I have barely taken my place around the Bench, (baker’s speak for worktable) let alone procured my first iced coffee of the day. It seems unfair that I should rewind my way around the bakers rack, limbo under the open convection oven doors, squeeze past the line of impatient coffee-seeking commuters and answer the phone. It will only end badly. This I know for a fact.
Picking up the rotary phone receiver I am reminded that no good deed goes unpunished. The questions start pouring through in rapid staccato succession. I so want to alert the person on the other end of the line that before they start their barrage, it might be best if I consume a little caffeine. People say it makes me a nicer person in the morning. No luck- the line at the counter is snaking its way to the door and I couldn’t get to the espresso machine now, let alone secure a cup. I’m trapped, just like a currant in an Irish Soda scone. The woman on the other end of the phone wants to know if she can order a Meyer Lemon Pie for the afternoon. The answer is not what she wants to hear. Rather patiently I suggest she order one for late in the day tomorrow. When she starts to protest, I explain that it takes a day for the lemons to macerate, letting the word ‘macerate’ roll off my tongue because I like the way it sounds. She has no idea what that means and orders one. I scribble her number on an order form hoping to ring off. She is already on to the next thing. It is when the words birthday cake reach my ears that my eyes start to glaze over. Her needs are not simple- it is not a question of chocolate or vanilla, red velvet or lemon. “I need to order a dairy free-soy free-egg free-nut free-gluten free cake. You can do that, right?” I sigh. Not exactly. Please understand that I am most sympathetic regarding food sensitivities. There is however, a difference between need and want. As the woman rambles on, there appears not to be a need for the abovementioned cake. It’s more of a want issue. She wants to be the one to assure her guests (four year olds) that any remote possibility of a food sensitivity has been addressed. I explain that we don’t really do that sort of thing… Now she’s starting to get just the least bit unpleasant.
I’m back–peddling now; of course we can accommodate some of those needs. Just not all together… not in one cake. She continues, explaining, wheedling, whining. I say nothing. She finally comes up for air. “Oh. Okay. So I’ll take the Meyer Lemon Pie- Twelve o’clock tomorrow”and with a click, she’s gone. My friendly Barista has overheard some of my conversation and understands. She nods, and I watch as she fills a cup with ice and pulls a double shot of espresso. A splash of cold milk swirls through the coffee and she hands it to me. Salvation. “What kind of cake did she want?” I take a sip of my morning brew allowing it to calm my cake frazzled nerves and reply, “A Free For All.” Free of all the ingredients that make it tasty. I continue on to my place at the bench, stepping over three cases of eggs that have just been delivered and ponder the day stretched before me.
First on my list- Meyer Lemon pie prep. As I am carefully and thinly slicing the lemons I hear the phone ring again. This time I concentrate my efforts on the task at hand allowing someone else to converse with the public. Only this time it’s not the pubic, it’s Mr. Oven Repair Man who is on his way with a much needed part that will restore one of the ovens. The Good News is we will once again have two working convection ovens. The Bad News is the repair cannot be made while the one operational oven is hot.
Tomorrow is Pie Day, I mean Friday, and there needs to be an offering for the crust driven clientele. Clearly my oven hours have been drastically cut requiring me to switch gears. While the Meyer lemons hunker down for the day in their sugar nest, I pause to consider my options. My iced cuppa joe provides all the inspiration I need; Espresso cream pie. A great dessert that has the added bonus of being prepared over a double boiler. The only oven time required is for a quick bake of the crust, if you feel a crust is needed.
A few years back, I worked as a pastry chef at a high falutin’ restaurant in Philadelphia. The executive chef was keen on sampler plates of diminutive desserts. One New Year’s Eve she ordered a case of baby pineapples to be halved, hollowed out and served with a trio of gelatos. There was also a sampler plate featuring crazy-with-fruit-and-nuts biscotti, baby panna cotta, a three bite ricotta/lemon cheesecake and an espresso cup filled with a dangerously rich chocolate/espresso pudding. The gluten, dairy, egg, soy, and nut components must have been staggering. As I prepared these desserts, I never even considered the food sensitivity issues. I was just trying to drown out the Power 99 radio station (preferred by the line cooks) with my Hobart mixer. Let me add that one of the perks (no pun intended) of that job was the very elaborate espresso machine at my disposal. The only downside of that machine was that it provided the base for my least favorite dessert on the menu. Tiramisu was the bane of my dessert existence simply because it was the most popular. I prepared hotel pan after hotel pan with layers of espresso soaked ladyfingers and mascarpone mousse. It was an incredible dessert and way too popular, but when it comes to dessert, people are like lemmings.
I have a date early tomorrow morning with some sugared lemon slices and a few pie shells. There is also the chance that I may meet Ms. Free For All. If you have a hankering for a dessert with a good kick of caffeine, check out this week’s recipe. You are more than welcome to pour the coffee custard into a pre-baked pie shell, but I think it is perfectly delicious served sans crust in an espresso cup. The coffee whipped cream is my favorite part and if there’s any left over, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to add it to your morning coffee. Sometimes you need to brace yourself for the day ahead, especially if you intend on dealing with the public on the other end of the phone.