Muffins merely made in the microwave

Because who can resist a bit of alliteration?

The Book
Harumi’s Japanese Cooking| Harumi Kurihara
(Conran Octopus, 2004)

The Recipe
Steamed Cream Cheese Muffins

The Reason
I’ve had this book for ages, and it’s one of the few that I actually use regularly, but I’ve never ventured into the desserts section of the book before. Add in the fact that it was one of the few nice days of the summer so I wanted something not too heavy, and there we go.

The Cooking
Ha! Well, they’re stupidly easy. Microwave stuff. Mix stuff. Microwave stuff again. End of. The most complicated bit was lining the ramekins with baking parchment and making little clingfilm tents so that they steam properly. That and actually gathering the ingredients. For some reason, the supermarkets were conspiring against me and either not selling cream cheese or not selling cream. Well, there were selling cream cheese, but I don’t think the world is ready for garlic and chive and vanilla muffins. There’s really not a lot to say about them, in terms of preparation. It’s interesting to find things that are baked without the oven; I guess it partly stems from so many Japanese flats being tiny little shoeboxes and a lot of people not even having ovens. That sidebar dealt with, in summary: easy.

The result

Attractive, I’m sure you’ll agree

Yeah… these aren’t going to win any awards for presentation or get me a pastry chef internship any time soon. But given that that were made in the microwave, I don’t think they’re too ugly. And they do look rather like the ones in the book, so I’m confident that they’re meant to look like that. The microwave mug cake that was doing the internet rounds a year or two ago was really not pleasant to look at, all lumpy and bulbous where it boiled over the mug. At least these have kept their shape and are a fairly pleasant yellow colour. I’m not entirely sure they deserve the name ‘muffins’ to be honest, but there you go.

I think I may have overcooked them slightly, because they’re a bit spongy. But on the other hand, perhapsyou can’t set your sights too high with microwave cake. They’re light, and fresh-tasting, but I think they’d really benefit from being served with fruit, say, or even ice-cream. They’re not quite … satisfying enough by themselves.

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Horribly misshapen pretzels

So, I’ve neglected this a bit. Suffice to say Real Life Stuff has been in the way a bit, but I’m determined to keep it going, and I’ve still been doing a bit of cooking.

The Book
Street Food | Rose Grant

(The Crossing Press, 1988)

The Recipe
Chewy Soft Pretzels

The Reason
Put simply, my flatmate was in the mood for pretzels. So I made pretzels. (Aren’t I an amazing person to live with?) Also, pretzels are amazing, and it was a recipe from a new book, so it was a good plan. Street Food is fun, because it’s got all sorts of details about the various, erm, street foods it covers. It roams all over the world – the USA, Europe and Asia, with recipes from Baltimore Crab Cakes to Croque Monsieur and Pad Thai. Apparently pretzels arose in the fifteenth century when a monk who didn’t want to waste any dough from the unleavened bread he was making rolled the scraps to represent people praying. The more you know.

The Cooking
Hoo boy. This did not go brilliantly. I suffered from the usual problem of too big a batch. It was to make 20 pretzels, if not quite the size of the New York street vendor ones, then definitely heading in that direction. The dough ended up far too elastic and stretchy, so for the most part I couldn’t shape them properly. In turn, when I boiled them, they mostly kind of drooped off the edges of the slotted spoon and lost their shape even more. I think I need to steal the giant flat pierced ladle that my dad used to use to make potato latkas. So I ended up mostly rerolling them all into just stubby little pretzel sticks instead. Which is fine, because the whole point of pretzels is the salty oily chewy amazingness; the shape is secondary. And no, I am NOT just saying that because I couldn’t get the shape right. Nope. No siree.

The result

Pretzels. After a fashion.

Sticks. Not pretzels.

 

Well, you be the judge. It was basically a lot better when I gave up trying to shape them and just baked them as nobbly little sticks. But tastewise, hummunuh hummunuh. Even the places that sell pretzels (like Pret, say) do them with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. I did a few sesame seeds but let’s be honest, what I wanted was proper monstrous chewy but also crunchy pretzels with salt crystals on. And that’s what I got. Salt is good. The two of us ate pretty much the whole batch in two days, so something must have been right. I think if/when I make them again, I’ll just make them smaller so that the shape is more manageable, but other than that I’m marking them in the success column.

 

Rosemary shortbread

Yup. Time to delve into the Flour cookbook again. I swear one day I’ll make something that isn’t by Joanne Chang..

The Book
Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe | Joanne Chang
(Chronicle Books, 2010)

The Recipe
Rosemary shortbread

The Reason
It was my mum’s birthday, so I wanted to bake something for her. She likes shortbread, and these seemed fun and interesting. Also, logistically, it’s hella easier to transport some biscuits than it is an iced cake. Or indeed any cake. Plus it was something I’d never tried before, and the whole point of this project i to get myself doing new things.

The Cooking
I have to say, in the absence of an electric mixer, I’m seriously glad that I had my little brainwave of microwaving the butter before trying to blend it in with the sugar. It’s hardly revolutionary and it’s not exactly got Heston Blumenthal quaking in his boots, but compared with beating and beating and beating to soften the butter, it’s amazing. Yes, I’m amazed that I can walk and chew gum at the same time, too. I’m learning.

Because they’re so buttery (obviously, being shortbread) you’ve got to chill the dough before you roll it out. It wasn’t really firming up though, so I whacked it in the freezer for a few minutes, which seemed to be a mistake, as the dough kept cracking and was still very sticky. But with a bit of reworking and a bit more flour thrown in, it got back to the right texture.

You’re meant to cut out regular shapes with a knife but I have zero confidence in my ability to get things consistent, so I just used a cookie cutter. The advantage was the regular size achieved; the disadvantage was the leftover dough after cutting out. I ended up throwing a bit away, because I’d already filled up three baking sheets with cookies and I didn’t want to do another batch, especially as I’d have to rechill the dough.

I needed to use a pallete knife to slide them off the counter onto the baking sheet. I’m not sure how I ever even tried to do baking without a pallete knife to be honest.

The Cooking
They look like this:

Yes, yes, I did put them on tissue paper and toss about some sprigs of rosemary in an attempt to get all food stylist in the hizzay. And what? In my defence, the tissue paper was to wrap them in to go into a gift bag for my mum. (Seriously. So much easier than a cake.)

Tastewise, the rosemary wasn’t really detectable. There was only a teaspoon in the whole mix, so I think I’d up that a bit in future. I was paranoid about undercooking, and as a result they got a wee bit overcooked, but not to the extent that it affected the taste.

I hate ‘melt in the mouth’, as a phrase, because it’s a cliche, and always sounds kind of gross and pervy. Nonetheless, that’s what they did. Which is perhaps unsurprising given that they’re about 75% butter. My mum liked them, so yay for that.

What I’m really liking about this whole project, though, is that it’s giving me a basis of solid recipes that I can experiment from. I’m probably going to do some lavender ones (to use up the lavender sugar that will otherwise sit there forever). And some coconut ones because coconut. Any other suggestions?

What’s not to like about deep-fried chilli bread?

The Book
Red Hot Chilli Pepper| Jenni Fleetwood (ed)
(Anness Publishing, 2001)

The Recipe
Chilli Pooris

The Reason
I’ve had this book for like a decade. Like most of my cookbooks, it’s just sat in the cupboard, but as it is, I think, the first cookbook I bought of my own accord, it’s worth another look. I got it when my old housemate was a member of one of those weird book clubs that make you buy more books or they’ll steal your children. Considering its provenance, it’s not bad. Actually, that’s not fair; it’s a great book in its own right.

It’s got what I love in cookbooks, which is loads of background information. The origin of chillis, how to grow and store them, explanation of the Scoville scale, and so on and so on. Not all of it was new information to me, but it’s still nice to have it there. And to say the book is generously illustrated would be an understatement. Every recipe (140+) has colour photos, not just of the end result, but of the cooking stages as well. It’s the sort of book that makes me want to be a food photographer. (That is TOTALLY a job. Stop looking at me like that.)

I went for the chilli pooris because, well, they look good, and also because I wanted to make something savoury. Also, I figured just making a stir-fry or something was a bit lazy, so I should branch out. Also: it’s deep-fried chilli bread. What more recommendation do you need?

The Cooking
Yeah, I say that stir-fry is lazy and then make something that just involves making dough. I’m not exactly stretching myself to the culinary limit here. It seemed a remarkably small amount of chilli – half a teaspoon of chilli powder in half a pound of flour – but I guess they’re going for warmth without overpowering the flavour. The diced chilli fresh chilli should add a little kick, I guess.

I’m not good at deep-frying it turns out. It’s hard to keep the oil at an even temperature, for one. I was excited that I got to use my slotted spoon that I bought for the sole purpose of deep-frying. Such is what passes for excitement in my life. They all cooked well enough, although some got more done than others, as the oil get hotter despite my best efforts at moderating it. (I don’t know how anybody cooks on electric hobs. It was hard enough doing this with the instantly adjustable gas, doing it on a hob that retains the heat would be a pain in the arse. I guess the newest electric hobs are a lot better about that, but still. Gas all the way.

The result
They’re … fine. They don’t really deserve a photo. They’re just kind of little bread nuggets. They taste not bad. I think they need a bit more chilli powder, or some more herbs and spices, or something, if they’re going to be used as snacks. Oregano might be good. For an accompaniment to curry or even stews and stuff, I think they’d be really good.

And it’s occuring to me that they’re incredibly moreish, because I’m going to go and now stuff them in my mouth like a pig.

The only thing better than Oreos is home-made Oreos

The Book
Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe | Joanne Chang
(Chronicle Books, 2010)

The Recipe
Homemade Oreos

The Reason
Because they’re Oreos. I’m not sure what more reason I’d need, to be honest. Given that my flatmate has to eat at least some of what I bake, he also approved the suggestion.

The Cooking
The cookie dough was super easy to mix because you do it with melted butter and melted chocolate, so there’s none of the strenuous hours of beating to get solid butter into a whipped state. I didn’t have enough cocoa powder, so had to run to the shop and get some, which conveniently allowed time for the butter and chocolate to cool. I try to be good and avoid contributing to the commercial behemoth that is Tesco, but having one about a minute’s walk from the flat does place temptation and convenience in the path. Especially when the night bus stops right outside it and you can stagger in and buy a sandwich when drunkity.

Anyway. The mixing stage was easy. The next, slightly harder, because you have to roll the dough into a log and mine didn’t seem quite firm enough. Which, I realise as I post this, is possibly because I didn’t put the egg in. Only one, but I missed it. We’ll see how this works out… The smell is definitely right, if that counts for anything. That really intense ‘black’ smell of Oreos is present and correct.

They seem to be holding together pretty well considering the absence of egg. The heat distribution in my oven is totally messed up, so they cooked a little unevenly, and I had to do them in batches because, again, it seems to make a lot for a domestic oven. I could probably just adjust down, but I’m not quite confident to do that yet, even though it’s a pretty straightforward process.

I did mess around with the filling. Joanne Chang gives a recipe for vanilla filling or for peanut butter, so I kind of just split the difference, and made half vanilla and half peanut butter. That’s about the level of customisation I can handle right now.

The result
Gurgle. Like I mentioned, they cooked unevenly and ended up different shapes and sizes. But none were burnt and none were undercooked. So that’s something. And they 90% held together, so screw you egg! I don’t need your binding capabilities!

They look like this: Oreos.

They are, perhaps unsurprisingly, really really rich. They’re crunchier than a cake, but softer than a biscuit. They do that mouth-coating thing Oreos do. I really need more visitors to eat these things. I’mma get fat(ter).

Sesame … brittle?

The Book
Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe | Joanne Chang
(Chronicle Books, 2010)

The Recipe
Black Sesame Lace Cookie

The Reason
More Joanne Chang! This is the fourth thing I’ve made from this book; I think it’s the most recipes I’ve ever cooked from one book. This is actually proving to be really good for me; because I had a post to write afterwards, I made them, rather than just thinking ‘Oh, those would be nice to make’. Also, purely practically, I got a massive pot of black sesame seeds in the Chinese supermarket, so it was incentive to actually make use of them.

The Cooking
The preparation was super easy. It’s just one bowl and a lot of stirring. It’s another of those ‘not a last-minute thing’ things, in that it needs to be chilled for several hours. I left it over night, and as my reward for preparing the dough, ate enormous amounts of Chinese food and watched the first episode of Game of Thrones. (NO SPOILERS.) Who needs to go out on a Saturday when there’s baking to be done?

The cooking was less straightforward, which was entirely my fault. The recipe called for at least three inches of space between each ball of dough to allow them to spread, but that would have required me cooking, like, two at a time over the space of a whole day, (especially as you can’t take them off the baking sheet until they’re fully cooled) so I left a bit less space to get them all done at once. That’s actually one criticism of this specific recipe – it seems to assume you’ve got an industrial-sized oven to work with, which is unusual, as the book’s normally really good at adjusting to domestic scales.

As it turns out, they cook in about twenty minutes and cool in about fifteen, so it wouldn’t have been too onerous to have done them in batches, so lesson learned for next time.

The result
Aesthetically, kind of a disaster. I’m generally photographing things, but these really don’t deserve to be immortalised like that. I really should have left the required amount of space, because they all just ran into one big sheet. It did still look pretty – properly lacy, with the tiny holes, and the semi-transparent effect. Weirdly, the different trays cooked differently. I guess that’s not that weird. One of them ended up kind of gooey, but the other two ended up properly brittle and crisp. And tastewise, it was (is) great. Because the sesame’s got that savoury bite to it, it stops what is basically just baked sugar being too cloying

.And now I’mma go buy ice-cream, because these will be amazing on the side of ice-cream,

I finally made brûlée

The Book
The Gate Vegetarian Cookbook | Adrian and Michael Daniel
(Mitchell Beazley, 2004)

The Recipe
Lavender and Pistachio Brûlées

The Reason
I’ve been intending to make these for literally years. My flatmate and some friends bought me the cookbook from The Gate vegetarian restaurant in Hammersmith. They got it signed by the chefs because of some long-forgotten guilty feelings about not inviting me to something, or something. The Gate is amazing. I was vegetarian for a year, years ago, and then lapsed back into eating meat. I’m not a ‘meat at every meal’ kind of person, but have got used to eating it again and do enjoy it. Point is, though, that if I could eat every meal at the Gate, or just cook vegetarian food as exciting as theirs, then I’d not miss meat even a little bit.

I put off cooking these for years. Mostly because I couldn’t find lavender flowers easily, but then Waitrose started selling lavender sugar, so I lost that excuse. Of course, now I have a whole big tub of lavender sugar and not much to use it in, unless I just start making loads and loads of brûlées. Also, it means I had a reason to use my pestle and mortar, which is always fun. I’ve got a lovely granite one my sister bought me, and I don’t use it enough.

The Cooking
Pestle and mortar! Crushing nuts into a paste is, like, loads of effort though. I think that I probably could have gone a bit further with it and really mulched them down, but I made an executive decision that I’d had enough. Life’s too short to pastify nuts.

The recipe takes a lot of cooling and waiting. Mix the cream, nuts, lavender and sugar to a simmer. Cool and wait for two hours. Heat with the eggs. Cool. Bake in a bain marie. Cool. Toast the tops. Cool. They’re not exactly a last minute knock it together kind of dessert, that’s for certain.

I poured them out a little bit unevenly, so the sizes were off, but I think I got it sorted out in the end. Given that Flatmate and I are the only ones eating them, it hardly matters. It’s not like there’s anyone to send them back and complain.

The sugar crust took two attempts; partly my fault, partly theirs. I used the wrong sugar to start with, but they also said too use WAY too much of it, so it didn’t melt properly. I was using the grill as I’ve got no blowtorch. I kind of want one, but it’s a bit of an indulgence. I doubt I’ll be making eouto justify it, considering how labour-intensive it was to make them.

The Result

They look like this:

Brulee!

I thought they’d be too rich, because, you know, cream and sugar and egg yolks. But the slight bitterness of the pistachio nuts cuts through some of the richness. And Flatmate was digging at it so hard he broke the bottom of the ramekin out, so I guess that’s a vote of confidence. They’re really, really good, but they’re an awful lot of work. Special occasions only.