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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tasting Restraint

Inside artistry there is craftmanship, inside the end, a beginning.

I enjoy the kind of happy ending where occasional personal restraint pays off in some unexpected and beneficial way. In the extreme, I think restraint is called denial. I’m not a proponent of denial.

In fact,  there are some categories of purchases that are exempt from restraint in my book. Shoes. I love a great pair of shoes. Like my courageous purchase of those little red patent Stuart Weitzman flats. Strangers (men, mostly) continue to compliment me on them. Make no mistake, these are not the Ruby Slippers, although in wearing them I know how [G]Linda, the Good Witch, must have felt in dreamily waving that magic wand. I call them my Ferrari’s. Capiche?

Restraint seemed prudent a year ago at a Retail Confectioners International (RCI) conference on what I would call a capital purchase for Essential Confection, my new confection business.

Nine hundred dollars is enough money to get my attention. A piece of equipment that would literally cut my caramel production time by fifty percent called my name.  The roller-cutter.  A pseudo-rolling pin with large wheels of customized size designed to cut pastry. Rollers… the highway to heaven.

Nine hundred dollars was a tough pill to swallow for a new business-hopeful and yet, I saw the payback in increased efficiency and standardization of product.  I didn’t act.  Restraint.

Fast forward to today. I have the great good fortune to have the input of the world’s top pastry chefs (largely through my willingness to purchase their books) and in perusing Thomas Keller’s Bouchon there was answered prayer. The bicycle.

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A bicycle is this adolescent version of its $900 big sister.  At one-tenth the price. Each of the five wheels can be adjusted to a cutting width of between a half-inch and five inches. Designed to cut pastry, I wrung my hands in the hope that it would be substantial enough to cut caramels, took a deep breath and immediately ordered one.

This is the happy ending part. Or, perhaps, I should call it a happy beginning because, yes, it’s officially a caramel cutter. A really well engineered piece of equipment. Gliding strokes resulting in gloriously plumb pieces, made no less handmade or succulent in their uniformity.

Beauty on the eye, delight on the tongue.

On Preference

A weightless voice hung in the room, roundly sweet in its silence…

Perhaps a consequence of having an interest in all things and being master of few, I recognized some years ago that I prefer to support what people do well and can’t seem to make time to critique that which falls short.

In the culinary blogosphere, authors’ interests attract me in different ways. Here’s a smidge of my go-to reads:

  • Language and imagery flourish on Hortus Cuisine. The author’s focus is simple, regional eating, the ingredients of which arise from a small farm between the Marche and Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy. Luscious photography.
  • Princess Tofu imbibes a lightness of humor with a love of tea in San Francisco’s minimalistic Meccas. It’s easy to sip with her at Samovar while musing over the site’s poetic intros.
  • The Pastry Department takes a pen and ink approach to professional pastry, the author the pastry chef at Chicago’s Blackbird and Avec restaurants. Yarns of story-telling infused with courage that an aspiring pastry cook may lean on in the hope of a future’s promise.
  • Dessert First, a self-proclaimed San Francisco pastry girl, casted about with its Roasted Fig Gelato with Balsamic Caramel recipe and reeled me in. Casual reading, a visual pleasure and fully fueled pastry creativity.

This is my short list. I follow others for geographic or specific content reasons, or just for the sheer pleasure of reading the posts.

Noticing others’ design ethics and writing styles also helps me to refine my aesthetic voice.

The weightless voice that hangs in the room…

 

There is Definitely a Candy Goddess

I wish to taste the sweetness of life; I wish to have the sugar speak for me…

No historical recipe interests and challenges me more than Cream Candy.

In a previous post I alluded to its lure: provocative in texture with a fineness of interior.  What went unsaid is the utter madness I feel in trying to perfect it… hell, in just trying to execute it… without failure.

Not every failed recipe attempt is my fault, though it feels like it’s my fault. The cream candy recipe I first came in contact with was completely non-standardized. Three ingredients cooked to some nameless temperature, the successful texture of which could only be vaguely described as a blob sinking or swimming in a cup of cold water with some sort of visual appropriateness. No blame on my shoulders here; old recipes had no standardization, and I knew that going in.

It gets so much worse. When I then have the courage to pour the nameless, formless, colorless mass out onto a marble slab or a frozen sheet pan (did I mention without touching or stirring), I stare at it in guarded horror as if it might either take wing or eat a hole through the table. That’s because I know what’s next.

The candy-in-waiting must be pulled and pulled until one moment before my arms fall off. Preferably in cold weather. With zero humidity in the atmosphere. In Portland. There is definitely a Candy Goddess, and she’s laughing her ass off.

At this stage, one of two things happens. Either the pulled candy mixture seizes without the slightest warning which is my most common outcome, or it doesn’t which means I still have at least one more chance to ruin it.  In the confectioner’s playbook, I’m supposed to pull it into strings of similar circumference, then cut it into bite-sized pieces to “cream” overnight. Only once have I gotten that far. It was the time I had first degree burns on my fingertips from picking the hot mixture up too soon, so I was salving my fingers as I congratulated myself.

If the end product weren’t so damned good, so exceptional, so unlike anything else in the marketplace, I’d have long ago dropped it like a prom dress.

Anyway, simplicity does not equal success. Effort does not equal success.  I’ve also noticed that whining and swearing have not yet equaled success.

So, this is a great little recipe to chronicle. I can promise you (and myself) a roller coaster ride, but I’m determined to be crowned Cream Candy Lady. I guess aloe vera can be considered a business expense.

I wish to have the sugar speak for me…

Confection Contemplation

Mt Hood on the horizon wasn’t enough.  I demanded the moon be its companion of scale…

In creating the voice for this new blog, I first needed to convince myself the effort was necessary.  Creating the voice?  Blogging is conversation, yes?  How else would one be conversant if not with her own voice?

Ah, but what about tone, delivery, personality and humor? And how does each of these qualities impact the conversation with one’s chosen audience?

I truly don’t want to over-think this and, in fact I’m not certain I want to think about it at all.  But there is a driver here.  An important opportunity at the beginning of a project to create it in as much detail as I wish.

What else would I wish for?  Poetry.  As either a complement or a contrast to the content of the post .  Or perhaps with no relevance to the post whatsoever.  Weaving a line of story-telling into the growth of a professional skill set.   After all, it’s not an academic blog.  More creative form.  More ease in the writing. 

Well, now that was worthwhile, wasn’t it?

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What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us. –Gaston Bachelard

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