Saturday, September 18, 2010

Developing recipes

I’ve already mentioned Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio a few times, but I haven’t gone into any detail about its rather significant impact in my kitchen. But if you, like me, are not professionally trained, but rather an inquisitive home cook maybe looking to push the boundaries a bit, then I bet you might feel the same way about it. Because Ratio is like the Rosetta Stone for home cooks and especially bakers: it enables you to understand the basic structure of some two dozen preparations and, once you have absorbed this knowledge, it enables you to develop your own recipes.

Now, I’ve concocted plenty of my own recipes for savory food, but baking is different. It is much less forgiving: it requires precision. You don’t have much margin of error to throw in a handful of this or a dollop of that and come out with what you intended, unless you know what you’re doing: unless you understand how the thing you want to produce is put together from its foundations. Thanks to Ratio, I now have that knowledge. And I can’t tell you what a thrill it gives me, when someone asks where I got a recipe, to say, “That’s my recipe. I made it up.”

Blackberry-applesauce cake
I stumbled across a recipe for blackberry applesauce a couple of weeks ago (I can’t remember where, or I’d link it), and immediately made a batch with my first lot of farmers’ market apples—no measurements, just a half-dozen apples cooked down in the slow cooker with a splash of apple juice. I stirred in a generous handful of blackberries towards the end, and after it had been through the food mill, the finished product was a fetching magenta-ish pink. As I gobbled down bowl after bowl of it, I thought it might make a very nice addition to a fruity quick bread, and this was the result. The friends that I fed it to described it thus: “It tastes like fall.”

4 oz/100 g butter
8 oz/200 g all-purpose/plain flour
4 oz/100 g sugar
1 tsp/5 g salt
2 tsp/10 g baking powder
8 oz/200 ml milk
2 large eggs
½ cup/4 oz/100 g blackberry-applesauce
1 punnet/6 oz/150 g blackberries

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Butter a loaf pan and set aside.

Put butter to melt on stovetop or in microwave and set aside to cool. Mix together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. In a bowl or jug, combine milk, eggs and butter, whisking the eggs thoroughly. Sprinkle the blackberries with the cinnamon and cardamom.

Dump the wet into the dry ingredients and mix together until just combined. Stir in the blackberry-applesauce and the blackberries gently, ensuring even distribution through the dough.

Scrape the dough into prepared pan and spread evenly into corners. Bake 40-50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.


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