Cracked (featuring Fruit Tarts in Ginger Tuile Cups)
My fingertips hold the memories of every garlic clove I’ve ever smashed, every plump strawberry I’ve macerated, every fillet I’ve trimmed and tied. My brain retains next to nothing so I’m grateful for these 10 digits, however scarred they might be. Sometimes I feel like I’m just sitting back deep inside myself watching my fingers knead, sear, dice, hoist, quiver, pray, keep my life moving forward. And sometimes they tell me a story.
Last week I was prepping for a wedding we were catering. I set two small metal bowls on the table in front of me and began cracking eggs in half, pouring the contents from the half shell in my right hand to the half shell in my left, and letting the whites drip into the bowl beneath. After two or three passes, the yolk was all that remained in the shell and I tipped it into the empty bowl on my left. By the second or third white/ yolk separation, a fingertip memory hit like triple 7’s on a slot machine and my hands seemed to grow much younger.
I was 19 years old and a freshman at Fordham University at Lincoln Center studying theatre. It was spring break and I was visiting my parents who lived in Los Angeles. People Magazine was doing a celebrity mothers issue for Mother’s Day and had requested a photo shoot with me and my mom while I was visiting.
Sidenote: My parents (father and stepmother who has been my mother since I was very small and whom I call mom) used to be pretty famous. They were regulars on a television show in the 80’s and 90’s called “LA Law”.
People Magazine’s idea for this photoshoot was to “catch” famous women and their daughters in the middle of doing the stuff that mothers and daughters do together all the time. But of course, none of the things we actually did together would be appealing in a glossy celebrity magazine. You’d never buy a copy of People because it had a picture of a pretend lawyer in a stained sweatshirt eating a runny egg on whole wheat toast while trash-talking Hollywood with her hungover daughter still wearing pajamas at noon.
Reality’s not pretty.
So People Magazine pitched various exceedingly contrived situations to us. Horseback riding with flawless windblown hair! Rose gardening while laughing! Looking at family pictures together while pointing at the photo album, grins wide with mother-daughter love! It’s all BS and I’m sure I rolled my eyes more than once.
“Alison loves to bake! Let’s pretend to make chocolate chip cookies together!” my mother suggested. I did love to bake, so that was a step toward honesty. I was not a chef back then. I was a passionate actress and had absolutely no idea that someday I would cook for a living.
“That sounds perfect, Jill!” the magazine people exclaimed excitedly and we collectively scurried around my parent’s Brentwood kitchen collecting the correct ingredient props.
A bag of all-purpose flour sat to our right, a box of brown sugar on the left, and an opened bag of chocolate chips playfully spilled onto the counter in the center of the shot.
“I’ve got it!” my mom said as if truly inspired, “We can be separating the eggs for the picture. That gives us something to focus on!”
My mom is brilliant at reading the room. I’m certain she could tell how uncomfortable I was. She was probably feeling the same way. By giving us a focused task, maybe we could find some authenticity.
But here’s the rub: you don’t separate eggs to make chocolate chip cookies.
My mom, who has probably never baked a cookie in her life, didn’t know/didn’t care about this cookie fact. It was a cute idea and soon the whole thing would be over.
But me? THIS was the lie I couldn’t tell. I didn’t make a big deal about it, but as I cracked those eggs and parted the whites from the yolks, my hands shook with insincerity and deception. I felt my face contort as I tried to smile through this façade. Though I called deep upon the skills I was learning as an actress in drama school, I could not make it convincing!!!
I should have known right there and then. This should have been my moment of chef recognition and ownership. It would be years though, years before I acknowledged why I couldn’t tell the cookie lie.
The proof sheet from the photo shoot was beyond disastrous and no, I don’t have it hidden away in some drawer. I looked like someone had just run over my puppy… but smiling in a creepy way too. None of the pictures were usable. Not a one. Luckily, they had snapped a few from the rose gardening set up and used the least ridiculous. I was never asked to be in another photo shoot with my parents by People Magazine.
My fingertips kept this memory silent until I began cracking eggs above two small bowls just last week. I smiled a smile more honest than anything I could embody in my teens and I know I’m in the right place in my life. Yolks to the left, egg whites to the right.
And here is the recipe I was making the day this memory flooded in. It’s a recipe from the cookbook Flour, by Joanne Chang and it’s outstanding. I fill the cookies with pastry cream, https://awonderlandofwords.com/temper-temper-featuring-summer-berry-tartlets-with-almond-crust-and-vanilla-bean-pastry-cream/ (which utilizes the egg yolks) and fresh berries and people go nuts.
Ginger Tuile Cups
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 egg whites
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- Whisk the sugar and egg whites in a medium bowl. Whisk in the butter, then the flour, then the ginger. Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
- After the time has passed, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat (you can use parchment, but a silicone mat is much better for this if you’ve got one).
- Using a tablespoon scoop, drop 6 tablespoons of batter onto the mat leaving plenty of space between them so they can spread which they will. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the edges start to brown.
- Place an empty mini cupcake tin near your workspace. Using a small offset spatula, shimmy the first (still hot) cookie free from the baking sheet and push it into one of the mini cupcake forms. I’m not a stickler for uniformity here. The dough is hot and frequently burns my fingertips but it only takes a press or two to get the cups formed. Also, the cookie needs to be warm in order for it to be pliable so you’ve only got a little bit of time to form each cup. This sounds much more stressful than it actually is. You’ll figure out your own folding/ forming method.
- Repeat with the next cookie sheet and 6 more tablespoons of dough. The empty formed cups can be kept in the freezer or filled right then with pastry cream and berries and served immediately.