Frangipane

There are words floating around in the air that we’ve heard, that we’d love to use in conversation, but whose meaning we don’t know. We feel like we should know. We’ve read them in books or heard fancy people use them. We’re pretty sure that everyone else in the world knows them, but we don’t want to admit our ignorance.

My favorite one of these words is “insouciant.”

Another of them is “frangipane.” Don’t let this intimidate you. It’s just the term for an almond cream that is used in pastry sometimes.

Frangipane-Raspberry Pie

  • 1 pre-baked pie shell – you can buy one of these premade and frozen at the supermarket or you can make your own or you can buy premade pie dough and bake it according to the instructions on the box; blind baking (making a pie crust without any filling in it) is a whole angsty topic that requires a much longer discussion than we have time for today; seriously, the premade dough makes a very credible pie crust, don’t feel guilty about using it
  • 1 1/3 stick (150 g) butter
  • ¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ cup (150 g) almond flour – I like Bob’s Red Mill
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ cup (170 g) seedless raspberry jam – I don’t like raspberry seeds, but if you’re some sort of thrill-seeker, feel free to use the full-octane stuff

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

If you’ve baked a pie shell yourself, let it cool completely.

Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until they are fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Most Kitchen Smart People will tell you to use softened butter, but a stand mixer will beat cold butter into submission and be happy about it. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you should probably listen to the experts.

Add the egg. Because the yolk contains a lot of fat, it will mix in with the butter-fluff without complaining, and bring protein with it to give structure to frangipane while it bakes. Follow this with the almond flour and extract.

Beat the mixture until it is fluffy again.

Meanwhile, glop spoon the raspberry jam into your pie shell and spread it around so that it covers the entire bottom.

Transfer the almond mixture to the pie shell, on top of the jam. Spread it evenly with an offset spatula if you have one. If you don’t, try the back of a large spoon. You’ll say to yourself, “What’s the big deal? I beat this until it was fluffy. Twice! I can spread it around with a butter knife!” No, you can’t. While fluffy and delicious, frangipane is stubborn; it needs to be persuaded to spread out on top of the jam instead of mixing into it. Use the spatula to spread the filling toward you until it reaches the edge of the pie pan, then rotate the pan and repeat, until you’ve covered the whole pie.

Wish your pie well, then bake it for 45 to 50 minutes. Check on it during the last 10 minutes or so of baking. If it’s starting to look a little dark, cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil.

Remove from the oven and let it cool completely before serving. You might want to garnish it with whipped cream and fresh raspberries.

This is a delicious pie. It tastes primarily of almonds at first — rich, dense, and a little pecan-pie-like, but the crispy part where the frangipane has bonded with the side crust is something special. The sharpness of the raspberries cuts through the richness of the pie but adds to its sweetness.

There are two advantages to this pie. One, of course, is the pie itself. It’s a really good pie. The other is social. When you share this — and you really will want to show it off — and a friend asks what it is, you can flip your hair insouciantly, and say, “Oh, this? It’s just some frangipane. How do you feel about frangipane?” HA! Take that, Gertrude!

Featured Photo: Frangipane. Photo by John Fladd.

Rhubarb Sidecar – very cold

The stem of a glass — a wine glass, a Champagne flute or a martini glass — is there to help you keep your drink at the proper temperature. Glass is an excellent thermal insulator, and if you hold your glass by the stem very little of the heat from your hands will travel up to the drink, so it will stay cool longer.

Which is very useful for drinks that you want to drink very, very cold, like a sidecar.

Rhubarb Sidecar

Rhubarb Syrup

Rhubarb, chopped and frozen

An equal amount of granulated sugar, by weight

The juice of half a lemon

Sidecar

2 ounces cognac

1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice

¾ ounce rhubarb syrup

Cook frozen chopped rhubarb and sugar over medium heat, stirring occasionally. By freezing the rhubarb, you have caused jagged crystals of ice to form and puncture most of the cell walls in the rhubarb. The sugar is emotionally needy and draws the juice from the rhubarb and bonds with it. It is unclear how the rhubarb feels about this, but it doesn’t really have any choice in the matter, because under heat the sugar is drawn into solution in its juice with a happy sigh. If you want to encourage this chemical matchmaking, you can use a potato masher to hurry the process along.

Bring the mixture to a boil, and wait a few seconds longer to make sure all the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice to the mixture, then strain it with a fine-mesh strainer. Leave it to cool. (Don’t throw away the rhubarb solids; they are delicious.)

Wrap a double-handful of ice in a tea towel and beat it vigorously with something heavy (I use the pestle from my largest mortar and pestle, but a meat tenderizer or the bottom of a small pot will work well, too). When you have crushed your ice, fill a martini glass with it and set it aside for five minutes or so to chill. This will give you time to squeeze the lemon juice for the cocktail — unless you’ve got a particularly selfless one that gives generously of itself, this will probably take a whole lemon’s worth.

Combine the cognac, lemon juice and your now-cool rhubarb syrup (cool in a temperature sense; the mere fact that you are making this cocktail makes you cool in a social sense) over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake extra-thoroughly; you want this cocktail to be colder than a penguin pawnbroker’s heart.

Dump the ice out of the martini glass; you’ve left it in until the last possible instant, to make sure the glass is as cold as possible. Strain the cocktail into it, with a hum of satisfaction at its color, a pinkish shade of apricot, like a bolt of silk in a hidden corner of a Turkish bazar. Find someplace quiet and comfortable — a screened-in porch, perhaps — and sip the drink while thinking about that time at that party when you were actually witty and attractive.

A sidecar is a classic cocktail in the same family as margaritas, whiskey sours and gimlets: a healthy belt of liquor, some sort of citrus juice and something sweet. In this case the brandy works really well with the fruitiness of the homemade rhubarb syrup. Rhubarb’s tartness plays well off the lemon juice. When a sidecar is skull-shrinkingly cold, the cognac takes a leading role in the taste, as it slowly warms up — because you’ve remembered to hold your glass by the stem — and the more delicate fruity flavors become a little more pronounced.

A sidecar is much like many of us, who start out cold and sharp but mellow out a little with age.

Featured Photo: Rhubarb Sidecar. Photo by John Fladd.

Watermelon Sherbet

There are two issues that need to be addressed right off the bat:

(1) Watermelon really, really seems like it should be spelled with two Ls. It’s just weird. Similarly, sherbet only has one R. (If you listen to a British person pronounce it, they do say “shuh-bet,” though it turns out that they aren’t talking about the same thing; their “sherbet” is flavored sugar powder, the type you find in Pixie Stix.) Every one of us grew up saying “Sher-Bert” and I’m willing to fight anyone who tries to correct me.

(2) How do you pick a decent watermelon? Ideally, you buy it at a farm stand and ask the person on the other side of the table to pick one for you. But if you are on your own in the produce department of a supermarket, look for one that has a dramatic pale spot on one side, where it lay on the dirt as it was growing. The sun never got to that spot, so it never greened up. Also, look for wide stripes, hopefully with two fingers-width between them. After that, just buy a lot of melons until you figure out which ones taste good to you.

Watermelon Sherbet
(See? Now that you’ve noticed it, doesn’t that just seem wrong?)

  • 1 quart (32 ounces, 950 ml) watermelon juice – from about half a medium-sized watermelon (see below)
  • a pinch of kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (about three limes’ worth)

Cut your melon in half and scoop out just over a quart of flesh with an ice cream scoop. This is another case where a kitchen scale will be useful. Put your blender jar on the scale, tare (zero) it out, then transfer 35 ounces, or 1,000 grams, into the jar.

Blend the watermelon, slowly at first, then more vigorously, until it is completely liquified. Strain it through a fine mesh strainer, and you will be left with about a quart of juice.

Return the juice to the blender, and add the other ingredients. Blend it thoroughly a second time, then put it in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours. If you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour the sherbet base into a sealed plastic bag, and freeze it solid, and send it on another trip through your blender or food processor.

Churn the sherbet base in your ice cream machine, according to manufacturer’s instructions, then when it has reached soft-serve consistency transfer it to freezing containers — 1-pint, plastic takeout containers are great for this. Freeze for a couple of hours to firm up.

The sherbet is a bit of a revelation. It has a mellow, not-too-sweet watermelon flavor. The limes — which, let’s face it, will enhance any other fruit — brighten it up and make it taste exceptionally refreshing.

t he should have.

Featured Photo: Photo by John Fladd.

Bicycle Thief

The first time I had my bicycle stolen was in the Army, when a platoonmate of mine with a drug problem “borrowed” most of my stuff while I was in the field — including my bike — and thoughtfully stored it for me at a pawn shop just off-base. Later, after my effects had been retrieved, he made a big deal of telling everyone what a gentleman I was. I think he was happy I didn’t punch him in my face, but you’d think I was David Niven.

A year or so later, now out of the Army, I rode the same bike to the dining hall of the school I was enrolled in and popped in to grab some breakfast, only to find that I’d forgotten about the switch to Daylight Savings Time and had missed breakfast. I came out to discover that I’d also forgotten to lock my bike up, and it had taken the opportunity to start a new life with somebody else. I indulged in some non-Nivenish language.

The third time I had a bike stolen, I did not forget to lock it up, and only the front wheel was taken. I wasn’t sure why, until I considered the possibility that perhaps someone had stolen the thief’s front wheel, to replace the one that a third person in this train of wheel abduction had taken from them, etc., stretching back to sometime in the ’70s when somebody broke their front wheel by absentmindedly driving into an open manhole or something. I tried unsuccessfully to display some David Niven-like aplomb, but did decide to end the chain of front-wheel abscondtion.

All of which has nothing much to do with anything, except that this week’s cocktail is a classic take on a Negroni called a Bicycle Thief.

Bicycle Thief

  • 1 ounce gin – Wiggly Bridge is a good choice
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1½ ounce unsweetened grapefruit juice
  • ½ ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • club soda to top
  • an orange slice for garnish

Combine the gin, Campari, juices and simple syrup over ice in a cocktail shaker.

Ask your digital assistant to play “Tale of Brave Ulysses” by Cream. Granted, this song is neither Italian nor bicycle-themed. It is, however, slightly psychedelic and dreamy. It tells a story of being in a situation beyond your control, where everything is delightful and nobody would think of stealing your bike. The rhythm of this song isn’t particularly conducive to shaking a cocktail, but it evokes the right mood for imagining yourself as the protagonist of a really good story.

Regardless of what Cream tells you, shake your cocktail thoroughly, until the ice just starts to break up.

Pour the drink, ice and all, into a tall glass. A Collins glass would work well for this, but personal experience has shown me that the Foghorn Leghorn promotional glass I rescued from a flea market last summer works equally well.

Top with club soda. How much is a personal judgment call. You might have had a day that calls for extra bubbles and a lighter hand on the “Full Speed Ahead” lever. You might just want something a little less frivolous. It’s up to you.

Stir it gently, and garnish with an orange slice. It might be tempting to slice the wheel of orange halfway through and slip it over the edge of your glass — and that’s fine! a classic! — but you might want to roll it and shove it into the interior of your glass instead. It will make even a Foghorn Leghorn glass look slightly fancy.

The reason you can get away with a whimsical glass is because a Bicycle Thief is a fully mature, confident drink. It’s not intense and “I will have my revenge for my stolen bicycle”-y, but coolly sophisticated, in a “Should we have Carlos bring the boat around?” vein. Campari and grapefruit share a bitterness that gets a backbone from the gin. The lemon and syrup are fruity enough to blunt the bitterness, but still leave it at an adult level.

I don’t know if David Niven ever drank this, but he should have.

Featured Photo: Photo by John Fladd.

Magnolia Maiden

Sometimes something is perfectly fine on a small scale, but all in all just Too Much — saunas, triplets, you get it.

This classic cocktail is Just Enough.

Magnolia Maiden

  • 1½ ounce bourbon
  • 1½ ounce orange liqueur – Grand Marnier or Orange Curacao
  • 1/3 ounce simple syrup (see below)
  • splash (about 1 ounce) plain seltzer or club soda

Combine bourbon, orange liqueur and simple syrup over ice in a cocktail shaker. There are several types of shakers, but I like something called a Boston shaker. It consists of two cups, one large and one smaller. When you’ve added everything you want to shake to the large cup, turn the little one upside-down and wedge it into the big one. This will create an airtight seal and allow you to shake a drink without it making a break for freedom and drenching your kitchen with bourbon.

Shake the cocktail thoroughly. When the mystic voice of the cocktail lets you know that it is ready (or when you feel the ice start to break up inside the shaker) break the seal on the shaker. As you’ve chilled the cocktail, you’ve also chilled the air inside the shaker, which has contracted, tightening the already air-tight seal.

Strain the cocktail over fresh ice in a rocks glass. If you’re using a Boston shaker, pull the two halves apart slightly, making a shallow V shape. Your drink will pour out, leaving the ice behind. “There, there,” you can say to the shaker, “doesn’t that feel better?”

Top it off with a generous splash of club soda, and stir gently.

The only thing about this drink that is too much is its name. The bourbon isn’t too bourbony. The orange liqueur isn’t too sweet. It is neither too flat nor too bubbly. It tastes like something a relaxed person would drink.

Simple syrup

Drink recipes throw around the term “simple syrup” like everyone knows what that means. It’s one of those phrases like “slip differential” or “antioxidant” that everyone pretends to understand, but I think a surprising percentage of people don’t.

Have you ever added a packet of natural sugar to an iced coffee, and some of it ends up in a little pile at the bottom of the cup? Simple syrup is sugar that has been put into a solution with water, so that won’t happen to your cocktails.

The reason it is called “simple syrup” is that it consists of equal amounts of water and sugar; there is no recipe to memorize. Add equal amounts of white, granulated sugar and water — this can be by weight, or by volume — to a saucepan. Bring it to a boil on your stove, at whatever temperature you want, stirring occasionally. Let it boil for a few seconds to make sure all the sugar has gone into solution; then remove it from heat, let it cool, and store it in your refrigerator indefinitely. Don’t worry about it getting lonely; it’s very approachable and will make friends with your condiments quickly.

Featured Photo: Photo by John Fladd.

The Double Take

I have a friend who is an identical twin. During the Covid lockdown, she and her sister both had babies. Each of them would visit each other fairly frequently, but because they were being really cautious with newborns in their houses, the visiting sister would stand on the porch fully masked. They would each wave to the inside baby, and the babies, assuming this was just how things worked, would wave back at the lumpy, masked, vaguely mommy-shaped figures on the porch.

After a year or so, both sisters and their babies were able to get together in the same room for the first time without masks. According to my friend, the look on the babies’ faces as each of them saw two pretty much identical versions of their moms on opposite sides of the room was one of the most hysterical moments in the history of babies.

The point of this story — aside from the fact that it’s fun to mess with babies — is that the nature of reality is always a little beyond our comprehension. We have all been in situations where we thought we knew what was going on, but then discovered that we really, really didn’t, and had to reconcile two similar but fundamentally mismatched versions of reality.

Which, somehow, brings us to today’s cocktail.

Double Take

This is a take on a classic — if not often made — cocktail, a Cucumber Ginger Gin Fizz. This version uses largely the same ingredients as the original, but turns them on their head. Traditionally, this is made with cucumber juice and ginger syrup. This version uses homemade cucumber syrup and ginger brandy. You might think of this as a mirror image — the “other mommy” — of the original.

1 ounce cucumber syrup (see below)

1 ounce London dry gin – I like Death’s Door, but Gordon’s would work well, too

1 ounce ginger brandy – I’m a fan of Jacquin’s

1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice

2 ounces seltzer

Combine the cucumber syrup, gin, brandy and lime juice with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake enthusiastically.

Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass.

Gently stir in the seltzer.

Sip, while thinking deep thoughts about the nature of reality.

The lime hits you first. You smile and nod approvingly, because you really like the taste of lime juice, and here it isn’t too acidic. Then your palate and a different set of synapses grab your attention and say, “What do you mean, ‘lime’? That’s ginger.” And you keep smiling and nodding, because you like ginger, too. But it’s at that point that you notice the cucumber, which is pushed out of the way by the lime again. It’s like a set of extremely demanding triplets. Fortunately, they have the gin and the fizziness of the seltzer to ground them.

The nature of existence can be transient.

Cucumber Syrup

Wash, but don’t peel some cucumber — half of one, three of them, it doesn’t matter — and chop it into medium (half-inch) dice.

Freeze it for several hours, or overnight. This will give jagged ice crystals a chance to form and poke holes in all the cucumber’s cell walls.

Combine the frozen cucumber and an equal amount of sugar — by weight — in a saucepan, and cook over medium heat. You’re going to look at what seems to be a dry, lumpy pile of sugar, and think to yourself, “That’s never going to make syrup!” Until it does. All those tiny holes made by the ice crystals will let the sugar draw all the liquid out of the cucumber, and because a cucumber is approximately 96 percent water, everything will come together very satisfyingly.

Bring the syrup to a boil, to make certain that all the sugar has dissolved, then remove from heat, and let it steep for 30 minutes.

Drain the syrup with a fine mesh strainer, and store in your refrigerator for several weeks.

Featured Photo: Double Take. Photo by John Fladd.

Taste of the Towns

Nashua Center fundraiser with food

Nashua Center will present its 21st Taste of the Towns event at the Sheraton Nashua on Thursday, May 2, at 6 p.m.. Eighteen area restaurants, caterers, brewers and distributors will present food and drink as varied as Thai food, baked goods, Mexican dishes or vodka.

Taste of the Towns is the Nashua Center’s signature fundraising event of the year. Proceeds go to support the Center’s mission to provide high-quality specialized care and support to small children and young adults with developmental difficulties in the greater Nashua area.

“Everyone involved in the event is very proud,” said Nashua Center’s Director of Development, Maryanne Gordineer. “We’re so proud of the vendors who come back year after year, and for them this is a way of connecting with the community and giving back.”

Gordineer described the event as a way for like-minded people to network with each other and chat in a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere.

“It’s a memorable experience,” she said. “It’s just fun!” Gordineer said there are usually more than 300 guests who attend the event and circulate around, socializing and tasting samples from the participating vendors: “I like to think of it as dinner by the bite.”

In addition to its role as a fundraiser, Taste of the Towns is a way to bring attention to the Nashua Center and the work it does for the Nashua community. Established in 1973, the organization helps people build fulfilling lives as part of the community. In the case of very young children, this can take the form of early intervention services to help families identify developmental challenges and give them support. For young adults with special needs, it might be helping them experience post-secondary education, whether it’s attending classes, getting vocational training, or just experiencing an aspect of college life like using a school’s gym facilities or cafeteria. The Center helps provide adult day services or residential services for other clients.

“It’s all about inclusivity,” Gordineer said. “We facilitate independence and community participation.”

Tickets for Taste of the Towns cost $75. They usually sell out quickly, Gordineer said.

For Gardineer, who started with the Nashua Center shortly before last year’s event, it was an introduction to New England foods. “I’d never had a lobster roll before!” she said, adding that it was a revelation.

Taste of the Towns
When: Thursday, May 2, at 6 p.m.
Where: Sheraton Nashua, 11 Tara Boulevard, Nashua
Tickets: $75 at nashuacenter.org
Participating vendors:
Bellavance Beverage Co.
Bistro 603
Friendly Toast
From the Barrel Brewing Co.
Graceful Baking
Imported Grape
K’Sone’s Thai Dining & Lounge
Liquid Therapy
Live Free Distillery
The Peddler’s Daughter
Prestige Beverage Group
Shorty’s Mexican Roadhouse
Smokehaus Barbecue
Tara House Grill
Thon Khao
Tito’s Handmade Vodka
You You Japanese Bistro
Woodman’s Artisan Bakery

Featured Photo: Courtesy photo.

The Right Tie: A Cocktail Parable

Charlie was definitely out of his element.

Never mind that he’d worn a suit maybe three times in his life and one of those had been a rented powder-blue tux. This blazer cost as much as he earned in a month. He looked at his reflection in the mirror again, hoping he’d see something vaguely inspiring.

“Dress for the job you want.” Isn’t that what they say? But looking at himself, he could only hope that someone was hoping to hire a pudgy, nervous-looking kid on the verge of hyperventilating.

He looked at the price tag on the cuff of the jacket again, and tried to breathe deeply.

“I really don’t think—,” he started to say.

“Hush!” said the saleslady with authority. She was an older woman — of course, Charlie was still young enough that anyone over 35 was old, but she had clearly been doing this a long time and seemed to know what she was doing.

She turned him around, away from the mirror, then flipped up the collar of his shirt and quickly, with the ease of years of practice, looped a necktie around his neck, knotted it, then flipped his collar back down.

She turned him back to the mirror, but before he could take in any of the details of his appearance she tucked a pocket square into the breast pocket of the jacket, then stepped back and said, “How’s that?”

Charlie was stunned. It wasn’t so much that there was a dramatic change in who he saw in the mirror — still a young, round face — but this time it belonged to a better version of Charlie. It was a mature, confident Charlie. No, Charles, maybe, although only his mother had ever called him that and only when she was angry with him. This was a young man who knew what he was doing, a man who could get through an interview and wait for the person on the other side of the desk to explain what they had to offer him.

The saleswoman nodded with satisfaction.

“The right tie makes all the difference,” she said.

The Right Tie

  • ¾ ounce top-shelf rum – I used a 15-year-old Barbancourt
  • 1½ ounces apple brandy – I like Laird’s Applejack
  • ¾ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
  • ¾ ounce orgeat (almond syrup)

Combine all ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker.

Shake gently. You want to chill this cocktail — if possible, without breaking up the ice.

Pour into a rocks glass.

This is a serious, booze-forward cocktail. Even the small amount of extra-good rum makes itself known. The apple brandy fades into the background, giving just a hint of subtle fruitiness and even more of an alcoholic backbone. Lime and almond get along very well and will work with either of these liquors, to say nothing of both of them.

And yet.

The combination as a whole is very intense — a little more boozy/sweet/acidic than is strictly comfortable. A natural inclination might be to shake this over ice extremely enthusiastically, break up the ice, and chill it as much as possible, then serve it in a stemmed glass to keep it cold.

Or — hear me out on this — drink it over ice in a rocks glass like a grownup.

There’s something about drinking from a rocks glass that brings a sense of maturity to the proceedings. More to the point, a rocks glass lets you use rocks. The intensity of this cocktail will limit you to small sips at first, which will give the ice time to melt a little and bring the intensity down, while keeping everything ice cold.

With a nudge, this could have been a tiki drink, and probably a good one, but the right glass, much like the right tie, brings maturity and the faintest of confident Mona Lisa smiles.

Featured photo: The Right Tie. Photo by John Fladd.

A pint of jalapeños

A springtime tradition at Concord Craft Brewing

Dennis Molnar, co-owner of Concord Craft Brewing, says weather plays a bigger role in running a brewery than you might think.

“Most people, unless they’re die-hards, are pulled toward lighter beers,” he said of spring beer drinkers. Which explains the Jalapeño Cream Ale.

Molnar said one of the challenges of making specialty seasonal beers is knowing how much to make, and when to make it.

“We get people getting in touch with us all the time, asking, ‘Why can’t you make the Jalapeño year-round, or why can’t you make that very rich, heavy porter all year round?’ It’s hard to know what the right amount to make is, before people’s tastes change,” he said.

The Jalapeño Cream Ale originally started as a tribute to Cinco de Mayo, Molnar said, but after several years customers started to think of it as a generally springtime beer.

“It’s a Golden Ale,” he said. “It’s on the lighter side, which makes it popular for warmer weather. We use real jalapeños and let it age [with the chiles] for several weeks. There’s a little bit of spice there, but not so much that you can’t finish your dinner or anything.”

Before the Jalapeño this year, there was the maple-season-themed Logger Lager.

“Most years, in the late winter/early spring, we make a bourbon barrel-aged maple brown ale,” Molnar said, “but we had trouble getting barrels this year.” Instead the brewery put out a mazen, a German-style, medium-bodied golden ale with maple syrup. “We liked the name,” he said. “Also, small brewers [like us] make unpasteurized beers. That means that the yeast ferments out the maple sugars, and you’re left with a more subtle maple flavor.”

One of the advantages of running a small brewery is having the freedom to test out new ideas, Molnar said.

“We can make a small batch and see how it works out,” he said. At the moment, he and his team are thinking about something new for the summer, a cherry wheat beer.

“It should be a fun, light, bright-colored beer,” he said. “We’ve finally got a good source for cherry purée.”

During the summer the brewery’s customers drink beers that are lighter in color, texture and percentage of alcohol, but in the fall they start drinking heavier porters and stouts.

“Our Squirrel Fights Nut Brown Ale is really popular,” Molnar said, “and Apple Crisp — like the dessert — Porter is one of our most popular fall beers. We almost always brew a pumpkin beer, too. Some people really like pumpkin beers around that time of year. A lot of them don’t actually like eating pumpkin, but they love seeing it in a glass.”

Right now, the flavor of the moment is jalapeño. Because it has become identified so strongly with springtime, it will be around for the rest of the season.

“We’ll have it in stores until the beginning of June,” Molnar said, “and on tap for a little longer.”

Featured Photo: Photos courtesy of Concord Craft Brewing.

A great French baking contest

This year’s theme is plays and musicals

How much do you know about the French-speaking world other than France or Quebec and could you express that knowledge in a cake?

On May 18, 10 teams of amateur bakers will have an opportunity to do just that at the Franco-American Centre’s Third Annual Fleur Délices, a cake-decorating competition dedicated to spreading knowledge about the Francophone world. Teams will bring everything they need to build elaborately decorated cakes with a French or French-influenced theme.

“This goes hand-in-hand with our mission at the Franco-American Centre,” said Nathalie Hirte, the event’s organizer, “to introduce people to the world outside the France/Quebec box.”

For the event’s first year the Fleur Délices’ theme was French-speaking countries around the world, Hirte said.

“Last year, it was fairy tales; this year our theme is Plays and Musicals of the French-Speaking World,” she said. “What’s happened in the past is the contestants have looked at our suggestion list, then gone and picked something else completely. As long as their cakes meet our criteria, they’re good.”

Fleur Délices — the name, which indicates “delicate and delicious,” is a pun; it sounds like “Fleur de Lis,” the symbol of France — is inspired by The Great British Baking Show, a television baking competition known for its creativity and kindness. Like its inspiration, Fleur Délices will require competitors to make and present cakes, but unlike the television show, there will be no baking on site.

“None of the venues we’ve held the event at have ovens,” Hirte said. Competitors will bake their cakes at home, then bring them to the event along with frosting and any edible elements they need to put their finished cakes together. Teams can have one or two participants. Single-person teams will have an hour to decorate their cakes; pairs will have 45 minutes.

Each cake must have a minimum of two tiers, and one of them must be a sponge. (“That’s another influence from the British Baking Show,” Hirte said.) The icing must include at least one buttercream. All cakes must have a 3D element that is made from an edible material. Other than that, the organizers have not been overly specific about their requirements.

“We didn’t want to limit the bakers’ creativity,” Hirte said. “We just want them all on a level playing field.”

Two or three judges will walk around during the competition, visiting teams at their stations and asking questions. They will judge individual cakes on taste, texture, overall appearance, creativity and their representation of the theme. The overall winner of the competition will be chosen from an average of the judges’ scores and will be presented with an engraved cake platter.

A People’s Choice winner will be chosen by the spectators. Because it will not be possible for every spectator to taste each cake, the People’s Choice winner will be based almost entirely on appearance.

“We guarantee that everyone will get two to three samples,” she said. “The last two years, nobody has left hungry. We always get positive feedback on the event.” The People’s Choice winner will be presented with a charcuterie board.

Fleur Délices is open to bakers 16 and older.

“The past couple of years we’ve had some French teachers and their students compete,” Hirte says. “That’s been fun.”

Registration for competitors is $20 per team and is open until Friday, April 26, on the Franco-American Centre’s website. Tickets for spectators will go on sale within the next week or so through the same website.

Featured Photo: Teacher and student team. Courtesy photo.

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