That was my dad’s standard reply to “What’s for dessert?”
I never found it particularly funny as a child, but as an adult it makes me grin and reminds me of how much I enjoy my father’s sense of humour.
But on to the point of the post!
Last weekend was the fourth annual travelling dinner in my neighbourhood, and the second that I’ve attended. The premise is this: On a designated evening, you open your home to strangers for one of four courses and you go to three other homes for the other parts of the meal. It’s a simple idea that allows you to meet about 30 new people, in a manageable way, in one evening.
The Dinner is organized by a couple who lives nearby, and I’m impressed by their willingness to take on the logistics year after year. They do a wonderful job.
Last year, I hosted the soup and salad course and served a frisée aux lardons salad and a mushroom soup, both from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. It was an excellent reminder about seasonality. Frisée was nowhere to be found except in mixed greens tubs at the grocery store. I take the “go to the market, see what they have, cook accordingly” approach much more now.
This year, I drew dessert, which was a bit of a relief since I bake regularly and feel comfortable that I can put together something enjoyable. Logistically speaking, too, it appealed. When you are hosting either Course 2 (Soup & Salad) or Course 3 (Main Dish) you need to leave your previous course a bit early and then run the risk of arriving late for the next. Cocktails & Appetizers or Desserts seem the easiest to me.
Baking for six guests, though, isn’t as straightforward as I thought. I wanted there to be a selection, but I didn’t want to commit days to prep, nor did I want to have desserts galore left over. I found myself a bit stumped at first.
In the end I made boozy marshmallows, a butter cake, an almond and chocolate meringue torte and candied orange peel.
The marshmallows are in my trusted recipe file. They’re simple to make (assuming you have a stand mixer and a good candy thermometer), and they’re always well-received. They’re flavoured with Lillet Blanc, a French aperitif. I was only able to get Lillet Rouge, this time, but they didn’t suffer for it. They still had a beautiful honey-citrus note although they were a little more boozy than those I’ve made in the past. Also, they were closer to Benjamin Moore Dreamy Cloud than their standard white. (Recipe source: Gourmet Magazine, April 2009 (QEPD))
The other three treats all come from Smitten Kitchen.
I have been dying to try this recipe since it was posted a couple of years ago.
And … I blew it.
Because I was trying to make a reasonable amount of food, I halved the recipe. Therein lay my downfall.
First problem: there wasn’t quite enough dough in the mixer bowl for either the paddle attachment or the dough hook to get its “teeth” into, so it didn’t get worked properly.
Second problem: the recipe is written for a 9″x13″ dish and I put half of it into an 8″x8″, meaning it was thinner than it would have been had I gone for the full shebang.
Third problem: I over baked it, so it wasn’t gooey at all. (Sorry, St. Louis.)
Fourth problem: the sweeteners-to-butter ratio doesn’t seem to work when you do a straight halving, so the finished product was way too sugary.
Fifth (and final) problem: they looked like lemon bars, and when they weren’t, people were confused and didn’t enjoy them.
I’m undaunted and will try this again soon.
This lovely torte turned out better than the butter cake, but still had problems. In an effort to do all my shopping in one place and keep my costs contained, I chose to use grocery store chocolate. And it was yucky. It was sugary and even though I thought I was watching the temperature as I melted it, it went all grainy.
This was a bit of a heartbreak, because the almond macaroon layers were delicious and very easy to make. (You’ll see in the directions that there’s a discussion of coating the parchment with cooking spray before spreading out the mixture. I didn’t and the paper peeled off easily.)
Finally, an unqualified success; these are so delicious. I had no idea that I even liked candied orange peel.
The experience was positive. It’s been a while since I’ve had so many baking problems, but they were all really good lessons. And the evening was fun, which is really all that matters. Well, that and the fact that I didn’t poison anyone.