Thank You for Wearing My Dress

Caramelized sugar wafting through the air, a melody simply written…

In reading the Dec issue of Vogue I was struck by the simple homage Anna Wintour paid to the life of Oscar de la Renta who died this fall after an illustrious 50+year design career.

What most impressed me was the gracious form Mr. de la Renta always used in thanking the very fortunate people to wear his elegant clothing. He always said, “Thank you for wearing my dress.”

Grace as an aspect of business feels rare to me, and I believe it should be more common. After all, each purchase a customer or client or guest makes implicitly conveys a measure of trust in the service or product of the business person. Reason enough to be thankful and to say so.

The simple act of doing well what one loves doing and then being gracious enough to thank the person receiving it speaks to an internal and self-sustained honor.

These recent weeks in the kitchen at OCI have been full to the brim of hard and tiring work. New skills sets, new energies, new creations. The work could also be described as joyful.

Pastry cream fruit tarts, berry and fruit pies, Frangipane tarts, cannoli, brownies, baguette, butter braids, corn muffins, hazelnut biscotti, lemon pound cake, bagels, pretzels, pizza, beignets, chocolate cookies, coconut macaroons, crepes, cream pies, focaccia, caramel nut tarts, artisan breads, quiche, shortbread and strudel.

It all came home, and I realized quickly that there was an opportunity to share the joy I experienced in creating it. So, pies went to the staff of Neighborhood House in Multnomah Village and tarts went to the staff of a senior living center and to the baristas at my local Starbucks. Treats of every variety went to my son in Montana.

IMG_6215

The pleasure in giving is made all the more concrete by thanking the person to whom the gift is given.

“Thank you for wearing my dress.” That’s a legacy I’d like to honor in this and every season.

The Sophistication of Goo

 A dispassionate tear of glucose, the refugee of macaroon mischief…

Six months of management classes at the Oregon Culinary Institute are successfully completed at a GPA I must admit I’m pretty happy with. I have a set of core business courses under my belt that will serve Essential Confection well.

The hammer is down. I’m now immersed in what I came here for, management classes notwithstanding. Baking and pastry, the creative love of my life for more than 40 years, is under way. Immersion, indeed.

Two to three recipes per day, ingredients scaled a day ahead. I’ve elected to come in an hour early each day to work ahead.

Macaroons, a super-slight crunch sheltering the sweet succulence of coconut. The texture of a great macaroon is a viscid al dente goo offset by the shimmer of a crunch.

Macaroons have an elegance undoubtedly arising from their French, Italian and Belgian origins where ground almonds were, and are, commonly used in place of coconut.

Instead of glucose, heavy, dense and very tacky, our formula called for corn syrup which has glucose as an ingredient but is lighter and a bit easier to handle. A simple recipe and technique that yields a brilliant result.

IMG_6201

Coconut Macaroons

6 oz sugar

6 oz macaroon coconut

1 oz corn syrup

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp pastry flour

1 pinch salt

3 egg whites (1 oz per egg white)

Combine all ingredients and warm over simmering water to 120 degrees F. Allow mixture to cool. Stir before use. Scoop portions onto parchment-lined sheet pans. Bake for 12 min at 350 degrees F. Piping the dough into beautiful little pointed stacks is an option.

Opera to Aria, the Sweet Song of Cream

A constellation of cocoa, a meteoric flash of vanilla…

The Candy Book, referenced in a previous post, holds several of the confection  secrets I’m interested in unlocking. As for the book itself, the binding’s a bit tattered, and the fragile pages  are supple and soft from many years of wear.  I love scouting out the old and imagining it in the present, in books and in confection.

I can’t remember the first time I had Putnam’s Opera Creams as a child in Cincinnati; however, the luscious texture of the silky vanilla cream center as it oozed out against the bite, juxtaposed with its dark chocolate exterior has lingered indelibly in my memory as a seductive pleasure. I can still see the shimmery silver box.

Simple ingredients in alchemy. Sugar, cream, glucose, vanilla extract. What will they bring? I decided not to commit chocolate to the process until I knew the center was stable.

At least the recipe was standardized, the mixture cooked to 240 degrees. Vigorous beating and kneading alternated with active waiting and watching. The cooked mixture rolled successfully on a confectioner’s-covered surface. It scored. We, the opera cream and I, waited the requisite 24 hours for it to set.

IMG_6172

Enter the worst knife skill I’ve exercised in 30 years. Certain the proclivity for safety in knife handling was long ago put in place, I
IMG_6167took my eye off the ball [blade]. In trimming the scored mixture, I did the unthinkable… I motioned the knife toward me instead of away.

I had just had my knives professionally sharpened. The result was a slice (not an edge tap of the blade) out of the little figure on my left hand, which bled profusely.

The balance of the evening was spent in the ER. Three stitches. Big lesson.

So… the opera cream. Not quite as gooey as the opera cream of my youth, but equally tender and delicious. I believe the intention of the recipe was for the product to be cut and served individually. What I made makes a great center, but its delicate texture as a stand-alone confection is still a question mark.

An education on all fronts.

The Plum of My Eye

Glorious fall fruit soldiers, attendant of the inalterably communal market…

Like a middle-aged adult, my fall market bag has steadily gained weight through spring and summer. Bags of Crimson Red potatoes tasting of chestnut, huge celeriac and fennel bulbs, enormous Italian kale and the perkiest, most vivid Dancing Chicken eggs, their color and firmness a result of the chickens foraging for food.

Among the fall bounty are plums… an amazing variety in size, shape and color. I love the education the market brings, and this weekend the teaching was from one of my favorite market vendors on type and growth and taste. Taste before you purchase, he says…

I had more of a rustic, free-form tart in mind when I left market, then one of Joel Robuchon’s recipes caught my eye. Pate brisee with a pastry cream of ground almonds, butter, sugar and egg. I used three types of plums: German/Croatian, Coe’s Golden and little orbed Mirabelle. The Jupiter celebate grapes were so sweet I couldn’t resist adding them.

I also noticed a suggestion in Wayne Gisslen’s Professional Baking that made sense. Gisslen suggested sprinkling a thin layer of cake crumbs, cookie crumbs or bread crumbs in the unbaked shell before adding the filling and fruit. The benefit is absorption of the inevitable juices produced by seasonal fruit such as plums, apricots, cherries or peaches. I had two great slices of cinnamon-raisin bread that I toasted and ground. The cinnamon in the bread and the touch I added in the crust were a nice complement to the plums.

This is simple luxury, a seductive pleasure.

IMG_6123

IMG_6127

IMG_6129

If you have wonderful plums in your local market, I encourage you. Their flavor is brought fully forward in this recipe. Whipped cream would be an intoxicant but, what the hell…

Fresh Plum Tart with Fragrant Almond Cream

(from Simply French, Patricia Wells presents the cuisine of Joel Robuchon)  [my editing in brackets]

Almond Cream

Scant 1/2 C whole blanched almonds

4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

1/3 C granulated sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 large egg white, at room temperature

One 9″ partially baked puff pastry, shortbread pastry, or sweet pastry shell

About 20 purple plums (1-3/4 pounds), cut in half, seeded

[If you’re adding small, purple grapes with tiny seeds, they need not be seeded.]

Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

[Whipped cream, optional]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare the almond cream: In a food processor, process the almonds to a fine powder. Add the butter and sugar, and process until blended. Add the egg and egg white, and process until blended. [Note: I used an 11″ tart pan; it required  a second recipe of almond cream.]

[Sprinkle the layer of crumbs in the partially baked shell at this point.] Pour the almond cream into the prepared shell. Arrange the fruit, cut side up, on top of the cream.

Place the tart in the center of the oven, and bake until the almond cream is golden brown and mounds up around the fruit, about 30 minutes.

Transfer to a rack to cool. When cool, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serve at room temperature.

A Bite of Gingerbread and a Cup of Tea, Please

In cake,  I am aloft of make-believe wings…

A surprising interest in writing poetry six-plus decades into life is pulling the thread of the fabric I could previously identify with. I find a book of poetry in my hand in most spare moments of the day, so I guess new fabric is being woven.

At the library yesterday and at the recommendation of my writing instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute (OCI), I requested a book of poetry that was a Pulitzer Prize winner in the early 1990s. Also at the reco of an OCI chef-instructor, I thought I might pick up a copy of MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating, published long ago but never having made its way to my reading table.

I’m  now waiting for a copy of The Wild Iris which is on hold.  In the stacks I noticed a 634-page volume of the author’s, Louise Gluck, works that I thought I might read in the meantime.  Being a good steward of time, I looked for Fisher’s book, as well.

I could only laugh: 749 pages. This, with a term of Advanced Restaurant Marketing, creating a full operating plan for Essential Confection, three upcoming EC jobs, a second OCI class, two food blogs, work,  and a stack of other books of interest.

So, what of all this? Well, Mary Frances offered me her mother’s gingerbread recipe; she called it  “the best recipe for gingerbread ever devised.”

Now, any pastry or confection recipe of quality that has the potential for greatness is a recipe whose lure I accept. Let’s give it whirl.

IMG_6116

Edith’s Gingerbread has a very light crumb and beautifully moist texture.  It would be irresistible without any other accompaniment but lovely sips of tea.

Naturally, I used butter instead of shortening and triple sifted the dry ingredients to ensure even distribution of spices and leavening. I also used the Cuisinart for the entire preparation which expedited the process.

MFK said the gingerbread is fabulous cold, and my guess is that it will do for a great up coffee what it did for a great cup of tea. Tomorrow morning will tell.

Lovely, light, luscious.

Edith’s Gingerbread, as written in The Art of Eating

[my remarks, bracketed]

1/4 C shortening [butter]

1/4 C sugar

1/2 C molasses

1/2 tsp soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

cloves and salt [approximately four cloves, ground, or to taste]

3/4 C boiling water

1/4 tsp soda

1-1/4 C flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 beaten egg

Cream the shortening and sugar. Sift the spices and flour and baking powder together. Beat the 1/2 tsp soda into the molasses until it is light and fluffy, and add to the shortening and sugar. Add the 1/4 tsp soda to the boiling water, and then add it alternately with the sifted dry ingredients. Fold in the beaten egg when all is well mixed, pour into a greased and floured pan, and bake about 20 min at 325 degrees F. This mixture will seem much too think to make a cake, but do not increase the quantity of flour, as many doubting cooks have tried to do.

MFK’s serving suggestions were with either a hard sauce or a wine sauce (using sherry).

Relish the Entire Experience

A grassy nose with light citrus in the bite, sweet fruit kissing the burnished fall leaf…

This is not a description of wine.

It’s lovely to realize that a fruit can can be so deeply dimensioned as to evoke gentleness in the nose and nuanced levels of flavors in the bite. The discovery of this particular apple and the conversation with the grower surrounding the discovery was another reminder to relish the entire experience of the food. The quality of the Cox Orange Pippin apple I mentioned in a recent post proved to be well founded.  It’s a wonderful little apple.

I chose to modify a tart recipe I thought would best showcase and complement the distinct flavor of the apples. A delicate brown butter custard steeped with vanilla bean, originally published in Bon Appetit. Instead of the recipe pastry which required an overnight chill, I used a pate brisee recipe with a bit of sugar and cinnamon, so the pastry recipe is not included in this post. Also, the Pippin apple is small in size. I’d have increased the quantity of apples in the recipe, had I it to do over again.

IMG_6095

Overall, the recipe is worth editing for, perhaps, a more tart apple; however, this Pippin apple needs a sublimely simple recipe where nothing but the apple shines.

The tart must be served at room temperature or, preferably, warm from the oven, and softly whipped cream is a definite asset.

Brown Butter Apple Tart (from Bon Appetit)

4 large eggs

1 C sugar

1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/2 C all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

3 firm, tart apples (such as Pink Lad or Braeburn) peeled, cored, cut crosswise into 1/4″ ring

Whipped cream

Pre-bake the pate brisee in an 11 tart pan with removable bottom. Set aside.

Whisk eggs and sugar in a medium bowl just to blend. Place butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Cook, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns, about 5 min. Do not allow butter solids to burn. Let cool for 10 minutes; remove bean.  Slowly whisk brown butter into mixture; whisk in flour and salt.

Line tart shell with apples. Pour filling over. Bake until apples are deep golden brown and filling is puffed, cracked and set in center, 70-80 min.

Let tart cool in pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

 

 

 

 

A Most Proper English Guest

Orange flush of fruit, aromatic of pear or melon, alive in maritime, ye apple of my eye…

The fleeting ripeness of fruit at this time of the year feels like an undertow… subtly, yet unmistakably, at work in my subconscious. What brought it to the surface this weekend was one of the Hillsdale market vendors from Stephens Farm in Grand Island holding forth on his seemingly countless and somewhat odd-looking varieties of pears, strawberries, peaches and blueberries whose availability, I was told, could now be counted in days, not weeks.

These fruits have a subtle intoxication in appearance, a curious lure that casts a line into my insecurity.  I notice in myself a tendency to be attracted to that which I know and would like to know more about instead of automatically seeking the unknown. Not fond of writing that, but there it is.

When you’re selling things, salesmanship is in order. The farmer’s subtlety ended but his point was reinforced as he continuously handed me slices of pears, plums and apples, and one was more intriguing and delicious than another. Amazing layers of sweetness. The table grapes, some with tiny seeds, some seedless, were nectar.

One of the great things about the markets is that you never know where the experience will take you. And being pushed gently but steadily away from my storied comfort zone was another benefit.

IMG_6084

I’m told the apples I bought, Cox’s Orange Pippin, first grown in England in 1825, will elevate whatever I decide to make to an art form. So I’m now on the hunt for a venue that will perfectly showcase what, in a good year, could be the benchmark for flavor in apples. Brown Butter Apple Tart? Apple Tart with Caramel Sauce? Apple Frangipane Tart? The results in an upcoming post.

Here’s to pastry as art.

The Perennial Plate

In Search of the Pure Present & Past of Pastry

Hortus Natural Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

Italian Food from the Countryside & the City

Flourishing Foodie

In Search of the Pure Present & Past of Pastry

my darling lemon thyme

In Search of the Pure Present & Past of Pastry

whats cooking good looking

In Search of the Pure Present & Past of Pastry

The Year In Food

In Search of the Pure Present & Past of Pastry

David Lebovitz

Paris based chef baking and writing cookbooks

Love and Lemons

In Search of the Pure Present & Past of Pastry

Princess Tofu

Just another WordPress.com site