Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hacking other people's recipes

Yesterday just had that vibe, you know? That overwhelming combination of fatigue and distraction, an inability to concentrate that makes you useless for much more than making lists and doing stupid data entry.

So I took myself out for lunch. At the next table, a woman stopped chewing just long enough to pull out her phone and call another restaurant to order nachos to go. "No sour cream, double cheese, please."

I wanted to say, "You too, huh?"

While waiting for my Vegetable Delight to arrive, I pulled out my phone and did the rounds in my bookmarks. Between my daily horoscope and Jane Brocket sits Smitten Kitchen.

I've been a bit off the food blogs lately. They all seem so packed with noise, with heaps of implausibly esoteric ingredients, vamped-up "Look at me!" shots of meals in the making, high-resolution close-ups of the stack of cookies on a dark wooden board, crumbs so artfully intermingled with, what's that I see, vintage tea towels and sprigs of lavender. It all feels much more contrived than actually lived and enjoyed.

But this time, I spotted a recipe for dark chocolate coconut macaroons. Ahoy. I've got coconut, I said to myself. I have eggs, I have cocoa powder, I have sugar, and boy oh boy do I have chocolate. (Having Somerville Chocolate for a brother has its perks.) It became clear that what this day needed was the smell of chocolate and coconut baking in the oven.

Here is the original recipe in its entirety. (Here's a question for you: Why is it ok for food bloggers to swap one tiny ingredient in a recipe and then reprint the whole thing on their blogs, with the words "adapted from," when if you even thought of doing this with a knitting pattern you'd be - and rightfully so - shut down immediately? I'm still not clear on this, which is why I'm not sharing the original recipe here. It just doesn't seem right.)

Note: This recipe works beautifully exactly as written as long as you have 400g of sweetened, flaked coconut - the kind that comes in squishy bags in the baked goods aisle. But I don't like that stuff. I prefer to get unsweetened shredded coconut from my favorite Asian grocer. You get easily twice as much coconut per ounce, with none of the sugar crap, and for half the price.

But because this coconut is dry, it weighs far less than the sweetened stuff. Which means 400g of this would be enough to stuff a pillow, and that would basically mess up the whole recipe.

I took to the Interwebs. Lo, a few clicks later I found another macaroon recipe that was nearly identical to this one, minus the chocolate. It called for approximately 5 cups of coconut. There was my number.

To compensate for the dryness of my coconut, I replaced the 2/3 cups sugar with 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup. I figured the Golden Syrup would add an element of moisture along with a smoky hint of caramel (and Golden Syrup is 100% cane sugar, so you're still avoiding corn syrup).

The only other thing I tweaked was the chocolate. She has you heat half of it in a saucepan, then add the other half and let it melt. Heating chocolate directly on a stove always makes me cringe, but I didn't feel like pulling out the double boiler. I did the next best thing: I put it in a Pyrex bowl and popped it in the microwave for about a minute, until the bottom was starting to melt. Then I stirred until the top pieces were melted. This is really a minor detail, but if we're reporting tweaks to the recipe, that was mine.

They only bake for 15 minutes, and after about 10 minutes your house will already begin to smell VERY VERY GOOD. The kind of good that makes neighbors knock on your door and ask what you're making.

Finished, these aren't the prettiest things in the world. The 12-year-old boy in me would call them raccoon poop. (Not that I even know what raccoon poop looks like, and no, I'm not going to Google it.) But looks aren't the issue here. Once cooled, sink your teeth into one of these babies and you'll be transported to that magical, timeless place where everything is perfectly a-ok.


Roobee said...

Oh my goodness, yes! I have thought te exact thing about recips versus knitting patterns. Boggles my mind, really. These sound delish. I would have used the microwave shortcut, too, even if you hadn't mentioned it. I just find it less messy. :)

ellen kirkendall said...

Yeah. The only recipes I feel free to share online are old family favorites. I know they came from somewhere, but most of them are from fundraising cookbooks from about forty years ago so somehow it does not feel too egregious. Still, there are few I feel free to share (in public).

Matt Waldrop said...

First, no, it doesn't actually look like raccoon poop, but I agree with your inner 12-year-old boy. Awesome name.

Also (an not necessarily intuitively given my first comment), yum!

kelli ann & lorie said...

I often think about this, too. And I think that intellectual property, as I understand it and as it applies to a garment design, is something else when it comes to the kitchen. I mean, none of these breathy, glossy foodie blogs is re-inventing the wheel, now are they? My favourite ones are the simple ones, not running after food fads, most speak to my own experience (busy families, good ingredients, a love of beauty & deliciousness. Something like my favourite knit blogs. The ones that really schmeck!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the Asian market tip for the coconut!! Looks great!!