A Mere Self of My Former Shadow (or How Alton Brown Saved My Life)

Dear A- D-,

I’ve been mulling over how to write about my diet for quite some time now. I’m not following a set “diet plan”, so it has taken some time to organize my thoughts. I have finally come to the conclusion that I just have to dive into in and hope it falls into place.

I’ll start out by describing what lead me to decide to change my eating habits, including my “a-ha” moment about the meaning of “diet”. Then I’ll talk about the “three list” approach I’ve adopted and give you the lists. Finally, I’ll delve into some of the items on the list in greater detail, along with my observations and realizations as I’ve adopted and adapted to this new diet.

Given everything I’ve been through in the past few years, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that watching what I ate wasn’t high on my list of priorities. In fact, it wasn’t even on my radar. I’m not a typical stress eater, but I suppose to some extent I did use the weight I carried on my shoulders as an excuse to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, and as much as I wanted. I inherited my dad’s sweet tooth, and I have never had much luck staying away from sweets. And lately, I didn’t even try. Given that, and the fact that we survived for the past six or so years largely on take out, it’s really no wonder that my weight kept creeping up. I topped 200 pounds at some point, but even that didn’t really motivate me to change (it at least made me think about it).

Two things, both of which occurred last October, finally nudged me into realizing I had to change my diet and get back in shape. First, of course, was J-‘s death and the realization that I was all my girls had left. It’s hard to explain, but as long as J- was alive, even though she was increasingly debilitated, there were always two of us. Losing her meant the girls needed me more than ever. If I didn’t have the motivation to change for my own sake, I knew that, to the extent I could control it, I had to get and stay healthy for them.

The other thing that happened last October was that, shortly after J- died, I went to the doctor. And for the first time in my life, all my numbers were bad. I was overweight according to the BMI index, and my cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure were all in the danger zone. And my triglycerides were through the roof (322).

I knew it was time for a change, but even with all that, it took me a while to get far enough along in my grieving to be able to concentrate on dieting. My “a-ha” moment came when I watched an episode of a show called “Good Eats”. The host, Alton Brown, is a nerdy food expert who approaches food from a scientific and historical perspective. His show is entertaining and extremely informative. The episode I saw was one where he talked about his own weight loss. He was looking at some footage of himself for the show and realized he had really let himself go. He was about 50 pounds overweight.

So, in typical fashion for him, he developed his own weight loss strategy. He developed four lists (on which I based my three lists). But what really struck a chord with me was his discussion of the word “diet”. Although it has come to be synonymous with losing weight, diet really has a much more basic meaning. By definition, your diet is simply the kinds of food that you habitually eat. When I heard that, a light came on for me. I didn’t need to “diet” in the modern sense of the word. I needed a new diet; that is, a new way to think about and approach the foods I habitually ate.

Weight loss has never worked for me for the same reasons it doesn’t work for most people. Simply put, I don’t like feeling restricted in what I eat. And counting calories, carbs, protein grams, Points, or what have you is tedious and unsustainable. I didn’t need to “go on a diet”; rather, I needed to change my diet. That is to say, to change my eating habits, not for a short-term weight loss solution, but for good.

So, with that in mind, I started thinking about what I ate, how I used food, not only from a sustenance standpoint, but emotionally and psychologically as well. And I realized I was ready for a change. Like I said, I started with Alton Brown’s four lists, but I whittled them down to three and changed them to suit me. Unlike a typical diet where you count calories and/or fat grams or, worse yet, totally eliminate whole categories of food or nutrients (e.g., carbs), the lists focus more on what you should eat. Very few items are totally off limits; and they are things no one should eat anyway.

Here, then, are my “lists”:

Foods to Eat Every Day

Whole grains

Leafy greens

Carrots

Nuts

Fruits

Green Tea

In addition, my daily list includes:

Multivitamin

Fish oil

Breakfast

Foods to Eat Not More Than Once Per Week

Dessert

Alcohol

Pasta

Red meat

Foods to Totally Avoid

Pop

Fast food

Prepared meals

Canned soup

Anything labeled “diet”

The daily items I really do try to eat each and every day. Whole grains and leafy greens are filling and chock full of nutrients. By eating them I feel not only full but satiated, and I’m less likely to reach for unhealthy foods and snacks.

Breakfast was a big change for me. I never used to eat breakfast , even though it is well known that it revs up your metabolism and keeps you from gorging later in the day. Eating is like taking pain medication (strange comparison, I know, but you can understand how I relate to that analogy); if you suffer from chronic pain or an injury and you wait to take your pain meds until the pain becomes unbearable, it is almost impossible to get ahead of it. So you end up taking more medication and still feeling the pain. In the same way, if you skip meals, especially the first meal of the day, you have a hunger deficit that is hard to overcome and tends to lead to overeating.

So, I usually start my day with some kind of whole grain — multigrain bread, oatmeal, granola — and maybe some fruit or nuts. This wakes me up, fills me up, and keeps me going until lunchtime. If I get hungry before lunch, I’ll grab a piece of fruit or some yogurt.

I almost always have a salad and carrots for lunch. That may sound tedious or boring, but I keep it fresh by adding different things to my greens every day. I use a lot of dried fruits and nuts, and I often replace salad dressing with something else like hummus, salsa, beans, or rice. I used to take dinner leftovers for lunch, but because dinners tend to be a heavier meal, I was eating way too much. So I keep my lunches light — salad, carrots, fruit, and yogurt are fairly typical fare for me — then I don’t have to worry too much about what I have for dinner.

Nuts, of course, are loaded with protein, which gives you energy and makes you feel full. They also have fat, but it’s the good kind of fat, which can actually help lower your cholesterol. I buy natural nut butters from the store — cashew, almond, and peanut are favorites. But make sure it’s all natural and has no added oils or sugar. The ones I buy contain only nuts and sometimes salt. I often eat nut butter on toast for breakfast or for a snack in the evenings.

Fruit can really help you feel full and can satisfy your craving for sweets. Some people will say you shouldn’t eat too much fruit, as it is high in sugar. But I don’t limit myself. It’s much better than eating processed sugar. And for me, at least, it really does satisfy my sweet tooth.

The benefits of green tea are well known and widely reported. It is high in antioxidants and, for me, replaces that second and third cup of coffee in the morning. It might take some getting used to, but most people find they eventually really like the light, grassy flavor of green tea once they drink it for a while.

Multivitamins are always a good idea, but especially when you’re dieting, to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs. And fish oil, even more than nuts, provides the good kind of cholesterol that can help lower the bad kind. The fourth list from Alton Brown was of things to eat at least three times per week, and many of them were sources of good cholesterol. I personally find it easier to take fish oil tablets every day.

The once per week list is probably not that surprising if you think about it, as it mostly contains things that should be eaten sparingly. Alcohol is not a problem for me, as I don’t drink that often. But when I do get together with friends these days, I limit myself to one drink, or, lately, pass it up all together.

Pasta might be more difficult for some people to limit than it is for me. We don’t eat that much pasta anyway, so I rarely have it more than once every week or two. And if you choose whole grain pastas, which are increasingly available in stores and restaurants, I think you could have it more than once per week. It’s the semolina-based pasta (read: empty carbs) that is the killer. And on that subject, I’ve also tried to cut out white flour and white rice, both of which are loaded with carbs and almost entirely devoid of nutrition. Multigrain breads and brown rice are much better for you and also more flavorful in my opinion.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I would do with limiting desserts, which also include all manner of junk food in my book. I always heard that if you cut out sweets you eventually stop craving them. I never found this to be true, but then I never cut them out long enough to really know. With this diet, I have been pretty strict about limiting myself to one sugary treat per week. Two things have resulted from that. First, I have found that the less refined sugar I eat, the less I want it. So it really is true that you can overcome your cravings.

The other thing that has happened as I’ve limited myself to one dessert a week is that, before I eat a dessert or sweet snack, I ask myself, “Is this the one dessert you want for the week, or do you want to wait for something more worthy of being THE dessert of the week?” And often, I find I pass up whatever is being offered if it’s not one of my all-time favorites. And many weeks, I’ve passed up sweets throughout the week, and I come to the end of the week and realize I didn’t eat any desserts at all.

Now don’t get me wrong — I still eat dessert. But I’m selective about what I eat. For example, if I know mom is making apple pie later in the week, you can bet I’m going to pass on the Oreos tonight. And I find that I gravitate toward really good desserts, especially homemade items, and almost never eat processed, premade junk anymore.

Red meat deserves special mention. With dad here, it would be impossible to limit red meat to once a week. In fact, when I started on this diet, I was quick to make sure everyone else in the house understood that I was on a diet, not them. I haven’t asked anyone else to change the way they cook or eat. I don’t always eat the same things as everyone else. Sometimes I’ll make something different for myself, especially when we have beef three or four nights in a row (not an uncommon occurrence around here). More often, though, I’ll eat whatever is served, but limit my portion size and fill up more on vegetables and salad and less on protein. Even with that, I don’t know that I’ve ever stuck to the once per week limit on red meat. As long as I limit portion size, I’m OK with having it two to three times each week.

The list of foods to completely avoid is probably not a big shocker. Fast food and pop, for example, are things no one should ever really eat. And that includes diet pop, too (which also falls under the “no diet food” exclusion). Studies have shown that people who drink diet sodas actually gain weight rather than losing it.

The more I read about no calorie sweeteners, the more I understand Alton Brown putting diet food on the no-no list. In addition to possible long-term negative effects on your health, diet sweeteners actually make you crave sweeter food by deadening your palate to the sensation of sweetness. So by eating “diet” food, you can make yourself crave, and ultimately consume, more sugar! Much better to get your sweets the natural way — through fruits, honey, brown sugar, etc.

Canned soup and prepared meals may seem like odd things to be on this list. But all you have to do is read the labels of either one, and you’ll see that they are loaded with sodium, preservatives, and lost of stuff you probably can’t pronounce.

As far as items that aren’t on the list, I simply exercise moderation. For example, I eat chicken several times per week. And if I ate pork, which I don’t, I would consider it a red meat and exercise the same moderation and portion control that I use for beef.

I know this is a lot to take in and probably seems overwhelming. My best advice it this: start with the lists. Eat whole grains, leafy greens, carrots, fruit, nuts, and green tea every day, starting tomorrow. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is, and how filling your stomach with good food will change the way you look and feel almost immediately.

If you simply begin by following the three lists, you’ll quickly adapt to eating better foods. And you’ll find your own routine and make adjustments to the lists as you go.

And I know I don’t need to tell you this, but, YES, IT WORKS! I have dropped 38 pounds, stopped taking both my blood pressure and acid reflux medications, gone down to a pants size I haven’t worn in decades, and, most importantly, all of my numbers — BMI, cholesterol, glucose, BP, and triglycerides — are back in the healthy range. And I feel great!

I think everyone needs his own motivation and has to find a diet that works for him. This was my time, and I found a way that has helped me not only lose weight and get back into good health, but has also made me think about what I eat and my daily diet in a whole new, healthy and sustainable way.

Whether or not my crazy three-list diet turns out to be your thing, I hope you find your motivation to change and a diet that fits you.

Good luck. Keep me posted on your progress.

Love,

P-

Back-of-the-Card Cheese & Olive Bread {FFwD}

AMFT Cover

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe is right up my alley — bread, cheese, olives, tapenade, I mean, what’s not to like about that? This recipe is Dorie’s take on a quick bread recipe from the Comté cheese company.

Dorie’s version combines flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk, cheese, tapenade, olives, lemon zest, and olive oil. Everything is quickly mixed together, scraped into a pan, and baked for about 45 minutes. The house smelled heavenly while the loaves were in the oven! I doubled the recipe, and we had one loaf with dinner right after it baked. I’m taking the other one to a friend’s house this evening as part of a cheese plate.

We really liked this bread. It’s salty, cheesy, savory, and really rich. I cut back the salt called for in the recipe by just a bit, as I was worried that the cheese, olives, and tapenade would throw it over the top salt-wise. It came out fine, not too salty for my tastes. But I think it would have been OK without any additional salt, too.

My only complaint about the recipe was the amount of olive oil. It was more than 3/4 cup for the two loaves! And combined with the eggs, cheese, and oil-cured olives, it seemed a little on the oily side for me. I think you could cut the olive oil way back, and maybe even eliminate it entirely. I made a note in my book to use less oil next time.

This post participates in French Fridays with Dorie, a group cooking its way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table one delicious recipe at a time. To see what other participants thought of this recipe, click here.

Anne Le Blanc’s Pistachio Avocado {FFwD}

Pistachio Avocodo

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe is hardly a recipe; it’s more a set of assembly instructions. If fact, Dorie says in the introduction that she almost didn’t include this one in the book. Man, am I glad she did!

The hardest part of the whole operation was finding pistachio oil. I checked two health food/specialty stores in the area, but neither had it. Our local grocery chain has a pretty nice specialty foods selection, so I checked there, and voila! It was crazy expensive ($16 for 8 ounces), but I had searched so hard for it, I decided to splurge. You can also make your own pistachio oil, as several of the Doristas were planning to do for this recipe.

In addition to the pistachio oil, the recipe calls for an avocado, lemon juice, and coarse sea salt. You slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, and drizzle the flesh with lemon juice, squeezing a little into the cavity, too. After sprinkling coarse sea salt over the flesh, you fill the cavity almost to the top with pistachio oil. And that’s it.

Words can scarcely describe how good this was. I was going to share one of the halves with my daughter, but I ate the whole thing before she got to the kitchen. It was slightly sweet, salty, unctuous, oily (in a good way), nutty, toasty, in a word, DELICIOUS!!!

I’m grateful to Dorie for introducing me not only to this recipe (and yes, Dorie, I think it qualifies as a recipe) but also to pistachio oil. When I first opened the oil and tasted it, I wondered how I had lived my entire life up to now without it.

Needless to say, I will be making this recipe again. In fact, I’ve already made it twice; and I have one more avocado ripening on the counter.

Triple Chocolate Cake {ModBak}

A few weeks ago, I wrote about making this wonderful light and airy Cocoa Génoise.

Today’s Modern Baker Challenge post is about what I made with the génoise layer. As the name implies, this cake is chocolate on chocolate covered with chocolate. In addition to the chocolate cake, there are two versions of chocolate ganache — one used to frost the cake and the other a glaze that goes over the whole thing.

With my génoise at the ready, I began by making a moistening syrup, which consisted of water, sugar, and raspberry liqueur.

I set the syrup aside to cool while I made the ganaches.

First, the ganache for filling and spreading. While I heated cream and corn syrup on the stove, I melted bittersweet chocolate in a bowl.

I poured the cream mixture over the chocolate, mixed well, then whisked in softened butter.

Next, I made the ganache glaze, which was also made with cream, corn syrup, and chocolate, although not as much chocolate as the filling. And there was no butter in the glaze. And rather than melting the chocolate, I poured the cream mixture over the chocolate and let the heat from the cream melt the chocolate.

To assemble the cake, I cut the génoise into three layers. I put the bottom layer on a tart pan bottom and brushed it with 1/3 of the moistening syrup. I topped this with about 1/3 of the ganache filling and spread it to the edge of the cake. I repeated the layers two more times, then spread ganache frosting over the entire cake.

I refrigerated the cake for a while, then poured the ganache glaze over the top and smoothed it over the sides.

This cake was beautiful. The glaze gave it a smooth, perfectly finished look. The kind you see in a bakery and wonder, “How do they do that?”

I made this cake before my parents came for a visit so they could enjoy it with us.

This cake was amazing! It may be the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. And my parents, with over 140 years of cake-eating experience between them, agreed that this was by far the best chocolate frosting they’ve ever tasted.

As Nick points out in the notes, this is a cake for a milestone birthday or other very special occasion. It has enough flavor and visual appeal to match up to any celebration. And even though it’s a bit of work to put together, the accolades you’ll receive make it well worth the effort.

Fresh Duck from Brunty Farms

I’m fortunate to live in an area with an amazing farmer’s market. This is the real deal: everything sold there is grown locally and marketed by the farmers themselves. And by far my favorite stand at the market is Brunty Farms. I stop by every time I visit the market to pick up a few dozen eggs and a chicken or two. The chickens roast up juicy, moist, and flavorful; and the eggs are by far the best I’ve ever eaten. If I run out of eggs a few days before market day, I’ll change my baking schedule rather than buy grocery store eggs.

Brunty Farms is known for its pasture-raised chickens, which literally have the run of the farm. But Brunty is also gaining a reputation for its pork, turkeys, heritage poultry, and produce. And, to my great delight, they’ve also begun raising ducks.

I’ve purchased duck eggs from them a few times, and recently was fortunate to get my hands on one of their fresh ducks. Mel e-mailed me a month or so before they were planning to process the ducks to see if I wanted one. Of course I said yes, and last week my duck was finally ready!

The duck was on the smallish side — about 4 pounds — and in retrospect, I probably should have roasted it whole. But I had other plans for it, so as soon as I got it home, I began butchering it.

I’m not an expert when it comes to butchering poultry, but ducks are actually pretty easy to take apart. They’re connected by layers of fat, and it’s easy to follow the fat lines to remove the breasts, legs, and wings. And the bones are light, brittle, and easy to cut through at the joints.

I froze the wings, carcass, and other miscellaneous parts to use for stock. I put the legs in the fridge to use for duck confit. And the breasts became dinner that evening.

In keeping with the quality I’ve come to expect from Brunty Farms, this was the most tender and flavorful duck I’ve ever made. I don’t know whether they will continue raising ducks at the farm, but I sure hope so.

And I can’t wait to get my fresh turkey from them for Thanksgiving!

Mustard Bâtons {AMFT}

The recipe on page 15 of Around My French Table for Mustard Batons was one of the first recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s new book that caught my eye. It’s a very simple recipe: puff pastry and Dijon mustard are the main ingredients. It looked like a recipe that could be thrown together and in the oven in less than 10 minutes, making it perfect for a quick appetizer or a simple weeknight snack.

Dorie’s recipe calls for frozen puff pastry. However, as noted in a previous post, I had been wanting to try Nick Malgieri‘s Instant Puff Pastry recipe, and this seemed like a good reason to give it a go. You can read about my puff pastry making adventure here. Suffice it to say, if you are still buying frozen puff pastry, you really should give making it a try. You won’t believe how easy it is, and how great the results are.

With my puff pastry in the refrigerator, and a strong Dijon mustard in the cupboard, I was ready to put together some Mustard Bâtons.

I began by setting the chilled puff pastry on a lightly floured board, then hitting it with a French rolling pin to soften it and begin flattening it out a bit. I then rolled the pastry, giving it several 90° turns and flipping it over from time to time, until I had a 12 x 16 rectangle.

I turned the dough so one of the short sides was toward me, then spread the lower half with Dijon mustard.

After folding down the top half of the dough, I pressed it lightly to seal it. Then I used my pastry wheel to cut the dough into one-inch strips.

After I put the strips on the pan, I brushed them with egg, then sprinkled them with poppy seeds. The bâtons baked in a 400° oven for about 15 minutes, until they were puffed and golden brown. The house smelled so good while the bâtons were baking. The puff pastry smelled rich and buttery, and the Dijon had a pleasant pungent aroma.

I allowed the bâtons to cool for a few minutes before digging into them. They tasted as good as they smelled. My wife found the Dijon a bit too strong, but I really enjoyed the sharp edge of the mustard combined with the flaky puff pastry.

This is another recipe to make again and again. Dorie suggests making them ahead and freezing them before baking, but they are so quick and easy to throw together (especially with homemade puff pastry in the freezer), that I think I will normally make and bake them on the same day.

Shrimp & Toasted Pumpkinseed Tart {ModBak}

If the idea of a green shrimp tart doesn’t immediately appeal to you, you’re not alone. My family refused to try this tart before I even made it, just based on the photo in the book. Nonetheless, I dutifully made the next recipe in the Modern Baker Challenge, knowing full well it would mostly be left uneaten.

This tart begins with a cornmeal pastry crust. The crust is essentially the same as the rich pastry dough used in many of the recipes in this section of the book, except that half of the AP flour is replaced with stone ground cornmeal. This results in a rich, savory crust with a hint of crunch, as well as a touch of yellow, from the cornmeal.

To make the pipian verde (Mexican green pumpkin seed sauce), I toasted the pumpkin seeds, then ground them in the food processor with aromatics, spices, and shrimp broth.

I cut the shrimp into bite sized pieces, then sautéed them in butter and cumin.

Don't they look like crawfish tails?

 After removing the shrimp from the pan, I returned the pipian verde to the pan, heated it through, then stirred in sour cream and the shrimp. I beat eggs in a bowl and stirred in the sauce and shrimp, then scraped it all into the shell

I baked the tart at 375°F for about 25 minutes, until the crust was baked and the tart set. I cooled the tart for a few moments, until I could remove the sides of the pan without burning myself.

Despite its appearance, this tart was quite flavorful. The serrano chiles gave it a gentle spice, and the pumpkin seeds lent an earthiness to the dish. The shrimp were well-cooked, and I found myself picking them out as I started to get full.

To my surprise, the kids ended up asking for (small) slices, and they both enjoyed it. Not enough to ask for seconds. But, hey, small steps are good, too.

Basque Potato Tortilla {FFwD}

When I saw the name of this recipe, I pictured a potato-filled quesadilla or some other Mexican-inspired dish. But in fact, this dish comes to France from Spain, where tortilla — translated “little cake” — refers to an egg dish similar to what we think of as an omelette.

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe is in essence a baked omelette filled with potatoes and onions. Although in France and Spain it is generally served cold or at room temperature for lunch or dinner, I couldn’t imagine eating it any other way than fresh out of the oven for brunch.

I began by cooking the potatoes and onions in a small amount of olive oil. Because it was a busy week, I took a shortcut and bought a bag of Potatoes O’Brien. So in addition to the potatoes and onions, my tortilla also had a few green and red peppers in it. After the vegetables were cooked, I removed them to a bowl, washed the pan, and put the pan back on the heat with a little more olive oil.

When the oil had heated, I poured in beaten eggs and the potatoes and lowered the heat. After two minutes, I ran a spatula around the edge of the pan, then put the lid on the pan. I allowed the eggs to cook slowly, periodically using a rubber spatula to make sure the eggs weren’t sticking to the pan.

After the eggs were mostly cooked, with just a little uncooked egg glistening in the center of the tortilla, I placed the pan under the broiler to finish cooking.

This was a really good egg dish, although I still can’t envision eating it cold. We enjoyed it for brunch, and everyone agreed that, whatever the book calls it, it was a baked omelette. I could see making this again for breakfast or brunch when I have company, and changing up the ingredients for variety. And I would definitely add cheese the next time.

Swiss Onion Tart {ModBak}

The fourth tart recipe in the Savory Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker is a caramelized onion tart. If the idea of onion pie or tart doesn’t appeal to you, it’s only because you’ve never tried Nick’s recipe. The onions are caramelized slowly to draw out and evaporate their water, then cooked in butter until they are soft, golden, and oh so sweet.

Once the onions are cooked, the recipe comes together really quickly. You mix flour, milk, cream, eggs, salt, pepper, and the caramelized onions in a bowl and pour it into a tart crust.

The whole thing is baked in a 350°F oven for about 30 minutes (less in the case of mini tarts like I made), until the crust is baked through and the filling has set.

You can serve the tart warm or allow it to cool to room temperature. It was delicious both ways. For a light supper, I would serve it warm with a mixed greens salad. But it would also work really well cooled as an appetizer or brunch dish, as it could be made ahead of time and allowed to sit at room temperature until serving time.

Either way, this was a wonderful tart — sweet, savory, not too heavy — that would be great for Saturday brunch or Sunday supper.

Check out the Modern Baker Challenge blog to see Kayte’s bacon-lovers version of this tart and to view blogs on all the recipes in the book that we’ve made so far.

Double Chocolate Mousse Cake {FFwD}

This week’s pick for French Fridays with Dorie seemed like a solid choice. Who doesn’t love chocolate? And baked mousse cake couldn’t be all bad, could it?

I will admit that the recipe seemed a little daunting. Although the ingredients list is short — bittersweet chocolate, espresso/coffee, butter, sugar, salt, and eggs — there are four variations suggested in the recipe. And whichever one you make, there are multiple steps, including mixing, baking, cooling, baking again (or not), more chilling, etc. It wasn’t that any of the instructions seemed particularly difficult. For me it was the fact that all of the options are given throughout the recipe. So rather than following the recipe straight through, you have to jump here or there depending on which variation you’re making. It reminded me of those choose your own adventure books from when I was a kid, but not nearly as much fun.

I decided to make the twice baked version, in which about 1/3 of the mousse is spread in the pan, baked for about 15 minutes, then cooled. Then the rest of the mousse is dumped in, and the whole thing is baked for about half an hour.

Sounds easy enough, right? And perhaps it is. But apparently not for me. My first issue started with the pan. Dorie says to use the ring from an 8-inch springform (not the bottom). I remember thinking two things when I first read this part of the recipe. First, I don’t have an 8-inch springform. My spingform pan is 9 inches, which I didn’t think should be too big a problem, although the thought did occur to me to increase the amount of mousse a bit, an idea that I completely forgot about when it came time to actually make the recipe.

The other thing that occurred to me when I read about using the springform ring and placing it on a Silpat or parchment paper was: Won’t it leak? But if Dorie said it was OK, I would believe her. So I made the mousse, preheated the oven, buttered my ring, put it on a Silpat on a pan, loaded in the mousse, and put the whole thing in the oven. And here’s what I ended up with:

I’m too embarrassed to show you a picture of the bottom of my oven. Suffice it to say the smoke detector went off every time I opened the oven door for the rest of the day.

I cooled what was left of the crust, then topped it with the remaining mousse.

I baked the cake for about 20 minutes, at which point it seemed to be done. I figured since it was spread more thinly in the pan than the recipe envisioned, it would bake more quickly, and it did. I cooled it in the pan for a few minutes, then unmolded it. I didn’t even try to get it off the Silpat, as we were just snacking on it at home, and I’d had enough disasters for one day.

If you have Around My French Table you know that Dorie’s cake is pretty thin. But not nearly as thin as mine. The combination of the too-big pan and losing a good bit of batter from the bottom of the ring left me with a wafer-thin cake that even Mr. Creosote could have finished without exploding.

After all the trouble I had with this cake, I figured it better be pretty good. And you know what? It was. In fact, it was absolutely delicious. I was skeptical about the layers, thinking that since they were made from the same mousse, they couldn’t be all that different. But each had its own distinct flavor and texture. The cake was rich, moist, and very chocolatey. The coffee really brought out the chocolate flavor.

When I bake this cake again, I will make a few alterations to the recipe. First, I will use the entire springform pan. This business of using just the ring doesn’t make sense to me. Why not use the whole pan and remove the cake when it’s baked? And since I will be using my 9-inch springform pan again, I will double the mousse filling, which should result in a cake that’s a bit thicker than the one in the book. Which to me sounds perfect.

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