Pastry Chef Hannah Ziskin Seasons Her Sweets Like Salads

Pastry chef Hannah Ziskin has spent her whole life in California, the place fruit bowls can pile up with ardour fruit and plums on the identical time of yr. So it is smart that seasonality is her guiding gentle on the subject of creating slab truffles, princess truffles, and fruit custard tarts at Quarter Sheets, the pizza and cake restaurant she runs in Los Angeles along with her companion, Aaron Lindell. “I search for issues that develop collectively on the identical time or have only a tiny little bit of overlap. Blood oranges and strawberries are certainly one of my favourite issues to place collectively,” she says. 

When Ziskin labored on the generally experimental, all the time fermentation-forward Bar Tartine in San Francisco (which has since closed), the kitchen’s uncommon and totalitarian ban on chocolate, white sugar, and vanilla extract helped her understand that “desserts don’t should be what they all the time are”—as in tremendous sugary and buttery. Since then, she racked up pastry chef gigs at a few of San Francisco’s most acclaimed eating places earlier than shifting again to her native LA in 2018, the place she began a one-person residence bakery (House of Gluten) and cofounded Quarter Sheets—initially as a pop-up—over the course of the pandemic. Angelenos have responded extraordinarily properly to her desserts, that are traditional but subversive and stuffed with taste however not all that candy. In her phrases, they’re “mental consolation meals desserts.”

I referred to as her as much as learn the way she builds nuanced flavors, her ideas on web cake traits, and her excellent cookbook matter.

Quarter Sheets presents a easy menu: pizza and cake. What's it concerning the pairing that works so splendidly?
We've got this ongoing joke that it’s like a baby’s birthday celebration. I used to be already making cake, and Aaron was like, “Oh, Quarter Sheets pizza, why don’t you make 1 / 4 sheet [tray] cake?” Then it form of took on a lifetime of its personal. We didn’t take into consideration that pairing beforehand, but it surely makes a lot sense as a result of each pizza social gathering ends in cake if you’re a child. I all the time assume probably the most highly effective connection to meals is reminiscence and nostalgia. We’ve all the time beloved issues most as a result of they remind us of one thing.

You’ve stated before that your specialty is “constructing layers of taste right into a seemingly easy dish.” Are you able to discuss the way you do that?
I’m very impressed by the dynamic nature of a scrumptious salad, which is savory however wants a little bit sweetness, acid, and salt to be balanced and texturally pleasing. I need all of those self same issues. You may have a dessert that’s virtually bitter, but it surely must be balanced by a component that’s candy to maintain it from going to a spot the place it’s such as you’re consuming a WarHeads. Issues will be salty, however you don’t need your chocolate chip cookie to be solely salty. It additionally must have that deep caramel richness.

Princess cake—a dome-shaped Swedish sponge layer cake made with pastry cream, raspberry jam, and marzipan—is certainly one of your signature objects at Quarter Sheets. What drew you to begin making it?
I grew up consuming princess cake yearly for my birthday—that's the cake I chosen as a baby. There’s a Hungarian bakery in LA inside Gelson’s referred to as Viktor Benes the place we bought them from. Even into maturity, Aaron will get me princess cake yearly for my birthday. It’s very in contrast to me to love it a lot, as a result of it’s sweeter than a variety of the stuff I often get pleasure from. I’m not an enormous dessert particular person. I virtually by no means order dessert, however I maintain area for a princess cake. I take nice pleasure in introducing individuals to that cake yr after yr. Not lots of people have heard of it. 

After I began doing this cake enterprise about two years in the past, I did one experiment early on with princess cake. It didn't go properly, as a result of I used premade marzipan, which has a lot almond extract it hurts your throat. After I made all the weather myself precisely how I needed, all the pieces fell into place. So now I make the [raspberry] jam, and I make it as acidic as I need. I make the custard as salty as I need. I exploit olive oil within the chiffon cake, which reads a little bit extra savory and is a pure pairing with berries and almonds and mascarpone. To me, it’s nonetheless very nostalgic and tastes tremendous traditional. Persons are very, very into it.

In case you don’t like candy issues, what drew you to pastry within the first place? And the way does that restriction have an effect on your baking model?
I used to love candy issues! I really feel prefer it’s as a result of I’ve been consuming all of it for therefore lengthy that I don’t crave it anymore. I've a reverse dependancy. I truly assume it’s benefited me, as a result of the vast majority of individuals don’t like supersweet issues. I get a variety of suggestions from individuals who inform me they don’t often like cake or dessert, however they like this model of it. I feel that’s as a result of I’m so delicate to sweetness that I do all the pieces in my energy to keep away from making issues too candy.

There have been a variety of current cake traits, like kookily decorated truffles, or the truth that in most main cities, we will now order wonderful truffles from native bakers we observe on Instagram. How do you assume this has modified how individuals perceive what cake will be, or what they want in a cake?
The idea about desserts for a very long time was that folks have been in search of sugar and butter on this insane approach. The entire pastry cooks I'm associates with and know who're making truffles now have labored in eating places the place you have got entry to those different elements that you simply wouldn’t essentially have in a bakery, and I feel that’s made an enormous distinction. Bronwen [Wyatt] labored in eating places for years and years, as did Sasha [Piligian], Rose Wilde, and Kassie Mendieta. I lately made some desserts at Octavia in San Francisco as a result of I used to be working with [the chef-owner] Melissa Perello at M. Georgina earlier than it closed within the pandemic. I used to be attempting to think about a component so as to add to a strawberry tart with ricotta, and I bought to take a look at her chef’s pantry. The factor that caught my consideration was this dehydrated olive crumble. I might by no means have that, however as a result of I used to be in there, I tasted it, and I used to be like, “That’s going to be so good on there.” 

“I’m so delicate to sweetness that I do all the pieces in my energy to keep away from making issues too candy.”

Have you considered writing a cookbook? What would it not concentrate on?
I might most likely write a cake cookbook about how you can mix [dessert] components based mostly on seasonality and what you’re going after. I actually like this stunning cookbook from a bakery in Australia referred to as Beatrix Bakes. The writer, Natalie Paull, could have a recipe after which, on the finish of the recipe, there’s a little bit wheel. The middle of the wheel lists a couple of totally different approaches to creating the bottom of the dessert, after which every a part of that wheel goes out into two toppings, which fits out into three extra toppings.

It reveals the entire potential combos you can do from different recipes within the ebook. I feel that’s actually cool, as a result of individuals really feel certain by recipes, however as soon as you understand the principles, you may break all of them. In case you perceive the science of why one thing units up the best way it does or why one thing tastes good with one thing else, then you may apply that information to different issues, and it’s perpetually increasing. You may perpetually study. It’s nearly being curious. “Curious Muffins.”

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