Let's Get Cookin' gourmet store in Westlake Village is the center of a cooking subculture. It doesn't look like much from the outside - small, with windows crowded with cook books and cooking supplies - but inside it opens up into a surprisingly large yet snug shop with a nice demo kitchen in the back.
So there are always passionate cooks stopping by to pick up some gadget or cookbook they need, or to take cooking classes. I love going there because I am among my Tribe. I know no one will think I am insane for needing a green bean slicer, a Le Creuset pan shaped like a red bell pepper, and some balsamic vinegar priced like a fine Cabernet.
There is desk space for about 25 class members. During the day and on weekends, they offer hands-on classes. During the evenings, there are demonstration classes by famous and semi-famous chefs and authors. The walls are lined with photos of the unflappable owner, Phyllis Vaccarelli, with some of the biggest names in cooking today and in the past. I always love to see Julia Child smiling down at me from that wall.
On Nov. 17, 2005 cookbook author and cooking teacher Nick Malgieri taught a dessert class. His most recent book is A Baker's Tour: Nick Malgieri's Favorite Baking Recipes from Around the World."
He prepared, from scratch, 5 recipes, including a Norwegian Princess Cake, complete with bubble-gum pink marzipan (again from scratch) topping. Pretty impressive for a 2 1/2 hour class.
Malgieri is not a flashy teacher - think of him as the anti-Emeril. But he makes up for in substance what he lacks in showmanship. He has the sort of calm, measured demeanor you expect from someone who has the patience to be a great baker. Cooks can be wild and flighty, but bakers had better have their ingredients in order.
His talk was sprinkled with useful tips and he even took time during the break to give a student a long description of how to make the caramel topping for Dobosh torte, complete with diagrams. (One hint: place the caramel layer on a bed of granulated sugar, which acts like tiny ball bearings, so you can scoot it around easily.)
Princess Cream Cake
The five things he made were a caramelized Swiss nut torte, the aforementioned Princess Cream Cake, A Viennese Bishop Torte, Torta Caprese Bianca and Jan Hagel Shortbread Cookies.
The Torta Caprese Bianca was not made with goat cheese (as the name "Caprese usually suggests), but rather was from the isle of Anacapri. Malgieri warned us that the flavor was subtle, so I was worried that I wouldn't like it. I usually crave those kind of hit-you-over-the-head flavors like chocolate and chile and rosemary. This was made with white chocolate, lemon and almonds. The white chocolate gets melted and gives the batter a lovely richness. The Torta was my favorite thing of the night - a fabulous texture and a light flavor.
My second preference were Jan Hagel Shortbreads, which Malgieri is shown making in the top photo. A very sandy-textured dough - more of a powder than a dough, really - is pressed into a parchment-lined pan. Sliced almonds are pressed on top, it is baked, and voila. Crisp, buttery cookies with just a small warm hint of cinnamon. These are the kind of cookie that I dare not make, lest I eat most of a pan at one sitting. Delicious.
The Bishop Torte was a pannetone-like cake leavened only by whipped egg whites. It is studded with chunks of chocolate and usually candied orange peel, though in this case Malgieri used candied pineapple. It is much better the second day when the flavors have had a chance to come together and the texture has tightened. I know because I ate it for breakfast.
The nut torte knocked me out, too. The filling of big chunks of walnuts in a caramel base with just a dab of honey was made for my palate. The rich buttery crust wasn't so bad, either.
I was surprised that the most spectacular dessert, the Princess Cream Cake, was the one I liked least. Layers of sponge cake are filled with whipped and pastry cream and the whole thing is encased in marzipan. One of the audience members said that she had had it with a raspberry filling, which Malgieri said he had never seen on his travels in Europe. I think it might just - pardon the expression - kick it up a notch.
Here is the complete assortment for your viewing pleasure. If you want to taste, you will just have to bust out the $35 and buy the book. Believe me, just for these recipes, it is worth it.
From the Pink Princess Cream Torte clockwise: Swiss Nut Torte, Torta Caprese Bianca, Jan Hagels, and, in the middle, Bishop Torte.