28 January 2006

Life, down South: Still Peachy as a Pie

I thought I was done with dessert. Hoped.

After 4 months of multi-course meals in Italy, each ending with an oversized serving of some irresistible homemade dessert - torta della nonna (or torta della your mom, as Aubrey called it), salame dolce, gelato, tiramisu - I thought I'd return home and be done with it. Get back to my usual eating of small meals, less pork, next to no sugar…except for the occasional Krispy Kreme binge.

My first day in the test kitchen here at Southern Living, I ate full-size servings of both desserts tested: a perfect peach pie and a pound cake with a fruit compote topping. At tastings, our plates tend to get crowded with bites of this and that - a mini plate buffet - but mine was consistently an oversized serving of some irresistible homemade dessert, with a mini plate buffet obscuring the rim of the plate.

We retested both dessert recipes several times over the course of the next few days, and I did not sit them out. Visions of flaky pastry and cinnamon-sugar danced in my dreams. I slept through my alarm consistently.

On its final day of testing, the pie easily and unanimously received our highest rating. All hands were raised, mouths moving in a waltz of masticulation, murmurs interjecting the quiet of the chewing. The poundcake? I had to keep going back for more in order to figure it out.

I like working in the test kitchen.

I average two days a week in the TK, using the kitchen of whoever isn't working that day. After 12 months, I'm still not accustomed to using foreign kitchens. I open drawers and cabinets every 5 minutes, make unnecessary trips to the fridge, and generally practice inefficiency for a full work day. It's good to have obvious, immediate goals.

Yesterday, I neglected to check and see that the oven I was using - a different one from the previous day - was calibrated so that the exterior knob actually reflected the interior temperature. I didn't even do a hand test. Assumptions killed the casserole. I couldn't dwell on it, though, because I was in the middle of mixing up a cornbread retest, and determining the individual servings math for a banana pudding that was developed for a single large dish, but was photographed in small, individual dishes. (I already know how many reader calls it would generate if we published the recipe as it was with the photo, as it was)

While tasting schedules and story schedules won't always let me slow down, I will check the oven temperatures, I will check the oven temperatures. I'll stop dwelling on the fact that I haven't really cooked in a kitchen in about 4 months, swallow my fear of cooking for foodies, recipe testers and developers, food editors, and freely-commenting folk. The sweat on my brow will henceforth only come from a correctly-set oven, pounding out its proper degrees.

For those of you who have more questions about the test kitchen, keep reading - or just stop by and take a tour. Groups tramp through the middle of the 8 "home-like" kitchens that Southern Living uses to test and develop recipes weekly. At any given time, a test kitchen employee (lots of ladies, and a fabulous guy) is cooking several things for a tasting that we have scheduled that day, or making a previously-tested recipe look pretty for a photo shoot.

The cooking is different from what I've done before, and for obvious reasons. I pay more attention to setting timers and following a recipe's instructions to a "t" because it is the recipe I am testing, not my skill in making a dish (that would come in the form of Recipe Development, which SL certainly does, though whether I will while here is still to be determined). I constantly fight the urge to season a dish, add a dash of whatever I want, sub ingredients for a better idea, and otherwise do anything I would do when cooking at home or in a restaurant. I have to be somewhat exact. I haven't been Type A since I was 19 (right Mom?). This is hard, uncomfortable work, people. And that's not including post-pie belly.

I can't wait for peach season.


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