Mmm… Miette

I must admit that although I live right across the bay from Miette (located in the Ferry Building in San Francisco) I have never visited them, nor tasted their pastries. Oddly enough, I just don’t get to The City that often, and when I do I’m usually headed somewhere that is not the Ferry Building. In point of fact, on the rare occasions that I am in San Francisco and looking for something to eat, I’m a lot more likely to be making a beeline to Tommy’s Joynt for some of their delicious Buffalo Stew and incredible garlicky pickles.

Frankly, I don’t go to many bakeries. I prefer to roll my own.

So when I heard that there was going to  be a Miette cookbook, well, that got my attention. You see, while I hadn’t had any of their cakes, tarts, cookies, or sweets, I had heard they were awfully good. My copy arrived in my hot little hands just yesterday, and I must admit I’m eager to try out recipes.

The book itself is quite charming. It’s a comfortable size, and it opens flat, which is convenient for actual use. The pages are thick and glossy, and the edges are cut in a rather charming scallop. No, that isn’t necessary. It’s just pretty. It’s also lavishly illustrated with photographs by Frankie Frankeny, who has done a tremendous job of making everything look beyond scrumptious. As you can see from the illustration above, the poster child chosen to represent the bakery is their famous Tomboy cake with its naked chocolate sides and pretty pink buttercream. It’s pink because it’s raspberry. Dark chocolate and raspberry? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, I will have to wait to try making this beauty for one simple reason: I don’t have the right cake pan. You see, Miette works with the philosophy that smaller is always better… and I have not yet had a reason to acquire a 6″ x 3″ cake pan. Sigh. Guess I’d better hunt one down.

I know that Miette is all about cute, but I think I’m going to leave the ribbons out of the cakes that list them in the ingredients. It is my considered opinion that there should never be anything on a cake that cannot be safely eaten. If I feel the need of the decoration, a little icing in a contrasting color should do the trick.

There is one other annoyance – this time in the text. In the layer cake section, authors Meg Ray and Leslie Jonath harp again and again about how very difficult they are to make. In the notes on making the Princess cake, we are told it can take days depending on the baker’s stamina. Really? In nearly every case, so far as I can tell, what they really mean is that the cakes can be exacting rather than difficult. It’s a fine distinction, but one I consider well worth making. One needs to – for instance – cut the layers so that they are even and straight. This is not especially difficult, but it is important to get right. Saying these cakes are incredibly hard to make scares off the home baker, and really, is that what you want to do in a cookbook?

Besides, in the candy section there are several treats that are every bit as exacting and fussy (in some cases moreso) as the cakes, but they are never called difficult. There is a general warning to be careful when working with extremely hot sugar because it’s quite easy to burn yourself badly, but no dire warnings that any of the candies will tax your strength beyond its bearing. The correct temperature is emphasized, but again, while this is on par with most of the steps in constructing the layer cakes in terms of difficulty vs. importance, there are no exhortations that making toffee or marshmallows is a Herculean task.

Still, these are miniscule flies in the batter, as it were. As I flip through the glossy pages, I am tempted by recipe after recipe. Cakes, cookies, candies, and tarts all call to me and beg to be baked up right away. And from my considerable experience in baking (forty-one years and counting!) I have yet to look at one of the recipes and question it’s proportions or ingredients.

Yes, I can ignore being assumed to be a layer cake wimp when the recipes are this good. After all, as soon as my 6″ cake pan is in my hot little hands, I’ll be proving in spades that I have the intestinal fortitude to slice layers and roll fondant with the best of them.

Beat the Heat With Simple Dishes

These are the symptoms of heat prostration. As the summer goes on, we’ll feel more and more like the poor dude in that illustration. And yet we will still need to provide food for ourselves and our families and friends.

The good news is that this is also the time of year when you can easily make flavorful dishes without a lot of standing over a hot stove (or barbeque). The even better news is that I’m here to give you simple instructions for two such dishes.

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Got Dinner Guests?

When having guests over to dinner, most of us hope the evening will look like the picture above: smiling guests, attractive food, great view, and plenty of social lubrication in the form of a rather decent vintage.

So why do so many dinner parties wind up resembling something more like this:

or worse yet this:

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I’m Not Beeton Around the Bush

Meet one of the most successful cookbook authors in history, Mrs. Isabella Beeton. Yes, that Mrs. Beeton.

Although she died in 1865, just about a month before her twenty-ninth birthday (of peritonitis and puerperal fever, following the birth of her fourth child), Mrs. Beeton remains a household name through much of the English-speaking world.

Her book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management has been reprinted, updated, and collected ever since it was first published in 1861.

In fact, I have two different versions in my own collection. One is my own copy of the 1992 edition that I bought shortly before I got married. The other is my mother’s long-cherished copy sans a publication date. My guess is that it dates back to somewhere between the late 1930′s and the fall of the British Raj. Why? Because of the sorts of recipes, the instructions included with them, the advertisements shown on the endpapers, and the fact that there is a significant section on cooking in India.

The recipes are, of course, a major reason for the long popularity of the franchise. Over time, old recipes that are no longer fashionable or practical have been dropped in favor of things more in line with modern tastes. The sheer range of recipes makes the volume a great choice if you only have room or interest for one or two cookbooks in your world. And despite the common wisdom, there have never been very many extravagant dishes, nor was anyone ever instructed to ‘first catch your hare.’ Mrs. Beeton didn’t worry about whether you found your meat at the market or in the local Lord’s woods. Her concern was making sure you cooked it in the tastiest, most healthful possible ways and carved it neatly so that every person at the table could get an equal and attractive share.

But there’s a great deal more to the Book of Household Management than just the recipes. After all, there’s a lot more to managing a household than cooking. From the first, the Book has included lots of information on cleaning, organizing finances, child care, and medical advice. My 1992 edition includes a rather fascinating section on legal issues, and the older one has a section to teach your servants how to wait at table properly.

Did Isabella know her stuff? Well, she was the oldest of four children. Her father, Benjamin Mayson, died quite early. Her mother then remarried a gentleman named Henry Dorling,  who was a widower with four children of his own. The Dorlings proceeded to have another thirteen children. That made Isabella the eldest of twenty-two offspring. I’m guessing her emphasis on practical matters and economical management was based strongly in her early life.

You can find the complete text of the original book at ExClassics.com, but I’m  going to go ahead and include one of the recipes here To Dress Carrots in the German Way:

TO DRESS CARROTS IN THE GERMAN WAY.

1101. INGREDIENTS.– 8 large carrots, 3 oz. of butter, salt to taste, a very little grated nutmeg, 1 tablespoonful of finely-minced parsley, 1 dessertspoonful of minced onion, rather more than 1 pint of weak stock or broth, 1 tablespoonful of flour.

Mode.– Wash and scrape the carrots, and cut them into rings of about 1/4 inch in thickness. Put the butter into a stewpan; when it is melted, lay in the carrots, with salt, nutmeg, parsley, and onion in the above proportions. Toss the stewpan over the fire for a few minutes, and when the carrots are well saturated with the butter, pour in the stock, and simmer gently until they are nearly tender. Then put into another stewpan a small piece of butter; dredge in about a tablespoonful of flour; stir this over the fire, and when of a nice brown colour, add the liquor that the carrots have been boiling in; let this just boil up, pour it over the carrots in the other stewpan, and let them finish simmering until quite tender. Serve very hot.

This vegetable, dressed as above, is a favourite accompaniment of roast pork, sausages, &c. &c.

Time.– About 3/4 hour. Average cost, 6d. to 8d. per bunch of 18.

Sufficient for 6 or 7 persons.

Seasonable.– Young carrots from April to June, old ones at any time.

 

 

See? No need whatsoever to catch your own hare. But you could cook that today, and it would still be nice with pork.

If God is in the Details…

What’s in these Deviled Eggs?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. And terrified everyone.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. And terrified everyone.

I have a confession to make, my friends. Yes, in a world of sea spurt sashimi and microgastronomy, of foaming Martinis and thrice-smoked, monkey-picked teas, I reserve a place of honour in my heart for three unreconstructed relics of the 50′s and 60′s, refugees from Grandma’s Betty Crocker cookbooks: olives from the jar, pickles from the other jar, and good old deviled eggs.

Deviled Egg Chick

Deviled Egg Chick

It’s a short story, and a familiar one: The Cousin, The Sister and I were invariably the youngest attendees at family gatherings on my dad’s side, and as such could not partake of the cocktail hour with the adults. Well, it was my dad’s family, so let’s say the cocktail four hours. And as growing children, we had an abiding, nay, almost a physical, need to be fed regularly, but etiquette constrained us to eat somehow without spoiling Aunt Margie’s carrot and marshmallow aspic and other “delights” destined for the main meal. And naturally, preparing proper hors d’oevres would have prevented my aunts from partaking in the cocktail hour(s) to the fullest extent, so in response, and in defence of their right to get well into the CC before having to face Aunt Margie’s aspic, they made a deal with us.

We could eat olives, pickles and deviled eggs. Filling, fancy (hey, someone went to the trouble of fishing those pickles out of a jar for you), proteinaceous, and trying to figure out if pickled onions were “pickles” or “onions” could keep three small girls occupied for a surprising amount of time.

This is all just to let you know that the irredeemably bourgeois deviled egg is near and dear to my heart, not that I can be bothered to actually make them. But if you’re not as incorrigibly lazy as me (probably the result of a childhood diet consisting largely of olives, pickles and deviled eggs) this article in the Awl has AWL the information on Deviled Eggs that you will ever need, and then some.

 

Deviled Egg O Rama
From left to right: Miss Grandma’s Backyard (Potato Salad Egg with Apricot Fizz); Mademoiselle Alsace-Lorraine (Creamy, Lemony Egg with Reisling-Plum-Rosemary Punch); Miss Soul Custardy (Vanilla Custard and Chocolate Egg in Phyllo with Peach-Cayenne Coffee Frappe); Senorita El Trionfo de la Revolucion (Chicken Liver and Havana Club Egg served with Barbadian Rum); Miss Piggie (Egg with Jowl, Side and Belly Bacon served with Mint Julep); Jury Award Winner: Miss Spicy German (Red Curry, Sweet Chili, and Spicy Chili Eggs with Home Brewed Double Wheat Ale).

Each summer before the mosquitos start to flourish, my husband and I host a garden party and Deviled Egg Pageant. The entrants, though not all Southern, exemplify the seersucker-shrouded bloodlust that makes summer in the South both delicious and dramatic.

As long as the weather and space permit, a Deviled Egg Pageant allows you to entertain dozens of friends and neighbors while preparing little more than a plate of ham, perhaps, and a pound cake. Your kitchen remains cool and spotless while the guests enthusiastically do the hard work.

The keys to a successful pageant are clear rules and a dress code to set the tone. (Here is a Google Doc of our house rules; take what you like and leave the rest.)

If you don’t have the space or inclination to host such a contest, preparing pageant-worthy deviled eggs is a sure way to “win” whatever parties or picnics you may attend in the summer. Here are some lessons from our pageant kings and queens.

Well, you have to click over the link to read the whole thing it is unquestionably the most epic post on Deviled Eggs you will ever see. As for me, I’m off to check out the Urban Spoon listings to find a place that has these little bites of nostalgic heaven on the menu.

A last word: don’t let your creativity go insane: sundried tomatoes, bacon,  curry or caviar, yes. Even vegan (let’s face it, tofu is more like eggs than any other actual food).

Caviar deviled egg is NOT redundant, it's self-referential

Caviar deviled egg is NOT redundant, it's ironically self-referential

Food dyes, no.

Blue curried deviled eggs

Blue curried deviled eggs: yeah, if I'd made those, I'd delete the web page too

See you on National Deviled Egg Day!

Extermi-Cake!

This is what I call a drop-dead dessert.

Vinny Garcia is a hardcore Doctor Who fan as well as a talented cake designer, and you just know how those people are: gotta cross them streams, unite those worlds. No doubt it started with an undergrad in the sixties, baking John Pertwee-faced cookies to the sounds of the Merseybeat, and the next thing you know, this exists.

From BBCAmerica:

“I’ve seen Dalek cakes made here and there, but I just felt like nobody really captured the essence of the Dalek and the complexity of the design,” he explained. “Somebody went through a lot of trouble to design every nook and cranny of this thing, and you never see it. I thought, ‘Everyone always thinks the conical shape when they think Dalek,’ so I decided to go that extra mile to get to the difficulty level. And to be able to make this Dalek in the way that I wanted to make it, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s a dream come true.… Having made the Dalek, I naturally want to make Davros,” Garcia revealed. “I’d also like to make a three-foot tall cyberman or even The Doctor himself. I’d love to make a Tom Baker with a giant scarf and a little K-9, oh that would be so awesome.”

You can keep your molecular gastronomy, boys and girls. THAT is true food nerdism.

Sunday Food Porn: Tequila Party Edition

Cheers!

Cheers!

What can I say? It’s been one of those weeks.

Mmm… Brownies

Delicious, delicious brownies…

Whoops! Not that kind of Brownie!

I’m talking about the delicious, fudgey treats that I spent most of yesterday baking.

Moist, melt-in-your-mouth, bittersweet chocolate brownies.

One thing that interests me about brownies is how versatile they are.  You can go old school classic with bittersweet chocolate and nuts like these:

The recipe (and more luscious, porny pics) can be found at Baked Bree.com. The ones I made were actually fairly similar, but sans nuts. They’re being offered in exchange for donations at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in my hometown this weekend. I love the idea of using chocolate to fight cancer.

Anyway.

As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, brownies can be done in dozens – nay, scores! – of different ways. You can use milk chocolate instead of dark, add pecans or walnuts, make them fudgier or cakier, make them more like cheesecake in texture and then stud them with Snickers bars, use white chocolate alone or in tandem with milk or bittersweet chocolate, frost them and decorate with sprinkles:

like these ones from She Knows, or even completely ditch chocolate completely and make them with apples!

Me? I’ll stick to bittersweet chocolate, and I’m easygoing as to the nut question. I like nuts in my brownies, but I’ll be perfectly content to eat one without the contrasting flavor and texture of nuts. I prefer them without icing, but have been quite cheerful to eat them with, when there has been no other option.

The one thing I’m fairly adamant about is the fact that I am not ready to try cheese and potato brownies. Just… no.

Food for Thought