Every baker has a go-to pastry. The thing you can do with you eyes closed, that never fails to impress, the ingredients for which are always at-the-ready for when surprise guests show up, a neighbor’s great uncle dies or your spouse commits you to a bake sale without your knowledge. For me it’s coffee cake. Provided I’ve got a little frozen puff pastry or other laminated dough hanging around (and I always do since my chest freezer feels naked without it), I can whip one out for the morning rush with half a day’s notice.
And so it was yesterday afternoon when I finished mowing the lawn and happened to remember that the wife had commissioned something-or-other for twenty five today. Two classrooms worth in other words (it’s end-of-term at U of L and that’s always a hectic time of year for me). What to do…brownies? They’d expect that. Doughnuts? Too pedestrian. Ah yes, the old tried-and-true, a little of the old coffee cake action will do nicely. Oh yes, very nicely indeed.
I’ve always been a fellow who enjoys confounding expectations. Invite a few folks over on a whim and I’ll spend the day knocking out four courses. Guests showing up for a pre-planned Saturday night dinner on the other hand will usually find themselves eating fish tacos and drinking beer out of cans. Call me a maverick boys and girls. A rebel.
So what did I need to pull off my uptown version of the end-of-year classroom treat? The pastry was ready and waiting. The pantry was awash in canned apricots. The only missing component was a little pastry cream. Sugar, cornstarch, half n’ half, vanilla bean and egg yolks…no sweat. Only when I went to separate a few of my fresh-from-Whole Foods organic, cage free, hand fed, free range, four-dollar eggs, the whites ran through my fingers like water. What a disappointment. I’d bought them only the day before and paid four dollars. And did I mention they cost four dollars?
Old eggs don’t perform much differently in something like a pastry cream compared to fresh ones, so they were usable. But it just goes to show that brown shells and recycled packaging do not a fresh egg make. Maybe it’s because I live in Kentucky and fresh-from-the-hen eggs are abundant (drive a few minutes out of Louisville and you see signs in front of every other double-wide), but eggs obviously ain’t a-movin’ much over at the Whole Foods dairy case. Those things were weeks off the cruelty-free farm.
Yet another reminder that eggs and produce are best bought from busy stores with rotating stocks. For me that’s the local superstore, Kroger, though I have to admit that even though their eggs display superior freshness they’re rarely superior tasting. For those articles I of course rely on the Saturday farmer’s market down the street. There the eggs are so fresh the whites stand up like typical yolks do when you crack’em. Now that’s fresh. But you have to get up mighty early if you want to get any. Which makes me wonder if I should just get a couple of chickens for the back yard. How does that old eye-talian saying go?
Eggs of an hour,
Bread of a day,
Wine of a year,
A friend of thirty years
…or something. I’ve never eaten an egg that fresh. And boy would little Josephine love chasing those things around. I wonder what the city ordinances are? Maybe I could head out to one of them double-wides and pick me up a couple of Rhode Island reds.