Author Archives: joepastry


The French once called Bavarian cream “fromage Bavarois”? What on Earth does Bavarian cream have to do with cheese? The answer is nothing. The word “fromage”, as I understand it, refers as much to a process as it does to a specific food. Classically, “fromage” is something which is “made in a form.” We anglophones can see the relationship a little more clearly in the Italian word for cheese: formaggio. A loose translation of the Old French “fromage Bavarois” might be a “Bavarian cream in a form.”

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Keepin’ Away Them Haints

Well the painters are finishing up today, it’s going to feel great to have my lawn back after nearly two weeks of dancing around drop cloths and ladders. Among the finishing touches are the front and back porch ceilings. The color picker for the painting company we’re using asked if, instead of the grey-green we’re using for the main body of the house, if we wouldn’t prefer a nice “haint” blue for the porch ceilings. What the heck is a “haint”? Turns out the blue is a Southern thing, a traditional hex supposed to keep evils spirits (“haunts”) out of your house. Explanations vary as to where the superstition came from, or exactly what light blue does to scare the spooks away, but the way I see it I can use all the help I can get. All in one fell swoop I cut my bad luck and build my Southern creds. There’s no down side that I can see.

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So then is Bavarian cream actually Bavarian?

Nice follow-up question, Robin! The answer is no. Probably not. Maybe not. It’s hard to say, for the origin of Bavarian cream is murky. Some food historians say that Bavarian cream — classically known as fromage Bavarois — was brought to France by a French chef who’d worked in Bavaria, but there’s no evidence for that.

Auguste Escoffier claimed that “bavarois” was actually a Russian invention that should by all rights be called “Muscovite”, yet no one is entirely sure whether Escoffier was talking about a pastry filling or a drink, a concoction of hot tea, milk, egg yolks, sugar and Kirsch that went by the same name.

What is know for sure is that the first Bavarian cream recipes appear in print in French in the early 1800′s, around the time of Carême.

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Fruit Mousse = Bavarian Cream?

Reader Robin writes:

If this cake is a type of “Bavarois” which means “Bavarian” obviously, does that mean that fruit mousse is a Bavarian cream?

That’s exactly what it means, Robin. The world of Bavarian creams is broad and diverse. There are dozens of crème anglaise Bavarians, eggless gelatin-thickened fruit Bavarians, non-dairy Bavarians lightened with meringue instead of whipped cream, the list goes on and on. I’ve only made a couple of them on the blog so far, but then life is long. I’ll get to them eventually.

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Oh yes, she’s quite the laugh riot.

Reader Elle writes:

I’ve heard it said that Joconde cake gets its name from the Mona Lisa, but if that’s true…how?

That’s an interesting story, Elle. It may or may not be true, but that won’t stop me from telling it. It goes like this: the portrait of the Mona Lisa was commissioned by a fellow by the name of Francesco di Bartholommeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, a wealthy silk merchant who had way too many names, but who nevertheless lived in Florence around the turn of the Sixteenth Century. He commissioned the painting — a portrait of his wife, a commoner by the name of Lisa Gherardini — to commemorate the birth of their second son, Andrea.

The artist, one Leonardo da Vinci, accepted the commission and spent some four years working on and/or fiddling with it. In the end da Vinci became so attached to the painting that he never delivered it and ultimately took it with him to France when he moved there around 1515. He sold it to the King of France and it’s been property of the French government ever since.

But now where was I? Oh yes, the name thing. It just so happens that the surname of the man who originally commissioned the painting, Giocondo, is very similar to another Italian word, gioconda which means “cheerful” or “merry” (like the English word “jocund” or “jocular”). Thus the name of the Mona Lisa is, I’m told, something of a pun there: la Giocanda, the merry one, sort of a joke on that famous half-smile of hers. The French are said to refer to the painting in the same way, only using their equivalent word, joconde.

Assuming again that all this is true, how did the word get to be applied to an almond sponge cake? That’s a lot less clear, but that’s the story as far as I know it!

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Fruit Mousse Cake (Bavarois) Recipe

This recipe calls for more base material than one small cake will likely need. I’ll get back to you on how much overage there is once the beast has been made, and probably adjust the component list accordingly. Personally I like having extra stuff around…to make other pastries with, or just to eat late at night in front of the television when everyone else has gone to bed. You’ll need:

1 recipe fruit mousse, made with peaches
1/2 recipe joconde
1 recipe génoise baked in a sheet pan
about 1/2 cup orange marmalade
powdered sugar to finish

In this recipe I’ll be using a 6″-wide, 3″-tall cake ring, but bottomless forms in other sizes will also work. I’ll also be cutting a wax-coated cake circle to fit inside the form which I’ll use as a bottom/pusher to help me unmold the cake.

Melt the marmalade in a small saucepan and pour it through a strainer, separating out the pieces of orange rind. Allow it to cool completely. Cut the joconde sheet into quarters, lightly scrape each piece with the marmalade and stack them. Cut the stack into 2″-wide strips, and the strips into 1/4″-wide slices. Set the strips upright against the interior wall of the form in the cardboard bottom. Next, fit a round of génoise into the bottom of the mold, inside the ring of joconde strips to create a complete cake “liner” for the bottom half of the form.

Prepare the peach mousse and fill the form with it all the way to the top, scraping it flat using any straight edge…a ruler, the back of a carving knife or the edge of an icing spatula. Apply plastic wrap to the top and chill the mold for at least three hours. To unmold, remove the plastic wrap and place a hot towel around the form for about 30 seconds. Push the cake gently up from the bottom to unmold. Smooth the sides of the mousse if necessary with an icing spatula that’s been run under hot water and dried. Dust the finished cake with powdered sugar. To plate, loosen the bottom of the pastry with an icing spatula, and gently slide the finished pastry onto a serving plate.

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Bubble, Bubble…Toil & Trouble

Reader K writes:

Joe, it seems like every time I see a recipe that calls for whipped egg whites I see the instruction “add cream of tartar or use a copper bowl”. Can you tell me why a copper bowl is the equivalent of adding cream of tartar? I just don’t understand it.

I would be delighted, K. As you may recall from past posts, the reason egg whites whip so nicely into foams is because of the proteins they contain. These proteins naturally occur in clumpy balls. But apply a little shearing force and the proteins uncoil, at which point they begin to bond to one another, forming networks. These networks collect on the surfaces of air bubbles, preventing them from popping.

The problem is that the same whipping action that uncoils egg proteins will cause them to clump back up again if you don’t quit while you’re ahead. The point of no return occurs somewhere right after the stiff peak stage, when the proteins that were arranged in nice regular lattices, bonded elegantly, cradling big bubbles of air…start to lose their mojo.

What happens? In a nutshell, the excess agitation causes the protein molecules to bond excessively to their neighbors and gather together in masses (coagulate). At that point they can no longer do their job on the watery bubble surface. The forces of surface tension start to take over again and the bubbles start to pop. The foam turns grainy, then clumpy, then watery, at which point it’s pretty much useless.

What to do about it? While nothing can ultimately protect an egg foam from too much whipping, there are a few steps you can take to broaden your margin of error. Specifically, you can add various substances to the mixture that preemptively plug up the proteins’ bonding sites. Copper ions serve that purpose very nicely, which is why more than a few egg white whippers like to use copper bowls.

On the less expensive side of the spectrum are some simple additives. Copper ions can be had in the form of a dietary supplement, available at your friendly neighborhood health food store. A somewhat less effective yet much more readily available option is acid in the form of vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar. Acids don’t affect the proteins’ bonding sites directly, though by changing the pH of the mixture they increase the number of free hydrogen molecules, and they gunk up the works quite nicely.

Thanks for the question, K!

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Next Up: Fruit Mousse Cake

It’s hot and will be all week, so something light and fruit-based is called for. Since I haven’t done anything especially fancy for a while my thought is to try a fruit mousse cake of the type that’s been popular the last five years or so. As far as I know it hasn’t got a proper name, just a look, and you can see it here on the cover of the French Culinary Institute’s 2009 book. Looks kinda fun, no? It’ll take an obsessive hand to spread joconde batter that thinly and consistently, but I might be just the baker to do it. We’ll see. Since berry season is over I think I’ll make a peach mousse instead of that one, which looks to be raspberry.

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Kentucky State Fair Wrap-Up

Well it’s been one heck of a full week of work. But I’m never too busy to take at least one trip to the State Fair which happens every year here in Louisville at this time. I feel very lucky that the fair is so accessible. With the exception of Minneapolis I’ve never lived in such close proximity to a state fair, and wow are they ever worth the trip. The corn dogs alone justify the price of admission (future project, anyone?) to say nothing of all the entertainments, rides, exhibitions and of course livestock. I try to go early in the week so as not to miss the cock crowing contests which only happen when the poultry is on display.

I can’t describe why it’s as much fun as it is. I think it’s the absurdity of it. Basically you site there for 15 minutes staring at cages of roosters, waiting for them to do their thing. Meantime everyone in the audience is looking around at each other with an I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this grin. I have to say it wasn’t a banner year. The top cock only crowed 29 times in this heat. Last year one of them sounded off 249 times. Now THAT was exciting. This photo is deceptive. Actually there were over 100 people here for this.

Speaking of poultry, can you believe this is a chicken?

And this pigeon, well, it looks like it’s wearing a wedding dress.

And what do you call this?

A cowch.

Eh? Eh? Ah, I got a million of ‘em! Please tip your waiters and waitresses, ladies and germs. As for agricultural products, the pumpkins— normal the bruisers of the fair — were a disappointment. The watermelons were rather impressive however. This one weighed in at 217 pounds.

The girls are always anxious to see what the balloon benders are doing. Each year they build a scene progressively over a period of ten days with everything — everything — made from balloons. Normally they don’t make this much progress in the first weekend. This year was sort of a Candy Land type of affair. The ice cream cones were the really impressive things, or at least I thought.

The ice cream soda and gum ball machine all made from balloons of different kinds, they were very cool too.

Of course the baking exhibition always holds special interest for yours truly. All sorts of cookies, cakes, breads and biscuits. I’m not much of a novelty cake baker, but I confess the creativity on display in that section is always inspiring. Being a back yard cook I loved this take on a Big Green Egg:

The octopus was cute.

Santa stuck in the chimney was cuter.

The stack of pancakes really blew my mind. That’s caramel — I guess — running down the sides. Wow.

The licking flames of the Phoenix were also extremely impressive to me. Such fabulous color variation.

Wish I had a deep fried Oreo to pass on to you, but we ate them all. Another successful fair! Next year you really ought to come.

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Would you believe…

…the gas company guy showed up as well today to install a new meter. ALSO unannounced. Just grab a hard hat and join the party, pal! What a week this has been. Instead of flour and fondant my hands are covered with primer and concrete mix. Makes me feel manly anyway. Have a great weekend and more from me Monday, promise. – Joe

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