Upcoming Baking Notice

This week I finished reading Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley, which I think was on the back of a recommendation by Paige Bailey a while ago. And it’s much of the same recounting through much of the history that you’ve heard a hundred times before, but at least told in a fun oral history way? It is odd how the Valley seems to stop being fun as you get into the Google days. The 80s and 90s seem like long nights inventing the future and parties full of hackers and the counter-culture…whereas when you get to Google, it’s parties where Brin is trying to harass his staff and telling HR that he can sleep with any employee that he wants. And then you get to Facebook…

Anyway, the book ends with the death of Jobs, which reminded me that this upcoming week is the ten year anniversary of my first job in the US, working for Open Source Integrators (though there seems to be another company with that name now…). Within a month, I was picking up a huge suitcase at LAX airport and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible to Santa Monica. A completely bizarre experience, with ups and downs, but I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without that job. Or have as many Marriott hotel points (still!).1

Autumn has begun and so we are assembling ghosts, spiders, and skeletons for Hallowe’en. Hopefully things will soon become damp, and I can begin on the two old TV projects that require early, cold nights, with drizzle hitting the windows. And of course, all the baking. I have to try and top last year’s holiday dessert count, even if it leaves me a physical wreck!!


  1. Plus there’s the writing at InfoWorld, which is referenced not only in that Silicon Valley book, but in Halt and Catch Fire too… [return]

The Blackberry Bush That Could

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Skull Skull Skull Skull Skull Skull Skull Skull

Last week, sitting in the evening twilight, 27ºC outside, reading a book, somewhere deep in America thinking about how to add GPU-accelerated bloom filters to a neural network. I’ve ended up in a strange but delightful place.

I did not factor in the 12ft skeleton or the gaslighting birthday cake when I got here ten years ago. But everything about them is amazing.

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I was worried about the new Saint Etienne album. The idea of making a record by eliminating all the bangers and concentrating on the mood instrumentals and sample work was a little concerning (although Natalie Imbruglia is well into it). But it really just captures that apex of summer / slide into Autumn feeling of a year…and of the Long 90s in general. Which given anniversary this weekend, is pretty appropriate.

We went to an escape room yesterday! And I ended up having to walk through Washington Park as I parked over a mile away from where it was. That was something of an experience. So many people, just outside like there isn’t a pandemic. I know that outside is much much safer than not, but this was busier than even London a month ago and it seems like I’m not quite ready for people yet. Still, it was nice to be reminded that places like this exist in Cincinnati, even if it’s coming to the end of Summer.

(the escape room was…okay. Not the best we’ve been to, but not the worst. Some issues with the mechanical nature of their puzzles and some crazy logic jumps in their clues)

But They Had Become Radical Lesbian Nuns

After a fairly long wait, there’s a new update to But This Was A Fantasy. Firstly, The Century of The Self is now added to the index, so you can now type “John Denver” or “Freud” and get an appropriate result. That brings us up to 2002 — next up, the mirrors of The Power of Nightmares and The Trap.

However, there’s another new feature in this weekend’s update — the ability to filter results by series. Yes, you can now limit your search of “mid-century furniture” to just episodes from Pandora’s Box if you really want to. My original plan for this was to build separate FAISS indexes for each series (and I may eventually do this still). However, I got bored on Friday afternoon, and given that I am having some thoughts around bloom filters right now (exciting times!!), I threw together a bunch of simple filters, one per series, and now there’s filtering. Each filter is only about 30k - you could easily fit one inside a ZX Spectrum…

Anyhow, one of the consequences of adding filtering is that it’s now possible to get zero results from a series search — this wouldn’t be an issue if I were using separate indexes per series, but what I’m doing right now is pulling out the top 50 results from the main index and doing the filter check afterwards. So if none of those results are from the series you are filtering on…you get nothing. I might add some retry logic for that in the future that’ll pull out more candidates if the initial search comes up empty. Anything to get around building those multiple indexes.

At this point, there’s not much left to do except add the outstanding series; I might move the images to a Google Cloud Storage bucket instead of bundling them all in the container. It was quick and easy to start with, but now I’m uploading about 6Gb of images on every push, which makes changes a lot more heavyweight than they need to be. Otherwise, just keep checking back for more content…

A Tale of Two Pastry Books

As I’ve been promising for a while now, I recently had the fortune to read one long-awaited book, and the bad luck of buying the first pastry book that made me physically seething with anger as I was reading it.

Damien Wager’s Breaking The Mould gets started with a terrible “oh-so-poorly-done-arty” cover that can’t even seem to get the text to work right against the artwork. But even before you get to that, you have to go through the ordering process. I don’t believe I’ve seen a more hostile order page. Sure, point out that the book has different distributors outside of the UK meaning that you personally can’t ship it to other countries, but is there a need for this?

UK PURCHASE ONLY. IF YOU WISH TO PURCHASE OUTSIDE THE UK, PLEASE READ BELOW. REFUNDS WILL NOT BE GIVEN FOR YOUR LACK OF UNDERSTANDING.

The eBook is a much more reasonably-priced £15, and you can buy it direct from the UK shop from anywhere in the world. If you do plan on getting the book, I highly recommend this, because I don’t care what quality paper the book is printed on, if I spent $90 (US list price) on it, I would feel very cheated. The design and typography of the book is shockingly poor. And sure, you might think that it’s a bit churlish to criticize the look of a recipe book. But in printed form I’m paying almost $100 for a mess of fonts1 and photography that often just looks…bad.

Here’s an example - the picture for the “tonka, macadamia & caramel” chocolate bar.

tonka, macadamia & caramel

Yes, somebody actually chose that mix of fonts. And why would you photograph an all-white dessert on that sort of plate for a book? There’s no contrast at all between the background, the plate or the sodding dessert! You think that’d fly in one of the fancy places that the author is in love with? The font choices look even worse when they’re repeated in the actual recipe as well. It’s readable enough, but feels very cheap (again, this is a $100 book).

For comparison, let’s take a look at William Curley’s Nostalgic Delights. Now, I’m not saying that this is an exemplary piece of book design, but, consistent & complementary typography choices, full-bleed pictures, and the use of contrast make it really quite nice to look at.

Nostalgic Delights

And then there’s Migoya’s Elements of Dessert (US list price: $65)

Elements of Dessert

Plenty of white space this time, and again - complementary font choices and amazing photography hold it all together.

As for the recipes themselves? They’re fine - I’d say there is over-reliance on silicone molds to make the visuals that he seems to be priding himself on - can you wax lyrical about your ‘fake fruit’ concept if most of the hard work of making that shape was performed by Pavoni? It makes something of a mockery of the title, too! But aside from a few eye-raising bits where Ultratex is added with no measurement, and something I’ll come back to shortly, they seem like reasonable recipes.

But what really got me angry with the book, to the extent that I had to stop reading to shout about it, is a section in the middle of the book entitled “Imitating a Pastry Chef in the UK”. It’s a rant against how pastry is considered as an afterthought in the UK and this wild piece of gatekeeping:

‘Chocolate’ has (unbelievably) only just been added to the advanced patisserie syllabus for college students in the UK. Could this be the reason why we suddenly have a swathe of UK based youngsters with the self-proclaimed title of ‘Chocolatier’ on their social media after playing with a bag of low quality chocolate.

This dismissiveness, from an author that makes a big deal in their bio about how they learnt to temper by watching YouTube videos, is infuriating.1 If they’re producing consistently tempered chocolates, they’re every bit as much as a chocolatier as you or I. And Valrhona is not the be-all and end-all of the chocolate world, so get over yourself.

As for how the rest of the world is so much better than the UK…well, you can point out that the life of a pastry chef in the US is pretty similar except for a few of the superstars like Bachour. They’re the first to get cut when budgets tighten, and yes, in most US restaurants, they’re responsible for the bread baking and the Viennoiserie. Even Bachour has a bunch of croissants on sale! The people you see in so good… are a small part of the world of pastry chefs.

I feel like the entire three-page section would have been better if it was junked and, say, replaced with a quick guide to tempering. The notes at the start insist “this book is designed to be accessible and understood by all levels of pastry chef & enthusiast,” yet despite many mentions of tempered chocolate throughout the book, it only mentions the ‘seeding’ method in the penultimate dessert recipe. Put the soapbox away and provide actual help for the next generation of chocolatiers if you’re so down on them.

(after going back to the website, I found that there’s a video course for basic tempering. I would suggest using YouTube instead, and if you still have problems, email me, and I’ll tell you tempering secrets for $0. I’ll even tell you how to temper milk chocolate too!)

Now, let’s turn towards Ramon Morató’s Files. And it does have a unified aesthetic. Admittedly, that aesthetic is “font foundry catalogue from the late 90s”, but if you’re into that (and for my sins, I am), it’s a good first impression. Unified typography, clean photography and generous, well-spaced blocks of text.

Files

And generous is a good word to describe the book in general. The first set of recipes both show off Morató different approach to forming ganaches, but also new ways of using things like glucose syrup and honey that make you want to close the book, go downstairs, and try them out right now. Then there’s the generosity that comes across when speaking about other members of his team or other pastry chefs. Even when he’s critical (there’s a very interesting section about mid-way through which does not shy away from criticizing one of his employer’s products), it’s in a constructive manner as he feels his way to getting the best out of the materials he’s working with.

It’s not perfect; there are a few odd translation errors scattered throughout - the continual insistence on calling a chamber vacuum sealer a “sous-vide machine” is a bit odd, though you can work out what the book really means via the context of aerating pralines. Also, if you’ve got some recent issues of so good… magazine, some of the big things in this book - like long-life water ganaches and chocolate-free ganaches - will not be new to you, and the sections here mostly repeat the same text in those articles. And lack of an index is a little annoying.

But you get so much here that complaints seem a little churlish; a COVID-19-themed section finds Morató devoting twenty pages to experimental cheesecake creation, leading to four amazing cotton-style recipes, and there’s a detailed examination of how to formulate desserts for a wide profile of sugar usage.

Some of the recipes you’re unlikely to attempt; instead you come away with your head brimming full of ideas that you want to incorporate in the things you’re making. I can’t wait to try some of these things out in the cooler months to come.

Now, of the two books, Files makes no pretence of being for beginner pastry chefs or confectioners. But if I had to chose between the two for somebody starting out, I’d easily pick it over Breaking The Mould. It is complex, yes, but there’s pages of explanation, context, and assembly details that you just don’t get in the other book. You never feel insulted, and there’s no arrogance there at all. And these days, I’d rather promote that sort of book rather than somebody who is very full of themselves.


  1. If we’re going to get all Four Yorkshiremen about it - I learnt tempering from a book, built my own tempering machine with a Kitchen Aid, and have been using silk-based cocoa butter held-temperature tempering methods for just a bit longer than most of the industry. Plus, I don’t see any bean-to-bar in the book… [return]

Back Next Week

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Back next week…

And Back Again

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Suit You, Sir

My August feels like it is almost over before it’s really started. Tomorrow, I fly to Raleigh for work, meaning that I’ll be spending my 10th anniversary of emigrating to the United States right back in the same area where I started (and hopefully meeting up with a bunch of friends I haven’t seen for over a year now), and then I’m back to the UK straight after for my grandmother’s funeral. By the time I get back, most of August will have already gone, the second Pandemic Summer will almost be behind us. And on to Winter as we march through the Greek alphabet.

Anyway, I had to buy a suit. Now, I was expecting this to be a trip that took an hour at most, having been somewhat conditioned by basically just buying clothes online from Amazon for the past 18 months. There hours and multiple shops later…

Several thoughts from the trip:

  • Malls still exist, huh?
  • Why are you all not wearing masks?
  • The party trick where some of the people in the department can eyeball your measurements almost exactly is impressive
  • “Oh that looks good on you. And this suit is $695”
  • Stepping into the suit section of a department store somehow feels like going back to America in 1965, even if you can still see the modern world from the corner of your eye.
  • And obviously, for everybody of a certain age from Britain, this series of sketches.

Having decided that I wasn’t going to spend almost $1,000 on a suit and shirt, we picked some things off the shelf…and I’m still not sure what I paid. Numbers had no meaning, despite there being a lot of them:

  • The actual price
  • The sale price
  • The note by the clothes saying that despite the sale price, “the actual price may be lower”
  • The perennial Sales Tax
  • 20% off if you open a Macy’s Credit Card Today!
  • “You’ve earned x number of Star Rewards! You can apply those within 30 days to other purchases!”

It’s basically Douglas Adams’ Bistromathics, but for clothes shopping.

As ever, thanks to Tammy for coming along, pointing out when things looked awful and pointing out my cardinal sin of doing up the bottom button (why is it there, then? Whyyyyy???).

Right, I’m back to making chocolates for the rest of the day. And hopefully this time, my honeycomb doesn’t turn into molten sludge…

Service Will Resume Shortly

Test Card E

A Walking Study In Demonology

You can argue whether Melissa Auf der Maur or Courtney Love had the most formative effect on me that day.

(but let’s be honest with ourselves and say it was always Love)