Monday, November 5, 2012

Baking Without A Recipe

Reader, if you enjoy watching the Chef At Home series as much as I do, you'll have an idea of what the post title alludes to. I love everything about the show - Chef Michael Smith, his kitchen, his pantry, everything in his kitchen and his pantry, and most of all, his warm, casual yet charismatic manner of presenting his culinary creations. I hope he wouldn't mind me "borrowing" his catchphrase to modify into a post title... especially since this post has none to do with him. *ahem*

We didn't so much bake without a recipe, but it was nearly so. Let me explain.

A few months ago, my friend, the Outdoor Expert, took me to a baking class, and we made macarons. He had since done up his kitchen and gotten a mixer that didn't look like a toy to complement his large and impressive built-in oven. Such then, when recently I finally managed to get decent candy thermometers and we are therefore (theoretically) capable of cooking sugar, he suggested we try our hands at those challenging macarons once more.

We prepared the required ingredients (plus a packet of "macaron mix" for Plan B) and I made my way to his kitchen. We laid the eggs, sugar, ground almond, butter etc. on the counter, placed the printed sheet of recipe right next to them, then started discussing the delicate art of approximating weight...

... because the Outdoor Expert doesn't have a kitchen scale!

I think this pack of ground almond is about 230g, I told him. He took that in one hand, the pack of powdered sugar in the other, and concluded that the sugar feels heavier.

Then, it must be around 250g, I said - one of the most ridiculous, baseless conclusions ever, I'll admit. Nevertheless, we went with it.

We needed 125g of each. I took one of the packs, squeezed my fingers around its middle, and asked him, "This is about half, right?"

"Yea, about," he replied, after a 2-second glance, "We don't have to be super-accurate."

It's not like we have a choice... =P

So, I scooped about "half" the pack of powdered sugar, and a little more than "half" of the ground almond. These I combined with 2 egg whites. Are 2 egg whites about 50g? We'll just assume so.

As if the totally insane way I was handling the recipe wasn't enough, when he needed to cook 125g of granulated sugar, he simply poured out a small bowl and estimated its weight on his hand by comparing with the half-pack of leftover powdered sugar, purportedly exactly 125g.

Now, as if all that messing up the ingredients was still not enough, we were *both* not familiar with his oven, and so, the first tray suffered a casualty when we poked at one before it was done. We then left the poor shells in there for an additional 10 minutes or so, and they totally over-baked.

Long story short (not so short I guess, but it could have been longer!), our macaron shells looked like they've been through a train wreck, had no "legs", were all crispy and not chewy on the inside - like regular cookies, thoroughly discoloured... well, simply an epic FAIL .

They tasted really good, though. My family (who would always look past the ugliness) couldn't stop eating them.

Later in the evening, I executed my Plan B - the pre-mix. The instructions on the pack say to whip the mix with 50g of water (yes, I have a digital scale in my kitchen!) for 5 minutes then bake for 20 minutes.

Imagine - just that! Whip for 5 minutes! No paste, no meringue, no cooking sugar syrup to 117 degree Celcius!

And what did I get? These:

It was a *slaps forehead* moment for me. However, truth be told, these pretty little things were extremely bland and void of any hint of almond. They're the kind of dessert nice to see, tempting and everything, but which you won't want a second helping.

Our train-wreck version was *so* much better. Now that the Outdoor Expert had put "one kitchen scale" on his shopping list, next time, we might make them prettier too... =D


laura.forestdreams:) said...

it's not what's on the outside that counts.... =)

yay for the train wreck macarons! they sound OH SO YUMMY!!!!

neil said...

Haha, thanks Laura! Let's hope the next time I try, nothing will turn out "train-wrecked" =P