Wild Goose Chase
Moricette. I don’t call her Moricette, I call her Mme. Lainel, but my husband refers to her as Moricette, her first name, when he speaks of her, fondly. Because it is such an old-fashioned, musical name. And she is such an old-fashioned, delightful woman. Mme. and M. Lainel were the first owners of the Hôtel Diderot when it was called the Hôtel Saint-Hilaire; the couple purchased the building and created the original hotel in the early 1960’s, running it until 1979 when it was sold to another couple who would remain for close to twenty-five years.
Mme. Lainel began the tradition of preparing and serving homemade jams and jellies to the hotel clientele using the fruit from her garden. A tradition that has continued until today and beyond.
M. Lainel has long passed, but Mme. Lainel lives just down the street from the hotel in a small house hidden behind a scruffy wooden door painted robin’s egg blue. The name Lainel is written above the mail slot (cut into the wood), scrawled in an awkward hand in black magic marker. “The postman wrote that one year so he could find which house was mine,” she explained to me the first time I visited her. She is still a lively, witty woman always dressed in a sensible cardigan over a blouse, paired with a wool skirt in winter, cotton in summer, much like my mother-in-law always was, two of a kind, these simple French women of another generation. White hair frames an amiable face and an affectionate personality, metal-framed glasses are perched on her nose. And she loves to chat.
I push open the baby blue door from the street and she greets me, welcoming me into her glass-enclosed sunroom. I have come once again to deliver bread, my weekly appearance. You see, all the uneaten bread that has gone stale gets dumped rather unceremoniously into a huge baker’s sack that had once held kilos upon kilos of flour. When the bag is full, at least once a week, and wreaks havoc in the tiny kitchen in which we prepare and from which we serve breakfast, barely big enough as it is (the kitchen, that is) for two and our breakfast dance (the bag stands behind the door and when it is full the door is pushed out, half closed), I give Mme. Lainel a call and ask if I can pop by. Mme. Lainel brings the stale bread to a friend for his chickens.
I wonder if the eggs laid by those chickens fed on brioche and croissants have a richer, more buttery flavor.
I drag the heavy bag into Mme. Lainel’s sunroom where she is waiting for me, a smile brightening her face, her hands clasped together in front of her. Her grey cat hops up on the table (covered, as my mother-in-law’s would have been, in a flower-patterned oilcloth) and demands attention, demands to be rubbed, thrusting his head towards me. “In this house, I’m the beast and she’s the master. I am at her beck and call, her command,” Mme. Lainel jokes every time, chuckling her wicked chuckle. We chit chat as I scratch the cat’s ears, chit chat about the weather, her garden, making jam, the hotel, and hotel life. I forget that she once ran the hotel and knows the stories, understands working with the clientele, knows the building well. She loves company and I love her stories and her sense of humor and we could stand and papoter, gossip and chatter, for hours but I must dash quickly back to the hotel to finish my morning’s work.
The first time I visited her, bringing her bread as was the tradition long before I arrived at the hotel, I was rather nervous, wondering what in the world I could possibly have to say to this woman, a woman I hardly know, had only met once. But I felt like I had known her forever. You are so much like my mother-in-law, I told her. Oh, she must be much younger than I am, Mme. Lainel responds seriously. I’m 89. My old body is winding down, it doesn’t allow me anymore to do everything that I want to do in a day, but if I can still walk to my club twice a week and work my garden then I’m happy. I find her rather inspirational.
A few days ago, Mme. Lainel arrived in the lobby of the hotel carrying a small bouquet of flowers and a white paper sack. “These are wild flowers from my garden,” she explained as she pushed the small bouquet, the stems carefully wrapped in damp paper towels and aluminum foil, towards me. “Muguet, lilies of the valley, for May Day.” Springs of white, yellow, purple among the green, a lovely, simple yet lovely, thoughtful gift from this simple yet lovely, thoughtful woman. “And these,” she lifted up the white paper sack, “are goose eggs. Yes, my friend brought me four goose eggs this morning and I thought ‘now what will I do with four goose eggs?’ So I brought you three.” And she handed me the paper sack casually, almost nonchalantly, as if embarrassed by the simplicity of her offering.
No one has ever offered me goose eggs before. Ever. Kindness in three large, heavy, thick-shelled eggs.
And so the wild goose chase began for a recipe using three goose eggs. Jean-Pierre wanted that I use them in something that would cook or bake them completely; he was more than wary about eating raw goose eggs fresh from the goose’s bottom. So I settled on cake. I haven’t been baking cake. And I should be baking cake.
And I made this.
- 3 Tbs freshly squeezed orange juice
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 oz (29 g) dark, bittersweet chocolate melted and cooled
- 2 ½ cups (335 g) flour
- ½ cup (65 g) cornstarch (Maizena)
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 1 ½ cups (24 Tbs, 340 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 8 oz container (250 g) mascarpone cheese
- 1 cup (160 g) packed light brown sugar
- 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3 goose eggs, lightly beaten
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C or gas mark 3). Butter and then line two 9 x 5 x 3-inch (23 x 12 x 8-cm) loaf pans with parchment paper, using one long strip that covers the bottom as well as the two end sides, allowing overhang on either end to help remove the cake from the pans.
- Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool. Combine the orange juice with the grated zest and set aside. Sift or stir together the flour, cornstarch, and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, mascarpone, the brown and white sugars and the vanilla until combined, smooth and creamy. Add the eggs in thirds, beating after each addition until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the batter in 3 additions, beating briefly just until combined.
- Transfer a third of the batter to another bowl and stir in the melted chocolate thoroughly. Stir the orange juice and zest into the remaining batter blend thoroughly.
- Divide the orange batter between the two loaf pans. Spoon half of the chocolate batter on top of the orange batter in each pan. Swirl the chocolate batter into the orange batter using a sharp knife, holding the knife upright and making figure eights through the batter.
- Bake the pound cakes in the preheated oven for about 1 hour 10 or 15 minutes – check your cakes often during the last ten minutes or so as the baking time might vary depending on your oven and pan shape and size if baking, as I did, in different cake pans.
- Remove from the oven when set in the center – a tester should come out mostly clean –and allow to cool on wire racks for about 10 minutes before gently loosening and turning out of the loaf pans. Once the cakes are removed from the loaf pans, allow to cool completely before slicing.