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 √† 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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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Deux Bavarois aux Pralines

Two Bavarian Creams Flavored With Almond Pralines.

My last post espoused the glories of Julia's Bavarian Cream with Almond Praline. I have to tell you that this dessert was such a hit that it's been commissioned to make a double-appearance at a gathering for approximately forty guests in a couple of days.

I must also tell you that the host of this gathering is another Julia fan and friend of mine who actually met her during a cooking class in San Francisco during the early 90s.

I'm looking forward to presenting this dessert, but feel that I must document such an endeavor.

Now that you know how astounding this dessert is, hopefully, you'll be soon doing the same for dozens of your friends as well.I've seen lots of other bloggers giving measurements to Julia's recipes here and there. I've yet to hear of any litigious pursuits over such endeavors, so I'll tentatively do the same.

For two almond pralines, I find it best to begin with a 2-cup package (16 oz) of slivered almonds and toast those. The recipe for each calls for 1/2 cup of pulverized almond praline plus 2 Tbs of pulverized praline for the topping. You might as well toast twice as much as you need and freeze the rest. Or, if your almonds or caramel don't appear to be really toasty, freely double the amount.

I've learned that excessive almond praline in this recipe can seldom be a bad thing.Having prepared this dessert so often and studied J. Child pedagogy, I feel confident that she would agree. Just as with performing a Bach Fugue, liberties may be taken, but only with hands full of knowledge and respect.

Here is what two cups of toasted almonds look like after having been submitted to three minutes at 350, stirred, then two more minutes.
The extra toasty bits on the side would taste awfully burnt if they'd gone 30 seconds more. This is when you want to stop and mix the toasted almonds in. Any more, and you will have wasted five bucks worth of nuts.

Here are two cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of water, very gently swirled, and bubbled away to make a caramel. This is the point where the toasted almonds should be quickly stirred in, and very quickly and poured out onto a greased baking sheet.

I'm toying with the idea of using toasted Macadamia nuts instead of almonds. They weren't available to Julia back in the 1950s like they are now. Macadamia nuts can hardly be considered a "French" food item either, and now that I think about it, I'm not so sure we should be heading off into Nigella Lawson territory, scrumptious though she is.

Let's stay with what's known and relish it.Now that the recipe is doubled, here we have the requisite fourteen egg yolks, ten egg whites and the remaining four egg whites.


In olden days, I'd be saving the four remaining egg whites, pouring them into a plastic Ziploc bag, collecting them, and freezing them for later use.

But let's be honest here. Julia's recipes call for a huge amount of egg yolks compared to egg whites. Saving the whites, while may be admirable, is hardly practical and a messy ordeal. Unless you have an inordinate desire for egg-white omelets, dump the remaining whites down the Dispose-All.

Next is the making of an egg custard. In this case, the fourteen yolks are beaten with two cups of sugar in the mixer until frothy, lemon-colored, and ribbony.

Meanwhile, three cups of milk (full-fat only, please) is heated in a large sauce pan until boiling, then added in driblets to the egg yolks. That mixture is returned to the sauce pan and heated to make a custard.

As I've said before, custard can be a tricky thing. When I thought I knew Everything-You-Always-Wanted-to-Know-About-Custard, my custard surprised me and broke, resulting in a grainy mess of hard-scrambled eggs and whey.

Oh well. Life is often like that. Just when you think you know everything, your work results in curds and whey. Learn from it, laugh at yourself, be sure to pass on the lessons, wash the dishes, and head on.

So, here are some helpful custard hints for you that I hope will make your life easier:

Use a rather large sauce pan or pot. You'll want a large enough pot to enable some rather vigorous stirring with a rubber spatula -- and you'll want to be able to "feel"the bottom of the sauce pan for any scratchiness. Such would signify that the egg yolks are cooking too fast and scrambling. A small sauce pan would inhibit your free movement of the spatula.

Regarding the proper heat source: Something that is hot enough to cook the egg mixture without scrambling them is best.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) I am stuck with the original 1964 General Electric, push-button stove that came with my apartment, in Harvest Gold to boot.

The large, front burner only works on "high" and nothing else. Therefore, I've grown quite comfortable with moving the egg custard pot back-and-forth from the large, full-bore burner to the smaller burner set on medium. That way, I'm able to gauge exactly what the heat is doing to my custard.

While this may seem cumbersome, I'm reminded of my paternal grandmother in Texas who preferred preparing the family meals on her wood-burning stove in the ranch house even though a gas stove had long been supplied. Obviously, she had developed an extremely keen heat-source intuition that served her very well. My old-fashioned, GE push-button clunker does the same for me.

So, here is what a double-recipe of egg custard should look like when you stir it.

Again, the moment you feel any scratchiness on the bottom of the pot when you're stirring it with the rubber spatula, move it away from the burner and all will be well. Once you get used to the proper heat source, this should take no longer than 8-10 minutes on the burner(s).

Set the custard aside and prepare the coffee-gelatin mixture. One cup of really strong coffee should be on hand with four Tbs of gelatin. When you think about it, it's never a bad idea to have a large cup of your best, really bold Italian roast on hand for the cook either. The extra cup, actually, should be an after-thought.

Whip the ten egg whites (pinch of salt, spoonful of sugar) to medium peaks. Not limpy whites, but not firm screaming peaks either. Just regular egg whites.
You know.

Fold them into the custard in The Usual Manner: 1/3 mixed in to lighten the batter, the next two-thirds in the folding manner; cut the whites in with a J formation, turning the bowl, so as not to deflate them.
Next, whip one cup of heavy cream. (Please -- there's never any need to dirty another measuring cup with buttery cream if your cream came in a 16-oz container).

Do the math. Dump half of it in.
Whip the gelatin together with the hot, delicious coffee that should always be on hand for the cook.
Fold in the ground praline, (be sure to save about 1/l4 cup for the toppings later) the whipped cream, the gelatinized coffee all together. Use your best folding technique so that the final result will "have a most lively, light, creamy, velvety quality," as Julia puts it.

Divide the custard into two 9-inch containers lined with Saran Wrap (cling-film).

I use one 9-inch springform cake pan and one 9-inch Tupperware container because that's what I happen to have on hand. Be sure to line the bottom of each with plenty of plastic wrap, more than you think you'll need, as it's all pretty unwieldy.


Fold the plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate it overnight or at least eight hours.

Meanwhile -- and I hate to tell you this -- but you'll need to get your custard-making tool-belt back on. You'll be making it again as a topping and side-sauce, but please, make it at your leisure. It won't be needed until you serve it and it can be refrigerated until needed. (Whew!)

Un-mold the custard onto a serving platter, pour half the custard on top along with the remaining praline. Serve the remaining custard on the side.

Again, words cannot express how pleasurable this dessert is.



To me, there really is something supernatural about her endeavor that she left behind.

And that's what I love so much about the work that our Julia provided for us all.

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