Somebody pour me a stiff glass of tonic.
The first time I was approached by an individual requesting a very specific ingredient substitution due to a food sensitivity was in Philadelphia, circa mid-1980s. It was in the early days of A Slice of Heaven, our strictly-from-scratch restaurant known for Windy City Overstuffed Vegetable Pie (a riff on Chicago’s stuffed pizza, and yes, made with yeast), French-press coffee served in individual Bodum brewers (a dishwasher’s nightmare) and our decadent desserts (Chocolate Death and the Night and Day Mousse Cake). Let’s suppose the man requesting the dessert was a man named David. And let’s suppose the man was a well-known actor, appearing in a popular weekly television series that took place at a hospital. Let’s also assume that the hospital was located Elsewhere.
The reason I bring this up is because there are so many allergies and sensitivities swirling around the bakery these days, it’s hard to know what to eat and what to avoid. Sometimes what I believe is going to be a conversation about a cake order becomes an interrogation. It seems that every time I answer the bakery phone, the laundry list of food sensitivities and allergies grows longer. I’ll be the first to admit, my patience grows shorter.
What I remember about Mr. Morse, I mean David, was his appreciation for the birthday cake we delivered to him year after year. A classic low-slung cheesecake, baked in a water bath until slightly wobbly in the center then covered in a sour cream topping and returned to the oven for a last hurrah. It was a pretty humble assemblage of ingredients with nothing fancy about it. Except for the crust. The crust on the cheesecake had to be made from Walkers pure butter shortbread, a single cellophane sleeve of biscuits packaged in a tartan box. The shortbread cookie crust was the most luxurious part of the entire birthday cake. I don’t even remember the reasoning behind the Walkers shortbread other than the biscuits were made up of four ingredients; wheat flour, butter, sugar and salt. David was explicit about that crust, but in the nicest of ways.
I hadn’t picked up a box of those very Scottish biscuits in decades, until the day before yesterday. It was a relief to see that they are still dressed in classic Scottish tartan. Upon closer inspection however, the Walkers now announce in bold print on the back of the box: NOT SUITABLE FOR NUT ALLERGY SUFFERERS. Contains: Milk, Wheat, Gluten. Who knew?
The reasoning behind the shortbread purchase was to create a pie without turning on the oven. I have been waiting to try a recipe for a Gin and Tonic pie sent to me from Blondilocks’ sweet friend, Cass. Reading through the recipe, it seemed there was no getting around the oven. With the mercury climbing ever skyward, I took Cass’s recipe and did a little tweaking. I substituted stove-top citrus curd for the oven baked filling. The Walkers biscuits made a top-notch crumb crust; buttery, sweet and just the slightest bit salty. Unable to choose between lemon and lime, I chose both, perfectly complimenting the mascarpone and gin-spiked mousse. The pie is finished off with fresh berries tossed in a syrup of gin and tonic. I was more than delighted to prepare the syrup, having been advised by both my sage father and my health care professional to increase my consumption of tonic water. Its medicinal properties are key to the well being of anyone who stands all day and then chooses running as their after work hobby. Don’t worry, Dad; I’m following the doctor’s orders and have the tonic consumption under control. By the way, it works even better with a splash of gin.
In hindsight, it’s a very good thing Mr. Morse played a doctor on television, just in case someone had stumbled into the ER without reading the bold print on the shortbread box. But then again, in the 80’s we didn’t talk about gluten. We talked about oat bran and Death by Chocolate, two obsessions blissfully treated by the simple passage of time.