So it’s been several weeks since I’ve posted at all, not mention several “Food Fridays” that have gone by. I’ll talk more some other time about why, but for now, I’m fighting through the procrastinatory glory to get back on track.
Last time, I shared a little bit of the process of how I made a recipe when I gave it some structured thought. This time, I think it’d be interesting to show you how that works when I make the mistake of failing to give that kind of structured preparation.
I’ve been sitting in a training class for my new job all week, and for our final day, I thought I’d make a dessert to bring in to share. I’ve been playing around in my head all week with an idea for making chocolate blintzes. However, I couldn’t think of a way to prepare that ahead of time for a group to bring in. I also had a craving to make tiramisu. I decided to try and mix these two ideas to make a new dessert. It’s with this vague idea in my head that I started in to prepare the dessert.
I started with two blocks of cream cheese at room temperature. I whipped these to both soften them and make it easier to incorporate other items. I then mixed in one container of ricotta cheese.
At this point, in another mixing bowl, I took four eggs and blended them with sugar. This allowed me to cream the eggs and add the first dose of sweetness to the dish. The eggs will deliver protein and thus structure to the final dish, as well as adding to the overall mouthfeel.
Once both of these items are blended, I mixed the bowls together. With ricotta cheese, cream cheese, sugar, and eggs, we’ve got our basic custard constructed. This basic mix would work well for any number of recipes. We could bake it up for cheesecake, run it through an ice cream maker for a rich frozen dessert, or take it any number of other directions.
I let this custard sit for a bit while I laid out my cake pan and began to prepare it to receive the magic that would eventually be coming. Again, my primary inspiration here was tiramisu, an Italian dessert that consists of custard layered with espresso and rum soaked ladyfingers- a light, cake-like cookie. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find lady fingers at the grocery store the night I went shopping, (On a later trip I found them right where I swore I’d been looking, they must have been hiding) and I definitely didn’t feel like making them from scratch, (I’ve never actually done that and it sounds like too much work for not enough reward) so I bought a container of sugar cookies instead. I then soaked these in cold strong coffee blended with sugar before laying them out on the pan. Normally, I’d also be adding rum to the soak, but since the plan was to take this dish to work, I’m skipping that.
Now back to the custard. I had an idea that I wanted to prepare this over a double boiler. I thought this might make for a smoother texture, with the end product being closer to tiramisu-which is what I ultimately wanted. I set up the glass bowl over a pot of boiling water, stirring regularly. This is an incredibly useful tool setup in the kitchen when you need to heat something gently. It’s great for some sauces (hollandaise for example), melting chocolate, or for cooking a custard. You’re allowing the heat to seep into your dish slowly and more evenly, which is important to keep sauces from breaking- both by letting proteins coagulate at a more controlled rate as well as letting fats and liquids emulsify while preparing your dish.
The downside to this method is that it…is…so…slow. After a half hour, my custard was not setting up. In fact, it had done the opposite. The fats had liquified and turned it runny. Despite cooking on the double boiler for almost half an hour, I was getting no results. It was getting late and I really wanted to go to bed. My impatience was beginning to play factor in the cooking process. This generally doesn’t go well.
So I poured this warmed custard out into the pan with the cookies and put it in a 350 degree oven. Also, somewhere along the line between when that picture was taken and when I actually poured the custard out, I added several tablespoons of cocoa powder to the custard to turn this into a dark chocolate dish. Why? Because chocolate. I’m not sure what other reason you’re wanting here. I baked the dish in the oven for about 45 minutes, checking it every ten, then pulled it to set. I put it in the fridge to sit overnight and it would be ready to serve in the morning.
Except that didn’t happen. The cheesecake (which is what the dish is at this point) set up fine, but by the time I got up and was moving around in the morning, I looked at it and I just wasn’t satisfied. It was cheesecake sure, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I think if I’d laid out the cookies more thoroughly, making a crust, I might have been happy with that as a final result, but with them spaced out it was this weird cheesecake tiramisu hybrid that just didn’t seem to pull together. I didn’t want to take it in, especially since this would be the first time I brought in food to my new job. As you can probably guess, my cooking plays a part in my personal sense of identity. I’m ok with the fact that not everything I make turns out great, and I usually just try to approach my failures as an opportunity to learn. When it comes to introducing my food to someone, however, I consider that to be a way of showing a part of who I am to that person. If I don’t know them, I’m going to edit myself far more than I would for someone I’m more comfortable with. I’ll write a blog post about my views on the Appalachian Trail for all the world to see, and I may even mention some of my struggles in that post. But I’ll only write to a dear friend about how personal some of those struggles may have been. If I’m going to bring in food to a work gathering where I don’t know everybody, I’m not taking in something that’s half finished. I’ll serve a dinner to family at home that I feel didn’t come out quite right, but I wouldn’t serve that to strangers. That’s too personal.
So I went to work, told everyone I forgot my dish, and stewed on it for the rest of the day. On my way home, inspiration struck. Bourbon whipped cream.
I stopped by the grocery store on the way home (this is when I spotted the lady fingers I couldn’t find the day before. Right next to the freaking sugar cookies. What the heck, Kroger. Taunting me?) I picked up a quart of whipping cream and some powdered sugar. When I got home, I put the two into a mixing bowl and began to beat them on high, along with about a half a cup of bourbon.
And this looks good, something I could put on top of the cheesecake. The dark cake topped with white whipped cream would create a nice color contrast and it would look like and complete on the plate. Simple but elegant.
Screw simple and elegant, I’m adding cocoa powder to this whipped cream to make it chocolate.
It’ll look like a mess on the plate, the perfect thing for me to eat at ten o’clock on a Friday night, telling myself it’s ok that I didn’t get a chance to bring dessert into work. I’ll get a chance to cook for them later, for now I’ll soothe myself by considering the fact that I have an entire pan of cheesecake to myself for the weekend. Don’t look at me.