Conserve oven space this Thanksgiving with Valerie Gordon's secret weapon.
L.A. pastry chef Valerie Gordon has been making a lot of desserts with Big Green Eggs at her Echo Park bakery. It turns out that the Big Green Egg, a ceramic cooker that backyard barbecue enthusiasts love to use as a smoker and a grill, also works nicely as an oven. Gordon has also tried baking sweets on a Weber grill, but she found that a Big Green Egg is better at maintaining a high temperature for an extended amount of time. With the Big Green Egg’s convEGGtor, you can diffuse heat and transform the smoker into an outdoor oven.
“You can hold a temperature of 325 to 350 for two to three hours or longer, which is amazing,” Gordon says. “That’s very liberating.”
What’s also great is how “flavors develop really differently than in a conventional oven.” You can create deeper caramels and smokier fruit, of course, but you can also cook with more fat and end up with flakier crusts and crispier edges.
Before you start baking all your desserts on a Big Green Egg, Gordon has some advice about what not to do. Instead of using disposable aluminum pie pans like you might put into a standard convection oven, you should bake with cast iron or a ceramic dish on a Big Green Egg. You need a baking vessel with a “really dense construction” to make sure things don’t burn.
If you’re making a pie, stick to single-crust or lattice.
“I would never do a full double-crust pie on the Big Green Egg,” Gordon says. “I find the things that work best for pies are somewhat shallow pans, and you want to make sure that you’ve got ventilation happening. I also find the bake time on a Big Green Egg increases from a standard convection oven. It generally takes about 10 to 15 minutes more than it does in a standard oven, and I adjust accordingly.”
But similar to meat, baked goods continue to cook when they’re resting, so take items out of the Big Green Egg before they’re fully done. Just like with barbecue, the grilled desserts might involve a few experiments before they're perfect.
As for choosing where to begin, any dessert with a lot of fat or liquid bakes well on the Big Green Egg.
“I wouldn’t do an angel food cake because I believe it would burn,” Gordon says. But you could try things like custard pies, sticky toffee pudding, bread pudding, brownies, or pound cakes.
Here are three big reasons you should start making desserts on a Big Green Egg:
1. You get better crusts and edges.
“You see flakiness with a good pie, you get buttery notes, and you get a lovely golden hue on the exterior of the pie crust,” Gordon says. “I find all these elements become amplified on the Big Green Egg.”
Using a Big Green Egg results in crust that’s “halfway in between” a fried pie and a typical pie.
“It’s a really aggressive crunch that you get right on the exterior,” Gordon says. “People really react to that.”
This kind of crunch has also “completely transformed the brownie,” Gordon adds. “You get that fantastic crunch on the outside that then goes right to the moist interior. It’s a more significant textural difference than what you get in a standard oven.”
Remember to put extra fat into each pan when you’re baking with a Big Green Egg.
‘If there’s a cake that I might brush with one ounce of fat for a standard oven, I’d likely do two ounces of fat for the grill,” Gordon says. “The fat sort of crusts on the exterior in the most delicious way.”
And you get more layers of deliciousness, of course, because fat is flavor.
2. You get that layered, smoky flavor.
Gordon uses charcoal to power her Big Green Eggs, but she also gets smoking chips from the Santa Monica Farmers Market. She uses the chips to smoke fruits like persimmons and figs.
“The flavor of smoked figs is tremendous because what it starts to adopt is a really savory note while hanging onto the natural sweetness,” Gordon says. “And smoking gently preserves things, so I can smoke fruits, refrigerate them, and use them for several days. I can put those over yogurt, granola, and ice cream, or put them into pie that goes back into the Big Green Egg.”
All of this could be relevant when Gordon opens up her Valerie Confections dessert shop in Woodland Hills next year.
“I’m trying to finalize all the ice creams that we’re doing there,” she says. “For us to have a full dessert concept is 15 years in the making. We’re really trying to create an experience where you go from pastries to cakes to chocolates to petit fours to ice cream, and it’s all sort of wraps around the space.”
Gordon has always loved putting savory notes into sweets, and smoking fruits on a Big Green Egg is giving her a lot of ideas.
“Take something like smoked grapes that are coated in butter or even just a sprinkle of salt,” she says. “They’ve held onto that smoked flavor. But once it’s reduced, you also get gentle acidic notes and that really lovely sweetness that comes naturally from a cooked grape. You put that onto a galette with vanilla cream and a buttery crust, and it’s so much more interesting than just grapes.”
Caramel is something else that cooks well on a Big Green Egg.
“You can cook down sugar at 200, 250 degrees with a little bit of smoking chips in the charcoal, and the caramel adopts the flavor of the smoke,” Gordon says.
3. It's more fun.
“For events, it’s great because of the interactivity that naturally happens around a grill,” Gordon says. “People get really excited. They see it, and they’re, like, ‘What are you making?’ This is the thing that can mess up some of the baking: You’re lifting the lid too many times to show people what you’re making.”
People are fascinated that she’s making desserts on a device that’s largely used for meat.
“It’s more intrigue,” she says. “It’s opening a window for people. I don’t want to overstate the importance of it, but there’s a newness to this idea and it’s really lovely. Taking these things outdoors is very liberating. Integrating it into the barbecue community is very exciting to me. It makes it social. It makes it fun.”