Le succès


Mastering the Art of French Cooking, II, p 497
I am not at all certain why Julia Child thought this cake easier than a regular sponge type of cake. It isn’t. Simply put, there are a lot of steps. It is, however, a delight to behold and to eat. The cake, essentially meringue layers stacked with almond praline butter cream and topped with chocolate butter cream. Essentially, there are three steps, making the meringue cakes, making the praline, and making the butter cream. And there are almonds, two six ounce bags of blanched almonds. Slivered works, you just want the kind without any peel.

ImageMaking simple syrup, which becomes caramel, is a chemical reaction which is always a frightening, yet exciting experience. The water and sugar starts cloudy, turns clear, bubbles rapidly and then sluggishly, which Julia calls ‘thick and heavy’ then turns to a beautiful shade of amber. In a flash, the sugar can burn and a pan hits the sink. In short, to make the praline for the cake, you must have your mise en place ready. Really ready. If not, the sugar will burn while you are scrambling to find the silicone brush to spread the oil for the almond praline. I know, I didn’t have this ready and, well, my house smelled like a famous Pecan Pie plant at noon after they burned the sugar.
What do you do when you burn the sugar? You start over. Just put that pan in the sink, fill with water, turn off the smoke detector and start over. Don’t let this frighten you, all you have to do is be ready and watch the color changes
As my jelly roll pans are not adequately sized to fit two cakes on the pan at once, I had to use all three pans and rotate them throughout the cooking time. If you have only three jelly roll pans, you will need to make the cakes, then wash all the pans and make the praline, or vice versa. Don’t make this cake the morning of the meet the future in-laws dinner party. Unless you want to greet them for dinner wearing the pajamas you didn’t have time to change. Give yourself a day or two to cook, wash, recover. The cake keeps in the refrigerator very well. Oh yeah, plan your refrigerator space as part of your mise en place, too.
Basic preparations are to make the praline, make the meringue cakes, make the butter cream then assemble the cake. The praline goes into the butter cream, so, you could make it second.

For the praline
pralin aux amandes:
Mise en place:
• Preheat Oven to 350˚
• One jelly roll pan, well oiled
• One jelly roll pan, or pizza pan, clean and ready for toasting almonds, no oiling needed
• Food processor or blender to chop praline
• Small to medium heavy saucepan with lid

• 6 oz bag of almonds (Julia uses 4 oz, but I had a 6 oz bag and toasted the entire bag)

• ½ cup sugar
• 3 T water

Spread almonds on pan on center rack in 350˚ oven.
Roast for 10 to 15 minutes until they are brown.
(Julia asks for walnut brown, I got mine to a slightly lighter pecan brown at 15 minutes)
Remove from oven and set aside.

Combine sugar and water in saucepan over moderately high heat.
Swirl pan by the handle, do not stir with a spoon, until water changes to clear.
Cover pan and raise heat to high, boil until bubbles are thick and heavy.
(Julia says several minutes, but my bubbles got thick and heavy in about a minute or two)
Uncover and continue boiling on high until sugar turns a caramel color.
To prevent burning, as the sugar is approaching that desired caramel color, pull the pan off the heat and swirl slightly to check color.
Remove from heat, stir in almonds and immediately turn out onto oiled pan.
Trust me, this stuff sets up quickly!
Allow to cool completely, about twenty minutes.
Break up praline into food processor, which was my preferred method, or ½ cup at a time in a blender, this needs to be pulverized enough for the butter cream to be spreadable.
The best part is that this may be made ahead of time and frozen!

The Cakes
fonds à succès
Mise en place:
Preheat Oven to 250˚

• Butter and flour 2 or 3 jelly roll pans,
Lay an 8 inch cake pan on the surface and trace around it with a rubber or silicone spatula, Julia used a heart shaped pan, you may use an 8 inch round cake pan.

• Double thickness of waxed paper, large enough to hold the pulverize almonds, about 12 to 15 inch piece.
I messed up my mise en place and only used a single thickness. The world didn’t end, I just had to handle it carefully. A flexible cutting mat could work, too.

• Fine mesh sieve, a small one will work.
• Silicone spatula.
• Offset spatula, silicone spatula or canvas pastry bag and wide metal tube opening, ⅜ in diameter.

• 6 oz almonds, ground fine
• 1 cup sugar ( I didn’t have extra fine, so I used regular sugar)
• 1 T plus 1½ tsps cornstarch, both level

Mix the sugar and almonds on the wax paper with your hands or a silicone spatula.
Sieve the cornstarch over the top and incorporate using a silicone spatula

• 6 eggs separated, you will use the whites for the cakes, put the yolks in a covered container in the fridge for the buttercream.
• ⅛ tsp salt
• ¼ tsp cream of tartar
• 3 T sugar
• 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
• ⅛ tsp almond extract

Beat the egg whites, starting on low to moderately low speed until they are foamy.
Beat in the salt and cream of tartar.
Increase speed gradually to high.
When egg whites are at soft peak stage, gradually beat in the sugar.
Beat until stiff peaks form.
Beat in vanilla and almond extract.

Fold the almond mixture into the meringue, by sprinkling about ¼ cup at a time over the meringue then folding in, when almost incorporated, sprinkle over the next ¼ cup until all is incorporated. Work quickly so that the meringue does not deflate.

Using the pastry bag pipe meringue into the area drawn on the greased and floured pans or divide the batter into thirds and spread meringue evenly to the edges of the area drawn on the pans.
One of the draw backs of meringue is that it is sticky, very sticky. Therefore, I dislike trying to stuff it into a pastry bag and pipe. It oozes and I wind up with it in my hair, on my face, in my elbows. So I divided the meringue onto the three previously prepared circles on the jelly roll pans and spread and smoothed them with an offset spatula to the edges of the circle.
After the cakes are cool, place each layer on a cutting surface, then using the pattern, cut around it to even the edges so that they will stack nicely.
These cakes may be made ahead and left at room temperature overnight until ready for use;, cover with a clean linen towel.

The Butter Cream
Mise en place:
• 1 cup sugar
• A wire wisk or electric beater or hand held beater
• 6 egg yolks
• large heavy bottomed saucepan or saucier 2- 2 ½ quarts
• large stainless bowl
• ¼ c hot milk
• wooden spoon
• 12 to 14 oz or 3 to 3 ½ sticks of butter cut into tablespoons
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 3 T kirsch or dark rum
• ½ c almond praline This shouldn’t be all that was made, reserve some for sides of cake.

For the frosting
• 2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate

Make a crème anglaise by gradually beating the sugar into egg yolks until thick and pale lemon yellow.
I used a large stainless bowl for this then transferred to the saucepan. If you have a curved sided saucepan, or 2 quart saucier, start in that.
In a thin stream of droplets, slowly add the hot milk set mixture.
transfer to sauce pan if using stainless bowl
Set over moderate heat and cook stirring with wooden spoon until sauce thickens until film can be formed on spoon. Remove from heat immediately and beat for one minute to cool slightly.
If using stand mixture, scrape into bowl for mixer, otherwise continue with handheld mixer or wire whisk.
Beat in three sticks of butter one or two pieces at a time until mixture is smooth.
Don’t worry if it separates a few quick beats with a wisk will smooth it. Add remaining butter if it is grainy.
Set aside ¼ of the mixture; Add melted chocolate to this mixture.
Stir praline into the remaining mixture.

The Assembly
Place a trimmed meringue layer on a cake stand or use a cake rack
Spread ⅓ of the praline butter cream over the meringue on the cake rack/stand.
Place second meringue on top of first and spread with ½ the remaining praline buttercream.
Place final meringue atop this layer.
Spread remaining butter cream around the edges.
Spread Chocolate butter cream on top of the cake.
Sprinkle remaining praline on cake.


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Julia Child, Andrew Carnegie, my mother, and me

I am certain that I have said this before, but, as it is a special occasion, Julia Child’s 100th birthday, it bears repeating. That is, I learned the fine art of cooking from watching Julia Child on PBS. Back then, the only thing on PBS was and endless stream of bad lessons which were not only filmed in black and white, but seemed to be all one shade of gray. Julia’s show had interest and personality and was one of the few with some degree of contrast!

I began cooking under the influence and guidance of my mother. She let each one of us stand by her in the kitchen to watch and occasionally help, when other mothers were pushing their little darlings out the door to play, just to get them out from under foot in the kitchen. Although my mother was a fine southern family cook, no one can come close to her fried chicken, and she certainly inspired in me and my brother and sister the desire to cook, there was a level of cooking which sometimes escaped her. Sometimes, she took the shortcuts that many cooks of the sixties were encouraged to do. Can you blame her if the cherries in her Cherries Jubilee sometimes came from a can at a winter dinner party? She was busy, very busy. She made most of my sister’s and my wardrobes well into our college days. She certainly didn’t shy away from a cooking challenge. She set that Cherries Jubilee aflame with the brandy she carefully warmed, doing this for one of the dinner parties she held in our tiny ranch home with no real dining room.

I ordered the recipe from the PBS station on which I watched Julia for the very first time. I believe it was Vichyssoise. This soup instantly turned me into a potato soup lover, when I had turned up my nose at it before. Watching her show inspired me to scour the library in my hometown library, for more cookbooks. In this quest I found a surprising cook book acquired in the days when the library was a Carnegie Library. I can’t remember if it was by Escoffier or Carême, though I am leaning toward the former.  I can’t remember the recipe I tried, though I know I tried at least one, an ambitious task for a child not yet out of grade school. I do remember that the cover was unadorned and the recipes  were completely lacking in pictures and, frankly, lacking in clear instructions.  A lot of guessing was required just to make the simplest item. Inspired by Julia’s confidence, I dove in and tried.

Back in that time, in the naissance of a movement encouraging women to learn more and imagine their lives beyond the restrictions of an earlier age, we could point to her with pride. Then, when so many of the boys sneered that none of the great chefs were women, we had Julia. Julia’s words spoke to so many women, prompting many of us to cook using fresh ingredients and others to train to become chefs.

Yes, she was our icon and our mentor, but she was so much more. Julia taught us all as a mother would, letting us stand by her as she cooked, encouraging us to be try new techniques and foods, admonishing us not to despair when the omelet flopped. Happy Birthday, Julia, you inspired a generation.

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Hard Boiled Eggs the Right Way

This recipe is Julia Child’s boiling method from “The Way to Cook”.
 Eggs in pan to be boiled
Preparation Time: 7 minutes minutes
Cooking Time: 19 minutes minutes

Place eggs in a stockpot or dutch oven Stainless Steel or Anodized Aluminum (Calphalon) with enough water to cover by one inch.
1-4 Eggs
6    Eggs 2.5 quarts water

Eggs at Full Boil
Bring eggs to boil.
Cover and turn off heat, on an electric stove, remove from burner completely. Let them sit for exactly 17 minutes.
Place ice in a large bowl while eggs are sitting, 2 minutes before timer counts down, add enough water to completely submerse eggs.
Place eggs in ice water bath for 2 minutes.
Return water to boil and place eggs in boiling water for 10 seconds.
Return to ice water bath for 15-20 minutes.
Tap egg shell around center, on the edge of the counter or, if egg hasn’t cracked, roll on counter. Peel shell from egg then swish in ice water bath to remove shell chips from egg.


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Lemon Curd and Raspberry and Strawberry Trifle

Lemon Curd Strawberry and Raspberry Trifle

Completed Trifle

Growing up, back in the mid-sixties, every Easter we had fresh strawberries over the store bought sponge cake topped with whipped cream, which was dubbed Strawberry Shortcake. I wasn’t a huge fan of this concoction. Though the strawberries were delightful, the sponge cake was left on the plate. True Strawberry Shortcake is made with a shortbread cake or biscuit. The term ‘short’ means the leavening derives from baking powder or soda, not yeast. The biscuit is sweet, rather than the more savory breakfast biscuit and that version has graced our table on Easters past. I believe the sponge cake variety must have come about in the heyday of the “I Hate to Cook” cookbook.

The sponge cake variety is a favorite of my husband, but I still can’t bring myself to ever put that on the table. As Easter will be here soon, I wanted to put together a similar type of dessert, with an improved flavor while still preserving the rapid assembly of the sponge cake recipe.

For this I brought out the trifle bowl. Though once used frequently, it has been stored in a cabinet for too long. Trifles were very popular in cooking magazines twenty years or so ago, so, naturally, when first married I wanted a trifle bowl. Being before the advent of the interwebs, finding one I could afford was not easy. Of course there were crystal options such as the Waterford one below. This was way out of my budget then, and really, it still is.

Another issue is space. Trifle bowls are stemmed, thus taking up the bowl height plus the stem height in the cabinet. Anchor Hocking has an inexpensive glass bowl, but the stem is always attached. A few years ago at a Pampered Chef party, the consultant showcased a bowl with a removable stem, which can be stored in the bowl when not being used. I bought one. I love it. Though the Waterford bowl is still calling to me.

Waterford Giftware Pattern

Waterford Giftware Pattern from Replacements

Onto the recipe! Again, this recipe was facilitated by the interwebs! I searched for trifle recipes in a general search, I found one which used lemon curd then proceeded to over process the fruit. There is generally no need to do anything but serve fresh fruit in this dessert, so that wasn’t an option. Then I found Bobby Flay’s version on Foodtv. It used fresh fruit, but I had no desire to make a lemon curd. So I concocted the version below. The lemon curd is jarred, the pound cake and the whipped topping are frozen, but the fruit is fresh, not frozen and macerated in raspberry liqueur, no sugar. Cool whip now has a whipped cream version of their frozen whipped topping which I like very much.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a time when Mrs. Lane would have made every bit of this from scratch, but this time, I was attempting to improve on the Eater sponge cake and still make it speedy. Trifles are actually intended to use up leftover cake, the process thus would have been simplified into cut up stale cake, layer with fruit and cream. Thus making a cake made little sense to me.

Two caveats. One, this makes enough for a crowd. Two, check the date on the lemon curd, one that is close to expiration won’t be as uniformly smooth as a fresher product.

Lemon Curd Trifle with Raspberries and Strawberries
• 2 pints raspberries
• 2 pints strawberries, sliced
• 1/4 cup Chambord or other raspberry liqueur
Lemon Cream:
• 16 oz whipped cream or whipped topping
• 1 (11-ounce) jar lemon curd
• 2 store bought pound cakes, sliced 1/2-inch thick
• 1/4 cup Grand Marnier
Place the berries into a large bowl and pour raspberry liqueur over. Set aside to allow berries to macerate.
Put the lemon curd into a mixing bowl and stir in a little of the whipped cream or topping to loosen it. Fold in the rest of the cream.
To assemble the trifle, line a trifle bowl with a layer of pound cake slices, overlapping slightly, drizzle with Grand Marnier, then lemon cream and then berries. Continue to alternate layers of cake, lemon cream, and fruit, ending with a layer of berries. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Layer of Sponge Cake

Layering the trifle

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Forest of Brownies

For the Super Bowl, Mrs. Lane whipped up a batch of fudge brownies which were featured at a Pampered Chef party at a friends house. Might have been an error, since we weren’t having a party with lots of people to help us enjoy these!Forest of Brownies

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Bananas Foster-ish

Do you miss New Orleans? I do! Frankly, I miss the svelte figure I had when I was last in New Orleans, pre-quitting smoking days. Recently I had the bad / good news that I am pre-diabetic. That is, one of my blood sugar numbers, the three month average, is in the pre-diabetic blood sugar range. I blame that on Christmas cookies. I am not going to dismiss it, the other me has to go. Not the other me in the evil twin sister sense. The other me I packed on from quitting smoking, one pregnancy, one sedentary job. The pregnancy weight hung around because I quit smoking. Get that kids? Don’t ever start. As kids, we all thought that my Dad just packed in some calories as compensation for the quitting smoking. Not so. Finally, researchers are finding that nicotine, hold on for this one, revs your metabolism. Shocker! Smokers have been saying this for years and doctors, for many years, blamed the victim. And they wonder why we are digging up tree roots for home remedies. Just kidding, don’t dig up tree roots. I happen to know that I was burning at least an extra 500-1000 calories a day when I quit, but yet still gained another pregnancy’s worth.
Ranting over, on to the recipes.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Mrs. Lane, when she wants to eat, wants to eat food that is flavorful. Really, she’d rather step out the back door three times a day and photosynthesize in order to spend more time doing fun things, like making designer garments or painting. Le sigh! But since she must, she cooks. Or rather, these days, she delegates the cooking, and if there is no one home to whom to delegate, she eats baby bel cheese and crackers with a couple of glasses of wine and then goes to bed at eight. Don’t knock it, she lost five pounds that way last spring!
Now, with these new test results, she must pay attention to what is going in the mouth. Not that eating Julia’s recipes were an everyday occurrence, mind you. The everyday diet had slipped to something more like the Taco Bell diet, almost. Dinner from a bag became more commonplace as Mrs. Lane has another problem, advanced osteo-arthritis, which makes standing painful these days. Handicapped space and everything.
To get back the body which used to do the Russian Trepak, Mrs. Lane has to watch the portion sizes, add some fiber and reduce the fat. This includes saying goodbye, mostly, to an old friend, Coca-Cola. To be able to continue on this plan without jumping off and diving face first into some Potatoes Dauphinoise, the food has to taste decent and be reasonably filling.

And Dessert, Mrs Lane will need dessert. For some reason, when cutting fat and sugar, dessert cravings result. Must be that cutting of fat and sugar making Mrs. Lane want some fat and sugar, duh. I need to have something legal to eat and diet frozen yogurt gets, well boring, after a while. Last night, after having made Sole Meuniere, with reduced fat, but all the lemon, Mrs. Lane found herself trolling the kitchen for something more to eat. Sometimes the diet cookbooks have a great recipe, but most times they are not simple, and not so tasty. Mrs. Lane prefers real recipes modified to fit my plan.

Bananas Foster
Per Serving:
1/2 cup vanilla ice cream
1 tsp butter
1 T brown sugar
1/2 – 1 banana, sliced about 1/2 thick or cut in half lengthwise then halved
1 T banana liqueur (or 1/2 rum and 1/2 banana liqueur)

Melt butter over medium heat until bubbling
Mix in brown sugar
Add bananas
Cook bananas, stirring frequently until bananas are slightly softened
Add liqueur
Ladle over ice cream

Notice that Mrs. Lane didn’t set fire to it. Really isn’t necessary since we are not putting on a show here. Also, there may not be quite enough volume to set things ablaze. Enjoy!

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Lately, the story about the woman who failed to order her Daily Domino’s pizza has been whispering to me. That’s right I am a pizza whisperer. Anyway, having quit smoking several years ago, I gained the equivalent of five fat chihuahua’s. This was accomplished by quitting smoking and by nursing two children at once, which, as you may know burns something like an extra 500 million bazillion calories a day*. And that is just for one child. I am pretty sure for two, you can triple that, maybe quadruple it*. And no, I did not eat three pepperoni pizzas a day. Stupid me, I ate oatmeal and tuna and lean chicken and vegetables. In fact I tried really hard not to eat pizza. Because I love pizza.
So, when I saw the clip on television with the woman being rolled out on the stretcher. I wondered how that woman could eat a Domino’s pizza a day and remain relatively thin. I saw the pictures, she is relatively thin. Especially to me since I look more like Shamu.
So thus, to shut the pizza whisperer up and answer this question, I turned to the oracle of all wisdom, Google.
The goog tells me that a thin crust Domino’s pepperoni pizza has 170 calories per slice. Times eight, that is 1360 calories per day. Genius! According to most diet wisdom, 1360 should be sufficiently low amount of calories to lose weight. I could eat one thin crust pepperoni pizza a day and lose weight. In fact, I could have skip one slice and have a coke with dinner. I could be the Jared of Domino’s!
*Gross estimate, yeah, really gross.

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