Friday, March 30, 2012

Peeps overrun a Paris Brest at a three course dessert meal farewell

Today was a momentous occasion for two reasons.  We were bidding farewell to another of our graduate students who had attained the penultimate PhD. In celebration of her achievement we made a Paris Brest arguably the world's best pastry and it marked the first time we have had one at cake hour. Our colleagues were introduced to the Paris Brest at the annual ski trips over the years when it was the featured dessert. The Paris Brest has even been known to cause dogs to go into a stupor in anticipation of receiving some (more) of the delight.  Anyway this is named after one of the oldest bicycle races from Paris to Brest in France and back again. Hence the circular shape.  In case you think we are kidding when we say it is the world's best as proof we offer up the fact that Alan Richman of GQ Magazine named the Paris-Brest pastry at Balsan, Chicago the best dessert in the U.S. for 2010.  So there!
Fresh whipped cream!
Assembling the Paris Brest!
The finishing touch!
The Peeps want in!
The finished product!
The Peeps like it!
The presentation!
And in profile!
Peeps and Paris Brest!
Ready for the knife!
The basic pastry is similar to pate au choux and it is baked in the circular shape with slivered almonds on top.  Afterwards it decapitated as it were and the guts are removed to create a hollow shell which is then filled with a layer of pastry cream and then a layer of fresh whipped cream.  The top is replaced and then it is sprinkled with powdered sugar for the finishing touch. it is creamy, caloric and delicious but not at all heavy. Many who try this have a propensity to eat a lot because it is that good! As said this was the first time it made its way to cake hour but the baker has been making it for years so it won't be the last.

Layer of pastry cream and the whipped cream...good stuff!

Our PhD grad, for some unknown reason, seemed to be a magnet for peeps during the Easter season when they appear.  Perhaps word got out that she was departing because Peeps overran the Paris Brest for the presentation to the honoree.  Those who had not tried the Brest before concurred that it was really good so its fame spreads even further.

The three course dessert meal!
That's two more courses to go through!
Pecan Pie and Banana Cream....good and light....not!
But the celebration turned out to be a three course dessert meal with the Brest being the appetizer. In addition we had a homemade banana cream pie and a homemade pecan pie.  The second course was the banana cream pie which was the first time that the pastry chef had tried it.  It was very good and could give Pastiche a run for their money.  This was more traditional in the sense that the banana cream was more like pasty cream whereas pastiche has a layer of banana mousse or something similar. Nonetheless it made for a great second course and kudos to our baker whose skills are getting better by the day.
Finely decorated for the first try!

Fresh bananas in the filling!
You would think that would have been the end of it, no?  But no!  We also had a homemade pecan pie because it was another of our celebree's favorites - or so we think. This is also the world's best pecan pie recipe.  Some of them can be very sweet and syrupy but not this one. Because it includes eggs in the batter the layer below the pecan's is more custard like than goeey.  The fact that it has a good blast of cognac in it is also a definite plus and of course it is best served with fresh whipped cream.  We made extra for the Brest on purpose so we would have it for the pecan pie.

The world's best pecan pie to boot!

Custardy filling with a cognac boost!
After the Brest and the banana cream pie you would think some had had enough and you would be right. For some a small piece, even a sliver of the pecan pie was too much and they deferred. A pecan pie is somewhat like a Stollen however.  If refrigerated it keeps for a very long time so we set aside the leftovers for another day.  (See April 4th, 2012.) Since our latest doctor was at her last cake hour of her PhD career we had to present her with a few things. One was a photo album of her experiences with our group.  It's amazing how many cakehour pictures there were attesting to her devotion to it.

A photo album full of memories...
...of me at cakehour!
As is the custom we also had to give her a Brown makeover and present her with something that is memorable but logistically difficult to take home.  Lucky for her home did not involve an airplane flight as is usually the case. Yes we've sent many a foreign colleague back on flights having to negotiate space in the overhead bins for a framed scene that was rather difficult to handle. It's sort of a mischievous pleasure that we can't seem to shake!  Lastly there were the farewell shots and the 10 second timed group shots.  So long, Vicki. The sun will never set on our memories.

The famous ten second shot.  Surrounded by adoring fans!!

That sun isn't setting in the background remember!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Womens' Day and Zoltan Day

Happy International Womens' Day, March 8, 2012.  Did you know it was International Womens' Day? We didn't. But one of our visiting scholars from Turkmenistan where this occasion is celebrated, quickly educated us. Of course to celebrate she included some fruit treats and a cake from Pastiche.  This is the day where the existence, presence, skills, capabilities and accomplishments of women everywhere are acknowledged and rewarded.  If you are a mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, wife or female colleague you are supposed to be the recipient of adulation, appreciation and gifts from your Y-chromosome carrying relatives, co-workers and friends.  If you work you can take it easy. If you are at home you can relax and just accept all the gifts to be showered upon you. It sounds like a great day for women and florists at least in those countries that celebrate it.  You would think with all the retail potential it would be picked up in the United States but so far it has not caught on.  It might be because, like May Day, it is mainly a holiday in former socialist countries and far be it from the United States to adopt anything that smacks of socialism.  You would think the women here would have found a way to overcome that but not yet so no presents for them.

Pastiche again? Awesome!

Torte to celebrate women!

Add a healthy side!

Great offering for.....

And here we have some international women!
To recognize the day our colleague got the celebration in order by bringing a chocolate mascarpone torte from the Pastiche Bakery.  This is a cake version of Tiramisu.  As is always the case Pastiche does a great job.  This cake is not very heavy at all nor overly sweet.  The mascarpone filling is great and the chocolate shards and chocolate dust on the top are not only decorative but delicious.  It is also surprisingly light and easy to have too much of.  The writing on the top recognized the special day that it was with a touch of Russian for the actual date - 8 Марта! 

Italian Mascarpone Torte like a Tiramisu cake!
Healthy addition to the torte!
Complementing the cake was a nice selection of sliced fruit in an attractive display that always makes it look luscious. It's something we can partake of guilty free because after all it is fresh fruit. It's a nice counterpoint to the guilty pleasure of the Mascarpone Torte!
Guilty pleasure indeed!
Fortunately we were able to celebrate International Womens' Day appropriately with a number of international women. On balance it was fine but a little bit of female chauvinism started to rear its ugly head as the discussion of the contributions of women got going.
International Womens' Day? Now they tell us it Zoltan's Day!

That didn't last long however because little did we know however that International Women's Day is also the naming day for people named Zoltan.  Zoltan is the Hungarian version of Sultan- something carried over from the Ottoman empire or when the Turks invaded Hungary and were pushed back at the gates of Vienna - you know - something like that.  Just as the women's celebration was reaching its apogee in walks Zoltan claiming it as his special day. 
It's my day so I guess I'll get drunk!
We wondered if having Zoltan Day the same day as International Women's Day meant that Zoltans were all girly-men. No, we were told. According to the resident Zoltan it is an occasion for all Zoltans to go out and get drunk. Happy naming day to all of you drunken Zoltans!

Others started to talk about their name days and the fact that with two names they had two name days. Then naming day chauvinism reared its ugly head as it was pointed out that some people have no name day leading others to gloat. (It's confirmed that their is no name day for Ingvald in Sweden for instance.) But that was countered with the statement that for those without every day is their day.  Awwww!
There's no name day for Ingvald?
Cultural sensibilities were again on display as forks were modified for artistic expression. What to do with it?  Just take a look!
What to do with my latest fork art?
Now you nose!