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.”
“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?”
“I sincerely hope you won’t need any.”
*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.
- 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).
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.
- 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.
4 – Freezing the bowl and the whisk isn’t necessary, strictly speaking, but it is the secret to creating a cooperative, hardworking whipped cream.