x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Leaps of faith as a person with trust issues

A few years ago, while I was going through a particularly reclusive episode, my well-intended brother stopped by and invited me out somewhere.

A few years ago, while I was going through a particularly reclusive episode, my well-intended brother stopped by and invited me out somewhere. I did my best impression of an agitated walrus until he gave up.

A week later, he tried again. "I hate art openings," I said, hiding from the light of day behind the sleeve of my bathrobe, "and every other kind of event." He left again, exasperated. But he persisted, suggesting I reconnect with old acquaintances, attend reunions, and join a social network.

At that, I stared at him like he'd just suggested I self-administer a lobotomy. "No. It's never worth it. No."

I was a jolly hobbit, I said. As jolly as could be. Leave me alone. I had my dog and my job; I didn't need to have my life complicated by any more syllables.

"For someone who considers herself adventurous, you really stink at taking risks," he said. "You're not going to meet your next group of friends while you're out picking cucumbers at the grocery store." Then he gave up for real and stopped inviting me.

I've exchanged numbers with a few strangers at fish counters and farmers' markets, though it's always been for work, not play. My brother was right: I prefer to be immersed in worlds that suit my mercurial impulses rather than worlds that challenge them and certain risks, including calculated ones, make me uncomfortable at first. He was wrong about the cucumbers, though. Only creeps linger by the cucumbers. The keepers tend to congregate around the butter.

Last week, I made banket. If you are not familiar with its splendour, banket is a Dutch Christmas treat composed of the two greatest pillars of rich and golden excellence: homemade puff pastry (I used Julia Child's recipe) and homemade almond paste (Klary Koopmans' recipe).

Real almond paste has more in common with fresh almond butter than waxy commercial marzipan: it's less sweet and has a creamier body, but with a coarser texture and a raw, rustic crunch. It also improves with age after a few days in the fridge - if you can resist it for that long.

When you're ready to bake it, the puff pastry gets wrapped around the almond paste (equal parts blanched organic almonds and sugar, ground in a food processor with one whole egg per 250 grams of almond-sugar rubble, plus a little lemon zest and almond extract and, because I'm me, a little salt, too), brushed with an egg wash, then slipped into a hot (290°C) oven and baked until the pastry is toasty brown and the almond paste is fragrant and buttery.

When you cook from scratch this way, you invest a lot of faith into two stand-alone ingredients - puff pastry and almond paste - both of which can be broken down into the ingredients that created them, but neither of which you can fairly assess before the moment of truth.

Tasting raw puff pastry dough won't tell you how it performs in an oven, and the same goes for the almond paste. For someone with trust issues, it's a big leap of faith. But I'm a martyr, so I made it - and then ate it.


Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico