In the middle of the road you see the darndest things.

IMG_4921When I worked at the cafe, I learned quickly that office workers are fickle.

I don’t think this is a characteristic that they bring with them into their personal lives, so maybe it’s that the recirculated air has an effect on the cognitive process (I say that, of course, with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Calgary +15s and the film Waydowntown).

Chefs are manufacturers and servers are salesmen. It is almost insane to try to plot sales of one dish over another, to say “We sold a lot of cod yesterday, better stock up today,” because that really doesn’t make sense. Why do restaurants, and I’m sure every other sales outlet, see dramatic spikes and sharp falls in certain items, changing on a daily basis? I could probably look that up but I’m trying to claw my way out of a pastry creativity slump so I’ve got other things to do. But it is a fact that one day there will be interest in one thing and they will all sell (much to the sadness of those who showed up late), and we cleverly stock ourselves the next day and the dining room wants what we have 10 of instead of 20.

January and February are notoriously difficult times for sweet things. People will always eat savoury, but when they are trying to stick to a resolution, sweets are dropped. Despite the hamburger probably containing more dangers to health than the dainty tart, sugar and carbohydrates are seen as threats moreso than red meat or [carbohydrate heavy] french fries. I will note I’ve also seen a downturn in pastry sales around mid-late April, the week long period I like to call “Beach Body Time”, meaning people stop eating delicious things for one week in order to slim down for summer, then quickly give up.

Writing a new menu, as I’ve bemoaned in my last post, if fucking difficult. Eaters arrive and are probably confused by the menu as it doesn’t seem quite right while desserts are being tested. It was a bumpy ride, up here where it is hard to get much of anything reasonably in January, my tiny menu is as such:

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Carrot cake – this is probably going to be a staple for a while, especially since the ubiquitous carrot doesn’t really have a season anymore, I can get away with it. I’ve updated it with a mandarin curd for colour and to reincorporate the orange flavour the original had before we stopped ordering oranges.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake – This has been tremendously popular not only because it is chocolate but because it is gluten-free. It is very simple: Flourless cake, hazelnut pastry cream (only because I had to justify ordering 5kg of gianjua, the chocolate with 30% hazelnut that tastes like a block of Nutella, one of my favourite things to eat), topped with a thin wafer of Valrhona dark chocolate, paired with a milk chocolate ice cream and cabernet sauvignon sorbet. I opted for both the ice cream and sorbet because the sorbet, with a beautiful full flavour of alcoholic wine and hint of raspberry, did not have the body to hold up to the cake, which in itself has a variety of textures but not enough richness. The rich, smooth milk chocolate ice cream balances the dish.

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And finally, a Tiramisu, to round out the classic trio. Apparently, people do want to eat carrot cake, chocolate, and Tiramisu in an asian-influenced resto. WTF.

This is the first time I’ve been allowed to make a Tiramisu my way. The first time was in catering, called to whip cream and mascarpone together, layer with instant coffee. I snuck salt into the recipe, had to argue that Amaretto was not the original liqueur used, and just made a teetotalling version in little plastic cups. Not my style.

Tiramisu is adored by the English, or at least by Devonians in the South. It was on the menu, reasonably so, when we arrived at the Pickwick Inn, the Italian themed pub in teeny St.Ann’s Chapel. This was the version I made there:

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I couldn’t change the chef’s recipe much, had an argument about his version not containing eggs, and I secretly salted the cream again. The chocolate decor, which was made from Callebaut chips because that’s the best I could get, couldn’t be tempered so they lived in the freezer, sigh. I used the Charles Rennie MacKintosh rose for inspiration.

Plymothians love it too, as Rhodesey put it on the menu there, but a hybrid with the Knickerbocker Glory, essentially a Sundae but with more syllables. They insisted it be served in a vase, of which were so delicate when all but 8 had chipped, I’d make them up to five times a day, often a-la-minute. No matter the rain or sleet outside, Devonians love their ice cream. Needless to say, I was not sad to say good-bye to this.

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My present sous, who worked at a fancy-pants italian place for years and is deeply skilled in classic French and Italian cooking, begged me to make Tiramisu, solely because she loves them. So this is my version:

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The mascarpone mousse contains a pate a bombe, or egg yolks cooked with sugar, the french version of zabaglione. Though many people now exclude the eggs in the cream base, opting instead for just mascarpone and whipped cream, I disagree with this completely. It originally contained eggs, and I find they give the cream extra body and depth, bring out the flavour of the mascarpone, where just folding with cream tends to dilute the subtle taste. It also gives the recipe structure and lightness, and makes it less costly to produce.

Tradition calls for the lady fingers, often the brand Savoiardi are used, to be soaked in coffee. I was never able to get a strong enough coffee flavour without over-soaking these dry, horribly dull biscuits. I opted to whip cream to soft peaks, flavour heavily with Trablit coffee extract (the best on the market, from France, $$, divine) and just a tiny amount of sugar, and freeze in half spheres. When fully thawed, the coffee centre is almost liquid, contrasts with the layer of crisp, dark chocolate you meet before the soft ladyfinger.

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Originally made with Marsala, I’ve tried making it with the wine but I don’t care for it. Amaretto, a liqueur I love, overpowers the cheese.  So I use Goslings Dark Rum to soak my housemade ladyfinger. The rum is potent but spiced and soft in flavour so as to give you a quick hit of alcohol, but not enough to detract from the coffee or the star, the mascarpone. I serve it straight from the fridge out of necessity due to the low gelatin content in the mousse, despite preferring desserts be served at room temp (better texture and fuller flavour), but balance the chill with a slightly warmed moat of rum-spiked caramel, and the only garnish is a heavy dusting of dutch cocoa.

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It is so simple, so plain looking, but I didn’t want to deconstruct it to make it showy. It is what it is, and of all the Tiramisu’s I’ve served, people hands-down say it is the best they’ve had. All I can say is I’m happy they like it, I didn’t create it on a whim, as I’ve been perfecting it in my mind for 4 years. But I hope one day to try a proper Tiramisu, perhaps one made in Baltimore by the man who claims to have invented it.

If you’re interested in reading the history of the Tiramisu, this Washington Post article is enlightening.

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