Cooking from scratch

Jeanne Jacobs brings French flair to using basic ingredients

Jeanne Jacobs brings French flair to using basic ingredients

June 05, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

"I have no patience with bad food - especially bad desserts," said Jeanne Jacobs, Hagerstown's own authentic French chef, who presented the last of four gourmet cooking demonstrations at the Women's Club at Hagerstown a few weeks ago.

Jacobs was born and grew up in Paris. She and her family fled to their farm in Eastern France during the German occupation of Paris, and it was there she met her future husband, Harold Jacobs, a lieutenant in the American army. After a strictly supervised courtship, they married and, a few years later, came to the United States. Jeanne Jacobs completed her college education, including a master's degree, and taught French.

The couple eventually settled in Washington County, and for several years, Jeanne Jacobs taught gourmet cooking classes at then Hagerstown Junior College.


Her focus, her passion, then - and now - is to teach people not to rely on prepared foods in cooking.

Never would Jacobs buy frozen whipped topping. She uses real whipped cream.

Never would she buy a cake from a grocery store bakery. "A full moon has more light and color than a bucket of icing" she's seen applied in such settings.

Biochemists have hijacked ingredients - creating food products that are promoted as convenient, she said. The only thing recognizable in a list of cake-mix ingredients is flour, Jacobs railed.

"Don't be afraid of butter. Don't be afraid to use the things that were given to us." Natural ingredients are healthier, cheaper and better, she said.

Bags of packaged cookies boast that their contents are fat-free, but Jacobs asked her Women's Club audience of about 55 women if they ever noticed the number of calories in such products.

Jacobs had pre-baked parts of some of the desserts she demonstrated. She brought cakes - wrapped simply in tea towels - for the Almond Ginger Cream Roulade and her Buche De Nol, a yule log.

"Wrong season," she acknowledged, laughing.

Jacobs tools are not state-of-the-art, computerized hi-tech wonders. She works her magic with a 1951 mixer. Her smaller mixer is 25 years old. "Nothing is new in the house - including the cook," she laughed.

She made Italian meringue on hotplate burners in the Women's Club auditorium. She recommended using a candy thermometer to heat the syrup for the meringue to 238 degrees - precisely. She used a simple wooden rolling pin - the kind without spinnable handles. "Use your wrists," she said.

Jacobs is a demanding teacher. "I don't want to hear people say I don't have the time," she said.

She advised not leaving the planning of dessert until the last minute. Bake while you watch your children do their homework. "Organize yourself."

If you don't have time to prepare dessert, buy a couple of pints of "good" ice cream, "good" cookies or fruit - acceptable alternatives.

"Food is too important to be turned into something that is not edible, not good for you," she said.

Spending a little more time to create high-quality desserts is important to Jacobs. "I take the time because I love my family. I love my friends," she said.

The women - and a couple of girls - in attendance were pleased with the results of Jacob's efforts.

"Jeanne Jacobs is our French teacher," said Colleen Keely, 12. She and her sister, Diana, 9, are homeschooled in Hagerstown. They enjoyed the program and the desserts.

"The yule log was heavenly," Diana said.

Mildred Elia, who lives near Leitersburg, also was impressed.

"I think she has the right idea. I think you should have great ingredients," she said.

Basic Spongecake for Trifle or Shortcake

4 eggs, separated

4 "good" tablespoons of sugar

4 "good" tablespoons of regular flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

Beat egg yolks with half of the sugar until thick and yellow.

Beat whites until stiff but not dry and add remaining sugar.

Mix the flour and baking powder.

Gently fold in the yolk mixture into the whites, alternately adding the flour mixture.

Turn the batter into two, 8-inch round cake pans, lined with waxed paper. (Do not butter either the pans or the paper.)

Bake at 350 degrees until puffed and golden (Do not over-bake; touch the top with a finger and the imprint should disappear.)

Put the cake pans on a rack and let cool.

Invert pans and peel off the paper.

You are ready for a variety of desserts (birthday cakes, trifles, strawberry shortcakes etc.)

Note: You can increase the quantity of batter to make 3 cake layers by adding 2 more eggs and 2 more tablespoons of sugar and flour. "Good" means generous.

English Cream (Custard Sauce)

6 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

2 1/4 cup boiling milk

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 tablespoon rum

Beat egg yolks with sugar and cornstarch until very pale yellow and thick.

Pour the boiling milk over the yolk mixture and transfer back to the same pan.

Cook over moderate heat and stir until the cream thickens (Watch that it does not separate. The cornstarch is supposed to prevent that from happening).

Take off the heat.

Add vanilla and rum.

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