Lent: Austerity vs. Indulgence

Funny thing about Lent, on the one hand it means abstinence (along with prayer and giving to charity). On the other it means it’s pig-out time, at least for some Catholics. The way I grew up in the Chicago area, Lent was always a fairly austere period, when gratuitous eating of any kind was frowned upon. But just try telling that to the more exuberant Catholics down here in Louisville. Lenten Fridays here may be meatless, but they’re host to high-spirited fish fries that would make many northern Catholics blush. Are we really supposed to be having this much fun this time of year?

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What about Vienna?

Got a few emails overnight in regard to yesterday’s post Remember Tacubaya!, among them this note from an attentive (and apparently long-time) reader Eric:

Hey Joe! Got a kick out of your Pastry war post, but I was surprised to hear you call it the world’s most famous baking-related conflict. I thought that distinction belonged to the siege of Vienna!



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Remember Tacubaya!

The month is almost over and I have yet to acknowledge The Pastry War, which ended in March of 1838. I try to mark this — the world’s most famous pastry-related conflict — every year as it’s instructive of the kind of violence that can occur when unruly pastry shop customers fail to give the artisans and staff that serve them the respect they deserve.

Fought between Mexico and (of course) France, The Pastry War was provoked when Mexican soldiers (officers mostly) ransacked the pastry shop of one Monsieur Remontel in the Tacubaya district of Mexico City in 1837. Remontel sued for damages and when he was denied satisfaction took his complaint directly to King Louis-Philippe of France. The French King demanded the sum of 600,000 pesos as compensation…

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Filed under:  Pastry | 13 Comments

Hot, Cross

…is pretty much what I get every year when I see a food columnist parroting more of the same old hot cross bun claptrap. There are probably as many erroneous, exaggerated, or just plain made-up stories about the hot cross bun as there are about the pretzel. The most oft-cited myth goes like this: the hot cross bun is descended from pre-Christian peoples, for whom carving a cross on a round bread was a deeply mystical act connected to food and/or blood sacrifice. The symbolism, having to do with the progression of the sun…

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Filed under:  Pastry | 6 Comments

Making Egg Wash

Since the simplest things can often cause great confusion it seems well worth doing a proper tutorial on the subject of egg wash. I should say straight out that while I am aware of all the possible additions to an egg wash, I’m not a big believer in the benefits of that alchemy. Unless you’re very much into the minute details of presentation — and I’m clearly not — a simple wash made of well-beaten whole egg plus a dash of salt will do you for most any job. Multi-ingredient washes made from egg, cream, water with a dash of sugar…homey don’t play dat. Here’s what I do: crack an egg. …

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Filed under:  Egg Wash, Pastry | 12 Comments

What about egg wash?

Reader Zane wants to know if adding salt to egg wash is anything like adding salt to whipped egg whites. Good question, Zane. It is in fact a somewhat different phenomenon. Again I think the best way to demonstrate is with a few photos. Hang tight!

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Hot Cross Bun Recipe

I’m normally a long-fermentation snob where it comes to bread, but frankly with all the spices in these little guys it’s mighty hard to pick up the subtleties that a long rise offers. A full tablespoon of instant yeast blows this dough up in no time — foom — which means from mixing to glazing, you can have these done in about four hours.

1 lb. 9 ounces (5 cups) bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups warm milk
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs, room temperature
4 tablespoons soft butter
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
egg wash
simple icing


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Next Up: Hot Cross Buns

‘Tis the season, is it not? These are a request from reader Cynthia, and well timed. I’m under the gun to deliver some sweet things to the parish for this week’s fish fry. These should do nicely!

Filed under:  Pastry | 2 Comments

Whipping Egg Whites

What do “soft peaks” look like? What about “stiff peaks”? How do you know when you’re over-whipping? These are some of the great mysteries of egg foam making. But I say: let them be mysteries no longer! Let’s have a picture tutorial that will clear the air on this once and for all! Because being anxious over the height of your egg foam is one sure way to suck all the fun out of a baking project. Read this and go forward with confidence, friends. Making a perfect whip is easy if you know what to look for. …

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Filed under:  Pastry, Whipping Egg Whites | 14 Comments

What does salt do to an egg white foam?

That’s what reader Daniel wants to know. Daniel, let’s just say that adding salt to egg whites before you whip them is never a good idea. Why not? Well you remember the below post on how egg foams form. Agitation causes the little bunches of proteins in the white to unfold, at which point the individual molecules start to collect around air bubbles and bond with each other. If there’s salt in the mix that bonding process is slowed as the salt dissolves into its component parts — sodium and chloride — and those ions start to adhere to the bonding sites on the protein molecules, preventing the proteins from using those sites to bond with each other. The result is that the foam takes longer to whip up and is less stable when it finally does form.


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Filed under:  Pastry | 4 Comments