Friday, February 26, 2010

Keep It Simple

"Faites simple", said Auguste Escoffier, over 100 years ago.

Cleverness is an overrated virtue.

Keeping it simple is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn of all. The more avid the cook, the harder the lesson, it seems. What do you yearn to eat when you're tired or hungry or in need of soul food? Cooking that honestly strives to nurture and glorify the essential savours of good ingredients, thus coaxing the very best from them? Or fussy, egotistical exercises in let's be brutally honest here vanity and self-absorption? Which is not to say the latter can't be good to eat. Just that it's all too easy to get carried away by flights of fancy, thus losing sight of the main object, which is to nourish and beatify those who sup at your table.

Call a spade a spade, and the emperor's new clothes just that. Cleverness for the sake of cleverness? Please, leave that to the clever. Me? I'm happy to take steak frites slathered in béarnaise over overwrought faux comestibles any day (speaking of keeping it real, please do check out Au Bœuf Couronné if you ever get the chance; it is unrelenting, time-stood-still old-school, proudly unfashionable beefy magnificence à la française at its probable best).

Where cake is concerned, I've many a time had to rein in my natural unchecked impulses to make it all pink-iced, frou-frou and over-the-top. Embellished and curlicued to the nth degree, Marie Antoinette-meets-Mardi Gras, all fairy dust and unicorn sprinkles. Hey, I'm a girly girl.

Luckily, I sometimes need to feed cake to manly men, W often included. Which helps keep my frilly excesses in check. I speak from experience; no manly man will be caught dead tucking into a pink-iced, frou-frou, over-the-top, Marie-Antoinette-meets-Mardi Gras confection. Unless he is doing so in the midst of a very private (read: party of one) midnight fridge raid. Which translates into a lot of forlorn cake lying about in the fridge.

So if you bake often and often for your manly male loved ones, that alone is reason aplenty to keep it fuss-free.

Sans the chintzy plate shown above, with a plain white plate in lieu, I've often served this simple and simply beautiful Pistachio Torte - moist with freshly ground pistachios, fruity olive oil and citrus juices - accompanied by rose-scented strawberries and whipped cream, to many an uncomplaining in fact I daresay pud-admiring male diner. Nary a peep about how real men don't eat things with rosewater.

I love butter.

Life is short.

Fat tastes awesome.

So much so, it makes other stuff taste awesome.

Why shortchange yourself of one of the very reasons for eating, nay living?

OK, now that that particular opinion is out of the way. The only thing I possibly love more than butter?

Browned butter.

Ah. Beurre noisette. This is simplicity itself perfected with a capital P. If you're similarly inclined, and if you haven't already, please do look up:

-Vogue, June 2009 issue. Jeffrey Steingarten has a fantastic feature on the stuff. Read an excerpt here.

-Jennifer McLagan's Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredients, with Recipes . Many ideas on how to use browned butter. And while we're on the subject of the much-maligned three-letter F-word, how to get the best out of everything from schmaltz to graisse de canard, not to mention lard, suet and tallow.

As for the best use of browned butter? In my opinion, that has to be in the financier. These Plum & Hazelnut Financiers – crisp and chewy of crust, rich and moist of crumb – owe their sublime, nutty, caramelized flavour to browned butter.

*Both the recipes for the pistachio cake and plum & hazelnut financiers are part of the lineup in Fruit Desserts, a demo class I'll be teaching on 13 March 2010 , 14 March 2010 , 27 March 2010 and 28 March 2010. For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or 6479 8414, or email


Anonymous E.L. said...

Dear Joycelyn, I can only dream of the day I may sup at your table. Meantime, your wonderful words and photos nourish and beatify ;-) xoxo, E.L.

8:26 p.m., February 26, 2010  
Blogger Chris Chu said...

You've done the impossible: convince me somehow that rosewater-scented strawberries are simple and fuss-free.

9:31 a.m., February 28, 2010  
Blogger Katie Yoon said...

I love all of your baking goods! very sophisticated, simple and perfect!

3:20 a.m., March 01, 2010  
Anonymous Clea Walford said...

this looks so nice, will certainly try to do some of the baking soon!

1:02 p.m., April 21, 2010  

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