Archive for the ‘Waffles’ Category

Ceremonial Duties

Home-made Sugar Cones

waiting for Ben and Jerry

So far my only real celebration of summer’s arrival has been to listen to Nat King Cole sing about those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. That always puts me in the mood for a good Clam Roll.

I absolutely love summer.

Okay, that’s a total lie. Let’s just say that I’ve gotten old enough to make my peace with summer. Nat King Cole, a few reliable old movies that I watch every summer, and the hypnotic hum of the air conditioner are what get me through. When those wear off a dab of ice cream does the trick. And just as they used to say about Brylcreem, “A little dab’ll do ya.”

A little dab of ice cream? Who stops there?

I know lots of folks who cannot get enough ice cream. I’m a more recreational user. But in the hot weather there’s something mighty appealing about the ceremony that surrounds ice cream.

When I was a kid my mother used to take me to Jules Salon for Men to have my hair cut. Jules, an expat Frenchman, ran a very modern (at the time) establishment for executives, but it was still very much a barbershop. So, there was little Mikey sitting on the bench, legs crossed, waiting, reading Paris-Match. I couldn’t understand a word in the magazine, but I like to think I learned a thing or two about Peugeot, Catherine Deneuve, and Georges Pompidou anyway.

As I write this I keep thinking about how barbershops have disappeared, but then the sting of truth washes over me: it’s not barbershops that have disappeared, it’s my hair, and therefore my need for barbershops.


After my haircut a trip of mere steps would find us in the chilled quiet of Bailey’s, an outpost of the beloved but sadly departed Boston confectionary. I find it hard to believe that places like this have seemingly evaporated. They were temples devoted to the worship of chill. Everything fed this nurturing cool, from the thick marble tables, to the twisted metal seat backs, and the steel, ruffle-rimmed metal ice cream dishes. Not a paper cup in sight.

On a hot summer day, our post-haircut treat was a drippy, hot fudge sundae with Mocha Lace ice cream, marshmallow sauce (instead of whipped cream), and salted walnuts on top. This was eaten with a loooooong metal spoon. We would chase that with tiny glasses of icy cold water that dripped from an enormous marble lavabo before trotting by the candy counter for a glimpse of the dusty, jewel-toned Turkish Delight.

Yes, each sundae likely wiped out that year’s harvest of sugar cane from a small Caribbean island. But this wasn’t an everyday indulgence, merely an occasional treat. My behavior—good or bad—was irrelevant, for nothing would keep my Mother from her appointed date with Mocha Lace. I suspect her choice of Jules Salon for Men had as much to do with its proximity to Bailey’s as it did with Jules’ talent with my little scalp.

The Ice Cream ceremony takes many forms. It could be the frightening jingle of the Mister Softee truck, or the technique you’ve honed to dampen the slam of the freezer door after you’ve snuck yet another spoonful of Phish Food…or Chubby Hubby…or both.

The common sugar cone is part of my ceremony. I love them just as much as the ice cream; yet, I prefer my ice cream in a dish, with the sugar cone perched on top like a pointy hat. With each spoonful of ice cream I get a bit of crunch from the cone, yet I don’t have to worry about ice cream melting out of the bottom and rolling down my wrist. Peculiar? Sue me.

Until recently I had never tried baking my own ice cream cones. The hardest thing about this was finding the right utensil. I absolutely refused to spend the forty or fifty dollars on yet another electric appliance. This had less to do with spending money and more to do with lack of kitchen storage. I knew I needed a pizzelle iron. Who knew unless you’re willing to dig deep, that the pizzelle world has gone all electric? (Yes, I was horrified by this too, so rest easy.)

Finally I consulted Fante’s, the great Philadelphia-based kitchen supply store. After my search for an old fashioned stove top pizzelle iron had run aground in Manhattan, they offered a happily modest selection, along with great advice, recipes, and a bit of history thrown in.

(Did you know that pizzelle irons used to be given as wedding gifts etched with the new bride’s initials and the wedding date? Totally charming. Maybe I’ll have mine etched with an outline of Mikey the Pig, this site’s mascot currently oinking at the top of this page. Anyone know a trustworthy pizzelle etcher?)

I’ll admit that I did have some trepidation before my inaugural run with my old-school iron. Would the cookies stick? Would they burn? I figured who cares? The iron isn’t electric so if the worst happened I could just soak it in the sink and scrub it with some steel wool. Hey, the thing only cost about sixteen dollars. I was willing to take a chance.

I worried for nothing. After following Fante’s instructions to season the iron, each ice cream cone slid out of the iron without a fight before being rolled and left to harden (which happens fast.)

For my bonus round I substituted gluten-free flour for the all-purpose kind called for in the recipe. There was really very little difference; if anything the gluten-free cones had a slightly more fragile crumble point. (If you try the gluten free kind make sure your baking powder is also gluten free.)

And yes, that’s the scoop on making ice cream cones.


Here’s my sugar cone adaptation of Fante’s Pizzelle recipe.


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My Commencement Speech (or) Pardon my cliché

Ice Cream Waffles

Ice Cream Waffles

To me, commencement speeches always seem like eulogies turned inside out. Hopefully you laughed or chuckled at that line—even if it was only on the inside. Laughter is something that seldom happens when hearing a eulogy, unless it’s for Chuckles the Clown (this is referring, of course, to the classic Mary Tyler Moore episode.)

But if eulogies are delivered at the end of a life, then it follows that you could kinda, sorta say that about commencement speeches too. That’s the end of a life and the beginning of another.

I once heard a commencement speaker compare the return of textbooks by graduating seniors to the turning in of rifles at the end of a war. Wow. I didn’t like school either, but I never felt like I was crouched in a fox hole. Well, maybe at prom, but that, as they say,”… is a whole other Oprah.”

All these years later I often think, “What did I learn in school?” The stuff I really remember was practical, “how to” stuff, like splicing video tape—something they do with a computer now and a skill that I seldom use in the kitchen.

I like to think I learned everything valuable I know in the years after school. The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that baking a cake is a microcosm of life’s experiences all crammed into a little tin pan and an hour or two.

Baking requires hunger, anticipation, planning, organization, a little chemistry, the ability to let go, and the ability to deal with failure and keep going.

Many people view baking as an exercise in rigidity—follow the recipe or all heck will break loose. I beg to differ. I think of baking as an exercise in technique and its continual refinement. This is kind of like ballet or singing. Performers accomplished in either of those disciplines continue studying and taking classes even long after they have achieved success—and for some even after they have retired. It is this continual striving to get better that I think of every time I plug in my Kitchen Aid and start baking. You’re never done; school continues. It’s the shape of the classroom that changes. (I had to throw in the latter. Every commencement speech has lines like that.)

Hopefully as you travel down life’s hallway (I promise I’ll stop) the knowledge you accrue along your journey will give you the resilience to handle whatever surprises may be placed in your way. Sometimes this means you need to—yes, you’ve heard this before—think outside the box.

Learn to embrace the unexpected. We have an anchor woman here in New York named Sue Simmons. Late in her career she has become notable for the things she says when she forgets the microphone is on. This includes an “f-bomb” or two. She’s being “eased” into retirement next month. Part of the reason is that folks worry about what might come out of her mouth. I think this is a mistake. I say, keep her on and take away her script. Let her wing it, then sit back and hope for another “f-bomb” or better. I think ratings would go up and the news would be much more fun.

Any baker—or even better—anyone who ever toasted a slice of bread knows what I’m talking about. Ever burned a piece of toast? Did you scrape off the burnt part then serve the toast anyway? You were thinking outside the box. If you’d thrown away the toast you wouldn’t be embracing the unexpected, you’d be trying for perfect toast. The pursuit of perfection can waste a lot of bread. (Okay, you have to admit that one was cute.)

Thinking outside the box doesn’t always mean things have to be hard. In fact this can make things easier.

Take the little Belgian waffles in the photo above. These were made to satisfy a craving. Real Belgian waffles (Liege or Brussels style) require yeast dough, and a few hours wait while the dough rises. But this was a craving, which meant I needed them NOW.

So I used a simple waffle recipe, and sprinkled some vanilla sugar and Belgian pearl sugar onto my waffle iron just before adding the batter. The result was a reasonable facsimile of the true Belgian waffle.

If you throw enough ice cream at them no one will ever know the difference. And that, graduates, is all you need to know about dessert and life.


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