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Meet Me In St. Louis

And so here we are. Not far at all from the site of the 1904 World’s Fair. More modern food favorites were catapulted into The Big Time at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition than at any other single event in history. Sure, maybe the hot dog, the ice cream cone, the hamburger, iced tea, push-pops, peanut butter and Dr. Pepper were invented someplace else. But they got noticed here. And without the spotlight of 1904 would they have become what they are now? Maybe, maybe not. It’s said that even the term “fast food” was popularized here. Doesn’t get much more American than that.

And we’re only about two blocks from where it all went down some 116 years ago, in five handsome rooms in St. Louis’s Central West End. The food historian in me is tickled to say the least.


Caribbean Fruitcake Recipe

Also called Jamaican Fruitcake, or Jamaican/Caribbean Christmas Cake, Black Cake, or Wedding Cake, this rum-soaked delicacy can take up to a year to prepare for the very dedicated. But it’s worth the time and trouble. For best results you want to make the fruit mixture at least 3 months ahead of time and bake it about 5 days before you plan to serve it to let the flavors blend. This recipe is enough for two 9-inch round cakes. You’ll need:

The drunken fruit mixture (all of it)
10 ounces all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
11 ounces unsalted butter, soft
11 ounces dark brown sugar
7 eggs, room temperature
Zest of 2 limes
Zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons Caribbean browning

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Gesundheit. All I can say is, if you’ve ever wondered why the cronut has created so much international hoopla, make yourself up a batch of these. You’ll get it in a hurry. And I should say you’ll also have the satisfaction of having made the original cronut, which dates back roughly 100 years to a small city in Catalonia. Why on Earth deep fried croissant dough has never gotten much attention outside of Spain these last ten decades I’ll never understand, because…wow. Add in the cinnamon- and citrus-scented crema Catalan, and you have a positive show-stopper.

The one thing I’ll say is that next time I do these — and it’ll be soon — I’ll roll the croissant dough thinner than I would for a traditional croissant (rolling the 24-ounce piece to 16″ x 16″ instead of 12″ x 16″ should do the trick). Why? Because main challenge with xuixos is ensuring that they get heated all the way through. Which is why, in additional to thinner dough, you’ll want to make sure you fry at a slightly lower-than-normal temperature, so the heat has a chance to penetrate. Dough that’s 1/8 inch maximum will also help ensure through-to-the-middle cooking. So then, let’s start.


Taking the Joe Show On The Road

Circumstances require that the Pastry clan make a temporary move to St. Louis starting this week. It all has to do with that health situation I mentioned in the late summer. Never fear, all will be well with the particular Pastry in question. The situation simply requires some extended treatment, about a month or so, after which the whole thing should be behind us and we can return to normal life. Or at least as normal as life gets in this day and age.

The plan is to do at least some remote blogging after we get settled. Of course there’s so much to plan to make that happen: grip, wardrobe, lighting, camera, and electric trucks. Props, set dec, SFX, craft services, the list goes on. And then there’s mobile and on-site crews. The union negotiations alone could drag on for weeks. But it’ll all be worth it if I can get at least a couple of projects done while we’re there. Can anyone say gooey butter cake?


On Laminating Fats

Reader Sara writes in from Spain to say, first of all, how delicious xuixos are when they’re made with love. And more important than that, butter. She observes also that when she was younger, bakers in Spain used lard instead of butter as a laminating fat. So most croissants (and, by extension, xioxos) would contain lard instead of butter, or perhaps a mix of the two fats.

This isn’t as odd as it may sound to come ears, since good quality lard — i.e. leaf lard — stands in very well for butter. It has more or less the same consistency, and about the same melting point. So from a functional standpoint, you come out even when you trade lard for butter. But then lard tastes rather different, quite “piggy”compared to lighter, sweeter tasting butter. So why use it?

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What happens when you “bloom” cocoa powder?

So asks reader Konrad in Poland. And he’s not talking about what happens when you store bar chocolate improperly and you get that powdery film on it. He’s referring to the process of combining cocoa powder with boiling water. It’s a step that’s used in many cake and brownie recipes to boost chocolate flavor.

Konrad, thanks for a fun question. “Blooming” does a couple of things to cocoa powder. Firstly and most importantly, it frees up bits of cocoa solids to disperse in the batter. Cocoa powder appears uniform when you look at it, but it isn’t. If you were to examine it under a microscope you’d see that, like flour, it is composed of many different-sized bits of ground endosperm, a large number of which are at least partially sheathed in pieces of membrane, which is found in abundance throughout the endosperm itself. Those pieces of membrane don’t have much flavor. Which means that any bit of surface area they occupy on the endosperm particle is that much cocoa we don’t get to taste, because the membrane prevents the cocoa from contacting our taste buds. Boiling water helps those bits of seed coat and membrane to release, and as a result the chocolate flavor is enhanced. Some claim that combining cocoa with boiling water doubles the chocolate flavor. That seems overly optimistic to me, but it might well be true.


Xuixo Recipe

Xuixos are made of components most of us pastry types already know: croissant dough and pastry cream (though in this case, the crème brûlée-like crema Catalana). Not having made xuixo before, I don’t know the quantities exactly, so I’ll put up guesstimates until I actually do them later on in the week.

For now I’ll say that there are two schools of thought on filling xuixos: filling them before frying or after. I’ll confess that filling a fried pastry at the shaping step makes no sense to me, as the custard will not only moisten and compress the delicate dough as it’s trying to proof, you run the risk of curdling the filling as the xuixo deep fries. Not to mention the fact that the filling could ooze out during the frying process, making a mess. No, I’m a fry-first-and-fill-later kinda guy. We’ll need:

20 ounces croissant dough
1 recipe crema Catalana
1 recipe egg wash
Canola oil for frying
granulated sugar for dusting

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Crema Catalana Recipe

I’m not going to wade into the debate over whether the French invented crème brûlée first or the Catalonians invented crema Catalana first. Some subjects are simply too hot to touch. Suffice to say that the techniques for preparing them are identical, though the flavors and textures are not. Crema Catalana, in addition to vanilla, has citrus peel and cinnamon in it, which give it a nice liveliness. It’s not the showpiece for cream that crème brûlée is, but then it’s made with milk anyway. The extra eggs yolks compensate for the lost fat, in addition to giving this custard a somewhat looser texture.

Stirred up — versus being allowed to set in ramekins — crema Catalana makes a phenomenal filling. If you’re planning on using it for that purpose, you can simply do the final heating of the custard mixture in a saucepan. It’s a rough-and-ready treatment for a delicate custard, but it works very well for the purpose. If you’re serving your crema as a dessert, you can heat the custards gently in a water bath in the oven, which will ensure the very silkiest result. You’ll need:

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The Ah-Choo Pastry of Girona

So where were we? Ah yes, the xuixo. This one’s great for 2020, as it’s connected to a plague outbreak in Girona, Catalonia. As the story goes, several cases of plague occurred along the Carrer de l’Argenteria, a street in the city’s mercantile district, where local silversmiths were known to live and work. It wasn’t long before the locals found out about them and decided to barricade the ends of the street, then board up the back doors and windows of the row houses to keep the infected in their homes. This had something of a negative effect on morale in the neighborhood.

To help relieve the boredom and despair along the Argenteria, a young fellow who called himself El Tarlá began to cavort and caper about the center of the street, doing tricks and telling jokes in an attempt to keep the locals entertained for the duration of the outbreak. He became something of a local celebrity. Indeed to this day his antics are commemorated in Girona, where a large life-size likeness of him is suspended from a pole and made to flip and tumble with the turn of a crank.

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Forget the Pie Weights: Use Loose Change

Reader György is the latest in a long line of readers to ask me if I know of any cheap/easy alternatives to pie weights or pie beads. I wrote about this recently in a tutorial, but it seemed to me that a separate post was warranted. Because let’s face it: a lot of bakers waste money on these sorts of things. Or worse, pantry space, with big containers of “baking” rice or beans that hardly ever get used.

I’ve pretty much tried every crust-weighting solution known to bakingkind over the years: the shiny chrome chains (which always get lost or tangled up), the charming ceramic peas (which soak up grease and end up smelling like a wet yak), the uncooked rice (which spills everywhere), dried beans (ditto), even those weird little Matfer aluminum pellets, which look very cool but cost fifty bucks!