It has recently come to my attention that I am a notorious, card-carrying bigot. My prejudice was so deeply rooted — and deeply hidden — that I thought I was a pretty accepting, politically correct kind of guy until those seven little words brayed from the speaker phone: “Can you make me a Bundt cake?”
It was my neighbor Carlotta Florio. Carlotta works for a major film studio in L.A., and although she lives in the Hollywood hills and uses her Connecticut house less than three months a year, she still considers it home. And when she’s here, our group of gastronauts hangs up our aprons because we know that before she’s pulled into her driveway she’s already shopped for a week’s worth of lush, candlelit dinners to which we are invariably invited.
But a Bundt cake? Isn’t that the dominion of Betty Crocker and cake mixes with puddin’ packs included for extra moistness? Weren’t they part of the sorry-looking lineup at every bake sale we held to raise money for our high-school photography club? As far as I was concerned, Bundt pans were retired along with air poppers and avocado-green fondue pots sometime in the late ’70s. Read more “The Pan Snob”
Before the 1990s, there was no question about it: French butter reigned victorious in just about every pastry kitchen of worth. Its complex, nutty flavor with a slightly tangy back note, superior plasticity, and sterling pedigree were world famous. French chefs, accustomed to working with such an excellent ingredient in their homeland, had long ago convinced a cadre of important American colleagues to follow suit. And, therefore, French butter’s preeminence remained unchallenged. But over the past decade, new American butters have been storming the palace gates. The result? American butter is now being layered into mille-feuille or smoothed into rich pastry creams as often as some of the most revered French beurre brands. Read more “The Franco-American Butter Wars”
It got to the point where I couldn’t walk into a bar anymore. You know the kind, the true bastions of testosterone, the ones so thick with blue smoke that the neon beer signs look like UFOs hovering in a patch of midnight fog. It wasn’t moral or religious reasons, lack of money, or even an alcohol problem that prompted me to slink out, emasculated, never to return. It was because I was a phony.
While other guys swapped J.Lo fantasies or nearly came to blows defending their classic El Caminos, all I could think about was a commercial-style Viking stove in white enamel. I stared into the mirror, tawny with nicotine, and dreamed about how perfectly risen my white-chocolate cloud cake would be, thanks to my baffled-heat convection oven.
The slow disenfranchisement of my manhood, as one friend likes to call it, began eight years ago when I took my first cooking class. I walked into the kitchen, and there lined up against the wall were three hulking 48-inch Vikings, gleaming like a row of squat, sweaty sumo wrestlers. I was smitten. Their unqualified size and power thrilled me. Was this what my father felt when he walked with mouth agape through the lawn-mower department at Sears? Surely it was, because my cooking teacher, a saucy wisp of a thing with a yappy Chihuahua voice, had to nudge me out of my reverie, much as I had to poke my father awake to drag him reluctantly to the toy aisle. Read more “A Man and His Stove”