Sunday, March 20, 2011

Faking It

Snake Cake
I have never favored, much less approved of, anything fake. I don't like artificial flavors, food colorings, and I have no use for fake meats. I also have not really liked food made to look like something it isn't. To me, food is glorious the way it is; why would I want to alter it? On the contrary, I prefer to bring out the inherent qualities of a food without hiding it, or disguising it as something else. I promise I will go on to flog the imitation meat issue in a future post, but right now I just want to lay out a few exceptions to my own rule--because they're fun.

Hazelnut meringue roll, filled with chocolate mousse.
Attaching the scales to the mousse using a propane torch
The star exception, which I passionately accept, is the chocolate truffle--because it's one of my absolute favorite creations, and probably also because I knew the food long before I knew what it was copying. Today, the word "truffle" is used to describe tortes, cakes and even ice creams, but these are misappropriations. A truffle is a type of fungus (as in mushroom), and the specific type we're talking about is the P√©rigord black truffle, which grows under the ground, adjacent to oak trees. When you make a rough ball of chocolate ganache and roll it in cocoa powder, it bears a striking resemblance to a dirt-covered, freshly dug black truffle. Hence the name. It doesn't describe the heavenly filling, but rather the dirty-looking exterior. So much for truffle tortes, and all that 

inaccurate silliness.

I also have indulged children on occasion, making their birthday cake look like a planet, with space ships hovering above (for my son), or  a snake in the grass (for a client's child), among many examples. Children are to be indulged, in my opinion--they will get programmed to be dull, cooperative, largely unimaginative and uncreative soon enough--no need to rush it.

Part of the reason I don't mind being whimsical with desserts, I think, is that I never considered them a bona fide food in the first place; they are a drug, consumed purely for entertainment. Desserts are supposed to be fun--that's pretty much all they're good for, especially if they're made with a ton of sugar, butter, cream, white flour, and other health atrocities.

Dice cake, with gold leaf and raspberries
These days, I try to make even the sweets at the end of a meal healthful, keeping sugar to a minimum, using the least toxic sweeteners, avoiding refined flour, and concentrating on fruits. But I have to admit, as intolerant as I am of fake stuff, I do like to surprise people with an unusual presentation. Messing with people's heads is a childhood pastime I never quite grew out of.

By the way, the "dice cake" wasn't my idea--a guy I worked for in the '80s was trying to impress some Vegas high-roller, and thought the "snake eyes" on top was sooo clever. Oy.

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