Well, That Didn’t Work

It is fun cooking new recipes, especially recipes from a different area or time. I like to bring others along in the fun, when I cook as a demonstration. And sometimes I bring others along into the disaster of a recipe that does not work.

I had decided to make lemon cheesecake for a recent demonstration. I was using recipe from Richard Bradley’s 1732 The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director. The recipe is as follows:

To make Lemon Cheesecakes. From Mrs. M . N. GRATE the Rind of a large Lemon into the Yolks of eight raw Eggs, being first very well beat ; then add a quarter of a Pound of fine Sugar well beaten and sifted, and four Ounces of fresh Butter ; warm these gently over a Fire, keeping it stirring all the while till it begins to thicken; then take it off, and put it in the Coffins made of puff crust, and bake your Cheese cakes in a gentle Oven.

The beating and mixing seemed to work well. The mixture looked about what I expected it to look like. Then, I put it in a new-to-me-pot to warm them. I placed the tin pot on a trivet with coals underneath. The thin pot warmed quickly, and I kept stirring. And stirring. And stirring. And….it did not thicken. I added more coals. And stirred. It did not thicken…. Finally I had to take it off the coals. The temperature I had created under the pot should have been sufficient to cook the mixture. But something was not working. I was explaining the situation to visitors all the while—several laughed and admitted to their own cooking failures with new recipes.

My puff paste and oven were ready, but sadly my filling was not! I decided to stir in some buerre manie (butter with flour kneaded into it) to expedite the thickening. With the butter mixed in, and the pot placed back over the heat, the filling finally began to thicken. The cheesecake baked beautifully, but the filling texture was different than it would have been if I had not mixed in the flour.

So, what went wrong with the dish? Was I not calculating the heat needed for the new to me pot? Did it just not conduct heat well? Was the recipe incorrect? Did I need to beat the eggs more before put the sugar in?

It was an embarrassing interpretative situation. My “props” were not working correctly. Visitors were able to understand the situation, and we talked about mistakes in published recipes, our own cooking mistakes, efforts to redeem mistakes, and even our most inedible meals ever created! I would rate it a visitor success, but certainly not a cooking success.

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