Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How I got my mojo back

Even though I’ve made a post today already, I still feel like writing. So I figured I’d explain in part how I decided to start blogging.

Last year, I discovered a foodie website called Chowhound. After reading the board pertaining to Montreal, I felt like it was unthinkable that I had managed without it for so long (you wouldn't believe the fantastic restaurants I found in there!). I poke around the site a few times a week, and one day last week, I found a long thread where people discussed their favourite food blogs. I started looking at some of them and was quickly smitten. I couldn’t stop reading them for a week straight (and I still can’t). I fantasized about having my own cooking blog.

Now, you should know that I consider myself a pretty good baker, at least as far as cakes and cookies go. I am pretty much the Queen of Desserts. (I still can’t knead bread, though, but my husband, J., is great at it. As a matter of fact, the first time he made me dinner when we were dating, he made pizzas from scratch, dough and all. I was very impressed – and I still am. He is now working his way through Baking Illustrated, the best baking book I know, making one recipe at a time. That in-and-of-itself would warrant a blog, but I digress.) So for my grandmother’s 80th birthday in late January, I decided to bake some lemon tarts. I had made the tarts before and knew they were good, and since my grandmother loves lemons (but can’t get quality lemons because she lives in a rural area), I figured it was the perfect thing.

I started this recipe a day in advance, to make the dough, slice lemons and mix them with sugar. The dough came out wonderfully; in fact, I think it was my best yet. And I had five lemons ready to go. So I decide to finally use my food processor to its full potential and to have it slice the lemons. Of course, they were too big to fit into the feed tube, so in a moment of light-headedness, I sliced them lengthwise and proceeded to feed them down the tube. Wouldn’t you know it, it didn’t work. The blade hardly even made a scratch on the surface of the first lemon, no matter how hard I pushed it down the tube. I eventually decided to do what I had always done before: use my mandoline to slice them one at a time. But because all my lemons were halved lengthwise, it didn’t work. J. ever-so-kindly went out and bought me more lemons on the spot, which I sliced crosswise with the mandoline and mixed with sugar (this mixture had to rest overnight).

When I actually assembled and cooked the tarts, everything continued to go wrong. I ruined a baking sheet (placed in the oven to catch any drips) and had to clean the oven anyway because of a pretty big spill. The tarts ended up overcooked but still liquid inside. Let’s just say it was a failure of epic proportions. I don’t think I had ever messed up a dessert so badly. My grandmother says she still liked them (actually, she said was impressed by how much work I had put into them, which isn’t quite the same thing, really), but I had totally lost my baking mojo as well as my self-confidence. And I still had a bunch of halved lemons left over in the fridge. So I decided to put those cooking blogs to use.

I found a recipe on Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook, which seemed easy enough to do. I started with my pie dough (based on Martha Stewart’s recipe, it hasn’t failed me yet) and followed Lucy’s simple instructions. Then, I improvised a meringue with my left-over egg whites and threw it on top halfway through baking. And this lemon pie turned out perfectly! I had my mojo back, thanks to Lucy. :)

So for those who want it, the pâte brisée recipe (makes enough for one crust for a 10-inch pie; doubles easily for a double-crust pie): 1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour; a dash of salt; a dash of sugar; ½ cup of cold unsalted butter; ¼ cup to ½ cup of ice water. Pulse the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor to combine. Add the butter (cut into cubes) and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, add ice water through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream until the dough just holds together, no longer than 30 seconds. Then turn out the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes before using. Flour your work surface and roll out the dough to fit into the pie plate, cutting away excess. Depending on what pie you are making, you can add herbs, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. to the dough.

All this to say that now that I have my confidence back, I am ready to attempt new recipes. I’ll try to post about my next baking project later this week.

No comments: