My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Having obtained my new KitchenAid mixer this past weekend, I wanted to put it to work. What better way than to make Julia’s Bavarois, or Bavarian Cream? It involves whisking egg yolks and sugar, whisking egg whites, and making whipped cream. I’d have a dandy time with my new buddy.

I had previously made the strawberry variation (Bavarois aux Fruits), so this time I headed for the almond praline version. In this case, an almond praline is prepared and then ground up to flavor the Bavarian cream. Oh, and the whole thing is served with ground praline and a custard sauce on top. It sounded scrumptious.

Three steps are involved in making the almond praline. (1) Toasting the almonds, (2) making the caramel and (3) combining the two.

Toast the slivered almonds first. They can wait on the caramel but not the other way around. Simply place them on a dry sheet pan and into a 350 degree oven. Check every two minutes. Trust me, once they begin to toast, they go fast. I’ve burned nuts before and it’s easy to do. Give them a stir about halfway through to redistribute them – ovens have hot-spots. Take them out just before you think they’re fully toasted. It’s better to err on the side of being underdone.

Place the nuts aside and spray the sheet pan with non-stick spray.

Now for the caramel which is basically melted and browned sugar. It can be tricky – I’ve had it crystallize and go grainy on me before. When that happens, there's no recovery. You have to start over.

My friend, Lorraine in Seattle, apparently has a weird micro-climate surrounding her kitchen which makes it impossible to produce caramel successfully. At least that’s what she told me when mine failed.

Place ½ cup of sugar in an even layer and 2 Tbs water in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. DO NOT STIR – ever. That’s one thing that causes the crystallization – a film of melted sugar drying on the sides of the pan. You may give it a very gentle swirl every now and then. Julia says to place a lid on the pan so that the steam will melt any dried sugar and keep peeking.

You’ll want the sugar to melt and bubble away until it turns an amber color. Again, this is very easy to overcook and burn. Once it begins turning amber, it’ll turn pretty quickly.

I advocate a bit of culinary yoga when making caramel – that is, to visualize your goal in order to achieve it. In this case, the Amber Room at the Catherine Palace near Saint Petersburg provides a great example of where you want to head. Mentally project this image onto your caramel and all will be well. I'm not joking. . .

Here is the caramel, just beginning to turn.
(Have the almonds and a spatula ready.)

A little more. . .

Now, it’s ready. (Again, I aim to err on the side of under-doneness.)

Pour the toasted almonds in, give a quick turn with a spatula, and immediately pour it out onto the greased baking sheet. If you dawdle at all, the mixture will quickly harden in the saucepan.

Flatten it out and let it cool. It’ll be fully hardened and ready to use within ten minutes.

Here’s another helpful hint: If you try to wash the saucepan with any caramel remaining, it will harden like a rock. Instead, fill the saucepan with water, bring it to a boil and then simply pour it out.

Another word of advice: Be careful when making caramel. Remember, you’re dealing with molten, sticky sugar-magma. You don’t want that on unprotected skin. – and this is definitely not something you want little ones anywhere around.

Oh, and the Bavarios aux Praline was absolutely incredible. Definitely a showcase dessert to have in one's repertoire if there ever was one.

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