Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yogurt and the Nervous Chef Bake With Leftovers

1. A Really Old Picture of Food.

A long, long time ago -- way back in January -- I visited Yogurt in New York and attended the Opera. Now it happened, as is it wont to, that Yogurt's household had some leftovers: some bananas going squishy and some cracked eggs that needed using up. Because I have Baking Pretensions, Yogurt asked my thoughts (note: this is usually a mistake, as it produces Nervousness, which makes me fuck up).

Well, the usual method of using up old bananas with banana bread was closed to us, because there was no raising agent in the household and the point of the exercise was to use only ingredients in the household. So what can you make with bananas and eggs that is not banana bread? I thought "Banana custard!" Which is nothing I've ever made--or possible eaten--before, but it seemed possible. So I googled (seriously, why does a GOOGLE site not recognize GOOGLED as a verb? Go away, red squiggly lines!) "Banana Custard" and selected the first recipe I found.

Well, we could do that!
There was no lime, so we used lemon. And for bread crumbs we used chocolate rugelach.
Distressingly, I was once again asked for my opinion (which made me nervous) about what the hell a "moderate oven" meant. I guessed 325 and was happy to see that other custard recipes backed me up.

The result wasn't that pretty: the loaf pan and chocolate bread kind of make it look like a lasagna gone wrong:
However, I thought it tasted pretty good! And I'm not even much of a custard girl! And my nervousness didn't make me entirely fuck up! So, if you've got leftover bananas and eggs and lots of chocolate rugelach and no flour or baking powder, this is a decent option.

2. The Whites of Your Eggs; Also, The Nervous Chef Fucks Up Again

Of course, sometimes you bake and your baking causes leftovers. Some recipes want just the egg yolks, not the eggs whites, and then WTF to do with the egg whites? I made a "lemon, mascarpone tart" (comma and lack of capitalization in the recipe book!) with my mom from the London River Cafe's "Italian Two Easy" cookbook. I'll skip their pastry recipe since we bought one. Some day, universe, I will make my own pastry. (Shakes fist at sky).

3 Lemons
4 Organic Egg Yolks
4 Organic Eggs
1 cup granulated sugar (we used Splenda, because we be diabetic. The household, that is).
2/3 cup mascarpone (sweet Italian cheese)
Confectioners' sugar to sprinkle on top.

Grate zest from the lemons, squeeze out the juice, and mix together. Beat the eggs and yolks with the granulated sugar. Add the mascarpone and stir to combine, then stir in the lemon mixture.

Pour into tart shell and bake for 1 hour or until set. Let the tart cool, then sprinkle evenly with the confectioners' sugar.

Well, it came out looking beautiful. Just like the picture in the book!

However, when sliced and put onto a plate, it looked like this:

What had gone wrong? It remained a much-debated mystery, until I started to write this blog post. Then I called Mom.

"I figured it out! Why the lemon tart went splat!"
"They want you to use FOUR EGGS and ALSO four egg yolks. Not just the yolks of four eggs."
"Yeah, I know. Four whole eggs and four eggs yolks. That's what we did."
"I didn't do that."
"Mystery solved!"

I'd been put in charge of the eggs, as if there's one thing I hate more than anything, it's zesting.

However, we were stuck with eggs whites. I did some googling about the best way to use up egg whites, and the internet seemed to agree:
I fucking LOVE macaroons (which I always pronounce MACROONS, without the extra "A." I don't know why).
Of course, I did need to go out and buy coconut, but still. Macaroons!!!

Okay, now here's the thing. I'm going to link to the SITE where I found this recipe. But I am not going to link to the recipe. Because. Because the recipe gives you the nutritional facts. You don't want to know this, guys. YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW.

The macaroons were a big hit with the folks, because 1) Macaroons are awesome; 2) Well, see above re: nutritional facts. Seriously, such a hit! And not because I Am So Awesome At Making Macaroons. Nope. It's because Macaroons make you happy because they are full of fat and sugar.

Now, my dad watches what he eats and is diabetic (type 2! On medication!). So when he asked where I found the recipe, I LIED. I SAID I DIDN'T KNOW.

Dad: "Did you use Splenda?"
Me (seriously considers lying about this, too): ""
If you really want to look it up, you can, Mom, Dad, anyone else. BUT I THINK IT IS BETTER THAT YOU NEVER KNOW.
Actually, I beg you, DO NOT PANDORA'S BOX THIS. Also, I just realized the recipe said it made 24, and I made 12 (I was generous with my definition of "tablespoon," okay?). So it's TWICE AS BAD AS I THOUGHT.

  • YIELD: Makes about 24 macaroons
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups lightly packed sweetened flaked dried coconut
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1. In a bowl, with an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until frothy. Beat in vanilla, sugar, and flour until well blended. Stir in coconut.
  • 2. Drop dough in 1-tablespoon portions, about 2 inches apart, onto buttered and floured or cooking parchment- lined 12- by 15-inch baking sheets.
  • 3. Bake in a 325° oven until macaroons are golden, about 20 minutes; if baking more than one pan at a time, switch pan positions halfway through baking. With a wide spatula, transfer macaroons to racks to cool completely.
  • 4. In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (bottom of bowl should not touch water), stir butter and chocolate often until smooth, 5 minutes. Hold a macaroon on one edge and dip other side into chocolate to coat half the cookie. Shake off excess chocolate. Set macaroon on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat to dip remainder. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.

Naked macaroons!:

Dipping was a challenge. I thought it would be fun to do funny, streaky macaroons! But it looked a bit Jackson Pollock:
(Not pretty).

I tried the half and half thing, which was better:
And I got better with the streaking:
Here's the thing: Macaroons are amazing. As I made them, I felt the funk I'd been in all day* (we'll blame the egg-thing on that, shall we?) melt away.

And when I actually ate one, I had a totally Proustian moment where I remembered coming home from high school in a terrible mood and then realizing that there were chocolate macaroons in the house. I took one and curled up with a book and suddenly realized NEVER MIND I'M OKAY NOW.

So, yeah, next time you have eggs whites, use this an excuse to make macaroons. Don't think about the nutrition facts. Just don't.

I was also thinking, what is it about baking that I love so much? It really does just make me so happy, and I realized I'm not sure why. There are obvious thoughts: 1) It's secure and rule-following (or rule-fucking up); 2) You can make variations within a structure (like a poem or short story); 3) It produces sweet things, which I love; 4) It's an area of control and certainty in an increasingly uncertain universe.

But I don't think that entirely accounts for it. I'm genuinely not quite sure what it is.

*I was in a bad mood because I'd gone out the night before (not, in and of itself, a bad thing) -- and decided, at one am, that eating a dive-bar cheeseburger was possibly the best idea I'd ever had.
I went home, went to bed, woke up four hours later, and realized that in fact this was not only not the best idea I'd ever had, but also possibly the worst. I felt awful the rest of the day, too. Until the macaroons!

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