Thursday, 12 July 2012

On online recipes and marshmallow fluff

I have a couple of recipe books I use again and again, most notably the slim cookbook that came with my Kenwood Chef in the 70s, and Nigella's fantastic "How to be a Domestic Goddess". But I use an awful lot of online recipes too, especially if I have something to use that I don't bake with regularly, such as seasonal fruit.

For example, this recipe for plum crumble cake works every time:

Hunting for online recipes does come with hazards and most of these, I'm sorry to say, come from America. Don't get me wrong, I love American baking. I was given an Good Housekeeping recipe folder for my wedding that I keep going back to, and for uniquely American recipes such as pancakes, fudge and fruit pies, the Americans have it sussed.

I bought measuring cups last time I was in the States, and they are available everywhere in the UK now, so that's not an issue. The real problem comes with the ever-present spectre of convenience foods, and incorporating them into recipes.

Some people don't bake, and that's fine. They are the ones who buy shake and bake cartons, or ready-made cookie dough to bake with their children. All power to them. But who on earth would put a recipe online that calls for a tub of ready-made frosting? Americans, that's who. Making a birthday cake? Start with a box of cake mix. Want to make fudge? Just mix marshmallow fluff in a pan and add flavour. All well and good, but it's not baking.

This is my favourite, no-fail fudge recipe, with no nasty processed ingredients in sight:

Another example: Looking for a recipe for piping gel (more of which later) I found, "one pack Knox Gelatin". Well first, what is Knox? Unless you live in the States it's not available. Secondly, how much is a pack? Is it powdered or sheet? This is just lazy - if you can't put a measurement or work without brand names, don't bother posting your recipe.

To end on a positive note, I'd like to state that some of my best friends are American, and it is a country full of fabulous bakers. So here are some tips for American recipes:

Corn syrup: dissolve sugar in water until it's light and syrupy, put it in a jar and you have long-lasting corn syrup. It's a useful ingredient to have around and I'll write about its benefits for icing another time.

A stick of butter: half a pack, or approximately 125g.

Shortening: lard - vegetable lard is a fine alternative and makes a real difference to pastries.

Semi-sweet chocolate: dark chocolate. To be true to the recipe this is about 60% cocoa but I've never met a  chocolate recipe yet that doesn't taste better with 80%.

Marshmallow fluff: Don't. Just don't.

And my favourite online recipe of all time? This, from Angela Nilsen:
I've baked it loads, and it's always beautiful. And here it is. Instant popularity on a plate. Enjoy.

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