Sunday, May 18, 2008


So this one Thanksgiving it was our family's job to make the pies, and my small duty was to get the cloves. I went to the food store, I grabbed the first thing I saw with the word "cloves" on it, and I hurried home thinking my work was done.

Well, sort of. I had bought whole cloves, instead of ground. Whole cloves may be dried flower buds, but their name comes from the Latin word clavus, for nail. It’s indicative. They’re small, rock-hard, spiky little creatures that are good for piercing the skins of oranges and bringing spicy back to your mulled cider. But you really can't make our pumpkin pie until you've ground the suckers.

Thwarted from returning to the store by horizontal rain, it became clear that we would have to make do. We had no mortar and pestle. We had no coffee grinder. I've never forgotten the fury of grinding a handful of cloves one at a time in an American Girl doll mortar and pestle I had unearthed from the back of my closet. That day I labored with "colonial" kitchen gear made for a 24-inch doll named Felicity. Pumpkin pie kind of lost its magic.

Now, this weekend I wanted so badly to make bombolone, the Italian donut I learned at culinary school. (The day we failed at panettone we were consoled by fluffy donuts piped with jam and pastry cream. Not bad.) The thing is, all my recipes from culinary school are in grams, and I don't have a scale. Can you see where I’m going with this?

My dad has a grain scale for measuring arrowheads (oh yeah). It’s, uh, hand held and decidedly not digital. I clipped a plastic bag to it and measured and converted… oh, it’s not even worth explaining the tedious details. It was the clove incident of 2002 all over again. Anyway, it came out all wrong, because after I let the batter proof and cut it into little discs, it fried without poofing up into a flaky doughnut. More like a dough-puck, I’d say.

Still, they tasted fried and with a dusting of confectioner's sugar, a little jam and pastry cream -- well, who wouldn't be happy with even a donut-like thing on Sunday morning? What I've got of the recipe is pretty much what you can see in the photograph. Fry the disks in a mild vegetable oil for just a short while until they rise to the surface, puff up (hopefully) and turn a nice golden color. Better luck than I, my scale-toting friends.

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