Monday, March 14, 2011

Measuring Cups for good Measure

Everyone copes differently. After her father passed, Orangette write Molly Wizenberg writes in her Homemade Life memoir that she swam in croissants and potato salad; the food she associated most with her father. I too am swimming in chocolate and heavy cream but luckily Vittorio is still alive and well. My emotional baggage comes in the form of a breakup. Some women buy shoes, I splurge on $6 tomatoes on the vine and take up baking. Yes, baking.

Let me just say that I did not stumble upon this desire single-handedly. I did not wake up today and decide that it is time to take up the one form of culinary art I have notoriously written off as box fair or worse, have reserved for companies like Bindi to graciously supply my tiramisu. Quite frankly, the prospect of composing a cake without a box and premade mix is terrifying but all the more reason to endeavor to do away with store bought dessert in one form or another.

I want to go by Nicolette after my recent introduction to the fabulous Eric Ripert and the dinner I ate at Boston’s beautiful Mistral Bistro. I admit that my newfound obsession with everything David Lebovitz leads me to this evening’s Orange and Rum Chocolate Mousse Cake complements of his Great Book of Chocolate. I rationalize that any dessert that calls for dark spice rum cannot prove haphazard even if its creator is slightly tipsy hovering over her apartment’s not-so easy bake oven; the oven typically a makeshift pantry for baking dishes on any given night I customarily abandon in favor of casserole dishes and roasting pans; but I am suffering a breakup here. 

Call it caviar wishes or temporary insanity but I have to do something to keep my mind off of the “thing” we’re not talking about and since David and Molly are on my bookshelf, and I cannot consume a vat of potato salad for fear of my Italian roots uprooting, I opt for the measuring cups, for good measure.

The verdict’s still out. If it smells like a cake and it looks like a cake, you need to still take a taste; believe you me. I really should give myself more credit but when you are raised in a household where the closest thing to homemade dessert includes a box of J-E-L-L-O pudding mix, you’re not exactly conditioned to turn your nose up to a red Duncan Hines box if it means dessert is served.

I still remember classmates’ parents preparing baked goods to drop off for the holiday parties and begging my mom to assemble a cake like the cake Katie Miller’s mom whipped up for the third grade Halloween party. Ever the negotiator, my mom tells me that Katie Miller’s mom is a “stay at home mom” and that if Little Debbie’s are not good enough for the third grade Halloween party, I can always go empty-handed or worse, not at all. All these years later, still not above Little Debbie’s, I cannot justify unwrapping those prepackaged pastries in my apartment where I readily compose fresh sauces and chicken marsala late night with hardly any effort. At some point, we all graduate, with a little luck I can finally separate myself from boxed mixes.

Currently, the mousse cake sits in the middle of the bottom oven rack surrounded by a bath of warm water beneath it; David takes his cake making seriously, I will give him that. I yearn to churn out a flawless tart as effortlessly as his memoir eludes a tart can be prepared. Regardless of whether or not the chocolate mixes with the butter mixes with the sugar and eggs, I must say this endeavor proved as therapeutic as any other cannellini recipe I’ve shared; even if hovering over measuring cups is not as natural to me as it is to others.  

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