Wonyee Tom, executive baker and co-owner of Tomgirl Baking Co. in Huntington Beach, makes one of my very favorite bar cookies. The bars are rich in contrasting textures and flavors, their buttery crust supporting a treasure-filled topping.
Cream- and honey-spiked caramel dances between nuts and dried fruits, most often a generous mix of sliced almonds plus diced cranberries and apricots. Cooled and cut into bars, they look like jewel boxes: crunchy, chewy, sweet and tart nutty treasures.
In my kitchen I was able to see the exact color the caramel mixture should attain; it is a key step in preparing the bars. Tom describes it as “a light caramel color,” which is accurate, but seeing it in my kitchen (that readers can view in the video) is an invaluable gift.
Tomgirl’s Florentine bars have loads of loyal fans, some who stock up weekly. At home, they cut the bars into smaller pieces, then ration them during the week (they can be stored airtight for up to a week).
More than glamorous custom wedding cakes, more than cookies, tarts and cupcakes, Tomgirl Baking Co. is also a cafe that offers made-from-scratch breakfast and lunch. Jeff Littlefield – Tom’s partner in life and in business – is its chef. His ricotta pancakes, accompanied with blueberry compote, are addictive; those light and luscious flapjacks may well be the subject of a future story.
The competition: Joe’s Shanghai in New York is her favorite restaurant. She says it has the best soup dumplings, generously filled to the brim with delicious broth.
Binge watch: She is glued to crime TV shows such as “Dateline” and “Narcos.” She also loves to watch tennis or any sport that is in season; she is still a New York Rangers fan.
Cake trends: For years, smooth and fancy fondant icing has been en vogue, but now more rustic spatula-spread frosting is in style.
Best partners: She says she is a “warm-cold person.” She likes warm chocolate chip cookies or hot apple tarte Tatin paired with vanilla ice cream.
Tomgirl’s Florentine bars
Yield: about 9 bars
Sweet dough crust:
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
All-purpose flour for dusting parchment paper
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds (not toasted)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) diced dried apricots
1 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup (1 ounce) all-purpose flour
3 1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) heavy whipping cream
1. In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar using the paddle attachment on medium speed until thoroughly combined and creamy. Add egg and mix until well-combined. Add flour and mix until dough comes together. Shape into rectangle and enclose in plastic wrap; chill overnight or at least 2 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-12-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (make the parchment a little larger than the baking sheet so you will have handles later to pull it loose from the pan). Roll out dough to fit sheet on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper; place dough in prepared baking sheet (if it is too cold to roll, let it sit 10 minutes at room temperature). Bake until golden brown in preheated oven, about 15-25 minutes. Remove from oven; do not turn oven off.
3. Mix together almonds, dried fruit and flour; set aside. In a medium-large saucepan with a heavy bottom, combine butter, sugar, honey and cream. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly with a metal spoon until you reach a light caramel color (heated to about 234 degrees). Remove from heat; quickly stir in nut mixture to combine and pour over baked crust. Using a metal spatula that has been sprayed with a nonstick cooking spray, spread topping evenly over the crust.
4. Bake in preheated oven until a bubbly caramel forms, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool to the touch (it should still be slightly warm). Lift out of pan and cut into rectangular bars.
Source: Wonyee Tom, pastry chef and co-owner, Tomgirl Baking Co., Huntington Beach
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!
Chicken can make a delicious taco filling, but boneless, skinless chicken breasts can lack flavor bling. Chipotle chilies canned in adobo sauce can add both flavor and aroma to the poaching liquid. Serve the filling with warm tortillas, shredded cabbage (or lettuce), tomatoes and avocado. Add cheese if you like.
Easy Chipotle Chicken Tacos
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons butter
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 minced canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce, about 2 teaspoons (or less if serving children)
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided use
1/2 cup orange juice
Optional: 1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 large breasts, cut in half lengthwise, or 3 smaller breasts)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
For serving: 14 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed, see cook’s notes
For serving: lime wedges, thinly sliced green cabbage, diced avocado and diced tomatoes, grated cheese
Cook’s notes: To warm tortillas, stack on microwave-safe plate. Cover with damp, clean dish towel. Microwave 60 to 90 seconds. Use potholders when removing from oven and open towel so that steam is directed away from you.
1. Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chipotle; cook about 30 seconds. Stir in 1/2 cup cilantro, orange juice, sugar if using, and Worcestershire. Bring to a simmer. Nestle chicken into sauce. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until temperature registers 160 degrees, 12 to 16 minutes, turning chicken half way through cooking. Transfer to plate and cover.
2. Increase heat to medium-high and cook liquid until reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in mustard. Using two forks, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to skillet. Add remaining 1/4 cup cilantro and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with warm tortillas, lime wedges, cabbage, avocado and tomatoes. If you like, top with grated cheese.
Source: adapted from “America’s Test Kitchen The Best Mexican Recipes” from the Editors at American’s Test Kitchen