Me and…

Me and Pierre

October 23, 2011: Day two. Am going to have to start bringing these gateaux to work or buy bigger aprons. My kitchen is not big enough for me, Pierre, and a chocolate-sized arse.

Suzy’s Cake. The invention, PH tells us, of his friend Suzy who is a model and a cookbook author. Note: Get Suzy’s advice on chocolate-sized arse.

Five ingredients: Melted Guanaja, butter, sugar, eggs, and a bit of flour.

Once again, I timed the intervals between additions — why is this a big deal to me? Because I am impatient by nature. I like to skim, eyeball, assume, when it comes to mixing. (Note I am fastidious when it comes to weights and measures.) The revelation is how the batters behave exactly as described when you really take your time.

Batter is gorgeous — thick and shiny. Spread into a 9×2 round cake pan and baked for 27 minutes. (Not 26 and not 28.) It’s meant to leave streaks on a testing knife.

It’s an unreal cake. Forget about the flourless chocolate cakes or deaths by chocolate you have known. This is far and away, above and beyond. Kind of nutty and caramely. Light and rich. A little bit of whipped cream enhances the whole affair.

Rating: Easy. Five whisks.

October 16, 2011:  Day one and already a snag. Apricot and Ginger Chocolate Loaf Cake calls for “Stem Ginger in Syrup.” Surfas did not have it. Smart & Final did not have it. Bristol Farms and Gelsons, nope. I Google: Ah, it’s from Britain, I ring the two local British food purveyors and after clarifying that I am looking for ginger in SYRUP not SUET, no, they don’t have it.  I Google and Chowhound: Ah, it’s a common item found in Asian supermarkets. I go to the local 99 Ranch and, while I have a great time wandering the aisles, they don’t have it either.

I struggle with the rule, the “no substitution” rule. I cannot use candied ginger or crystallized ginger, nor powdered, and frankly, though a recipe can be found, I’m not going to make my own. And, truth be told, the bigger snag is that I don’t especially care for ginger.

I decide to make the cake without the ginger. Still within the rules as “omit” does not equal “substitute.”

I assemble my ingredients and in what I hope is not simply a burst of first timer’s enthusiasm, I prep everything before starting the mixer.

Melted butter, cocoa and flour, eggs, chopped apricots, chopped chocolate, almond paste, milk and granulated sugar.

The Valhrona cocoa is truly luxurious: Deep, dark, richly fragrant. Almond paste, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, is an ingredient I haven’t worked with before. The recipe calls for “breaking” the paste into small pieces. I found it to have the consistency of a sort of stiff taffy, so I pulled it into small pieces. Pierre then has us mix the almond paste and sugar together until sandy. I beat for a good little bit and transferred to the food processor (which PH allows for): The sandy texture was much easier to manage through a few quick pulses.

Following the recipe exactly, chopping the apricots into uniform chunks, timing the intervals between adding ingredients, was a lot of fun. The apricots especially were almost a meditation — a request to slow down, pay attention, and appreciate the act of baking. Loved it!

Batter came together beautifully and baked up gorgeously. I adjusted the time for a glass pan and still had no issues — a tender crust all around.

The apricots settled toward the bottom of the loaf, but I kind of like the way they look.

The cake itself? Once cooled and sliced? Moist and delicious. The apricots are a special note within a fairly homely loaf.

One thing: I don’t especially care for the flavor of almond paste. Its flavor within the cake is strong, especially after it sits for a day. Just something to keep in mind if “marzipan
is not your thing.

Rating: Easy. Four whisks*.  Next up: Suzy’s Cake.

*To add a touch of whimsy to it all, my rating system will be one to five whisks. 

October 15, 2011:  So, in what has become a modern tradition of partnering in the kitchen with the great chefs (by working through cookbooks one recipe at a time), I have invited the venerable Pierre Herme to share with me his secrets.

Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, quarterbacking by Dorie Greenspan.

My field of endeavor, my kitchen, is that of a 1940s rental in Studio City, California. My stove, that which came with the apartment, is white, gas, of an unspecified make. (I’m not 100% confident it will last the journey, but fingers crossed.)

My trusty sidekick: A green (color no longer available) 4.5 qt. KitchenAid, 13 years and going strong.  One wants to dance with the one what brung ya’, but I may trade up for a bigger bowl.

The foundations, as specified by Pierre:

  • Valhrona Guanaja (70%)
  • Valhrona Manjari (64%)
  • Valhrona Ivoire (35%)
  • Valhrona Cocoa (dutched)
  • Mexican vanilla

You can order online directly from Valhrona.  I’m lucky that here in LA, we have Surfas, a kitchen and gourmet food purveyor that has just about everything you could want or need.  They sell both Guanaja and Manjari in bulk bricks, as well as the cocoa in handy wide-mouthed jars. (If you’ve experienced the brown snowstorm that comes with scooping Droste out of the box, you appreciate the wide mouth.)

I’ve read through the book.  I’m not saying there won’t be challenges, whether of tastes I don’t care for (black forest cake) or techniques I find challenging (candy of any sort), but I am committed to:

  • Following the recipe
  • Using ingredients as specified with no substitutions
  • Following the instructions, down to using a timer to follow the mixing and addition intervals

I don’t know how long this will take. I’d like to complete a recipe every week.  We’ll see how it goes.  And if all goes well, we may extend Pierre’s run in our kitchen with a journey through Desserts by Pierre Herme.

Here we go…


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