I learned three things from this week’s baking endeavor:
- I really need to learn more about baking ratios so I stop making enough food for four people.
- Every time I fall in love with a French author, I’m either coming out of, going into, or in the middle of some major life depression (except for number two on the list below. Was pretty okay when I read number two).
- Kamikazes are a hell of a drink.
My classy friend Jane (the two of us pictured below on my birthday this year) challenged me to make a baked good inspired by clafoutis, which is a French dessert made with milk and sugar and black cherries. Jane is much classier than me. Jane plans fancy weddings and wears nice clothes and understands how to make life pretty and probably never eats peanut butter with a plastic fork straight out of the jar while wearing nothing but pink underwear and an oversized t-shirt emblazoned with a cartoon pig icon surrounded by crudely drawn flowers with the words “Peace, Love, Pigs” circling all these images.
Anyway, here is the video, if you prefer that. Recipe and list below.
Part 1: Baking
Clafoutis is a light, cake-like dessert popular in France. It’s usually made with black cherries, which I understand gives it a somewhat mild flavor (I’ve never tried myself). Also, the black cherries have a kind of almond-y undertone. Keeping this in mind, I tried to assemble a pie recipe. I made a basic pie crust using traditional ratios and tried to create a clafoutis-flavored custard filling, using a cheesecake recipe I love as a guide.
Basic Pie Crust (you can probably find a similar recipe, like, anywhere online – they’re all basically the same)
1 Stick Butter
1.5 Cup Flour
1/4 Cup Ice Water
Sugar and Salt to taste
Don’t mix it all together. Apparently, it turned out okay anyway, but please. There’s a whole process. Google it. I didn’t.
Now, the pie crust! OKAY, SO! What I ended up with was the following. This was probably enough to make four fucking pies. I started out with less flour, butter, and cream cheese, but it did not produce the thickness necessary to make a kind of cheesecake-like filling. If you want to make this at home, I would halve the ingredients. (Also, perhaps slightly less milk. The whole thing was a lot runnier than necessary on my first attempt.)
1/2 Cup Whole Milk
1 1/4 Cup Black Cherry Jam (It can be tricky to find, but I found mine at a Marshall’s)
1/8 Cup Sugar
1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Pound of Cream Cheese
1 Cup Flour
Just throw it in a bowl and beat using an electronic mixer at a medium setting until it’s mixed consistently throughout. Can’t get easier than that!
Divide your pie crust evenly and spread it over two greased pie tins.
Distribute the filling evenly between the crusts (you will have A LOT leftover – like I said, halve the recipe above!).
Bake for about an hour, or until filling is firm, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
It may look like something out of a Dr. Seuss short story, but DAMN! That’s how you make a fucking baked good! This so, so, SO good! I will say, if you like your desserts SWEET, you may not be in love with clafoutis pie. The flavor is pretty mild and somewhat creamy, with just a hint of a cherry/almond flavor. I’m not one for in your face sweetness, however, and tend to prefer milder desserts. I would give this one 10/10.
Part 2: Books!
French Literature that Destroyed My Brain: The Erin Hart Wisti Edition
5. “Death As Possibility” by Maurice Blanchot
A section of Blanchot’s The Space of Literature, I remember pouring over a PDF copy I had printed out and stapled together my first year of my MFA program, manically making margin notes while occasionally getting up to look at myself in bathroom mirror and yell, “GOD DAMN IT! WHY ARE YOU SO STUPID? WHO LET YOU INTO GRAD SCHOOL, YOU DUMB BITCH???” That’s, like, normal? Right…? RIGHT!?
The work is all about what Blanchot called “the nocturnal realm of fascination,” which will be the title of MY MEMOIR, GOD DAMN IT, KEEP YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF MY MEMOIR TITLE, LEECHES! “Art is the mastery of the supreme moment,” Blanchot writes, “supreme mastery.” But, honestly, are humans really capable of supreme mastery of anything? Probs not, concludes Blanchot. From here, he links art and suicide because, well, why not? In suicide, a person sets out to destroy death’s mystery by meeting it through their own means, but cannot quite comprehend the goal of suicidal actions. In art, one wants to master the mind, but no artist can actually grasp the limits of the mind. Speaking simultaneously of art and suicide, Blanchot asks, “How is it possible to proceed with a firm step toward that which will not allow itself to be charted?” In art, though, death is possibility, but only via very acrobatic means. Through facing one’s mortality time and time again, viewing one’s extreme limits, an artist gets trapped in said nocturnal realm of fascination. That’s art, bitches! Mastering what you can’t actually ever master!
4. “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus
No, not The Stranger. Never really fell in love with The Stranger, given all that happens is the main character kills a middle eastern man and feels absolutely no remorse. Interesting enough, George W. Bush read The Stranger at the Crawford Ranch towards the ends of his presidency, which I find unsurprising. I imagine Bush Jr., who is by no means a scholar, is the type drawn to books he finds personally relatable. ANYWAY, I always loved “Sisyphus,” which is also about dying and suicide because, well, I’m a really happy person.
The book basically seeks to answer what Camus considers the most important philosophical question – Why should anyone not commit suicide? He then proceeds to not really answer this in any satisfactory way, only stating that the animal in us wants to live, and talks about how absurd we humans are. Much like Sisyphus, we all just push that damn boulder up the hill every day, only to watch it roll back down again. Incidentally, this is probably what it feels like to be Donald Trump’s publicist. That’s a flippant summary, but I’m tired and a little drunk and I wanted to use my self-imposed blurb word count in this section to take a shot at George W. Bush. Read the essay if you want to know all the fucking details. This isn’t a god damn college lecture hall. I’m not hear to educate you. Jesus.
3. Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes
Oh, death and the photograph! And death and Barthes’s mother! And death in general. Sometimes, when my cat annoys me, I tell him, “You’re a bigger mama’s boy than the lovechild of Roland Barthes and Norman Bates” and then, somewhere, Dennis Miller laughs. If you want to know the extent of Barthes’s mama’s boy-ness, I highly recommend Camera Lucida.
It’s an interesting book because so much of it centers around what can’t be said or seen when it comes to the photograph. The photograph is never entirely separate from what it represents and, in Barthes’s opinion, it kind of just is what it is. He identifies two aspects of the photograph: the studium and the punctum. The studium is a range of meanings readily available to everyone, the kind of surface-level cultural aspects of a photograph easy to see. The punctum is something subjective, personal, and often inexpressible. It’s something that wounds you in the photo. It’s a deep-seated feeling you recognize instinctively but cannot quite describe. Punctum is a word that’s very good at describing a feeling I often have that’s hard to adequately explain. The punctum is the moment when a work of art penetrates you, and you suddenly are swept with an emotion that feels simultaneously completely recognizable and completely novel – a kind of spiritual deja vu.
2. The Collected Works of Michel de Montaigne
Given Montaigne, you know, invented the genre I write in, I couldn’t really leave him off the list. He came up with the essay, which comes from the French would essais. It means, “to attempt.” All of Montaigne’s were just kind of attempts – diary-like musings, but prettied up, focused, and organized in a more cohesive fashion. You can learn a lot about the art of an essay by reading Montaigne. The essay is a genre of uncertainty. An essay starts out exploring a big, broad topic, and (with much thinking out loud on the page) circles around this theme, in order to maybe come to some kind of occasion. I think it’s fitting that my newfound hobby, much like the genre in which I traditionally write, is more or less an attempt. I guess I’m baking literary essays. Yay for not failing at my attempt this week!
1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
You know what’s sad? The fact this book is still so incredibly relevant. You could pull any one of Hugo’s lines that preaches a progressive worldview and it would still ring true, somewhere, today. You could make a god damn drinking game out of this! Read Les Mis and drink every time you read something that’s still a problem today – “Teach the ignorant as much as you can. Society is guilty in not providing free education, and must answer to the night it produces. If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who committed the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTSSHOTS!
What makes Les Mis appealing to me is that, in addition to just being a great fucking story, it’s an interesting overview of French history at a time when the status quo was being profoundly challenged. Hugo carries himself with a sense of historical progress, and seems unabashedly positive about the future despite a very recent history laden with bloodshed. We call the brutalities of progress revolution, Hugo notes, and while mankind has been treated harshly, we all move forward. The book is about progress. We know this because Hugo does this really subtle thing towards the end of the book where he has a whole paragraph saying it’s about progress. If you’re progressively-inclined politically, this book is basically required reading. Hell, even if you’re not, if you like sad stories about prostitutes and reformed thieves, put this one on your list!
Please leave a comment below suggesting a type of baked good or a list of books for next week! Thank you for reading, if you made it this far. If you didn’t make it this far, fuck you.