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Gingerbread

I first met Elizabeth, head pastry chef at Kona Village Resort, on a family trip to Hawaii when I was about 10 years old. She used to let my sister and I come into the kitchen where we would be able to watch her plate desserts. It was always so exciting to see the hustle and bustle going on behind the scenes. It was a few years later that I began to hear about the wonderful gingerbread work that Elizabeth would do for Christmas at Kona Village.  I have always been enamored by the time, creativity and intricate detailing that goes into building gingerbread structures. This year I had the pleasure of speaking with Elizabeth about her craft.

Elizabeth Therialt, Dessert Chef

Kona Village Resort, Hawaii

Answers are paraphrased from a phone interview

1) How did you become a pastry chef? What drew you to this field?

Baking has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a family of hunters, bakers, fishermen and gardeners. I knew that baking was an expression of love. It was a way to be able to give and please people. My uncle and grandfather were bakers in a commercial setting. My grandfather was actually called “Whitey” because he was in charge of the flour and sugar and was often found covered in a light dusting of white powder. Both my Grandmothers were bakers as well; one for the school system and one for the other harvesters. I always baked as a hobby, but didn’t consider it as a career until I took a course in Cooking for Wellness at The Polarity Health Institute in Washington. Later on I took pastry at the University of Hawaii.

2) You are known for the amazing Gingerbread structures you create for the Holidays at Kona Village. When did you begin this tradition?

I began doing the gingerbread houses in 1995. This is the 15th gingerbread house that I have made. My third year of building the houses I actually made two structures; one for each restaurant (which was a huge undertaking). I am a storyteller and use the gingerbread as my medium. I try to present my point of view of the Hawaiian culture.

3) Where do you get your inspiration from?

I grew up in Fresno, California; many of my family trips were to Disneyland, which has greatly affected my imagination. It is based on this thought process of imagineering that I find inspiration for my gingerbread houses. I want to create a fantasy within my pieces. I create mini scavenger hunts in the structure. Allowing the guests to try and figure out what items were used to create the structure. It’s following in the spirit of discerning what is and is not real in ones own life. Many times the guests visit and revisit the pieces and each time discover some new detail or element to the piece.

This year’s theme is based on Kalaemano – a property just North of Kona Village. The learning center and path to the ocean is the main focal point of the property. My themes are based on what captures my heart.

Kalaemano

Petroglyphs Ki’i Pohaku

Breadfruit Tree

Learning Center’s Amphitheater

4) What goes into building a gingerbread house?

Some years the maintenance crew helps me build the wooden structure, while other years I choose not to engage in that collaboration. When I am building these structures I strive to create as much as I can out of edible materials. Everything comes from the land or the kitchen.  When I am unable to use food for certain parts of the structure I will turn to other supplies found in the kitchen such as ice cream cartons and asparagus crates. It is a structure completely comprised of renewable parts.

Each gingerbread structure takes 100 + hours to build. This years structure has the thatching made of shredded wheat, the lava is a powdered sugar/gelatin mixture that is baked and burnt, the sand is made of rice-krispies, sesame seeds and white rice, the grass is dyed coconut, and the benches are made of vanilla beans. The entire structure is held together with gingerbread cement which uses about 75 pounds of powdered sugar and 50 egg whites!

5) When do you begin planning/building the gingerbread house?

In thought, the planning begins the day after or during the previous years design. In action, I begin in September or October.

6) You are not only an extremely talented pastry chef, but you have quite a number of other jobs and hobbies. Please tell us a little about what makes you so special.

My ‘specialness’ is no different than anyone elses, we are however each ‘unique’ unto ourselves. We each have an individual connection to the divine and I am blessed to use that connection. I just prioritize it. I have a passion for passion. I find the delight in the unusual and in the spiritual cleverness in the unexpected and the creative presentation of spirit. That is what I look for. I try to see the weaving of the creative mastery that goes on around us. The drum in particular has caught my heart. Every rhythm of life has a heart beat. During the year before I joined the staff at Kona Village I spent time in Sedona where I made my first drum. So really both drumming and pastry came to me around the same time in my life. It allows me to know love and be loved in the most expanded way possible.

Here are some pictures from the gingerbread structures that Chef Elizabeth has created in the past

Hale Samoa Restaraunt

Hale Moana Restaraunt

Maori Hale (guest bungalow)

Kona Village Fitness Center

Kona Village Gate House

Kona Village Reception Center with Staff

Chocolate Pahu Drum and Honu

Hale Samoa Restaurant at Night

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Irish Car Bomb’s are one of my favorite drinks to have when spending a night out on the town. A dear friend of mine who knew I had an affinity for the drink sent me a link to a recipe for an Irish Car Bomb Cupcake. Could there be a more awesome cupcake in existence? I think not.

Here is my adaptation of the recipe:

Read, Bake and Be Merry!

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons Irish whiskey

Meringue Frosting
1 cups egg whites, room temperature (about 7 large egg whites)
1 ¾ cups sugar
pinch of salt

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Special equipment: #806 and #824 piping tips, piping bags and chef’s torch

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in a large heavy  saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk (mixture may seem to separate – don’t worry it will come back together when all the ingredients are mixed). Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream until smooth. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean (or until they pop back when you press on them), rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Remove from oven and allow  to cool.

Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute and then whisk until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can pop it in the microwave for a few seconds and then continue whisking.) Add the whiskey and stir until combined.

Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using the #806 piping tip or a teaspoon, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to remove most of the cupcake’s center but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. Press down the bottom of the cupcake (inside the hole you’ve made) with your fingers to make more room for the filling. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top. Alternatively, if you are tight on time, as soon as the ganache is made (while it’s still liquidy) place is in a  paper cup and pinch one edge to create a spout. Then pour the ganache into the cupcake holes. Make sure to stop before the ganache reaches the top of the cupcake to prevent spillage.

Make the frosting: Fill a large saucepan with 2” of water. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Combine the whites, sugar and salt in the stainless steal bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl in the saucepan. Whisk until the whites are hot to the touch (120 degrees F), about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the water and place it on the mixer stand. Whisk on high speed until the mixture is glossy and holds stiff peaks when you lift the beater. Fit a piping bag with a #824 star tip and fill the bag with Meringue. Pipe a swirl on top of each cupcake. Using a chef’s torch lightly brown the Meringue. (Be careful not to set the cupcake papers on fire! If they do catch, just blow the fire out.)

If Meringue seems like to much work, use a standard buttercream recipe for the frosting. Pipe the buttercream in swirls on top of the cupcakes. Or feel free to create any other design. You are the Chef!

Do ahead: You can bake the cupcakes a week or two in advance and store them, well wrapped, in the freezer. You can also fill them before you freeze them. They also keep filled in the fridge for a day.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Cambodia

L.A. is currently under a thick cover of clouds. There is something about rain and fog that always excites me and makes me want to plan some new adventure. So as I sit here, listening to the rain drum on my windows I can’t help but reminisce about a month-long trip I took this summer to South East Asia.

In particular, I am reminded of my time in Cambodia, a place steeped in history and culture. But, being a third world country and one just emerging from a time of intense sadness and fear I find myself thinking about what today, December 7, 2009 looks like for them.

When my friend and I visited, it was just on the verge of monsoon season. We spent some time in the stilted village of Kompong Khleang next to Tonle Sap Lake.

In the rainy season the river rises so that the villagers have to use boats to travel from place to place. This is why their houses are built on stilts up to 39 feet above the ground!

While the community rarely sees Americans, they welcomed us with open arms. They showed us how to eat Lotus Seeds, which come from the pods of Lotus plants. I thought this particularly interesting since I had grown up only seeing Lotus Pods used in expensive floral arrangements!

In order to eat the seeds you have to break open the pods and pull out the seeds which look like little green balls. Then bite the balls in half and remove the root before eating the seeds. The root is very bitter, but the rest of the seed is mild and crunchy.

The village has no electricity or running water. The villagers diet consists mainly of rice and fish. Here are pictures of what a familys kitchen looks like.

The family we stayed with made us a traditional dessert called Baw Baw Pot. It is similar to Tapioca Pudding. It was made of Coconut Milk, Corn and Tapioca balls. Here you can see a recipe for it: http://bit.ly/dessertrecipe

In South East Asia it is common to eat insects. Our guide showed us how they catch grasshoppers. This was one delicacy I did not try. Sadly I am not that adventurous.

In order to catch grasshoppers a trough is filled with water and a large piece of plastic is strung above it. A light is hung at the top of the plastic. In the evening the light is turned on and the grasshoppers jump towards the light, hit the plastic sheet and fall into the water. In the morning the grasshoppers are collected and fried. Pretty smart set up!

One of the other food experiences that really stood out for me was when we visited a school. Outside the school were little carts selling food for the kids to eat. One stand was selling snow cones. It was so great to watch the process! They had a block of ice that they shaved by hand on a Mandoline-like contraption, packed the shavings into a cup, placed a stick in the center and then pulled the Icee from the cup and poured syrup on it.

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