Leroux · Phantom of the Opera

A Literary Holiday Cookbook’s Masquerade Menu

Just a few short weeks, and the curtain will fall at last on 2020. I daresay many of us are looking to the end of the year with the hope that it’ll mark a cosmic turning point in all this insanity.

2020: We Won’t Think of You Fondly

While we can’t party responsibly this New Year’s Eve, we can treat ourselves to smaller celebrations. Alison Walsh, who authors a literary food blog called Alison’s Wonderland Recipes, has just come out with A Literary Holiday Cookbook, which is full of ideas for festive fictional feasts! Very relevant to our interests, obviously. She and we actually decided to try out each other’s dishes: she baked up Jo’s Gingerbread Nuts from our Little Women Cookbook, while we decided to indulge our inner goths with selections from her New Year’s Masquerade menu, inspired by The Phantom of the Opera!

Um, I might be a teeny bit obsessed with Phantom. Not the book, admittedly, but the musical. I sobbed so hard after watching the New York production that my mom and brother edged away nervously. I may spontaneously burst out into “Angel of Music” as I’m walking down the street. And I confess to devoting an entire day to watching bootleg recordings on YouTube to determine who my favorite cast is. (John Owen-Jones and Gina Beck!)

Alison’s full New Year’s Masquerade menu includes the following:

  • Devils on Horseback: Bacon-Wrapped Dates
  • Apple Rose Tartlets
  • Savory Strawberry Éclairs
  • Chocolate Strawberry Opera Cake
  • …and a special cocktail, The Phantom’s Rose

Due to the current California shutdown, Jenne and I couldn’t cook together, so we both made one item on our own and brought each other samples.

MIKO: THE PHANTOM’S ROSE

Though I don’t drink much and didn’t even in my normal pre-pandemic life, I lately find myself wishing I could go out and have a fancy craft cocktail. This mini-project seemed like a great excuse to mix myself one! The following recipe is a direct excerpt from A Literary Holiday Cookbook, with my notes in curly brackets.

Makes 1 cocktail

“They were marvelous red roses that had blossomed in the morning, in the snow, giving a glimpse of life among the dead.”

This cocktail’s distinctive charred orange slice garnish plays two roles. Of course, it’s visually striking, but it also adds a contrasting smoky flavor to the otherwise sweet, citrusy notes of the drink.

Ingredients:

  • 3 ounces Rosa Regale red wine, chilled
  • 1½ ounces triple sec, chilled {I used Cointreau to be extra-fancy … which also made it extra-strong}
  • 1 ounce blood orange bitters
  • 1 round orange slice*

Special Tools:

  • Chef’s torch

Instructions:

  1. Combine wine, triple sec, and bitters together in a wineglass. Set aside.
  2. On a clean, nonflammable surface (such as a granite countertop) {or an upside-down cookie sheet on trivets}, use a chef’s torch to scorch the top of the orange slice. Be sure to use the torch safely and in accordance with product guidelines. Lay the orange slice on top of the liquid in the glass, scorched-side up.

Serve to a prima donna after a performance at the Paris Opera House!

*Be sure the diameter of the orange slice is small enough to fit inside the glass. This may necessitate using a small orange or cutting from the narrow end of a larger orange instead of the middle.

JENNE: SAVORY STRAWBERRY ÉCLAIRS

As I was making these, I thought about how normally we would have planned a whole movie-viewing night with our friends where we all wore masquerade masks and roses in our hair and played some sort of drinking game with the cocktails and so on, and felt very sad about it. Hopefully for New Year’s 2021!

This recipe was a lot of fun to make–I always forget how easy choux pastry is, and I always feel super fancy and accomplished when I do it.

The following recipe is a direct excerpt from A Literary Holiday Cookbook, with my notes in curly brackets.

Makes 26 (4-inch) éclairs
{I made a half-recipe, because what was I going to do with 26 eclairs in a pandemic?}

“Did the ghost really take a seat at the managers’ supper-table that night, uninvited? And can we be sure that the figure was that of the Opera ghost himself? Who would venture to assert as much?”

This savory take on an elegant French confection balances the sweet-tart flavors of roasted strawberries and balsamic vinegar with the freshness of mint and whipped ricotta cheese.

Ingredients:

Choux Pastry

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs

For the Filling

  • 1 cup high-quality balsamic vinegar (from Modena)
    {I had some vanilla balsamic that I bought randomly last year, so I used it instead. I didn’t do the reducing step because I figured it was already pretty sweet. One other note: if you only need 1/4 teaspoon of this per eclair, for 26 eclairs that’s about 2 tablespoons of balsamic reduction, so I think using a whole cup of expensive Modena vinegar for this is overkill.}
  • 1 lb. strawberries, quartered
    {Since it’s winter, and the berries were going to be cooked anyway, I used frozen since they’re actually riper and more flavorful.}
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups ricotta
    {We have some friends who make their own ricotta so I prevailed on them to give me some. I highly recommend this! It’s not difficult to make and doesn’t have that unpleasant chalky/gritty texture that storebought ricotta does.}
  • ¾ cup pistachios, coarsely crushed
  • Mint leaves, for garnish

Instructions:

  1. To make the choux pastry, first move the oven racks to the top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats and set aside.
  2. {Crack the eggs into a small bowl and beat until well combined.}
  3. Melt the butter and water together in a medium saucepan on low heat. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and pour in the flour all at once. Stir together quickly with a silicone spatula. Turn heat back to medium. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs 1 tablespoon at a time with a hand mixer on medium speed until smooth.
  4. Fit a piping bag with a ½-inch round piping tip and fill the bag with the pastry dough. {I used a ziploc bag with a corner cut off, since I didn’t have a piping bag. If you put the bag in something like a coffee mug first, it’s a lot easier to fill!}
  5. Pipe 13 (4-inch) éclairs at least 1½ inches apart on each baking sheet. Place the sheets in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350°F; flip and rotate the pans. Bake for 20 minutes more. Turn off the heat and let the pastry shells sit for 10 minutes in the oven. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
  6. Prepare the fillings: To make the balsamic vinegar reduction, pour balsamic vinegar into a small sauté pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for 15 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature in the pan, approximately 15 minutes (makes 6 to 8 tablespoons).
  7. To roast the strawberries, begin by preheating the oven to 400°F. Toss strawberries with salt. Spread them out on a lightly greased baking sheet and place in oven for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. {Pro tip: do this ahead and roast the strawberries while you’re preparing the choux to bake!} The strawberries should be soft and slightly darkened. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. {I was lazy and mashed them in a bowl with a fork.} Set aside.
  8. Cut pastry shells in half lengthwise and set aside. Whisk ricotta for 1 minute or until fluffy. Transfer ricotta to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip (such as a Wilton 2A tip). {I didn’t bother with a piping bag here; a spoon worked just fine.}
  9. Pipe approximately 1½ teaspoons {I think this was a typo–I used about 1½ tablespoons} of ricotta across the bottom half of each éclair. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of pistachios onto each ricotta stripe.
  10. Spoon approximately 1 teaspoon blended strawberries onto each éclair {I also used closer to a tablespoon here, maybe I was just feeling extra}. Place the tops on the éclairs, pressing gently to adhere.
  11. Drizzle balsamic vinegar reduction over the éclair (approximately ¼ teaspoon per éclair). Place small mint leaves on top.

Serve at a masquerade ball!

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