Look away, Esther; Funfetti has found its way into the Hamantaschen. Working in a commercial kitchen, I understand how easily these things happen. The ovens are hot as blazes, the 20 qt. mixers are humming along and Perry Como is crooning Easter Parade. It begins as an innocent aside, “I wonder what would happen if we added some technicolor sprinkles to the mix…”
I do not consider myself a Hamantaschen purist, finding it perfectly reasonable to fill three and a half inch circles of dough with Nutella, or salted caramel and apples, or as of this writing, chocolate and peanut butter. Yet adding an embellishment to Hamantaschen that not only boasts its own product line but defines itself as a ‘party in your mouth’ seems like overkill. Multi-colored sprinkles are deemed appropriate on any number of sweets, but must it crash the Purim party?
Hamantaschen-ing is unlikely a verb, but it should be, falling into the same category as rugelach-ing. Both are labors of love, marrying pounds of cream cheese to pounds of butter, culminating in pastries that are eaten in less time than it takes to call them by name. This week the ‘taschen noshers were out in full force, gobbling up upwards of 500 triangular pastries in celebration of good (Queen Esther) over evil (the villain Haman.) In the spirit of maintaining Queen Esther’s integrity, not a single Funfetti sprinkle crossed my Hamantaschen border.
I am now desperately attempting to dig my way out of the rabbit hole known as Good Friday and the day before Easter. It is unlikely that any of us around the baker’s bench will escape unscathed. While sympathetic to the workload of my fellow butter-manipulators, as with all holidays I am primarily concerned with how the Easter holiday will impact my rolling pin.
My focus for the next 48 hours is on pies and tarts, custards and lemon curd. There are apple-raspberry pies to bake because rhubarb refused to take my calls. Also beckoning is a second round of Hamantaschen dough that was made in a moment of smugness. ”Who’s the boss of this holiday week now, Easter Bunny?” But like most good deeds, this one will undoubtedly come back to bite me in the bunny tail. Happy Purim, Happy Easter; pass the chocolate peanut butter eggs, please.
The Hamantaschen lady was back today with two of her closest triangular-cookie loving friends. Their timing was impeccable. Isn't there a statute of limitations on the number of holidays demanding simultaneous attention?
Personally, March 17th has never been my orange marmalade. As far back as I can recall, it was evident to me that green beer was not a beverage found in nature. Nor were the sweet marshmallow surprises buried in Lucky Charms cereal. Secretly, I coveted that breakfast sugar bomb, (not the cereal, just the marshmallows) but its magical deliciousness rarely found its way into my mother’s shopping cart.
Having survived Pi(e) Day and the Ides of March, I was feeling more “ish” than Irish on Thursday. Donning a generic headscarf, white t-shirt and jeans, I arrived at work to find every employee sporting not only green shirts but kelly-green bandanas. Ugh. The music blaring from the Sonos playlist was most definitely in keeping with the holiday spirit. Except for poor Rosemary Clooney. Sadly, “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” did not make the cut. I'm disheartened but not surprised to learn that nary a single barista has ever heard of Finian’s Rainbow nor Brigadoon. I didn’t dare ask if they were familiar with the fellow wearing the jaunty cap in the Irish Spring commercials.
Petite shamrocks and Irish flag tri-color non-pareils were out in full force. The cupcakes were whimsically Seussian; dressed in swirls of green, white and orange buttercream, others spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream and espresso. My contribution consisted of Key Lime pies (more soft yellow than lime green) and Guinness Stout cakes. If there’s one thing I know about the holiday that follows the Ides of March, it is how to combine Guinness with dark chocolate. My talent with well buttered and cocoa-dusted bundt pans is evident by my t-shirts, formerly known as white. I am also well acquainted with how to responsibly collect and dispose of the thimbleful of Guinness lingering in the bottom of each can.
As the next round of holiday prep begins, the Sonos playlist will undoubtedly offer a few versions of the Bunny Hop for our listening pleasure. I will focus on the tasks at hand, the Peeps that demand sugaring and the Hamantaschen that require intricate folding. And all the while I’ll dream of booking a one-way flight to Glocca Morra.
I’m dragging my kitchen clogs in deep denial of the clover, the bunny and more immediately, the Ides. Yesterday at the bakery, folks enjoyed slices of pie and chatted about the holiday. Some misspoke, declaring it was National Pie Day. True, the love of scalding hot fruit bubbling through a flaky crust stretches nationwide. And yes, there is clearly enough pie devotion to sustain more than one holiday. It is important however, to differentiate the March 14th Pi(e) Day from the January 23rd National Pie Day.
Pi(e) Day wasn’t a bona fide holiday until March 14, 1988 when physicist Larry Shaw decided to celebrate a day on the calendar in conjunction with an irrational and transcendental number. History claims Larry ordered pie for his staff at the San Francisco Exploratorium, kicking off a holiday that we never knew was missing. Master/Master and Blondilocks would agree that a holiday commemorating the irrational has my name written all over it.
National Pie Day falls on January 23rd and is an unofficial holiday, created by the National Pie Council to encourage the baking and enjoyment of pie. It is believed that National Pie Day began in 1986, coinciding with the 75th Anniversary of Crisco. Vegetable shortening in the stalwart blue-labeled can has its devout followers, but has been sidestepped by a new breed of pie baker. I’m fairly certain and fearful that it’s just a matter of time before March 14th gets squeezed out by a date on the calendar honoring National Gluten-free Leaf Lard Day.
Pie bakers are passionate, eager to debate butter vs. shortening, flour vs. cornstarch vs. minute tapioca. I am instinctively drawn to pie peeps, and yesterday I was sorely missing some of my favorite pie enthusiasts, the ladies of Longhouse. Scattered across the map, we were unable to share forkfuls seated around the same big table.
In the sugar rush that is Pi(e) Day, I find joy in the opportunity to congregate, to share, to pie it forward. On March 14th one year ago, a group of pie fanciers gathered in Boston to be social, swapping pie and ideas. This year, our love of triangular slices was shared with a group of tireless artists, a cast and crew of 80 who are revolutionizing theatre and the art of story telling. Through words and music, their mark on history will be as infinite as Pi.
Announcing itself with less than a lion’s share of snow last week, March tried to slip in under the radar. You can’t fool me; March is a month riddled with festivities sharing a common denominator of butter. This week, balmy temps and brilliant sunshine taunt from the bakery windows. For the moment, one little lamb is not complaining about the weather. I am however, more than happy to complain about the onslaught of holidays.
Clocks spring ahead on Sunday followed in hot pursuit by my favorite food celebration, Pi(e) Day. Personally, Pi(e)Day is more about the double crust and less about the numbers, but I respect the importance of kitchen math even when scribbled on a coffee cup.
In rapid succession St. Patrick’s Day, Purim and Easter will clamor for attention, engaging every sheet pan in the bakery. Shamrock cookies piped with green and orange plaids will have barely left the building before we start sugaring the bunnies. In an effort to perfect the speed and accuracy of my Hamantaschen folding, I will brush up on my origami skills. Apparently there’s been a little pre-Purim grousing, even though it’s a touch early for the tri-cornered pastries.
An impatient celebrant insists on pushing the Purim envelope, calling every few days to inquire about the availability of Hamantaschen. “They’re just about to go into the oven…” is my guarded response. Might I suggest a nice Ides of March cookie, Madam? Iced in black it should tide you over until I decide to get my Esther on.
Disgruntled customer interactions extend beyond Purim. Last Saturday, a kindly barista was badgered regarding the quantity of apples and sour cream in the apple/sour cream pie. The exact question was, “Are there ‘a lot’ of apples in the apple pie?” I like to think 32 ounces is a generous amount. And what of the sour cream custard, the woman continued. “Is there ‘a lot’ of sour cream in the custard?” This was a valid question because the customer suffered from a little, not a lot, of lactose intolerance. To err on the side of caution, Lady A. Lot ordered an apple raspberry pie instead. I can only hope that the seeds in the raspberries didn’t wreak havoc because as we all know, raspberries tend to have quite a few seeds.
When a month is riddled with holidays, you learn all sorts of interesting facts. On March 14, 1776, Alexander Hamilton was appointed captain of the 1st battalion, 5th Field Artillery Unit of the United States Army. This unit is the oldest still existing today, and the only one remaining from the Revolution. Who knew Alexander Hamilton had reason to celebrate Pi(e) day?
In addition to March 14th, I must acknowledge an individual whose March 9th birthday will always be remembered in our family. Without Jessie, it is unlikely that my workdays would revolve around a rolling pin and pounds of pie dough. It’s doubtful that I would have opted for a career that combines a vague understanding of math and spatial relations with a relentless holiday calendar.
Jessie’s distinctive voice echoed in my memory yesterday as I navigated cubes of butter into a bowl of flour that was clearly wrong for the job. Looking down at my once navy blue t-shirt liberally coated in a cloud of King Arthur, I could hear Jessie’s simple directive; use a bigger bowl. March on.
Dr. Seuss isn’t the only one celebrating a birthday this week. The bakery phone has been ringing itself silly with cake orders while I keep my bandana lowered, eyes on the pie shells. Every now and again I am forced to capture a cake request and its excruciating details on an order form.
Despite taking copious notes and re-reading the information back to the customer, I falter. Amidst the din of morning retail caffeination, it’s terribly difficult to be certain what I’m hearing is indeed “Happy Birthday Sally.” No sooner do I hang up the phone, I wonder. Did they say Sally, or did I write Sally when they actually said Ali? The prudent thing to do would be to call back to clarify, but a jumble of fresh and frozen pie berries demand my attention. I’m fairly certain the woman said Sally.
Sally is not a name we often hear, having been sidestepped by Harper, Peyton, Brooklyn and Paisley. The name Sally was an integral part of my childhood, a key player in my favorite Dr. Seuss text, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. My hardbound copy of the book is well worn, the pages struggling to hang on to its Seuss blue binding. The image of the Cat eating cake in a pink-ringed tub is as indelible in my mind as the Red-Red gel paste we use to tint royal icing. Dr. Seuss’ tale of a snow day going horrible awry includes many notable illustrations. One in particular still causes my heart to race; the high-heeled shoe of Sally’s mother framed in the window as she nears the house. My mother had several pairs of high-heeled shoes just like that.
As children, we didn’t know that Dr. Seuss’ birthday fell on the second day of March. We didn’t celebrate Read Across America Day nor did our mothers peruse Pinterest in search of crafty Seuss ideas. We simply devoured the lyrical verses and technicolor illustrations that many, many years later, we would pass on to the next generation of readers.
When asked to name their favorite Dr. Seuss book, Master/Master and Blondilocks paused before naming Hop on Pop and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, respectively. Nineteen years ago, Dr. Seuss’ birthday was acknowledged and Read Across America Day was unveiled with an assembly held in the Erdenheim elementary school cafeteria. Teachers donned lopsided red and white striped hats as students gathered in the room that served as cafeteria, auditorium and gymnasium. The lunch ladies were disinfecting the stainless steel counters, washing away the stubborn remains of commercial pizza slices served from hotel pans. There was a tangle of burnt tomato sauce and peanut butter sandwiches in the air. Nut-free lunch tables were in their infancy and the cupcakes we sent to school in honor of birthdays boasted plenty of gluten.
In classrooms and cafeterias all across America this week, cats in hats will share the timeless observations of Theodor Seuss Geisel. At the bakery, we are doing our part to honor the prolific author/illustrator. Sugar cookies are suitably attired in red-red and white stripes, alongside green eggs, ham and Mayzie’s daisies. My pie contribution is a jumble of brightly colored berries, both sweet and sassy; very Seussian, indeed.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm