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Passionate Baking & the Problem with Puff Pastry

One of the “hottest” groups on campus is the Passionate Bakers. I refer to oven temperature and not degree of interest, although enthusiasm for adventurous recipes also runs high.

Our mission is to  challenge ourselves to take on recipes that would challenge Julia Child or Emeril Legasse. It’s been a monthly experience in baking ingenuity.

This month’s challenge was to produce something baked that featured vegetables. I searched my recipes clipped from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s food pages. I discovered that every recipe these venerable newspapers publish features esoteric ingredients and requires a level of strength that even the bodybuilders in our midst might find daunting.

Right up front, I must thank the fitness program at PVE for preparing me fully for passionate baking. Specifically, my training under the personal supervision of a staff member has definitely contributed to my ability to swirl a heavy, 12-inch skillet to accomplish caramelization of red onions. Yes, that upper body training is paying off!

Photo showing a white bowl of different coloured, homegrown organic cherry tomatoes, including small red plum tomatoes, as well as yellow ('Little Sun') and green ('Tiger') fruit.

Once one has gathered all their ingredients – multi-hued heirloom grape or cherry tomatoes, sherry vinegar (not zinfandel) – the cook is free to gather all the heavy oven-tolerant skillets that survived the exodus to retirement living.

It helps to get oneself psyched like The Little Engine That Could.

I think I can, I think I can!

Because, of course, fate is destined to deal the passionate baker a cruel blow. I refer, of course, to puff pastry.

I thought I could, I thought I could!

Puff pastry is a hallmark of French cuisine. Its makeup requires delicate handling and careful movements that definitely challenge arthritic, 85-year-old hands.

But the mantra of “New things! New ideas!” carries me forward. I am finally able to fit the puff pastry on top of the massed ingredients in that heavy skillet.

And then the thought comes rushing into my newly-receptive brain: This tarte tatin is actually a French version of PIZZA!

Yes, I could have baked a familiar, very delicious veggie pizza and been spared (in order) a trip to the exotic and high-priced food emporium, the frantic journey to the herb farm for fresh thyme, the search for the heavy 12-inch skillet in the garage, the gymnastic skill required for movement in the kitchen of a Duplex I home and the flipping of the final product after it has baked for 30 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

The caveat here is to make sure one has sturdy oven mitts that protect hands from second degree burns from the aforementioned skillet.

The denouement happens at 1 p.m. when the Passionate Bakers gather to share their baked items, their recipes, and accounts of their trials and tribulations. The only things missing are the British accents and a mean-spirited, helmet haired judge.

After we’ve sampled all of the baked goods, the leftovers are packed up and sent to the skilled nursing center to be placed on afternoon snack trays for residents.

Somehow I think that heavily frosted cupcakes are more gratefully received than Tomato Tarte Tatin, but perhaps I am underestimating the lure of French cooking. 😉