28 February 2017

Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week To Stop Sniffing Glue

Back to the subject of the six-plus hour trip to the Auto-Mercado. Puff pastry lives in the freezer at Auto-Mercado. If I had puff pasty I could make lime and ginger cream horns. Recall that I've already made my lime curd and candied lime peel; and although the curd proved overly limey, I can tame that tartness when I make my pastry cream. I can make crème anglaise in my sleep, along with cream puffs; but more on that later. For now I don't have time (okay, I've got nothing but time) and I certainly don't have the inclination to remain away from our puppy for over six hours. That leaves one alternative: make my own puff pastry. 

Now let me say this: though I love a baking challenge, when I see anyone making their own puff pastry (laminated dough), I go bonkers raising my voice to proclaim, "no one makes their own laminated dough -- it's insane -- it would be like trying to make your own phyllo. Insane, I tell you!" 

Notwithstanding our odd Costa Rica butter, the theory of making puff pastry isn’t complicated. It’s a matter of pounding icy cold butter into a large pastry rectangle, then making multiple folds of that pastry while refrigerating between the series of folds to keep that butter icy cold. I just might be able to perform this trick. On the other hand, after the past week’s baking mishaps, do I really want to risk pounds of butter? Definitely not after last week.
By anyone's standards, I am a novice baker . . . an experienced cook, but a novice with anything involving flour and a stove or oven. We know that I'm in love with The Great British Baking Show, right? Its two judges are Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. I've prepared several of Mary's recipes, but last week was my first foray into Paul's world. And incidentally, if my name was Paul Hollywood, I'd change it; but let that not diminish his proven baking skills and talent . . . it's merely that I find the name a bit too . . . well, Hollywood. Anyway, want to guess where this is going?

Somehow last week I accomplished hand-stripping (don't ask) a fluffy and very rowdy puppy; made two visits for I.D. cards to the CAJA (Costa Rica's healthcare offices) that required leaving the house at 3:15 A.M. on two consecutive days (yep, you read that correctly); and I made no less than five (5) epic failures in the dessert and baking arena. My best friend stated that she was certain I over-stated the failures. Becky, rest assured, I did not

Monday was The Great Costa Rican Failed-Brownie Show. Were they underdone or were they fudgey? I’m still shaking my head because they were prepared from a mix. Hello?!? And just when I believed that my skills had improved so that I could consistently tackle anything involving a baking mix. Goes to show you. Was it the addition of coconut that increased the oil; or was it the addition of the walnuts, which also might have contributed to the oil content and thus the soft fudge-like texture? Would a more experienced baker have reduced the 1/3 cup of oil called for by Betty Crocker? Now I say fudge-like, but make no mistake: they tasted raw. Every single one tasted raw -- I know because we ate every single brownie. 

Then came biscotti. Now I'm not blaming Paul Hollywood and his recipe (not necessarily), but my biscotti in no way resembled any biscotti that you've ever seen . . . certainly not during your trips to Starbucks. True, I substituted macadamia nuts for pistachios, but I used precisely 220 grams as Paul insisted, together with Paul's directions for 125 grams of dried cranberries. Now let me tell you, the total of 345 grams (seriously, Paul?) made a concoction comprised of more fruit and nuts than dough. And though biscotti (by its very name) involves a twice-baked process, there was no salvaging these biscuits during any stage of the baking. 

Now in all candor, though not light and airy as shown above, our hard little chunks were delicious . . . but then it's almost impossible to go wrong with 345 grams of tasty macadamias and cranberries. As Rusty suggested, a dentist on standby would not have been out of order . . . or we could have used them as paper weights. And every darn biscotti had the same consistently. Again, we know this because I ate every one. And I wonder why I was horrified to see myself in the beach photographs taken Sunday with Penny.

Next . . . the crème anglaise blackberry tart. In Costa Rica when you see a fruit other than the ubiquitous apple, you grab it at any price. Last week we saw pears, the first mango of the season, strawberries, and blackberries. Blackberries! Now Mary Berry will tell you that the true test of adding any fruit near crème anglaise is not allowing the fruit's color to bleed into the custard-colored cream. No one wants to see burgundy colored juice staining a perfect crème anglaise. So I added a sheet of gelatin when making the thick blackberry coulis; and indeed the blackberry topping my custard showed nary a hint of bleeding. The problem? The pastry dough that housed the tart. What went wrong? Probably something to do with the blind-baking process and the fact that Rusty rushed me out of the house to get to the bank. Could not possibly have been me or my pastry dough recipe – I use Ina Garten’s method and it is foolproof. Nevertheless.

Next failure. Brioche. Why we shipped to Samara two brioche pans remains a mystery, but here in our kitchen they’ve sat for two years. Rusty keeps a clever trick among his arsenal of manipulative tools. He’ll say something such as, “I bet you can’t make a good brioche” or “you can’t really make lemon madeleines,” and I fall for it every time. So who will I blame for the week’s saddest baking failure? Paul, Paul, Paul. Oh, Paul, what the heck were you thinking when you made public your brioche recipe? Suffice to say, it wasn’t the yeast, it wasn’t the butter (not this time), and it wasn’t even the strong flour, which I recently shipped from the U.S. Two brioche a tête – over the cliff for the pizotes.

This brings us to the most epic failure: the pear and apricot frangipane tart, on which I wasted over half a jar of my homemade apricot jam. Yes, you guessed it – Paul’s recipe. Now I must concede that I’m not 100% certain that I used the correct amount of caster sugar and almonds. The filling was too grainy and overly sweet. So, willing to take the blame for this one, it is just possible, however unlikely, that I failed to hit tare on my digital scale and used too much sugar and/or ground almonds. But quite frankly, after Paul’s recipe that caused the brioche disaster, I’m almost convinced that Paul withholds tiny details in his recipes . . . just as he does to those intrepid contestants in the technical challenges of the Great British Baking Show.  And if you're a fan of the show, you know precisely what I'm talkin' about.

So if you’ve waded through the sad tale of the five baking disasters, and if you still believe that I possess any credibility in the realm of desserts, check out my recipe for cream puffs (or éclairs) and crème anglaise -- all are foolproof. Really. I know because I experienced eleven (11) failures before perfecting recipes that even I can't ruin. You'll find the link here

In the meantime I've not given up. What would Mr. White do? I'm simply going to re-think my chemistry. Yes, we'll see more brioche this week, but I am bailing on Mr. Hollywood and going to King Arthur Flour's site. I have the utmost respect for Paul Hollywood, make no mistake. But as for using any more of his recipes . . . not so much. Lo que hay.