It’s been awhile since I blogged about a cooking failure.
When I started this blog, I wanted to show readers that anyone can cook. It doesn’t matter if you work full-time, if you’re poor, if you have special diet restrictions. It doesn’t matter if you’re not formally trained, you’ve never cooked anything in your life or don’t know what boiling water looks like.
Cooking and baking is about following directions. And if you misread something or miss a step or forget to buy an ingredient at the store (all of which happen to me ALL the time), it’s about experimenting and learning what will work and what won’t work. That comes with experience.
And it’s about being prepared for failure by stocking a frozen pizza or a box of macaroni and cheese or supplies to make a peanut butter sandwich or a list of local restaurants that deliver.
And sometimes things can’t be salvaged. That’s exactly what happened when I tried to make Hungarian kremes the other day.
The Internet has a way of casing a rosy glow on things. (For example, have you ever looked at the Facebook page of a ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend to see a story of joy and sparkles and elation and rainbows? Just remember, it’s never as it seems.) I like posting recipes that I know are delicious and trust worthy, but I don’t post everything I try to make because lots of things I make are not worth making again.
I wanted to share this experience with you guys, because just like someone who has never cooked before, I am not immune to kitchen disasters.
Kremes (pronounced Kremish, I think) is a Hungarian pastry. It’s a sandwich of puff pastry and powdered sugar, with a thick layer of amazing vanilla custard in the middle. I first had it at this wonderful little Transylvanian-Hungarian restaurant called the Darlington Inn located near me. (Photo of Darlington Inn’s kremes that I took ages ago.)
I wanted to try to replicate it at home, but there’s just not very many recipes on the Internet that clearly explain how to make it.
I sort of tried to combine two of them, obviously unsuccessfully.
The trouble started when I burned the first sheet of puff pastry.
Both recipes called for cutting one sheet of thawed puff pastry in half and rolling them both out to the size of a baking sheet, putting them on parchment paper on an upside baking sheet and baking them at 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
Both sheets puffed up really unevenly and burned on the bottom. I quickly pulled out my second sheet of puff pastry (two sheets are in each box) and set it out to thaw, but by that time I had already started the custard.
Recipe No. 1 called for separating nine eggs, and adding vanilla to the yolks, and mixing up a bowl of sugar, corn starch and water, and heating some milk and unflavored gelatin together. Recipe No. 1 primarily used the microwave, which I thought was weird. Recipe No. 2 used a double boiler on the stove. I opted to use the ingredients of Recipe 1 with the methods of Recipe 2.
In retrospect, this was a terrible idea.
I heated up the milk and gelatin, whisking constantly. When it got frothy and boiled, I added in the cornstarch mixture. When that boiled I added in the egg yolks and whisked for a very long time until the mixture had thickened quite a bit. (Photo is pre-thickened.)
After the custard had thickened, I added in my egg whites. Because I now had to re-make my puff pastry sheets, I set the small pot in the bigger pot of boiling water (which acted as my double boiler) and let it simmer, hoping the custard wouldn’t break while I was waiting for the oven to do it’s magic.
In preparing the second sheet of puff pastry, I turned the oven down to 350 degrees, and poked holes all around it, so the steam could escape and it wouldn’t puff up too much or too unevenly. Both sheets came out perfect.
I put the first sheet into a casserole dish, sprinkled some powdered sugar on top and then poured my seemingly non-broken custard on top. I topped that with some sad-looking squares that I had attempted to cut out of the second sheet of baked puff pastry.
I put everything in the fridge and prayed for some sort of rising magic to happen overnight.
The next morning, the custard had turned into some sort of gelatinous mess with a pliable but very solid shell around it. (Think: consistency of playdoh.) It was absolutely, 100 percent inedible.
So my plan of action for kremes it to talk to the owner of the Darlington Inn. I’m going to see if she’ll let me watch her make it and then try to replicate it in my own home. I’m also going to try going to the library or a nearby Hungarian cultural center to see if I can find a better recipe.
Because there’s no better feeling than having someone tell you that they appreciate your cooking. It makes all the failures and all the time spent and hard work in the kitchen worth it.