Back to Prince Esterházy

It’s not the cake and cream portion of this classic pastry that I fear, it’s that zebra-striped fondant top. Oh sure I’ve done it before on the tops of Napoleons and such, but a round one? That gives me the jits I don’t mind telling you. Otherwise the only thing that has me puzzled is the structure of the thing. An Esterházy torte is not unlike a Dobos torte in that it’s made up of many, many individual layers of “cake” and buttercream. That “cake” is most often a soft almond or hazelnut sponge, at least based on the recipes I’ve seen so far. However I’m greatly intrigued by references to “classic” versions that are supposedly made of crispy nut flour-and-meringue layers. Which way to go…which way to go…I think I know already but am interested in what you might have to say on the subject. …

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Dead Man’s Party

Mrs. Pastry is back from Oaxaca with bags of chocolate, fresh nuts and a smartphone full of photographs. The pictures make me regret not bringing the whole family down there last week. Day of the Dead is something special, both from an artistic and philosophical point of view. The above picture is a sand painting made on top of a grave during a late-night cemetery party Mrs. Pastry went to. As in many places in Mexico during Day of the Dead, people were very enthusiastic about displaying their artwork and introducing visitors to dead family members. …

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The Quick-Rise Trade-Off

Reader Selena wants to know if it’s possible to add more flavor to pan de muerto, i.e. make it more like a long-fermented artisan bread. Yes, Selena that’s very doable, though you’ll be changing the texture of the bread in the process. Generally long fermentation creates a denser texture with smaller holes in the crumb. The reason for that is because “wild” yeasts tend not to produce carbon dioxide with the same verve as the packaged stuff. They get the job done, mind you, but the gas bubbles they make are smaller and they take more time to develop. That’s a good thing from a flavor standpoint since enzymes and flavor-creating bacteria need time to do their thing creating sugars, alcohols and whatnot.


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Making Pan de Muerto

This is the traditional bread of the Mexican Day of the Dead — Día de Muertos — a celebration that actually encompasses three days: October 31st, November 1st and November 2nd. Together they make up Allhallowtide, a trio of Christian holy days that includes All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Of course in Mexico they take on a unique character, blended as they are with pre-Christian traditions and motifs. These sweet and aromatic breads, which resemble little piles of bones, are frequently placed on Day of the Dead altars. Just as often they’re simply consumed with wild abandon. …

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The Man Who Would Be Emperor

Reader Goldie wants to know how and why the French came to occupy Mexico in the 1860′s. Goldie, I’d be happy to tell you.

The road from a Spanish territory to an independent nation was a rocky one for Mexico. Though the country gained independence from Spain in 1821, a series of political upheavals followed immediately afterward. First it became the First Mexican Empire, then the United Mexican States, then several different independent nations, then the Second Mexican Empire before it finally settled, more or less, into the nation we now know. That was in 1876.

The period of French intervention in Mexico, known as “The Maximilian Affair”, began in 1861. That was the year that Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and second Emperor of France) decided it would be a good idea to begin installing European monarchs in the New World. Mexico, being in disarray after a recent civil war, seemed like a good place to start. …

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The Light and the Sweet

People who don’t have much experience with Mexican breads are often surprised when they enter a panaderia. They expect tortillas or some other types of rustic corn or wheat breads. What they get instead are lighter-than-air white breads, most of which are also quite sweet. Whoa, where did THESE come from? The answer is: the French.

Other than the indigenous peoples that thrived in Central America before Europeans showed up, it was the Spanish that had the biggest cultural impact on the region we now know as Mexico. Mexico was, after all, a key part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, a group of territories that included Cuba, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, the Phillipines, even Florida and the southwestern US at one time. Still the French managed to …

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Pan de Muerto Recipe

Under the hood, Pan de Muerto is very similar to pan dulce, the fluffy, slightly sweet white bread that Mexico is famous for. The main difference is that it’s flavored with anise seeds. The presentation is different as well, as it’s typically shaped into round loaves decorated with bone- and teardrop-shaped dough pieces, then glazed. Here’s the basic recipe:

Dough

19.25 ounces (3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1.75 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons anise seeds or (1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
2 teaspoons orange zest (or orange blossom water or 2 drops orange oil)
8 ounces (1 cup) milk
2 ounces (1/4 cup) butter or shortening or lard
2 eggs, room temperature


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Dunkin’ Cronuts?

You knew it was coming. Sooner or later somebody was going to try a mass-market knock-off Dominique Ansel’s 2013 smash hit. Why did these things ever make international headlines in the first place? Who knows, I still can’t figure it out. Be that as it may, “croissant doughnuts” is what Dunkin’ Donuts is calling them and the good folks over at Vocativ have a review. Enjoy!…

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But First: Pan de Muerto

Bread of the dead. Reader Sunyana has been having trouble with hers, and seeing as how it’s just a couple of days until Día de Muertos, I’m going to take a quick detour to Mexico. Stand by!

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Next Up: Esterházy Torte

Reader Johan has an excellent idea here. This one has style, flavor AND history. Let’s do this thing!

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