the skin peels off easily. Roasting them concentrates the natural sugars, and they puree beautifully. With the butternut squash we found we needed both less sugar and less cream in our recipe to create the perfect texture and taste for our pie.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

The week of Thanksgiving is when our bakery floor gets truly insane. We start by roasting the squash and the pie shells. Then the filled pies shuffle in and out of our ovens. At the cafés, managers and crew pull together the long list of pre-orders that customers have placed throughout the month. Thanksgiving Eve managers and crew are usually at the cafés by 3 a.m. to be sure every order is ready to go, as well as plenty of extra stock on the shelves to accommodate last minute shoppers.

And when it’s all done we do the same thing you do. We gather with our families and friends for a feast. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. I love every part of it: decorating the house, setting the table beautifully, organizing the beverages, and—the best part—cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. Because there are so many dishes to prepare and only so much time, I always rely on Macrina Stuffing Mix, a selection of bread and rolls, crostini and a few of the appetizer spreads, and, of course, our pies. The pumpkin pie is my all-time favorite. The sweetness of Oxbow’s roasted squash with brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice and ginger is perfect with slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Our Thanksgiving menu is now available for the whole month of November. We will be taking advanced orders for the holiday through noon, November 21st.

Leslie

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Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center cultivates 30 acres of vegetables, tree fruit, and berries on the banks of an oxbow lake in the lower Snoqualmie Valley. We have been growing food for our customers for 16 years. Our produce is available throughout the greater Seattle area at independent grocery stores, restaurants, and most importantly, through our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Macrina Cornetti

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For years, my business partner, Matt has asked if we could make cornetto. Matt spent a year living in Italy and became quite enamored of the Italian breakfast – a stop at the local café on the way to work, a beautiful cappuccino, a cornetto and an animated conversation, usually about soccer. Every time Matt asked, I had to tell him we don’t have enough space. Well, this summer, we moved into our new production facility. There is space and I am finally able to grant Matt’s wish!

Cornetti are often referred to as the Italian cousin to the French croissant. Cornetti are made with laminated dough. Buttery dough is repeatedly folded and rolled to lace the dough with thin layers of butter fat. This creates a moist and flaky texture. Macrina’s laminated dough is slightly sweeter and made with a smidge less butter to create the perfect texture. We use the laminated dough to make our Cornetto, Chocolate Cornetto, Morning Rolls and Orange Hazelnut Pinwheels.

The story behind laminated pastry is an interesting one. It seems to have originated in Austria with a pastry called a kipferl. Some say the crescent shape was created to celebrate the Austrian defeat of the Ottomans whose flag carried an image of the crescent moon. Whether that story is myth or not, what is certain is that the pastry spread throughout Europe with regional and national differences.

Recently, The New Yorker published a story, Straightened-out Croissants and the Decline of Civilization” after one bakery in England started making their croissants un-curved. We have wisely opted to stay out of the centuries old England-France controversy. Our cornetti are slightly curved and available in our cafes and for wholesale sales. Come down to one of our cafés, order a cappuccino and a cornetto, and treat yourself to an Italian breakfast (while you read the New Yorker article, it is a fun one!)

Leslie

 

Cornetto (pictured above): “Little horn” in Italian. We form our cornetti from a triangle of our laminated dough rolled to create a crescent shape, brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with pearl sugar and baked to a deep brown. Lightly sweet, flaky on the outside and moist inside. Enjoy plain or with fresh preserves.

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Chocolate Cornetto: Our cornetto filled with batons of semisweet chocolate.

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Morning Rolls: Our laminated dough layered with house-made vanilla sugar and rolled into a swirl. Baked to a golden brown. Flaky and light with buttery caramelized sugar at the base.

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Orange Hazelnut Pinwheels: Our laminated dough layered with house-made hazelnut sugar and fresh orange zest, rolled into a pinwheel and baked golden brown. Dusted with powdered sugar. Flaky and sweet with just the right touch of citrus.

New Bakery: Making Kent a Little Sweeter!

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Lady Macrina watching over us all.

Not too long ago, I was working away at our Sodo bakery marveling at how small the space had become. Our team was working shoulder to shoulder, each process a fine-tuned choreography of mixing, forming and baking with counter space at a premium. My mind wandered back to 1993. When I first opened Macrina Bakery, I had six employees, and 847 square feet packed with a French Bongard oven, a stack of convection ovens, one mixer, an espresso machine and steel baker’s racks to cool the bread. I had been dreaming of having such a kitchen for years and here I was producing a full line of artisan breads, muffins, coffee cakes and tarts. Business took off through word of mouth, some very beloved wholesale customers and some very positive reviews. All my energy went into baking. Soon this kitchen was bursting at the seam and after only a year, I leased the adjoining space, enlarged the kitchen and added a cafe. We were able to offer more pastry items, develop some savory dishes and add new breads. It was a time of incredible growth for Macrina.

Eight years later with another cafe open in the Queen Anne neighborhood, production was moved to a larger space on 2nd Avenue. With more space, more ovens and better equipment we were able to organize better and again add items to our line of breads, pastries and savory items. We even improved some old favorites. Business continued to grow. Our cafes were thriving and more and more wholesale customers were added to our family. My crew and I shared great highs and weathered growing pains that tested our collective graciousness.

And soon we needed more space.

In 2008, with new partners, we found an industrial building in the Sodo neighborhood. We doubled our kitchen size, had plenty of parking for delivery vans and space for a cafe that could feature big windows both outside and into the kitchen. There was even space upstairs for administrative offices. I thought we would never fill all the space! The expertise, dedication and experience of my managing partners allowed me to step back from business operations and spend more time in the kitchen. We invested in and learned from our talented staff who are devoted to making the best breads and pastries. We improved ingredients, sourced more local products and services, and added sweet and savory items our customers requested. We increased our delivery area, our cafes were thriving and our growth continued.

Remarkably we outgrew this space quickly.

For the last few years we’ve been bursting at the seams again, forced to find more efficient ways to work within our confines. So, after a year of planning and another 6 months of construction, we have moved again!  Our new bakery is in Kent, which I like to refer to as the new Sodo (industrial, up and coming). I am in love with our well thought out bakery, with impressive temperature controls, the tools we need to keep up with demand and enough space for each team to spread out.

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The first bake in our new home.

As I was working shoulder to shoulder in our Sodo space that day not too long ago, I was very much looking forward to sharing the new space with my team. Now that we have officially moved in, I am even more excited. I love seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces as they acclimate to their new home. We no longer have to push racks of bread around to get into the walk-in and we aren’t tripping over pallets of flour. I love having the space to create.  I am working on a new line of pastries that will blow you away.  You will have to stay tuned to see what we have coming later this summer.  Trust me it is worth the wait.

I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re very excited about Macrina’s future.

Leslie

 

The Bread Lab: A Washington State Treasure

BreadLabFieldsThe flour most of us are familiar with—the inert, white powdery stuff from the supermarket with a long shelf life—is a very modern development in our long relationship with wheat, the most important food in history. Before industrial agriculture became dominant, milling was done at regional mills with diverse strains of wheat. The effort to create uniform flours that won’t spoil has taken much of the flavor and nutrition from our flour and the products made with it.

One of the national leaders in the effort to restore flavor and nutrition to available wheat is located just north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley. Dr. Steven Jones runs The Bread Lab, an extension of Washington State University. He is devoted to bringing grain agriculture back to our region. A hundred years ago, fields of grains filled the Skagit Valley, but as industrial wheat brought the price of the commodity down farmers shifted to more valuable crops. Recently though, farmers, using wheat as a rotation crop to break disease cycles and to restore vital elements to the soil have discovered, or rediscovered, that many varietals grow wonderfully there. This is where The Bread Lab comes in. Jones is a wheat breeder dedicated to making regional grain farming viable again. His lab develops vigorous wheat hybrids full in flavor and nutritional value that grow optimally in particular climates.

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Over six years ago, I was invited to be part of The Bread Lab’s advisory board. Back then I had no idea how impactful it would be. At the time, I was happy with our flour and didn’t imagine I would be looking elsewhere. A few bakers I knew in Seattle were experimenting with milling their own flours. I was eager to learn more. The Bread Lab proved to be an excellent resource. It gave me the opportunity to test wheat from smaller growers. Jones and his team check it for strength and provide us with its falling number, which indicates the speed of fermentation. As you can imagine, our baking schedule is pretty tight. A dough moving unexpectedly slowly or quickly can really throw things off.

Using ingredients with the highest integrity has always been central to my mission at Macrina. In flours, flavor and high nutritional value are the two most important things I look for, along with consistency and a reliable supply. My earliest fascination was with whole grain milling. Most commercially produced flour is made only with the starchy endosperm of the grain. Both the nutrient-rich bran and flavorful wheat germ are discarded because the oils they contain will turn rancid in a few weeks. But the durability that commercial flour gains by discarding them comes at an enormous cost—the loss of flavor and nutrition.

This is why, years ago, I started using freshly milled whole grain flours from Fairhaven Mills. I admire the nutty and natural caramel flavor that comes from the milled whole grain flours. When I first started experimenting with this whole grained milled flour, I was hydrating a portion of the flour to soften the bran. This worked to some degree, but I was still not getting the rise I wanted, resulting in a dense texture. The Bread Lab provided me with many strategies. With their help and plenty of experimenting, I got the results I desired. On another occasion, we had a difficulty with a flour we were getting from Fairhaven Mills. They’d had to substitute a wheat from Montana rather the Walla Walla wheat we’d been using. I sent a sample to The Bread Lab. They tested it and determined that the wheat had a smaller falling number, which means the dough develops quickly. We reduced the mixing time and with lots of tweaking got consistent results. When you’re mixing hundreds of pounds of dough destined for someone’s table in a few hours and the dough isn’t behaving you can imagine the frenetic scene that results.

SkagitWheatEvery year The Bread Lab hosts an annual conference called Grain Gathering. Professional bakers, bread enthusiasts, brewers, farmers, and chefs from around the country descend on the Skagit Valley. Workshops, panel discussions, and demonstrations cover a range of wheat-centered topics (I’ve learned lots from these over the years). At the 2015 event, they held a bread tasting for a group of experienced bakers. We tasted seven breads, each made with a different locally grown wheat. For each loaf the recipe was essentially the same, with small adaptations made to create the best loaf with each flour. The varying tastes, textures, and the overall natural sweetness was a revelation. The flour made all the difference. The experience inspired my commitment to bringing more locally grown flours to the breads we make at Macrina.

One of the challenges The Bread Lab faces is that making local wheats prevalent takes more than introducing them to local bakers. Local grain economies that existed before the mass produced flours drove them out of business must be rebuilt. That includes persuading farmers to grow the grains, mills to grind them, stores to sell them and buyers to purchase them. Contributing to a healthy and sustainable local food economy is not just a good thing for Macrina to do, it’s a great thing for our bread. You just can’t beat the taste that freshly milled whole grain flours provide.

With the success The Bread Lab has experienced they’ve outgrown their small space and this summer will relocate to a 12,000-square-foot building. King Arthur Flour is partnering with them to add a full-scale mill and educational center. The state-of-the-art facility, and the passion and knowledge of Jones and his team, is a unique treasure. We are lucky to be so close to the innovation taking place in Skagit Valley, innovation with benefits that extend through the state and beyond.

Leslie

Space Needle

I had the pleasure of dining with Phuong Bui, Macrina’s head baker, and his wife at the SkyCity restaurant to celebrate his 10 year anniversary. It was a big treat and fun for him to see the bread he bakes on the tables of one of the most iconic locations in the country. Nothing beats the remarkable view or the delicious food of this longstanding Seattle restaurant.

Leslie

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The Space Needle

Imagine this: It’s 1961. Seattle is soon to host the World’s Fair. You walk into a bank and announce that you plan to build the tallest building west of the Mississippi and slap a revolving restaurant on top. Oh, and so it’s ready in time for the fair, you need to build it in about 400 days. Might as well ask for a time-traveling DeLorean while you’re dreaming.

But somehow they pulled it off, sans the DeLorean. A group calling itself the Pentagram Corporation, which included a few of Seattle’s most recognizable businessmen, didn’t need a bank loan. They were the bankers and developers of the day. The risk was sizable. 550 feet of risk. 467 dump trucks of cement poured to a depth of 30 feet of risk. $4.5 million dollars of risk. They sought nothing less than to present a vision of the future to the rest of the world.

Seattle_World's_Fair_and_Mt_Rainier_C13119Billed as The Century 21 Exposition, the World’s Fair of 1962 in Seattle also featured the monorail. Just before the fair opened The New York Times wrote, “The high-speed, quiet monorail cars catapult northward from the heart of Seattle for a few breath catching moments, then glide to a stop. There suddenly, all around you, are glimpses of the world of tomorrow.” The monorail was the time-traveling Delorean carrying hordes of visitors to the world of tomorrow.

Back then, world’s fairs were major spectacles, attended by people from around the globe. Seattle was a company town, a yawn of a city that functioned as a Boeing bunkhouse, and a long ways from growing up and joining the ranks of major American cities. Much of the world then thought Seattle rhymed with fetal.

As the structure went up, doubters arose. The Committee Hoping for Extra-Terrestrial Encounters to Save the Earth—CHEESE (an appropriate acronym) claimed to have plans from the 1962 World’s Fair that show the Space Needle was constructed to send transmissions to advanced beings in other solar systems. True story.

4171626313_f5d5797ce6Another fun fact: Elvis filmed a movie at the Space Needle during the World’s Fair named, aptly enough, “It Happened at the World’s Fair.” In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reporter John Voorhees described the insanity surrounding The King: “The biggest attraction at the World’s Fair continues to be Elvis Presley, who may turn out to be the biggest boon to the sellers of camera film since the Space Needle was unveiled.”

Fast forward a little more than 50 years and Seattle has been transformed from the scenic hillside town without an interstate to one of the fastest growing major cities in America. In the shadow of the Space Needle, South Lake Union has been transformed by Amazon’s growth. Boeing is still a major employer, but the local economy has diversified, much of its new growth driven by the technology sector.

amazon-campusThrough all this growth the Space Needle has provided a spectacular revolving view of the city’s evolution; neighborhoods torn down to build Interstate 5, construction cranes raising Belltown to new heights, new high-rise towers, more cranes, more towers, and suburbs oozing further north, east, and south.

While some today consider the Space Needle an anachronistic vision of the future, more Jetsons than anything that looks like the future today, it has always symbolized a city leaning into the future. So, when the weather is clear, take the elevator up 500 feet to the SkyCity restaurant and enjoy the Macrina potato rolls (or a basket of our pastries at brunch) while you peruse the menu and take in the revolving view of this beautiful city. We’re proud to play a small role in such an iconic location.

space-needle-northwest-scenescapesAnd lastly, while you’re enjoying your meal don’t forget that only the interior rotates, not the external structure. If you set your drink on the window ledge, it’ll slowly drift away from you. More than a few enterprising and frugal drinkers have enjoyed their neighbors fine scotch, or their cocktail; one after the next, helpless to resist as they just kept appearing on the window ledge next to their table.

Visit this link for a long list of Space Needle fun facts.

Walnut Street Coffee

Walnut Street Coffee is a perfect destination, whether you’re a local or looking for a little weekend adventure. Downtown Edmonds is a charming spot. The baristas are friendly and efficient and they make beautiful coffee. ~ Leslie

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A headline in the recent issue of the Edmonds Beacon declares “Edmonds is no longer ‘Deadmonds.” With a growing population and an invigorated downtown, Edmonds is on the rise. Pam Stuller, the founder and owner of local favorite Walnut Street Coffee, is just the kind of entrepreneur that has helped make downtown Edmonds the vibrant place it is today.

When she found the space for her cafe in 2006, Walnut Street was pretty quiet. She and her husband, who live in nearby Richmond Beach, were riding their bikes around town and encountered a funky cinderblock building that had originally been built as a boat engine repair shop. Its defining feature was a roll-up garage door. A dream location; downtown, but enough off the beaten track to be the place locals would seek out away from the ferry and tourist crowd. One problem: a flower shop occupied the space. So she sent the letter to the landlord and six months later he called.

“People thought I was a crazy to take the space,” Pam said.

IMG_4350Out of college Pam didn’t imagine herself running a busy coffee shop. For ten years she worked in human resources. In 2002, a friend, Michael Prins was opening the first Herkimer Coffee on Phinney Ridge. She was working for Nature Conservancy, an organization she loved. But she was restless.

“If you can’t love your job and you’re working at an amazing organization what do you do? I felt like I’d already done everything I could to love what I do and it wasn’t working.”

So she left her job to help Michael get Herkimer Coffee up and running, focusing on the things she had experience doing, such as hiring a staff. A year and a half later she found herself still working there as a barista.

“It was the most fun, most rewarding, most enriching work experience I’d ever had. I loved it. I’d always loved cafes and cafe culture but I’d always been intimidated by the art of coffee. That was where I got to learn the craft and the trade. I knew then this was what I wanted to do. In coffee, you get to know people in such a different way. Most people are pretty routine about their coffee. You have this two-minute touch. Over time you pick up all the little intimate details—a kid is sick, news of a vacation, job changes—and you build a meaningful personal relationship. It’s pretty amazing.”

That led her to Edmonds and Walnut Street Coffee. She and her husband did most of the buildout themselves.

“My goal was to do one thing and to do it really well and to keep focused on what brings me joy. I figured that if I was happy to come here every day, the customers would follow.”

They did, but it took a lot of work. For the first two years, Pam worked seven days a week.

“The business almost ate me alive. Around year three I began adding enough staff that I could have a couple of days off a week.”

Keeping things simple has been key to her success.

“My passion and my love is espresso. But I don’t have experience making pastries. I’ve worked in restaurants and I know how much goes into food service. I wanted to keep things as simple and focused as possible.”

Initially, bakery options were few, but as Edmonds has grown so have options.

IMG_4338“I’m so thrilled to have Macrina. Edmonds is enough off the beaten track that delivery
options are few. You’re not on your way to anywhere when you come to Edmonds. When Macrina started delivering here, I was thrilled. The caliber and consistency of the baked goods are first-rate. Our customers love them.”

Approaching her ten-year anniversary, Pam is lucky to have two baristas who have been with her for over eight years. That’s exceptional in a high-turnover industry where the average barista stays at a job for one year. With her background in human resources maybe it should come as no surprise.

“I have a pretty amazing benefits package, especially for this kind of business. I have a retirement plan, profit sharing, health care, paid time off, holiday pay.”

She attributes much of the success of her business to her employees.

“I never underestimate the value of my people. They’re instrumental in maintaining and in continuing to build our business. Our business has grown every year since we opened, which includes the downturn.”

Occasionally she thinks about expanding, but worries she’d wind up doing more of the stuff she doesn’t love doing, like bookkeeping and back of the house work.

“I love the connection I have with my staff and my customers, and I worry that would get diluted. I live simply, and I’m happy the way things are. I hike, bike, cross-country ski, garden, walk my dog, I’m an avid reader, and I love to spend time with my family, friends, and my parents. I don’t want to lose any of that.”

Her love of the city recently led her to get involved in a business group called the Edmonds Downtown Alliance. She served a stint as president last year.

“That was rewarding, developing deeper relationships with the other merchants and finding ways to take what is so great about this town and amplify that so everybody does better.”

IMG_4345If you don’t already spend time in the seaside town of Edmonds, it’s time to make a trip. There are a couple of breweries, a distillery, a movie theater, lots of shopping, a bookstore, tasty restaurants. Most shops are small and owner-operated.

“You wouldn’t have to leave Edmonds if you didn’t want to. We kind of have it all in this little pocket, and it’s so scenic. It’s very Mayberryish in a way, but it also has an authenticity to it that I really enjoy.”

Start with a caffe latte and a treat from Walnut Street Coffee and take a stroll down 5th Avenue towards Main Street and you’ll discover that “Deadmonds” no longer exists.

POP! Bubbles & Seafood

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This coming weekend I’ll be participating in the Seattle Wine and Food Experience (SWFE). This event has grown into one of the premier Northwest culinary events – gathering epicureans from all over the region. This year, I have been asked to work with sustainable seafood, specifically Weathervane sea scallops. After playing around with different approaches, I will be serving Seared Scallops with Feta and Citrus Vinaigrette on Rye Crostini. It is a tasty appetizer that would be fun to serve at a party.

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More than 200 vendors will be there, including many other chefs, lots of great wine, brew masters, and distillers. An excellent way to find new favorite foods, wines, and more.

This year a percentage of the proceeds go to Les Dames D’Escoffier Seattle, an organization dear to my heart. The non-profit focuses on raising funds for scholarships for women in the culinary, beverage, and hospitality industries. All efforts are based in Washington State. Les Dames also supports community outreach programs and sustainable agriculture projects.

If you’re free this weekend, come down to SWFE and find me. Try a bite of my scallops before heading off to find your new favorite Washington wine.

Leslie

POP!  Bubbles & Seafood is held at McCaw Hall on Saturday, February 20th between 6:00-9:00 pm.  Tickets are $75 per person.

Seattle Wine & Food Experience is held at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on Sunday, February 21st, between 1:00-5:00 pm.  Tickets are $60 per person.  A weekend pass for both events is sold for $140.

 

Wedding Cakes

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I didn’t intend to get into the business of wedding cakes, exactly. I wasn’t particularly averse to it – it’s just that when you’re busy with the daily routine of bread and pastries, throwing a wedding cake into the mix sounds complicated. And wedding cakes can be pretty show-offy, lots of frills and sugar flowers, with a greater focus on glamour than taste, and as subject to the vagaries of fashion as bride’s dresses are. I worried it was too far from my focus to keep up. But when my sister Allison and brother-in-law Marty asked me to do their wedding cake, I jumped on the opportunity.

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Their wedding was January 22, 1994, just six months after I’d opened Macrina. They needed a cake to serve to 250 guests. Amidst the chaos of running a new bakery, I set to work making a large cake with four tiers. The bottom cake was 16” in diameter. I vaguely remember each layer being a different type of cake. The wedding was in Portland. I loaded the layers flat into the back of our delivery van. Fortunately, the weather was winter cold. Heat is not good for the cakes and the icing. I worried that the cakes would get damaged, but everything survived the journey. I assembled the cake there, decorating it with a white-chocolate, cream-cheese buttercream, edible gold flakes, and fresh flowers. I was so proud of the way it turned out.

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Since then Macrina has done hundreds of wedding cakes. The style is much the same as the one I did for my sister—simple, fresh and elegant. Once I’d done a few, word of mouth brought in newly engaged couples. For years, I coordinated and delivered the wedding cakes. I made many a cake delivery with my daughter Olivia. Her baby backpack had a frame that allowed it to stand and she would sit patiently while I stacked, finished, and decorated the cakes. In 2002, our pastry department took over the wedding cakes. Significant improvements were made to the wedding cake department. Our decorating got more creative while remaining simple, fresh and elegant.  About ten years ago we added wedding cakes to our website. This has been a great discussion opener for interested couples.

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Today, Anna Moomaw-Parks is our wedding cake coordinator. She gathers details, manages the schedule and delivery and is the point of contact for couples and wedding planners, all to make sure our customers get the best possible service. Anna says, “Wedding cakes aren’t the primary focus of Macrina. They are a special thing we do, and we work hard to make them special. We don’t have a team of people producing them. One of our pastry chefs, Mariah Eubanks, makes and decorates the cakes. We’re careful not to take more orders than we can handle. It is an important day for the customers. We want to be sure we do all we can to make it wonderful.”  About a year ago we had the pleasure of making a cake for Anna’s wedding.

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I love the way our tradition has evolved while holding to its roots. Mi Kim, our head pastry chef, baked and decorated all the wedding cakes for several years. A couple of years ago she trained Mariah, seamlessly passing the tradition to another talented pastry chef. Now Mariah is designing a Macrina wedding cake for her own nuptials this coming October. She’s leaning towards the almond torta cake with the same white chocolate cream cheese buttercream I made for my sister’s cake.  Of course, she won’t be making her cake. Superstition says the bride who bakes her own cake is asking for trouble.

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We are currently in the midst of wedding planning season. Quite a few engagements happen over the holidays, with weddings planned for the summer. Mariah has been busy meeting with couples to design their cakes.

Looking through pictures of the cakes we’ve done over the last 20 plus years makes me so proud of our tradition of fresh baked, delicious and beautifully decorated wedding cakes. And I am very pleased that and so many couples wanted to include us in their special day.

Leslie

For more information on our wedding cakes please visit our website.

Panettone

panettone smallThere is hardly a more Italian way of celebrating the holidays than a slice of panettone and a flute of prosecco, a December ritual in homes, cafes, and restaurants throughout Italy. This sweet toque-shaped yeast bread stuffed with raisins and candied orange and lemon peel originated in Milan. It’s often served with a sauce of zabaglione, a custardy sauce made with egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine, or crema di mascarpone, and accompanied with a glass of sweet wine such as Moscato d’Asti. The name panettone comes from the Italian word “panetto,” a small loaf cake. The addition of the suffix “-one” makes it a large cake.

The origins of the cake date back to a type of leavened cake sweetened with honey and enjoyed by nobility during the Roman Empire. The cake makes cameo appearances in Italian paintings in the 16th century and is associated with Christmas in the 18th-century writings of Pietro Verri, who wrote an epic history of Milan.

But Panettone didn’t become a household item until 1925 when Angelo Motta, a Milanese baker, began commercial production of the bread. He’s credited with modifying the shape from a low, dense loaf to the tall, airy bread we know today. He introduced a natural leavening process, more like that used in sourdough, and allowed the bread to rise three times over 18 hours before baking. This produces the bread’s lightness and soft texture.

Motta’s bread was an enormous success and soon a competitor arose. Giacchino Alemagna created a similar bread, pricing his higher. The competition proved good for both brands, with Motta seen as the panettone of the middle-class, while Alemagna targeted those willing and able to pay premium prices. Today, the brands Motta and Alemagna dominate the market. Over 100 million panettone are produced by Italian bakeries each holiday season. Italy only has 60 million people! Even with about 10% of production bound for export that is a lot of panettone per person.

While commercial production of panettone dominates in Italy and abroad, many small bakeries (or le pasticcerie in Italy) make their traditional versions of the famous bread. Macrina’s version was inspired by a recipe in Carol Field’s wonderful book The Italian Baker. Our loaf is studded with candied citrus and dried fruits and enriched with eggs and butter. Nowadays it’s easy to find decorative paper baking molds, but I prefer to bake these loaves in clay flowerpots, which look beautiful and make great holiday gifts. The dough takes time and cannot be rushed, but it’s more than worth the wait. If you’re looking for an alternative to the version shipped over from Italy you can pick one up at any of our cafes this month, or find my recipe in the Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook. Then grab a bottle of prosecco and invite some friends over for a very Italian holiday celebration.

Happy Holidays, Leslie

The Thanksgiving Rush

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Thanksgiving is such a special time of year, a time for family and friends to come together to celebrate food. Not surprisingly, the Thanksgiving holiday is the busiest time of year for us at Macrina. Demand for our offerings has grown every year. So many customers have told me how helpful it is to get items from us—our pumpkin pie, for instance—that allows them to spend more time with family and friends, offerings they know will shine.

And isn’t it really the sides and the pie that make the Thanksgiving holiday? I enjoy a slice or two of turkey, but what I go for is the stuffing, the vegetables, the cranberries, the rolls, and at my table anyway, various crostini with interesting spreads. To this end, we make a stuffing mix that has gotten very popular. We used to sell the stuffing mix only in the cafes, making it with leftover bread. Now we bake loaves just for the stuffing mix. You can find them at many places that carry Macrina’s breads. Our crostini and spreads have also taken off, as have our dinner rolls, our Winter Pear Crown and, of course, our pies.

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Loaves of bread waiting to be prepped into our stuffing mix

We start our planning in early September when I sit down with our lead bakers, our savory department, and our retail managers. We talk about past favorites and new ideas. We test recipes. When we finally have our season’s list of offerings, we talk about logistics. This is no small challenge. Even with our fabulous space in Sodo, which once seemed so big, we are bursting at the seams. The spatial challenges and work-flow planning fall on the capable shoulders of Production Manager Jane Cho. The mixers run around the clock now, with three shifts managing dough production. On Thanksgiving eve last year they mixed nearly 20,000 pounds of dough. A seasonal crew is brought in to help with the production and packaging of the stuffing mix. Given the limited floor space, Jane maps out the production floor on charts that resemble architectural renderings.

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Loaves of Guiseppe awaiting delivery to local grocery stores.

I work with Head Baker Phong Bui on all the items, such as this year’s Porcini Roll Tray, or the Winter Pear Crown, a sweet bread spiked with black pepper. Mi Kim, our head pastry chef, stays busy prepping lots of pie shells, pies, and ingredients to be ready for the big Thanksgiving rush. She says, “Every day is a busy day for our bakers once the holiday season is here! Long days are logged from everyone when needed, and we have fun doing it!”

In our savory department, Savory General Manager Marilyn Mercer and her team, in addition to preparing items for the cafes, are busy making the spreads, including a new one, a smoked trout spread. Savory Assistant Manager Elizabeth Hall says, “It’s Scandinavian-inspired, with smoked white trout from Gerard & Dominique, a premium purveyor of smoked fish, located right here in Washington state. We blend the smoked trout with a hint of horseradish, cream cheese, scallions, parsley, chervil, and lemon.”

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Our pastry case stocked with Thanksgiving treats.

The cafes must also do lots of extra planning, upping their pars to ensure they have enough on the shelves for their customers. Crystal Kitchin, general manager of cafes, starts the month off with a two-night Thanksgiving tasting. Each member of the retail staff tastes the products and learns how different items pair so they can help guide customers. On Thanksgiving Eve the management team comes in early in the morning to put together the long list of special orders that have been placed throughout the month. Elizabeth Krhounek, general manager of the McGraw Cafe, says, “Being here at 2:30 in the morning in my pajamas to get all the orders ready is really fun, also putting on music we usually can’t listen to in the store. Last year my lead came in wearing his red onesie pajamas.”

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Crystal checking to make sure all the orders are organized for pick up.

While all the extra work provides new challenges, it’s exciting to see all the teamwork. “In production you see everyone moving fast, working their hardest, but we have fun,” Jane Cho says. “It’s exciting. And then after months of planning it’s just suddenly over and we get to enjoy the holiday with family and friends.” It really is a rush, in every sense. I love it all.

Our Thanksgiving menu is now available for the whole month of November. We will be taking advanced orders for the holiday through noon, November 23rd.

Leslie