I got off to a late start on my meal from the Junior League of Boston’s More Than a Tea Party due to an appointment with the cruelest dental hygienist ever to scrape plaque. The entire time she was poking around at my gums she kept up a little running commentary about all of my mouth’s various failings, including the ones that I couldn’t have possibly prevented.
During flossing: “Wow, your front teeth are really far apart.”
During scraping: “You know, you could avoid those stains if you drank your coffee through a straw.”
After the x-ray, during which I gagged: “Gee, I don’t know why you can’t do this.”
During more scraping: “I can tell you’re not from around here because you have fluoride stains on your teeth, and we don’t have fluoride in our water.”
I said: “Wow, that is like something off of CSI.”
But in my head, I was thinking: I hate you.
So anyways, between that humiliation and having a filling replaced, I had to scrap my plans to go to the fish market on Friday, and find something simpler to make for dinner. Preferably, something involving squash, which turns up in about a quarter of all the recipes in More Than a Tea Party. And that premise led me to this very pleasant soup:
Squash, Leek and Watercress Soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 leeks, white part only, chopped
3 pounds yellow summer squash, chopped
2 quarts chicken stock
Dash of hot red pepper sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 bunches watercress, stems removed
Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add chopped squash and stir for 4 minutes. Add chicken stock and simmer until squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Add pepper sauce, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add watercress and simmer 2 minutes. Puree soup in blender or food processor. Ladle soup into bowls, swirl in 1 tablespoon of sour creem and garnish with sliced squash and watercress sprig.
Note: Best made 1 day ahead, refrigerated and reheated just before serving.
While excellent and flavorful, I would recommend using only about half the chicken stock that the recipe calls for, or perhaps add a potato or something. It came out a little thinner than I would have liked, and I’d even strained out a cup or so of the broth prior to pureeing. Still, it was quite good with a loaf of rosemary-olive oil bread.
Since dinner itself was so simple, I decided to pull out the big guns for dessert and make Boston Cream Pie. The pie, which is actually a cake, was invented at the historic Parker House (still in operation, but now owned by Omni) – I hear they also make some pretty good rolls there. This recipe was submitted to the Junior League of Boston by the Omni Parker House, though it was quite possibly composed by the Anal-Retentive Chef:
Boston Cream Pie
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2-3/4 cup milk
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut up
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8″ layer cake pans and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift together flour, salt and baking powder and set these aside. With an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is soft and light. Then add the sugar a little at a time, beating thoroughly. Add the eggs a spoonful at a time, beating well, then add the vanilla.
With the mixer set at its lowest speed, add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, taking care to mix in the flour as lightly as possible, or the cake will be too heavy. If necessary, add another tablespoon of milk or enough to make a batter that just falls off the beaters. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly with a rubber spatula, making the edges slightly higher than the middle, so the cakes will be level after cooking. Transfer the cakes to the middle of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until the sides of the cakes pull away slightly from the edges of the pans and the tops spring back when pressed lightly with a fingertip. Leave the cakes in the pans to cool slightly, then turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely.
TO PREPARE THE PASTRY CREAM:
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and two tablespoons of the milk. In a heavy-based saucepan, bring the remaining milk to the scalding point, then whisk it, one tablespoon at a time, into the egg yolk mixture. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and cook it over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 1 minute. Remove the pastry cream from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream. Let it cool at room temperature.
Set the cakes on a board. Holding a serated knife parallel to the board, cut the cakes in half horizontally, keeping the 2 sections of each cake together. Divide the pastry cream into thirds and using a metal palette knife, sandwich the sections with pastry cream, then sandwich the two cakes together, arranging them so that the tops are sandwiched together in the middle of the assembled cakes. Using wide metal spatulas, transfer the cake to a cake stand and tuck strips of wax paper along the bottom edge.
TO PREPARE THE FROSTING:
In a heavy-based saucepan, combine the cream and chocolate and cook them over medium heat until the chocolate melts and the cream is quite hot. Stir the mixture with a whisk. (The chocolate may separate from the cream and turn into a mass at the bottom of the pan, but it will eventually come together to make a homogeneous mixture.)
Remove the chocolate cream from the heat and whisk in the butter a little at a time, let each piece melt before adding another. Transfer the mixture to a deep bowl and set it inside a roasting pan full of ice. Whisk the mixture gently until it starts to thicken. Do not leave unattended. When the chocolate has become spreadable, remove it from the ice and use a long metal spatula to frost the top and sides of the cake. Pull out the wax paper strips and set the cake aside for at least an hour to mellow. Cut the cake into wedges for serving.
Never in my life have I received such explicit instruction regarding spatula use.
Now, I do not begrudge the author of this recipe the very detailed instructions, as this is, after all, a slightly tricky recipe. However, it would have been nice had the particulars been a tad more accurate. Thinking that 45 minutes was an awfully long time for two layer cakes to bake, I peeked in 5 minutes early to find that the cakes were overdone. Not burnt, but decidedly overdone, and hence, bound to be dry.
As for the pastry cream, my mixture over medium heat skipped the “cream” stage entirely, going directly from liquid to custard in less than a minute. Still, it tasted fine, so I decided to proceed. That said, the chocolate ganache turned out exactly like it was supposed to, and for that reason, my Boston Cream Pie was pretty, pretty, pretty.
I mean, it tasted like sawdust, but still – pretty, pretty, pretty! (Brady claims that it did not taste like sawdust; however, he did break the cake knife this afternoon while trying to cut himself a piece. Yes, that’s what I said. Broke the cake knife. Snapped the handle clean in two.)
Next week, I’ll be cooking from the Junior League of Atlanta’s True Grit, and attempting to make a Coca-Cola Cake. I have, of late, been the Andruw Jones of baking cakes from scratch, so it is time to redeem myself.