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Archive for the ‘pastry’ Category

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The last several weeks have been rather complicated. I’ve made two multi-tiered wedding cakes for good friends and countless desserts for a client tasting, many with numerous components and sub-recipes. To-do lists are spilling from my computer at an alarming rate and stacks of receipts have turned my wallet into something worthy of George Costanza. Today I just wanted to make something simple. Spying the basket of apples on my counter, I formulated a plan.

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Ah, pears. So fragrant, so delicious, so damn hard to find. Yes, I know, pears are everywhere. I see them too but where are the good ones? Huh? The ones that are heavy for their size, which you can smell 20 feet away, the ones where you bite into them and juice runs down your arm? Not so easy to find, are they? It’s a common dilemma with fruit these days. The farmer’s market is a sure bet but like peaches, you have to hit them just right. It’s certainly possible but it’s a roll of dice. Blink and you missed them. Grocery stores, unless you are very very lucky, are nearly always a miss. They arrive unripe and they stay that way. I am beyond tired of flavorless, hard, mealy pears. Be they Barlett, Anjou, Bosc, Comice or the adorable Forelle, chances are good they’re mediocre. The best possible solution is grown your own but few have that option. So I’ve come up with a better idea. Find someone with a tree. Which is exactly what I did. I highly recommend this option.

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It may be cliché, but Paris calls to me. Softly, quietly it’s a sirens song that pulls at my heartstrings. And my stomach. Everytime I visit, she welcomes me back like an old friend, no matter how much time has passed. I love nothing more than to wander about with no real plan, looking in shop windows and discovering little pastry shops on every street corner. The bakery culture in France, Paris especially, astounds and delights me. It’s not uncommon for me to start early in the morning with a list of patisserie shops and purchase something from each of them, six or seven easily depending on the neighborhood, before noon. I love to experience a city through it’s food and this is my favorite way to go about it in my favorite city. Paris’s lure may be quiet and subtle, but my friend Jane is more persistent. She’s been on my case to come for a visit for months and truthfully, it has been a few years since I’ve walked those beautiful streets. I was due. So this summer in the middle of my countryside visit, I hopped a train north and found myself in the middle of the Montparnasse train station in a mere 5 hours.

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It took me three years to get this one right.  Every August, when the apricots are absolutely perfect, sweet and juicy, I’d pull this recipe out and try it again.  But only for those few weeks.  Beautiful seasonal fruit is fleeting in these parts and this just isn’t as good with mediocre apricots.  I’d make it once, but probably two or three times, and make cursory notes that never made sense a year later. I’d stare at the computer screen wondering what the hell I meant by “too poufy” or “iffy meh” and what I was supposed to do about it.  I have trouble remembering what I was thinking 12 minutes ago, much less 12 months. All my attempts were good yet I always felt it could be better.  And then just as quickly as they came, the apricots were gone and the weather started to cool.  Next year, maybe next year.

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Over the last few years, I’ve become a big lard fan.  All hail pig fat!  It makes a fantastic pie crust, a delectable biscuit and a surprisingly tender cake.   I was at a pig butchery demo not long ago with Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman and the subject of lard arose.  In the middle his demo, Chef Polcyn held up a large piece of pure white fat, the leaf lard surrounding the kidneys, and said something to the effect of “if only pastry chefs understood the power of lard.”  Ahem.  I, of course, spoke up in my brethern’s defense.  Oh buddy, we are well aware.  Little did he know at the time that I had 7+ pounds of unrendered leaf lard back home in my freezer.

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There are few things that I love more than things stuffed into dough.  Pierogies of course but also dim sum delicacies, ravioli, blini, empanadas, crepes, tamales, calzone, samosas.  I could go on for days.  Once, I told a friend that I had a great idea for a cookbook – Dumplings of the World!  I passionately explained, bright eyed and gesturing wildly, that every culture had a dumpling of some sort, a delicious filling or tidbit encased in a moist dough and baked, boiled or fried to perfection.  Dumplings are universally wonderful and feed the world!  He smiled, bemused, then turned around and pulled this off the shelf.  Dammit.  I still think it’s a great idea; so what if someone beat me to it?

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So today is “World Nutella Day” according to … someone.  That’s the thing with these “food holidays”.  Some random person, industry board or group declares a particular day the time to celebrate whatever it is they’re obsessed with or promoting. Some, like this one, are fun while others like, National Apricot Day in January make no sense whatsoever (unless you live the Southern hemisphere I suppose).  For World Nutella Day, it appears that two food bloggers got together in 2007 and made a proclamation that February 5th would celebrate all things Nutella.  Good enough for me and a great start to my annual February of Chocolate.  And by the way, did you know today is also “Chocolate Fondue Day”?  Oh yes, it is.  According to someone.

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