With as much exuberance as fireworks against a night sky, spring has exploded. Just beyond the finger smudged windows of NJ transit lies a full fledged riot of blazing yellow forsythia, don’t-cry-for-me weeping cherry trees and magnolias in mauvey-purple. Handing my ticket to the conductor, he glances not at the round trip fare, but at my thumb. Despite a good scrub, my right thumb is stained deep blueberry, a residual effect from the morning’s blueberry-plum pie-ing. Mr. Conductor moves on to chastise someone for talking in the quiet car.
Seasonal allergies are ripe for the sneezing in both the Garden State and on the island of Manhattan. Dodging a sea of tourists clutching Macy’s shopping bags, I weave my way through Herald Square. The air is heady with the fragrance of Pronto Pizza’s dollar slice and fumes from the crosstown bus. Herald Square Park weaves a canopy of white flowering branches above two steely eyed bronze owls. Unwilling to subject myself to the crowds taking selfies in Times Square, I veer slightly east then north. Waiting at the corner, I am joined by a small party of young ladies embracing the spring-like weather. They take the lead when the light turns green and I follow. Outfitted in forever twenty something, they are leggy and perfectly coiffed, navigating the subway grates and the fractured sidewalks in bare legs and skyscraper heels. Those of us who sport kitchen clogs by day cannot maneuver the city streets in high-heeled footwear. Nor dare we consider bare legs an option. Instead, we don loathesome panty hose and slide into pointy toed shoes slung low to the ground. In my travels, I have somehow encountered a ketchup stained Shake Shack paper napkin which now follows me underfoot. My attempt to disengage it from my sensible evening shoes reveals a glaring snag. A substantial run in the dreaded pantyhose is inching its way skywards from ankle towards knee. Catching my pointy toe in the uneven sidewalk, I consider this a sign to regroup for a moment. And that’s when I see him. The harbinger of warmer weather, Mr. Softee who is cooling his ice cream heels on the corner of 42nd and 6th. Just beyond the truck’s sliding glass window is a toasted almond bar, no, a chocolate éclair, no, scratch that, a chocolate and vanilla twist dipped in chocolate. Any of these frozen confections is cause enough to stop and smell the blooms dancing across the lawn at Bryant Park. Instead I continue my walk/sprint, dashing uptown, dangerously close to being late for a 6:30 curtain.
Arriving at the theatre, I am fairly certain the ticket taker announces, “Ticket holders to the right. Snagged pantyhose wearers with blue thumbs to the left.” Inching my way towards Row J, Seat 12 it is clear I did not receive the wardrobe memo instructing me to don something black, preferably strapless. Instead, attired in long sleeves and something blue, you might say I am sticking out like a sore thumb. The theatre is icy cold, as frosty as Russia in winter. As the house lights dim, I am blissfully cloaked in darkness, my blueberry stained thumb hidden neatly beneath my Playbill. The woman seated to my left is unwrapping a candy bar. As the orchestra stirs, it occurs to me that I am in need of food. Two hours and fifty minutes later the audience is sprung from the Russian Revolution. Directly across the street from the theatre is my beloved Pie Face but sadly, it is closed. My stomach grumbles and then I remember; it’s not only New York, it’s spring in New York, and somewhere, my love, is Mr. Softee.
As far as cake wrecks go, Saturday’s 3-tier Mazel Tov Jack escaped practically unscathed. The available parking space directly in front of the bakery facilitated loading the behemoth gâteau into the car, with the air conditioner blasting on high. Assisted by one of our strapping young baristas, the two of us hoisted Jack’s cake, all 50+ pounds of it and set it down with a modest thud. I then recited my ritual pre-delivery prayer; “God, let this damn thing arrive at the country club in one piece.” Along for the ride were 200 star cookies, iced in blue, clarifying Jack in red royal lest anyone forget whose party it was.
This was far from my maiden cake voyage, having sailed the Philadelphia wedding cake delivery waters for easily a decade. It is critical to be cautious yet unafraid. It also helps to have a most capable co-pilot in the passenger seat. Lara, aka Speedy Icer proved to be all that and more.
Directions to the venue had been written out in excruciating detail by co-caker and woman-in-the-know, Rita. Speedy Icer announced each bend in the road with the calmness yet firmness of a real life Siri. Co-caker promised the route she had mapped out was not hilly, more of a gentle, winding ascent. Co-caker lied. The first intersection was emblazoned with orange road signs announcing, CAUTION-ROAD WORK AHEAD- RAISED MANHOLE COVERS/UNEVEN GRADE. We inched our way uphill, dodging the deepest crevices in the road, infuriating the motorcyclist in my rearview mirror. The directions were peppered with landmarks and the interpretive reader didn’t miss a beat.
SI: “There will be a shopping center and a Whole Foods. And a traffic light. You want to take a left up here. On your left, right here. See where that car is turning? HERE.”
NMMNP: Trying not to hit the brake, “A hard left or a soft left?”
SI: “A left-left. Right here. See- it says country club?”
The entrance welcomed with flowering terra cotta planters and stalwart pillars. We were directed beyond the Valet Parking to the loading dock next to the (this is a quote) “garbage can.” Seeing the steps leading up to the loading dock, I began to damn my fate. Dear God, how was one to transfer cake from car to kitchen? We were sent George, a man I can only describe as one part Angel one part Super Hero. George scooped up the cake, navigated the cement steps leading to the service entrance and set it down in the middle of the kitchen, without breaking a sweat. By my calculations, the air temperature was easily 80 degrees. Always on my math game, I counted backwards from when the cake would be served to the current time and arrived with the answer of melted. Yes, the cake could rest in the massive walk-in refrigerator, co-mingling with the salmon filets and the mesh bags of yellow onions. Few things say ‘Mazel Tov’ the way buttercream does, redolent with the aroma and taste of a country club walk-in. Speedy Icer and I had no alternative but to schlep/wheel the cake into the Ballroom, a far-from-intimate space complete with sweeping views of the golf course. For the most part, the cake had survived the journey. Except for one gum paste embellishment.
I’ve never met Jack, but it was clear he had an affinity for sports. The bottom and middle tiers were decorated with a basketball, a baseball and a baseball bat. At the cake’s summit, a snowboard perched on a hilltop of vanilla buttercream. The sporting equipment was painstakingly crafted out of gum paste, realistic down to the red stitching on the baseball and the wood grain of the bat. The bat had suffered a blow between bakery and ballroom and was refusing to cooperate. Speedy Icer secured a cup of water from the kitchen and we began our cake triage. George and his crew were in the thick of reconfiguring the room to accommodate Jack’s guest list of 120 of his closest friends and relations. There were several mentions of the party planner who was responsible for orchestrating the whole black tie shebang; from DJ and dancers right down to the star cookie party favors. In the midst of all the merry-making, it seemed reasonable to believe that our repair work would suffice. Leaving the cake in relatively good form, we wheeled it once again out of the melee into a safe corner. With thanks to George, we bid our retreat through the kitchen where worker bees were wrapping up one party, preparing for the next. The glamour of event planning was reinforced as I watched a waitress emptying a refrigerator of suspicious looking foodstuffs into a trash bin. Don’t mind us- we can find our way out of the fluorescent lighting into the April sunshine.
Spring is shyly making its presence known and this week resonates with celebrations. Yes, let’s not forget Jack who by now is being reminded ad nauseam to start writing thank you notes. Also making wishes over cakes and pies are sweet Suzie of Chicago, dear Cousin Phyllis (also of the Windy City) and Lattice-Pie Guy of Seattle. Closer to home, Blondilocks will acknowledge a decade since her very own Bat Mitzvah, (blissfully sans party planner and tiered cake) blowing out the candles on a surprise birthday pie. Whoops. So much for the surprise. And lastly to the patriarch of the family, Pa who tells me he celebrated his 13th birthday/Bar Mitzvah in April of 1940. The party was held in the finished basement of his parents home on Beach 140th Street in Belle Harbor, NY. Refreshing in its simplicity, my grandmother did all of the party planning. A buffet lunch followed by a homemade chocolate layer cake washed down with bottles of Dr. Brown’s Cream and Cel-Ray soda. Playing on the Victrola was Pennsylvania 6-5000 and Tuxedo Junction. My father assures me there was nary a DJ nor a black tie nor a single cookie emblazoned with his name in attendance.
Happy Birthday to all. Or as Kool & The Gang no doubt suggested to Jack and his guests last Saturday night, Celebrate good times, come on!
BACK TO THE SUGAR TRENCHES
There was only one day off following what felt like Baker’s Armageddon. On Monday, some of us returned to the sugar trenches to begin anew. It was a difficult re-entry, feeling a touch jet-laggy with everything just the slightest bit out of focus. The butter was Goldilocks-ing, first too frozen, then too melted, unwilling to find its happy medium within the sugar cookie dough. My last attempt involved a small river of molten butter that greeted me as I opened the door of the microwave. Surprised by this new development, I tried to collect it in my outstretched hands. Not only did it prove futile, butter on fresh-from-the-laundry blue jeans is not a subtle stain. Nor is it what one yearns for on the first day of the work week.
By my count, there are fewer than 30 days leading up to Mother’s Day. It just may take that long to clear the coconut out of my head. According to our calculations, the number of macaroons that left the building last week was staggering, dozens of dozens and then some. Adrift in a sea of both sweetened and desiccated flakes, no one awaits the conclusion of Passover week more than I. There have been rumblings about offering macaroons year ‘round because of their widespread appeal. Personally, until my right thumb recovers from scooping 700+ diminutive coconut confections, I’ll take a pass.
There were however, several holiday dessert highlights of note. On the home front we consumed macaroons, the marble meringue and a bittersweet chocolate raspberry torte with gusto. The smidgen of remaining torte made a perfectly agreeable breakfast the following morning teamed with a fresh orange. This leads me to consider adding a good splash of orange to the raspberries the next go around.
Checking in with the Pacific Northwest contingency, it appears dessert caused a bit of a ruckus at the cool kids holiday table. The news from Sibling Baker in Seattle was, and I quote, “The adults were so distracted eating this pie, that the 4 year old disappeared with her Easter basket and proceeded to do some serious chocolate egg damage before she was discovered. That is why I call it Distraction Pie…” Upon receiving this information, it was imperative to get the delicious details. Seems the pie begins with a graham cracker crust, the thinnest bit of apricot jam, toasted pecans, butterscotch custard, pecan praline and a generous crown of whipped cream. Having yet to receive the bonafide recipe from Darren of Seattle, check out the version prepared in my humble test kitchen.
Most notable from the sunny west coast dessert world was news from my friend Bud. Armed with my grandmother’s recipe for Kiss Torte, a heavy duty mixer and one cup of egg whites, he baked and decorated a Passover cake to perfection. Therein lies the beauty of recipe sharing- a much loved dessert from an east coast recipe file snagged center stage on a Seder table clear across the country. I’m so proud, thinking about it makes me misty.
A little distraction is just what is needed following a week way-too-long on matzoh and coconut. As Master/Master so eloquently stated post Seder; “Passover. It takes a village.” As for serious chocolate egg damage in my village, this butter-stained baker found just what she needed at the CVS on Monday.
APRIL, NO FOOLIN'
Welcome to April, adieu March, no foolin'
Two holidays this weekend is nothing but cruel in
A kitchen diminutive, tiny, petite
No matter, this workspace must pump out the sweets
When Pesach and Easter doth coincide,
To dietary laws we try to abide
The all-purpose flour and matzo cake meal
Share the same space
That’s a really big deal
Keeping them separate, the cookies the cakes
Attention to detail, no room for mistakes
And while Sonos continues the same 40s tunes
Here I am drizzling these last macaroons
The pastry bag’s dripping with chocolate, not funny
Now there’s some chocolate on royal iced bunnies
A solo non Easter observer am I
Rollin’ the shells, bakin’ the pies
In a kitchen of peeps where we all coincide
Try as you might, you can’t run you can’t hide
I’m munching on matzo
And dreaming- a vision
Of next week without any cookie collision
We’ll pack up the carrot, the egg and the bunny
The snow will have melted the sky will be sunny
This dual fête weekend will fade quite away
Time to regroup before Mother’s Day
Thank goodness on Sunday
The bakery is closed
You’ll find me and Elijah, we’ll be in repose
I wish you a Happy whatever you choose
(Personally I look forward to catching a snooze)
I have to admit Easter Bunny’s a showman
And yes, he is cute
But he’s no afikomen
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm