Overcoming A Rational Aversion to Pastry: Experiment in Gluttony
I have said before that gluttony is among my favorites of the deadly sins; the craving for fat, salt and sugar is a delightful vice. Favoring gluttony, though, runs contrary to my part time dedication to rationality; good sense indicates that gluttony can be detrimental. This dissonance—which regularly afflicts bakers—is my topic today.
More particularly, I want to resolve that dissonance by showing that a semi-scientific experiment with pastry can employ the rational mind in the service of gluttony and vice versa. One might—or might not—conclude that animal passion and mindfulness can co-exist happily in a wholeness of human experience. Or one might conclude that the chubby guy is rationalizing his excessive indulgence.
The subject is pastry—specifically the Mini-Schnecken and Bear Claw recipes in Inside the Jewish Bakery. The goal is to bake goodies to match (or come close to) the remembered experience of the Ideal exemplars of these treats.
I have previously baked Bear Claws using Danish Pastry Dough (a recipe from Fantasia Confections) and The ITJB Coffee Cake Dough. Neither was bad. The Danish Dough was poofier and lighter than my ideal and the filling in the Fantasia recipe expanded monstrously (too much egg, I think). The ITJB Coffee Cake dough version was closer, but a bit too heavy and dry. The ITJB filling was perfect!
Last week I made some ITJB Mini-Schneckens using the Cream Cheese Dough formula, and a filling of Olallieberry jam and cake crumbs. I followed the formula to a fault…the fault being that the formula failed to say that the dough ball was to be divided in two before being rolled out to 18” x 8”. So my cookies—with double the dough and double the filling--were more like mutant Danish in appearance. Really good tasting though. The cream cheese dough—consisting of only cream cheese, butter, flour and a dash of salt (no sugar!)—bakes up light, tender and totally delicious.
So, this weekend, purely for science, I made another batch of the cream cheese dough and a smaller batch of jam filling (Stan told me the filling should be spread very thin). I divided the dough in two, and rolled out half—nice and thin—to 18 x 8, and smeared a thin coating of jam filling on. I rolled it up and cut it into 1” pieces.
The result, while not exactly like I remember, is terrific. The shape is about right, the texture is moist and delicate, and the flavor is incredible—not too sweet, but fruity and rich.
The other half of the Cream Cheese Dough was destined to be Bear Claws, my favorite breakfast pastry. I rolled the dough out to about 12” by 6”, so not as thin as for the Mini-Scheckens. I smeared the ITJB Almond Filling over a little less than half of the dough sheet, leaving a margin to seal with egg wash and finger pressure.
Then I proceeded with the Bear Claw shaping—folding the dough over the filling, stretching the whole thing lengthwise, then cutting it into pieces and shaping the claws (all with a bench knife). The round ones pictured below are rolled from scraps of dough.
These Bear Claws are the best! The dough has a wonderful tenderness and the savoriness contrasts nicely with the sweet filling; the whole flavor is only slightly sweet. They look nice, too, though I regretted not having slivered almonds handy.
Though seeking to replicate a remembered gustatory experience is not a very scientific objective, I can say that I did carry out an experiment—minding the variables, observing the conditions, following a protocol, and evaluating the results. The fact that the end result was the scientist and his lab assistant practically rolling on the floor in flavor ecstasy will not be written up in the scholarly journals.
I know I should try to tame my sweet tooth. But the spirit of scientific inquiry compels me to bake more pastries until all the data is in.
Note for David: the ITJB Cream Cheese Dough is what you want to use in your Cheese Pocket experiments. Very tender, not sweet, but quite rich. Very much like the Karsh’s cheese pockets.