Tuesday, April 14, 2009

on the genius of madame constance

I need to unload something that’s been weighing on me, heavily, for several days now. It began when I was looking through Bill Smith’s Seasoned in the South, one of several superfluous purchases made at the James Beard Foundation’s recent cookbook sale. (It is much easier to indulge my appetite for cookbooks when they cost $1, like this one. In fact, given the circumstances, I think M. would agree that I demonstrated great restraint.)

Soon enough, I arrived at the recipe for Cashew Cake with Madame Constance's Maple Frosting (which, by the way, looks pretty fantastic). Describing his time with Madame Constance, the housemother of a youth hostel in Quebec, Smith writes:

“She had another maple sugar trick that I have never quite been able to duplicate. She served hot blueberry cobbler. On top she first put vanilla ice cream. Then she poured ice cold heavy cream. Then she immediately poured boiling hot maple sugar over the whole thing, creating a sort of web of taffy all over the cobbler.”

Whoa. Full stop. (That is the sound of my mind being blown.) Really, I haven’t been able to get this out of my head ever since.

The logical part of my brain knows that the effect can’t be too different from pouring hot caramel over a sundae. (Or can it??) But the other, much stronger part of my brain demands that I try this at once. My dreamscapes are festooned with maple caramel spiderwebs.
So, to the point: can someone who feels less guilty about using blackberries in April please experiment and report back?

The boiling hot maple sugar can be produced as follows:

3 /4 cup sugar
1 /2 cup Grade B pure maple syrup

Combine the sugar and the maple syrup in a saucepan and bring them to a boil that can't be stirred down, about 3 minutes.

As for the cobbler, how about Lee Bailey’s blackberry cobbler? (I've been meaning to re-make this--and next time, maybe not omit that extra 1 cup of sugar, which was clearly intended.) Or, for something a little more seasonal (but perhaps less conducive to a boiling maple-sugar bath), the strawberry rhubarb cobbler that K and I conceived last summer:

Buttermilk Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler
Filling adapted from
The Black Dog Summer on the Vineyard Cookbook, by Joseph Hall; cobbler topping adapted from Lee Bailey

Serves 6 to 8

For the filling:
¾ pound rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 cups strawberries, halved
¾ cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup cornstarch

For the topping:
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup buttermilk
1 egg (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a deep 7 x 9-inch baking dish.

In saucepan, combine rhubarb, 1/2 cup sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, lemon. Bring to boil and summer for 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup water. Add cornstarch mixture to rhubarb. Cook for 2 minutes, until thick. Fold in strawberries and cool completely. Spread mixture evenly in the dish.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in 3 tablespoons of butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives. When the strawberry-rhubarb mixture is ready, stir the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and drop by large tablespoons onto the fruit mixture. Bake for 25 minutes, or until biscuits have browned. After 10 minutes, brush the biscuits with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

1 comment:

  1. I have now officially read this post. And though baking doesn't come naturally to me, I will take one for the team and buy some Mexican blackberries and make this dream a reality. I would also like to use the maple sugar in cream of wheat and possibly--wait for it--ICED COFFEE. K, you're invited to hit that sweet, sweet beverage too.