Frank Meyer

Meyer Lemon Bars | La Pêche Fraîche

“Times certainly are sad and mad and from a scientific point of view so utterly unnecessary.”

—Frank Meyer

Meyer Lemon Bars | La Pêche Fraîche

Times have been mad, indeed. I have fallen right off of the face of the internet.
I abandoned Instagram almost entirely this past month and a half. I’m averaging less than an hour on it weekly.
This resulted in a loss of 100 followers (gasp!), but I really can’t say that I care deeply about that.

Digital detoxes are healthy, if only to remind yourself not to seek validation solely from internet points.
It’s hard given its ubiquity.
I sympathize with the generation who will grow up with it from elementary school onwards. My peers and I are addicted enough as is, and smartphones only came out when we were already middle schoolers.

Meyer Lemon Bars | La Pêche Fraîche

I also find it easier and easier to put away my phone since I have come to be in a happy relationship again.
Obviously, being busy at work helps during the day, but in the evenings I am far less tempted to veg out with my little screen in front of me (instead we veg out together with a bigger screen, duh).

Lately the vegging has been almost all basketball, with Sundays dedicated to our HBO shows.
Predictably, the final season of GoT has caused me to begin re-reading the books for the nth time.
My social media presence has been reduced to sullenly lurking on the r/asoiaf sub.

Meyer Lemon Bars | La Pêche Fraîche

Lemon bars and lemon tarts are by far my favorite dessert (other than pavlova, I suppose. They are tied for first.), and these are just the ticket for welcoming in spring while still enjoying the last of the winter citrus.

Turns out that meyer lemons are actually a blend between citron, mandarin, and pummelo, not just a cross between lemons and oranges. These happy, sunshiney bars are bright with their juice.
The filling is firm without becoming congealed (too much starch will tend to do that) or cracking (too many eggs will tend to do that).
The zest of two entire lemons makes them not only intoxicatingly fragrant with the honeyed, almost floral fragrance of the lemons but also bracingly tart.
A thin, crisp base with lots of butter balances the bars out perfectly.
This recipe was super lightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Lemoniest Lemon Bars. I absolutely adore using their recipes when I have no others in my past arsenal. In no other place can you find such thoughtful and meticulous recipes and directions.

Meyer Lemon Bars | La Pêche Fraîche

Some tips on getting the 90-degree bars your heart truly desires:
make sure your foil sling fully covers all the edges of your pan
adding a very light layer of grease to the sling will keep the edges crisp
allow the bars to cool completely in the pan (this takes hours!)
clean your knife entirely between cuts (and by entirely, I mean fully wash and dry it)
if you’re really concerned with clean cuts, chill the bars down fully in the fridge and then warm up your knife using hot water

You can make these in an 8×8 or 9×9 inch pan; here I’ve used 9×9″.

And a quick note, if you have any interest in food history and haven’t read this fascinating article about Frank Meyer, the intrepid, plant-obsessed, “agricultural explorer,” you should.

Meyer Lemon Bars | La Pêche Fraîche

“[It] often seems that we do not live ourselves any longer but that we are being lived. Uncontrollable forces seem to be at work among humanity and final results, or possibly purposes, are not being revealed as yet, that is, for so far as I can look into this whole titanic cataclysm.”

Frank Meyer

Meyer Lemon Bars | La Pêche Fraîche

Meyer Lemon Bars
barely adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
makes 1 8×8″ or 9×9″ pan of bars

ingredients:
for the crust:
140 grams (1 cup) AP flour
50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

for the filling:
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
15 grams (2 tablespoons) AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks
zest of 2 meyer lemons
175 grams (2/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) lemon juice (from about 2 meyer lemons + 2 regular lemons)
55 grams (4 tablespoons) butter, cut into small pieces

to assemble:
powdered sugar, if desired

directions:
Make a foil sling (going both directions) for the pan.
Very lightly grease the sling, using butter or spray oil.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the crust: whisk flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl.
Stir butter in until mixture clumps.
Press into prepared pan in an even layer.
Bake in oven until golden, about 20 minutes; rotate pan after 10 minutes.
Make the filling: in the same bowl used for the crust, whisk sugar, flour, and salt together.
Whisk in eggs and yolks vigorously, until all the dry ingredients are fully incorporated with the egg.
Whisk in lemon zest.
Slowly whisk in lemon juice until fully incorporated.
Place in saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 160 degrees F (71 degrees C), about 5-6 minutes.
Stir in butter vigorously until the butter is melted and mixture is homogenous.
Strain through fine metal sieve.
Pour filling over crust and gently shake pan until the filling is evenly spread.
Bake until the filling is set and barely jiggles when pan is shaken, about 10 minutes (start checking just shy of 9 minutes).
Allow bars to cool completely, at least 1.5 hours and more likely up to 2.5 hours.
Lift bars out with foil sling, dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and using a sharp knife, cut into bars (it helps to wipe the knife thoroughly between cuts).

Janvier

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“There are many things we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”

-Oscar Wilde

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January is a fragile month.
The new year is only just hatching, stretching its wings, ruffling its feathers, blinking awake.
The sun is slowly becoming stronger, the days longer.

It is the month of resolutions, ever so delicate, easily crushed in their nascence.

We are all only dipping our toes in the cold, cold new waters.
Not a one of us knows what the year will bring—a terrifying and invigorating prospect.

How has it come to pass that the end of this first month of 2014 is nigh?
January has flown by in a blur, spinning me around in a whirled frenzy of snow and wind.
I shiver to think of what this year holds—whether it is borne from excitement or dread, I cannot say.
It could also be the ungodly cold here in Chicago.  I don’t know.

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January is a month of citrus.
Though, I must admit, you cannot tell as much from my archives.

January 2013: puff pastry tutorial, coconut mochi, s’mores cake, conversation heart cookies, nutella-raspberry-brown butter crumb bars, maple-bacon and Vietnamese coffee doughnuts, gâteau des rois.  Only one had citrus…
January 2014: Peppermint-chocolate cookies, PB cupcakes, pear-cranberry-ginger crisps, earl grey cupcakes.  Ahem.  Still none.

This pavlova is my answer, my remedy, then, to the absent citrus in what I have just declared to be a month of citrus.
Specifically, lemon.
January is a lemon month.

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Lemon.  Perky, bright, sunny.
Lemon.  Tart, balancing, acidic.
Lemon lemon lemon, I’d choose over chocolate any day.  (Freak.)

The first time I met a meyer lemon was 2006.
I received the January issue of Martha Stewart Living.
As I tore through it, my 11 year old self soaking in every hit of inspiration, I fell upon this cake.
I wanted to cry.  I wanted to make this cake so incredibly badly, but knew it was out of my reach.

This cake prominently featuring these mysterious meyer lemons was all I wanted.  And I couldn’t have it.
I begged my parents to let me make it.
They said, “um… no. We don’t need a 3 foot high, 3 tier meyer lemon cake.  Stop reading Martha Stewart, you little weirdo.

Everything was so beautiful and yellow and happy and lemony.
It was torture.
And what the hell was a meyer lemon, anyway?

Can you tell what a strange, disturbed child I was?  A Martha Stewart addict from a young age.
It explains so much, don’t it?

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In a month where stagnation is banished, where the wheels are turning and the world is changing, lemon is ideal.
It’s fresh and lively, something which I appreciate when the fresh produce situation is somewhat abysmal.
Lemon never fails to awaken the palette.
It’s a clean flavor, and after all the heavy desserts of December, we can all use a flavor boost.

Pavlova.  Also perfectly suited for January, with its light airiness and minimal sweetness.
Good for resolution breaking, but not resolution destroying, ja feel?

It’s probably my favorite dessert.  Which is a big, big deal.
I wrote a sonnet inspired by rhubarb, which was featured in my first pavlova. (I have no words for the white balance in those photos.  Please accept my apologies.)
I had pavlova for my 18th birthday cake, a simple one-layer affair, covered in coconut/mascarpone fluff, passionfruit sauce, and tumbling raspberries.

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And now, here we are.
This pavlova focuses on tartness, allowing the meyer lemons to shine.

A supremely light meringue base, crispy and crackling on the exterior, pillowy marshmallow on the inside, is
layered with barely sweetened Greek yogurt,
thick and luscious meyer lemon curd,
fresh bites of strawberries and raspberries, and
finished with a sprinkle of earthy, grounding thyme and
tart, chewy candied meyer lemons.

My pavlova cracked, pretty badly.  I ain’t stressed about it.
See, I thought it would be genius to layer the yogurt and curd onto the layers before stacking them.
What anybody with a shred of common sense would quickly see is that the meringue was too delicate and fragile to stand up to the thick sauces and promptly crrrrrraacked.  *shit shit shit*
Oops.  It’s okay.  Pavlovas crack and crumble; it’s part of their personality, their patina.
Get over it.

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Once I was done photographing the cake, I realized how futile it would be to try to keep it on the cake pedestal.
It was already slip sliding around, as I didn’t secure it to the stand with a daub of lemon curd, as I should have.
Things were cracking, falling, toppling.
So, I plopped it into a bowl, shoved the leftover fruits on top, and called it a day.

The secret?  It tastes just as good smashed up, packed into a bowl, smashed to bits and spooned straight into your mouth as it does dressed up, stacked, and eaten from a proper plate.

And thank goodness for that.

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Meyer Lemon, Berry, Thyme, and Yogurt Pavlova
meringue base from Donna Hay
lemon curd adapted from Use Real Butter
ingredients:
for the meringue base:
4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons white vinegar

for the lemon curd:
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup meyer lemon juice
zest of 2 meyer lemons

for the candied lemons:
2 meyer lemons, sliced very thinly
2 cups sugar
2 cups water

to assemble:
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 pint strawberries, 1/2 hulled and sliced, 1/2 whole
1 cup raspberries
Fresh thyme

directions:
Make the meringue base:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Trace 2 6-inch circles (you could do 8- or 9-inch, but it won’t be as tall.) with pencil, then turn the paper over.
Begin to whip egg whites with a stand mixer.
When soft peaks are just starting to form, stream in the sugar very slowly, one tablespoon at a time, until the meringue has reached very stiff peaks.
Gently fold in the vinegar and cornstarch.
Spread the meringue out around the traced circles.
Bake for an hour and a half, then turn off the oven and allow the pavlova to cool completely inside the oven.

Make the lemon curd:
Place water and sugar in a large pot.
Bring to a boil, then whisk in cornstarch.
Bring to a boil; mixture will be very thick and gloppy.
While whisking egg yolks, take a spoonful of the cornstarch mixture and quickly combine; continue to add, by the spoonful, until about 1/3 of the hot cornstarch mixture has been added.
Whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the corn starch mixture, and return to very low heat.
Whisk in the butter, then, off the heat, carefully whisk in the lemon juice and zest.
If any lumps are present, blitz the curd in a blender until smooth.

Make the candied lemons:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice bath.
Place the very thinly sliced lemons in the boiling water and cook for 20 seconds.
Remove to the ice bath and allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, add 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water to the pot and bring to a simmer, until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the lemon slices and allow to simmer for 45 minutes, until softened and no longer bitter.

Assemble the pavlova:
Whisk the yogurt and confectioner’s sugar together.
Spread a thin layer over the first pavlova layer, then spread half of the lemon curd onto the yogurt.
Top with the sliced strawberries and a sprinkling of thyme.
Add the second meringue disk, and top with the remaining yogurt and lemon curd.
Arrange the fruit on top of the lemon curd, and sprinkle more thyme leaves over.
Serve with a spoon, in bowls.

A Wise Man Once Said

My dearest readers, I have some frightening exciting news to share with you.
For the next four months or so, I will be embarking on a foray deep into the world of modernist cuisine AKA molecular gastronomy.
 
My best description goes something like this: modernist cuisine and molecular gastronomy sit squarely, and comfortably, at the crossroads of food, science, and art.  
 
This weak explanation is strengthened by examples; the most highly sought-after and rated restaurants in the world, e.g. the late El Bulli, the Fat Duck, Alinea, wd-50, etc., are based in molecular gastronomy.  These chefs are the best in the world, and they utilize precise techniques and unique flavor pairings to create transcendental dining experiences. 
“But why,” say you? 
This is a school assignment, that’s why.
A very unorthodox school assignment.
I am a second-semester senior in WISE English, a course which allows seniors to conduct sixteen weeks of independent study and research, in a field of their choosing.
 
Obviously, I chose dessert above all else.
Thus, I find myself making spreadsheets of costs of compounds like hydroxypropyl methylcellulose and calcium lactate gluconate, poring over endless lists of strange flavor combinations, and freezing and re-freezing my ice cream maker’s bowl.
 
There are many so-called “molecular gastronomy” techniques, but modernist cuisine is not all about tricks and chemicals.  Much comes from the presentation of the food.  Not every dish has to contain manipulated foodstuffs, but every plate has to be aesthetic.
Not to mention taste good!
 
 
I’m beyond excited.  And terrified.  
 
 
I currently have around 10 pounds of food-grade chemicals being shipped to my house.  I have hemispherical molds and glucose and carbonated sugar and a .01 gram accuracy scale.  
I think I’m ready; I’ve done my best to prepare myself.
I know that not everything will go the way I want it to, or the way it’s supposed to (see: my pitiful quenelles in these pictures.  What is that strange pointy thing on the end?!?  I haven’t the faintest.)
My goal is to have created many a fanciful and delicious composed dessert: not just a slice of cake or hunk of chocolate thrown on a plate with a schmear of sauce.  I want to make high-quality restaurant desserts.
 
I want to push myself to try out as many techniques as I can: spherification, gelation, dehydration, carbonation, smoking, foams, making powders, etc. etc.
Sixteen weeks isn’t as much time as one would think; I’ll have to work quickly and in a timely manner.
 
So what does this mean for La Pêche Fraîche?  Why am I even telling you this?
Because once a week, I will be sharing my thoughts, failures, and endeavors on this here blog, using it as part of my project journal.
This is not to say that my regular sweets won’t stick around; I’ll still post cookies and cakes and more pedestrian fare, but don’t be shocked when you click through and see something that doesn’t even look like food.
Whatever panic you might feel at that moment, rest assured that I’m feeling 10 times more.
 
I’m so glad to be sharing this with y’all.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  
Without any further ado, here’s my first shot at a composed dessert.
 
“Carly Simon”
espresso, chocolate, meyer lemon
(components, from base layer upwards)
bittersweet chocolate ganache
meyer lemon curd
firm chocolate and coffee grind “ganache” cubes
dark chocolate butter cookies
crumbled meyer lemon meringues
espresso ice cream with whipped cream “clouds” frozen in
fried meyer lemon zest
mocha dust
 
In the future, recipes will accompany.  Right now, I’m just about ready to close this introductory post up, and that is just what I shall do.