Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Day 17: Hydration.

Continuing yesterday’s sugar-cooking theme, we explored several additional sugar products this evening. The first was the old classic, divinity. A marshmallowy candy with nuts and candied fruit or ginger folded in, divinity begins in very much the same way as an Italian meringue, only with a hotter syrup. We used pistachios and ginger in ours, and by the time it was cool enough to ingest, I was having away at it like it was going out of style (which, to be fair, it pretty much has). I stand by the decision to eat so much of it upfront, though, because once it cooled it became apparent that we had slightly overcooked our sugar syrup – the candy ended up a bit on the dry side. Yet again, my impulsiveness has paid off.

As I returned from the water cooler gulping down my second quart, we continued on with torrone, which appears to be much the same as nougat. This lovely, chewy candy, also studded with pistachios, was topped and bottomed with a layer of edible paper wafer. Maybe this one should have been called divinity since you get a bit of Eucharist with it. (Chef ignored our request for wine.) Whether it was the similarity to all those communions I so fondly remember, or the sublimely chewy texture of it, I’m unsure, but I did truly enjoy this one. Indeed, I continued eating it even when I arrived home.

Following that was peanut brittle, accompanied by a third quart of water. It seems like a fairly straightforward idea, tried-and-true, and all that. However, it hadn’t dawned on me ever to use honey-roasted peanuts in brittle, and, boy, do I feel stupid. Such an obvious little thing made such a tremendous difference. So tremendous, in fact, that it was my snack of choice on the subway platform on the way home. If you ever do feel like making peanut brittle (that is to say, heating up sugar and some other sweet things in a pot with a little butter until it’s nearly hot enough to ignite paper and then adding nuts and pouring it out onto something you own that can stand that kind of heat), please, use honey-roasted nuts.

Directly down the path from peanut brittle is nougatine. This appears to be much like a brittle, but it’s made with only sugar and sliced almonds. Additionally, the applications for it are far less constrained. It can be molded into whatever shape you’d like, as long as you can manage to comfortably handle a sticky substance that’s around two hundred fifty degrees. Practically limitless! Once it cools, it’s highly edible, as anyone in my vicinity this evening could tell you. My behavior tonight, in eating more than should be eaten of not just one, but of four different confections, prohibits me from further denying the existence of my sweet tooth. When people have told me that it makes their teeth hurt just thinking of something sweet, I have guffawed and rolled my eyes in that snobbish way I have. I stand humbly corrected; I finally get it.

We concluded this evening’s lesson with that old uplifting standby, cornet work. I was astonished when another student told me that by watching me and listening to what I said, he was able to finally figure out how to do this correctly. I have no idea what state of affairs his cornet work had been in before, but for him to have elevated his ability by following my example, something must have been going horribly, horribly wrong. This has left me in a state of emotional disarray, especially with our first-quarter final and practical exam a mere eight lessons away.

Now, for a glass of water. I’m parched.

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