Forbidden Fruit

by Sarah Owens

 Leftover fruits from recent photo shoots for The Cookbook...

Leftover fruits from recent photo shoots for The Cookbook...

If you’ve ever known a food stylist on the hunt for props, you will know the frenzy that was ensuing one gray Brooklyn morning.  My  neighbor’s apple tree was heavy with fruit, so I decided its large red bounty would be perfect for an upcoming shoot.  Unashamedly, I marched myself over to knock on the door.



Nothing.  I wait and knock again.  Not a peep.  I notice the door is slightly ajar and just peek inside.  (Remember, I’m a crazed cookbook author in search of the perfect apple. Letting myself into someone else's house is perfectly excusable!)  I knock on what I think is the door of Marena, the owner.  Instead, a startled male voice inquisitively asks:


“Who is it?”

“It’s Sarah!”


“Your neighbor.”



Of course, a friendly neighborly visit!  Mind you no one knocks on a stranger’s door in Brooklyn to say hello, howdy neighbor, fancy you loan me an apple?

 Silence, rustling, a few stumbled steps…

The door opens and standing before me is the most beautiful man I’ve seen in quite some time.  This Adonis is startled and shirtless.  His beautiful brown flesh completely distracts my thoughts and I stare silent.  We blink awkwardly at each other for what feels like hours, both of us a little surprised by the presence of the other.  I manage to mutter something about apples.  His eyes light up.


“You mean the tree in the backyard?” he chirps.

“Yes!  They are the most beautiful apples!” I over enthusiastically exclaim.

“Why do you need those apples?”  He asks wary but intrigued.


This strange exchange goes on for another 5 minutes and I realize he’s actually thrilled there’s a flour-caked girl at his door asking for apples.  I try to make casual talk all the while ignoring an increasingly strong desire to simply push him inside and lock the door behind us.  We exchange names.  He grants me permission to grab an apple.  I fumble to exit and notice it’s drizzling - a great day for a cuddle.  Later that night I hop the fence and snag an apple, wondering if he likes pie.



Two weeks, two garden installs, one proposal, and two shoots later, I had nearly forgotten all about the steamy occurrence when I dash out the door for eggs.  This time I have pears on my mind. 

“Sarah!”  I hear. 

Confused, I spin around to see the bearer of forbidden fruit smiling and calling my name. 

“Oh heyyyyy!” I squeal as I try and remember if I put on matching socks before leaving the house.

He’s out of breath, sweating profusely on his bike, tennis rackets in his pack.  I can see the silhouette of his lean muscles through his wet shirt. Awkwardness ensues once again as the image of his bare flesh reenters my mind.  He asks how my day is going and I self-consciously suck in my little belly before stammering something about sourdough.  He explains he’s from San Francisco and that they take their sourdough very seriously. 


I think ‘Heavens, he is perfect.’



Conversation loops around to our favorite neighborhood eateries, where to find masa de maíz prepared properly, and whether I run or not.  I wince and explain a bad knee.  He describes this roller tool he has that solves all knee issues.  He can show me the perfect stretch!  Knock on his window?  My eyebrows raise.  He says we can do it in the hallway.  I think, God he’s beautiful, seems intelligent, likes good food, AND is kinky?  I must have done something right lately. 

I go back to my stifling little apartment, giddy.  I have permission to knock on his window!  I bake a pear tart, nervously realizing it’s my turn to make the move. Maybe, just maybe, he likes pears…


(A.K.A. Hot Neighbor Bait)

Yield:  One 8.25”x11.25” Tart


130 g Raw Almonds
1 Tbl. Raw Sugar
150 g Buckwheat Flour
85 g Unsalted Butter, cold
100 g 100% Hydration Starter, room temperature
2-3 Tbl. Vodka, ice cold

1 Egg Yolk + Cream for wash

Cheese Filling:

225 g Goat Cheese, softened
115 g Cream Cheese, softened
55 g Granulated Sugar
2 Large Eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. orange zest
2 Pears, ripe
15-20 Ground Cherries, sliced (or 10 figs, quartered)
1/2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon 
1/2 tsp. Ground Cardamom
1/4 tsp. Ground Mace
25 g Sliced Almonds
1 Tbl. Raw Sugar


Make the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Place the almonds and sugar in a food processor and grind into a meal. Add the buckwheat flour and continue processing to fine.  Add the butter and pulse until cornmeal-sized crumbs form.  Drizzle the starter over the mixture and add 2 tablespoons cold vodka.  Pulse until the dough comes together, adding more vodka if needed. 

Empty the contents into the tart form and press with your fingers, making sure an even rim forms around the edges.  Prick with a fork and blind bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and brush with the egg wash. Place back in the oven for 3-5 minutes or until the wash sets.  Remove and cool.


Prepare the Filling:
Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Blend the cheese and sugar with a hand mixer on medium speed.  Add the eggs and continue blending until a smooth consistency is achieved.  Add the vanilla and zest and mix thoroughly.  Using a spatula, spread the filling into the prepared crust.  Core and slice the pears thinly and toss with the spices.  Arrange the pears in layers on top of the tart filling.  Use the ground cherries or figs to fill in the gaps before sprinkling with almonds and sugar.  Bake for 30  minutes, rotating halfway.  Remove and cool completely.  Refrigerate until serving.





Wood-fired Bread

by Sarah Owens

In the last month, BK17 has had a few growing pains in the effort to expand production.  After finding a new space and hiring an electrician and architect, I decided it wasn't the proper move...for many very good reasons. Investment capital was lost but what I gained in experience was well worth the risk.

 BK17 is now using the wood oven of Toby's Public House!

BK17 is now using the wood oven of Toby's Public House!

The day the bakery project folded, I marched myself up to a delicious pub in my neighborhood called Toby's Public House that makes wood-fired pizza.  Members of my CSB had encouraged me to contact them, as they have also helped other bread bakers over the years.  I am not very adept at dealing with uncertainty and the thought of subscriptions starting in a month with wholesale accounts to satisfy as well, made me quite nervous.

What a blessing in disguise!  The manager of Toby's couldn't be more accommodating and their master pizza chef loves to talk ovens.  We chatted about the rhythms of heat, coals, steam, and dough.  My inner bread nerd was thrilled to find others interested in the nuances of baking! After a few visits and some phone calls, the keys were in my hands.  I couldn't believe how trusting and open they were to taking me into the fold.  

This is not my first foray into using wood as a fuel source.  I grew up heating my grandmother's house with wood and coal.  As a ceramic artist, I helped to build and manage several wood-fired noborigama-type kilns in KY and IN that required a team of dedicated potters and days of stoking in rural forest.  I lived in a cottage in the hills of East Tennessee for a year that I heated exclusively with wood and an electric heater.  But it has been over a decade since some of these events have taken place.  It seems ironic that as my life is unfolding in ways I could never have imagined just a year ago, that this element enters once again.  

Fire.  The great catalyst of change.  The transformer that brings both death and spawns life.  My asbestos hands are ready for this new and unanticipated challenge in baking.  But really, it has been so very long since I have wielded it other than around a campfire.  I began questioning whether the comforts of urban living would have dulled my sense of how to manage this beast of an oven.  

So I rose early on a Sunday morning around 5am, when I thought the oven might have cooled from its normal 800-900 Farenheit range down to around 500 degrees, my ideal temperature for loading dough.  I brought some loaves of a few different formulas: a higher hydration Spelt (90%), some medium hydration Sprouted Kamut & Oat (80%), and a Seeded Multigrain (70%).  I pushed the coals to the side of the chamber and loaded the first two Spelt Levain and waited patiently.  Eventually, they sprang to life but were a little slow on the uptake.  So I tossed one measly kiln-dried piece of kindling on the coals and waited for it to catch before loading more.  It worked beautifully.  The next round came to life in a few minutes.  With a few spins around the chamber, they colored to a golden brown after a 45 minute bake.  My concern that the bottom heat would be too intense was quelled as I tasted my first loaf of wood-fired BK17 sourdough.  I wondered why I had waited so long...

 A loaf of Tartine 3-inspired Sprouted Kamut and Oat, the first from the wood-fired oven.

A loaf of Tartine 3-inspired Sprouted Kamut and Oat, the first from the wood-fired oven.

Overall I am pleased and so very thankful to not only have a larger oven, but the ability to explore this new experience.  There are a few trade-offs but ones that I think are well worth the end result.  The lack of ability to introduce steam means the crust isn't nearly so glossy...but the smoky crust of the bread pairs perfectly with the texture and flavor of whole grains.  I'll be working on ways to try and encourage a little more steam but in the end, I think this is more of a superficial pursuit than technically necessary in a wood oven.

The CSB begins again July 5, just a few days after the manuscript for the cookbook is due.  It's going to be a whirlwind few weeks pushing to the finish of this writing endeavor as well as beginning a new phase of baking.  My eyes are reflecting a golden flame with the thought of what is to come next.

 Wood-fired Spelt 

Wood-fired Spelt