Entry 44: Molten Chocolate Cookies

Hello Koala fans, its been a while, hasn’t it?

Things have been gathering pace recently in other parts of my life. I’m applying for a job in Bournemouth, which may lead to a permanent place, the possibility of a new flat and hopefully a new kitchen that I can work out of. In addition, I’m going to be starting a course on psychotherapy and counselling at the local college in Poole. It will involve a lot of homework and will be pretty difficult for me, both academically and for personal reasons. Essentially I’m going to have my nose in a book for a long time to come and I don’t know what kind of impact it will have on the blog.

Some take it a little more literally than others.

Some take it a little more literally than others.

I didn’t have a lot of time to get ingredients together for this week’s episode, so I decided to have a rummage around in my ingredient cupboard to see what I had, and then hopefully match it to a recipe from one of my books. One thing I did have a lot of in my cupboard was chocolate.

"We're going to make something really cool with this!"

“We’re going to make something really cool with this!”

I took another look at the book the Koala was wedged in earlier. In it, there was a recipe for “chocolate flush” cookies. These cookies blur the boundary between what could be classed as a biscuit and a brownie and have this wonderful appearance that reminds me of shattered earth and rivers of lava. Hence why I tend to think of them as molten cookies.

Sugar, butter, flour....I can't help but feel we're missing a key ingredient for these things.

Sugar, butter, flour….Wait, where’s the chocolate gone?

I couldn’t find an online equivalent for these, so I’ll jot the recipe down for your consumption:

  • * 200g milk chocolate
  • * 90g unsalted butter
  • * 110g caster sugar
  • * 3 eggs
  • * 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • * 215g plain flour
  • * 25g cocoa powder
  • * Half teaspoon of baking powder
  • * pinch of salt

There’s some interesting things to note on this list. The cookies use an unusually large amount of chocolate, as opposed to more typical chocolate cookies and biscuits, which would instead have more cocoa powder. The relatively small amount of baking powder also means they don’t rise much, giving them quite a dense texture. Speaking of dense…

So that's what happened to the chocolate then.

“Does this mean we have to sacrifice our chocolate pyramid?”

The first step is to melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat. As usual, you need to make sure you do this over a saucepan of water, without letting the chocolate bowl touch the boiling water. Slowly stir in the sugar.

I can't find the bit in the recipe about "bubbling ominously" though.

I can’t find the bit in the recipe about “bubbling ominously” though.

While the mixture is still warm but *not* boiling, the eggs need to be added. If you add them one by one while mixing in between, it makes their consistency a lot more even and for these cookies, this is critical. The temperature is also important as you don’t want to cook the eggs in the melted chocolate mixture. So – warm, but not hot. Add the vanilla to the mix as well.

The dry ingredients being mixed together.

Stirring is hard when you’re perched over the rim of a bowl.

The next bit is a little more straightforward and just involves combining the dry ingredients, which is to say the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt until you have something that looks like the picture above. While the recipe in the book states to add the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients, I chose to do it the other way around – adding small amounts of the dry mix to the chocolate and stirring frequently. The risk of doing it the other way is that it tend to clump together and needs a lot more stirring to even out. Once everything is combined, it needs to sit in the fridge for an hour or so to chill completely until firm. Finally, set your oven to Gas Mark 3, 160*C, 325*F or whichever arcane temperature scale you prefer and put small balls of the cookie mix on to a baking tray. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, so that you’re looking for smooth areas with the little fissures running through them.

What is it with you three and knives? oO

What is it with you three and knives? oO

The high chocolate content of these cookies means that they do spread out far, so make sure the mixture balls are well spaced on the baking tray or the above happens. Despite not being particularly neat, the cookies turned out quite well. A little rich for me but they went down well with the folks at work. No one was really sure whether they were cookies or brownies but they certainly vanished quickly.

The cookies in small, medium, large and Koala sized portions.

The cookies in small, medium, large and Koala sized portions.

****

As I mentioned at the start of the blog, life is becoming pretty manic for me at the moment, so the koalas and I are going to take a break for a while. I have some time off at the end of August that I might be able to use for some baking. In the meantime, we’re going to take it easy for a month or so and be back in September refreshed and ready to go again. Until then, take care folks and we’ll see you soon. ❤

Entry 43: A Fruitful Endeavour

Hello Koala fans,

I’ve made quite a few different cakes on here but as I look back through the list (and I really, *really* need to add an index for all of this stuff >.>), there is one rather glaring omission: fruit cake. This is kind of odd because I was fond of fruit cake when I was younger, so you’d think it’d have been high on my priorities. So at long last, I’ve finally gotten around to fixing this oversight. Today’s recipe was one I originally spotted in a celebrity chef recipe book but, thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I found a duplicate online:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/user/138098/recipe/porter-cake

My friends at work had been quite supportive of me recently, so I decided they would be the recipients of this week’s baking. Whether they would be lucky or unlucky recipients was still to be determined. In order to make a porter cake, first of all you need to abduct a hospital porter, which is handy given where I work, then you need a large meat grinder…..

"Or, as an alternative, this stuff."

“Or, as an alternative, this stuff.”

The porter is the can of Guinness in the photo. Apparently, this is the correct term for it rather than beer or ale. If memory serves, this isn’t the first time I’ve used Guinness while baking but I can’t remember for the life of me what the other recipe was. In this instance, I can see how it would work; you soak the various types of fruit in the Guinness so that they take on some of the flavour, in addition to giving the raisins, etc a little extra moistness. The recipe also calls for orange juice as well – there’s a world of difference between true fresh squeezed orange juice and the stuff that you get in supermarkets and given that we need orange zest in the cake, we may as well use the juice from the oranges too:

"How long do I need to keep jumping up and down on this thing for?"

“How long do I need to keep jumping up and down on this thing for?”

One of the advantages of porter cake is that it can be done with a minimal number of bowls and pans. You begin by adding your dried fruit to a large saucepan:

Keeping up to date on currant events.

Keeping up to date on currant events.

…and then proceed to dump almost everything else in there as well; the butter, sugar, booze and orange juice. The net result is something that almost looks like a fruit based soup or casserole:

There's an awfully large amount of liquid in here...

There’s an awfully large amount of liquid in here…

I was starting to panic a little at this point. The recipe doesn’t exactly call for a mountain of flour, so I was worried that the cake batter would be very runny. Once the mixture was starting to boil though, it was a very different matter.

"We're going outside for a bit while you carry on...."

“We’re going outside for a bit while you carry on….”

The smell that was coming from the pan was *incredible*. It was a rich, fruity smell with spicy tones, tangy zest from the oranges, the smell of freshly mown grass- wait, what?

Grand Theft Lawnmower.

Grand Theft Lawnmower.

Luckily for me, the joyriding trio stopped just short of Mum’s flower beds. As we made our way back to the kitchen, the fruit mixture in the saucepan was ready to have the final ingredients added to it. By this point, a lot of the fluid had boiled away, so although it was still a lot more runny than my other cake mixtures, it started to look “workable”. The flour was slowly stirred in and the Koalas offered to help with the eggs.

They were egg-stremely sorry for almost wrecking the garden.

They were egg-stremely sorry for almost wrecking the garden.

One other difference between porter cake and most others is the length of time it takes to bake. Most cakes usually stay in the oven for about 30-40 minutes on a high temperature. With this one, it needed a very low temperature (Gas Mark 2/130*C) for one and a half hours. Even then, I left in the oven for an extra 30 minutes as the centre failed the spike test. I left it in the baking tin for journey home to make it easier to carry, plus the extra heat from the tin would continue to bake the cake gently.

"Leaving it in the tin also makes it more porter-ble!"

“Leaving it in the tin also makes it more porter-ble!”

The cake went down really well with the folks at work; I received quite a lot of positive feedback about it. The slice I tried was firm enough to pick up, with the sponge being moist and light. Its different to something like a Christmas cake, where the sponge is often extremely dense and sits on the stomach like a bowling ball.

The rapidly disappearing cake.

The rapidly disappearing cake.

I’m pleased with how well the porter cake turned out but its definitely not something you could do at the last minute. Perhaps the next time I have a long weekend, I might make another one. =)

Entry 42: What Are Glutens Anyway?

Hello Koala fans!

A few weeks ago, two wonderful friends of mine asked if I’d like to stay with them for a couple of days (Hi Zel! Hi Nash!). We’ve known each other for about two years or so, playing World of WarCraft together. As always, I decided to put together something vaguely cakelike for them. I picked out all the ingredients, settled on a recipe well ahead of time and even managed to take photos for the blog. About two days before I was due to head up on the train, we talk online just to straighten out a few details like train times, bits I need to bring with me…

“Oh, you made cake for us? Really looking forward to it! 😀 ……it’s gluten-free, right?”

Uh oh.

Like most people, I’m vaguely aware of gluten-free stuff but no idea what’s actually involved with it or what I need to avoid. There was a slight, yet adorable, delay in looking up gluten-free recipes on the internet.

My niece receiving her first experience of youth-corrupting video games

My niece receiving her first experience of youth-corrupting video games.

My search proved rather more useful than I planned. I found a good website on gluten-free diets and it even had recipes for gluten-free cakes too. One of them looked like it might work:

https://www.coeliac.org.uk/gluten-free-diet-and-lifestyle/cooking-and-baking/gluten-free-cake-making/

I chose to go with the chocolate cake recipe. I also tried to enlighten the Koalas about coeliac disease and gluten fibres but I think I just ended up making them confused.

"Is this a gluten?"

“Is this a gluten?”

No, that’s the zergling I ordered off eBay. Glutens are a type of protein found in cereals such as wheat and rye. They cause an allergic reaction in people with coeliac disease, leading to stomach pains and other intestinal unpleasantness. Zerglings are creatures in StarCraft that rip through solid steel and eat people.

"Fascinating. I'm going to run away now."

“Fascinating. I’m going to run away now.”

While the Koala was setting a new world record for the 100 metre sprint, I assembled the ingredients to work on Zel and Nash’s cake.

"...*pant* *wheeze* ...I think I lost him..."

“…*pant* *wheeze* …I think I lost him…”

Eagle eyed readers may notice an extra ingredient in that photo – ground almonds. As I was reading up on gluten-free cakes, I often found comments that they were very dry compared to standard sponges. Mixing in a small amount of ground almonds can help to restore some of the missing moisture that comes from using gluten-free flour. Another hazard is that gluten helps to give a sponge cake form – as a cake rises, the gluten fibres start to form in the cake, trapping air and helping to make the cake firm. It can be helpful to use a little extra baking powder, even with self raising gluten-free flour, just for the extra security.

Sugar and butter. Gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean "slimming".

Sugar and butter. Gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean “slimming”.

The gluten-free flours is interesting stuff. Despite being made from things like maize, tapioca and potatoes (!), it’s identical to work with as normal flour. I imagine that’s one of the things that scares people off about specialist baking like gluten-free or nut allergies; that they will find themselves in completely unfamiliar territory. Reassuring though it was to work with, whether it would actually *taste* like a normal sponge cake was still a cause for concern.

"Hang on, let me see if I can unjam the whisk from here!"

“Hang on, let me see if I can unjam the whisk from here!”

So far, it was coming together reasonably well, although the recipe did call for the drier ingredients to be mixed together first and the eggs last:

"Nope, no glutens in here. Or zerglings."

“Nope, no glutens in here. Or zerglings.”

The cake also took roughly the same length of time to bake as a standard one. After tipping out onto the rack to cool, I set about whipping together the icing to go on the top-

"Now, I know this looks bad, but it totally wasn't us..."

“Now, I know this looks bad, but it totally wasn’t us…”

And so *another* 40 minutes later, I finished *another* gluten-free sponge and decorated it.

The finished cake.

The finished cake.

This entry has a good and bad ending, regrettably. Unfortunately, the day after the cake was made, I came down with the flu and wasn’t in a condition to anywhere, let alone on a several hour train journey to see my friends. However, the cake was every bit as good as my other sponge cakes and tasted absolutely fine. So hopefully, when I head up to see my friends soon, I’ll be able to make them a gluten-free cake with confidence. ^_^

Entry 41: Koalas Prefer Blondies

Hey folks,

I’ve been off work for the past couple of weeks. Nothing to panic about – just needed a little personal space for a bit. Also decided to use the time to visit a friend of mine in Peterborough. As always, I felt that as my friend was nice enough to put me up for a couple of days, the least I could do in return was bake some goodies for the occasion. Now that I had a little extra time, I decided to try a recipe I’ve been to do for a long while now – blondies.

A blondie is essentially a white chocolate version of a brownie and as regular viewers will know, I’m rather fond of brownies in all their various forms. Their mix of dense flavour and potential for modifications with cherries, nuts, alcohol makes them extremely versatile. Would blondies measure up to the same standard?

"And cue the music...."

“And cue the music….”

Even if you can’t quite make it out in the picture, I think you can probably guess which artist I was listening to while I made these. I don’t usually listen to music while I bake as I find it a little distracting but in this case, I found it relaxing. Anyways, you’re all here for baking goodness, rather than listening to me witter on about music, so lets get started. Although I followed this recipe from one of my books, there’s an exact duplicate online if you feel like taking a crack at these yourself:

https://www.ocado.com/webshop/recipe/white-chocolate-and-macadamia-nut-blondies/1000606

You three do realise that each time you take over the bowl, I have to spend ten minutes cleaning the fur out of it?

You three do realise that each time you take over the bowl, I have to spend ten minutes cleaning the fur out of it?

I’ve always been a little wary of working with white chocolate – it probably stems from attempting to make those white chocolate truffles back in Entry 2. White chocolate has a very different melting temperature to normal chocolate and it is also considerably sweeter. All I could hope was that whoever had written up this recipe had taken both of these things into account.

"I'm guessing the lack of ordinary chocolate doesn't make this any healthier."

“I’m guessing the lack of ordinary chocolate doesn’t make this any healthier.”

The recipe called for the white chocolate and butter to be melted and I think this was the first mistake. Most cake and brownie recipes often ask for butter to be softened in order to make it easier to whisk together with sugar and so on. Melting it completely felt very odd. Maybe once the white chocolate was melted with it, it might seem a little more workable…

The Great White Chocolate Heist of 2015 was foiled after the thieves couldn't agree on an escape route.

The Great White Chocolate Heist of 2015 was foiled after the thieves couldn’t agree on an escape route.

Once I’d rescued the chocolate, I tipped it in to the molten butter and after a few minutes, added the sugar as well. While the mixture was largely coming together, I could see a small amount of the liquid butter in the bottom of the mixing bowl. This was starting to feel very wrong.

""Something tells me we won't spending the night in Rapture...."

“”Something tells me we won’t spending the night in Rapture….”

Even adding the eggs and flour didn’t seem to do much to improve matters. The mixture was certainly a lot thicker now and closer to the more familiar cake and brownie batters. Possibly even a little *too* thick:

"The mixture is fine. I'm making the spoon stay upright through marsupial telekinesis."

“The mixture is fine. I’m making the spoon stay upright through marsupial telekinesis.”

Well, it was too late to change anything by this point, so the blondie mixture went into the oven for about 20 minutes on Gas Mark 6. I took it out and for a moment I thought my worries had been completely unwarranted – the top was a golden brown colour and the blondies seemed firm to the touch:

"Appearances can be misleading though..."

“Appearances can be misleading though…”

The blondies were horrendously underdone in the centre but if I had left them any longer in there, the top would have been burnt. I did try one of the pieces that seemed relatively baked – it was awful. The sheer sweetness of it overruled everything else save from a slight sickliness from the white chocolate flavour. I don’t know if it was down to a mistake in the recipe or a mistake I’d made somewhere but either way the blondies were a disaster. If I were to try them again, I think I’d want a different recipe to follow. -.-

Although the baking section was a complete screw up, it was wonderful to see Lauren and Kevin over the weekend and lots of fun and games were had:

"I'm a dungeon boss!"

“I’m a dungeon boss!”

I hope to see both of them again soon – hopefully with a much better cake next time!

 

****

One other very brief snippet – as many of you know, I am very keen supporter of my LGBT friends and last Tuesday was Transgender Visibility Day. In honour of the occasion, the Koala decided to make some coconut ice in the colours of the trans pride flag:

"Much like my friends, these were wonderfully sweet!"

“Much like my friends, these were wonderfully sweet!”

There’s also a little good news for my ever patient readers – the next entry with all of its various photos has already been done, so you shouldn’t have to wait so long for the next entry.

Entry 40: Koala In The Classroom

Hello again Koala fans,

Following on from last week’s lesson at Flavours Cookery School in Bournemouth, I was back there again last week for a lesson on pasta making. This time though, I was not alone….

“Did you miss me?”

“Did you miss me?”

In order to minimise disruption, it was *just* the Koala that had tagged along; the Twins were still holding down the fort back at my parent’s place in Hampshire.

The lessons was going to go right back to basics; teaching us how to make good quality pasta dough and using it for fancy things like tortellini and ravioli. Before any of us could even ask, our teacher, an enthusiastic and friendly chef called Des, talked to us about black pasta. Black pasta is not some kind of evil dark side equivalent of pasta, eaten only by Sith Lords and Bond villains. It is normal pasta that has been mixed with a large amount of squid ink. It looks quite impressive but doesn’t really do much for the flavour.

Although if you use squid ink from *this* source, forget everything I just said.

It was a useful thought. When we bake and cook, we often go to great lengths to make sure it looks fantastic or wild and exciting. The primary purpose of food is to be eaten and if something looks amazing but tastes foul then you’ve kind of missed the point. A really good example of this is rainbow cake. In order to get the bright vivid colours needed for the colours, people overload on food colouring and the sponge becomes very unpleasant to taste.

”Oi. Get back on topic!”

”Oi. Get back on topic!”

Ahem. The pasta dough that we would be making was very straightforward and did not have any extra colourings or flavours added to it. It was also rather fun to make. First, you need to choose the right sort of flour. While you can use simple plain flour for this, using fine pasta flour (“00” grade was the sort I think) helps make the dough more manageable. This is really important when you’re rolling it out or feeding it into a pasta machine. The first step, after cleaning the work surface, is to make a volcano:

"Volcano? Where’s the lava?”

“Volcano? Where’s the lava?”

Into the crater at the top, you add a handful of egg yolks and some olive oil:

”….never mind. Just as long as it doesn’t erupt everywhere.”

”….never mind. Just as long as it doesn’t erupt everywhere.”

The whole thing gets mixed and kneaded together. It was quite odd; with pastry dough, I’m used to being very careful and gentle with it. With pasta, it almost demands a more vigorous approach. Once it was a nice uniform colour, it was time to stick it in the fridge for a while:

I’m guessing one of the reasons why the prices here are pretty good is because they make a lot of dough.

I’m guessing one of the reasons why the prices here are pretty good is because they make a lot of dough.

…don’t look at me like that. You knew that joke was coming sooner or later.

The group gathered around one of the work tops while Des showed us the next stage: using the pasta machine. It took me a second or two to realise that there were only seven faces around the table, when there should have been eight:

When they said refreshments would be provided, I don’t think they counted on having someone like this turn up.

When they said refreshments would be provided, I don’t think they counted on having someone like this turn up.

The pasta machine is like the old fashioned laundry mangles. It’s a couple of rollers with a handle on the side, designed to stretch out the dough. It allows you to make the pasta thin enough for cut-outs, like ravioli or tortellini, or long enough for spaghetti or parpadelle.

The Koala was rather cranky about being separated from the free flapjacks.

The Koala was rather cranky about being separated from the free flapjacks.

It really is quite ridiculous how long the dough can stretch:

"I totally rolled all of this out by hand!"

“I totally rolled all of this out by hand!”

One that wasn’t stretching was the amount of time we had to do all of this. There were several different pasta types we needed to make: butternut squash tortellini, Italian sausage meat ravioli, “bow ties” and parpadelle.

The Koala models a potential replacement for his ribbon.

The Koala models a potential replacement for his ribbon.

Using a circular cutter, we trimmed out the circles that would form the basis of the filled pastas. One thing Des encouraged us to remember – “Less is more.” I think it’s a typical beginner’s mistake to over fill pastas like these if you’re making them from scratch. If you use too much filling, you risk making gaps in the edges, which will either cause pasta water to seep into your delicious filling (ewww) or your ravioli to split apart in the pan, which is Really Bad when you’re trying to keep your flavours separate. It also makes it a swine to clean afterwards. The “bow ties” were made by using a crinkle cutter along the edges of the leftover sheet:

It’s like the Italian version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

It’s like the Italian version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Several frantic hours later, my pasta was almost ready:

The not quite finished pasta.

The not quite finished pasta.

There’s a final stage to preparing the pasta, known as blanching. This involves throwing your pasta into a large saucepan full of boiling water and waiting for it to rise to the surface. Then you have to fish it out and then immediately dunk it into another pan full of cold water. Once blanching is done, your pasta is fresh and cooks in a couple of minutes.

It seems like a lot of trouble to go to, especially when you can get fresh pasta off the shelves or dried pasta out of the store cupboard. It certainly felt like hard work. The difference in the taste though is enormous and given the quantities I made from that modest ball of dough, it’s a fantastic way to cook for a large number of people, while looking stylish at the same time.

I’m not sure what I’ll choose for the next lesson from Flavours but whatever I pick, it promises to be fun.

Whether they decide to let the Koala back in again is another matter... >.>

Whether they decide to let the Koala back in again is another matter… >.>

Entry 38: Getting in a Flap(jack)

Hello again Koala fans!

It’s finally good to be baking again, although this was something of a last minute job.

Every so often, I travel to some wild and exotic part of the UK to meet up with some of my friends. However, as we didn’t have anywhere wild, exotic or interesting available to us, we had to make do with Newcastle. It’s not my first visit to that neck of the woods, although it is the first time I’ve been there with the Koalas.

We had persuaded a local pub to loan us a room for the day, on the condition that we bought our food and drink from there. Although I couldn’t bake anything for the Saturday, there wasn’t anything preventing me from bringing something for the following day however. The last time I went to one of these meet-ups, I baked a raspberry and white chocolate cake for all of us. It went down well but I worried constantly about the cake collapsing on the way up. I was also going to be sorely pressed for time: I literally had one evening to make something before I had to leave for London at the crack of dawn the next day.

There were two contenders: cherry flapjacks and blondies. A blondie is essentially a brownie without the cocoa and a little additional white chocolate. In the end the flapjacks won but I will definitely be making some blondies in the not too distant future.

This week’s recipe came from a new addition to my baking library, a book so amazing and unique that I’ve completely forgotten the title. The recipe itself is a fairly typical flapjack recipe:

2 tbsp of golden syrup

150g butter

50g of dark brown sugar

180g rolled oats

As much fruit  / chocolate / etc as you care to add

“I hope this works out better than your last late night bake. I still have nightmares about that quiche.”

****

One thing I’ve always worried about in my cooking is folks with nut allergies. Several years of first aid courses (plus working in a hospital) has made it very clear that allergic reactions are not something to be treated dismissively. As such, there’s always that nagging worry at the back of mind; “If my friend eats this delicious home-baked flapjack will they a) be absolutely fine b) be unwell and need a trip to hospital or c) undergo explosive decompression?”

Fortunately, my friends and colleagues are, for the most part, sensible people and the only minor concern with the flapjacks came from the cherries I used. The recipe called for glacee cherries and mixed fruit. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable about mixing things like raisins into stuff like biscuits and flapjacks – it just feels like I’m making a bowl of muesli, letting it solidify and passing it off as baking. However, I didn’t want to have just the glacee cherries on their own. As you may have gathered from previous recipes, I’m quite keen on cherries. They give a wonderfully sweet and firm texture to things like fruit cakes and whatnot but alone, they’re cloyingly sweet and lack the flavour of a natural cherry. To counteract this, I used some dried morello cherries together with the glacee ones. Dried fruit has the opposite issue – wonderful flavours but not very sweet. The chewy texture of them can also be unpleasant, so if you’re making fruit flapjacks, dice your dried fruit up as this distributes the flavour more evenly throughout the cereal.

Its quite a big difference when you think about it.

Its quite a big difference when you think about it.

This is certainly one of the easiest recipes I’ve done.  The first stage is melting the butter and adding the sugar and golden syrup. It doesn’t need to be boiling – just hot enough so that it melts together.

.>” width=”300″ height=”169″ /> It’s hard to bake in front of a live audience. >.>

Once the binding mixture had come together, it was a matter of weighing out the oats and stirring it all together.

Taste The Difference. Well, one tastes of oats, the tastes of furball.

Taste The Difference. Well, one tastes of oats, the tastes of furball.

As  you may have noticed, I made a mistake with the sugar, thus proving that there is no recipe so simple that I can’t screw it up somehow. My mistake was that instead of using the dark brown sugar as the recipe instructed, I mistakenly bought some golden caster sugar instead. When I poured the finished mixture into the tray I was extremely worried about the fact that it wasn’t binding together well.  After 25 minutes on Gas Mark 4 and some cooling time, it seemed much firmer. I’d gotten the measure of fruit about right as well  and the flapjacks turned out pretty well for an hour’s worth of frantic baking.

The finish flapjacks, ready for an adventure to the desolate wastes of Newcastle.

The finish flapjacks, ready for an adventure to the desolate wastes of Newcastle.

I wasn’t the only baker at the meet-up. A friend of mine who goes by the online name of Snowfire also enjoys messing around in kitchens..  He also makes brownies that are absolutely stunning;  moist, light and straightforward. They are always popular at the meet ups.

In the same way a drowning swimmer is popular with sharks.

In the same way a drowning swimmer is popular with sharks.

They are made to a secret family recipe and so far he has resisted all my attempts to weasel it out of him.

My attempts to koala it out of him might be more successful.

My attempts to koala it out of him might be more successful.

On the Sunday, tired but happy, I made my way back home. I unpacked my stuff, threw my laundry in the basket and….hang on a sec…

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

The Koala was missing. The Koala was missing.

I did what any sensible person would do: run round and around my bedroom turning everything upside down while muttering obscenities.  No sign. I slumped in my chair, feeling awful. Had he been Koalanapped on the train?  Had he decided to live at Kings Cross station like an Australian Paddington bear?  Was Snowfire even now being stalked by a brownie-fixated marsupial?!

It suddenly dawned on me that even though I wasn’t saying a word, the foul language was still continuing. Continuing in fact, from the direction of the dirty laundry basket….

“GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”

Entry 37: Koala in the Khristmas

Hello Koala fans!

Today marks a very special occasion – I’ve now officially bagged http://www.koalainthekitchen.com as my new web address. From your perspective, things won’t change too much – if you put in the old WordPress address, it’ll still take you to all your favourite Koala-y goodness. All it means is that if you want to spread the word about the blog, the address is a little easier to remember.

Not pictured: the mountain of empty energy drink cans and crisp packets.

Not pictured: the mountain of empty energy drink cans and crisp packets.

It’s been really relaxing back home with the family and Santa was nice enough to bring a few shiny bits and pieces this year. Highlights included a limited edition album, a PS4 I’m sharing with my brother in law and the usual Terry’s Chocolate Orange in the stocking.

Which was no longer mine. Or Terry's for that matter.

Which was no longer mine. Or Terry’s for that matter.

The new website address made me think about subtle changes and how they can make a big difference. It also put me in mind of Pokémon. For those unfamiliar with the game, Pokémon are small creatures that fight a lot and every so often undergo a very, very quick evolution into a slightly different form. The basic creature is still vaguely the same (e.g, it usually still keeps its wings, legs or ability shoot bolts of lightning out of its behind) but it has a slightly new twist to it (two sets of wings, standing on its hind legs or shooting lightning out of its ears). I decided to revisit an old recipe that I did waaaaay back at the beginning of the blog and give it a tweak.

I still wanted to make something for the folks at work and I suspected that by the time we all got back from Christmas, anything featuring mincemeat or fruitcake was liable to make people nauseous. This called for something light and not overly sweet and Lucy’s Mars Bar Cakes (hi Lucy!)  seemed to fit the bill. There were two potential “evolutions” I had in mind for this – one was mixing in a tiny amount of crushed peanuts and some crushed peanut butter M&Ms, with a few extra peanut bits scattered over the chocolate. The other idea was “50/50 Krispies”. Usually with Mars Bar cakes, you use standard rice crispies but I found myself wondering what would happen if I used a combination of rice crispies and coco pops.

Don't look at me like that - I thoroughly cleaned that bowl after evicting its occupants.

Don’t look at me like that – I thoroughly cleaned that bowl after evicting its occupants.

The coco pops would help offset a little of the sweetness but added an extra element of chocolate to it. While not necessarily a bad thing, I wanted to mix up the flavour a little more. Then I had another idea. A long time ago, when I was as young, sweet and adorable as a koala, there was a chocolate bar called Milky Way. Essentially, it was a Mars Bar without the caramel in it and made much smaller for young kids. A few years ago, they modified the recipe quite considerably so that instead of a chocolate nougat in the centre, they went with a creamy vanilla nougat. The texture was still the same but the flavour was quite different. I found myself thinking that if I swapped out one of the Mars Bars for a couple of Milky Ways, I could impart some of that creamy vanilla flavour into the 50/50s. It would still bind together as well (I hoped, although the loss of the extra caramel did worry me) and the vanilla flavour would be a nice counterpart to the coco pops.

Mars Bars, Milky Ways....thinking about it, I should have topped the whole lot off with Galaxy chocolate.

Mars Bars, Milky Ways….thinking about it, I should have topped the whole lot off with Galaxy chocolate.

The methodology was still exactly the same – melt the butter, the Mars Bars (or equivalents) and the golden syrup together and mix in the cereal. As with the previous version, the process tends to be a lot quicker if all the bits are diced up.

The Koala felt this was one of my better ideas but I suspect he was just trying to butter me up.

The Koala felt this was one of my better ideas but I suspect he was just trying to butter me up.

Fortunately, the golden syrup did not need to be divided up into squares. When my mum used to make these for my siblings and I years ago, she didn’t used any golden syrup in the process, relying instead on the stickiness of the Mars Bars to do the work of binding everything together. In this case however, I made sure to add the full 2 tbsps worth to offset the caramel lost by using Milky Ways instead of Mars Bars.

Marses? Marss? Marsii?

Marses? Marss? Marsii?

Being Christmas in the UK, it meant that it was absolutely freezing outside. So after spreading the basic mixture into the tray…

"It's like a luminescent spanking paddle!"

“It’s like a luminescent spanking paddle!”

…I added the chocolate and left it on the windowsill to set.

"Do you have ANY idea how cold this thing is to sit on?!"

“Do you have ANY idea how cold this thing is to sit on?!”

The white chocolate buttons were more for decoration than flavouring. My initial plan was to divide them up and while the chocolate was still hot, drop them in so that they would melt and be swirled across the top with a fork. Dividing them up took longer than expected and by the time came to scatter them, the chocolate had cooled too much.

"Seems fair."

“Seems fair.”

I was a little nervous as to how well they would turn out, given that my previous baking Frankensteins have been less than stellar, but I pleased to say these turned out reasonably well. When snacking in front of Frozen for the 20th time (and a big hello to niece Lily if she can tear her attention away from Disney princesses for two seconds), they taste like standard Mars Bar cakes. If you give them a little time to sit on the tongue, you really can taste the extra vanilla and cocoa. As I said at the beginning, subtle changes can make a difference. =)

*****

"Oh no you don't, fuzzball! This is MY tree!"

“Oh no you don’t, fuzzball! This is MY tree!”

I've never heard an angel use language like that before.

I’ve never heard an angel use language like that before.

 

Happy 2015 from http://www.koalainthekitchen.com! Let’s hope for more baking and marsupial adventures this year! ^_^