The Happy Maker

Cremasse - Let the festivities begin

Cremasse – Let the festivities begin

In the early 1990’s, my recipe for mulled wine, quickly dubbed ‘moldy wine’ by my brother, became a Christmas Eve tradition. This was soon followed by a recipe in 1992 for hot butter rum, nicknamed hot bubba, made with a vanilla ice cream base. For the next 20 years, tradition necessitated a mug of moldy wine before appetizers followed by hot bubba after dinner with the cookie tray.

Last year, the firm where I work produced a “Holiday Cheer Guide” of employee family recipes. After hastily skimming the guide, it was headed for the trash – no need for for Aunt Edna’s fudge recipe or Mom’s secret ambrosia salad – when I happened upon a coworker’s recipe for Cremasse, a traditional celebratory beverage from Haiti. This was something I wanted to taste!

Within one evening, Cremasse (a.k.a. The Happy Maker) has usurped both hot bubba and moldy wine as our festive holiday cocktail of choice. At first sip, I knew this was no sissy’s drink and must be consumed slowly and judiciously, but surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising), the carafe was entirely drained within a few hours.

Cremasse – The Happy Maker

1 L.         dark or spiced rum**
2 c.         sugar
¼ c.        water
3              cinnamon sticks
14 oz.    sweetened condensed milk
12 oz.    evaporated milk
15 oz.    cream of coconut
2 T.         vanilla extract
1 T.         almond extract
1 t.          ground nutmeg
1 t.          ground cinnamon
1 t.          salt
Zest of two limes

Combine sugar, cinnamon sticks and water in a saucepan and place on low heat. Allow sugar to fully dissolve and make a simple syrup. Remove from heat and cool.

Whisk rum into cooled syrup. Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk and coconut cream. Vigorously whisk milk mixture into rum in a steady stream to avoid curdling. Add extracts, spices, and zest. Set aside of two hours to allow flavors to meld. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Pour into glasses, garnish with nutmeg and serve. Cremasse can be served cold or room temperature – I prefer it cold.

**dark rum allowed the almond to come through while spiced complimented the cinnamon and nutmeg

Time for sleep

Time for sleep

Two Bit Tarts

Tarts

Red plum, Almond and peach tarts

No, I haven’t hung up my tart pans and chef’s knife, but my bill-paying career has lately taken up all of my time – traveling, traveling, traveling from Miami to Chicago with a stop in Denver, island hopping from Nassau to Aruba to Grand Cayman and most recently, Napa, Phoenix and San Diego. It’s no wonder when the last trip wrapped on Thursday, my immune system plummeted on Friday, allowing a cold (or is it flu?) to lay me low.

I haven’t been completely negligent in my baking, just my baking blogging. This weekend, with a fever and stuffed nose, it’s the perfect time to catch up. After whipping up an utterly unhealthy banana bread studded with peanut butter baking chips and smothered with cream cheese frosting*, I returned to my tart troubles.

After a few more imperfect iterations, I settled on my Culinary School pate sucree with a portion of the flour substituted with almond flour to give it some crumble. The resulting crust is sturdier than Hesser’s yet not as rock hard as the original sucree. It works for cream and custard fillings (lemon, key lime, coconut and almond), but becomes soggy overnight when filled with stone fruit. We’ll call that a ½ win.

The Crust
7.5 oz. softened butter
3 oz. sugar
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. lemon zest
1/2 t. vanilla
3 oz. egg, beaten
8 oz. All Purpose flour**
2 oz. almond flour

Preheat oven to 375.  Cream butter and sugar. Add salt, zest, vanilla and egg and beat until fully incorporated. Combine flours and mix until incorporated. Weigh out 2.75 oz. for each tartlet and press into sides and bottom of tartlet pans***. Blind bake as needed.

*Future trial – substitute pastry flour
**Future trial especially for my personal trainer – banana bread with Reese’s minis and crispy bacon covered in cream cheese frosting. God bless a girl with 12% body fat that still understands food porn.
***I’ve found a tortilla press works wonders for mass production. I pressed a 2.75 oz. ball of dough flat between two pieces of plastic wrap in the press, then fit the dough into the pans, pushing the overhang back in the sides as reinforcement.

Commandments

I’ve been re-reading The Happiness Project.  In the book, the author lists her 12 (she couldn’t stop at 10) commandments for happiness.  As I move through this process of potentially opening my own gelato business, I thought it would be beneficial to write commandments of my own (I borrowed more than a few from the book).   These are a combination of quotidien, life-enhancing reminders and more specific directives specifically for the business.   Here are my thirteen:

The 13 Commandments

  1. Appraise opinions accordingly.  If devoid of solution or accuracy, they are of no value.
  2. Connect
  3. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good – Voltaire
  4. Drive with the top down whenever possible
  5. Do stuff
  6. Talk to strangers
  7. Go outside
  8. Never bother with people you hate
  9. Make mistakes
  10. Imagine the eulogy: how do I want to be remembered?
  11. What would I do if I weren’t scared?
  12. Dry shampoo will give you 30 extra minutes of time
  13. Consider before saying ‘yes’ or  ‘no’

The Dirty Harry

mintoreosI brought gelato to work– two flavors:  peanut butter cup and pistachio.  The pistachio needs work but the pb cup was perfect – dark chocolate gelato with a little pb in the base, dark chocolate chunks and pb swirls.  I’m really happy with this one – definitely a keeper for the “final menu” (whatever that means).

I also held a contest – I split the group into teams of two and made them come up with a gelato flavor.  Everyone voted on the best and the team that won will get their flavor “recreated’ next week.

“The Dirty Harry” was the winner –Oreo cookies, mint, dark chocolate and caramel.

The mint/caramel combination threw me off, but then I started doing a bit of online research and discovered that mint-caramel isn’t that strange and is commonly combined in desserts and candies.  Who knew?

For the final product, I’m imagining a dark chocolate gelato base with cool mint Oreo chunks and a liberal swirl of peppermint-caramel.

Culinary Procrastination

“Instead of studying Locke,– I go make an apple pie, or study Joy of Cooking, reading it like a rare novel.”  -Sylvia Plath

Setting the irony of this topic and her suicide aside, I recently finished an article about the poetess, Sylvia Plath, and her fondness of cooking, baking and entertaining.  The article noted that she avoided the dreary task of creating her College lesson plans by determinedly mixing up culinary concoctions in the kitchen.  She sidestepped her unbearable writers block and evaded her baneful writing desk through her constant stirring and frying and mincing.

“For Sylvia Plath, baking was a form of therapy.”  I understand the therapy of culinary avoidance. The day a critical deadline looms is always the precise instance I have to, without a moment’s interruption, test that cookie recipe that’s been lingering in my recipe box for the last five years.  Couldn’t it wait until a more appropriate time?  No, it must be baked – and it must be baked now.  The work, the project, the stress-inducing deadline can wait.  We must withdraw to the kitchen for the genuine “work”.

Tonight, for example, I had four hours of projects that needed finishing.  Procrastinating all week, I knew that I’d have plenty of weekend time for completion. But then…I realized…at about 4:30 this afternoon…that my freezer was harboring the Alaskan halibut a friend had caught months before.  It must be lonely and languishing inside the sub zero after all this time.  I could almost hear it through the stainless steel door – it must be released into the culinary daylight.   So, I placed the frozen block of halibut in water for thawing, hurried to the grocery store (note – Superbowl Sunday is a great time for grocery shopping), wrestled the Cuisinart down from its dusty pantry shelf, preheated the oven and proceeded to create:

Sylvia’s roasted halibut with blood-orange scented yams and salsa verde. My assignments can wait until Monday.

Halibut