The idea came simply and quietly at the usual time- when I was working on something entirely different.
One of our customers asked if we made any Handpies that could meet their lower-than-usual price point. They loved our pies- as did their customers- but the rising costs of ingredients meant that for a lot of our flavors they would have to charge more than they thought their customers would tolerate.
So rather than cut off the pies completely, they asked my owner- who in turn asked me- if we had any recipes that would 1. Be delicious, 2. Be popular with customers at a cafe, and 3. Wouldn’t use too much of our more expensive ingredients so they could be sold at the desired low point.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but economics and desperation make fantastic midwives. As I went through our recipe books, checked with suppliers to see what ingredients cost what, and started spitballing ideas on our whiteboard (“Pineapple is cheap right now… a pineapple pie? What’s more expensive right now, berries or nuts? What can one person make quickly to reduce labor?”) three ideas from my past and present slammed into each other.
The father of invention had shown up, and it’s name was “Why Not?”
Going Through the Gallery
Every creative- writer, chef, artist, musician, whatever- has a gallery in their minds. It’s (ideally) a labyrinthine library of every experience in their mediums they have ever had that was worth remembering. Artists remember their favorite paintings. Writers have their favorite books pulled apart in scenes, plot beats and characters. Cooks have platings, flavors, techniques, and concepts sorted out in their memories.
With experience and time, a chef can create dishes from slapping memories and experiences together- kickstarted by a need and “why not?”
In my case, it starts with learning something new and then going “Okay, how I use it?” In my quest for a cheaper Handpies, I came across a recipe that was essentially just putting baklava filling in a crust. The filling was good, but it would need to be kept room temperature after baking or the nut paste would become hard as a rock and reheating wold be tricky.
“Not a bad idea, but this might do better in something besides a Handpie. Like what thought?”
The gallery doors opened slightly and I remembered the rugelach dough Karen had taught me years ago at the casino. I also remembered the kouighn-amann pastries I’d had to make at my previous job- flaky laminated dough, folded into a square, then baked upside-down in a muffin tin with butter and sugar on the bottom so they would caramelized into a toffee during baking resulting in a sweet crispy caramel top.
The pieces click together:
“Rugelach is essentially a rough puff pastry dough. Using what I know from the pie shop, I can make it flakier and more manageable.”
“I bet if I made the dough, I could treat it like kouighn-aman. I could bake it the same way and it would be crispy and caramelized.”
“If that works, why not fill it with the baklava filling I just learned?”
It took (and is still taking) a couple iterations to get them just right, but they are quite definitely delicious. The best parts of rugelach, kouighn-aman and baklava are all present, and a new pastry is born.
Kicking Down The Doors
“There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest (inspiration) does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.”Pyotr Ilyiich Tchaikovsky
Creating new things or ideas doesn’t “just happen.” I had the idea to use rugelach dough to make my own kouighn-aman dough before (with terrible results since I didn’t have the technique correct yet), but digging through other recipes, trying them in other contexts, and learning the ins and outs of using them wasn’t an accident. You come up with ideas, you Fail Faster, course correct, and put in the work to get an idea as good as it possibly can be.
Having the idea feels good, but iterating and experimenting needs to be as fun and exciting for you as coming up with theories does, otherwise you will never make anything but a bunch of noise.
It’s all well and good to have that gallery in your head. It marvelous to have brains and notebooks full of ideas and theories- perfect, untouchable, incorruptible by reality- piled up around you. But none of it will ever exist until you kick down those doors- experiment, fail, write it down, try again.
P.S. “Fail Faster” is one of my rules for cooks and culinary students. I just made a poster with it and a few other helpful lessons for the kitchen. You can pick one up over at my Shopify page!
Just in case you want to try making those Bachl-Aman for yourself, here’s the recipe!
The BHB’s Bachl-Aman
For the Dough:
– 5 oz. Cream Cheese, cubed
– 2.5 oz butter, cubed
– 4.5 oz all-purpose flour
– pinch of salt
For the Filling:
– 1.5 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans, or pistachios work best)
– zest of one lemon
– 3 tbs white sugar
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– pinch of salt
– 2 tbs honey
For the pan toffee:
– 2 oz each butter and sugar.
1. Put all dough ingredients into a food processor and process until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Empty into a bowl and knead by hand until a smooth dough forms. Shape into a rectangle, wrap in plastic, and let rest in fridge.
2. While dough is resting, clean out the food processor and put in everything for the filling. Process until a smooth, putty-like paste is formed. Put aside.
3. Preheat your oven to 375 F, and grease a muffin tin. Cream the butter and sugar for the pan toffee together until smooth, and dispense evenly in the bottom of each muffin cup.
4. Measure the diameter of your muffin cups. Once the dough has rested, roll it out on a lightly-floured table to a dimension where it can be cut evenly into squares for each cup. For example, if you can a twelve cup muffin pan and each cup is 3 inches in diameter, you’ll roll your dough into a 9”x 12” rectangle and cut it into even squares. Evenly dispense the filling into the middle of each square and fold the corners in to make little envelopes. Let these rest for 15 minutes in the fridge before continuing.
5. Once the envelopes are rested, place the dough squares upside down in each muffin cup on top of the butter/sugar mix. Put the muffin tin on a sheet pan to catch any drips and bake for about 35 minutes until the dough is golden and the sugar on the bottom is well caramelized.
6. Place a cooling rack on another sheet pan. When the pastries are done, carefully flip the pastries on to the rack, remove the pan, and let them cool. Top with sea salt if you are feeling fancy.