by Claire Ptak
Photographs © Kristin Perers
Author Claire Ptak has an impressive resume, and a review in The Guardian dubs her as “freewheeling.” She began her career at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, working her way up the ladder to pastry chef. From there she moved to London to reunite with her British boyfriend, in spite of Alice Waters asking her to stay.
She credits the numerous stages (internships) she experienced in London restaurants for expanding her knowledge of food styling. In 2007, she began styling for Yotam Ottolenghi, British restaurateur and cookbook author (yes, that Ottolenghi). And along the way to opening Violet bakery in East London, she worked with more English culinary royalty, including Jamie Oliver and Nigella (do we need a last name?).
The Violet Bakery Cookbook opens with a wonderful introduction to who Claire is, and her winding path getting there. I personally wanted to know where Violet is. Turns out, it’s only 4 miles from The British Museum, so no problem dropping in if/when I get back to London. Her website photos are almost as beautiful as her baked goods and I was mesmerized with the food styling photos. If you’re a fan of Ottolenghi, you may recognize her style.
Don’t let the word “bakery” narrow your expectations because Ptak’s savory recipes share equal space in this book. She notes that she loves buckwheat, rice, and oat flours for their texture, flavor, and nutrition.
The book’s recipes are divided by time of day. Following the Evening section, she adds Party Party and Pantry Items. If you’re interested in making your own extracts, peels, sauce and jams, the pantry section is the place. Early in the book she includes scones, quiches, biscuits and buns; cookies, upside-down cake, loafs, tarts… and more. Her savory bread puddings intrigued me: braised fennel, olive and caper bread pudding, and Lacinato kale, leek and ricotta bread pudding.
Since we’ll be neck-deep in all of the chocolate that surrounds the holidays, I thought you may want to jump the gun and bake this moist, sumptuous dessert.
- 125g (4 1/2 ounces) pitted prunes
- 40g (3 tablespoons) Irish whiskey
- 240g (8 1/2 ounces) dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
- 200 g (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
- 5 eggs, separated
- 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 150g (1 1/3 cup) ground almonds
- Soak the prunes in the whiskey. If you can do this the night before, all the better.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F (160°C/320°F convection). Butter a 20 to 23-cm (8 to 9-inch) cake pan and line with baking paper.
- Put the dark chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl or it may spoil the chocolate. Stir occasionally to emulsify the butter and chocolate. Once the chocolate has melted, take the pan off the heat to cool slightly but keep away from any drafts.
- Put the whites and yolks into two separate bowls and, starting with the yolks, add half of the sugar and whisk to thicken. Fold the thickened yolks into the melted chocolate, and set aside. Chop the prunes into eighths and add to the chocolate mixture along with the ground almonds.
- Beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar and the sea salt until soft peaks form. Fold into the chocolate mixture just until incorporated. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will be slightly soft in the middle, but do not overbake it or the gooeyness will be lost.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.