Thursday, July 10, 2014

Happy Release Day, ALL FOUR STARS!

Today is the day! Tara's ALL FOUR STARS is officially out. To celebrate, I'm reposting a classic from my now-defunct "Massacring the Art of French Cooking" series. It was great while it lasted, and this post was the first. I hope you enjoy! (I'm also giving away a signed hardcover of ALL FOUR STARS, so don't miss the details at the bottom of the post!)

Today is my birthday, the big two-six. Now I tell you that not to solicit your happy birthdays (although you're welcome to leave your best birthday songs in the comments, if you like), but as an explanation for why we baked a cake.

Some friends invited us over for dinner Monday night, so we decided to turn it into an early birthday celebration and offered to make dessert. So we needed to bake a cake and, since it was going to be my birthday, not just any cake--the great Reine de Saba, or Queen of Sheba, a chocolate and almond masterpiece rumored to be Julia Child's favorite cake.

We first encountered the mighty Queen when we rented JULIE AND JULIA several weeks ago. My husband and I are closet foodies, so JULIE AND JULIA sounded interesting to us both. (Yeah, my husband's pretty cool like that.) By the end of the movie, all we had to do was take one look at each other, and we knew: We needed a copy of MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING.

Now French cuisine is to the culinary world what Shakespeare is to the literary one: that aged sage who seems more myth than truth, whose works are thick and incomparable and define the entire discipline. So the Queen of Sheba is more than just a cake; it's an aspiration, a distant mountain peak, a legend.

We made sure we had all the right ingredients and equipment. We made a special trip to procure the things we lacked. And then we started baking. My husband separated his first eggs (six of them, no less--the Queen doesn't trifle with silly things like baking powder). I beat my first egg whites (until soft peaks started to form, then added a tablespoon of sugar and kept beating, until there was nothing soft about them). We folded everything together. And then we eased our cake rounds into the oven and set the timer for twenty-two minutes (three less than Julia called for, just in case our oven wasn't properly French).

Twenty-two minutes later, when I inserted my fork exactly three inches from the edge (should have been a needle, but I figured a tine was good enough), it came out a little dirty. Three more minutes on the timer, then another fork into the cake. This one came out clean. Which meant it was time for the final test: the jiggle.

According to Julia, the center of the cake should "move slightly" when jiggled. The whole point of the Queen is to leave her slightly underdone so as to preserve her creamy texture.

So we jiggled. And got nothing.

There was nothing we could do about it by then, of course, so that was exactly what we did. We iced her as if nothing unusual had happened (in nearly half a pound of butter mixed with four squares of baker's chocolate), we pressed a few leftover slivered almonds into her sides, we took her to our friends' place. And when it was time for dessert and I sampled the first bite, I knew: We'd ruined her. The Queen of Sheba was as dry as a slab of day-old bread. Chocolate and almond day-old bread, but day-old bread, nonetheless.

What makes this an even greater tragedy is the fact that we're on a no-dessert diet for the next month and a half. Our health insurance company does these wellness challenges, and for each one you complete, you get a partial refund on your premiums. So the first wellness challenge is to not eat or drink any desserts, treats, or soda for two months. Two whole months. You do get a few free days, so you've got to make the most of them. And we wasted one of ours on the over-baked Queen.

Still, we will not be defeated. We refuse to be bested by the French. So we're planning to crack that cookbook again in about a week and give another recipe a try. If our next attempt is a success, I'm sure you'll hear about it. And if our next attempt is as, uh, massacre-ful as this last one, I'm sure you'll hear about that, too:)

And now for the giveaway! To enter, just tell me in the comments that you'd like to win (and for an extra entry, feel free to share your most epic kitchen disaster). Contest is open to US and Canadian residents and closes in two weeks, on Wednesday, July 23, at 11:59 p.m. EDT (or 8:59 p.m. PDT). I'll select a random winner the next day.


Anonymous said...

You're so brave to try that recipe, Krista! My mom bought me that cookbook, and although I've paged through it several times, I'm always scared away by the number of steps in the recipes.

As far as a kitchen disaster, I'll go with the first time I made pie crust from scratch. I was determined to do it, because that's how my mom does it. I couldn't get the consistency right, and I ended up crying in the kitchen and had to throw it out and start over. My husband didn't understand why it was such a big deal. This was years ago now and I have mastered pie crusts at this point, but it seemed like an epic disaster at that time!

I'd love to win this book, although I'm going to get my hands on it either way!

Karen lee Hallam said...

Just read about this book this morning. It sounds thoroughly adorable. Can't wait to get a copy. :)

Natasha Wing said...

Would love to win a hard copy! I read an ARC and now I want it in my collection.

Kitchen disaster: Trying to make chocolate mousse with my high school friend, Chris, for our French class, and when I turned on the blender it sprayed all over the kitchen!

Jenilyn Collings said...

I would love to win!

The most legendary of my food disasters was probably the time I made teriyaki flounder. It was horrible. My only excuse is that I was pregnant and couldn't decide what to make, so I let my older kids help me decide on dinner. They love teriyaki chicken and fish and wanted to combine the two. I don't recommend it.

Rebecca Gomez said...

I'd love a chance to win a copy of All Four Stars!

The last time I made a chocolate cake I left out the leavening (baking powder, I think). It was extremely dense, almost like fudge, but not as sweet, and it had kind of a gummy texture. But it was still chocolate cake. And we still ate it. With milk!

Oh, and Happy Birthday!

Spring Paul said...

I'd love a copy of the book! I made a dump cake that I tried to invert out onto a plate. I didn't know what a dump cake was, or that it wouldn't firm up and dump out like a layer cake. Melted brown sugar and goo all over the stove top. Whoops!

Julie DeGuia said...

I would love a copy of this book! Thanks for the chance.

Not really my fault, but I had a glass pyrex dish break in the oven with our dinner cooking in it. If I remember correctly it made a very loud sound. We were able to scrape enough off the top for dinner but no leftovers. :-(

Rosalyn said...

I would love a copy too! I can't think of a cooking disaster off hand (does the time I made two from-scratch cakes for my son's birthday and then came apart because they fell apart in the cake mold count?), but my husband had a roommate who once tried to reheat some chicken in the oven--in the plastic container it'd been refrigerated in . . .

Abbe Hoggan said...

I would love to win a copy of All Four Stars. I remember when it was an adorable, pink-cheeked little thing in MSFV's Secret Agent contest and it was called Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake. I'm so excited that it's a real book now.

I love to cook, which means I've had more than my share of epic kitchen disasters. I usually play with recipes, adjusting them to fit my tastes, but my biggest failure came from following a recipe too closely. I tried a recipe for butternut squash soup (the only squash I like). It sounded promising and looked good, but one bite told me I should have followed my instincts and left out the nutmeg. My dear husband silently poured one bite after another into his mouth until I put my hand on his arm and said, "You don't have to eat that anymore." He dropped his spoon with relief :(.

Kiriojo said...

I would love a copy of All Four Stars!

Early in my marriage, wanting to impress my new husband, I decided to bake a pot roast. Ooooo... a nice honey glaze would taste great! After a few hours, I pulled out a lovely tar-roast. Nice impression!

Myrna Foster said...

I would love to win!

And when you made the Queen for us, it was delicious--a memorable first meeting on so many levels. :o)

One of my worst food disasters also involved chocolate cake. Many years ago, my brother and I mixed up some chocolate cake batter and tried to make chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter centers. Only, we didn't mix the peanut butter with anything. They tasted terrible.

My oldest daughter's worst food disaster was a Texas sheet cake (also chocolate cake). The recipe called for a teaspoon of baking soda, and she put in a cup. Yeah, frothy sizzles in the oven and the cake was inedible. But that was a long time ago. The last cake she made was delicious.

I hope you're having a blast!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And that's it! Thank you for entering. I might not be able to announce the winner until Friday, as I'll be traveling tomorrow, but I will make the announcement before the end of the week.