Yup, you were all correct. This week's Name That Pastry Chef is Amy Brown. The 30-year-old pastry chef served up late-night ice cream sandwiches at Magnolia in Hollywood before taking over the dessert menu at Provecho downtown in March. She's also the owner of the virtual bakery BrownSugarLA. On our visit, she was using her downtime between the lunch and dinner shifts to finish up a red velvet cupcake order (ya, we'd like to work for her boss, too).
Until working at Provecho, Brown didn't exactly have a propensity for Mexican desserts. “Actually, I didn't even like flan before I started working here,” she says. “I didn't train in Mexican baking, and it always seemed so limiting – churros, flan, tres leches, not much else. I had to really think outside the box to come up with the menu.”
Brown admits she always has churro batter at the ready (she keeps it in a pastry bag to pipe the long, thin donuts directly into the deep fryer to order). But she's also managed to sneak in a few non-traditional desserts onto the menu, including the pear crisp and eggnog cheesecake that she's tweaking for the fall menu.
“I try to think of it more as incorporating Mexican ingredients or influences into my own style,” she says, carefully sliding the trapezoid-shaped pumpkin flan out of its ramekin and onto a serving plate, a pool of its own caramel sauce not far behind (pastry chef tip: using a funky shaped ramekin to dress up a flan – caramel sauce already included – is a neat party trick). A dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a gingersnap crown give the dessert a hint of upside-down pumpkin pie revelry. But with that dreamy texture it's really more of a hybrid caramel flan/pumpkin-flavored budino (those silky Italians puddings that make you think you're in Florence. Almost.). “Oh, ya,” Brown coos, handing over the finished dessert. “Mozza's butterscotch budino is probably my favorite dessert in town.”
Brown isn't giving up her pumpkin flan recipe just yet – she added it to the menu just last week. Not to fret. We have her Mexican Wedding Cookie recipe. The traditional cookies are pretty simple powdered-sugar affairs with ground toasted nuts. But Brown prefers to spice hers with nutmeg, loads of vanilla, and for that California-girl edge, a generous helping of orange and lime zest.
Mexican Wedding Cookies
From: Amy Brown, pastry chef at Provecho restaurant.
Makes: Enough for a small wedding reception.
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
Zest of 4 limes
Zest of 2 medium oranges
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling
1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or with electric beaters), cream the butter, powdered sugar, orange and lime zest, nutmeg and vanilla until light and fluffy.
2. Add the flour and salt and mix until just incorporated.
3. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour (or freeze for later use).
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Working with one-half of the dough at a time, roll 2-teaspoons of the chilled dough into a ball. Arrange the balls 2-inches apart on a non-stick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake cookies until golden brown on the bottom and just beginning to brown on the top, about 10 minutes.
5. Cool completely on the baking sheet. Use a sieve to sprinkle the cookies with powdered sugar.