The other week, I made a fancy cake for a writing friend. Barbara Joosse was turning 70, and we were spending part of her birthday at her sunny kitchen table, which is made of gorgeous live-edge wood, putting the finishing touches on our screenplay. (The screenplay, by the way, is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever written, and based on a true story/true events!)
But Barb should also have a cake to celebrate, and so the night before I made a gateau moelleux au chocolat. My biggest helper was my youngest (Jack, who is 4) and with a little help from my middle daughter (Hannah, who is 6), while being serenaded on the upright double bass by my oldest (Will, who’s 8), we tried it out.
I’d just refurbished some additional pieces of old copper cookware from ebay, and for the first time, I was able to make a fancy French dessert using nothing but copper pots, pans, and bowls.
It was heavenly.
It was eye-opening.
I’d never been able to do it with so many efficient kitchen tools, which all allowed for exact temperature control. The gateau was something I’d never made, and it required about 4 different, separate set-ups over heat. One was combining the butter, eggs, and sugar. Another pot had to deal with other eggs and chocolate. Still more bowls needed to sift dry ingredients together. It went on and on. I used over five copper pots to do it properly, while the kids all took turns mixing and stirring, and watching the chocolate so it wouldn’t burn (it didn’t) or the eggs so they wouldn’t cook (they didn’t either). Everything was exactly right.
It turned out delicious. Barb had a cake. And it made me realize just how wonderful food can turn out when it’s cooked in the right tool.
Here are my top five things that always seem to turn out just right when cooked in copper. A huge part of that is the precision of heat, and how quickly the food stops cooking when you shut off the flame.
- Any sauces! Tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, hollandaise, and red wine reduction. A demi-glace, a mushroom-heavy ragout, and even cheese-based ones. They never over-cook and you can really watch your temps so they have the perfect consistency.
- A roux. I suck at them, always have, but they seem to come out better in copper. I don’t know if that’s been luck of late, or if it’s the copper. I’m putting money on the copper.
- Soup stock. It has to do with the quick chilling capabilities of copper afterwards.
- Chocolate ANYthing. You know how when a recipe calls for a double boiler? I don’t own one, and that has been okay because I just put it all in the tin-lined copper and keep the fire on super low. I’ve yet to burn chocolate this way due to the delicacy of the conductivity of the copper.
- Vegetables. Yes, I know, you can steam ‘em, but I actually like them a little crispy and fresh tasting, and sautéing them lightly with water and oil or butter in a copper skillet will make vegetables bright, and hot, but without blanching them an inch from mush. Plus, it’s quick. ☺