Pasta, Go!

Your roommates are freshly home from Thailand and Singapore with jetlags and nasty colds, there’s a fresh new six inches of snow on the ground, and the house is fresh out of most things you’d use for a quick, lazy dinner.  What do you do?  I went to Jade Mountain and got a ton of work done, then jaunted off to Monona for a thing that was cancelled without any notice.  Then I took pity on my roommates and decided to cook them dinner.  A quick stop at the grocery store for a few essentials, and then I answered their call for a not-spicy thing with dairy.IMG_5863

Lazy, quick, and dairy tells me pasta with cream sauce, so I picked up a package of mushrooms, some fresh rosemary, and a loaf of Italian bread.  Then, while my roommates napped – “We’re setting the alarm to get us up at six-thirty,” they claimed – I did the ingredient prep.

For the record, it’s really, really hard to go wrong by starting a thing with chopping up mushrooms, onion and garlic.  Most things you do from there are at least starting with a good idea.


That’s about three cloves of garlic chopped.  And on this dish, really, the chopping is the hardest part.  Have a good knife in your kitchen.  Know how to use it.  Rapid, tasty dinner will then be yours.


I can probably eat my weight in garlic bread, but I decided to be conservative and only use half the loaf.  This wound up being a good call – we almost had leftovers.  Garlic bread is really easy, too.  I just slap as much butter as seems reasonable to me on it, sprinkle powdered garlic over that, then toss it into the oven for about ten minutes to toast and get melty.  Twice as much butter as is shown here would not have gone amiss, methinks.


They got up from their nap a bit after seven, right as I was going to settle down and kill time until they woke up.  So I started the sauce.  Cream sauce is easy so long as you don’t turn up the heat too high.  To have enough sauce for three people, I toss a tablespoon of butter into a pan, melt it, then toss in a tablespoon of flour.  IMG_5887

Add a cup of milk and a half cup of cream.  I probably should have added a bit more flour up front, but the sauce wound up thickening fine so it was no big deal.  At this point I also tossed in some powdered garlic and two sprigs of the rosemary.  A bit of pepper would work.  No salt needed if you used salted butter.


Saute the onions.  Yummy, yummy onions.  Any oil will do.  I used olive oil, because I like it for cooking at these temperatures.  If I’m using higher temperatures I tend to go for bacon fat.


Then toss in the mushrooms.  Mushrooms are a fat hog and will soak up whatever you cook them in.  Be mindful and make sure you don’t let them stick to the pan or burn.IMG_5894Once the sauce thickens a bit, it’s time to add cheese.  When I do this, I toss in whatever’s in the fridge and looks good.  This time around it was goat cheese and gorgonzola.  These make a nice combo. 

I put the garlic bread into the oven the same time I put the pasta into the water, and just before I tossed the mushrooms into the skillet.  I’m not sure how people who can’t stir two different things at the same time cook, but I was definitely stirring the sauce and the mushrooms in their respective pots at the same time.  And about fifteen minutes after I tossed the pasta into the water, there was this:IMG_5903

We feasted, and my roommates were spoiled.

Sauteed Eggplant Over Beet Green Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables

Yesterday I tried to take the day off.  I’m notoriously bad at actually taking days off, so in order to thwart my productive instincts, I had somebody spend the day hanging out with me.  The theory was that my hosting instincts would smother my “I should get things done!” instincts.  This was a nice theory, and led to walking into the grocery store to get supplies for dinner with nothing more specific than, “Tasty” and “Not meat,” to go on.  So that trip was all about the produce section.  I went a little nuts.


That’s a bunch of beets, a sweet potato and three parsnips.  I basically picked up everything that sounded tasty.  Then I stared at it in my shopping cart, feeling a little uneasy.  “I have no idea whether there’s a complete protein here.  It’s not dinner without a complete protein.”  I don’t do very much vegetarian cooking, so this isn’t usually something I have to think about.  The part where I had no plan for what I was going to do with these things didn’t help me feel more secure in my plans, either.  So I did the reasonable thing: I panicked.


Panic, in this instance, expressed itself by adding an eggplant to the mix.  I know eggplant has everything you need for dinner to be a meal.

It also crystalized my plans for what I was going to do.  I wasn’t sure whether it was going to work, but I had a PLAN.

One doesn’t simply slap eggplant into a skillet and sautee it, however.  I’m new to eggplant, I cooked my first one last summer, but every recipe I checked my first time was very explicit: Thou Shalt Drain Thine Eggplant.

You only have to do it once to understand why this is considered a must.  And it’s pretty easy, just requires you to do a little prep ahead of time.  Peel the eggplant, slice it up, then salt it and leave it sit.  Through the magic of osmosis, the salt will force the excess water out of the eggplant so you don’t wind up with a soggy, watery mess.  The results, after an hour or so, are pretty persuasive.IMG_5809

I’m not sure it comes across in this picture, but there are beads of water just sitting there on top of the eggplant.

Dinner time approached.  I put my house guest in charge of setting up a game of Agricola while I started chopping up the root vegetables, and pre-heated the oven to 500º.


The lumps of white stuff are bacon fat.  Because bacon fat totally isn’t meat, and also it’s tasty, and that’s the only seasoning I used on the root vegetables.  Which I piled onto the tray.

Then spread out, and broke up the chunks of fat so they would cover the vegetables more thoroughly.  I came back to stir a couple times during the cooking process, just to make sure they stayed nice and coated.  IMG_5819

The beautiful thing about cooking while playing Agricola is that you can take the action the person you’re playing with wanted, then go chop things while they reconsider their life and their decision to engage in faux medieval farming.  This is a chopped onion and the greens from the beets.


Sauteeing the eggplant was easy.  I made sure the skillet was well oiled with, you guessed it, more bacon fat.  Then I sprinkled powdered garlic on the eggplant and slapped into the skillet until it looked nicely browned and tasty.  I had the skillet on medium heat, moving from the high end to the low end of medium as the cooking progressed.  As I finished a batch of eggplant, I tossed it onto a plate which I kept in the microwave, on the theory that it would stay warm better there.


After finishing up the eggplant, I put just  dab more bacon fat into the skillet and sautteed the onions.  When they were looking tasty, I tossed in the beat greens, then sautteed until they were looking wilty and good.  Wilty, by the way, is a technical term meaning this:


By this time the root vegetabels were nicely done and I’d turned the heat off the oven.  Then I tossed the plate with the eggplant into the oven to hang out and stay warm until I’d finished establishing my superiority at faux medieval farming.  (Forty-eight point game, y’all, even with a begging card)

I threw some feta cheese and a splash of vinegar onto the beat green salad.  Then I crossed my fingers and hope that the meal was both tasty, and coherent.  And it was!  The beets didn’t mesh with the sweet potato and parsnips quite as well as I might have hoped, but I think I got away with it.  

As for my day off…well…I worked less than I would have if I hadn’t taken it off.

Pomegranate Ginger Bread Men?

There’s a tradition in my family involving an aluminum replica of a Colonial Williamsburg gingerbread man mold.  The one written about here, in fact. Grannie had one, then gave it to my dad when he got married, and we grew up spending December making the dough, then on an as-needed basis, rolling it out, molding it, and getting these giant gingerbread soldier guys.  The final cookies were softer than your typical gingersnap-style gingerbread men, and IMO, therefore superior.  These are, as far as I am concerned, the correct gingerbread men.

When I moved off to college I didn’t get the recipe to bring with me, and attempts to acquire it from family kept turning up the other traditional gingerbread cookie recipe.  The one that gets you gingerbread men like everybody else makes.  The wrong recipe. It wasn’t until a couple years ago it occurred to me that our mold might not in fact be unique, and that I might be able to find one of my own, or, better yet, the recipe that goes with it.  The internet is a beautiful thing, and I did, in fact, find the recipe.  Victory!

So at the beginning of January, when Christmas was safely passed and I couldn’t possibly be seen to be giving it succor or support, I dug up the recipe and decided to show off what correct gingerbread men are like.


The ingredients for the original recipe are:

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Ground Sugar
  • 2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Dark Molasses
  • 1 Cup Evaporated Milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp Lemon Extract
  • 5 1/2 Cups Sifted Flour

That’s pretty simple. You then cream the butter and sugar together, add the spices, cream all of that together until light and fluffy.  Next you add your wet ingredients – you can use regular milk instead of evaporated milk of you want and that’s what I did, though I usually plan ahead a bit better and have evaporated milk on hand when I’m going to do this.  I also usually make sure I have enough molasses.

I did not have enough molasses.

I spent a good 60 seconds reflecting on the problems inherent in not having more than a couple tablespoons of molasses.  I considered my options, which involved me going to the grocery store, me sweet talking roommates in the process of prepping for three weeks in Southeast Asia to go to the grocery store, chucking the dough out and pretending this never happened, or doing something stupid with an attempted substitution.

Reader, I did something stupid.

I mean, come on.  The bottle had the word molasses right there on the label.  It just, you know, had the word “Pomegranate” in front of “molasses.” How wrong could this possibly go?

Add flour in half cup increments until you have dough.  Chill for two hours.  Roll out, commit acts of cookie, bake for 15 minutes at 325º.


They looked right.  They more or less smelled right.  Were they right?

They weren’t wrong.  They also weren’t gingerbread cookies.  After careful examination and study, (read: Sylvie and I ate several), we decided that they were actually pretty good, except the texture was wrong for the flavor.  These were the floury, thick, soft cookies I want from gingerbread men, but the flavor wanted to be something else.  Possibly thinner and crisper.  So I did another batch, except rolled thinner.

Those were better, but still not there.  So I let the remaining dough warm up, tossed in a stick of butter, and set the mixer to go until I had a softer, runnier dough.  Then I dropped huge chunks of it onto a cookie sheet.  Bake at 325º for about twenty minutes, then sprinkle with shiny sugar.


Success!  These were the cookies that dough wanted to be.  They were tasty, in a “I’ve never had a cookie with quite this flavor” sort of way.  The texture was right.  These were good.  I would do these again.  In fact, I may have a new January cookie tradition.

Sometimes, being stupid is the right choice.

Cobbling Cobbler

December.  Ah, December.  The last month of our project, the final chapter of the agony that has been cooking my way through the Professional Pastry Chef. This month is designated as Country desserts. For the first recipe, I chose a Fall Cobbler.


The filling on this cobbler was apples, pears and cranberries.  It wisely advises using dried cranberries to keep the filling from turning out a distressing red.  This is, I suspect, good advice.  IMG_5774

Cobbler is just about the easiest thing on the face of the planet to make.  There are a billion ways to do it, and all of them are valid as long as they’re tasty.  This dessert isn’t even supposed to be pretty.  “Homey” is the operative aesthetic here.


So you chop up your fruit, then you mix together the sweetener and thickening agents for the cobbler.  This recipe called for honey, a bit of cream, lemon juice and flour for this bit.  The flavor on this cobbler was okay, but not mind blowing.  I’m more partial to brown sugar instead of honey with an apple and pear filling.  You can also use butter instead of the cream to get a bit of fat in, and I’ve seen tapioca instead of flour used as a binding/thickener.  The lemon juice you want because the acid in it keeps the apples and pears from browning.  I’ve been known to go crazy and use lime juice instead for some recipes – though I don’t think it would fly here.


Make sure you mix the liquid in the fruit really well.  Get it all covered.  If you’ve done your proportions correctly (and even the Professional Pastry Chef got the proportions on this right) it should feel like there’s not quite enough stuff to cover all the fruit.  Keep stirring.  It helps to have put the fruit in a bowl that’s too big.  Most of what I’m saying about cobbler here works for pie, too.  Cobbler is like lazy, sloppy pie.


I’m just going to take a moment to say one teeny, tiny nice thing about the Professional Pastry chef.  It’s been recommending the use of a melon baller for coreing fruit this whole time.  I didn’t think we had a melon baller and just used my regular fruit peeler/corer to take care of it.  But I happened to spot this in the drawer and put it to work.  Holy Cobbler, Batman!  It’s much easier.  That makes, I think, the second tip out of this book I’m pleased to have encountered.  Yay!


The last step on your cobbler is the crust.  It needs a crust, or all you’ve done is bake fruit.  Baked fruit is nice, but there’s no special name for it that makes it a legit-dessert.  Slap a crust on top, though…


Normal cobbler crusts are basically just streusel, or some variant thereof.  This recipe called for a streusel made with oats.  It was. Uhm. Well, like I said, with cobbler, as long as it tastes good, it’s valid.



Not a mind blowing recipe.  Decent.  I’d probably make something up rather than follow this recipe again, though.

Sabayon, the Great Betrayal

I have discovered what the cookbook means by “Light Desserts.”  I am not pleased.  They snuck a diet food chapter in on me!  This is, possibly, the greatest offense this book has committed yet.  Between that and the being in Argentina, this is the only recipe from this chapter.  If there were anything else interesting, I’d have made time in October or catch up in December but I don’t believe in calorie cutting and I’m sure as hell not taking diet advice from a cookbook that recommends margarine.

So, cold sabayon.  The Professional Pastry Chef claims this can be served on its own as a perfectly delightful dessert.  I read the recipe.  I looked at the other recipes that call for it.  “Er, this is just a sauce,” I said to myself.  “Who wants to drink a sauce by itself for dessert?” 

Fortunately, my freezer runneth over with frozen fruit, and frozen fruit is great for last-minute dessert things.  So I started our sabayon prep by tossing frozen blueberries into a pan to heat up.


The sabayon itself was super easy and quick to make.  It’s pretty much just sweetened eggs, milk and booze.  The hardest part was making up for the part where I didn’t remember how brilliant prepping in the measuring cup had been last time, and tried making a go of it with the glass bowl. 


No handle, and you have to whisk the contents while it floats in a pot of simmering water until the sauce thickens.  I put up with about five minutes of that before stopped to switch over to a dish that actually made sense for the circumstances. 

The recipe says you’re done when the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon.  Having a spoon within reach makes the whisking-while-testing process much, much easier. 


I served everything in a cordial glass.  The blueberries turned the sabayon a less-than-attractive color, but for a plain sauce the book tried to pass off as dessert, I think this presentation worked fairly well. 


Not to mince words, but I’d never make this dessert again.  It was easy, it also wasn’t anything I’m ever going to crave, or fancy enough to be worth doing for itself.  The Strawberries Romanov did the booze-fruit combo much better, and there’s something unsatisfying about drinking your dessert when it isn’t a milkshake.  I’d totally be willing to make the sabayon as a sauce to top an actual dessert but no, it is not dessert in and of itself. 

Strawberries Romanov: A concealed metaphor about empire?

It’s Halloween.  You have two hours before people come over.  Trick-or-treaters are knocking on the door.  Clearly this is the opportune time to construct an elaborate dessert!  Especially when you got completely soaked biking home from Jade Mountain and didn’t have time to get all the ingredients from the grocery store.  Sometimes I suspect I’m not nearly as competent as I claim.

Strawberries Romanov is basically just the fanciest strawberries and cream you’ll ever get.  You make a chocolate goblet, then fill it with a custard, strawberries you’ve macerated with sugar and booze, and then top with whipped cream.  Custard’s easy, and I took care of it in the morning before going anywhere.

The original recipe had a yield of 16 servings, and required 16 eggs for the custard.  I only needed three servings, and had three eggs in the fridge.  So I decided to make a 1/5 recipe.


The best part of shrinking the recipe down was that I could do it all in a glass measuring cup, which made the logistics much, much easier than they would have been otherwise.

Beat the eggs, add cream and sugar and zest, just making a custard ma’am, move along.


Here comes the part where I got clever.  Rather than fill ramekins that weren’t quite the right size or shape with the custard for baking, I decided to use a cupcake pan that wasn’t quite the right size or shape.  That meant I could use a cookie sheet for the water bath and that this was generally a lot simpler than custards frequently are.  Also, pour spout on the measuring cup!


Next up was making the chocolate goblets.  This is the first doing froofy candy-style things with chocolate I’ve ever done.  Going in, there were a few things I knew, even before the cookbook told me:

1) You must use tempered chocolate

2) You cannot temper chocolate chips

Remember what I said about being short on time and not having time to go to the grocery store?  Yeah, all I had were chocolate chips.  But, since I knew they wouldn’t temper properly, I decided to skip that step.  It’s not like processes like this become standard practice because they accomplish anything, right?

Here’s something cool: You make the goblets by covering balloons in chocolate, letting it set up, then deflating the balloons. 


My first clue that maybe this wasn’t going to work came quickly: the chocolate didn’t really coat the balloons when I dipped them.  This led to finger painting with chocolate, certain the whole time that I was going to have to run downstairs to distribute candy at any moment.  Nevertheless, the finger painting was fun.


The balloons were the wrong size and shape, so these were destine to be more bowl than goblet, but I was ok with that.  Then I stuck them in the fridge to set up, and swapped texts with the impending house guest to make sure we’d have strawberries and cream for the rest of the dessert.

When you read about tempering chocolate, most explanations say it does things like “gives the chocolate a pleasant bite,” and “pleasing gloss.”  What they mean is that it makes the chocolate firm enough to support itself when shaped.  Unlike my chocolate-chip goblets.


Did I let that stop me?  Er, no.  If you looked at them really hard, you could tell they they might once have been something that looked a bit like a bowl.  That was good enough for me. 


I soaked the strawberries in simple syrup spiked with blueberry vodka.  I spiked the whipped cream with the blueberry vodka, too.  And then it was time for assembly.


The cupcake pan did not lead to pretty custards, but since their purpose is to hide in the bottom of a bowl and get smothered by strawberries, I wasn’t all that worried about them being pretty.  Then again, since the bowl wasn’t really a bowl, they were more visible than intended.


This was not nearly as pretentiously pretty as intended in the final reckoning, but it was quite tasty.  I’d definitely take a crack at it again, if only to try getting the goblets right.


Not so Individual Croquembouche

You’ll recall that one of the dishes I served at the Halloween party was pear tartlets.  The other recipe I broke out from the Professional Pastry Chef was for what the recipe called “Individual Croquembouche.”  Since the Halloween party spread is buffet style, this recipe was getting heavily modded right from the start.  And since I had a fridge full of partial desserts and an awareness that things always run behind, I went ahead and modded it further.  The original intent is to stack puffs of pate a choux filled with pastry cream in a pyramid with whipped cream, and then drizzle them with raspberry sauce.  I decided to fill them with the left over lemon curd and use the melba sauce that gave me such grief with the froofy rice pudding.


The first step was to actually make the puffs.  I had pate a chox left over from the July 4th eclairs, so I just tossed that into a pastry bag, let it thaw out (it was frozen) and then re-piped it into puffs.  Then they get tossed into the oven and baked.


The next bit was fun, though something I’d rather do in front of the TV than in a rush on the day of.  Take a skewer and poke a hole in your freshly baked puffs.  Then pipe your filling into the hole.  The lemon curd gave me a bit of flack on this step, but I prevailed.  And my hands tasted of lemon-y goodness when I was done.


I had originally intended to make one giant pyramid of the croquembouche and let people pull that apart.  On reflection, that was a really bad idea, but one I didn’t inflict on anybody since the leftover pate a choux didn’t make enough for a sizable pyramid.  I wound up displaying them on a cake plate instead.


These turned out tasty, though I needed to fill them better than I did – it was very inconsistent whether there was enough lemon curd in the pastry for it to be noticeable.  I’d never go to all this effort for individual servings, despite what the cookbook expects, but it worked quite well for a buffet spread.  And, it got lots of leftovers out of my fridge and freezer.  Yay!

Confession: I have a tart problem

Don’t judge me.  Tarts are tasty.  Also, before you look at the nummy photos, go answer yesterday’s market research question, please. My annual Halloween party happened last weekend.  Every year I decorate the house, cook a ton of food, and write up a customized murder mystery from scratch.  Every year I insist, “This is the year the party will be done on time and I’m in costume before the guests show up.” One of these years I won’t be delusional.  This year was not the year.  I blame the cold that crawled into my brain and ate it. Anyway, clearly the delicate and complicated logistical monstrosity that is the annual Halloween bash could only benefit from having half of the recipes come out of The Professional Pastry Chef.  After all, what’s Halloween if not a holiday that’s all about embracing horror, in all its forms?  So I went for it.  This was not nearly the disaster it should have been. Individual pear tarts looked awesome, so I went ahead and made those.  These tarts had yet another kind of shell, this time made out of puff pastry.  I’d never made puff pastry before, so that was going to be exciting.  Especially once I looked at the recipe and realized it works more or less the same way the danishes did.  This time, though, the instructions were more detailed, which was awesome. The butter block for this one involved beating butter with some flour and lemon juice and then shaping the softened butter into a block.  This is way, way better than what I tried to do with the butter block for the danishes.   I just had to turn that into this:   The next part was to mix up the dough, which would need to hang out in the fridge for half an hour before getting merged with the butter block.  The cookbook was full of specific instructions about how the butter block had to be of this exact consistency, and how I needed to time making the dough so that it finished resting just as the butter block chilled to the right point.  I stared at it for a bit, clueless about how on earth to do the timing.  How long will it take a block of butter, in my fridge, to hit this perfect stag?  I have no idea!  So I decided that it was probably the time it takes me to make dough, plus half an hour, and that I’d fake it from there if this was wrong.   Maybe it’s the season, but the dough, when I had it ready to rest, looked vaguely like a brain to me.  Am I crazy?  Well, yes, but I don’t think that makes me wrong. Here comes the fun part.  Roll out the dough, put a block of butter on top if it, and then force them into an arranged marriage of flaky awesome.   You’ll note my handy dandy tape measure was very present for this process.  It’s because I can’t judge distance by eye to save my life and any time this cookbook is willing to give me exact measurements for anything, I am so very going to obey it.   From there it was giving the dough turns, which meant folding it over and rolling it out, then putting it in the fridge to rest for a bit before doing it again.  This makes sure there are lots of layers of butter and dough, which is what makes the pastry flaky.  This was also pretty fun.  I could tell it was working this time, and I was brain dead, so doing something productive and simple was really pleasant.  Play with dough, cram some fresh Spanish vocab into my dead brain, play with dough.  Not a bad way to spend an evening.   I declare this the puff pastry of the gods. The recipe also required me to make pastry cream.  I didn’t bother taking pictures for that since I’d made it and documented it before.  This time it came out perfectly smooth and just as tasty, so that was nice. The final do-ahead step was to poach pears for the tarts.  This is where I ignored the recipe a bit – I used a poaching syrup more like what I usually do rather than the one in the book.  I didn’t see any reason to replicate what I found to be bland and unappealing just a week before.  Besides, it made the house smell like cinnamon for two days.   Day of, things got rather, uhm, hectic.  The correct term might be “criminally disorganized.”  I wound up actually putting guests to work when they had the gall to show up on time.  I’d be eternally humiliated, but given that I spent the weekend after the party on my couch and sucking down drugs until I was a jittery mess (cold medicine and I are not good friends) I think handing off the final food prep was probably the responsible decision.  At any rate, symmetry was not a high priority when it came time to assemble the tarts, so I just chopped up the puff pastry however was convenient and rolled with it.  We’ll call this presentation aesthetic “rustic.”


Top the pastry cream with pear halves, put tray into oven, and viola, tarts!


Served with caramel sauce.  These were a big hit, and justifiably.  The puff pastry baked up beautifully, and the pears worked really well with the pastry cream and the caramel sauce.  This I would definitely do again, which has been the trend for the tart recipes from this book.  Yummy.

They Offered Helen, I opted for Clytemnestra

You’ll note there was no blogging about the rest of the September meringue recipes.  This is not because I’m behind on blogging, but because after carefully combing through every recipe in that chapter, I was so overcome with meh I decided to skip the rest of the month.  They didn’t look particularly tasty, they didn’t look particularly fun, and they didn’t look challenging enough that I’d get interesting disaster stories to blog about.   Also, the weather was nice, so spent my cooking time on biking everywhere.  (Did you know that I can bike all the way to Jade Mountain in less than an hour, even if I’m being slow and taking my time?  I didn’t, either) October’s looking better.  It’s the “Desserts for plated presentations” chapter.  I put this one in October because it’s when I throw my Halloween party.  That was stupid thinking, since the food at the party is buffet style but I’m coping.  Which brings us to our first October recipe, Pears Hellene.  This is after Helen of Troy, via an opera popular at the time, or so says the fun text before the recipe.  This is basically a poached pear on top of ice cream on top of sponge cake.  I’ve made all of these things, just never put them all together before.  So, naturally, I decided to spice up the adventure by giving myself 2.5 hours to get the dessert put together, plus do all my post-Open House follow up thingies, and all of my pre-Crit-group house cleaning.  This was rendered not totally insane by cutting corners and buying ice cream instead of making it from scratch. The recipe gave off the distinct impression of feeling that I should have sponge cake just lying around.  Clearly the Professional Pastry Chef does not live in my house.  Sponge cake does not just lie around.

We’ve been over sponge cake here before.  This is the “beat eggs over hot water” phase.  It’s followed by the “beat until not hot anymore” phase.


Lookit!  Cake batter!  Yeah, okay, not the most exciting thing in the world at this stage.  The “not enough batter to actually fill out the cake pan” part was pretty exciting, though.

All told, this wasn’t too bad, except that this gave me almost exactly enough sponge cake for the rest of what I did, except I halved  the number of pears.  If I’d gone for the full recipe, I’d have been short on sponge cake, even absurdly thin sponge cake.  Truly, this cook book went through major kitchen testing before getting published.  Not.


I picked up a pretentious cookbook several years ago looking for recipes I could use to show off.  This is where I first encountered the concept of poached pears, and I’ve become quite fond of them as a consequence.  So when the Professional Pastry Chef gave me helpful instructions of the, “Boil for five minutes, then simmer until done,” I broke out that other book to see if I had time to clean things.  I did.  It’s as if that other cook book is useful.


One thing the Professional Pastry chef adds which my pretentious cookbook did not include is slicing open the bottoms of the bears to remove the cores.  I got way better at this with practice (you’ll note the torn pear on the left as an early attempt).  If you’re doing this, do make sure to cut the pears far enough to get good access to the core, while still keeping the necks in tack.  Cutting too shallowly leads to ripping off chunks of pear while digging through its innards.

Assembly was pretty fun.  Put a little round of sponge cake on the plate, then drop some ice cream onto it.  Then, top it off with a pear,

Slap a pear on top, and viola, the plate that launched a thousand ships.  Or something.

This was nice, and if I’d bothered to be thorough in my skinning of the pears would have been sufficiently pretentious for when I want to show off.  But I like the results from the poaching syrup my other cookbook uses better.  The sponge cake didn’t add much more than something to keep the icecream from getting messy, and the vanilla ice cream was a bit plain as a thing to go with this.  I’m wondering whether a brownie might not work better as a base.

Since I could only fit six of the eight pears into my pot, I went ahead and served the remaining two pears as dessert for Tuesday’s dinner.  This time, though, I warmed up some ganache I just happened to have in my fridge and drizzled that over the final product.  It was a huge improvement.  I call my creation Pears Clytemnestra.  Because she was cooler than Helen, and that’s how my kitchen rolls.



Return of Revenge of the Bride of the Tartlets III

It’s possible I have a thing for tarts.  Who would have guessed?

September brings Autumn, which means cooler weather, drier air, and the first reasonable month since winter for the chapter on meringue.  As usual, the beginning of the chapter is chock full of interesting information about the theme, including the differences between different kinds of meringue and a handy chart of sugar-egg-white ratios.  These are the only worthwhile parts of the Professional Pastry chef, so reading through it is, literally, the highlight of the project for me.

My original intention was to bake Alaska, but then I, er, was busy when I should have been doing some of the leg work to prepare.  (Taking days off once in a while seems to result in a disproportionately large loss in overall productivity.  I think I need to explore this phenomena more extensively through scientific replication)  So I made the decision to switch over to the tartlet recipe because, hey, tartlets.  Mmmmmm.


The first step here was to make a meringue that would be turned into the tart shells.  Look at those glossy, stiff peaks.  Sweet.  No, really, they’ve been sweetened.

Next was piping the meringue into the shells.  I learned from the last time I tried to follow the piping instructions out of this cooking, went for a largeish tip, and was pleased with my results.  My shells were pretty, and the weirdness had more to do with my lack of technical finesse than tip fail.  Someday, circles won’t be so hard.  But first, I think I’ll have to conquer straight lines.


While those baked (and let me tell you, my entire oven was full of meringue) I whipped together lemon curd for the filling.  This is yet anther handy pastry filler thing which have more or less been fairly successful from this book.  This recipe called for the juice from and zest of eight lemons.  That’s a lot of squeezing and zesting.  I’m lazy.  I zested maybe three of the lemons and decided that would have to do.


Lots of things get thrown into a pot and stirred until we get thickening and boiling and other cooking magic.  There’s a point where Sylvie looks over and says, “You threw everything in at once?  That’s not how it’s done.”  Then she looked it up online.  Apparently there are multiple schools of lemon curd, which disagreements about technique.  They center mostly on the correct time to add the butter, and whether one should invoke the elder gods before, or after commencing to stir against the grain of unnatural angles.  The all-at-once technique is simpler and faster.  The other one increases the odds of having your mind destroyed by ancient creatures from space.

Speaking of mind destruction, this was another recipe requiring use of the sieve.  I quailed.  I cowered.  I persisted.


It turned out fine.


These were mega tasty, and not all that hard to do.  The longest step was definitely piping the shells, but they turned out pretty enough to justify the effort.  What they weren’t was durable.  Prepping these tarts ahead of time for serving an hour later was a disastrously bad idea, because the lemon curd soaked through the meringue and made transfer impossible.  Also, meringue doesn’t exactly last super well.  Lemon curd I will definitely make again, and it goes fabulously with blackberries.  In future, I’d only do meringue shells if I was doing something where assembling them as I was serving would be fine, and I wanted to show off.  I’m not sure when those two circumstances would ever show up together.  I suspect short dough crusts are where it’s at.