When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: exactly what you want, when and where you want them.
Today: A sweet treat for bad days and good alike.
I’ve always baked during my daughter’s birthday week. Obsessively. Epically. You name it, I’ve whipped it up. Vanilla bean cupcakes covered in marzipan bumble bees. Three-tiered pink princess cakes peppered with Playmobile figures. Crushed candy cane fillings. Ganache waterfalls. Towers of donuts. Her yearly birthday dessert vision appeared weeks ahead of time via a sit-down meeting and an intricate drawing. I welcomed the challenge. The more advanced the pastry adventure, the less time I had to trip out on the passing of time and the fact that this phenomenal girl was going to be heading out of the house before we knew it. But this year was different.
“Mom, I had this baked Alaska at my friend’s birthday. It was so good. That’s what I want for my birthday.”
“Great. I’ll start researching baked Alaska. I’ve always wanted to make one.”
“Not necessary, mom. Let’s just buy it and that way you don’t have to stress out about cooking. I even know where to get it.”
“Oh. Okay. Great!”
It was not great. It was not okay.
For the first time ever, during the days leading up to her birthday, I had the time to flip through birth photos. To relive that beautiful sunny Saturday morning eleven years ago in Los Angeles. The midwives. The birthing tub. The glorious moment when she swam into my arms and bam her eyes opened and locked on mine. The sense that nothing would ever be the same again.
I needed a cooking project. A distraction plan. So I started making hazelnut brittle. Every time I started to cry, I shoved a piece of the sweet and crunchy candy in my mouth. And then I ran out. So I made another batch. And another. And now, post-birthday, I’m drowning in hazelnut brittle.
More: Another cooking project you'll want for right now? Phyllis' chocolate chip cookies.
Things could be worse. But last night I needed to get creative with the leftovers. So here are the top 5 things to do with this brittle:
1. Break it into scrappy chunks. Eat them obsessively in an attempt to soothe your aching heart.
2. Dip half of each chunk into melted bittersweet chocolate. Refrigerate. Make your kids smile when they get home from school.
3. Blitz the heck out of it in the food processor and turn it into praline. Leave it coarse. Or continue chopping until it’s a fine powder. Use it as a topping for ice cream, yogurt, waffles, crêpes, or dutch babies. It is also wonderful folded into whipped cream as a crunchy, cloudy filling between layers of cake.
4. Steal the Vitamix from your kale-shake-loving husband and turn the brittle into hazelnut cookie butter. Spread between French macarons. Or just eat spoonfuls late at night for a direct shot of sugar to the bloodstream.
5. Freeze the brittle and save it for your son’s June birthday.
At the last minute, I ended up making a Baked Alaska. My son has decided it should be on the cover of my book, and that just might happen. But that's a story for another day.
2 cups hazelnuts, skins on
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla bean extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Photos by Phyllis Grant