Call me boring and unadventurous (though I’d much prefer somewhere along the lines of safe), but I am the sort who finds a great recipe, and sticks by it. In itself it might sound contradictory given that I’m a food blogger, and the very essence of a food blog pivots on the testing and sharing of a plethora of recipes. Well in case you’ve lost me, what I am more specifically referring to is the fact that I have my chosen repertoire of turn-to recipes I’ve been using as bases, or point of reference, for certain bakes. The way I see it, if a said recipe is tried and tested over countless of times, and have proven its worth amongst differing palates, it must surely has earned itself a spot for tweaking and variations.
A favourite base recipe I’ve used countless of times in experimenting new flavours and combinations has to be the much-loved and understated fudgy cocoa brownies, which has lent itself to some yummy peanut butter blondies, and snickerdoodle blondies, just to name a few. Then there is my most oft-used base muffin recipe, which I can never seem to get tired of, and have made variations with other ingredients such as different chips (butterscotch yum!), fruits (strawberries, blueberries) and spreads (Nutella, jam, peanut butter). Hence it would only seem natural that when I was craving for bread pudding the other morning, I turned to my favourite Nutella chocolate bread pudding recipe for a little tweaking.
It is not often that we have leftover cakes here in the household, which might come as a surprise for one with perhaps just two sweet-toothed occupants out of a large family. I reckon it should be thanks to my obsessive penchant for individually-served desserts, and cutting almost every recipe in half, which concomitantly either eliminates any possibility of having leftovers, or simply makes a perfect warm-it-up-the-next-morning breakfast for two. And then there are those instances when I wished I had leftovers from a cake I obviously did not have enough of, but the thought of having more than a slice [or two] a day would have sent my guilt-trip senses a-tingling, so the idea of spreading the love in two days seemed the perfect [greedy] solution. And then there are very special instances when I would have baked a fairly good family favourite, and secretly save a few slices just so I can whip something else to complement it perfectly, pushing it from a good familiarity to a great take on the old. Now this is one of those special instances.
Be it all prettily arranged on the table of a family feast/wedding, or simply packed in small plastic boxes fronting local Malay foodstalls, I always look forward to homemade Malay kuih (traditional delicacies). Sure, the Malay kuih, or kuih-muih in their plural form, are not exactly the healthiest, being almost always laden with guilt-inducing rich santan (coconut cream), heavily sweetened by the golden-brown blocks of gula Melaka (palm sugar), and alluringly fragranced by the many manifestations of daun pandan (screwpine leaves). But there is something most certainly enticing in colourful, single-serving desserts with a rich and chewy intricate texture, meticulously perfected generation after generation.
When I was growing up, I would often watch as my mother summon her kuih prowess and labour off on her own, doing her proverbial ‘thang’, so to speak. There are, however, the lucky times when she would relent to my incessant hovering over her shoulder, and hand me the easier tasks such as the rolling of bread slices (for roti gulung), arranging kuih nagasari pieces into the steamer, and more often than not, residual flour dough from epok-epok for me to make shapes and play with. Whilst my mom is undeniably one of the most selfless persons I know, she has yet to pass on a smidgen of her kuih skills, not because she refuses to, but simply because she belongs to the campak-campak (throw here and there) camp, so constantly deciphering what “a handful of this”, or “a pinch of that”, or “to taste” would translate to in metric was a confuzzling joykiller, to say the least.
I know what you’re thinking; how can anyone possibly have leftover brownies, right? Sheer sacrilege! Now before you start judging me with ‘So much for being a chocoholic, you can’t even finish a brownie?!’ thoughts, allow me to put your mind at ease by affirming that yes, these delectable cinnamon chip brownies were nothing short of well, delectable, and no, there were leftovers not because they were far from it. But when you find yourself with a carton of milk about to go bad in just a couple of days, the only thing you can think of is choosing to send it off with the sweetest ending, a most apt vicissitude to punctuate its unintended oversight, and conveniently pair it with an equally charming counterpart, from whom you’ve been extolling its rich deep flavour.
Now, for those of you who cannot possibly wrap your minds around the idea of a cornstarch ice-cream, fret not, for the ice-cream doesn’t have the slightest taste of cornstarch. With no eggs in the recipe, the cornstarch acts merely in its place as a thickener and binder of sorts, promising a rich and creamy homemade ice-cream.
Confession: This has been the fourth, or maybe fifth, time I’ve made this recipe, each time with my own variation and adjustments, and to date, I have never shared any of the aforementioned versions. And believe you me, they turned out better and better (well, to my palate, specifically) with each newer treatment, but I never got around to sharing. Judging from the above photograph, I reckon you could guess the reason, yes? It just refuses;– and I mean that in the most horrifying terrible-three tantrum-throwing feet-stamping manner;– to be photographed! The day would start off bright and sunny, but once the brownies were cool enough to be handled (and photographed), the dark clouds would come stomping in, and the skies darken, almost shadowing the hue of these rich cocoa morsels. And then there would be an instance of baking-on-a-whim when the sun is almost retiring, and you postpone photography to the next day, only to be dampened when you find the not-so-pretty ones left. I could of course go on and on, but I’m sure anyone with a penchant for photographing their food can understand what I’m getting at.
Yet as vehemently diva-esque these brownies may act, the more insistent I am that good things must be shared, even at the cost of unjust presentation.
So it seemed that a little more than a month ago, I had promised that my first bake as an official missus would be a great one. It also appeared that I had somehow foreseen that the post-hiatus entries would possibly be non-baking related. Oh, how my heart is ridden with guilt as of now. Not that this bake isn’t great, mind you. Just that it’s not exactly mind-blasting (brownie points for those who caught the reference), and I shudder to hear sneering thoughts to the tune of i-can-do-that-with-my-eyes-closed, hence the disclaimer. And as for the highly curious who may not have been privy to my whereabouts the past month, feel free to drop by my photoblog for some shots.
Now on to the bake. Besides chocolate and cinnamon, another word that would almost always jump off any recipe page and grab me by my oven mitts would be ‘crumble’. Call it an obsession of sorts, but I’ve since perfected the art of adding a crumble to anything I could possibly lay my buttery fingers on. Add a crumble to anything, and you’ll have a dessert most people would find almost impossible to resist throwing their table manners off their Victorian-laced tablecloth for. And that to me spells the easiest and most fuss-free dessert not only suitable for any season (but fall, oh fall), the best part is its versatility to adapt to your primary choice of flavour, or in my case, whatever almost-gone-bad fruit I have. And while apple crumbles may not be ground-breaking, there is something much too comforting in having everyone just scoop out their own portions off the pan with their spoons. And in that split moment when you could actually taste the tang of the lemon bringing out the perfect tartness of the apples, interspersed with the warmth of cinnamon in every bite, you will come to realise that it might just be the most understated perfect bake after all.