When you're cooking, it's all about a dash of this and a splash of that. But baking is another matter, an exact science. In this series, we're going behind the bakery case and into the kitchens of some of Phoenix's finest purveyors of sweets (and some savories). Fresh out of culinary school, Chow Bella contributor Mabel Suen will work with local chefs to learn their tricks for making perfect pastries, baked goods and desserts. Stay tuned for findings once the flour settles.
The Baked Good: The Polvorón The Chef: Minerva Orduño Rincón The Place: FnB Restaurant
Minerva Orduño Rincón is the type of chef that never stops cooking. When she's not slinging hot pans as a line cook behind the close quarters and reach-over counters at FnB Restaurant, she's there behind closed doors preparing products for her brand new business baby.
With Muñeca Mexicana Handcrafted Food, she recreates her favorite foods from growing up in Hermosillo, Sonora, like the delicate and flavorful polvorón.
On a quiet Monday afternoon, FnB is a shadow of its usual self outside of its business hours. There's no busy conversation and fast moving food flying directly from the cooks' station to diners' tables. Instead, a blanket of calm covers the restaurant as Orduño patiently and methodically preps her personal comfort foods.
A large pot of Cajeta de Celaya, or slowly-evaporated goat milk caramel, sits on the stove begging for a stir every now and then, and a countertop full of clear glass jars awaits on standby a bit more patiently for her Mole Poblano.
"Some people knit while they watch TV," she says. "I de-seed hundreds of peppers."
With her line of handcrafted foods, she hopes to dispell the unfavorable notion that Mexican food is just tacos, beans, and rice by supplying authentic items that aren't offered anywhere else in town.
The idea started in her home kitchen, where she'd stay up all night testing recipes to relive her sweetest childhood memories, like running by a bakery with her mother and sister after school to grab treats like Coyotas, or piloncillo-stuffed pastries, and her beloved almond cookies.
To Orduño, the perfect polvorón is very crumbly, fragile and grainy yet tender. The bite-sized cookies are sweet and nutty, and they have added fragrance and flavor from orange zest and just a hint of lard. Her polvorones have a natural nut color from toasted almonds and come dipped in ganache or garnished with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
Finding the ideal shortbread style cookie to suit your nostalgic needs requires some trial and error. Orduño started out with a recipe from one of Mexican cooking guru Diana Kennedy's cookbooks. Then, she spent time trying out variations from different cultures including Mexico, Germany, and Russia, pulling out the best elements from each. Read on for her tips to help with your own experiments.
The Tools: A food processor, a rolling pin (she uses one she got for $4 from an Asian grocery store), a cookie cutter - circle or square works best.
Technique/s: Orduño demonstrates how to grind whole toasted almonds and sugar together in a food processor to create the base for the cookie before adding other ingredients like lard, all purpose flour, baking powder, salt and orange zest:
Tips & Tricks: The dough gets chilled for at least an hour to help the flavors meld together. After that, it will still be very crumbly. Simply press the pieces together, roll it out to the desired thickness, and cut into uniform shapes for baking.
Troubleshooting: Be careful to not overbake. Generally, if you touch it and it sinks, it still needs more time. Look for a golden color.
Recommended reads: Anything by Diana Kennedy.
Try this at home: Polvorones from The Pioneer Women, Crispy Polvorones from spanishfood.about.com, Shortbread Cookies from Martha Stewart. Also, try searching through google.com.mx, using its translator to navigate.
See what else The Baker's Lab has examined: Anatomy of a Vegan Cupcake with the Sizemore Sisters of Treehouse Bakery Anatomy of a Brownie with Eileen Spitalny of Fairytale Brownies Anatomy of a Scone with Candy Lesher of Baci d'Amore Truffles and Scones