Sometimes I forget myself. I forget that I am good at what I do, do it every day, and have a solid lump of experience under my belt.
Hmmm…. that’s not quite right.
Sometimes I forget you. I forget that you aren’t me and don’t have the experience and daily handling that I do.
I am reminded of this occasionally when I am teaching a class and say things like, “it should be the texture of pastry cream.” You blankly stare at me, and I remember that you came to a beginners baking class today and may not have even heard of pastry cream, let alone know what it’s texture is like.
Molly Moon laughed at me a couple of days ago, saying, “Dana, I just love that you talk to me like I know what the heck you are talking about.” I thought we were discussing the hydration properties of the pectin in her stabilizer, but she just asked if I had put it in yet.
But often, my forgetfulness shows most when I make the statement, “oh this recipe is really easy.”
Then proceed to rattle off a dish that is easy to me in the professional kitchen I work in, or even in my home kitchen that I have outfitted with everything that makes my professional kitchen easy to work in, like giant super clingy cling film that sticks to everything, a box of full sheet sized parchment, a bakers bench with drawers full of every tool I could want, full of every pan I could need, bowls, sieves, and a stack of boxes filled with every pantry item I think to need.
My super easy strawberry buttermilk panna cotta is a breeze to me. But I have to admit, that the process might seem overwhelming to the novice. The cream is heated with sugar and lemon zest (everyone has a microplane, right?). The gelatin is soaked (everyone stockpiles sheet gelatin right?). Then the gelatin is melted into the hot cream and cooled slowly to body temperature (you have an hour to wait, right?). Meanwhile the strawberries, which have been frozen and thawed half way to damage the cell walls for better flavor, pigment, and pectin release, are pureed in a blender and sieved to remove the seeds and kept as cold as possible (you have a blender, sieve, and froze those berries in a single layer last night, right?)
Now, after all this, strain the cream into the strawberry buttermilk mixture, and pour into pretty little serving dishes (you have pretty serving dishes, and the refrigerator space to chill them, right?)
Well, I made a cake this weekend for a back yard barbecue that finally, finally, made me see what I was battling against when I tell people something is easy.
This cake is popular the country over with your church pot luck, back yard barbecue, and family gathering. While my family never made it, (we would have if my mom had the recipe), I have tasted this cake at friends gatherings. It’s nothing a “foodie” would claim to enjoy, although I bet many of them secretly do. During a plated dessert class we discussed nostalgic desserts and 3 of the students claimed this cake as their favorite nostalgic childhood dessert.
It’s called a poke cake, and it’s made by baking a white cake mix, and poking holes all over it, to which you pour jell-o across. The jell-o (I used orange) soaks in, and makes a moist, sweet, and yes, yummy dessert. Cover the whole thing with whipped cream, or better yet, a frosting recipe made by mixing a box of instant vanilla pudding with one cup of milk, and a tub of cool whip.
The result was actually fairly tasty. It’s not going on my menu, but I understand how it can be considered a favorite and brought to various events.
But after all was said and done, this cake was EASY. I had opened 4 containers, used only 3 ingredients that would be in everyones kitchen (eggs, oil, milk), and spent a maximum of 15 minutes preparing it. I used only 4 dishes, a measuring cup, a whisk, a spatula, and a bowl.
While I know this cake isn’t the crowining glory of american cuisine, it is the median. It is a cake that represents the word “easy” to many many home cooks. Compared to my experience in the kitchen this weekend, my easiest of recipes is a handful.
This cake helped put me in my place, and remind me that when I teach and discuss food with people not as entrenched in cuisine as I am, I need to remember where they are coming from. I need to remember you.
“Easy” Strawberry Buttermilk Panna Cotta
250 g. heavy cream
200 g. sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
5 sheets gelatin
250 g. buttermilk
250 g. strawberry puree
1. Soak the gelatin leaves in ice water until soft and hydrated.
2. Mix the cream, sugar, and lemon zest in a small pot, and bring to a boil, whisking until the sugar is disolved. REmove from heat.
3. Remove the gelatin from the ice water, squeeze the excess water from it, and add it to the hot cream, stirring until disolved and evenly distributed.
4. Let this sit on the counter away from heat and come down in temperature slowly, until it is just below body temperature.
5. Meanwhile, mix the buttermilk and strawberry puree well and keep cold.
6. When the cream has come down in temperature, strain it into the cold strawberry buttermilk, and whisk to combine.
7. Pour this into pretty serving dishes, and chill overnight, or at least 8 hours.