Joy by the Slice: Local baker Leslie Arnette offers up sweet and savory delicacies for all your winter celebrations.

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By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer | Photos by Viktor Budnik

Never stop learning,” says 36-year-old Leslie Arnette. “Every job is a stepping stone if you want to have your own business one day.”

It’s a motto that has served the Ventura-based chef and baker well, as she has picked up knowledge along every step of the long and winding path that led to her artisanal bread business, The Bread Box.

Like many chefs,  her first lessons in cooking took place at home. Her grandfather’s family hailed from Sicily, so big Italian dinners were a way of life growing up. In the 1970s, her grandparents owned Continental Bakery, located at Telegraph and Victoria Avenue in Ventura . . . right next door to Jamie’s Bakery, where her mom worked as a cake decorator. The seeds of her future found fertile ground in this upbringing.

Nevertheless, it was a while before she found her way into the culinary world as a professional. First she attended Ventura College, studying psychology, sociology and art, and eventually earning her AA degree. She enjoyed the learning process, but struggled to find the one thing that she wanted to do.“I was at a loss,” she admits. “I had to really think about it.”

It was how she spent her free time that pointed her in the right direction: “After class, I’d get home and I’d cook.”

Finding such comfort and joy in cooking, in 2009 she decided to attend the culinary program at Santa Barbara City College. It was there that her true calling was revealed.

“The first loaf of bread I baked, I was hooked,” she says, the glee still detectable in her voice. From the variety of dough to the fermentation to the flavor of the finished product, the “science behind baking” holds a special fascination for her.

Throughout her career, Arnette has worked — and learned — at some of Ventura County’s best-loved eateries: The Sidecar Cafe and Cafe Fiore in Ventura, Ojai’s Knead Baking Co., All Things Tea in Camarillo. Most recently, she worked at Paradise Pantry in Downtown Ventura, where co-owner Chef Kelly Briglio took Arnette under her wing.

With encouragement and support from Briglio, Paradise Pantry co-owner Tina Thayer and friend and fellow baker Jessica Zavala of 805 Pies, Arnette started  her own business, The Bread Box, as a Cottage Food Operation. (Governed by California health and safety guidelines, individuals with CFO permits are allowed to prepare and/or package certain food items in private home kitchens.) Today, she sells her breads twice a month through two Saturday pop-ups at Paradise Pantry and at Bell Arts Factory in Ventura once a month. She also does home and office deliveries.

But for Arnette, the learning process never stops. “I worked for nearly 12 years with chefs and cooks who taught me so much about cooking and managing a kitchen. At home, I would keep working on my own recipes, reading cookbooks, food science books, and restaurant ownership textbooks.”

She brings all that knowledge to her artisanal products . . . and to the fabulous tart recipes she shares here.

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

Makes one 9-inch round tart.

Shortbread Crust

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• 1/4  cup confectioners sugar

• 1/2 tsp salt


1/3 cup butter, slightly cooler than room temperature

• 1 egg yolk

• 1 ½ tablespoons milk

• 1/2  cup hazelnuts

• 1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling

• 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

• 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

• 3/4
cup heavy cream, room temperature

• 8 ounces cream cheese

• 1/2 cup whole milk

• 3 yolks

• 1/4 cup Nutella

Garnish

• 1/2 cup whole toasted hazelnuts

• 3 chocolate Pirouette cookies, chopped (optional)

Chocolate lovers are almost guaranteed to skip that extra helping of mashed potatoes to make room for this unforgettable dessert, which Arnette explains was inspired by her daughters (ages 9 and 5). “Brioche toast with Nutella is a favorite of my kids,” she says.

Rich chocolate, crunchy hazelnuts, a shortbread crust and a touch of cream and Nutella . . . this elegant tart is the very definition of decadence.

Make the crust:

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees

– Pulse flour, confectioners sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor.

– Add egg yolks, milk and vanilla and pulse until combined. Transfer to bowl.

– Grind hazelnuts in a food processor.


Mix the ground nuts lightly in with other ingredients, using your fingers, until a dough is formed. Shape into a disk and refrigerate for 1 hour.

– Roll out disk and press into a 9-inch tart pan. Freeze for 20 min.


Bake tart shell at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Poke any big bubbles with a fork.

– Set aside.

Prepare the filling and bake:

– Start the filling by heating heavy cream in a saucepan until it almost boils.

– Pour hot cream over chocolate chips and whisk to form a ganache.


Blend cream cheese in a food processor until soft. Add ganache, Nutella and milk.
With the mixer on, add egg yolks one at a time.


Transfer filling to the baked tart shell, and spread toasted hazelnuts evenly
over the top.

– Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until set.

– Cool, garnish with cookies (if desired) and serve.

 

Maple Pecan Cheesecake

Makes one 10-inch cheesecake.

Pecan Shortbread Crust

• 2 cups shortbread cookies

• 1 ½ cups pecans

• 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter

Filling

•1 pound plus 12 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)

•5 ounces pure maple syrup, bourbon-aged if available

• 1/2 cup brown sugar

• 1 teaspoon maple extract

• 1 teaspoon vanilla

•12 ounces sour cream (room temperature)

• 4 eggs (room temperature)

• Juice of ½ lemon

Caramel Pecan Topping

• 1/2 cup brown sugar

• 1 tablespoon water

• 1/4 cup unsalted butter

• 1/2 cup heavy cream

• 1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt

• 1/2 cup toasted pecans

“Pecan pie is my favorite pie,” says Arnette, who found a different way to celebrate those flavors. Maple syrup, earthy pecans and smoked sea salt make this not-so-ordinary cheesecake as warm, sweet and inviting as the holidays themselves. Arnette likes to use a bourbon-aged maple syrup for that extra element, but any quality, pure maple syrup will do.

Two things to note: 1) The cooked cheesecake should sit overnight in the refrigerator before the topping is added, and 2) The cream cheese, eggs and sour cream should all be at room temperature when you’re ready to prepare the filling.

Make the crust:

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Line the outside of a 10-inch spring-form pan with two layers of foil so that water doesn’t get in when you bake in a water bath. Place a circle of parchment in the pan and spray with oil.


Grind shortbread cookies in a food processor. Pulse pecans separately until coarsely ground.


Mix cookies and nuts together with melted butter and press evenly into the pan.

Prepare the filling:


Using a hand or stand mixer, beat cream cheese until soft. Add brown sugar and maple syrup. Mix in sour cream and scrape down the bowl to make sure it is incorporated.


Add eggs one at a time, scraping bowl periodically. Add vanilla, maple extract and lemon juice and mix until incorporated.


Poor filling into pressed crust.

Bake the cheesecake:


Place the filled springform pan into a water bath: Place it in a larger pan that has been filled with hot water. The water should come about halfway up the outside of the springform pan.


Bake the cheesecake, in its water bath, at 350 for about 1 hour and15 minutes or until the cheesecake moves as one mass when jiggled.


Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare and add the topping:


Melt brown sugar and water in a saucepan until it starts to look darker, but before it burns. Watch closely.


Turn off heat and add butter, heavy cream and sea salt. Stir quickly with a metal whisk.


Add toasted pecans and bring mix back up to a boil for one minute, stirring constantly.


Let the cooked topping sit at room temperature until it’s ready to be used. Gently warm it back up and pour over cooled cheesecake.


Cut and serve.

 

Pear Almond Rose Tart

Makes one 9-inch round tart.

Shortbread Crust

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• 1/4  cup confectioners sugar

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/3 cup butter, slightly cooler than room temperature

• 1 egg yolk

• 1 ½ tablespoons milk

• 1 teaspoon vanilla

Frangipane

• 1/2 cup butter, room temperature

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 2 eggs

• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• 1 ½ cups almond meal

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon almond extract

• 1/8 teaspoon rose extract, optional

2-3 ripe pears (preferably red-skinned), sliced thin

The prettiest flower at the feast, and you can eat it, too! Arnette developed this recipe for her husband, who loves the flavor of almond. Frangipane (almond custard) is decorated with ripe pears (red ones are the best) sliced and arranged in a flower pattern to turn the entire tart into a lovely blossom. “I added the rose flavor to accentuate the idea of the rose,” says the chef, who notes that it is completely optional.

If you do choose to use it, only a wee bit of rose extract — just ⅛ of a teaspoon — is necessary to achieve a delicate perfume and hint of floral flavor.

Make the crust:

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

– Pulse flour, confectioners sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor.

– Add egg yolks, milk and vanilla and pulse until just combined.


Transfer the mixture to a bowl and mix lightly with fingers until dough is formed. Shape into a disk and refrigerate for one hour.


Roll out the disk and press into the tart pan. Freeze for 20 minutes.


Bake the tart shell at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Poke any big bubbles with a fork. Set aside.

Prepare the frangipane filling:


While the crust cools, cream the butter and sugar on high speed in a standing mixer (or with a hand mixer) until fluffy.


Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl, and beat on medium-high speed until the mix looks cohesive.


Add almond meal, flour, salt, almond extract and, if desired, the optional rose extract,  and beat on high until light and fluffy.

Assemble and bake the tart:


Spread the frangipane evenly in the cooled tart shell.


Slice thin two or three ripe red pears and arrange slices in a rose pattern on top of the tart.


Bake at 350 degrees until frangipane is set, about 30 to 40 minutes. For added color, you can broil on low for less than a minute, keeping an eye on it, until the frangipane is lightly browned.


Keep refrigerated until two hours before serving. Best served at room temperature.

 

Italian Christmas Frittata

Makes one 12-inch round frittata.

Base

• 8-10 medium red potatoes

• 1/2 large or 1 small red bell pepper

• 1 pasilla chile

• 1/2 medium sweet white onion

• 12 ounces hot Italian sausage without casing

• Salt and pepper to taste

Filling

• 6 eggs

• 3 ounces heavy cream

• 1 tablespoon stone-ground prepared mustard or dijon

• 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped

• 1/2 teaspoon dry sweet basil

• 1 teaspoon sugar

• Salt and pepper to taste

“Crust”

• 1 ½ cups grated fresh Parmesan

Savory and not technically a pie or tart, but a favorite in Arnette’s household nonetheless. “I consider this pie: a starch, a filling, fruits or vegetables. Whatever you want to call it, it is a beautiful Christmas morning centerpiece reminiscent of holidays at my grandparents’ house, where we would have Italian sausage and potatoes cooked with onions and bell peppers. Christmas morning, the leftovers would all get cooked with eggs.”

Whether you’re serving this frittata for a holiday brunch, as a side dish for a traditional feast or as a meal on its own (pair it with a leafy green salad), it’s sure to please.

The secret to success here is having a good nonstick pan to cook the ingredients in, and making sure you spray it well with oil. To remove the frittata from the pan, Arnette uses a “shake and shimmy” method, but says that a rubber spatula can be helpful as well.

Note: This recipe calls for hot Italian sausage, but you can substitute sweet Italian sausage (or use a mix of both) if you prefer something less spicy.

Make the base:

– Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.


Cut the potatoes in half. Use a mandolin or sharp knife to very thinly slice red pepper, pasilla chiles, potatoes and onion.


Spray olive oil on the bottom of a 12-inch round nonstick oven-safe saute pan and sprinkle a liberal amount of salt and pepper.


Starting from the outside, place a ring of potato slices, skin side up, in an overlapping pattern, covering the sides and the bottom of the pan with the slices (similar to a Potatoes Anna). Alternate strips of pepper and onion in between the rings of potatoes.


Roll the Italian sausage into strips and arrange in rings as well. Salt and pepper the top of the potatoes.


Bake at 400 for 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Prepare, add and bake the filling:


While the base bakes, mix up the custard by whisking eggs, cream, mustard, fresh oregano, dried basil, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.


When the 40 minutes are up and the potatoes are tender, pour custard over the pan with the sliced vegetables. If the custard comes over the potatoes, pull up some of the slices with your fingers so that you can see the beautiful rose pattern when it is done baking.


Return to the oven and bake at 400 degrees until the custard is set, about 20 more minutes.


Cool and remove to a separate plate.

Make the Parmesan “crust”:


Spread Parmesan cheese in an even layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan in a circle slightly larger than the size of the saute pan and bake at 400 degrees until it begins to brown. Watch carefully.


Carefully remove Parmesan round from parchment while still hot and place in the nonstick pan used for the frittata. Return to the oven to crisp. This will be the crust.


When ready to serve, place the frittata back into the nonstick pan on top of the
Parmesan crust and return to the oven to crisp on the bottom, about 10 minutes, and serve.

To find Leslie Arnette’s The Bread Box and place orders, visit:

Instagram: @the.bread.box.ventura

Facebook: www.facebook.com/The-Bread-Box-113194033425735/

By phone: 805.798.5362