Trial and error

Baking sometimes is a bit like dating. You flirt with new recipes and new cookbooks. You might even take them out on a couple of dates. But it takes a long time to find “The One”.

When it comes to the humble chocolate chip cookie, I have dated a lot. It’s a really simple thing. It’s a cookie with chocolate chips in. Really, how complicated can it be?! But apparently the ultimate in chocolate chip cookies is hard to find. The worst thing is that even after I found The One, I kept looking. I even cheated, but only once. I blame James Martin for the incident. Sometimes a girl can’t resist Sweet Baby James…

chocolate chip cookies

But after that, there really only was one recipe for me. It’s perfect. It should be considering the chef whose creation it is was working at a Michelin starred restaurant when she wrote the book that contains it. The chef in question is Claire Clark who at the time was the pastry chef at the French Laundry in California.

The book, Indulge, is amazing with recipes from the achievable to the “only if you’re a trained pastry chef” but I do desperately want to conquer them all. In the meantime, the cookies are to die for and the recipe is as follows:

  • 185g plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 125g softened, unsalted butter
  • 165g soft dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 medium egg, lightly beaten
  • 225g dark chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cream together the butter and the sugar which is why it is important the butter is soft. I confess I do this in my (very pretty) Kitchen Aid mixer so if the butter isn’t really soft it doesn’t matter, it’s not my arm that dies. If your butter is a bit hard then chop it into cubes and put it in the microwave for a few seconds or, if your bowl is oven-proof, then plonk it in the oven for a minute or so. Do not, however, do my trick and end up with melted butter. It makes life somewhat awkward…

When these are nice and pale and fluffy (and your arm feels like it’s about to drop off), start adding the egg and vanilla, a little bit at a time. If you add too much then it will curdle but don’t panic if it does, just add a tablespoon full of the flour. No bother.

Once you’ve added all the egg and vanilla, fold through the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Do this very gently as you don’t want to overwork the gluten or you will end up with chewy cookies. And that is not chewy in a good way.

Once the flour is mixed in then all that is left is the chocolate. And there is a lot of chocolate. Sometimes it feels like there is more chocolate than cookie but how can that be a bad thing? Stir this through the dough as gently as you can in order to get the chocolate mixed through the dough completely.

Now of course you can just eat it at this stage (although I do have to say, there are raw eggs so pregnant women, elderly people and small children really shouldn’t have any) but to actually make cookies, put about a tablespoon of mixture on a baking sheet but only put about six on a big baking sheet or they will all join together when they bake.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes. It is a bit of a vague one because it depends on so many things, exactly how hot your oven is, how well your baking sheet conducts heat… They should be puffed up and a bit golden. You don’t want to have them too baked or they’ll be crunchy rather than a bit gooey.

So there you are, the perfect chocolate chip cookie. And even better, you should end up with about 20 of them. Glass of milk and a book, what more do you need?

Average Josephine x

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A waste of good cake

Despite the fact that I can’t eat the majority of cakes now, I still collect cake recipes like a mad woman as I do still bake (half of my recipes board on Pinterest is cake related). Other people just benefit from the sugary goodness and my waistline benefits from me not eating it.

But there is a type of cake which I don’t like and despite it being the it cake of the moment, I don’t really see the point of.

Red velvet cake.

Red Velvet Cake. Source: www.joyofbaking.com

Red Velvet Cake. Source: http://www.joyofbaking.com

I have only had it once and that was a cupcake from none other than the Hummingbird Bakery so it should have been the best going but it was a bit dry (which might have been the baking) and tasted like food colouring. Yep, you could taste the colouring in there. Not pleasant. And this is the big reason I don’t do red velvet cake. Because the modern recipe has corrupted what was a traditional recipe from America’s deep South where the red the name refers to came from a reaction between the cocoa and the buttermilk the cake contained. Whilst even the most authentic recipes contained colouring it wasn’t in the quantities that are used now. Whilst this is partly due to a change in the processing of cocoa (I’m not going to get into the science of it) which makes the red tinge more pronounced, as time has gone by people have got more and more fixated on the ‘red’ part of red velvet cake rather than the cake itself.

We do not need red velvet pancakes, brownies, cheesecake or anything else and we certainly don’t need blue velvet cake (the idea makes my head hurt). And if you really want red velvet cake, then do the best thing for your body and make chocolate beetroot cake. At least that way you can claim to have had a vegetable portion with your pudding.

Are you a red velvet cake fan? Or do you prefer your cake minus the massive amounts of colouring?

Average Josephine x

Heaven in a tin

When I saw Bangs and a Bun tweeting about how boring eating right for her Berlin half-marathon training can be and how she wanted toast cereal and cake, my way forward was clear.

Whilst it might not contain toast, there was only one thing that would solve Bangs’ problem: the ultimate Rice Krispie cake.

The recipe for this is something that I have been making for years, in fact my Mum used to make it to sell it at school fêtes and bake sales. I believe it originally came from a copy of Family Circle (although any paper copy of the recipe has long since disappeared) although when I have no idea and we now make it from memory as luckily the quantities and ingredients are ridiculously easy to remember.

All you need is:

  • 100g butter
  • 100g toffee
  • 100g marshmallows
  • 200g rice krispies

See, ridiculously easy to remember and also incredibly easy to increase or decrease as you need although I wouldn’t recommend making it in batches with more than 400g rice krispies as the volume becomes a little problematic!

All you need to do is put the butter, toffee and marshmallows into a big (and I mean big, you need to be able to fit the rice kripsies in there as well) saucepan and place over a low heat and let everything melt. It seems like it will never melt and come together but just be patient. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up, the toffee and marshmallows are essentially pure sugar and they will burn. Stir periodically to make sure nothing sticks to the base of the pan and burns as well.

rice krispie cake mix

Once everything has melted you should have this slightly fluffy, pale toffee coloured mixture. Take this off the heat and pour in the rice krispies. Stir the rice krispies into the melted goo (it really is goo, there’s no other way to describe it) and don’t worry about the fact you can hear some of them go snap, crackle and pop. Enough will remain whole and the goo really will cover all the krispies, even though it might not seem like it when you first start mixing.

Once everything is mixed in, pour into a greaseproof paper lined tin. The size of the tin depends on how thick you want your rice krispie cake, it really doesn’t matter that much! Now try and wait for it to cool and set before you eat it… And if you can wait, you are a much, much stronger person than me!

Enjoy….

Average Josephine x

Domestic Sluttery

To my mind there are two types of women: the domestic goddesses (and not in the tongue in cheek Nigella sort of domestic goddess sense) and those who believe that only dull women have immaculate houses…

I am the latter and the phrase “domestic sluttery” was designed for women like me. Luckily though, there is a website by the same name and Domestic Sluttery is in a league of its own.

Subtitled “the home and lifestyle blog for women who have better things to do” this site has a bit of everything and as such appeals to pretty much everyone. There are some regular posts, including “the boy and his poison” which, normally posted on a Friday, are a good start to the weekend as they often include a rather funky, and probably pretty lethal, cocktail recipe.

The site has a number of writers which means there is always something new to read and as they all have subtly different styles there is no risk of suffering from overload.

Domestic Sluttery has also gone mainstream with an eponymously titled book having been released on 1 November last year. It seems to be pretty popular as well, currently ranked 11 in Amazon’s Style and Decor category. Having flicked through the book before I gave it to a friend as a Christmas present, I can attest that it is just as good as the blog and well worth the price tag of £14.99 (or £8.49 if you shop on Amazon).

Domestic Sluttery

Domestic Sluttery

So if you haven’t checked out the blog, it’s well worth a look, although beware, it is addicitive and you can spend some serious time reading their wonderful and slightly sarcastic posts.

What are your favourite websites and blogs? Let me know in the comments box and I’ll try and review one next week!

Average Josephine

Just keep pinning…

Being a chronic insomniac, I have a lot of time where I don’t want to be doing anything that will involve my brain too much and keep me awake but lying in your bed when you can’t sleep is torture!

One of my default activities when I’m awake at 1am is to play freecell, one of the card games that comes as standard with virtually every version of Windows still in current usage. It’s not particularly taxing but the repetition of moving cards around is sometimes enough to make me drop off.  Although the fact that I’ve played about 5,000 games in a year does say something about the level of my insomnia…

But the other thing I have discovered which keeps me somewhere near sane (not entirely sure I can claim to ever have been totally sane) is one of the newer social media networks on the block…

Pinterest

For anyone who has yet to discover Pinterest, it allows you to create a virtual pinboard of images from the internet, pretty much any image you want, and organise them onto different boards. All the images are then available to repin and are categorised in to Art, Design, Home Decor etc.

Whilst in abstract it sounds spectacularly uninteresting, it’s actually a bit like a tube of Pringles. One you pop, you can’t stop! Or in this case, once you pin

I have ten boards and one of my favourite categories to explore is Home Decor as I’m moving into my flat in the near future (I’m getting there but procrastination is my favourite trick!) and want to do some redecorating. One of things I have discovered is that in an ideal world I want a really big, white, country style kitchen. I think I must have over 50 pictures of those alone.

But here are some of my favourite other pins which include a gorgous chair from Graham and Green, crafty ideas and what looks like the most incredible cake ever…

Recipe for home made lemon sugar body scrub

Recipe for home made lemon sugar body scrub

Graham and Green pink velvet slipper chair for one's boudoir...
Graham and Green pink velvet slipper chair for one’s boudoir…
Whimsical Bakehouse cake

Whimsical Bakehouse topsy turvy cake

What do you do when you can’t sleep? And if you have ventured into the world of Pinterest, what are your favourite pins?

Average Josephine x

The dark side of the online life

I read something that really disturbed and upset me last night.  It was a blog post by a food blogger I really admire, Shauna James Ahern, better known as Gluten Free Girl.  Diagnosed as suffering from celiac disease, she has to live gluten free.  This is completely different to the “I’m gluten intolerant” brigade, she is actually allergic to it and even small amounts of gluten can make her really quite ill, actually damaging her small intestine.  But what Shauna has done is turn something that many would see as a disability or an impediment to normal life and used her talents as a writer to publicise her gluten-free life and become a best selling author (the cookbook she wrote with her chef husband, Danny, was named by the New York Times as among the best cookbooks of 2010).

I admire the way Shauna lives her life.  She is unapologetic about her gluten-free stance (as she should be, this is not optional for her) and I was truely horrified to read her most recent post.  Titled simply “warm brown rice and grilled vegetable salad” I was expecting a salad recipe and some of Shauna’s normal wonderful prose, perhaps about her recent flying trip to New Orleans to attend the International Food Bloggers Conference where she was a guest speaker.  What she wrote about was her trip but also about some of the things she and her husband experience on a regular basis as a consequence of their life online.

Shauna is the victim (although I hate that word) of what are known in the online community as “trolls”.  Trolls are hard to explain but they are the people who, seemingly for the sheer pleasure of being evil to people, post horrible, vile comments to bloggers.  I’m lucky to have avoided them to date (a blog with 14 posts doesn’t really attract trolls) but it is something that I am prepared for.  But when you are being called fat and ugly, your husband is being called retarded and that these trolls hope paedophiles get your children, you start to question, is it worth it and who are these people?

This is something Shauna faces everyday both on Twitter and through her e-mail account associated with her blog and these comments, and worse, are from this blog post I mentioned and I’m still in shock that people could actually say these things.  As a general rule I believe that people are inherently good although I’m beginning to think I might be wrong in this assumption.  Between this and the recent rioting and destruction that occurred in both London and Birmingham, a lot of which seemed to be due to no other reason than they could, there seems to be a lot more darkness in the current population than I can fathom.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments that restore my faith in humanity.  When my Dad lost his wallet in the States a couple of years back, he cancelled the cards and wrote off the cash as lost but some weeks after he returned to the UK he received an e-mail from a woman in the town where he had left his wallet.  She had traced him through his golf membership card, contacting the golf club who sent her his e-mail address.  She sent the wallet back with the same amount of cash in as when he lost it less as my Dad had instructed, enough to cover the postage.  She even included the receipt.  She was also truely amazed when Dad sent her flowers to say thank you.  They exchange Christmas cards now.

But it is so difficult to reconcile the fact that we, as a species, are capable of such extremes of behaviour.  And unfortunately most of the time it is the bad that we remember the most.  So do you agree with me that people are inherently good or do you think that it is a bit more ambiguous than that?

Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Average Josephine x