October 2006

Jessa Crispin


Doña Tomás

I stood, staring at the recipe for Pastel de Canela con Moras, knowing exactly what was going to happen and knowing it wasn't going to be good. I hadn't read the recipe closely enough in my preliminary menu planning to notice that the cake was going to be one giant disaster. But now I had to decide if I followed the recipe knowing it was going to turn out wrong or if I should make a few changes and prepare the cake the way it should be.

In the name of journalistic integrity, I followed the recipe exactly. I whipped cold butter with sugar and then added the eggs with crema. Disaster. The batter immediately curdled. Anyone who has made more than four cakes in their life knows that the ingredients for a cake should all be at room temperature, or the batter will curdle and separate. I managed to save the batter by slowly bringing it to room temperature and then trying to whisk it gently. But the trouble didn't end there. It next called for it to be baked in a springform pan. The batter was very runny, and I knew it would leak all over the oven and burn, so I wrapped the bottom in foil, but evidently not well enough to keep a serious amount of batter off of the oven floor. I was hating Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky's Doña Tomás and I hadn't even finished the first recipe.

There was only heartache to follow. A mixup at the fishmonger meant that I had to change my main course from halibut cheeks to sea scallops at the last minute. The use of the Spanish word for "cinnamon" (canela) with no translation in recipes made me sound like an idiot at the spice store. The bottom of the rice burned and infused the dish with the odor of cigarettes. The recipe for margaritas was written out for one serving, meaning I had to do some fast math for my dinner for six. (Measuring out 32 tablespoons is not something I ever want to repeat.) By the time all of the food was done, I was wondering just how in hell these writers have a successful restaurant.

Even finding anything in the cookbook was frustrating. The book is not organized by type of dish, like "salads," "entrees," etc. It's divided by meal. That makes sense for the breakfast section, but what qualifies as "lunch" or "dinner" is arbitrary, and I could never remember which section the jicama salad recipe was in.

As for the food, the jicama salad with citrus chile dressing was amazing. It was bright and hot. The goat cheese with pumpkin seed sauce was okay. The pinto beans and poblano rice were dull and the sea scallops with squash brandy sauce boring (and it seems something of an accomplishment to make seared sea scallops boring). The cake, however, even though it completely fell apart once removed from the springform pan, was amazingly good. Conversation stopped for the first time that dinner, and everyone just made grunting noises of pleasure. That moment almost made the day worth it, even if I refuse to give the cookbook authors any credit for that particular success.

Doña Tomás by Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky
Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 1580086047
216 Pages