Back, but…

…settling in again is about as time consuming as vacationing. I returned yesterday to 134 questions in my in-box, many of them true head scratchers requiring detailed replies. I’m about half way through…then there’s my regular mortgage- and tuition-paying job to catch up on. Such an inconvenience! I’ll do my best to get my puddings made in the next day or so. If I’m not back in earnest before the weekend try not to hold it against me!

Filed under:  Pastry | Leave a comment

Farewell to the Final Ramone

By 1975, rock music had become a parody of itself. The Beatles were split up, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison were dead. A lot of the great bands from the 60′s were still playing (The Who, the Stones, The Band and the Grateful Dead spring to mind) but most of the vitality was gone from the form. Popular culture had moved on to disco and lite rock acts like Seals & Crofts and England Dan & John Ford Coley. Little kids like my sister and me were listening to the Partridge Family, the Bay City Rollers, Wings and Leif Garrett. Concert goers were thrilling to the theatrics of KISS. Intellectual types were swooning to pompous art rock bands like Spirit, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Some of it was fun, a little of it was artistic, none of it was rock n’ roll. …

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 9 Comments

Pre- and Proto-Puddings II: The Rise of “White” Puddings

One thing pretty much everyone agreed upon back in the early days of puddings was that they were a very good idea. Organs, blood and grain all stuffed into a bladder and boiled? What’s not to love? Yet the big problem for pudding lovers of the period was that puddings were prisoners of seasonality. I mean let’s face it, the average person didn’t have fresh blood, guts and bladders lying around everywhere all the time. On the farm animals were only slaughtered in cool weather to prevent spoilage (refrigerators being in very short supply in the first few millennia before Christ). Thus at the dawn of the Age of Pudding, it would have only been a once-in-a-while treat….

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 8 Comments

Pre- and Proto-Puddings

The word “pudding”, it’s thought, comes down to us from the Latin word botellus which basically means “sausage.” Boudin is how the word occurs now in French. Pudim is the Portuguese version, pudín the Spanish. Sounding a little familiar now? Thought so. But did spotted dick and sticky toffee pudding really start out as sausage? Yes. Sort of. Here it helps to take a brief — and very general — look at early days of sausage making. …

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 6 Comments

What’s the difference between toffee and caramel?

Excellent question, reader Josh! Toffee sauce is similar to caramel sauce in the sense that it’s made from sugar, butter and/or cream, the main difference is the degree to which it’s cooked. Toffee is only cooked to the point that the sugar in it melts, at which point it becomes usable. Caramel is cooked well beyond the melting stage, through all the various candy phases until the sugar molecules themselves start to break into pieces. It’s those pieces that give caramel its rich flavors and amber-brown color, since some of the chemical whatsits in the mix are actually pigments. Toffee…

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 8 Comments

Pastry Cream Conundrum

Reader Helen writes with a very interesting problem:

I’ve had a pastry cream disaster that remains a mystery to me. I’ve been making it with no problems for a long time. Just made 4 batches 2 weeks ago. Today, I tried it 3 times and every time it curdled as soon as it came to a simmer. I’ve never had this problem before and usually simmer it for 1-2 minutes to make sure to kill the enzyme in the yolks that thins out the starch as the cream sits. The only thing I did differently today was use all new ingredients (milk, cream, and eggs). I tasted milk and cream and they didn’t taste spoiled. I noticed that my corn starch expired 2 years ago, but it worked fine 2 weeks ago, so I can’t imagine it went bad all of a sudden. Here is my recipe and procedure:…

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 4 Comments

Sticky Toffee Pudding Recipe

I don’t often do “plated” desserts, so this will be fun. It’s kind of fun to play with sauces and squeeze bottles every so often, no? This recipe is adapted from Delia Smith’s Christmas, but why not serve it in July? I can’t think of a reason!

For the pudding

2 cups chopped pitted dates
3/4 boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter
4.5 ounces (2/3 cup) sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
6.25 ounces (1 1/4 cups) flour, sifted
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 10 Comments

Next Up: Sticky Toffee Pudding

I do love a good British pudding, and if I can serve it with two sauces, so much the better. Like strawberries Romanoff this is a classic that rarely sees the light of day nowadays. It’s time to turn things around.

Filed under:  Pastry | 11 Comments

Making Strawberries Romanoff

Should, upon placing an elegant little bowl like this in front of your dinner guest, he reply “I don’t like strawberries and cream” you shall grasp the nearest available pair of leather riding gloves and slap them with great force against his cheek bone. Villain! Do you not recognize strawberries Romanoff when you see them??? At that point you can challenge him to pistols at dawn if you like. It’s a judgement call.

I made mine in the Russian style with sour cream added to the sweetened whipped cream because, well, why not? I started of course with the best strawberries I could find. This is a half batch of two cups. I picked the smaller ones because I like the presentation of the uncut berries and the smaller they are the better the better the flavor balance you’ll have. I added the orange juice……

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry, Strawberries Romanoff | 19 Comments

The Mystery of Czar Alexander

Is it really true that Czar Alexander I staged his own death and assumed another identity? Quite a few people believed that, reader Alice, and not just conspiracy nuts. Most Russians of the time believed he was still alive after he was reported dead. Even members of the late Czar’s own family seemed to believe it. But why would they? Possibly because Alexander talked about vanishing and becoming a hermit almost incessantly. He certainly made no secret of his distaste for the trappings of wealth and power and his deep guilt over the death of his father, Czar Paul I, was well known.

Alexander had, shall we say, a troubled relationship with his family. His grandmother, Catherine the Great, hated his father (her own son) and made no secret of it. She considered Paul I to be an unstable tyrant-in-waiting. When Alexander was born Catherine immediately took charge of him (Alexander’s mother was indifferent to him) and educated him in the classical liberal virtues. Despite Paul’s attempts to literally beat some toughness into the boy, Alexander grew up sullen and sensitive. When Catherine died in 1896, Paul ascended the throne. His subjects quickly came to see that Catherine’s instincts were entirely correct and by 1801 a coup plot was hatched. …

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 6 Comments