I frequently say things like “homemade is always better,” and I will attempt to make just about anything from scratch at least once. So, I was curious about what made the “make it” rather than “buy it” list in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. I received a review copy of the book, and it’s an entertaining read. It’s not so much a piece on precise calculations of whether it’s less expensive to make things from scratch or buy them; although, there are cost comparisons for each recipe in the book. Instead, it’s an honest and humorous account of what the author did make, whether the process was enjoyable or not, and if she thought the result was worth the trouble. Reese’s experiences included raising chickens, ducks, turkeys, and goats, curing bacon, salmon, and prosciutto, baking hamburger and hot dog buns, and making homemade yogurt and cheeses among many other things. Speaking of those buns, she recommends making hot dog buns because the store-bought variety is so flavorless, and the homemade ones are better-tasting and less expensive. However, with hamburger buns, she found the homemade options she tried to be too firm and not fluffy enough and recommends buying them. I had to disagree with this conclusion because I’m very fond of homemade hamburger buns, but forming your own opinion is part of the fun of this book. The author shares her experiences and her reasons for choosing to make or buy each item. It gets you thinking about your own priorities with things like time versus money and control over ingredients versus convenience.
The cheese chapter was especially interesting to me. I’ve been toying with the idea of attempting cheese making for a while, but so far, I’ve only made ricotta. Mascarpone seemed like a good next step. It’s an easy process, and the cost, even starting with organic cream, is considerably lower than store-bought mascarpone. You heat a quart of cream in a double boiler, and you want the top bowl of the double boiler to be well inside the pan of simmering water. The temperature needs to come up to 196 degrees F, and that will take forever if your bowl is too far from the simmering water. Once it comes to temperature, you add a scant quarter teaspoon of tartaric acid. Now, it’s important that you use exactly tartaric acid and not cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is derived from tartaric acid, but chemically, they are not the same. I found tartaric acid locally at Austin Homebrew Supply, and it’s also available online. After adding the tartaric acid, remove the bowl of cream from the heat, and stir and stir until the cream thickens. Let it sit to come to room temperature, and then line a sieve with fine-weave cheesecloth and place it over a bowl. Pour the thickened cream into the lined sieve, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least twelve hours. Reese notes that sometimes the process just doesn’t work, and the cream doesn’t thicken. You can try adding a tiny pinch more tartaric acid and stirring more, but occasionally it doesn’t become cheese. Thankfully, I had no problems, and like magic, the next day I had a pound of mascarpone which cost about $5.00 for the organic cream plus a few cents for the tartaric acid and natural gas for operating the stove.
Following the recipe for the mascarpone, there’s a semifreddo made with it and flavored with espresso. It’s the kind of dessert that you have to make in advance which would make it perfect for a dinner party. It needs to be chilled in the freezer and then softened in the refrigerator before serving. An espresso-flavored custard was made first, and that was left to chill in the refrigerator. Next, a meringue was whipped in one bowl, and the homemade mascarpone and some cream were combined in a second bowl. The mascarpone and cream mixture was folded into the espresso custard followed by the meringue. I spooned the semifreddo into serving cups before freezing them, and that way, the softening time in the refrigerator was quicker than it would have been with one big bowl. Each serving was garnished with chopped hazelnuts and then quickly disappeared. I’ll definitely be making my own mascarpone from now on, when I have the time to make it. And, I’m going to try making some other cheeses too as well as homemade ginger ale, vermouth, nutella, berry vinegar, and pot stickers to name a few things.