Julia: Inspiring then and now
By Judith Dunbar Hines August 13, 2012 2:44PM
Judith Dunbar Hines has a collection of Julia Childs books and memorabilia at her home in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 16, 2012 6:07AM
Thirty years before Julie, of book and movie fame, discovered Julia Child, my college roommate and I taught ourselves to cook by making every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Disenchanted with my first career choice, I discovered a new interest in the kitchen.
I went to culinary school and began to teach cooking, but was conflicted about this new direction.
Not long after while in New York at a conference for cooking teachers, I found myself sitting next to Julia Child. She inquired about my future plans and, slightly star-struck, I confessed my fears. Her eyes lit up and, in her trilling voice, she enthused, “It’s a great career, Dearie. Go for it!”
I did indeed “go for it,” and over the next 20 years I was lucky enough to keep in touch with her. Every time I saw her she never failed to ask how that career was going.
When I lived in Boston I spent a day crouched under the counter while she taped her live TV show. My job was to take the used dishes she surreptitiously handed down to me to keep the counter clean. My only instruction was never to let my own hands show as I reached for those bowls, pans, spoons. I failed, and somewhere on one of those old tapes, a hand suddenly reaches up from nowhere to grab a bowl. Mon dieu!
When she retired from the board of the organization where I’d first met her, I was fortunate to be elected to take her place. At the ceremonies, I asked her for words of wisdom for successfully filling that seat. She peered down from her 6-foot-2-inch height at my nearly 5-foot self and said, “Well, Judith, I think you’ll need a stepstool!”
In a letter shortly after I took a job promoting Chicago’s culinary industry, she cheered, “I wish you all the best in this enormous undertaking.”
Today my kitchen holds a pan and a corn scraper from her Boston kitchen, many autographed books, even a 2-foot-tall replica of the lady herself, which stands on a kitchen shelf near the plate she signed for me. All these things, and the memories they evoke, constantly inspire me.
In “Julia Child and Company” she says, “Whenever anyone asks me what I want for a birthday dinner, I always say roast duck and a big gooey cake.”
Today, for her 100th birthday, I’ll host a dinner party, serving favorite recipes from her books. I’ll serve a “big gooey cake.” And I’ll drink a toast in thanks to her for the words of encouragement in person, in letters and in that familiar voice that forever lives in my head.
Great career, indeed! Merci beaucoup, Julia.
Judith Dunbar Hines is a cooking teacher, tour guide, writer and culinary consultant in Chicago. For more information, visit www.judithdunbarhines.com
JULIA’S BIRTHDAY CAKE
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake
1 tablespoon soft butter
¼ cup flour
1½ cups ground almonds
1 cup extra fine sugar
Scant 2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
6 cups butter cream (“Mastering the Art Volume II” or other source)
3 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
¾ cup toasted sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Use butter to coat two heavy baking sheets. Sprinkle flour over sheets and shake to coat surface, then knock off excess.
Mix almonds and sugar well, then add cornstarch and mix well again.
Whip egg whites on slow speed 2 minutes until foamy. Beat in salt and cream of tartar, increasing speed, 1 minute or until whites form soft peaks. Beat in sugar with mixer on high until stiff peaks form. Beat in extracts.
By hand, fold in almond mixture in 3 batches. Scoop into a pastry bag with plain tip.
Pipe three 9-inch circles on the baking sheets. Bake 40 minutes until circles will lift from the pan; immediately move to cooling racks.
Prepare butter cream, adding rum if desired. Add melted chocolate to ¼ of the buttercream.
Place one meringue on serving plate and frost with plain buttercream. Place a second round on top and frost top with plain buttercream. Place third circle on top and frost with the chocolate buttercream. Sprinkle top with toasted nuts. Frost sides with plain buttercream; pipe a rim around the top edge. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to one day before serving
Adapted from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume II”
Makes enough for 1 cake
1 cup superfine sugar (see note)
3 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
9 ounces butter (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) at room temperature, cut into small pieces
Place sugar, egg whites and salt into a metal bowl. Whisk mixture well.
Place bowl over a pan of simmering water (water should not touch the bowl) and whisk constantly and slowly for about 5 minutes to completely dissolve sugar.
Pour mixture into bowl of heavy duty mixer and whip on medium high speed for about 5 minutes, adding vanilla as eggs whip. Mixture should be stiff and very glossy.
With mixer running, whip in butter a few pieces at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend before adding more. The mixture should be fluffy and somewhat stiff.
Chill in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes, then return to room temperature for 5 minutes before using. If mixture becomes too soft while frosting the cake, return to the refrigerator to firm before proceeding.
NOTE: Use bar sugar or blend granulated sugar for 1 minute in a blender or food processor.