It’s like I can’t resist blogging, or Eve of Xmas Eve

FC: your photo of the pound cakes look so yummy. I swear that Christmas is cake and pie time like nothing else! (I cannot tell a lie: I’ve been eating nice cakes today…)

NY Times’ Ed Levine explains the concept of Mincemeat and mincemeat pies, in “Mincemeat (Whatever It Is) Is Still a Christmas Tradition” – well, a Christmas traditions for Brits and Brit ex-patriates in NYC. Fascinating to finally understand where the “mincemeat” in mincemeat came from:

According to the Oxford Companion to Food, the earliest mince pies, chewettes, were made with chopped meat or liver and hard-boiled egg, ginger and dried fruit. Brandy or red wine was added for flavor and to preserve the filling. The book also says: “By the 16th century ‘minced’ or ‘shred’ pies, as they were then known, had become a Christmas specialty, which they still are. The beef was sometimes partly or wholly replaced by suet (the solid white fat found around the kidneys of both cows and sheep) from the mid-17th century onwards, and meat had effectively disappeared from ‘mincemeat’ on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th century.”

So, basically, mincemeat pies in a true sense are lard pies. Oh-kay – but Levine then adds:

Madge Rosenberg, an owner of Bakery Soutine, on West 70th Street, makes the pie. [….]

“We sort of worked backward,” she added. “We started with the traditional recipe and got rid of the stuff we didn’t like or need.

“The suet went, because many people don’t want added animal fat in their food, and so did the brandy, because we felt the other ingredients had so much flavor, we didn’t need the alcohol.”

Ms. Rosenberg’s pie is a revelation. The crust is light and flaky, just heavy enough to hold her filling, made with currants, yellow raisins, apples and walnuts.

But 20 pies does not a movement make. So I continued my search at the two bastions of British food in New York, the restaurant Tea & Sympathy and the British food purveyor Myers of Keswick. At Tea & Sympathy, where Nicky Perry, an owner, serves bangers and mash and bubbles and squeak to supermodels and expatriates, mince pie reigns supreme around holiday time. Ms. Perry doesn’t understand the aversion to it.

Americans “turn up their noses at the very mention of it, maybe because they think they’re still made with meat,” she said. “So I just end up giving them a taste, and they end up loving it.”

Personally, I’m thinking that Sara Lee version of mince pie that I ate back on Thanksgiving didn’t have the suet or the alcohol, so I’m just relieved to avoid the added calories and fat – although too bad about losing the – uh – interesting flavors.

Plus, a cool NY Times article by Brian Cazeneuve, “All Chocolate, No Oompa-Loompas,” on Jacques Torres, famed chocolatier, who’s opening a Manhattan location to go with his Brooklyn place:

He longed for a spot in Manhattan, he said, mindful of not only attracting more people but also giving them something worth seeing. He had seen his customers squeezed into his tight 400-square-foot storefront in Brooklyn, straining to peer through open doors into the 5,000-square-foot factory, as if peeking into the magician’s bag of tricks.

It has taken a while to get the magic in Manhattan just right. Mr. Torres found that expenses in his dream plan would have been nearly double his $1.5 million budget. The glass in the store cuts off at 11 feet in height, because Pierre Court, his designer, found that taller glass would need to be custom-made. The dream layout had included floor-to-ceiling glass. [….]

The interior has five tables; one will soon be reserved for children and have, in Mr. Torres’s words, “small rocking chairs fit for mini-butts.” By February he hopes to have five computer screens for customers to learn the process of making chocolate as they watch the evolution live behind the windows.

“I wanted to see my profession and not just my product,” said Mr. Torres, always giddy and caffeinated. “Everybody loves chocolate, but it’s such a mystery to them. How does this magic happen?”

On this day Mr. Torres was making chocolate with the tangy beans from Ecuador and the nutty beans from Ivory Coast. He put them in the roaster for half an hour.

“So the potion starts now,” he said. “Are you ready for the takeoff?” [….]

“Sharp, but not so smooth,” he said. “Oh, we can do better.” He encouraged and listened to each opinion of his staff members. When friends showed up a few minutes later, he gave them samples and asked for their thoughts, too.

“The signature needs less Ecuador,” he said [while experimenting on cacao beans for his latest confection]. “I need to wait a few minutes. Then I cool my taste buds and I taste some more.”

Later Mr. Torres offered yet another comparison for his product.

“You know, chocolate is like romance,” he said. “It makes your eyes close, your mouth water. It makes you playful. You feel it? You see what I mean?”

Yes, Jacques Torres. Absolutely. He’s not Willy Wonka, but a man with a cute French accent and great food skills and love of… chocolate – ain’t a bad combination… 😉 (yeah, I liked his tv shows…)

Anyhoo, here’s the link for the Yule Log, that beloved NYC tradition that will also be on tv on Christmas morning, 8am to 12pm on Channel 11, WPIX.

Let’s see if I dare to blog again tomorrow, the day before Christmas…

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