Learning to Love Disaster

The cardinal rule of any professional kitchen is: waste nothing. For anything edible that finds its way into the trash or down the drain is thrown away profit. Don’t throw out those radish tops! Put’em in with the salad greens and they’re mesclun. Make sure you refrigerate those pork trimmings! We’re making pâté de campagne tonight. Strain the juice from that can of cranberry beans! We’ll pour it over Arborio rice and call it risotto classico with barlotti bean jus. Oh yes, my friends, when it comes to running a commercial kitchen, frugality is the name of the game.

And while not quite as much recycling goes on in the pastry kitchen, opportunities do present themselves, especially where mistakes are concerned. I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to trashing failed baking projects. Let’s be honest, sometimes there’s a very satisfying plop as a broken cake layer hits the bottom of the can. Yet stashed in the freezer, those screwups can be gold, baby. And the payoff is right here in this week’s pastry recipe, which happens to call for cake crumbs (a touch of brilliance on the part of either Mr. Brown or one of his kitchen minions…since all galettes tend to leak precious juice, why not try to soak up a little of it with some crumbs?). At the moment I have a big freezer bag full of almond poppyseed tea bread scraps, the result of trying to turn out warm loaves too early. As luck would have it, almond is a fabulous match with just about any fruit, and will add a faint je ne sais quoi to my effort.

Sure, it doesn’t always work out quite this well, but I rarely fail to use up even the most grotesque of my frozen cake corpses. So take a lesson from the penny-pinching pro’s and save, save, save. Your next baked delight might contain more strung together parts than Frankenstein’s monster, but your guests will never know.

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