Sunday, January 04, 2009

Caramel-Peanut-Topped Brownie Cakes, Fudge, Brownies and Interpreting Ourstory

So the year-end guinea pig season is at an end, but not before a fresh batch of unsuspecting innocents was terrorised by another Dorie Greenspan recipe: the Caramel-peanut-topped Brownie Cake.
Caramel Peanut-topped Brownie Cake
In spite of horror stories, the caramel was easily made and excellent stuff. Dorie's instructions were enough but for a bit of handholding, David Lebovitz and Joe Pastry would have been great too. Note to self: sticking finger into boiling caramel to test doneness => sticking burnt finger under running tap for 1 hour => being 1 hour late for dinner => caramel topping more set than it should be.

The brownie cake was a FAIL, 1 tsp of salt being just too premix and the little portable oven not agreeing with Dorie's set timing and temperature for real ovens (but my ignoring these trivialities to play Scrabble). The assembly of GPs was kind enough to not only eat half the cardboardy stuff (and burrow through the dense fudgey chocolatey bits of the other half) but also say that the stuff tasted good. Horrors.
Attempting to melt caramel with a blowtorch B just happened to have in his pocket
Another note to self: top with caramel just before cake-feeding. Otherwise, even people who just happen to have blowtorches in their pockets can do nothing to melt the set caramel.

Peanut Toffee Fudge Thing
(A phenomenon just ripe for peanut toffee fudge things? Yes indeed. And such was the fate of the excess caramel-peanut concoction.)

The brownie for the family, unhindered by the need to identify with the cake genus, fared much better. After all, David Lebovitz's opinion is that any monkey with an opposable thumb and the right recipe can make one. This recipe was another amalgamation, this time of Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownie, Dorie's French Chocolate Brownie and Alice Medrich's New Classic Brownie. Since the brownie foodgroup is one of the best platforms for quality chocolate, prefer my brownies fudgey rather than cakey, with a crunchy crust on top and some lightly toasted walnuts or pecans within for texture.

If Shirley O Corriher and C&H's megaphoned brownie secrets are to be believed, the way to achieve ultimate fudginess with a crunch involves:
  • melting the butter instead of creaming it with the sugar to achieve fudginess
  • using semi-sweet chocolate for a creamier texture
  • not overmixing
  • maturing the mixture for a few hours or overnight
  • baking brownie for a short time at a tempterature
  • removing the brownie from heat once the edges have shrunk slightly away from edge of pan
  • placing the hot pan in an ice bath immediately
Ironically, the current sample ended up more cakey because to the parentals, fudgey = how come this hasn't been baked properly?

The joy of baking is not so much in the finished product (although that must be somewhat tasty so that someone will come along and masticate said product) as in the process. It is the same joy of observing chemical changes and playing a part in action-reaction experiments that accompany the burning or blowing up of stuff, except that this can be achieved legally, without a crater in the backyard and the neighbours on 999.

In one of my favourite food chemistry books, Bakewise, Shirley O Corriher inserts a little box within each recipe titled "What This Recipe Shows", explaining the reactions between ingredients required by the recipe. This weekend, we had a lovely time with friends reviewing the past year. If there'd been a little summary box titled "What Last Year Showed", what pithy statements would it have contained? It hadn't been an easy year, so it would have been easy to pass Go, claim $200 in victimhood, self-pity and bitterness and conclude something like:
  • People who claim to be Christian are far worse than people who don't.
  • The more entrenched a person is in a church, the more cunning and manipulative you can expect him/her to be.
  • Do as they teach, not as they do.
  • Sanctification is the bollocks.
And possibly the cherry on the devil's cake:
  • They're all hypocrites, it's all fake, why bother persevering? Why not enjoy the here and now while it lasts?*
Regardless of the ability to repeat kitchen experiments, Shirley Corriher's explanations are ultimately mere hypotheses. How much more prone to error and misjudgement are interpretations of unrepeatable past events. Right interpretation can only come from One not only infalliable in observation but One who alone can explain our life events.** For He alone directs them.

There is little more humbling than to realise that we ourselves suck at these most basic of things. And surely this should drive us to an open Bible and, instead of stewing away in self-righteousness, to our knees to pray for our leaders, our brothers and sisters and ourselves. For surely our sinful natures are too primed to fall happily into Satan's snares.

Those maraschino cherries always tasted fake.

*There is something to be said about the limitation of language (language, that is, meaning verbal language, qua Iris Murdoch's Thinking and Language) in capturing mental events and internal cognition.

**If the limited human mind is already thus hindered by language, how much less of God's unlimited mind we must perceive through the Bible.

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