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Archive for the ‘pastry’ Category

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In French bakeries, often in a basket by the register, you will typically see little sugared pastries that look like unfilled cream puffs. When I first started traveling, I wasn’t sure what they were so I asked. “C’est chouquette. Pour l’enfant” I was told. I understood the “for the kids” part but I wasn’t sure what “chouquette” meant or even if I heard it correctly. Were they cream puffs? Was there cheese in there, like a gougeres? What the hell were they? Creamless cream puffs did not sound very appealing but I was too intimidated to do anything but smile and nod, like I knew what they were talking about. I always purchased something else.

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For a few summers, I worked my friend Pete’s fruit stand at the Green City Farmer’s Market every Wednesday and Saturday morning. It was an early start, the market opens at 7am, and not being much of a morning person it took me a while to get rolling. Once we got the stand set up and I got my bearings, I was usually looking for something to eat before the big crowds rolled in with their double wide strollers and large dogs who liked to pee on our sandwich board signs. Oh joy. You need some sustenance to deal with that. My standard go-to breakfast, one I really looked forward to, was from Hoosier Mama a fantastic pie company in the city. On the back of their checkered tables was a large black plastic warmer thing. If you were smart, you knew this is where they kept the amazing savory hand pies nice and toasty. While there were always a few varieties, the breakfast sausage hand pies were my favorite and apparently others too because they sold out fast. A warm flaky pastry filled with herby breakfast sausage, I could inhale 42 of these things in no time if given the opportunity.

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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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