With the holidays soon upon us, we asked NYC pastry chef of-the-moment Natasha Pickowicz to share three of her all-time favourite cookbooks (great for gifting) and one foolproof recipe, perfect for spreading joy any time of year. And, as part of our new Women In Food series, we’ve also gathered her insights on being a “career changer”, managing hospitality teams in the time of #MeToo and on loving her (almost) zero tech home. Read her advice here.
My Favourite Cookbooks
- Simple French Food by Richard Olney
“He was a gay writer from Iowa who expatriated to Provence in the ’70s and had this fabulous estate where chefs and writers from Paris and New York would fly in, like Julia Child and Paul Bocuse. They would congregate at his house and have these debaucherous feasts. This book documents a lot of these very traditional French recipes, but what always spoke to me about that book was how his voice comes through so clearly in the writing. He’s a little cantankerous, a little bit grouchy, and he has an incredibly sly sense of humor, a little bossy. I loved that. It’s a style that I don’t feel like I see as much anymore, where recipes are written like prose, in full sentences, and not steps. There’s a certain lyricism to that kind of writing that I always really, really liked, and it’s a classic, classic book.”
- Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts by Brooks Headley
“This book is less of a compendium of recipes and more a punk-rock manifesto about how he got into restaurants, which is not through culinary school. He was a musician so there are all these fun tidbits and tales of how he got into the business.”
- Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere
“This is one of my pastry bibles. Lindsey Shere was a pastry chef under Alice Waters for quite a while in the ’80s into the ’90s. The focus is on the writing and on the language and on the information and the recipes. There are no photos, it’s all witty drawings, a bit like New Yorker-style cartoons and illustrations within the book. I appreciate the willingness to not seduce people with the images. It’s a super useful book that is packed with information and techniques.”
Vanilla–Brown Butter Sablé Cookies
“I love timeless pastries that look classic but conceal a few secrets. A golden disc of this sable may appear plain, but a single bite triggers waves of subtle textures and surprising richness.”
200g granulated white sugar
18-20oz unsalted butter 2.5oz powdered sugar
5g kosher salt
16g good quality vanilla extract
18oz all purpose white flour
Finishing salt and extra sugar for baking
In a deep medium-sized pot, melt out the butter over medium heat. Swirl the pan as it comes up to a boil. The butter will heavily foam and then as the milk solids begin to separate and caramelize, the foam will burn off. At this point keep a close eye on the butter so it doesn’t burn.
Once the milk solids are a deep golden color, remove the pan from heat and turn out into a bowl set into a larger bowl full of ice, being careful to scrape all of the flavorful milk solids from the bottom of the pot into the bowl.
Set the butter aside and let cool completely. (You can do this overnight or in advance). The butter should completely resolidify into a block, as it will then have to temper again for creaming into the cookie. Reweigh the butter before cubing for the cookie mix as the overall weight prior to browning will be greater.
Scale out 16oz brown butter (there may be an ounce or two extra). Let temper until softened and elastic to the touch but not greasy or melting out.
In a stand mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the brown butter, powdered sugar, and granulated sugar until combined and smooth. Do not aerate. This cookie has a delicate crumb and the butter and sugar needs only to be just combined until emulsified and no more.
With the mixer on, add the yolks one by one, scraping the bowl as you go to assure it mixes evenly. Add the vanilla bean and paddle to combine.
Sift the flour and kosher salt into the creamed mixture and gently paddle to combine. Do not overmix!
Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and gently shape into a ball in the center of a piece of parchment paper. Place another piece of parchment paper on top. Using a rolling pin, gently smooth out the cookie dough until it is one sheet 1cm tall.
Transfer to a cookie sheet and let rest until completely chilled, at least 1 hour. After the dough is chill, it can be cut or punched into small circles 3” across. Do not let dough temper for the neatest look when baking.
The cookies can be frozen at this point – and actually bake best from frozen.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Paint the edges of cookies in a bit of whisked up egg whites, and roll the edges of the cookie in granulated sugar. Sprinkle the center of cookies with a bit of crushed grey salt.
Place cookies 4” apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment and non stick baking spray. Bake from frozen until cookies are just set in the center and beginning to lightly color around the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Do not overbake! Cookies should not be crisp but have a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Main image credit: Johnny Miller
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