Bits ‘n’ Pieces: International award sweet for pastry chef

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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Jessica Murray knows she’s going to fail, but she welcomes the challenge.

“I know it can work. I just don’t know how yet,” said Murray, 23, a first-year master’s student at Washington State University’s School of Food Science. “Not every recipe ends up being a winner. Sometimes you’ve got to let it go.”

Murray, a La Center High School graduate from Woodland, said she tries most recipes more than 20 times. One recipe she spent nearly eight months on recently won her an international competition.

In January, she and three classmates — Franciele Caramit, Katie Smoot and Colby Swartz — started kicking around an idea for a dessert recipe for their product development class. In August, Murray entered the recipe for Brazilian Delight in the American Association of Cereal Chemists International’s 2015 Student Product Development Contest, and won first place.

Their idea for a dessert came from Caramit, an exchange student from Brazil, who taught other members of her group about a few her favorites from home. One of the dishes she talked about was tapioca, a crepelike dish made from tapioca starch, water and salt. It’s often served by street vendors and can be filled with cheese, meats or other treats.

“It has a fun, chewy texture,” Murray said. “We wanted to make it into a dessert, so we added sugar. That didn’t work. It just made it into a goopy mess.”

They then added coconut flakes to the tapioca, and topped it with a Thai chili, ginger-infused apple chutney and toasted coconut when they submitted it to their class. The other three groupmates graduated, as did Murray, but she continued on in the master’s program. Her teacher suggested she submit the dish to a contest, and with approval from her former classmates, she made a few changes and submitted it.

She cooked red quinoa with the tapioca, which made it a bit nuttier, and increased the ginger in the chutney. She also added some toasted quinoa on top of the dish.

Murray said quinoa is a trendy item in the culinary world at the moment.

“It has most of the proteins people need, which is rare for a nonmeat item,” she said. “It’s extremely popular because it’s very good for nutrition. Everybody wants to get quinoa in different ways, but there aren’t a lot of recipes using quinoa right now.”

She added that she doesn’t know of many other desserts that use quinoa, and WSU has a program studying quinoa, including how to grow it in Washington. It primarily comes from South America.

“People are becoming more aware of it and are more willing to try it,” she said. “People didn’t even know how to say it. Now, there’s a desire for it. I think there are going to be lot more recipes using it in the future.”

(For the record, quinoa is pronounced KEEN-wah.)

Murray, who said she didn’t know much about Brazilian food before the project, has been cooking since she was about 4. She cooked with her father and great grandmother, who bought her a tiny pie pan and would let her make her own pies using dough from the edges of a larger dish. Murray first considered a career in cooking while taking the Clark County Skills Center’s restaurant management program her junior year of high school.

She said she was drawn to pastries, because she said she has been analytical, and making pastries is a very precise endeavor. Murray, who is the lead pastry chef for Hospitality Catering Services at WSU and a graduate research assistant at the Western Wheat Quality Lab, said she wants to work in product development. Her ideal job would be coming up with recipes for items that can be sold in supermarkets, a thankless but rewarding job, Murray said.

“I always wanted to walk into a grocery store and say, ‘I made that.’ I love baking for my family and friends, and sharing my food with them, but getting to share it with other people I don’t know and have them maybe share it with others would be very exciting,” she said. “You’re not going to get famous doing it. Nobody is going to know your name, but you’re going to know you did it. Your friends and family are going to know you did it. You do a project, and people never know your name, but they enjoy your product. That’s enough.”


Bits ‘n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.