7. Pretty As A Picture (March 25 - April 7) If you’re a fan of cooking competition shows (like I am!), you know how the saying goes: we eat first with our eyes. Make a dish that looks just as spectacular as it tastes. Extra points for historically accurate plating - and don’t forget to post pictures!
If the fellow foodies will remember, I've set an additional challenge to interpret dishes that are listed as served at the 80th Anniversary Dinner of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. This dinner included the ultimate culinary art, the Pièces Montées. Pièces Montées are centerpieces made of confectionery bits like nougat, marzipan, fondant, and spun sugar. The most famous creator of pièces montées of the mid 19th century was Antoine Careme, so we turn to a translation of Chef Careme's work for making a showpiece to honor a few of the brave Irish-Americans.
From: The Royal Parisian Pastrycook and Confectioner from the Original of M. A. Careme by M.A. Careme compiled by F.J. Mason, 1834
Sect. XI. (11)—Pate D'Office (confectioners' Paste.) (pages 24)
Take one pound and a half of sifted flour, make a hole in the centre as usual, and put therein two eggs, three yolks, a pound of pounded sugar, and a pinch of salt; stir this for two minutes only, in order that the sugar may be a little melted: add afterwards the flour and another yolk if necessary, so that it may be of the same thickness as paste for making hot and cold pies. Then give it five or six turns by working it well with your wrists (as mentioned before) which will render it particularly sleek and binding, otherwise you must add another yolk or the white of an egg to it. Next cut the paste in pieces, which mould and afterwards roll out to the thickness of one-sixth of an inch, if intended for the groundwork of a large piece montee (mounted piece). Then put the paste on a plate lightly buttered, and press it slightly with the ends of your fingers, in order to expel the air, which sometimes lodges between it and the surface of the plate; for if it be put in the oven without this precaution the heat will cause it to blister, which not only disfigures it, but also reduces its strength very much. After placing your paste on the plate as above stated, cut it with the point of your knife into a round, square, or oval form, according to your fancy. You then egg the top lightly (but by no means the edges), and prick it here and there with the point of the knife, to facilitate the evaporation of the air; after which put it in a moderate oven. If, notwithstanding the precautions you have taken, it should blister (which will sometimes happen), pass the blade of a large knife underneath, and if f it be baked enough so as to be raised, turn it upside down and leave it some time longer, so that it may be lightly coloured on both sides. In taking it out of the oven place it on the straightest part of your working board, and put a baking-plate or a large board on the top of it. When it is cold, remove the plate or board, and you will find your paste very straight, and perfectly smooth on both sides. This paste will also succeed very well by using only twelve ounces of sugar instead of a pound.
The columns which best suit pieces montees are the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. The height of the first should be six or eight times their diameter; that of the second, nine; and that of the third, ten times; and the distance between the columns, in large pieces, should be two inches and a half. The Gothic order also, on account of its lightness, may be used with advantage.
The straight upright pieces, termed montans, used in the construction of pieces montees, are made of confectioner's paste (see page 24), rolled up three-quarters of an inch in thickness, and their length proportioned to the size of the piece montee to which they belong.
The puff-paste used for making the small ornaments—such as rings, half-moons, &c. &c.—should have twelve turns, and be full one-twelfth of an inch in thickness, and be covered with pounded sugar and put into a moderate oven. As soon as their surfaces are very white and they are firm to the touch take them out.
Lastly, the moss, which is used in ornamenting ruins, rocks, &c. &c., is made of a softish mixture of light and dark green almond and confectioner's paste (in equal quantities), then rubbed with a spatula through a rather coarse horse-hair sieve, and formed into a very firm kind of vermicelli, which, after being divided into small parcels, must be dried on a stove. Almond paste alone would make the moss too brittle; and as regards the colour, a red or yellow may be as easily used.
The Date/Year and Region:
1834-1870, United States
How Did You Make It:
I first needed to choose an image and plan carefully the pieces to make it up. Since several directions for military hats and helmets were included, I tried the McDowell Cap of the 28th Mass.
For the ground and the cap itself, I used Confectioner's Paste.
So, that's mix sugar, eggs, and egg yolks together. Form a hole in the flour and fill with the egg and sugar mix. Work the flour and mix together.
What I got was very crumbly and wouldn't stick together, so I added egg whites as a bonding agent.
Then I formed the pieces of the cap around a glass tumbler to bake.
I mixed the food coloring, of which I cheated utterly and used modern gel.
Meanwhile, I worked marzipan for the details like the brass numbers, buttons, and the notorious boxwood sprig.
Time to Complete:
Worth every moment and I could have used more. :-p
Maybe $10.00. The almond meal for the marzipan was the most expensive part, followed by the food coloring.
How Successful Was It:
I remarked to a friend earlier that this endeavor would likely come out looking like a 3rd grader's STEM fair project. Umm... Yeah... not far off.
I need some major work on smoothing the paste out. Were I to do this again, I would try frosting the paste with a sugar paste (like fondant) for a smoother finish.
How Accurate Was It:
I gave a definite effort towards following the instructions faithfully, with modern equipment. As noted already, I used modern food coloring.