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July 19, 2009

Posted by Teresa at 10:37 AM * 31 comments

Fruit-obsessed pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon writes about food and cooking like someone who’s fallen uncontrollably in love, in a verging-on-the-catastrophic way. At the same time, she’s a disciplined line cook who knows her profession and techniques backward and forward. It makes for good reading.

I discovered her weblog Eggbeater while looking up fruit/sugar/thickener ratios for summer fruit pies, and was instantly seduced by her mixture of lyricism and technical chops. Why Do Cakes Sink? is more of the same. Secret Recipes and Pastry Chef Am I are about the life of a chef, what kind of chef she wants to be, and a couple of dozen related issues. Pierre Herme Macarons, Fall 2006 reads like a cross between erotica and an attempt to describe an ineffable religious experience. Since the comment thread for that entry is full of people saying “Yes! That’s it exactly!”, I think she must have gotten it right.

(Note: there’s an index to her online recipes here. I’m going to try the Melon Gazpacho immediately.)

Comments on Eggbeater:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 01:07 PM:

I'm going to plug my cousin's wife's cooking blog:

Cooking 4 the Week

It started out as a "how two busy working people can eat well" guide, then Mary got to like cooking so much she ditched the day job and became a personal cook /caterer. Now it presents a mix of recipes, fancy alcoholic drinks of the week, and adventures in chef eduction.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 01:17 PM:

Okay, I like your cousin's wife's blog: How to make ricotta.

#3 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 01:25 PM:

Omigod. In my current cake-obsessive phase "Why Do Cakes Sink" was just what I needed this morning. In decorating cakes I tend to forget that cake isn't just a frosting delivery system, but a pleasing food in its own right.

It also reminded me of teaching bread making to a bunch of second graders, who were startled to learn that 1) bread doesn't just somehow grow in the back room at Safeway, and 2) bread is science. I need to be reminded, sometimes, that cake is science too.

#4 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 01:55 PM:

Stefan, your cousin's wife's blog may have convinced me to go out today, as I don't have rose wine or maraschino liqueur at home, and the Perseverance sounds like a lovely summer cocktail.

Both these websites are now bookmarked for me. Whee!

#5 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 02:14 PM:

I love a good food blog.

In a week, or so, I'll have a new kitchen to play with.

#6 ::: Barbara Nielsen Dowell ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 04:29 PM:

I'm not reading any more food blogs or Cooks magazines until I lose 20 pounds, but thanks for the heads up. The melon gazpacho sounds great. Incidentally, Cook's Country has a good lower calorie carrot cake and cream cheese icing. I received a promotional copy yesterday. Going to a family reunion this week. I think I'll take some. How's that for resolution?

#7 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 05:28 PM:

That's a fantastic site. Thanks for pointing it out. That said, here's my heresy: I generally don't like cakes made from scratch. Don't get me wrong — I'm quite willing to work at baked goods. Things I'll make from scratch include flour-less torte, cheesecake, soufflé, pie/cobbler, biscuits, brownies, shortbread, cornbread, and bread bread. Bisquick and Crisco are banned from my kitchen, but I think that doctored cake mixes make the most moist and flavorful cakes.

I took (amateur) baking classes at a culinary institute, where I learnt to make the above. I hoped to also learn to make a good cake from scratch. I learned to make a proper pound cake, with room-temperature eggs and butter combined just so. It tastes very strongly of eggs, since it is full of eggs. I love the flavor of eggs in an omelet, but for a cake I prefer that the dominant flavor be something else. The fake pound cakes in the "Cake Mix Doctor" book are delicious. They combine a box cake mix, with add-ins such as almond extract or real vanilla, cream cheese, sour cream, or ricotta.

I also learned to make a proper chiffon cake from scratch. When assembling it, the chef had us brush each layer with syrup because the cake wouldn't be moist and flavorful enough without. The Bundt cakes I make by doctoring cake mixes are good enough to eat without syrup, glaze, or frosting.

I know, I know. The cake mixes contain shortening. Sigh. One of these days, they'll go away and/or my guests will not longer want to eat them. I guess I'll rely more heavily on brownies (the Cooks Illustrated cream cheese ones are amazing), pies, and the like.

BTW, this time of year, you must make berry coulis. Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for a strawberry one that I've now made once with strawberries, and once with a tayberry/raspberry mix. Mmmmmm. Quick to make (at least if you skip the step of straining out the seeds), and once you pour it over the too-eggy or too-dry cake, you'll never know that the delivery medium is less than stellar.

#8 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 05:43 PM:

Thank you for this. There are so many wonderful (both in terms of writing quality and recipe quality) food blogs out there that I long ago gave up on finding them all, but Shauna's writing is a delight, and she's now in the food section of my Google Reader. Her use of language is a wonderful.

My favorite (non-Ruhlman) food blog remains Beyond Salmon. Helen's obsession over roast chicken, one of our household staples, is the sort of thing that has gotten me to reconsider cooking techniques I've used for years. Her slow-roasted salmon remains my go-to comfort dish to cook whenever the wife and daughter (neither of whom appreciate fish) are out of town.

#9 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 05:53 PM:

Cakes? Try Rose Levy Beranbaum's _Cake Bible_. My cakes went from "OK but dense" to "Omigosh!"

#10 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 06:02 PM:

"Reading recipes is zero calories. You're only in trouble if you eat the food!"
- me, on collecting recipes

#11 ::: Tracey C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2009, 07:40 PM:

I love Shuna's blog. Love, love, love. She writes poetry about food. And life. And love.

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2009, 07:59 AM:

Hi, Mom. Give my best to Soap. The melon gazpacho is very good, but since I was serving heat-averse guests I skipped the hot peppers and instead added more cucumber, finely mandoline'd onions, salt and pepper, and little wallop of balsamic vinegar that blended straight into the other flavors and disappeared.

Note: don't skip the fresh mango. It's an essential flavor component. Also: I'd make this recipe again just for juice the chopped produce throws off.

Janet, if I'm going to work in a kitchen that long--it's hard on my back--I want to get something I couldn't otherwise get. The only occasion on which I don't use doctored cake mixes is Christmas or New Year's, when I use the recipe off the label of Solo Almond Filling. It's a good recipe. People have been known to cry out involuntarily when they take their first bite of it. Then I also make a Devil's Food mix cake adulterated with chocolate fudge pudding mix, with strong cold coffee used as the liquid. Split the layers, sprinkle with brandy, stack them alternately starting with almond, glaze each layer with melted apricot preserves, glaze the entire outside of the cake with more apricot preserves, and cover the top with a dark bittersweet chocolate ganache.

Would it be improved if I made the chocolate layers from scratch? I don't think so.

#13 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 01:41 AM:

I have met Shuna a couple of times (and missed having dinner with her some months back because of car trouble, dammit!). I should have known that you (Teresa) would love her blog!

#14 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 01:42 AM:

I have met Shuna a couple of times and am a big fan of her blog. (Just missed having dinner with her when she was living out here, because of car trouble.) Anyway, I'm glad you found her!

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 01:56 AM:

Deb, please tell her I think she's swell; also, that reading her weblog somehow caused me to bake two plum-and-nectarine galettes this afternoon.

#16 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 07:38 AM:

Joel Polowin@14

Don't worry. I see the mods already invoked The Hammer on the offending spam...

#17 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 07:47 AM:

Teresa (#12) your cake-making description took me back to my last really major cake-baking endeavour — sweet loaves and little fishes, it must have been about 20 years!

Some bits are scorched into memory; others fuzzy. I slightly adapted it from a modern Australian cookbook by a lady with a Germanic first name starting with G — Gretel? — who'd been doing a newspaper column. (With most of my library, enboxed (emboxed?).)

I spent most of an evening and overnight baking and making it. Two different types of cake, from scratch; two fillings. One may have been, or included, red currant jelly [that's jelly not jam]. This and certain cake ingredients took an awful lot of finding. Baked two of each type, split each so there are 8 layers, stacked alternately with alternating fillings, then added a third (nutty?) covering. Carried it to work (on a scant few hours' sleep) in a special cake-carrier also bought for the occasion, stored it in the fridge, well-labelled — still neurotically worried someone would scarf it — then had to get from work across miles of suburbs by bus and train to the farewell party. There was a train strike, so the journey was a nightmare. I was a wreck by the time I got there. But the cake survived(!) I managed to eat a couple of slices and it was quite delicious, but by that stage of the evening I don't know if anyone else was quite up to appreciating its full quality.

I've never quite got up the dedication, energy and enthusiasm (or had the kitchen) to try it again, slightly afraid it might not taste as good as I remember. If I get my new gas stove, it's something I want to try, though.

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 12:52 PM:

OK, this is fabulous. First, a great cooking blog I don't quite dare look at right now. Second, a blog post on making homemade cheese (and a surrounding blog that I will also have to check out).

Third, knowing that ricotta is made from leftover whey solves a problem I've been wondering about for years, which is why ricotta (pronounced rih-GOAT in these parts) bothered my lactose intolerance (which I seem to be over now, oddly enough) so much more than other dairy products. Whey is about 60% lactose, so no wonder.

[Connecting Second with Third: if you make the ricotta according to that recipe, it will be MUCH lower in lactose than the Polly-O (which is made from whey). In fact if you started with Lactaid milk you could make it lactose-free (buttermilk doesn't have lactose either IIRC). I may know some people who are about to have cannoli for the first time in years!]

Fourth, Teresa, that cake sounds unbe-bleeping-lievable! All the chocolate and apricot lovers I know will go into ecstatic conniptions when I tell them of this (well, except my sister, who loves apricots and loves chocolate but for some reason can't stand them together).

Fifth, that reminds me of something I did recently that I don't think I've mentioned here. Remember my Black Hole Brownies? I made a half recipe in a cake pan, and frosted it with a Cointreau/orange zest white chocolate ganache. Not quite as spectacular as Teresa's cake, but quite yummy enough.

Sixth, I'd better get on the damn stick if I'm going to have any chocolates at all for Worldcon! Lee mentioned to me at Denvention that lemon candies never really taste like lemon; I've developed a recipe that does, but I still have to figure out what kind of shell to put it in.

#19 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 01:53 PM:

Xopher: Buttermilk has some lactose (it's a type of skim/whey milk, being the cast off from the buttermaking) but the cultures eat most of it. The longer you have it, the less lactose there will be.

#20 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 02:40 PM:

Xopher @ 20: Split a dried apricot with a paring knife to give a pocket, like a pita. Stuff with semi-sweet chocolate chips. Repeat for a dozen or so. Distribute over a microwaveable plate, and microwave for a few seconds (just enough to melt the chocolate). Serve warm.

It's very easy, and tends to get a good reaction.

#21 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 02:50 PM:

Joel, that sounds damned tasty to me, but my sister would hate it. You can give her chocolate and apricots at the same time, as long as there's a wrapper between the two. Seriously for real.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 03:43 PM:

Xopher @23:

I'm not far off your sister. The combination of fruity‡ and chocolate really doesn't work for me. Specific reactions range from:

"get your berries out of my chocolate"*
"apricots and chocolate? Just remembered I'm on a diet"†
"raisins and chocolate? Calling Ralph, white courtesy telephone please..."

I think it's the product of too many carsick episodes after eating Raisinets. Unfortunately, the revulsion seems to have spread.
‡ Well, except for citrus.
* Sorry Mez @19
† Sorry, TNH @12 and Joel @22

#23 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2009, 07:48 PM:

Speaking of Whey, I made this: from the remains of a goat milk paneer experiment. A friend gave us 3 gallons of fresh goat milk that would have gone to waste while they were on vacation, so we made yogurt, yogurt cheese, paneer, gjetost, and other things.

I also made a goat milk ganache for frosting the kid's birthday cake, since we've got one who can't do cow's milk. 1/2 lb of chocolate and 2 cups of raspberries do wonders for a cake.

#24 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2009, 02:02 AM:

Xopher @ 20: Cointreau/orange zest white chocolate ganache — Genius!

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 12: That cake sounds fabulous!

My favorite trick for a good filling (my apologies to the don't-let-the-fruit-touch-my-chocolate-crowd) is a raspberries and Instant SureJel. You can use fresh raspberries, or let a bag of frozen ones defrost. The instructions are on the Instant SureJel — it's a tablespoon or two per pint of berries. It doesn't require heat to seat up. Stir it into the berries, and wait a bit. Because it sets so fast, you will get white flecks of the SureGel powder, so I don't try to use it on the top of the cake. The result will behave nicely as a filling and deliver a cleaner, fresher raspberry flavor than cooked raspberry preserves can.

#25 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2009, 03:58 AM:

Joel, #22: Ooh, I'll have to try that for next year's Chocolate Decadence party!

#26 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2009, 09:41 AM:

Me (#19) Aha. The Gretta Anna Recipes (aka The Orange One), by GA Teplitzsky. She's done others too (e.g. The Blue One), & now runs a cooking school.

abi (#24) Actually, no chocolate was involved, I think. (Almond meal was.) The Redcurrant Jelly was clear and smooth, probably made from juice; that may or not change your reaction. I too don't like dried grape varieties, or quite a few other fruits, with chocolate — citrus being the main exceptions. At least some is dislike of the textural combination. Last Christmas, however, I found some chocolate-covered dried berries that I did like quite a lot. Also, some years ago I found that lemon myrtle filling made white chocolate palatable. Possibly citrus zests might also work with it. It's good for my health and weight that both those brands are quite expensive.

Xopher's sister: I have same reaction with jelly/jello and ice cream. "I'd be happy with either, were the other away".

#27 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2009, 12:57 PM:

Cross-threading a bit, I wonder if you could mix the SureJel (never heard of that product before, have to look it up) with vodka before mixing it into the raspberries, to eliminate the white flakes problem?

#28 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2009, 02:20 PM:

Xopher, Nichols Garden Nursery ( has ClearJel, which is a modified corn starch. One version sets in 10 minutes. (They also have cheese-making kits!)

#29 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2009, 02:30 PM:

Xopher #29:
Not likely. Sure Jell is a pectin product, and pectin is insoluble in alcohol.

#30 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2009, 02:58 PM:

Not likely. Sure Jell is a pectin product, and pectin is insoluble in alcohol.

Worse (for this use); alcohol reacts to pectin. The standard test for "does it have enough pectin to jell" when making jelly is to mix the juice 50/50 with alcohol )rubbing alcohol, or everclear. If you end up with a solid mass, it will jell.

#31 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2009, 02:02 AM:

Oops. Checked the label on what I use, and it's "Instant Clear Jel". Modified corn starch. There's a great little store in Portland called The Decorette Shop, where I buy it, along with cheap cardboard cake rounds, chocolate sprinkles made with Actual Chocolate, and other fine products. Instant Clear Jel is also available online from King Arthur, and Amazon.

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