Gateau Grand Marnier from Mary and Vincent Price’s Treasury of Great Recipes… Joining the #TreasuryCookalong…. Varying a classic cake recipe with whole grain flours and kefir… Contemplating how a global luxury brand treats its workers in Haiti… Being relaxed as the cake breaks just before the photo for the blog…
After the fun of #Marguerite100 I thought I’d join in on the Vincent and Mary Price #TreasuryCookalong, a book that’s been a part of my life pretty much always. My copy, which belonged to my mother, is a first printing of a 1965 classic reflecting a view of international restaurant cuisine that was most sophisticated in its day. Nearly from the time I could read, I sat at Mom’s kitchen table looking through her cookbooks.
The Treasury is a thick, padded, opulent tome, with edged pages suggestive of gilding, and heavy “antique” pages with red-brown ink that is both tacky and macabre. Because my copy is so old (with the spine torn off from years of being too tightly wedged into an overcrowded book shelf therefore improperly removed) I’m able to inform anyone who has wondered that proper cotton batting lies behind the leatherette cover. In this classic book, about to be reissued, the Prices travel and eat extensively and share much of their experience as well as vintage restaurant interiors and menus. There are caloric references and basic recipes as well, including one for a Bloody Mary that uses Monosodium Glutamate. I reckon I was onto the Umami-something-or-other when I fermented that cocktail juice.
Well, wabi-sabi that abounds in my life, just as I was transferring the “gateau” from it’s cooling rack to a cake plate for a photograph, the darn thing broke into clumsy pieces which begged the question: is a broken cake a metaphor for a broken food system?
The question hadn’t come from nowhere, because Grand Marnier for all its cordon jaune glamour in that amber glass bottle is a global luxury product haunted a little by horror– if we’re sticking to a Vincent Price mood.
I recalled an article about terrible labour conditions on Haitian citrus plantations, from where the bitter oranges in Grand Marnier are harvested for essences to flavour sweetened cognacs. A not-brief search yielded very little information since that time (2001), but it’s hard to imagine that in the events that have occurred in Haiti since then, life for those workers is much improved. Our bottle of the stuff remains from my husband’s cocktail-making days, and I am aware that blogging this recipe might glamourise a product people might go out and buy anew. With the very best intentions I did write to the company:
Hello. I am a food blogger enjoying using Grand Marnier in recipes. I recall reading about labour conditions on citrus plantations in Haiti, and I wondered if you could offer any updates on company approach and policy in this regard. I would be most grateful to hear from you. Thanks very much, etc. etc.
When I hear from them (and of course I will), I’ll provide an update. In the meantime, I can only offer this musing and a DIY version, with a caveat that citrus and sugar and brandies and almost everything in our food system might come with ethical and environmental problems. And then the questions that emerge are all about living our lives and doing the best we can with the knowledge we have, and baking an occasional cake might be part of that.
This is a positive article about hope brought about by imagining food sovereignty in Haiti, “the only country in [its] hemisphere that is still majority rural.”
Despite all this stuff swimming in my head, I’d actually had an interesting, instructive time making Gateau Grand Marnier as a special dessert for a Friday evening on which we’d all be together.
The first thing I noticed as I worked through the Prices’ recipe — or renoticed, because every time I pick up a sweet recipe I have the same thought– was how much sugar dessert baking requires. I reduced the amount by a third which still felt so sweet, in spite of my having used 1 cup of the marvellous Felin Ganol Light Wheatmeal, in which only some of the brown matter has been sieved from a whole, stone-milled flour, 1/2 cup of Khorasan (i.e. Kamut, i.e. an ancient, heritage wheat) and 1/2 cup of rye flour, with the idea that orange and walnut and rye would be interesting. So the sugar even sweets itself through the more assertive flavours of whole grains.
I like mixing flours in baking. White flour tastes insipid to me, and I’ve realised, especially if you separate eggs and use egg whites whipped to peak, gently folded into the batter, even heavier flours are welcoming of loft. I will always take time to whip egg whites properly and when folding them into a batter, to maintain a calm approach with doesn’t disrupt any of the air I’ve carefully incorporated..
The cake rose so well despite the use of whole-meal flours, and had a really light crumb, and I attribute this as well to having used, instead of sour cream which I didn’t have, some quite old creme fraiche mixed in equal quantity with some rather sour kefir, which I’d thickened a little by draining it of its whey (as in this technique).
It’s the reaction of sour/ acid to baking powder that helps cakes to rise, and I think the little bit of extra sour mattered in this cake– along of course with having separated the eggs then folding in the whites.
I know I go on about letting go of recipes and strict order and cooking rules, but I do take care to measure baking soda and baking powder properly. I think that might be the only secret of baking I really would preach.
Then: Oh no! I’d forgotten the walnuts altogether, sh****t, oh, never mind, crunch them up, take the pan out of its mere one minute in the oven, gently stir the nuts in and no harm done. (And none was done.)
One more thing. I really puzzled over the instruction stated in the recipe to drizzle the orange juice-sugar- Grand Marnier syrup in the pan before you’ve released the cake. Really? Wouldn’t that mean the drizzle and the almonds were on the bottom once the cake came out? So my response was to drizzle a little on the bottom, then later on the top, and sprinkle the almonds towards the end. Hmmmm. A mystery, perhaps of proofreading?
Here’s the cake before it broke. If it hadn’t broken I might have dusted it with icing sugar and surrounded it with oranges to honour the glorious kitsch of an old cookbook which I have loved most of my life, even before I became so damned serious about everything. Once the thing split at its seams, I allowed myself to go down my true cranky path. All in a day’s baking.
And now it’s all eaten up. And I’ve contributed in an oddball way to the fun fiesta of not just any cookalong, but The Mary (mustn’t leave out Mary!) and Vincent Price #TreasuryCookalong.