julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

You Win Some, You Lose Some


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“This is where it got tricky.  I spooned the batter into a pastry bag. I squooshed out lines of ladyfinger batter onto the cookie sheet – I was supposed to make them four inches long and 1 ½ inches thick.  But something was wrong.  The batter was too loose or something, it spread out on the sheets until the lines were nearly three inches long.  And though the recipe was supposed to make 24 ladyfingers, I only ended up with maybe fifteen.  I was getting a very bad feeling about this.” – Julie Powell  

Over the weekend I tackled a few recipes, and while I wish I could say I came out victorious on all counts, I’d be lying if I said I was completely successful. I noticed recently that I haven’t tried many of Julia’s dessert recipes, so I thought this weekend would be a good time to get some baking done. Determined to finally check Biscuits a la Cuiller (ladyfingers) off my list, I gathered all of the ingredients together and gave it another try. You may recall that the last time I attempted this recipe, I failed miserably. Unfortunately, this time didn’t go so well, either.

I used a wire whisk to beat sugar into three egg yolks, adding a little vanilla extract until the mixture did what Julia calls “forming the ribbon” – when you lift your spoon out of the bowl, the batter that drips back down into the bowl should look like a ribbon folding over itself. This step I’ve got down, no problem.

Stiff peaks, here we come!

Next, I used an electric hand mixer to beat the egg whites from those original three eggs (along with a pinch of salt) until it formed soft peaks in the bowl. I sprinkled a tablespoon of sugar into the bowl, and continued mixing until the foaming eggs finally formed stiff peaks. So far, so good.

Using a rubber spatula, I scooped a fourth of the egg whites onto the egg yolk/sugar mixture and sifted a fourth of 1/2-cup of flour over the top. I carefully folded the whites and flour into the yolks, not wanting to over-mix the ingredients and deflate the fluffy whites. I added some more of the egg whites and a bit more flour and repeated the procedure, then finished with the remaining ingredients. And I suspect that this is where I ran into trouble.

Hm...not quite thick enough.

I think I might be over-mixing these items, which is causing the batter to lose some of its solid consistency. Because as I pour it into a pastry bag (which, in actuality, is simply a ziploc bag with the tip cut off), I can tell that the mixture isn’t thick enough. I squeezed even lines onto my silpat-covered cookie sheet, and while the consistency was better this time than the last, it still wasn’t enough to keep a solid form. The batter was thin and it quickly spread out, refusing to retain its ladyfinger shape. I went ahead and finished the recipe, dusting the top of the biscuits with powdered sugar. I baked them in a 300-degree oven for about 20 minutes, fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

Deja vu all over again...

Meanwhile, I thought it would be fun to serve them with one of Julia’s recommended fillings. I opted for Creme au Beurre, Menagere (butter cream I – with powdered sugar) because it seemed easy enough and I had all of the necessary ingredients. In a hot bowl, I beat a couple of egg yolks, powdered sugar, orange liqueur and 1.5 sticks of butter together for a few minutes until it was a nice, creamy consistency. I set it in the fridge until the ladyfingers were ready.

After 20 minutes, I took the ladyfingers out of the oven with disgust. They turned out just the way they had the last time – thin, unshapely, not resembling a lady’s fingers in the slightest. I went ahead and sandwiched some of the butter cream filling between two cookies and gave it a try. YE GODS, people. The cookies were an epic fail, but I already knew that. I’m talking about the butter cream. This filling was so incredibly buttery and rich, I could hardly stand it. At first, it seemed okay – creamy and sweet, a nice contrast against the crispy cookies. But then reality set in and I nearly gagged. I wondered why I had even bothered with the eggs and the sugar, because as far as I was concerned, I could have peeled a stick of butter, dipped it in orange liqueur and taken a bite. UGH. Julia Child, forgive me, but I am NOT A FAN of your butter cream. No amount of ladyfingers, whether executed well or poorly, could give this heavy, artery clogging, tastebud shriveling filling any purpose whatsoever. In fact, the only good thing about this was that I had made it, and therefore would never have to make it again.

Don't be fooled...this stuff is nasty!!

We ate a couple of the ladyfinger imposters before deciding they weren’t worth the calories, and – quite literally – tossed (out) our cookies. I have to admit, I was frustrated. Really frustrated. How can a person ruin the same recipe TWICE?? As I angrily scraped the cream into the trash can, I thought about the whole process and ultimately decided that I needed to consult someone with experience…I looked it up on youtube. After some in-depth research, I can now say that I think my downfall is the beating of the egg whites. I think I’m not doing it long enough, which is resulting in a weak consistency that appears to be forming stiff peaks, but in reality only the surface is solid enough – the mixture needs to be thicker throughout. So, needless to say, it’s back to the drawing board for those stupid cookies. And never again for that yucky butter cream. It makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Good grief.

At this point, the whole thing seems pretty ridiculous – I can make soup from scratch, boil live mussels and create my own whipped cream, but I can’t make a successful batch of ladyfingers? These things are going to be the death of me.

Well, death to YOU, ladyfingers. You may have won this round, but the battle has just begun.

Stay tuned for the next chapter in the continuing saga. After all, failure is not an option.

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