Monday, March 15, 2010

Chocolate Bavarian Cream: Take One

Once upon a time, I worked for a catering company. At the beginning of my employment there, I was asked to bake a batch of muffins, which turned out beautifully. I could bake! There was much rejoicing in the land. My boss was happy. I was happy. It was just how fairy tales start.

Then came the calamity. My boss--without training me at all or teaching me about the various ovens in her shop--left me alone in the kitchen with a laundry list of tasks and a general lack of knowledge about where everything was. I was tasked with making orange poppyseed biscuits. OK. Were there biscuit cutters? No. Which oven would work best? Who knew. I went to work, frantic to get everything done before my boss returned. I tried cutting the biscuits with a meat knife--incredibly efficient, but when I tried to remove the excess dough from the blade, I cut myself nearly to the bone. The boss had never shown me a first aid kit. I looked everywhere, and eventually fashioned a tourniquet out of paper towels and plastic wrap. Put on a glove, kept going. Baked the biscuits. Let them cool. Some had black bottoms--oh well. I had lost too much blood to care. Made the corn salad. Difficult with one hand. Threw together all the dishes on my list, refrigerated, let cool. Went home before the boss could come back.

Let's just say that this was the first of many bad days at that company, where it became abundantly clear that I do not cook well under pressure and that that particular boss was an absolute dragon when it came to guilt. Every time I did something less than perfectly, she left it out on the counter overnight, knowing that I would walk in with my mistake spread over the counter for all to see. The black-bottomed biscuits. The overcooked cookies. And, once, a crumbled up pile of wedding cake (I had insufficiently greased the pans). I was a dog and she was rubbing my face in my mess. When I had sufficiently ruined the wedding cake--twice--it was suggested I not work there anymore. And so I quit. And there was much rejoicing in the land.

You may be wondering at this point what this has to do with chocolate bavarian cream. You may also be wondering why I would tell you this, since you read my food blog and would hope I knew something about food. Well, I've learned quite a bit from my failures over the years, and I continue to do so. Enter the chocolate bavarian cream.

Yesterday, Ian and I tried to make this most delicious of desserts, pulling the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I read the recipe through a couple of times and got to work, assigning Ian the simpler tasks. Tasks I have taught him how to do. But he didn't remember them. So, while trying to put together the custard, I also had to teach him how to whip egg whites (he insisted that doing it with a machine must be different than doing it by hand--I assured him it was not, except it was faster). Things started to go quickly--the milk was simmering, the chocolate melted, Ian needed help, I couldn't remember the recipe--and so the custard was not properly cooked, the egg whites were over-whipped, and what we have in the fridge is more closely related to pudding--maybe a failed mousse.

So this is another situation I can learn from. With the wedding cake I learned that the bigger the pan is, the thicker the layer of butter it requires. With the cookies, I learned not to follow your boss's recipe if it doesn't appear to be working. With the biscuits I learned that one batch at a time might be slow, but it will give better results. With last night's dessert, I learned prepare, prepare, prepare. Read the recipe three times if you need to. Get every element done ahead of time that you can. The egg whites can sit there, whipped and ready to go. The eggs and sugar can be combined before the milk goes on the stove. There's no need to panic.

So next time, I'll know.

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