Sunday, April 06, 2008

Operation Leftover Easter Stuff: Reconstructed Deconstructed Lemon Meringue Cream Tart, and 2 Samuel 1 - 4

Lemon Cream Tart with Meringue-ish Top
Leftover flour, butter, eggs, lemon and cocoa powder from Easter = Reconstructed Deconstructed Lemon Meringue-ish Cream Tart

Lemon Cream Tart
Ugly tart shell was made from on-offer Digestive biscuits crushed with 55% Equatoriale dark Valrhona cocoa powder. (The kitchen being pestle-challenged, the butt-end of a vodka bottle had to be put to work for the crush-fest.) Wanted the chunky crunchy texture of a deconstructed tart shell for a more interesting mouthfeel than Mr. Crushed-Like-Fine-Breadcrumbs and Boring. Also wanted a bootylicious bitter chocolate biscuit partner that'd walk beside the lemon cream, not one of those sweet pastry shells two mincing steps behind with its head lowered.

The principle behind the lemon cream, ie. adding the butter only at the end, came from Pierre Hermé[1]. Unfortunately, being also extremely challenged in the weighing-machine and measuring-cup departments, I probably ended up in some distant grove from Monsieur Pierre's lemon heaven. Nevertheless, this lemon cream was sublimely smooth and lip-smackingly rich, yet light enough for the afternoon heat. And as a plus, it engendered no Proustian link to washing-up liquid, viz Mama Lemon.

To top it off, a snowy cumulus cloud of meringue. Wanted something much less dense than the normal meringue usually scraped off a LMT. Envisioned a progression/procession of taste and texture: a thin covering of sticky sweetness perched atop an ethereal cloud that would collapse in the mouth into tangy citron cream, all undergrid by a crumbly bitter chocolate biscuit base; sort of like a culinary interpretation of the cross-section of our atmosphere et earth.

A whole lot of fun.

Those with more experience in these endeavours may scoff, but to strangers to the kitchen like me (this being the my maiden manufacture of the constituents of la tarte au citron meringuée), even the thickening of the lemon cream and the stiffening of the meringue were things of wonder akin to standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon and surveying its vast magnificence.

I was amazed that the scent of lemons resided in their zest (had to google "zest" to see what it meant because, as it was pointed out later, I had been deprived of the benefits of a cable TV education - surely the newest frontier in class discrimination).
Egg White Just Out of Its Shell + a whipping = Egg White After Being Whipped
I was agog to observe a puny egg white slowly transform into white peaks several times its original volume and stiff enough to withstand being squished and piped through a bag (and also to clog up the kitchen sink) through mere elbow grease.

Well blowtorch me over but God, your world is awesomely wonderful and yummy indeed.

Neil Gaiman's "Season of Mists" - sovereignty of Hell finally settled
In Neil Gaiman's Sandman: Season of Mists, Lucifer closes down Hell and gives Morpheus the keys. Morpheus is promptly beset by a beauty parade of gods from the pantheon of human imagination all wanting that choice bit of real estate[2]. The gods dreamed up by humans are a motley crew, yet it is easy to see how each of them could have been conceived by the homo sapien mind. As we work through the book of 2 Samuel though, it becomes increasingly clear that the God of the Bible cannot have been dreamed up by insecure persons as a handy psychological crutch.

2 Samuel 1 starts with a dusty Amalekite bounding up to David with what he supposes is good news for David: Saul, the until-recently-incumbent king is dead - I mercy-killed him with my own hand. What's more, I stripped the corpse of his symbols of office and brought you the royal bling (the crown and the armlet, *nod nod wink wink*) for your use.

Instead of rewarding the little liar (see 1 Samuel 31 for what really happened to Saul), David has him executed. It is difficult to understand why. David had been anointed as king a long time ago when he was just a wee lad (1 Samuel 16:1-13) and God had already rejected Saul as king. We would expect God to have instructed David to toss Saul out of the way. Instead, even when Saul set out to kill David, the narrator notes approvingly that David resisted the temptation to return the favour even though he could have invoked a plea of self-defence and even in circumstances could very well have been interpreted as the Lord obviously giving Saul into David's hand (eg. in the cave in 1 Samuel 24 and by Saul's bed in 1 Samuel 26). David's reason for refusing to kill Saul in both instances and his execution of the Amalekite is the same: a healthy appreciation of God's sovereignty and a healthy fear of his judgement - Saul was and still continued to be God's chosen king. It was for God to deal with him as He pleased. No mere man would be able to destroy God's anointed and hope himself to live.

The amount of detail interfering with the rags to riches story of David's rise to kingship not only suggests that 2 Samuel is a true account of history but also that David isn't really the main character in the narrative. The distinct lack of inherent charisma in David would give his fan club very little to go on. (Still, they appear to have managed to wring something out.) David is neither touted as manly nor decisive. My DG girls tsk-ed at David's constant consultation of God in 2 Samuel 2 - didn't David have a backbone? Didn't David have his own brain? As un-macho as being the proud owner of a Hello Kitty pencilcase. To save the day, a marketing department would have spun David's dependence on God into a model of wonderous piety, to be forever pictured on his knees, his heavenward-gaze illuminated by a single shaft of sunlight in a darkened room. But the matter-of-fact text is bereft of superlatives.

Then in 2 Samuel 4, an unfortunate repetition of events. Rechab and Baanah mercenarily attempt to gain favour with David by off-ing Ishbosheth, the pretender to David's throne. They present David with his head as dogs might present their masters with a dead rat, expecting praise and a pat on their own heads. What's more, they invoke God's name, claiming to have been agents of his vengence (2 Samuel 4:8).

David might have sighed when he said:
when one told me, 'Behold, Saul is dead,' and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?"
And David had the mercenaries executed and their limbless bodies hung on public display by the pool where people would come to draw water every day. One would expect this sort of thing as perhaps a warning against usurpers or a Achilles-Hector type gory trophy of victory over enemies. Scarcely the thing to do to allies unless your goal was not your own position of power but God's justice.

There is much personal glory in courageous and creative jihads and satisfying piety in finding enlightenment in the om of nothingness. But if this strange dearth of inspirational self-improvement tips suggests the authenticity of the account, then the God we are dealing with isn't just a Mother Nature-style creator who makes pretty and sometimes edible things but also a divine being much concerned with his creatures living their individual lives according to his rule.

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[1] If he were dead, he would be turning in his grave. But he is not, for there are reports that he is wandering around somewhere in Singapore for the World Gourmet Summit.

[2] The issue was finally settled by the Creator, who having created everything, also created Hell and the realm of which it is a shadow.
Neil Gaiman's "Season of Mists" - Creator created Hell therefore has sovereignty over it

PS: For people actually in possession of weighing machines and measuring cups, here's a reproduction of Pierre Hermé's lemon cream recipe as recorded in English by Dorie Greenspan in Baking - From My Home To Yours and promulgated by Global Gourmet:
1 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons (10-1/2 ounces)
unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size
pieces, at room temperature

Getting Ready: Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan, and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk—you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling—you'll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point—the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience—depending on how much heat you're giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going—to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days and, or tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)
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