Darkness! Black Forest Dacquoise

Darkness: the 9th plague on Egypt and the final plague I'll do here. Darkness is the most intriguing plague to me. While the others are visible and tangible, running from irritating to fatal, darkness is abstract. However, Exodus describes it as a "darkness that can be felt." After logging so many hours in the pitch-black closet of the color darkroom, "feeling" darkness makes perfect sense to me. While I've grown fond of spending entire days swathed in darkness and the way it quiets my mind while I fall into the rhythm of making a photograph, I completely understand the terror it can provoke. Your brain starts to do funny things: you lose perception of time and space, you can't tell if your eyes are open, you see what isn't there. In fact your senses get switched up, your ears become fierce and your fingers grow eyeballs. It hugs you, it crushes you. Sometimes it feels like you're being watched, sometimes panic arises suddenly.
I've seen this watching some of my students go from the already disorienting B&W darkroom, protected by a dim red light, into the completely dark film loading rooms for the first time. All of the sudden you cannot control your fingers, simple tasks become impossible (The trick is to take deep breaths). Occasionally, I'd have to go in to rescue someone and I would take the developing reel from trembling hands. Sometimes just having someone standing nearby is enough to ease the pressure of the dark. The darkroom is comforting to me now, but I've had my share of cold-sweat moments. Besides being black and blue from misjudging distance, I've accidentally discovered that I'd flooded the floor or cut myself and then turned the light on to find more blood splattered than expected. The thing with the darkroom is that if the dread becomes unbearable, you can shove your work into the safe-box and hit the light switch. Not the case with alleys and empty parking lots, power outages and spaces filled with coyote howls .

I could have done a flourless mocha cake, chocolate fudge, or pudding for this plague, but to me darkness is not so much dense and rich as it is layered and smothering. Chocolate seemed an obvious choice for darkness, as did something with a dark name. So I riffed off of the flavors of Black Forest Cake (like my favorite Cherry Garcia!): dark chocolate(dark) and cherries (also dark) and Kirsch (clear, but powerful). To circumvent using flour, I made a dacquoise , which is a layered meringue, usually with nuts, filled with whipped cream or buttercream and fruit. I went to the Black Forest 26 years ago (I hear I was much cuter back then) and remember nothing other than thinking that the name sounded like the setting of the shadowy part of a fairy tale. Actually that memory itself is pretty murky.

Black Forest Dacquoise

Meringue Layers:
  • 4 egg whites (separate cold, warm to room temp.)
  • pinch of salt
  • 10-11 T sugar, divided
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar (or food-processed granulated sugar)
  • 1/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 6oz bittersweet chocolate for melting

Cherry Filling:
  • 2 lbs canned, frozen or jarred pitted sour (or not too sweet) cherries, 1/2 C juice reserved. (Trader Joe's carries jarred Dark Morello Cherries from Germany that are quite gorgeous)
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 4 T cornstarch/potato starch
  • dash of lemon juice (optional)
  • 2-4 T Kirsch

Kirsch Whipped Cream:
  • 2 C whipping cream
  • 4 T powdered or granulated sugar
  • drop of vanilla
  • 2-4 T Kirsch

For the meringue:
Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and preheat to 300°F. On 2 pieces of parchment paper, draw three (two on one piece of parchment and one on the other) rectangles (6x8"), squares (7x7") or circles (8"). Flip the papers over so you can see the markings through them. Place them onto two cookie sheets.
Sift the powdered sugar, 3 T granulated sugar, and cocoa powder into a small bowl. In a large, clean, metal bowl, beat egg whites and salt until foamy. Add the remaining 6 1/2 T sugar, one T at a time until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Gently fold in the cocoa mixture. Spread the meringue evenly into your 3 shapes. Bake about 1-2 hours or until dry. I'd let 'em cool in the turned-off oven for awhile.
Melt the chocolate and drizzle/spread over the cooled meringues. Let harden.

For the Cherry Filling:
Combine 1/2 C reserved juice, lemon juice, sugar and corn/potato starch in a saucepan over moderately low heat. Stir until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the cherries and Kirsch. Chill in the fridge. Can be made a day before and kept in the fridge.
Kirsch Whipped Cream and Assembly:

When ready to assemble, beat the cold cream until a little foamy, add in the sugar to taste, vanilla and Kirsch. Whip till stiff.
Place one meringue layer on a serving plate, gently top with 1/3 of the whipped cream, then with 1/2 the cherry filling. Repeat with the next layer. Top with the third layer and whipped cream. You can shave some chocolate or drizzle a few cherries on top for looks, too.

Locusts! Mini Frozen Grasshopper Pies

Around my Sea-Of-Red Lettuce and arugula bed is a fearsomely sharp barricade of wooden kabob skewers to deter a certain four-legged creature from demolishing my pint-sized garden. (This certain quadruped spends 95% of her time in bed and 5% wreaking havoc. It's the sweet life.) My greens have fared pretty well, but the Gerber daisy I got for Valentine's day has not been so lucky. I'd been happy to be given a potted plant, since, to me, the imminent wilting of a bouquet taints any romance with foreboding. After surviving a hasty transplanting and a couple of storms, I found it riddled with insect holes. Besides being a little upset by the symbolism, I was not devastated from losing one daisy. For every thing, there is a season, I guess. I started drifting down memory lane, reminiscing about the plants I've lost and the ones that hurt the most. Certainly, the more I had been looking forward to the fruit--the two or three cucumbers a potted patio plant can bear--the more crushed I was. Shaking the dirt off the roots of the droopy green lace that was once my daisy, I caught myself fantasizing about what it would be like to have the acreage to grow a garden that, when ravished by bugs, would be heartbreaking.

Locusts, the 8th plague on Egypt, descended as a cloud and devoured what was left (after the previous 7 plagues) of any living plant before you could even see what was happening. Certainly a terrifying image--and one that is still relevant, as foreign pests can wreck a crop. Little things, en masse, do some serious damage.
Little grasshopper pies hopefully do less damage. A Southern dessert via a cocktail, popular in the 1950s-60s, Grasshopper Pie is traditionally a chiffon pie flavored with crème de menthe and set in a chocolate crumb crust. Probably a more apt coda to chicken and dumplings than matzo ball soup. Oh well.
Chiffon pies generally use gelatin or cornstarch, both of which I avoided by making a custard ice-cream. I replaced the cookie crust with a kosher -for-passover shell adapted Fannie Farmer's very old recipe "chocolate coconut crust for frozen desserts" adding ground nuts to the coconut.
I went a little overboard on the crème de menthe, which I don't recommend doing because each tablespoon lowers the freezing point of the ice cream. Keep in mind that mint leaves may vary in strength so I do recommend tasting a little of the mixture as you add the liqueur so that you don't cross the threshold into Aquafresh.

Mini Frozen Grasshopper Pies
Grasshopper Ice Cream
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/2 C sugar, divided
  • 2 C cream
  • 4-5 egg yolks (apparently counting is not my strength)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 C packed fresh mint leaves
  • 3-6 T crème de menthe (I added a little choco-mint schnapps)
Chocolate Crust
  • 1 C angel flake coconut
  • 3/4 c blanched almonds toasted
  • 2 T matzo cake meal or flour
  • 1 C powdered sugar (or granulated sugar that's been pulsed in the food processor)
  • 3 T hot water
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • melted chocolate for drizzling
For the ice cream:
Place the mint leaves in a large bowl or jug. Whisk the yolks and half the sugar in a bowl. Heat the milk and other half of sugar in a heavy pot until almost boiling and sugar is dissolved. In a slow, steady, stream, pour the milk into the eggs, whisking continuously. Pour back into the pot and cook over moderately low heat, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 170 ° or coats the back a spoon. Pour the hot mixture over the mint leaves. Press a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap over the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool to room temperature then chill in the fridge. Once cold, strain though a fine sieve. Stir in cream and salt. Slowly add the crème de menthe one tablespoon at a time, until desired mintiness. Transfer to an ice cream maker or still freeze. Place in a container and finish freezing in the freezer.

For the crusts:
Grind the nuts in a food processor until about the size of cookie crumbs. If your coconut has large flakes, process it too. Add the matzo cake meal, salt, and coconut (if you haven't yet) to the nuts and pulse a few times to mix. In another bowl, whisk the sugar with the water. Melt the chocolate and butter together, then add to the sugar-water. Stir in the nut mixture. Press into greased mini-mufffin tins (or regular muffin tins, or pie plate). Chill in the freezer for a couple hours.

To assemble:
If you want, remove the crusts from the tin by running a knife dipped in hot water around the sides of each crust. Spoon some ice cream into each crust and top with melted or shaved chocolate. You can re-freeze them or serve right away.

Dyed Eggs, Huevos Haminados II

Here are some pictures of the onion-skin eggs we made for the Passover seder. They came out so pretty I thought I'd share. I created the pattern by pressing a leaf (cilantro, greens) against the egg and tying the egg in a nylon stocking before slow-cooking them in onion skins (the recipe for Huevos Haminados is here). The stocking made an interesting pattern, too.