spilt milk and split cream

You probably all know the expression “no use crying over spilt milk” or some variation of it, right? Well, whenever I hear it, I think of this one time in my childhood when I actually did cry over spilt milk – not just figuratively speaking, but literal spilt milk and literal crying.

I was quite young at the time (maybe six? maybe four?) and it would’ve been at home one day, in the kitchen. I really don’t remember the circumstances surrounding it, but I remember there was milk spilt, and for some reason I was really upset and cried.

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baked pick-me-ups

I don’t follow many food blogs, but one that I do follow is Jane’s Patisserie – not only for the “food porn” aspect of it, but also because the recipes work, and she gives plenty of helpful tips. I also like that she does a bit of a preamble before each recipe, which adds a bit more of a personal touch.

In January, she posted this recipe for Nutella Brownies, and I jotted it down in my “recipes to try” folder because, come on, Nutella + brownies!! Since then, I’ve had it in the back of my mind, and I keep thinking that I need to go out and get some Nutella and make this because, damn, it sounds delicious. (And before you ask why I didn’t have any Nutella already at home, please know that the recipe requires an entire jar of the stuff (400g), and there’s no way a jar of Nutella is going to survive unopened/untouched in my house for very long.)

Sorry if I’m veering toward incomprehensible right now, but I swear I’m not on a sugar high.

What prompted me to finally make these brownies was kind of a combination of two things: first, a friend of mine had made another Nutella brownie recipe that hadn’t quite worked out as hoped; and, secondly, another friend had sent me some banana bread on Monday.

Now, the significance of this banana bread – or the gesture of sending it to me via our inter-store delivery – cannot be understated. Despite the joy inherent in a good colleague & friend of mine returning to work after a four-week holiday, I was feeling rather blegh on Sunday and Monday. (Yeah, there’s not really a better word for it than “blegh”. It’s kind of like a tiredness from not being able to get energy into your muscles – if that makes any sort of sense.)

I went for a run on Sunday arvo/evening, which kind of helped, but I was sore and tired on Monday. The unexpected gift of banana bread was just the right thing to lift my spirits and put a spring back in my step. The virtues of random acts of kindness, right?

Well, anyway, as a show of appreciation for this coincidentally kind gesture (I only say it was coincidental because this friend wouldn’t have known I was feeling a bit blegh), I decided to return the favour. And what better thing to send as a token of gratitude and appreciation (or of anything, really) than Nutella brownies! At last, after not feeling in the mood to bake anything for so long (I partly blame the heat/humidity), I finally got the desire to bake again! It’s an incredible feeling.

What I like about this recipe is that it is so easy and quick to make. And, of course, it’s frickin’ delicious (the verdict was unanimous on this one). The only variations I made to Jane’s original recipe were the omission of Ferrero Rocher (decoration), and the addition of roasted hazelnuts (chopped) and dark chocolate chips (half a cup of each). Honestly, the hardest part was roasting and chopping the hazelnuts, and I brought that upon myself.

My only additional advice, in regards to the recipe, is that, if you make them, you should double the quantities and make a second batch (unless you’re keeping them all for yourself, then one batch might be enough).

why having strong willpower can be annoying

When I walked in to work this morning (I had yesterday – Friday – off in exchange for working Saturday), there was an open packet of TimTams (dark chocolate, no less!) and a half-full box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates on the table in the tea room. Apparently these were brought in as a thank-you gift by the pharmacist who’d just finished up with us. Judging by the state of not-completely-consumed-ness, I’d guess she dropped by later in the afternoon, or she’d actually brought in a whole lot more food/chocolate, and that’s why there were left-overs.

Anyway, I’d gotten to work about 15-20 minutes early, so I was alone in the tea room for a bit, trying to ignore the chocolate bounty before me. The internal struggle that ensued sort of epitomises why I think having strong willpower can be annoying. Mostly it’s annoying to the part of me that just wants to eat chocolate and cake and ice-cream, and worry about calories later, but it’s still annoying.

I’m would credit my mum for this superhuman resistance to treats and discipline with portion control (where most people might cut a cake into eight pieces, she’ll divide it into about 16) but she’s also the one who tends to overfeed me (and the rest of the family) by preparing way too much food (there are always left-overs in the fridge). As such, I think I can only give her partial credit. The rest of it I’ll have to attribute to my own self-developed paranoia – not just about unnecessary calories but about atherosclerosis, bowel cancer, diabetes – pretty much anything that has some sort of causal link to poor diet (and that was just the start of the alphabet!)

Now I just want to make it clear that I’m not actually overtly paranoid about all those things; it’s just something that resides at the back of my mind. It’s the little voice that sometimes carries on a bit, but at other times it doesn’t even notice what I’m doing. Usually I can convince this voice that it’s ok if I just have one bite or one piece or one slice. It’s all part of the pleasure of life, and what is life without pleasures?

So it’s generally easy enough to quieten this voice, but then my willpower can sometimes take on a life of its own. It doesn’t need that little paranoid voice at all. “Just don’t eat it,” it will say, as if it was that simple. “You had breakfast dessert today; you don’t need this.” (For the record, I don’t always eat breakfast-dessert, but it seems that my willpower and paranoia both really like to sleep in, so, naturally, I’m going to take advantage of that. How they find out later, I don’t know.)

It’s hard being the adjudicator between willpower and gluttony, and it’s pretty annoying when I know that willpower is making a far better case than gluttony is.

…But now and then gluttony will put forward the case for my mental well-being.

So, you know what, today I had a TimTam and a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. Then I walked away from the tea room and didn’t look back.

peanut butter and jelly

It’s been some time coming, but I’ve finally had another attempt at making truffles. Since my coconut and lime truffles worked so well, and got such good feedback from my colleagues, I’ve been meaning to make more truffles, experimenting with ingredients and flavour combinations. I like making truffles because you can play around with different flavours, but mostly because it’s generally easier and requires fewer ingredients than baking a cake (which I also enjoy, but sometimes just don’t have the time or energy for).

Another big bonus is that it’s easier to adjust quantities/proportions as you prepare the truffle mix, whereas baking tends to require very (or at least reasonably) accurate measurements. If you’ve read my previous posts on baking, or if I’ve told you of my baking adventures before, you’ll know that I’m not great with precise measurements and sticking to recipes…

Anyway, I can’t remember when the inspiration hit me, but I believe it was while talking to a colleague about the gloriousness of peanut butter. I reckon PB is great as it is, on toast or bread, but I especially like it with jam. From there, I started thinking about how I could recreate the flavours of a good PB&J sandwich in a truffle form, and the following recipe was born:

Ingredients:

  • ~170-180mL (thickened) cream
  • 4 tbsp smooth peanut butter (I guess you could use crunchy PB but I was worried about the peanuts going soft/weird while being cooked in the cream …but that could just be me being paranoid)
  • ~240g dark chocolate (melting chips, or a cut-up block)
  • 1 small tin/jar of some sort of fruit-flavoured hard candy, crushed with a mortar & pestle to get little granules of candy (I reckon it works best if you get it to just bigger than raw sugar granule size)

I think the process for all truffles is basically the same, so once you’ve mastered one, you’ll probably find it easy enough to adapt for other flavours. In this case, I just put the cream and PB into a saucepan to heat slowly, stirring until the PB melted and incorporated into the cream. Once it looked like it was just about to come to a simmer, I took it off the heat and added the chocolate, stirring until it all melted.

At this point, I contemplated adding choc chips (like the ones you use for baking cookies) to give an internal crunch element to kind of resemble the texture of crunchy PB, but I didn’t really have that many, so I left them out. Besides, I figured that the candy coating would give enough of a crunch.

After leaving the truffle mix in the fridge to cool overnight, I cut it up (because too lazy to use a melon baller and scoop out individual ones), and rolled it in the candy crumbs/powder.

I’m really bad at remembering to take photos of food, so of course I don’t have a photo, but I reckon they looked pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. The candy I used was red/pink, so just imagine little cubes of dark chocolate covered in little pink jewels. It gets a bit of a reaction. I will say, however, that if the candy powder is too fine, it kind of melts when applied to the truffles, and then it becomes quite sticky (although people said it was worth the stickiness).

When I did my taste-test at home, I was actually a bit apprehensive. It worked, but the flavour wasn’t as amazing as the coconut and lime truffles (sorry I keep mentioning those, but I feel like I set too high a benchmark when I made them). But you do get the nice combination of salty, creamy peanut butter and sugary fruit (or should that be “fruity sugar”?) so I was satisfied. What I really judge a recipe’s success on, however, is the reaction I get from others, particularly if anyone asks for the recipe because it means they liked it enough to want to make it themselves. On this criteria, I’m very pleased (and relieved) to say that these PB&J truffles passed 🙂

coconut + lime + dark chocolate

I reckon the best thing about baking is being able to create something delicious, and then share that with family/friends, and just watching them enjoy it. It’s really something special, hey?

Well, after work on Sunday, I could not be stuffed baking anything, so I decided to just make truffles. No special occasion, but I’ve just been compulsively buying dark chocolate to kind of give myself an excuse to use it. I was also inspired by this post on Jane’s Patisserie, and wanted to experiement around with some flavours.

Also, apparently you can get the same satisfaction from sharing home-made truffles as you get from sharing a home-baked cake. I took my truffles in to work with me today, and everyone loved them, so I thought maybe it was worth sharing the recipe here (especially since I also got a few recipe requests)

Truffles are amazingly easy to make, which makes me like them even more. I’d previously made a chocolate cake with lime and coconut, so I figured the same thing should work in truffle form (not sure if it still counts as an experiment then, but oh well…)

As well as being easy to make, there were only four ingredients:

  • ~165mL coconut cream (I just happened to have a small tin in the pantry that was exactly this amount. I weighed it in the tin to be ~200g, which, yes, is kind of a meaningless value since I didn’t weigh the empty tin)
  • ~365g dark chocolate (I’ve put the “approximately” tilde on this one because I ate a bit of the chocolate before it went in. You’ve got to check for quality, right?)
  • ~2 tsp Gin Gin & Dry lime powder (I assume lime zest would work fine as well)
  • enough dessicated coconut to coat truffles

All I did was heat the cream with the lime powder on a low heat until it was just about to boil. Then I took it off the heat, and added the chocolate, stirring until it all melted. It was then a simple case of pouring it into a lined container, and waiting for it to set (I left it overnight). Once set, because I was too lazy to scoop them out individually, I just cut them into squares, and kind of rolled them into ball-like shapes while coating them in dessicated coconut.

Here’s a photo (but it’s not very good because I took the good ones to work, and completely forgot to take a photo, so these are the few random pieces I kept at home)

Coconut and lime truffles (well, you get the general idea...)

Coconut and lime truffles (well, you get the general idea…)

I’m not a truffle expert (yet) but I assume you can just adjust the cream/chocolate ratio depending on whether you prefer the truffles softer/harder. The ratio I used seemed to give a satisfyingly rich truffle.

extemporaneous baking

Usually when new students or scientists start at the pharmacy, and we have to train them to do compounding, we explain it in terms of cooking or, more specifically, baking: “Compounding is like baking a cake – you just need to measure out the ingredients and mix them together in the right order”. I suppose the only difference is that we never have to put our compounded products in an oven.

Other than the process itself, there are other similarities. For example, it helps to be familiar with what your final product should look like, and what sort of consistency it should be. Accurate measurements are also important, and you should know which ingredients will and won’t mix with each other. Working cleanly is also good, but mess is inevitable. And the list continues…

I’m perfectly aware of these similarities, but for some reason unknown to me, I cannot bake nearly as well as I compound. When I compound, I have no trouble with measurements or mixing or any of that; I will follow each step exactly. When it comes to baking, however, no matter how much I mentally reinforce the importance of following the recipe in front of me, I always, without fail, end up adjusting one thing or another. Usually it’s because I want to make a slightly larger or slightly smaller quantity, but just cannot be bothered to accurately recalculate the measurements (“ain’t nobody got time for that,” as certain colleagues would say…)

Perhaps I can blame an aversion to maths… No, I can’t really do that – don’t dislike math enough.

Chocolate cookies - half with glace cherries, half with pecans

Chocolate cookies – half with glace cherries, half with pecans

I suppose I also like adding other things that aren’t in the recipe. The other week, I made cookies, and decided I would add cocoa powder to the recipe so that they’d be chocolate. I was kind of combining two different recipes, and “guestimating” the quantities – kind of like taking an average of the two recipes. Fortunately for me, I tend to have weird luck with baking, and it still turned out fine. I reckon they were a bit “cakey” (I prefer my cookies a bit crunchier) but everyone at work liked them (about 35 cookies finished in one day between only about 10 people).

This last week, I made a rich chocolate cake (again, adjusting the quantities in a previous recipe so that it’d be more chocolatey) and it miraculously worked out too. I was worried it wasn’t going to cook through properly (too much butter, according to Mum) but when the recipient cut it open, it looked fine. It was pretty frickin’ rich, though – I took a bite and could almost feel my heart slowing down (too much butter and chocolate, I suppose – if there is such a thing).

Chocolate cake (sorry, the lighting wasn't great when I eventually remembered to take a photo...)

Chocolate hazelnut cake (sorry, the lighting wasn’t great when I eventually remembered to take a photo…)

Another theory I have for why I can’t follow a recipe, is that I’ve never seen my mum following a recipe when she bakes or cooks. Well, I suppose it’s all in her head, with a foundation of many years of experience, so it’s probably not true that she doesn’t follow a recipe – it’s just that it’s not written down in plain sight, so there’s the illusion of just adding ingredients instinctively. How good would it be to get to that stage…

Well, I actually feel like maybe my luck is eventually going to run out on this. Perhaps I should quit while I’m ahead? Honestly, though, I do feel kind of fatigued from all of this recent baking. It’s really rewarding to see people enjoying the final product, but it takes time and energy, and for some reason I tend to sleep rather restlessly after a night of baking (probably subconsciously worrying about whether people will like what I made).

Of course, there’s no doubt that I’ll bake again one day (in the near-ish future) but I’m going to take a break for a bit. Don’t want this to become a case of “too much of a good thing becoming a bad thing”.