Profile: Steven Tomyoy & Almond Vanilla Chocolate Brioche Twist
Steven Tomyoy is a very good cook. His culinary journey started rather early, at age 7—and in a professional kitchen, no less. “My grandfather had a Chinese restaurant in Downtown L.A., and working there was part of my chores,” he tells me. “I hated it because it wasn’t creative at all.”
Still, for eight years—after school and on weekends, and for a small allowance—Steven washed pots and pans, peeled shrimp and onions, and assisted with cooking dim sum, eggrolls and roasted Chinese ducks.
This experience helped him get a production manager job with a commercial Chinese food manufacturer. They made eggrolls and dim sum in large quantities and supplied restaurant chains and warehouse clubs. “It was about scheduling and consistency,” says Steven. In other words, it wasn’t creative, either.
He never planned to be a chef, but French food and pastries—and watching Julia Child and Jacques Pépin on TV—sparked his interest. “Plus, I always had a sweet tooth,” he admits. All of this led him to sign up for a professional baking/pastry course at UCLA. Later, he became a teacher’s assistant and stayed for five happy years. “My favorite part was watching the students’ amazement—their aha moment when something came out of the oven beautifully.”
Next came a pastry chef position at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Pasadena, California. “I loved it,” recalls Steven. “We had carte blanche and really created whatever we wanted.” One of the signature desserts he came up with was a rice pudding with whipped cream, cooked risotto-style (short-grain rice and constant stirring).
These days, Steven trains ice cream shop franchisees in setting up their business, as well as in the art of properly scooping ice cream. At home, he enjoys entertaining and cooking for his foodie friends, playing with fresh pasta recipes, and baking sourdough bread.
Age 56 — Hometown Trinidad till I was 4, then moved to Los Angeles, CA. — Where do you live? South Pasadena, CA. — Occupation Corporate training manager. — Signature dish Baked goods or desserts. Inevitably when I ask, “What can I bring,” the answer is always some type of dessert. — Who taught you how to cook? Julia Child and Jacques Pépin, via their television shows on PBS. — Favorite kitchen tool A very sharp 10-inch chef’s knife, closely followed by my KitchenAid mixer. — Always in your pantry Unsalted butter, bittersweet chocolate, and whole raw almonds. — Go-to snack Whole raw almonds and cheese. — Favorite cuisine French, Italian and Asian. — Do you diet? Yes. — Food addictions Pastries and desserts. — Food allergies None. — Food fad pet peeve Salted desserts—there is balanced, and then there is over-salted. — Who’s your sous chef? Myself—I’ve learned the importance of mise en place. — Drinking while cooking? Never. I am very focused when cooking. I enjoy drinking while enjoying the meal. — What’s for dinner tonight? Tonight is “kitchen sink salad”: whatever I can find to make a salad. Tomorrow will be grilled pork tenderloin and roasted veggies. — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? Never. I sometimes get frustrated. I view a failure as a learning experience, and I analyze what went wrong. — Best meal you ever had French Laundry—not just a delicious meal, but a total dining experience.
Almond Vanilla Chocolate Brioche Twist
My Czech childhood memories came into clear focus last Sunday while making these exquisite, showstopping twists that are layered with vanilla pudding, marzipan paste and grated chocolate, and accented with buttery streusel. Growing up, both my mom and grandma baked similar pastries (koláče, buchty, challah), using yeasted brioche dough that’s enriched with eggs and butter. They were sweet or savory, in an array of sizes and shapes, and filled with all kinds of delicious ingredients (fruit, cheese, nuts, chocolate).
“The first time I made this, I said to myself, ‘Okay—I can be a pastry chef,’” says Steven with a smile. “The taste, texture and design are pretty impressive, and it really looks like it came from a professional bakery.” A cooking school instructor gave him the recipe, and he makes it about six times a year, alternating the original filling with Nutella, dulce de leche, and/or lemon curd with berries.
The recipe is easy to navigate and the result rewarding, but we are not in muffin territory here; it has several components and requires a commitment. Add the times for dough proofing and rising, the filling and streusel prep, and you’ll total around five hours. Still, like me, you can do all this in one afternoon while taking a quick power nap, escaping to the gym, and listening to the complete Lucia di Lammermoor with Maria Callas.
- Serves 8–10
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon sour cream
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup + 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet yeast)
- ½ cup bread flour
- 2¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Vanilla Pastry Cream
- ½ cup + 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 egg, separated, yolk only, white reserved for almond filling
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Almond Filling
- ½ cup almond paste
- 1 egg white, reserved from vanilla pastry cream
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- Pinch salt
- 5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Make the dough. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter and sour cream. Set aside to cool.
- In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until very hot (don’t let it come to a full boil). Transfer to a small bowl, and stir in 1 teaspoon sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk, and let stand for 10 minutes until the yeast foams.
- Transfer the yeast mixture to a food processor fitted with a plastic dough blade. Sprinkle the bread flour over the yeast mixture. Process for 30 seconds, scrape down the sides, and process for 10 more seconds, until smooth. Leave the food processor top on, and let the mixture develop for 30 minutes, until doubled in volume.
- Add the butter/sour cream mixture, eggs, egg yolk, ¼ cup sugar, salt, and 1¾ cups of the all-purpose flour to the food processor bowl, and process for 10 seconds. Add ¾ cup of all-purpose flour and process for another 10–15 seconds, until the dough forms into a ball. It should be soft, elastic and slightly sticky. (You might add up to ¼ cup of all-purpose flour in humid weather).
- Dust a smooth work surface lightly with flour, and turn the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 30 seconds, shape it into a ball, and place it in an ungreased bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1½ hours, until doubled.
- Punch the dough down, knead for 10 seconds, turn over, cover again, and refrigerate for 1½ hours more.
- Make the vanilla pastry cream. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until very hot (don’t let it come to a full boil). Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add the egg yolk, and mix into a thick paste. Slowly pour in the hot milk while whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Remove from the heat, and strain through a sieve. Stir in the vanilla extract, cover, and let cool in the refrigerator.
- Make the almond filling. In a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade, combine all the almond filling ingredients. Process until blended, about 45 seconds. Set aside.
- Make the streusel. In a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade, combine all the streusel ingredients. Process for 45 seconds.
- Assemble the brioche twists. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch down the dough, and cut it in half. Return one half to the refrigerator.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll one half of the dough into a 9x17-inch rectangle. (The dough will be springy and somewhat hard to roll out at first, but keep rolling and pressing, until you get the above size.) Using the back of a spoon or an offset bakery spatula, spread half of the almond filling over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border without filling. Stir the pastry cream, and spread one half over the almond filling. Sprinkle one half of the chocolate over the pastry cream.
- Starting at the longer edge, roll the dough tightly into a cylinder. Pinch the edges to seal them. Carefully transfer the rolled dough onto the lined baking sheet. With a sharp knife, cut the cylinder completely in half lengthwise.
- Starting at the center and working away from yourself, tightly braid the two strands around each other, and pinch the ends together to seal. Return to the center and, working toward yourself, braid the other half.
- Repeat with the other half of the dough and the remaining filling ingredients. (My baking sheet was large enough to fit both twists—you can do the same or use two baking sheets.) Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes, until almost doubled.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Position an oven rack in the middle. If using 2 baking sheets, position 2 oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter, and brush the twists. Sprinkle all over with the streusel. (If you don’t use all the streusel, you can store in a tight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.) Bake in the oven, rotating the sheets halfway through, until evenly browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, slice and serve. Store, tightly covered, for up to 2 days.
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