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

Victory is Sweet


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“Some (processes) can be accomplished by machine, others are better performed by hand. None is difficult, but all contribute to the success of your dish and must be done precisely.” – Julia Child

Tuesdays are my longest day of the week. I get up for work at 6:15, put in a full day at the office, then head over to chorus rehearsal at 6:00. We work from 7:00 until 10:00, and I get home about 11:00. So as you can imagine, tackling a Julia recipe was the last thing I felt like doing last night. In fact, before we even got into this adventure I had already made an agreement with myself that Tuesdays would be my day off from cooking. But as soon as I sat down at the dining room table for a light snack (the third artichoke I’d made on Sunday), I saw Julia’s cookbook on the table. One thing led to another and, long story short, I decided to get a head start on tonight’s dessert. (The book says it needs 2-3 hours to chill in the fridge before eating, and since I’ll be getting home late tonight due to a meeting, I decided I don’t have that kind of time.)


Because of tonight’s weird schedule, I plan to make an easy dinner that won’t take much time – omelets! I’m going to make two different kinds for us to share; with dessert, that’s THREE more recipes I can check off the list. (Who’s clever? Me!) Our menu includes:

This recipe is a two-parter: the caramel toasted almonds that are mixed into the dessert and used as topping, and the cream that makes up the body of this treat. To begin, the first step was to toast some slivered almonds. I spread them out on a roasting pan and popped them into the oven, careful to keep an eye on them so they wouldn’t burn. Do you know what smells WONDERFUL? Almonds toasting in the oven! Three minutes in and the whole kitchen already smelled like a dessert. Do you know what smells AWFUL? The leftover fish parts in the trash can from the other night. Note to self: make fish the night before Trash Day.

Mixing the Cream

While the almonds toasted, I began to work on the caramel. Sugar and water in a saucepan on the stove were supposed to become this magical syrup, but I have to say I didn’t have a very magical experience. I stirred the mixture as it boiled, waiting for it to become a light brown color. But instead of becoming a syrup, it suddenly became a solid paste. Apparently I had boiled all of the water out of the mixture before it could caramelize – weird. I added some more water which brought it back to its liquefied state, stirred in the almonds and poured the contents of the pan onto a wax paper-covered cookie sheet. While that cooled, I began to work on the cream.

Now, this recipe calls for spongecake, which I happened to have (of course, Julia would prefer that we make it from scratch using a previous recipe in her book, but it wasn’t required, so we’ll do that another time. Did I mention I got home at 11:00?), but it wasn’t stale as the recipe instructed. So I popped it into an oven at 200 degrees to dry it out for an hour (a smart method which worked perfectly). Meanwhile, I followed the directions for the cream, combining egg yolks, sugar, flour and milk in a sauce pan, boiling it on the stove until it was time to remove it from the heat to mix in some vanilla and butter. So far, so good! Things were moving right along with no trouble at all – until I got to the next step.

Victory is Mine!!

Have you ever tried to beat egg whites into stiff peaks? I have not, but I saw Meryl Streep do it in the Julie&Julia movie, so I figured it couldn’t be too hard. I started out with a small bowl and the leftover egg whites from the yolks I’d used earlier in the recipe. I added a pinch of salt and whisked away until it was time to add some sugar. Using a balloon whisk, I beat those eggs for ten minutes and all I could manage was a little bit of foam. Convinced I had done something wrong, I finally scrapped the whole thing and started over.

This time I used a bigger, more shallow bowl and fresh egg whites (maybe some yolk had contaminated the first bowl?) and tried it again. I whisked and whisked and whisked and, while I was able to coax some foam from the eggs, it couldn’t be considered “peaks” by any stretch of the imagination. I got to the point where I was ready to reach for the electric mixer, and even flipped ahead a few pages to read about the technique. But no. I had come this far; I couldn’t give up now. It had become a ridiculous battle of will power – who was more stubborn, those eggs or me? Fifteen minutes later, it happened. I scooped my whisk into the bowl, and raised it upright…victorious!! A small little eggy peak curled proudly over the tip of my whisk. These are the moments, people – these small achievements – that make me think that I can do this after all. I just have to remember to not give up!

Creme Plombieres Pralinee

With a renewed sense of confidence, I folded the egg whites into the cream, along with the caramelized almonds which I had broken apart and ground up into a paste. Next I scooped the finished cream over the spongecake pieces, which were drizzled with a coffee/rum mixture. I put everything into the fridge to chill until tonight, and while I have no idea how it turned out, I’m excited to have completed my first Julia Child dessert! I’ll tell you how it is tomorrow…but something tells me it won’t be quite as sweet as my taste of victory last night.


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2 Responses to “Victory is Sweet”

  1. Mary says:

    I have no doubt that if Julia had HAD an electric mixer–or any of our other electronics–SHE would have used them!! You know how competitive she was–she would have used the edge! I recomend you invest in a Kitchen Aid!! I can use a whisk–but NOTHING beats the egg white peaks I can get with KA

  2. Gwen Frazier says:

    I agree with Mary – Kitchenaid mixers are the best and I would use for all beating of egg whites!! You are something to tackle all that after rehearsal – I would have opted for bed!

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