When it comes to baking, I have two demons: apples and caramelized sugar. Almost every attempt at any dish involving either of these two ingredients has resulted in disastrous failure. From my first flan when I was fifteen, coated in syrupy, scorched sugar (burnt is an inadequate description) to the nefarious Franken Apple Pie of 2007, it’s no secret that these are my culinary Achilles’ heel. This came to a calamitous culmination a year or so ago when I attempted to combine both into a single pastry, a Salted Caramel Apple Pie, that would become the most gorgeous-looking yet grotesque-tasting dessert ever envisioned by man or woman in the history of civilization. Much like the mythical creatures that tried to lure Homer’s Odysseus to shipwreck on a rocky coastline, the Siren song of a golden brown lattice crust dotted with sea salt and a perfectly prepared caramel topping hid beneath it a bog of tart and watery death. Note to self: when adding the filling, do not (DO NOT!) also add the lemon juice that the apples have been setting in.
But this Thanksgiving, the curse has finally been lifted! Inspired by Jacques Pépin’s Apple Tatin, that he recently made on his public television show (you know me and public TV!), and using the recipe from the rightfully adored blog, smitten kitchen, I have conquered both demons and created a delightful dessert that I think will become a mainstay of my autumn apple baking boom! But alas, the war was won but not without casualties. I realized once more what I’ve discovered many times before: namely, that caramelized sugar is hot. What’s more, the second it is accidentally flicked onto the skin it solidifies making it impossible to remove as it continues burning you (unless, of course, you’re the freakish woman I once saw on The Food Network making spun sugar nests by flicking the liquid sugar onto her own hand!). This resulted in a blister and taking my left index finger out of commission for the remainder of the baking. And with one finger down, this beget further injuries and messes. The final and most severe injury is also arguably the most embarrassing, and so inspired the title of this post.
Here’s the thing about blogging: you might be reading a blog and find yourself thinking that the writer leads such a romantic, interesting life (this is, quite obviously, a hypothetical scenario, having no particular blogger in mind). Fresh fruit at the farmer’s market, charming antiques off the beaten path, “Oh and look what she happened upon, and what lovely pictures!”. But the truth of it is, it’s really a whole lot of absurd staging with a dash of fiction. This behind-the-scenes peek is silliest when I’m baking: trying to juggle picture-taking with the timing of certain dishes and preparations (caramelized sugar waits for no one!), handling my expensive camera with flour-covered hands, having to stop and take the time to clean up splashes and spillage and remove unappealing items from the shot… I can’t tell you how many photos have had to be cropped or discarded because an errant, icky pepper shaker (with a glob of last night’s spaghetti sauce still clinging to the side) snuck into frame! It can get frantic at times. Such was the case this time when, after removing the tatin from the oven but before flipping it onto a serving dish, I decided to take a few shots. And, like vain Narcissus drowned in his own reflection or prideful Icarus burned by the Sun, I, trying to get a better view of my triumph through my camera lens, grasped the handle of the pan that had just emerged from a 400°F oven with my bare hand and burned the hell out of my palm. Perhaps not a Greek tragedy-level injury but certainly a Greek tragedy-worthy humiliation. This left a large, sore blister on the side of my hand and, I’m pretty sure, a layer of my skin on the handle. This is in keeping with my unofficial tradition of literally putting myself into my baking, which first began when I accidentally grated a rather large chunk of my own flesh into a carrot cake one Easter and that I have faithfully been keeping up ever since. My night ended with me lying on the couch with both hands positioned straight up in the air covered in blue aloe vera gel, trying to think about anything but the pain while the Greek, naturally the hero of my tragedy, flipped the tatin for me (like a pro!), washed all my dishes (there were many; a pumpkin pie (a.k.a. Plan B) had also happened), and helped me with the child lock on the cap of my multivitamin the next morning.
But that aside, Thanksgiving dessert was a glittering success. Other note to self: half and half cannot (CANNOT!) be substituted in place of whipping cream. And now, without further ado and because I freaking had to work for these this time, the pictures… They are abridged due to aforementioned sitcom-style scenario of hand-burning hilarity: