Orrie’s Tasty Problem


Once again, a favorite source, the Nero Wolfe canon, yields a tantalizing food mention that not only stokes the reader’s appetite, but which burnishes also the author’s fine cooking credentials. Rex Stout was a serious gourmet and, so inspired, he often kept a well-appointed table close to his mysteries’ pulse.

In Death of a Doxy, for example, the narrator (Archie) discusses with his colleague Orrie Cather a particularly difficult conundrum in which Orrie finds himself:

He was staying put, his head tilted back. “What are you going to do [about the situation]?”

I looked at my wrist. “Dinner will be half over, and anyway I ate. I’m going home and eat two helpings of crème Génoise. You crush eight homemade macaroons and soak them in half a cup of brandy. Put two cups of rich milk–“

“So clown it!” he yelled. “Are you going to tell Wolfe?”

“I’d rather not.”

“Are you?”

“As it stands now, no.”

“Or Saul or Fred?”

“No. Nor Cramer(*) nor J. Edgar Hoover.” I went to the couch for my hat and coat. “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t expect me to do. You know what doctors call professional courtesy?”

“Yeah.”

“I sincerely hope you won’t need any.”

I went.

*Like Orrie, Saul and Fred are freelancers who often work with Archie and Wolfe.  Cramer – Inspector Cramer of NYPD Homicide – often is an adversary and sometimes is an ally.  He and Archie/Wolfe have a genuine, if grudging and usually tacit, respect for one another.

So, is crème Génoise good enough to warrant two servings in anticipation?  Absolutely!  It’s a thick, satiny orange-infused pudding spooned over crumbled cookies and chilled.  A shot or two of Grand Marnier sets the orangey tang abuzz.  The enhancements:  

Warming that buzz, and wrapping it in a creamy, comforting blanket, is a good measure of whole milk appealingly sweetened. The custard adorns cookies broken up to allow the crumb to absorb the luscious pudding. In today’s preparation, though, ladyfingers are used instead of macaroons specified in the original. Crème Génoise means “Genoese Cream,” after all, and an Italian cookie seems a more fitting choice.

The recipe is among those found in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, which means Nero Wolfe’s supremely talented chef Fritz Brenner (dictating to his literary agent Rex Stout, no doubt) developed the concept. He created a masterpiece, cookies and cream sophisticated to exquisiteness.

No wonder Archie already reserved a second serving, sight unseen. By the time he gets back to the brownstone, he even may have worked up the appetite for a third. Sleuthing is hungry work, after all. (Sound familiar?) This case will require all of Archie’s ingenuity. Fortunately, crème Génoise will supply all the necessary motivation, and then some.

*****

Crème Génoise

  • 2-and-1/4 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange rind (*1)
  • 1 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons citron, chopped (*2)
  • 6 macaroons (*3)

Put the milk into the top part of a double boiler over boiling water, and scald it until a thin film is formed. In a separate pan over low heat mix the sugar, egg yolks, flour, salt, almond extract, orange rind and the Grand Marnier. Gradually pour in the scalded milk, and whisk continuously.

Cook for ten minutes until the mixture is quite thick, stirring steadily. Remove from the heat, add the butter and the citron, and mix well.

Crumble equal portions of the cookies into individual sherbet glasses, and pour the crème over each. Chill and serve with whipped cream (recipe below).

NOTES:

1 – Or, a little more for garnish, which is a nice finishing touch.

2 – Citron is a candied peel sometimes used in confections. It may be difficult to find. If so, don’t despair; just substitute an additional pinch of sugar.

3 – Macaroons are nice, but ladyfingers are even better, and they fit well with the dessert’s “Genoese” theme.

*****

Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Put the bowl and whisk attachment from a stand mixer in the freezer. Let chill for at least twenty minutes, until the metal is thoroughly frosted. (*4)

Attach bowl and whisk and, while mixing at low speed, pour in the whipping cream. Add the sugar and the extract, then gradually increase the mixing speed to high. Continue thus until the cream is fluffy and holds stiff peaks, about five minutes.

NOTES:

4 – Freezing the bowl and the whisk isn’t necessary, strictly speaking, but it is the secret to creating a cooperative, hardworking whipped cream.

21 thoughts on “Orrie’s Tasty Problem

    1. Thank you, Crystal!

      Gourmet? Yeah, I’ll cop to that. Delighting in culinary artistry, and in its infinite expressions? Yep.

      You know what? You too, sister. Would you have been a faithful reader all these years now if you didn’t cherish your own aspirations and dreams?

      In fact, the idea is to encourage the gourmet in all of us. Let’s keep this happy discussion going. If someone seeks anger and contention, let him look elsewhere. There are plenty of sites out there catering to those spoiling for a fight. Here we cater to those spoiling for imagination.

      Like

      1. One cheer, two cheers, three cheers more, Crystal!

        Imagining each entry is fun, and creating it is even better. Best of all, though, is enjoying it with others, both at home and here. Plus, “here” offers an added delight – anticipation. Can’t wait to read what they think about this week’s efforts!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Indeed, this is a huge problem. If I get anywhere near this glorious treat, I will develop an overeating disorder.

    Then I will get a blockage in my stomach from over-consumption and need a tube down my nose to remove the blockage.

    But I will return home and ravage this scrumptious desert again and it’ll start all over again.

    Thus, I’ll go bankrupt from hospital bills. Homelessness could follow.

    Yes, this could be a delicious problem. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no, Tamara, nothing so grim! This blog is all about dreams come true. Triumph always starts with a dream, does it not?

      Mine include a day or two as a guest, luxuriating in that brownstone’s refined comfort, delighting in sparkling conversation. We already have enjoyed the first day’s dinner and dessert. What’s on the menu tomorrow? Retire to one of the comfortable guest rooms and float away to sleep imagining it.

      Your generous praise has earned you this moment, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jenn, and I think you would enjoy it! Especially as the orange zest highlights similar elements in the Grand Marnier, and the custard/whipped cream caresses it.

      Of course, the cognac means this isn’t a treat for kids, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good ideas, Tamara, both of them! Ever since you first offered advice about punching up the tags, I have made some efforts there. Just expanding now, though.

      Another leap forward, or so I hope, will be getting started on Instagram and on Pinterest, likely sometime around Christmas.

      If you don’t mind, I’m gonna steal both your ideas and plug them into this entry. Sure, the post has been up since Sunday, but the newcomers can’t hurt, right? Thanks again, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. OJ, which any pirate cap’n worth his salt (or any Crew Poet worth hers) will find growing on trees lining many a hidden cove.

      Oh, and I really appreciate the compliment, Rachel! Obviously, I’m a major NW fan, though I fear having lured myself into the classic nerdy trap. Which is, believing that if it fascinates me, it’s got to fascinate everybody.

      It does the heart good, though, to read the enthusiasm may be spreading, genuinely. I won’t let it go to my head, honest. There will be another mention this weekend, and we still will visit the luxurious brownstone on West 35th Street from time to time, but it will be only the occasional sojourn. Gotta keep it crave-worthy and an object of anticipation, after all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, I knew you’d understand, Rachel!

        One thing Nero Wolfe isn’t, is common. What I’m trying to do, actually, is to replicate the first time reading NW. The thrilling charge of discovering a kindred soul expressing ideals I thought to be mine only. Then, that excitement warming to a deep contentment arising from a perfect little world constructed artfully.

        Best of all are the dreams. Imaging what it would be like to dine and to overnight in that magnificent brownstone. I get that already when planning and preparing each meal, and if I share that wonder with readers, perfect.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Your generous compliment is much appreciated, Rachel!

        You’re right about nearly all books losing their magic the third or fourth time around. Yet…yet, those which absorb us emotionally deepen and envelop us more with each new dance. As the main narrative becomes familiar, we focus more on the little details, many of which we never noticed before. Here is the ultimate thrill, the one which electrifies our souls.

        For example, NW never was about the whodunit and the clever way Archie and Wolfe solve the mystery. Of only secondary importance originally, the main plot soon becomes irrelevant, as the seasoned reader knows already what happens. Instead, the dialogue rises. The witty banter, the clever turn of phrase. Then there are the glowing and vivid descriptions of the food and of the luxurious decor. Fleeting glimpses of a lost and incredibly comforting world.

        Like

    1. Again, I appreciate your compliment, Fairy Queen!

      Although the dessert has a French name, and it includes Grand Marnier, it is named for Genoa. The ladyfinger cookies make it even more Italian. Your mother’s recipe adds influence. Even the French credit the Italians.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s