A wonderful tradition by friends of ours is to celebrate the italian Christmas Eve feast of the seven fishes. We never have actually indulged in all seven fishes because there is usually enough food for our group. I usually make the dessert for the party. I spent the earlier part of this week searching food magazines and websites for recipes, after deciding on espresso salt that I bought last spring at Dean and Deluca, as my key ingredient.
My first choice was to make a caramel budino. I thought the salty espresso taste would pair well with caramel. Then I thought about making cannoli, but I couldn’t decide on a filling that matched the espresso salt flavor. Finally I decided to make espresso salt meringues. I had googled “espresso salt” and found a simple recipe by Pascale Beale-Groom, a cook and author from Santa Barbara. Perfect!
I was feeling confident on Thursday afternoon. I went bike riding, and in an hour, had showered, whipped up a Vietnamese curry for dinner, then met girlfriends for drinks, came home, made some guacamole and had a wonderful dinner with Francois. If I could accomplish all of that, how hard could a meringue be?
Friday morning was a completely different story. I got all of my ingredients out and started to cook. Then I spilled a bunch of sugar all over the counter and floor. I pulled out the vacuum cleaner to clean up the kitchen and Francois asked what I was doing. Our cleaning crew had just been at the house yesterday, so why was I vacuuming again? I had to pick out a bit of shell from the egg whites. the egg white whipped up fine, and I started to add the sugar gradually. The recipe had said, keep whipping until the egg white were shiny with stiff peaks. Nope, that didn’t happen. I knew that most recipes called for cream of tartar, but that had to be added earlier. Now what do I do? I decided to bake the flat meringue anyway and move on to Plan B. An angel food cake with espresso salt. If it worked with meringue, it might work with cake!
On to the the angel food cake. I started again with room temperature eggs and started to separate the yolks and whites. Then I broke a yolk into the whites. Starting over, I had just enough eggs to make the cake but none now for the western omelette planned for Christmas morning. Shopping in Christmas Eve can be a madhouse, but I had to ask Francois to go buy some more eggs. This time around I added cream of tartar at the foamy stage and had success with the stiff peaks. I spilled the flour and powdered sugar as I was sifting them together but by this point I didn’t care. I had a cake to bake. I put the cake in the oven and it came out great. I remembered that my mom had always cooled the pan on top of a bottle so a few minutes after taking the cake out of the oven, I set it on top of a large bottle. I turned away for a minute but when I looked over at the cake, the whole side of the pan had fallen off to one side, created a dent inÂ the side of the cake. Now what to do? I unmolded the cake from the pan and let it cool, then turned it out onto the cake stand. Frosting could solve the imperfections, but I was trying to keep the dessert as healthy as possible. I decided to just dust the cake with powdered sugar, but need to go out and buy some heavy cream to whip for garnish. Another trip to the grocery store on Christmas Eve. Ugggh.
We decided to take a bike ride and pick up the cream on the way home. Safeway was so crowded. The parking lot was full and the lines were long. I got the cream and made my way to the shortest line. Both people in front of my were sweet to let me go in front of them. People in Tucson are nice and here on Christmas Eve it was so appreciated!. I got outside,Â put the cream in my inside jacket pocket, started ridingÂ and the carton fell out on the ground. I hadn’t put it in the right pocket. Dented, but not leaking, I started riding, praying that I wouldn’t have butter by the time I got home!
The cake wasn’t perfect but it was pretty, and I hoped it would taste good. It did. The espresso salt with sweet cake was delicious. Everyone loved the flavor and our friend Ken said, “you know what the espresso salt would be great in? Waffles. He is right. I’m ordering a waffle iron and malted waffle flour on Monday!