Monday, March 29, 2010


So I was in a “fruity” mood for this next project. I didn’t want to spend quite as much time in the kitchen, so I looked for a couple of not-as-difficult/time consuming recipes. I settled on a lemon cake (simple) and a pear tart (because I already had half a crust recipe). One was amazing. The other was blah.

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.

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