Two Failures Lead to Bavarian Success

This is the story of how two failures - hickory brittle and homemade ladyfingers - led to a very successful Bavarian cream. I have never made any of these things before, and so I wasn't too scared of failure, in fact I was certain to fail at some of it... the challenge was how I would deal with the failures.

First, the brittle.

For Christmas this year I decided to make some Wisconsin hickory nut brittle. This fall I fell in love with the local hickory nuts from Juneau Wisconsin. A very cute older couple sells them at the farmer's market here in Madison. They're not cheap, but man are they good..... a wonderful treat. Ray and his wife stopped coming to market after Thanksgiving, so I mail ordered two pounds of hickories. I decided to make the brittle in two batches - the first to send to family out of town, and the second batch I would make later to give to in-town family on Christmas proper.

This is the first batch. I wanted to make it as local as possible and I wasn't keen on the idea of using corn syrup, so I looked for a recipe that called for maple syrup as part of the sweetening. Here's the recipe I used (kind of). Instead of peanuts I used the hickory nuts, and instead of bourbon I used Yahara Bay Distillery Apple Brandy (made with 100% Wisconsin grown honeycrisp apples!) I liked the tree theme - apple, hickory, and maple would all be represented.

Before starting the recipe I roasted the hickory nuts with a little local sunflower oil and salt. The roasted salted nuts were a delicious treat all by themselves!

Here's the brandy. Like the nuts it's not cheap, but well worth it for an occasional treat. It's got a wonderful apple flavor. I'm not one to drink a lot of hard alcohol, but I couldn't help pouring myself just a nip as I started work on the brittle.

Sugar, maple syrup, and brandy in a saucepan. Heat it without stirring over medium heat to the "hard-crack" stage (290 degrees.)

At a little under 100 degrees the alcohol started evaporating. It made really little bubbles and lots of steam. It was incredible to inhale the fumes at this stage, I think you could have gotten drunk just from the vapor!

It slowly climbed to 290, stopping along the way to evaporate all the water out. It was really interesting to see and smell the different stages as it heated. It was like chemistry class!

When it was finally the right temperature I took it off the head and added the nuts, vanilla, baking soda, and salt as quickly as I could. The baking soda made it foam up in a violent manner.

The hot mixture then supposedly gets smoothed out onto a warm pan. Here's where things got a little messy.

Instead of smoothing out nicely like it's supposed to, the sugar mixture started to crystallize as I was spooning it out. Oh no! This was not brittle! I think it was too cool by the time it got to the pan. When it cooled I ended up with about half of the "brittle" in a good clump that I could break up and the rest was more like brittle dust. On the up side, it was frickin' delicious. If it tastes good, it can't be a complete failure, right? I changed it's name to Three Tree Crunch, and sent the best of it away to the out of town relatives and kept the "dust" for later use.

OK- fail number two - homemade ladyfingers.

Dave graduated with his master's in engineering this weekend, so we threw him a little party at our mom's house. For dessert he requested Bavarian Cream, which at the time I had never even heard of. Upon further research I discovered that it's a concoction of eggs, milk, cream, sugar, and a little gelatin. I have plenty of fresh eggs from the chickens, so it seemed a feasible dish to prepare. Plus, Julia Child has a whole chapter on Bavarian Cream in her cookbook From Julia Child's Kitchen. If Julia was going to help me, I couldn't go wrong!

After some research I decided to make a drunken Bavarian cream in a mold. To do this, you mold the Bavarian cream in a cake mold and layer it with ladyfingers that have been soaked in alcohol. I decided to try my hand at making my own ladyfingers and since I still had some of the apple brandy from the brittle episode, I decided that would be the perfect liquor to use.

The ladyfingers started with these three pretty eggs from the chickens.

Two yolks and one whole egg.

Whip them up....

Whip up the two whites separately. This is where I went wrong I think. I discovered that my electric mixer wasn't working, so I had to do it by hand. I got a little lazy and didn't whip them till they were totally stiff.

The whites got folded in with the yolks, along with a little sifted flour and powdered sugar.

I knew something was wrong when I put the batter in a pastry bag, and tried to pipe it out. This is what I ended up with - a runny mess.

They didn't rise at all, and looked pretty sad when they were done. I was planning to soak them in brandy anyhow, so I didn't stress too much. I went ahead and started on the Bavarian cream.

Step one was to soak two packets of gelatin in milk to soften. It reminded me of the mold on top of my sauerkraut, or maybe brains....

Eight more fresh chicken eggs. I love keeping chickens!

The yolks got separated.

Here is the yolks whipped up with sugar. Mmmm... This got mixed gradually with hot milk and heated slowly to form a custard. Julia warns of the possibility of heating the yolks too fast and scrambling them. I managed to do it perfectly without a hint of scramble. After it attained custard-hood I mixed in vanilla and the softened gelatin.

I was determined to get these whites right. I whipped them for what seemed like forever with a tiny bit of cream of tartar and salt. My wrist was aching by the time I was done, but I was certain that I had attained the "stiff shinning peaks" that Julia calls for.

The next few steps happened too quickly to get pictures. I folded the yolks and whites together, whipped some heavy cream (more wrist pain) and folded that in.

Next I turned to my ladyfingers to soak them briefly in brandy before assembling everything. To my horror, I discovered that they were completely stuck to the wax paper. It was impossible to peel them off. Time was of the essence, so I tried to think like Julia - WWJD? She would make the best of the situation and persevere with a delicious dish. With a paring knife I scraped what I could off the wax paper, added the brittle dust that I had sitting nearby, doused it all in brandy, and assembled the dessert.

Half of the cream mixture in a wet cake mold, then the brandy mixture, and then the rest of the egg mixture.

Here is it after chilling overnight. The gelatin had congealed and it was a solid mass.

I dunked the mold in hot water briefly and then turned it upside down, hoping for the best. It worked! The brandy got a little messy, and the ladyfinger/brittle had sunk to the bottom a little, but I was planning to garnish it anyway so looks didn't matter at this point.

For garnish I used hickory nuts (leftover from the brittle) and some canned Door County cherries that had been sitting around since my trip there this spring.

Beautiful! It was powerfully alcoholic, but that didn't phase anyone (at least anyone over 21). The cream was really light and airy, and was perfectly complemented by the cherries, nuts, and brandy. Success!

I'm including the recipe for the "brittle" below. If anyone wants the bavarian cream recipe and doesn't have the book In Julia Child's Kitchen, let me know, I'll send it to you. Bon Appetite!

Three Tree Crunch (don't call it brittle and no one will ever know!)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup apple brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup roasted salted hickory nuts

Heat a pan covered with wax paper in a 250 degree oven. Combind the sugar, maple syrup, and brandy. Stir to combine. Heat over medium heat without stirring until the mixture reaches 290 degrees F. This might take a while. When the mixture is heated, turn flame to low and mix in the vanilla, baking soda, salt, and nuts. Quickly spoon the mixture onto the warm pan and smooth it out with a oiled wooden spoon. Make it as thin as possible. Do it quick! I think part of my problem was that things got too cool before I got it on the pan. Cool. When it's hard, break it into chunks.
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