Sorry I missed yesterday’s Variations on a Theme post. It’s been a hell of a week, and things are still changing.
My entire childhood was not fraught with frugality and food insecurity. When Mom and Dad were both working, we did pretty darn well. We did well enough that I was allowed to do baking experiments.
When my parents bought the Family Circle Illustrated Library of Cooking, it was one of those grocery store deals you see to bring people in to shop there every week for a few months. Some of them are for dishes, or bakeware – come every week, get a discount on the item that’s featured this week if you spend X amount of money. This deal allowed you to get two books every week because it was a 12 book set.
I looked forward to reading the books as they came in, cover to cover. Remember, I just had Betty Crocker to work with, and these books had new and exciting things in them. When the Pastry book came in, I was over the moon! Baking is the thing I love to do the most, and we had a really great bakery downtown, but I couldn’t always afford pastries on my allowance. So I read this one, pored over the recipes, and decided the one I wanted to start with was the recipe for Napoleons. I don’t think I’ve ever started to learn how to do something by taking the baby steps. Baking is no exception.
A Napoleon, for those who don’t know, is a pastry with a layer of custard sandwiched between two layers of a light, flaky puff pastry. It’s topped with a sugar glaze, which is then drizzled with a chocolate sugar glaze, and then you drag a toothpick through that to make the zigzag design on the top. So you have three things you need to make to assemble this confection; you need to make a custard from scratch, you need to make the sugar glaze, and you need to make the puff pastry. How hard can this be?
Puff Pasty is what is called a Laminated Dough. At it’s most basic, you take a dough made of flour, water, and salt and roll it out. Then you take butter that you have flattened into a sheet and insert it into the dough and fold the dough over it, like closing a napkin. Then you roll and fold, and roll, and fold, and then put it in the fridge to keep it cool, and lather, rinse, repeat.
My mother only bought real butter for holiday meals, so I made my first puff pastry with margarine. (Hey! I saw you clutch your pearls! Don’t judge me, I was 12!) So I worked on the dough, and when it was resting for the last time I made the custard. I’m very lucky that I didn’t end up with scrambled eggs – I was a little too hasty with tempering the eggs with the hot milk, but in the end, it came out fine. I poured the custard into a bowl and put it in the fridge and pulled out the pastry dough.
It cooked up just fine, despite being made with margarine. I made the sugar glaze while the pastry cooled, and assembled my first Napoleon! I was so proud of it! It was rugged, and the edges were not neat and straight, but it was tasty! I quickly put together a second one and decided that my next-door-neighbor Sue should try one!
Oh, did I mention it was February?
So I throw on my jacket, grab a napkin and place my Napoleon on the napkin. I go running over to my friend’s house and come running in. “Sue, look! I made a Napoleon!”
Sue has an older sister named Sharon. Sharon had a boy visiting. He looked at me and started laughing.
Sue tried some, shared it with her mother. The boy is still laughing at me.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Where do you live?” He asked me.
He then described watching me through the windows, running down the street with this napkin-wrapped pastry held high, like an Olympic torch. “I just imagined you running through the streets of town like that.”
I didn’t think it was funny at the time. I’m a bit too literal at times to get the humor.
He was right. It’s a funny visual.