Crazy New Year

"We have to get on, we have to get on! We have so much time and so little to do! Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. This way, please!"
-Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

And so describes my Crazy New Year. I am so sorry I've left you all for so long! I had no intention of doing so, really. But a long, relaxing Christmas vacation in Illinois lead right into a memorable New Year's celebration, then it was all zipping back to San Francisco to shoot new episodes of Budget Travel Minute and then re-packing like mad, leaving the very next day to head back down to Los Angeles to work a couple weeks on another TV job. And then finally heading back up to San Francisco where I am now cozy and home and celebrating the first sunny day in a week by sitting indoors and updating you, and I think that's just grand. In all honesty, I could've gotten back in touch with you last week, but the rain, people! It was the kind of rain that makes you grateful for having canned goods in the house, because Lord knows you ain't goin' out there. And I took a nice mental break as well. Hooray! I have at least four half-baked (no pun intended) posts sitting in my little Blogger account that might eventually make their way online, but maybe not. It is a new year, after all.

But there is one storied recipe from the pre-2008 days that I just have to share with you. My brilliant, beautiful little sister gave me one of my very favorite Christmas gifts this year, in the form of the phenomenal cookbook from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, which just happens to be a healthy, guilt-reducing walk from our new home. The photos transport you into some other world, where everything is glossy but real and just sweet enough. You want to eat the pages. I heard Nora Ephron on LRK's show talking about how this is one of her favorite cookbooks but it's the kind of cookbook where you just stare at the pictures and recipes but they're all too complicated and time-consuming for the home baker to actually make. Well, Ms. Ephron, you haven't met me. I live for complicated and time-consuming. In fact, if the recipe requires a trip to some exotic specialty store, even better.

Now, granted, sometimes I just want to bake something simple and familiar and get on with it. No one will ever scoff at a great chocolate chip cookie. But other times a Three Day Cake project thrills me in a way that cannot possibly be expressed. I see the dramatic photo, read the columns and columns of ingredients and instructions that require flipping back and forth to multiple parts of the book (and, quite frankly, could probably use a flow chart or two to better illustrate them) and I get giddy. And that's what happened when I opened Tartine and fell in love with the Lemon Meringue Cake. Three days before my family (in quivering suspense by this time, I might add) got to taste it and fall in love with it too. It's really something.

The Lemon Meringue Cake is, according to the book, one of Tartine's very best sellers. Which is saying a lot considering the vast array of amazing things this place serves up. It's a real beauty, with swirls of toasted meringue taking the place of a buttercream frosting, coating layers of tender chiffon cake, cheerful lemon pastry cream and buttery caramel that might seem like a bit too much on paper, but the caramel is subtle, not goopy, and actually cuts through the tartness of the pastry cream in a way that just leaves you going, "ooh, what is that?". Even though it does take some doing to put this cake together, breaking it down into individual tasks--even over a few days--when you have time to make each element, really makes it doable. It's definitely a special occasion dessert, and when I served it at a family dinner a couple days after Christmas, with its elegant look and dance-in-the-mouth flavor, my Gramma said it could be a really spectacular wedding cake. If you do decide to spread out the work of this cake over a couple of days, maybe even build one more day into the equation after browning the meringue, before serving; the flavors meld together even more beautifully.

Now would normally be the time when I would painstakingly write out the aforementioned columns of ingredients and instructions with which to make this amazing cake. But this time, I'm going to encourage you to go out and get the Tartine cookbook. The whole book reads almost like a great novel, and it would be crazy to just pull one recipe from it and put it out there. Do this cake justice by buying the amazing cookbook from which the recipe comes and supporting the incredibly talented folks who dreamt up this confection. Plus, I would get arthritis typing out the entire recipe. And now that I'm finally back in the blogosphere, that would be terrible! Thanks for understanding. Now get thee to Amazon!

Here's to lots of great recipes in 2008...see you again soon, I promise.

Life StoriesShauna Sever