“We are experiencing unusually high call volumes”

You know you’ve heard it. It’s the dreaded warning that you’ll be listening to scratchy music interspersed with short ads upselling you or encouraging you to get answers online for the next 30-40 minutes before you hear a couple of beeps and your call is unceremoniously dropped.

The messages to get your answers online instead are particularly galling, since anyone with a brain and an Internet connection nowadays will do ANYTHING to avoid having to get on the phone since we know that entails at least an hour of Muzak-overrun purgatory. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve emailed my bank, Internet provider, or other service and gotten a canned email response saying that they would love to help me with my inquiry if I would just call them at their toll-free number.

Let’s think about what years of “unusually high call volumes” really means. It means that call volumes are unexpectedly high, even higher than they were last year, when they were unexpectedly high, too. That implies that the number of calls has been growing exponentially for years, even if they were stupid enough to imagine that, after every year of call volume growth, the next year’s call volumes would grow linearly.

Now, let’s assume “normal call volumes” were those experienced at approximately 3:17am on a balmy August morning, back in 1987, otherwise known as the Pre-Call Center Era. The growth that would have had to occur since then in order to justify the “unusually heavy call volumes” claim would probably necessitate about 86% of the planet to be working at a call center right now.

In fact, we would all have to be simultaneously calling call centers from multiple numbers, and answering multiple calls, after, of course, each call had been sitting in queue for at least 30 minutes.

Another annoyance: “Your call is very important to us.” If that were true, don’t you think they would hire more people so that they could answer calls promptly? Or maybe they really mean, “Your call is very important to us, but your time isn’t”?

Entremet with Biscuit Joconde Imprimé (Daring Bakers Challenge)

OK, a departure from my usual blog snarkiness (although, only a little…I will save it for the demonic French bakers who invented this insufferably inscrutable dessert!). I started participating in the Daring Kitchen‘s monthly Daring Bakers Challenge, a non-competitive collaborative effort to push us novice bakers out of our comfort zones and create something new. Every month, literally hundreds of intrepid bakers take on a new dessert, one that has foiled many. This month, I totally failed at this month’s dessert: the entremet with biscuit joconde imprimé. (See the pictures below if you don’t believe me)

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

So here’s what this dessert is: a multi-layer dessert cake, usually round, with soft layer fillings held in by a “jovially-imprinted biscuit” that wraps around the dessert. This is what they’re supposed to look like:

Entremets passionata

Now, look at mine:

Um, yeah.

So this was my entremet:

  • chocolate biscuit joconde imprime (base & sides)
  • vanilla bavarois (Bavarian cream) – this came out delicious; I used a real vanilla bean and I think this gave it a much better flavor than extract
  • a pretzel/chocolate “croustillant” layer – this came out nice, too
  • a hazelnut mousse – tasted delicious, but would not set, even after chilling in the refrigerator for 2 hours
  • a chocolate mirror glaze – couldn’t really see it reflect, since it plunged past the soft mousse

I had really wanted to make a hazelnut mousse, but there was only one recipe I was able to find that also didn’t include chocolate. I had never made an egg-based mousse before, so I suppose I didn’t know how to troubleshoot any oddness in the texture.

It was an amusing afternoon, though. My thoughts as I was composing this thing:

  • Man, the French love eggs! I swear I used about 15 eggs making the damn thing. Every single item except the two chocolate layers—tellingly, the recipes were by Americans—involved lots and lots and lots of eggs.
  • There were so, so many steps involved. I was working furiously for about 3 1/2 hours to make everything. Patisserie chefs clearly have created items that are not easy to duplicate at home, ensuring themselves plenty of work even when the economy goes soft. (Maybe not when people opt for low-carb diets, though)
  • Making macarons (French macaroons) is far easier.

Just the same, I look forward to destroying the kitchen and wiping batter off the ceiling in next month’s challenge!