Do Real Men Make Dessert? Or Must They Buy It From a Bakery?

Sensible answers to the questions of modern manhood.
Feb. 12 2014 3:33 PM

What Kind of Dessert Does a “Real” Man Make for His In-Laws?

Culinary advice for gentlemen-in-training.

Please send your questions for publication to gentlemanscholarslate@gmail.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

I am a gentleman-in-training preparing to cook for my parents and in-laws—our first fancy dinner in our first home. I’m all set for the main course with a lobster–and–New York strip steak combination that pretty effectively signals “king of the castle.” However, being a man, my only measuring device is a keen eye, which basically means all baking is a train wreck. Not to mention the stigma against “real” men and baking. Should I seek out a dessert that is both gentlemanly and easy on the baking prowess? Or should I give in to the stigma and take a trip to the local bakery?

Thank you for your question. Best of luck with your surf-and-turf repast.

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Confident that any number of pastry chefs would give you a thorough kneading for suggesting that baking is less than masculine, I will sidestep the gender-stereotyping element of your letter—except to caution you against whipping up any dessert touted for its virile virtues. Bourbon marshmallow bacon s’mores strike me as an insult to the intelligence of everyone involved, foremost the pig.

Although picking something up at the bakery is completely legit, you might consider planning a simple fruit dessert such as poached pears or baked apples. These dishes are so delicious that your guests will never care that a child could make them. Like, literally, children do make them; the instructions for that apple recipe begin, “Ask a grown-up to turn the oven on.”

If feeling slightly more ambitious, you could do up a custard or a pudding—no flour, no baking soda, no great precision required. The world’s most popular custard dessert is also its awesomest—crème brûlée. How to caramelize the sugar atop this? Its inventor, François Massialot, preferred to use a red-hot fire shovel—but that was 300 years ago. Some contemporary cooks put their ramekins under the broiler—but that lacks theatrical flair. It would be great fun for all involved (and even less work for you) to pass a blowtorch around the table so that each guest can scorch her own sugar. To do so turns the sweet course into performance art, interactive and pyrotechnic. Just remember this simple truth of home appliances: A man in possession of a blowtorch must be in want of a fire extinguisher.

* * *

I have recently moved from the West Coast to A Decidedly Colder Coast. I walk to the train every morning. I need a hat.

My job is the sort where traditional dressing is de rigueur, and my closet has a high proportion of tweed, loden, and waxed cotton. Even so, as a 30-year-old man, I feel self-conscious wearing any hat other than a stocking cap or baseball hat. These seem too casual to wear with my gray flannels. What to do? Are there any warm dress hats that won’t seem like something best worn only by members of ’90s swing revival bands or aging Eastern Bloc diplomats?

Thank you for your question.

Here is the National Weather Service’s wind chill calculator, a tool enabling a citizen to input the temperature and the wind speed and thereby determine exactly how miserable things are outside. For instance, if it is 28 degrees Fahrenheit and winds are blowing 8 miles per hour, the wind chill temperature will be 20 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the point at which concerns of style go out the window, or would, were the window not frozen shut.

If, in these conditions, you match a flannel suit with a watch cap, no one will give it a second look (unless the cap is of a handsome cashmere and the look is jealous or admiring). You want to pair a Cubs hat with an overcoat? No problem. You prefer the integrity of your auricles to the indignity of earmuffs? I promise to try not to laugh.

A brimmed hat is more formal than any of the above solutions, true, but you, dear sir, are resisting that option for fear of being confused with the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ touring trombonist—a reasonable concern. Perhaps you should shop for a felt hat with a brim narrower than that of the iconic and overplayed fedora? A trilby or homburg or something?

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