Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bizcochuelo de Papa

I had forgotten about Olga de Trejos' La Cocina Practica. This ardently mundane title resurfaced in a--no, the: I haven't done it in five years or more--thorough cleaning of my room. I think the fact that it's in Spanish, a language I more or less understand but am not very comfortable speaking has a great deal to do with my conviction that there is something to be found in this book. In it's range of recipes it is The Joy of Cooking, but unlike Joy it is more concerned with nutrition facts than technique, and rather than outlining recipes in painstaking specificity, de Trejos, with her exceedingly short recipes, seems to assume you know what she's talking about. Not knowing, in my case, is compounded by the fact that Spanish is not my native tongue. However most of the recipes are nonetheless very recognizable. The book seems to be for the most part (and here's the resemblance to Joy) a convenient anthology of European-derived classics.

So I'm fascinated by a dessert I've never ever heard of: Bizcochuelo de Papa, or, in rough English translation, Potato Cake.

1 libra de papas
6 huevos
9 cucharadas de azúcar refinado
jugo de 1 limón y cáscara rallada

Se hace un puré con las papas bien calientes para que quede espumoso. Se le agrega el jugo de limón, la cáscara rallada y las 6 yemas bien batidas, con el azúcar. Se baten las claras a punto de nieve y se incorporan suavemente a la mescla anterior. Se coloca en un molde engrasado, se espolvorea con azúcar refinado y se hornea a calor moderado.

Nasty lightining isn't it?
At first, having no idea what bizcochuelo meant, I thought it was a kind of potato pudding, because of the large quantity of eggs. The eggs are separated and the whites are beaten into frothy peaks. I like the spanish metaphor for this: one beats them "a punto de nieve"--"to the point of snow" or "into snow." The beaten egg whites, in my mind, make it a kind of angel food cake, but with potatoes. Why use potatoes in a dessert? The exotic imagination boggles.

My bad English translation of the recipe:

1 pound of potatoes
6 eggs
9 tablespoons sugar
juice of 1 lemon and its zest

Make a pure with the hot potatoes so that they stay fresh (sparkling? in spanish espumoso) Mix in the lemon juice, zest and the six egg yolks, beaten well with the sugar. Beat the egg whites to high peaks and fold in the yolk-potato mixture. Put in a greased mold and sprinkle with sugar and bake to a golden brown.

Yes, you have to see three photos of potatoes.

You might notice there is no oven temperature, or, for that matter, baking time. Nor is any shape or size of baking mold specified. But what I really love is the way the recipe begins in the middle of the action. Never mind how the potatoes are cooked, or even if they're cooked--just puree them when they're hot, so that they remain... what? Perhaps someone could help me out with what espumoso means here?

Not nearly yellow enough.
I decided to try it anyway, making the following assumptions: the potatoes would be boiled and mashed without any of the water, the baking temperature would be 350 F, and the baking pan would be whatever I had that seems about the right size to accommodate the batter.

My friend who agreed to join me in this endeavor (as in to make another version and tell me about it) commented that it seems like a lot of eggs for not very much potato. I agree, but when I began mixing it together it began to make sense: the potato paste is very dry, and the six yolks are just enough. Well, five might do.


This, as well, was more yellow.  And on the right side.

The result was something very nothing--pleasant and delicate. The metaphysical implications of describing it as “very nothing” are familiarly appalling, but. Why not give (or allow) it a bit of fruit and/or a glaze? Doesn't this little cake look sad and alone?

PS I just realized that's calor moderado not color moderado. So the recipe does specify oven temperature, albeit vaguely, but not how to tell when it's done.

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