Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

5 am: Thinking About Anise

I woke up around 4:30 am and could not go back to sleep. There's a somewhat ambitious project coming my way later today which is keeping me up. It involves 4 hours of work (ok, 2 1/2 of those require me to do nothing and I could even just let the thing happen overnight, but still, 4 hours!!!), it needs to be photographed and then written about, and then eaten. It involves a spice that is all but new to me, anise seeds. I've only ever known anise as a liqueur used in Spanish cooking so the the smell of these little seeds brings me visions of Roscón and Easter and the taste of sweet licorice embedded in a warm sweet bread encrusted in sugar and dotted with dried fruit and almonds. Spanish cooking at its very best. What I plan to make is only once removed from that. Its a Mexican sweet bread called Pan de Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead Bread). I'll post about it tomorrow when I make it.

Now I'm not doing this for myself. Squash and blue cheese pizza, I do for myself. Homemade whole wheat bread, I do for myself. Apple crisp, I do for myself. This is a project for work, which is another reason I'm up thinking about anise. I'm mentally writing my article, having decided on a new approach to this once annoying, now approaching cool website I work for called Fabulous & Frugal. At this point its smeared with enough of my writing that I'm starting to care for it. I'm particularly proud of my beer article and Part Two of the Student Loans trilogy (I don't pick the titles). So I want to start applying what I learned during my food writing course and start to incorporate structure into my articles as mindfully as I would if I were writing something for the New York Times (no, I'm not comparing Fab & Fru to the New York Times, one is my current place of employment, the other an aspiration, ok?). Lede, nutgraf, body, close.

While thinking about the lede I realized something that makes Day of the Dead Bread particular, specially when made within the context of American culture: its sweet (and it contains anise, but that's what makes it particular to me). Even Jewish Challah and Americanized French Croissants don't quite make it to the sweetness level inherent in Iberian and Hispanic sweet breads. Roscón is a classic example. My best friend's mother, originally from Galicia, makes these bread cakes every Easter and every Three Kings Day. The texture is bready and flaky but the intensity is that of pastry glazed with granulated sugar and liqueur because even confectioner's sugar would be too light. Not that confectioner's sugar doesn't have its place. Take the Puerto Rican majorca, even when you eat it with ham and cheese its still sprinkled with white dusty sugar. The Portuguese have their own sweet bread, Massa Sovada, and like Roscón and Day of the Dead Bread, its baked mostly for Easter and Christmas. I would say, though, that Massa Sovada is closer to Puerto Rican Pan Sobao, a bread that's sweet but still more bread than cake. In any case, both are still sweeter than anything found in the American spectrum of breads. [Correction: I glanced at the backcover of my latest issue of Cook's Illustrated and prominently displayed was the Louisiana King Cake, an American version of Roscón doused in sprinkles for Mardi Gras.]

Since bread-making has become my new thing lately-- so far I've made two pizzas, 5 loaves of 100% Whole Wheat Bread and all but one have been light, sweet, and very good, two loaves of beer bread, and two loaves of something that wanted to resemble a baguette but wasn't sure how-- now I'm going to enter that netherworld of the cake-bread hybrid. Luckily, I'm not starting with the ones I know and love, the ones from home for which I have high expectations that can never be met (its me, not the recipe, take for example my disastrous experience with Sazón, the Puerto Rican restaurant that although good, wasn't up to snuff with my expectations; even the coffee I make here doesn't taste like coffee back home even though my mom ships me Yaucono and my favorite gourmet stuff that comes straight from the plantations in Yauco and Lares). When entering undiscovered territory you might as well go all the way so I'm starting in Mexico, with a tablespoon of anise seeds.

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