- Marilyn Monroe
My dear friend Lael keeps teasing me about living in a household full of men.Woman vs Man. Me vs Godzilla. Fay Wray vs King King. Coming from her own house of one man, Giuliano, swimming against a tide of women, Lael must see my own world as one ongoing, raging battle of wits and wills, an everlasting struggle to please the hard-to-please. Or a great comedy act. One solitary, isolated girl baking and cooking for, humoring 3 men. Sugar & spice and everything nice simply going about my life and trying to understand the snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, to no avail.
In a way she is right. Every single day more proof is laid at my door that we are entirely different species. Try as I might, I am often berated for not understanding, chided for talking to the boys as if they were girls, using emotion and compromise where stalwart orders and force are the only effective means. When I am upset they need me to be happy and bright; yet my cheerfulness is a sign of flippant insouciance in times of worry. When I dress up they ask me where I am going; “Nowhere, I just feel like looking nice.” merits shrugged shoulders and rolled eyes. Dressed down, jeans, fleece and slippers, and they rebuke me for slouching around the house like a listless, uncaring slob. An evening in front of a good movie? Homemade pizza a-gogo, coffee table spread with a traditional red & white checked cloth, cork popped on a luscious, fizzy bottle of Lambrusco and, yes, you see it coming, don’t you? She wants a good chick flick or something light and humorous and they want zombies and chainsaws or giant fireballs or a dark thriller filled with spies and evil and boogey monsters. They make fun of me for carrying Kleenex in my purse and cookies in the car yet are always the first to partake. They lose, well, almost everything and, somehow or other, I never do; and no matter how often I point out that it is because I follow the old adage “A place for everything and everything in its place”, frankly they do not; ecco fatto. My kindness is seen as weakness, my gentle words of understanding simply giving up and giving in, my pithy words of wisdom as mere blather, just mom rattling on and on again.
we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid.
But I malign my men too readily and much too flippantly. As the only girl in a schoolyard full of boys, it is often a frustrating prospect and once too often I have come out the loser, face down in the dirt and bicycle stolen. Yet, for all of their “maleness”, as much as they seem absolutely mystified by my “girliness” they are ready to protect me at a moment’s notice, pamper me on each and every special occasion, whether birthday, Hanukkah or even Valentine’s Day. They walk on eggshells if I am unhappy and do all within their power to soothe my hurt and cheer me up. They coddle me when I am sick and although they seem to go out of their way to make me angry, they are also quick to step in, apologize and clean up the mess when I finally explode. They used to get upset and embarrassed when I was overly friendly to strangers, chatting merrily to shopkeepers, conversing with the butcher, attempting to draw a smile from even the grouchiest of curmudgeons, yet now they either stand by patiently waiting for me to finish or they, themselves, join in the fun. Yes, I malign them; we tease each other endlessly and drive each other crazy, but it is, really, all in good fun.
No, we will never understand each other’s ways and will often cross swords. But for all of our differences we are a very tightknit group who love each other’s company and care for each other’s well being; we can spend hours and days together talking and laughing, traveling and sightseeing. A helping hand and an eager ear are always there for the asking, advice and a shoulder never very far. We also know our limits and when to leave the others in peace. The perfect little family, odd in our own special way, maybe not so perfect but perfect all the same. For all that we don’t get each other, we understand each other thoroughly.
and which I have not yet been able to answer,
despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul,
is “What does a woman want?”
- Sigmund Freud
Yes, Lael urges me to write about baking for a house full of men, my daily, weary attempts to keep them sated and happy. It is, I must admit, a never-ending balancing act, a delicate tightwire performance, producing just the right amount of sweet things to their satisfaction: there are days they beg me for cake, exhorting me to dash into the kitchen tout de suite and whip up something chocolate, oozing buttercream or crunchy with pecans and why not a tin of chocolate chip cookies to boot, while I’m at it; they cry neglect when the counter is bare of plates and platters bearing homebaked goodies shrouded under layers of foil, theirs for the choosing. And there are days that any baking effort is met with a shrug and a turned back…just not interested. The cakes and cookies languish away, slowly forming a comforting blanket of fuzz. They shake their heads and scold me for overbaking, admonish me for not listening to their no’s and their stop the damn baking! They have even gone so far as to scream abuse, crying for one and all to hear that I force food down their throats!
he must enter her world of emotions.
- Gary Smalley
Ah, woe is me, the woman of the house. Too emotional. Too friendly. Too talkative. But where baking is concerned, I can usually get it right. I’ve got my finger on the pulse and if once in a while I get it wrong, making something not one of them likes, I can usually feed their desires, put smiles on each face and soothe their man-souls.
While they eat the last of the Chocolate Chip Butter Horns and Pecan Brownie Cupcakes, while Simon puts away an entire Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Filling practically on his own, I am, once again, craving chocolate. Panna Cotta has long been on my mind and I have wanted to try on chocolate for size. I based my ingredients and quantities on a small book called Panna Cotta, one of the Hachette Collection series. I added cinnamon to the blend and switched out the sheets of gelatin with powdered and followed my own how-to directions. Although JP loves the finished product, I am not altogether happy that the dessert separated, leaving a rather grainy layer atop the creamy center layer, so I will try again. I decided to post the recipe anyway, hoping a reader can figure it out and perfect it for me.
To accompany the Panna Cotta, I made Financiers, the tiny, delicate French tea cakes, very much like a sponge, lightened with plenty of whipped egg whites and flavored with ground nuts. A friend of Clem’s had given me her own recipe ages ago and I finally pulled it out and put it to good use. I changed much of the flavoring, switching the classic ground almonds with hazelnuts, adding a splash of vanilla and a dash of ground cinnamon and finishing the whole off with a handful of finely grated semisweet chocolate, not only for the light chocolate flavor but to give the Financiers a lovely “tweedy” look. The cakes are fabulous! Perfect texture, perfect flavor: light yet chewy, delicate and moist! This is such a lovely snack, great for a tea or coffee break but perfect as an accompaniment to such desserts as Panna Cotta, Ice Cream or sorbet. This recipe will now be baked over and over again, the basis for an abundance of flavor combinations.
CHOCOLATE CINNAMON PANNA COTTA
2 ¾ cups (675 ml) whole milk, divided
.35 oz (10 g = about 2 ½ tsps) powdered gelatin
3.5 oz (100 g) semisweet chocolate (I use Lindt Doux 70%), chopped
¼ cup + 2 tsps (60 g) sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Prepare 6 individual ramekins or pretty serving glasses.
Place ¾ cup (approximately 185 ml) cold milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the milk’s surface. Using a fork, gently give it a mix. Allow to stand for 5 minutes; this softens the gelatin.
While the gelatin is softening in the cold milk, pour the rest of the milk in a medium saucepan, add the chopped chocolate and the sugar and place over medium-low heat. Allow the chocolate to melt and the sugar to dissolve, stirring, while the milk gently heats; do not allow it to come to a boil.
Once the gelatin has soften and the chocolate milk in the pan is warm (not too hot) and the chocolate melted, add the milk with the gelatin to the saucepan. Continuing stirring or whisking while the mixture heats. Once the mixture is hot and some steam is coming off of the liquid, allow to cook over low heat, stirring, for a few (4 to 5) minutes until the gelatin is melted; if you see specks of pale gold (like drops) on the surface, this is the gelatin and these should disappear.
Remove from the heat. Allow to cool for several minutes, stirring occasionally then divide evenly among the recipients. Cover each glass or ramekin with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until set, about 8 or 10 hours or, preferably, overnight.
CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT CINNAMON FINANCIERS
I have adapted the recipe of a friend of Clem’s.
1 cup (80 g) finely ground (powder) hazelnuts or almonds
5 Tbs (50 g) flour
¼ cup + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp (75 g) granulated white sugar
¼ cup + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp (75 g) granulated brown sugar (cassonade)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
5 1/3 Tbs (75 g) unsalted butter + butter for molds
4 large egg whites
½ tsp vanilla
3 Tbs (approximately 2 oz) finely grated semisweet chocolate
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Generously butter 16 traditional (approximately 3 ¾ x 1 ¾ -inch rectangular/ 9 ½ x 4 ½-cm) Financier molds – or 8 Financier molds + 12 approximately 2-inch (5 cm) round shallow molds. This is most easily done with melted and cooled unsalted butter and a pastry brush.
Finely grate the chocolate. Slowly melt the unsalted butter over low heat and remove from the heat just as the last bit of butter is melting. Swirl a few seconds until the butter is completely melted and set aside to cool briefly.
Beat the egg whites with a few grains of salt until stiff peaks hold.
In a large mixing bowl, combine and whisk together the ground hazelnuts, the flour, both sugars, the cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Fold in the stiff egg whites until just blended. Fold in the butter a little at a time – in about 5 additions, slowly pouring the melted butter down the side of the bowl rather than right into the middle of the batter. Add the vanilla extract with one addition of the butter. Fold in the finely grated chocolate.
Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each mold no more than ¾ full. Gently spread evenly in each mold if needed. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the Financiers are puffed and evenly golden brown. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes and then gently pop the Financiers out of the molds and cool completely on cooling racks.