10 April 2008

...but a bit about desserts

So about food, and the blog's title, which is a little ironic. I first thought of it while obsessing some over desserts around Christmas -- specifically about which to include among the thirteen desserts that are traditional for a Provençal Christmas.* The reason the title is ironic is that I am not the baker or dessert-maker in the house, and will almost never post about desserts -- dr is the master baker, occasional confectioner and general goddess of making all things sweet, even though I have more of a sweet tooth. So I was a bit out of my comfort zone contemplating making thirteen. But most of the traditional thirteen are very simple like fresh & dried fruit, or things you can make but can much more easily buy like nougat and calissons**. And dr made a killer pompe à l'huile -- see Saveur's recipe, which I don't think is quite the one she used. dr's was moister than any other I can remember (sorry, Mom). One down!

My one big challenge was quince paste, a/k/a pâte de coings or membrillo. I couldn't find enough quinces to make it, although I had a good recipe. Kyla fought creatively through a surfeit of quinces last fall and her quincy creations sounded divine - quince jellies here (sounds nicer than "quince paste").

We did have a ton of pineapple guavas, a/k/a feijoa, from a tree in our yard, and they had some of the flowery aromas of quince, so I thought I'd try to make a quince-like jelly from them. But I had no idea how much pectin they had, so I looked around for quince paste receipes, went and got some Sure-Jell, and adapted from there. I peeled dozens of little feijoas, processed them as finely as I could, added tons of sugar and strained the whole thing, then let it simmer forever. I'm not a stand-and-stir-constantly-for-hours kinda guy, so as it was getting pretty thick and burning even with frequent stirring, I decided it was done.

After it cooled in a parchment paper-lined pan, it was still very soft & sticky. I dusted it with sugar and left it out for several days to try to get it to dry out. I never did achieve the solid, not-too-sticky quality of a good quince jelly, even after repeated dustings with sugar. It continued to weep a bit. But it was solid enough to cut into pieces. It did lose much of the flowery scent, probably from the very long boiling, but the flavor was good -- the slight burning lent it a bit of a caramelized taste, which I liked. The texture was OK, but a bit grainy -- but then, the fruit is a bit grainy when eaten raw, so without straining it very finely, like through a cheesecloth (will never happen), graininess is probably part of the deal.

I wrote down the steps & amounts and took some pictures (of d's pompe à l'huile too)... but the recipe and pics were on my old computer, which was stolen in early February and not recently backed up. I do hope to try again next feijoa season, and will try to document that. Here's a pic of a pompe à l'huile that looks like D's... but is not actually hers.

As for the rest of the 13 desserts, besides the (1) feijoa paste and (2) pompe à l'huile, we got (3) white nougat in a package from my mom and (4) black nougat from the local Persian market. It was softer than Provençal nougat noir, but a bit too jelly-like and not quite solid enough for my taste, although I did like the pistachios and dried fruit in it. We did do the four mendicants: (5) hazelnuts, (6) dried figs, (7) almonds and (8) raisins. Mandarin oranges were always a favorite in our house when I was little. If you're careful, you can remove the bottom half of the peel in one piece with some of the central pith remaining. The peel makes a little cup and the central pith standing up can make a wick. Put some lamp oil in the cup to make a little standing lamp -- on a fireproof plate, please! Kids love it, but we didn't have any lamp oil. Maybe we'll try to do it next Christmas. But we did have (9) mandarins -- or maybe they were tangerines, close enough. (10) Apples, (11) pears and (12) dates, too. We rounded it out with some (13) chocolates instead of calissons. In all, it made for a very light dessert, even when tasting all thirteen.

You're really supposed to have mulled wine (vin cuit) -- the 13 desserts are supposed to represent the 12 apostles + Jesus, and of course the wine is the blood of You Know Who. But there was already plenty of Jesus at our Christmas, with Squiss (our 4 1/2-yr-old) loving the little creche that my mother got her, and very curious about all the details and history of Christmas. And we ran out of time. So no mulled wine. Again, maybe next year.

* If you want to try your French, Web-Provence has some good additional details, and Wikipédia's article is also good.
or again, Wikipédia


Oonae said...

Congrats, Reg, on the blog! All very exciting! Politics and food mix well, of course. My only advice is that, if you're posting food you need pics. Show us what it looks like.

Reg Oignon said...

Thanks, o. Will do going forward -- Kyla's a good model. As mentioned, here I had pics, but lost 'em when the computer was stolen. Argh...