Monday, March 29, 2010
I’ve come across a couple of problems with this cookbook. Sometimes, um, it’s not edited so well. Pictures are there that are only tangentially related to the recipes. (I mentioned the multicolored/flavored maracons whose recipes aren’t provided.) Equipment gets put in the Ingredients column. Or ingredients…get left out.
I looked at some of the reviews people have left on Amazon. Someone mentioned, in her review, that in a recipe for a genoise cake, they omitted the flour entirely. I checked in the recipe. Yes, sure enough, there’s no flour mentioned in the ingredients column. Bizarre. Over on the next page, there’s a section at the end of the recipe that says, for a 6” cake, use x grams of flour; for a 9” cake, use y grams, etc. But…I don’t know, shouldn’t that be, maybe, AT THE TOP OF THE RECIPE? Or, if not at top, shouldn’t there be a directive that says, “Flour…for exact amount, see page z”? Hmm.
I ran into a similar problem with the lemon cake. It was a cake in a similar vein to a genoise, wherein you beat egg whites separately (not to stiff peaks, happily, given my last experience with that) and then fold the rest of the ingredients into that. It makes for a light and fluffy cake. I was excited. I did everything they said to do, until it said, “Fold dry ingredients—flour, sugar, baking soda—into the egg white mixture.” Um, problem: in the ingredients list, it mentions sugar only once, and then it says that this sugar is to be beaten into the egg whites. So I stared. Do I divide up the sugar? Do I add more? The body of the recipe says to add sugar twice, but it’s only listed once. What to do? I don’t want to risk a sickeningly sweet cake (one other problem with the macarons that I made was they were way too sweet)…hmm.
I ended up only putting in as much sugar as the ingredients list called for. I beat most of it in with the whites and some of it in with the dry ingredients. And then I baked the cake. And it was drab.
Now, the texture was amazing. It was fluffy as a cloud. I couldn’t have asked for a better texture. But a good texture doesn’t make a great cake, obvs. I made a lemon glaze whose recipe I stole from my roommate, and forked the cake and drizzled it over. Then the part of the cake that was glazed was very tasty. And the rest was a fluffy, boring cloud. I was eating a piece and I said, “You know, this would be a great base for something. Like berries and cream.” The roommate agreed. If I had had berries and cream in the house I would’ve gotten them out immediately. But I didn’t, and I never bothered to go buy them. Instead I brought the cake to work on Monday, where “drab” isn’t a big problem; the issue is “free food” and everyone is happy to eat free food, particularly when it’s homemade. I’ve sloughed off some pretty crappy dishes here. Ssssh.
Item number two: the pear tart. This recipe also did not say to use half a recipe of the pate sucree, but since I had half left over from the apple tart I only used half and it was perfect (and, dare I say it?, probably what was intended).
There was an almond filling that was easy to make: almond flour (again the pricey almond flour! Good thing I have that specialty baking shop), sugar, butter, an egg. Maybe something else, I can’t remember. But I mixed that up and then spread it in the crust. Easy.
I poached the pears in a mixture of white wine ($8.50 for the cheapest bottle! It’s a good thing I don’t drink. I can’t afford it.) and apple juice (to make up for the missing bottle of white wine; the recipe called for 2, but a quart of apple juice is only $4) with sugar, vanilla beans, and lemon juice. Boil that together then put in peeled pears and boil them for half an hour. Slice in half, scoop out the seeds and the fibrous center, and you have poached pears.
I then sliced up the pears into tiny crosswise slices and spread them out over the filling, and covered the exposed almond filling with sliced almonds and baked. In baking I experienced my first injury related to this project, as I let my finger touch the hot oven rack, darn it. And then—thanks, reflexes!—I dropped my picture-perfect raw tart on its side and ALMOST over on its top. Had it gone onto the top I would have cried, but as it was I merely let fly a couple of bad words; I just lost the extra almonds, which were easily cleaned up and replaced with fresh ones.
And the tart was wonderful. How could it not be? I got to eat half of one of the poached pears (there was only space for five of the halves) and by itself it was amazing. A poached pear; who would’ve thought? My friends, the ones with whom I’m sharing the excess bounty (I really want not to gain weight with this whole experiment, no matter how much fun I’m having), loved it. One of them said, “This is the best yet.” And I think I agree with him.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
So I did the brioche first. Brioche are usually baked as individual rolls, in this cute little scalloped muffin-sized cup. I chose not to buy the cute little muffin-sized cups because I’m already spending plenty on ingredients (and a kitchen scale, lest we forget) and there was a variation in the book where you could just roll them and put them in a loaf pan and bake that way. The dough itself was incredibly stiff and difficult to work with, and I was honestly worried about my Kitchen-Aid there for a while. It couldn’t mix the dough completely; it kept bumping up and down and making straining noises. I didn’t lock it, because I wanted it to be able to bump if it needed to bump, but it was still unnerving. My roommate came in and, knowing my concern for my kitchen items, kept saying, “Kathy? Kathy?” I didn’t answer—not because I was concentrating so hard on the brioche dough, but because I didn’t know how to answer. She told me I ought to stop and not break my Kitchen-Aid, but I soldiered on. And it didn’t break the Kitchen-Aid, thank heaven (I truly would have been heartbroken). And the brioche was goooooooood.
So it wasn’t complicated, it was just worrisome. I let the dough “proof” in the fridge for four hours, then rolled it into the rolls and let it rise for an hour, and then baked. I burned myself a couple of times getting the rolls out, because I was hungry and impatient and I am a big bread fan. I pulled apart the rolls and stuffed one in my mouth and I just can’t tell you how good it was. Transcendent, really…light and fluffy and buttery and had a wonderful melt-in-your-mouth crust…mmmm. I baked half of the recipe into one loaf, and I was glad because after they cooled down they were still nice, but really just dinner rolls. I rolled them out two or three at a time for the rest of the week to eat them hot. It worked for three days, and then the last day they were heavy and didn’t rise. Sigh. Good eating takes work.
I also did an apple tart, which was delish as well. And it made for a terrific breakfast the next day. I made the pate sucree dough, a whole recipe, just like the tart recipe said to do. It also said to use the whole recipe. The pate sucree recipe itself said it made enough for two 9-inch crusts, but one would think that the apple tart would say, “use half a recipe for pate sucree” rather than “make a recipe for pate sucree.” Ah well. I rolled out the whole recipe and tried to put it in the 9” tart pan and realized the whole recipe would take up the entire pan. Fortunately the pate sucree recipe did say that it freezes well for up to a week, so I cut it in half and stuck half in the freezer.
The apple tart itself was amazing. Very simple: an apple compote with diced apples on bottom, sliced apples on top. The apple compote had apples, water, sugar and vanilla bean and I just boiled them until the apples were soft; then sliced several apples into thin slices and decorated the top. Baked it, then brushed it with apricot jam. Easy. And wonderful.
The bigger concern this week was that my foot started giving me problems. I am assuming it was plantar fasciitis, which is an irritation of the bottom of the foot that makes standing and running painful. This is a problem because I am now consuming huge quantities of fatty desserts. If consuming huge quantities of fatty desserts, one must be able to exercise if one wants to continue to fit into one’s pants. And I do. So I bought an ankle brace that was a semi-torturous device that inflicted more pain, but it did calm the heel enough that I could do yoga on Friday and go running both Saturday and Sunday, when it was gorgeous outside. I hope the pain stays away so I can keep exercising and therefore eating huge quantities of fatty desserts. Because, oh yes, there’s more to come.
Monday, March 15, 2010
My apologies, faithful readers, for missing last week. I wasn’t up to the task, the challenge, the desafío. I wasn’t up to the blog.
My reason has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with the kitchen. Strange, yes? Well, maybe not so much. I’m a pretty decent cook, and people have, at various times, given me the very impractical suggestions that I should be a caterer or a chef or open a bakery. [When my life and career were in a particularly noxious stall, my dad once suggested that he would buy a Krispy Kremes franchise in Utah (it would have been the first, back then) and I could run it. I never was able to say an outright “no,” because I felt I would be crushing his dreams, but…how shall I say it?... there was no way in bloody hell I was going to be running anybody’s Krispy Kreme store. I stonewalled and the idea went away (not that he ever pursued it) and for a while, I believe, he silently blamed me for not helping him bring his dream to fruition. Later he found out that in order to buy a franchise, according to official Krispy Kreme rules, you must *already* own and operate a food joint (negative) and demonstrate a net worth of two million dollars (double negative).] These suggestions are impractical for several reasons:
1) While I love baking and cooking, I love writing more.
2) Baking and cooking are an ANTIDOTE to writing. You have an immediate finished product, and people want it!
3) when you make a hobby into a wanna-be career, it’s really easy to leach the joy out of it. And
4) It is HARD WORK, y’all. Have you ever stood in a kitchen for several hours to make one big meal? Are you exhausted by the end of it? Imagine doing that all day, all night, all the next day too…all week…every day…this has got to be a hard-core passion, something where you don’t even notice your aching feet or the passing hours or the sweat running down your chin. Though maybe you should notice that last one, lest it drip in the food.
So. Last weekend I started a little cooking project, which I did continue this past weekend. I got a cookbook, the French Culinary Institute’s new gigantic manual to the pastry arts. !!! Holy cow. It’s immense, it’s got full-color pictures, it’s got how-to sections on everything from the definitions of autolyze and proofing and the difference between pâte sucrée and pâte brisée (and I now know them!) to kitchen first aid. Must say, I’m grateful for two years of college French.
So I wanted to test out my book. It seems to have everything from super-easy to super-hard (and when I say super-hard, I mean, this is going to take seven or eight hours and a lot of precision) recipes.
Now, first things first. The recipes are measured in ounces and grams. I looked at this and said, “Huh? Now what?” Well, now we get a digital kitchen scale. ($40). And it calls for ingredients like almond flour ($5 for 4 ounces) and pastry cream powder ($6 for about ¾ cup) and uses equipment like brioche cups and cake molds. Yikes. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
So last week’s first experiment was ginger snap cookies. I have a Williams Sonoma set of 11 glass bowls, the smallest being only a couple of tablespoons. I got it for Christmas about 10 years ago, and miraculously, all 11 bowls survive. And suddenly they’ve discovered their purpose! Each recipe begins, “Prepare your mise en place,” which means, “measure your ingredients because you can’t just scoop the flour out of the canister in the measuring cup.” So you get a one-cup-size bowl, weigh it, tare it, and pour the sugar (say 250 grams?) into it. Then the two-tablespoon bowl for the one egg yolk. Then the second-largest bowl for the three-plus (again, measured in grams) cups of flour. (It was a big recipe.) Etc. I also discovered that these recipes are incredibly precise (“Bake for 7 minutes” rather than “Bake 7-10 minutes” like the rest of my recipes say) and my oven is not. I preheated to 350. Who knows if it was actually 350? The thing is avocado-colored, meaning, old. I do know the 7 minutes didn’t cook my gingersnaps.
After the baking time was figured out, we sampled. These gingersnaps were divine. Soft, chewy, spicy…mmm. I miss them, now that they’re gone.
And then I attempted macarons. I’ve had macarons in Paris, and they’re amazing…a crisp meringue sandwich and thick frosting-like center. I tried to do chocolate. It didn’t work.
First I underbeat the egg whites. I know better. I know that when it says to beat them to stiff peaks, you have to beat them almost to a solid mass. But I didn’t; I figured, when I pulled out the beater the peak held its shape and that was good enough. Then I folded in the almond flour and the cocoa and put it into a piping bag, and realized right there it wasn’t going to work. I piped it into little circles and baked it anyway. Sigh. They wouldn’t come off the parchment paper. I pulled and scooped with my spatula, and they just tore or crumpled into tiny, sticky masses. I pulled the parchment paper off the cookie sheets and tossed the whole thing into the garbage.
But memories of Paris macarons haunted me. I really wanted to make some of my own. They didn’t sound that hard, and the pictures in the book looked exactly like the ones I love! All day I thought about this. I had another container of almond flour. I had more sugar and cocoa…I could do it.
This time I beat those whites, man, I beat them past peaks and basically into Styrofoam. And then I gently folded in the cocoa and flour…and watched it go poof, deflate. It was the exact same consistency as it had been before. Dammit! I kept going. This time I baked them longer than the 7 minute prescribed by the cookbook (just guessing that the temperature was nowhere near 350, or actually 177 C, as the cookbook said). And this time they came off the parchment paper, as long as I let them rest a minute or two out of the oven. So I had these little meringue cookies….that looked NOTHING like the macarons of Paris. Where real ones are smooth and dark, mine were pale and cracked. Double dammit. And the filling didn’t taste anything like the Parisian filling…and there were pictures of every conceivable flavor of macaron and NO OTHER RECIPES besides the chocolate and a vanilla one with a jam center. Triple, quadruple dammit!
So the macarons were a disappointment. (some of my friends liked them, but I still huffed for the rest of the day.) But the gingersnaps…oh my. I would happily eat some more of those right now. For dinner, a snack and breakfast tomorrow.
More on this experiment as it continues to unfold.
Monday, March 1, 2010
I've had three four-day weeks in a row, and I'm now officially spoiled. I have long been a proponent of four-day weeks, and now it's official. All jobs should change so that the workweek is Monday through Thursday. And no, not ten-hour days. Just regular 9-5 days, and then Friday you do your errands, Saturday you do some work and Sunday you can actually relax. Just my two cents. I wish I were governor.
This particular three-day weekend was unexpected, brought on by the Snowmageddon that actually did (kind of) materialize. I'm sure I could have gotten to work if I'd had to, given that subways are UNDERGROUND and were running, but the office announced they were closed and I was not going to question that. I wish the Mayor had announced it the night before, so I wouldn't have had to set my alarm. But I went right back to bed. And it was nice to watch the snow swirl outside my window. I enjoyed the day very much.
And I was productive, which is better. I finished two projects, two! One is a screenplay I started long, long ago--before the Madame Curie project--and hadn't been able to get to until now. Friday I got it out and started outlining the end, and Saturday I wrote it. About 40 pages -- not too shabby. And then I finished another project, one I had thought up about three weeks ago. When I work that quickly, and it actually comes and it's actually decent, I deem it Meant to Be. What exactly it is Meant to Be is still to-be-determined, but...I still feel pretty good.
And Spring Training season is now upon us. This past year was the first that I really, really got into baseball, and it was surprising how long the offseason felt. I yearn to buy season tickets this year. We will see.
Not much for a post today. I detailed all my awful day jobs already. I'll have to think of a new theme. Until next week....