Rolling Pin and Flour

Rolling Pin and Flour

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Let them eat cake!

It turns out that I can never have too much on my plate - in both food and life.  I say this, because no matter how many things I have going on, I always seem to cram one more thing in.  In my professional life, this means I have multiple jobs.  There's my main 9-5 job in web development five days a week.  Then there's the freelance web development that I do after hours and on weekends.  And of course, there are my shifts twice a week at the Farmhouse.

I think what it boils down to, is that I don't like to be idle.  What's the saying?  Idle hands are the devil's workshop?  I don't know that I would be doing the devil's deeds if I were to sit and do nothing for a few minutes.  But I feel like my life has more purpose when I'm busy.  It's just some crazy notion I picked up along the way somewhere.

During my bread baking shifts at the Farmhouse, there are definitely moments of being idle.  While I'm waiting for the bread to rise or while it's baking in the oven there can be stretches of time anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes long when I'm not really doing much.  And I hate it.  I have this horrible sense of guilt about it - especially if it's a busy night.  The cooks will have several saute pans sizzling away and burgers lined up on the flat top, the wait staff is busy running food to tables and taking orders from angry customers that have been waiting too long, the dishwasher is surrounded by full bins of dirty dishes, hot soapy water flying everywhere.  And then there's me, just sorta hanging out.  Sometimes someone will ask me to run and grab something from the back stock room or make a side salad, and I'm glad for these brief moments of having something to do.  But for the most part, I stand quietly by, hoping no one will notice.

One busy night, Brian the line cook sees me sheepishly standing around. "You should be making desserts," he tells me. "While you're waiting for the bread, it would be a perfect time."

Granted, he doesn't like these busy nights, so he might be a little envious that I'm not involved in the madness.  But in all honesty, I think he wants to help me out.  He knows my background and that I'm there to learn.  How can I do that if I'm making the same bread recipes all the time?  I love making desserts almost as much as baking bread, so I start to seriously mull it over.

Then later that weekend, I discover the true sign of spring at our local produce market.  Rhubarb!  As I say that magical word, I can see my husband shudder with disgust.  He hates it and he's not alone.  It certainly isn't for everyone.  But for me, it is the epitome of spring baking.  My mom and grandma both had rhubarb plants when I was growing up and they would make the best sauces and desserts with it.  The tart tanginess that rhubarb adds to something sweet is pure heaven.  So when I saw those beautiful thick red stalks laying there amongst the other produce, I bought them.  I didn't care that they were probably $4/pound.  And I didn't care that my husband was standing behind me shaking his head.

So now that I had this wonderful spring treat, I had to find something to make with it.  I passed over the obvious thought of strawberry rhubarb pie (one of my all-time favorites) to try something new - rhubarb upside down cake.  The original recipe is here:

I made only a couple small modifications to it.  I added strawberries to the rhubarb topping, omitted the anise seed (because I forgot to add it!), and served with a whipped and lightly sweetened mascarpone cream.  It was delicious. Even the husband ate multiple helpings of it over the course of a few days.

I immediately decided that this needed to be served at the Farmhouse.  So I forwarded the recipe to Louie and offered to come in for an additional shift during the week to make it myself.  He enthusiastically agreed to it.  Just like that, I had added the title of pastry assistant to my position at the Farmhouse and crammed one more thing into my ever growing list of things to do.

That Thursday, I arrived to make a batch of pretzels and to work on my rhubarb upside down cake.  I also got to try out some new equipment.  Since I had to caramelize the rhubarb topping for the cake, I had to borrow a burner on the line for a few minutes.  As I stood there stirring my pot of fruit next to the line cooks an odd sense of pride came over me.  How many people with zero professional training were trusted with an open flame in a restaurant?

Next up, I battled with the small standing mixer.  The lever that lifted the mixing bowl and locked it into place was broken.  Searching around, I found a small box of latex gloves to set under the mixing bowl.  It wobbled and rattled around as I cranked up the mixing speed, so I decided the lowest speed would have to work.  By now I was well-versed in dealing with these challenges.  Baking at the Farmhouse was all about adapting.

Surprisingly, everything else went smoothly that night and the cake ended up being a pretty big seller over the weekend.  But now I was faced with some questions.  Did this mean I would be baking desserts on a regular basis?  Would I have to work more hours during the week?  Could I afford to give up more of my personal time?  Maybe I was taking on more than I could handle. I certainly had my doubts. But I wasn't ready to give up anything just yet.

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