On Fear and Marmalade (Project Food Blog Challenge #1)

19 09 2010

If you read a lot of food blogs, you’ve probably already seen a post or two about Project Food Blog.  In case you’re not already up to speed, it’s a massive contest sponsored by Foodbuzz.  Ten rounds of challenges will whittle the 2,000 contestants down to one Food Blog Star, who will win $10,000 and a feature on the Foodbuzz site for a year.  I’m throwing my hat in the ring, and the first challenge is to write a post about what defines me as a food blogger, and why I think I should win Project Food Blog.

Meyer lemon tree (very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet...)

I started Croque-Camille when I moved to Paris in early 2008, wanting to eat my way through the City  of Lights and have a record of it all.  So far, the Parisian food adventures have ranged from greenmarkets to upscale pastry shops, from fabulous restaurants to home cooking, not to mention learning that they do, in fact, make good beer in France!  Two and a half years later, it’s still an adventure.

Another reason I started blogging was because I was interested in food writing, and wanted to try my hand and see how I liked it.  It turns out I do, as evidenced by the fact that I keep doing it despite acquiring a day job as a pâtissière in a French pastry shop.  I enjoy the work, but I’d love to make a living writing about food someday.  So why haven’t I written that cookbook yet?  To be brutally honest with myself: fear.  Fear of writer’s block, fear of the publication process, fear that someone else’s book is always going to be better, fear that no one will buy it or use it.  They say admitting it is the first step, so here I am, tackling the fear of unpopularity and the related fear of self-promotion.

I think I should win Project Food Blog because I am a unique voice on the blogging scene.  As a professional pastry chef, I work all day in a kitchen and still go home at night to cook and write about it.  My training has given me a wide base of knowledge, and I can write with authority on a number of food-related topics.  But that doesn’t mean I know it all.  I also have a nearly boundless enthusiasm for food, cooking, and eating.  I’m always on the lookout for new ingredients, better techniques, and am genuinely interested in the science of how cooking and baking work.  On Croque-Camille, I try to keep a good balance of recipes – both simple and showstoppers – interspersed with work stories (one of my most frequently asked questions is “what is it like to be a pastry chef in Paris?”), travel and dining experiences, and the occasional silliness.

Prepping the fruit for the marmalade

Speaking of conquering fears, there are very few cooking projects that give me pause.  Deep frying?  Love it.  Pie dough?  Piece of cake.  Baking with yeast?  You know it.  I’ve made jam before, but reading that marmalade strikes terror into the hearts of pastry chefs much more experienced than I made me hesitate.  How big or small should I cut the fruit?  Do I really need every molecule of pectin I can get?  What happens if I miss some seeds?  How do I know my jars are really sterilized?  What if it isn’t perfect and all that time and fruit is wasted?

Last month, during my summer vacation, I spent a week at my parents’ house.  They have a gorgeous Meyer lemon tree that produces more fruit than they know what to do with.  I wanted to help them preserve their bounty, and after much debate, I decided I would turn as much of it as I could into marmalade.

Lemon and his marmalade

Since I am a marmalade newbie, I followed a nice, straightforward recipe from Simply Recipes.   I dutifully chopped the lemons and saved the seeds and membranes to make pectin.  I boiled and stirred and boiled and stirred.  I carefully watched the temperature.  I did the frozen plate test, and nearly squealed with delight when the liquid finally jelled, just like it was supposed to.  I carefully ladled the hot marmalade into oven-sterilized jars (which is how I’m doing it from now on – no more messing around with tongs and boiling water) and set them on the counter to cool overnight.  And when I checked in the morning, the jars had sealed and the marmalade had set.  All of which is to say, it went off without a hitch, and now I may be hooked.  I can’t wait for citrus season to roll around so I can boil up more of those tangy-sweet, ever-so-slightly-bitter, jewel-toned jars of joy.  If that doesn’t teach me to face my fears head-on, I don’t know what will.

To illustrate how big these lemons are, that's a quart-size jar.

I hope you’ll stop by Foodbuzz’ Project Food Blog page and vote for me in the contest.  Voting opens at 6:00 am Pacific time on Monday, September 20th, and closes at 6:00 pm on Thursday the 23rd.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Fairy Tale Dessert

22 03 2009

This is the story of one great dessert idea that morphed into another one.

Soaking croissant cubes in custard

Once upon a time there was an American pastry chef working in Paris, France.  She didn’t exactly feel creatively stimulated at work, so she did a lot of cooking and baking at home.  Her husband’s birthday was coming up and she wanted to make him something special.  While flipping through a cookbook by one of her favorite pastry chefs (which, it so happens, she found extraordinarily cheap in an outlet-type bookstore on her street), she remembered that her husband was crazy for lemon curd (and oh, did this book have a fabulous recipe!).

Lemon curd - before

But what would be the best lemon curd delivery method?  Sure, it’s great in a tart, but our heroine wanted to make something unexpected.

Lemon curd - after

“Since we’re still in the cold, drippy, wet pre-spring that is early March,” she thought, “maybe I can work it into a bread pudding… yes!  With a fluffy meringue on top!  It’ll be great!  Like lemon meringue pie, but more wintry and comforting.”

So over the next few days she gathered her ingredients: eggs, brioche, milk, cream, butter, and untreated lemons (imperative if the zest is going to be used).  On the big day, the pastry chef noticed that almost all of the brioche had been eaten.  Sometimes these things happen.  She made a mental note to pick up a croissant on the way home from work.

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