This is the last installment of our interview with baker Solveig Tofte, whose baked goods and quick laugh will go public again in mid-March when Tofte opens her own bakery/breakfast spot, Sun Street Breads. Today Tofte reveals her pyromaniac side and shares a recipe with readers for a savory holiday snack. (If you missed them, here are parts 1 and 2 of the interview.)
How is being a baker differ than being a chef? We have much different demands and expectations placed on us, way different approaches to workload. I'm not baking à la minute. It's all spreadsheets and coordinating this and looking at history and looking around the corner and being prepared for that. But I will have a kitchen in this place, so I'll see how I'll turn out in that sort of environment.
At Turtle Bread, we have Levain. One of the chefs at Levain said that going into service is like going into battle -- the orders come in; you push them back. The "front," the line between the dining room and the kitchen has to be in some sort of equilibrium. That's the adrenaline rush, and that's what goes on.
So what is it for a baker?
It's really more like - "Yay! Okay, cool! Take this home and enjoy it!" from working at the farmers market over the summer. I don't have a lot of interaction with customers at Turtle Bread. This summer at the farmers market, it was just like total happiness. People have a level of expectations from their baked goods different than their dining experiences. It's comforting, it's homey. It's a cookie, a loaf of bread, and not seared foie gras on a pumpkin salad that's going to blow their minds. It's going to resonate with the customers at a different time than when I sell it to them.
What is your favorite knife or kitchen tool?
My favorite tool is a plastic scraper because you can use it for everything. One of my bakers at Turtle Bread always has 20 of them stashed in her apron. You can't make a move without a plastic scraper.
What is your best culinary tip for a home cook?
I always advise all of my home bakers to use a baking stone and leave it in the oven always. Our ovens are these little tiny metal boxes, and whenever you open the door, all the heat flies out. If you have the stone in there, you have a heat sink, so it holds some of the heat and everything cooks a little better.
What is your favorite thing to bake at home?
I really like making cookies. Cookies and bars. That's kind of been my thing lately. I hate making bread at home, because you don't have a good oven.
What is your favorite dish on the future menu?
I've been working on fyrstekake, Norwegian almond royal cake. I spent some time in Norway weaving when I was just out of college. I hung out with all these old ladies, and we spent a lot of time eating coffee and cake. We had this little almond cake thing all the time. I used to make it a lot. It came back into my consciousness last week because of Craig Claiborne's recipe from the 60s in the Sunday [New York] Times. So last week I pulled out all my Norwegian recipes, and I just pulled out of the oven the most killer rendition yet.
Who is your favorite celebrity chef?
I do not have one. We watch Anthony bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, but I don't' really have a favorite. I have a lot of friends who say "Everybody says I should be on TV," and so I say, okay, you have to make the choice whether you're going to be a TV person or a cook. You become a product and what you make is not the focus.
Which celebrity chef do you think should shut up?
I think that Guy Fieri guy maybe. He puts his sunglasses on the back of his head, and that drives me crazy. I don't think I've ever seen one of his shows. I just see him in the commercials, and that's enough for me. But I have friends who love him. Last year I would have said Rachael Ray but I don't see her around so much anymore.
I actually do like Alton Brown. I like his shows for all the science-y stuff. But that's actual knowledge. He is a celebrity, but his show will teach you a thing or two. You don't have to learn just how funny or witty he is, which is kind of the point of all the other guys.
What is your favorite thing to do when are not in the kitchen?
I like to read a lot. Fiction and science magazines -- and do goofy projects with my daughter who's six.
What would you do for a living if you could not be a baker?
I don't know. I think I would like to design fireworks displays. I love fireworks. I like science and fire and mixing chemicals and lining them up in these crazy contraptions.
Or I would like to be on MythBusters.
That wraps up this week's chef chat, but Tofte did leave readers a holiday recipe for cheese straws "as a savory counterpoint to all the cookies."
Yield: 70 3" straws
4 oz. Butter, Unsalted, room temperature 8 oz. White Cheddar, grated, room temperature 2 each Egg Yolks, (reserve whites) 1 tsp. Salt 3/4 tsp. Cayenne 1 c. All Purpose Flour Poppy Seeds, Optional, for topping
1. In a food processor, blend the butter and cheese. 2. Add the yolks (reserve the whites), salt and cayenne. Blend. 3. Add the flour and process until smooth. 4. Transfer the dough to a piping bag with a #4 star tip. Pipe 3" strips onto a parchment lined sheet pan. 5. Whisk the reserved egg whites until a bit frothy and brush onto the tops of the straws. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired. 6. Bake at 375F for about 15 minutes. They should be set and have a bit of color on the ridges and bottom edges.
Variation: These also work well as coins. Just scoop the batter with a small scoop. Piping them can sometimes be a pain.
Notes: If you don't have a food processor, this recipe can be done in a mixer or by hand. Just make sure the cheese is very finely grated and that everything is at warm room temperature.