Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Art Of Baking ....

The post below, originally published on March 17th, is a piece of frivolous fluff, but since I hadn't written for months, it was merely an exercise: staring at a blank screen, hoping for some kind of inspiration, and the following is the result.
-The Editor-in-Chief

My last post was dated September 29, 2010. Where have I been? ("Right here"). What have I been doing? ("Not much to speak of") except (fanfare please):

I believe I've mastered the art of making a perfect pie crust. Somehow, I've always felt this to be a significant accomplishment, not unlike pitching a no-hitter. Ardent, well-intentioned past efforts have produced substances tough enough to plug any puncture in your Pirellis, but I can now boast that my pie crust is perfect and exceptionally easy to make, thanks to my food processor and Ina Garten.

It is a very good rule to read ALL instructions several times before starting out, to visualize the steps, assemble necessary ingredients and utensils (bowls, measuring spoons, etc.). It is because I have too often failed to practice what I preach that I've had my share of colossal baking failures, to wit: an alluring recipe for a tantalizing concoction called "Maple Cream Cake" invented by a stay-at-home Mom and which had consistently received highest praise from her kids: ("It's, like very good"). I will never know. I assumed I could incorporate ordinary syrup such as the Vermont Maid in my cupboard. On double-checking after tossing the horrid mess into the trash, there it was: It needed Grade B syrup, not the less potent substitute I'd used.

Or how about this bomb: I had assembled and double-checked before launching into the delicious filling for the graham cracker crust: Juice and zest of four large lemons, 3 egg yolks, and a 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk to be added, the mixture then poured into the crust. I knew I had the C-milk in the pantry, and having mixed all other items, was ready to add it. The stuff in the can I opened was the color and consistency of crankcase residue, not glossy white or fluid enough to pour. I nonetheless spooned the goo into the bowl, having tasted it to determine the extent of its deterioration. A tiny bit tart, shall we say, but certainly not totally inedible. It emerged from the oven a pumpkin-like color and too evil-looking to even consider a wee bite. It was only then I checked the bottom of the can: "Best Used by 2006". The whole mess was tossed into the garbage disposal. P.S.: I have made this delicious, rich pie several times since then, dinner guests suitably impressed.

They say we learn by our mistakes and at this rate, I'll be ready to publish my own Baking With Carol Sloane Volume I within the next ten years. I sing while I bake, by the way: Favorite melodies are "I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket" and "You're The Cream In My Coffee". Alternative titles welcome.

My good pal, superb bass player and exceptionally witty fellow Bill Crow, submitted this comment: My cooking songs: Frim Fram Sauce, All That Meat and No Potatoes, Southern Fried, Save the Bones for Henry Jones, Jambalaya, Yes We Have No Bananas and (I love this one):" Miss Otis Regrets. I could add Bitin My Thyme, but you would just laugh.


Bill Crow said...

My cooking songs: Frim Fram Sauce, All That Meat and No Potatoes, Southern Fried, Save the Bones for Henry Jones, Jambalaya, Yes We Have No Bananas and Miss Otis Regrets. I could add Bitin My Thyme, but you would just laugh.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with Ina Garten is she lives in the 'perfect' world of East Hampton where everything in her pantry is fresh as a daisy (no expired-five-years-ago cans there!) and everything emerges from her oven 'perfect'. Reality has little to do her barefoot world! I would, however, like to see some out-takes from her television show one day. There MUST be some chinks in her 'perfect' facade. - Craig

Rex Reed said...

From Rex Reed:

You may hate me for this, Carol, but I feel I must add a postscript to your baking blog. First of all, Ina Garten knows many things but she does not know beans about pie crust. In addition to being one of the few critics left who still cares and knows anything about good music, singers and movies, I am also an excellent cook. Generations of great Southern cooks on both sides of my family taught me years ago how to make an infallible pie crust and they never even heard of a food processor. Any pie crust or lattice crust for a cobbler or flat dish fruit pie or anything must be flaky and a food processer cannot achieve that miracle. The best pie crusts are made with LARD, but I don't go that far. Half Crisco and half salted butter (not sweet butter, which has no taste anyway) will do just as well as save wear and tear on your arteries. Great cooks also use a knife and a fork but I use an essential tool--a pastry blender with a handle and four sharp blades (not the rounded blades). You can buy one at the dime store.

Ingredients for pie crust: One cup flour. Six tablespoons Crisco shortening. Six tablespoons ice cold salted butter. 1/2 tablespoon salt. Dash of cinnamon, especially if it is an apple or peach pie. Start blending with the pastry blender until it turns into size of little frozen peas. Add 6 or 7 tablespoons of very serious ice water. I pour water into a measuring cup of ice cubes until it gets cold and then rake out the cubes to melt in the sink. Knead with hands. If too sticky add flour and knead some more. Dump onto board or wooden table between 2 sheets of wax paper and roll out.

For the lemon ice box pie you describe, all you need for the filling is a fresh can of Eagle Brand condensed milk, two egg yolks, one cut of freshly squeezed lemon juice including any pulp but naturally, no seeds. But for the crust, one FATAL mistake: do not pay any attention to Ina Gartner or anybody else who recommends Graham crackers. They are disgusting, they take like shirt boards from a Chinese laundry, and they never improve in cooking. The only crust to use for a lemon ice box pie or a key lime pie is vanilla wafers. Crush nearly a whole box in the food processor and pour into a pie plate. Mix in one stick of melted salted butter and form into a pie crust with your fingers. It should be moist with the butter. The cooking time in the oven that it takes to brown the meringue is all the time you need for the buttered vanilla wafers to cook.

Pour lemon mixture into the vanilla wafer crust and cover with 6 beaten egg whites thickened with cream of tarter and flavored with vanilla and a few tablespoons of sugar. It is ready when the meringue is browned. Put in the fridge and get it very, very cold. It is even better the second day when it is ice cold.

This never fails and sends everyone away raving.

As for songs, how about Dave Frishberg's "Foodophobia" or a song dorothy Loudon used to sing at the Blue Angel called "I Like a Hungry Man"? Rex Reed

Sloane said...

Dear Rex: Many thanks for your wonderfully detailed note. I use the food processor because an arthritic condition disqualifies the hands-in/on approach you favor. Vanilla or lemon wafers for crust: yes, of course. (I don't buy ALL of Ina's suggestions.)
I must say, you're a good egg for taking the time to write.

Anonymous said...

I have received the following note from Mike Renzi, the pianist/accompaniest of choice for all good singers who want to sound even better. Here's his response to the invitation for food song titles:
(Quote):Sloaney: FUNNY STUFF. I always enjoy a good laugh when reading your blog as I sit in front of the MacBook usually late at night, laughing out loud by myself. P.S. Take a look at the lyrics to IN THE COOL COOL COOL OF THE EVENING.
Lots of food stuff to sing about!!!!! I won't mention the obvious "If I Knew You Were Coming I'd Have Baked A Cake. (End Quote)