Squint. It could be Paris.

October 9, 2011

After having croissants in Paris, and yes, that’s plural, and yes that means too many consumed to count, the random “crescent” available around town just doesn’t hold up.  In truth, they didn’t before Paris, either, but one convinced oneself if it came from a place like Le Pain Quotidien (a place we love, to be sure, but…ce n’est pas Paris).

Anyway, because I brake for bakeries, I pulled over to the Sweet Butter Kitchen in Sherman Oaks recently.  Very cute, French in its own way, et voila, croissants.  Of a recognizable size (not a baseball glove, hello Starbucks). I bought one. I went to my car. I opened the box (!). I pulled off an elbow.  Buttery flakes all over — a very good sign.  One bite — very nice.  Two bites — nicer still.  Three, four, five, whatever, it was gone.

Now, I like a croissant that flakes like January in Chicago but has a sort of chewy, pully inside. These do. The butter flavor is subtle but noticeable. Not Paris, but you know, better than most of what’s on offer in le vallée de San Fernando.

I’ve since returned many times. I’ve had the croissants with jam, with marmalade — they are swell.

As to the other treats — Sweet Butter puts a heavy emphasis on the “sweet.” Well made and texturally on target, but most are tooth-achingly sugary for me.

C’est la vie.


The subversive act of eating

September 21, 2011

I once ate an espresso custard and bitter orange choux that reminded me of a high desert sunrise, my first kiss, and the final notes of the Ode to Joy hanging in the air over the Hollywood Bowl.  In one bite.

I once worked at a posh restaurant. The pastry chef was a taciturn Austrian I’ll call Wolf. Wolf was not handsome.  Wolf was not charming. On the street, Wolf would go unnoticed.  I don’t know how he knew of my love of food and of pastry in particular, but on my last day, he pressed a folded sheet of paper into my hand.  Startled by his expressiveness, I wordlessly tucked the paper into my pocket. I wondered – is it a love note?  A proposal of marriage?  An invitation to come with him to open a bakery in the far reaches of Brooklyn where we’d use only imported Irish butter and Belgian chocolate?

It wasn’t any of those things – it was a handwritten recipe for a bread pudding so decadent it’s best eaten lying down. Never again would a man so readily understand the needs of my heart without my having to speak, dine, or sleep, with him.

I once had a dream where Colin Firth emerged from the ocean, his wet shirt clinging to his chest, and a clotted cream covered warm raspberry scone on a tray. I once had another dream where Daniel Day-Lewis lay in bed with nothing but a Teuscher truffle on his head. In another dream (admittedly this may not have been while sleeping), George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Hugh Grant and I enjoy a cheese plate in a candelit room. With accompaniments.

Clearly this isn’t about the men. The men are merely the backdrop to the real fantasy: The food. Let’s be frank: These days, we fantasize much more about food than sex.

Sex has lost something. It’s too out there, there’s no mystery, no seduction, nothing we don’t know. Between the cigar details of the ancient Lewinsky affair and just about any episode of Sex and the City, if we haven’t done it, we’ve seen it done.  And nothing dulls the palate like a constant diet of the same old thing.

It’s no wonder Carrie and the girls had a regular date at the coffee shop – where else bur a restaurant can we go for the sensuous, mysterious, dark and dusky temptation that used to be sex?

Sex was risqué, a little dangerous. We used to have to hide it, sneak it, enjoy it in cars.  Not any more.  Food is the new taboo – and we treat it exactly as we did sex:  We hide it, sneak it, enjoy it in cars.  When a woman says she wants to be bad, she means she wants you to leave the tray. When she’s good, she means it’s calories she’s kept at bay, not the Wolf at the door. When did enjoying food become such a subversive act?

It has to stop.  If food becomes just another shameful, back-alley pleasure, what will we have left? To talk about, think about, do, do on a date?  It’s time we came out of the pantry and put the “oooh” back into food!

Last week, I waited for a friend at a wine bar that serves food so exceptional it stops your heart. I sat with a glass of red wine and a dish of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with parmesan.

At the next table was an actress, as famous for her thin arms as her talent. She was asking if there was anything like a salad on the menu – all the greens came with oil or cheese or bacon.  She glanced at me, smiled a small smile and said to the waiter, “I wish I could be bad tonight.”

Bad?  I slid over the dish of dates. I offered her one.  She took it.  Put it in her mouth.  Bit down.  Something like a tear appeared in her eye, a hint of a flush on her cheeks.  She slid down, just a little bit, in her seat. She looked so helpless, so confused, so pleasured and delighted.

I leaned over and whispered, “I once ate an espresso custard and bitter orange choux that reminded me of falling in love, sleeping late and a really great run – all in one bite.”

That’s how we do it, people – one skinny, undernourished actress at a time.


March 14, 2010

I pride myself on never having been an addict.  It’s a strange point of pride, I know, but whenever it comes up (as it often does on, say, People.com), I think to myself, thank goodness I’ve never had to know what it feels like to be so in need of something. And I feel a touch stronger than the average Joe.

Then there’s sugar.  Sh-sh-sh-sugar. I can’t say I’m addicted because I’ve never tried to go off it, never tested whether my body would react. I don’t add extra, don’t like sticky sweet things, never ate sugar cubes like my brother did.

But I eat something sweet everyday.  Sometimes twice a day and generally in portions that would be considered, well, large.  Is that…wrong?

Just in case I am addicted, just in case, I cut the sugar in recipes by 1/3 to 1/2.  Most of the time it works out. These Euro Browneis are a perfect example.  Reducing the amount of white sugar gives these a darker, more chocolate flavor that I associate with Europe. Enjoy with a little very slightly sweetened creme fraiche or soft whipped cream.

Mama Rose beats it up, again

March 12, 2010

My copy of The Cake Bible has a broken spine, smeared pages, and some so well glued together with sugar syrup I can’t complete the recipes.  Book in hand since 1991, I’ve loved every minute Rose Levy Beranbaum and I have spent in the kitchen.  I’ve never actually met Rose, but she’s with me, delivering the science and the art of baking in equal, understandable measure, every time I pull out the flour and the sugar. So it was with some excitement that I unwrapped my copy of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I didn’t want my spattered and tattered Cake Bible to feel hurt, I felt I had to dance with the one that brung me.

But if Rose didn’t want us to  see other books, she wouldn’t have….well, enough.  The book is fabu, luscious pics and clear instrux — maybe I’ll bake my way through each recipe and blog about it!  OK, a little late to that party too.  Either way, I’ll start with the Cradle Cake — a pound cake baked in a dacquoise shell — and report back.

Impossibly good things to eat…

March 12, 2010

….almost always contain chocolate, sugar or cream. Or all of these.  I am a writer and a baker who’s just on the verge of transitioning to being a baker and a writer.  This is the beginning.