The cupboards are almost bare, and I’ve intentionally been whittling down their contents to this barren state. I am cautioned that this is the behavior of someone expecting an apocalypse. I’m not. But I am clearing out the stuff that’s been occupying space for much too long, and which no longer has much function. When I used to bake industrial amounts of cakes and cookies, I had a lot of use for bulk stores of sugar and baking soda. Not so now.
Although oats are something I will continue to use, replenishing them frequently isn’t a terrible idea. Thinking of oats, and flapjacks, I can’t help but think of the iconic packaging for Scott’s Porage Oats.
I wrote in another recent baking post about watching a show that featured a visit to the astounding Tate & Lyle sugar refinery (it’s rather scary to think about the amount of sugar consumed in the world)… as stated, I’m working my way through ingredients that have been in my cupboards for a long time but need to be used, including several containers of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. There are pretty much no better uses for golden syrup (and oats!) than ANZAC biscuits or the very basic flapjack.
295 grams unsalted butter
250 grams golden syrup
500 grams rolled porridge oats
pinch of salt
Prepare an 8×8 pan – butter the pan and line with parchment for easy lifting out of the pan. Preheat oven to 180C (160C if you have a fan) or 350F.
Combine butter and syrup in a saucepan; stir together until melted. Add oats and salt. Mix well. Press mixture evenly into pan. Bake about 25 minutes (until top is golden). Leave in the pan for 30 minutes, lift out and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Cut into squares once cooled. Like many such… rustic goods… they aren’t pretty, but that says nothing about what they taste like.
On this day of torrential downpours, excessive reading and television viewing, I am not sure that there is a better time to experiment with food.
As I previously wrote, I don’t like cooking. Baking and candy-making is a bit more up my alley. Sometimes, various ingredients I use in cooking, like a tin of chickpeas, have castoff bits. Normally you strain your beans, sending the valuable bean water down the sink. But in fact, this miraculous liquid (also known as aquafaba) can act as an egg-white substitute and used to make vegan meringue, vegan Swiss meringue buttercream, and any number of other things… like espresso meringue cookies (my first aquafaba experiment).
the miracle juice…
… looks like mucus
I had some chickpea water leftover from one of my ugly cooking extravaganzas, and I thought about what kind of sweet things I could attempt. I thought back to a baking/candy-making disaster of my childhood. My mother tried to make traditional divinity candy many years ago, and it requires (as all divinity does) such extensive beating that she burned out her ancient hand mixer. She’s never made it again, despite replacing the hand mixer with a more heavy-duty stand mixer.
I should also note here that corn syrup is called for in this kind of recipe, and apart from believing that corn syrup is flavorless and bad, it’s also just not sold here. I use golden syrup instead.
I recently watched the lightweight but engaging Nadiya’s Time to Eat on Netflix, in which the affable host, Nadiya, visited the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery and made a recipe using Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is something I use liberally and always have on hand for my baking.
I had never given much thought to the syrup but had a gab with S about it, and he said he always thought, as a kid, that there was a dead lion on the label. We looked it up, and indeed, it is a dead lion with bees buzzing around it, bearing text related to a Biblical passage (Judges 14:14): “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”. A rotting lion carcass seems like an unusual slogan and brand position for a sickly sweet baking ingredient, but it has remained the same since the beginning. I read up a bit on Abram Lyle only to discover that he was a teetotaler and devout Presbyterian Scot, and is quoted as having said he’d “rather see a son of his carried home dead than drunk”.
Not terribly strange, but when you consider that his company merged with the rival Tate enterprise (to form Tate & Lyle), it’s strange bedfellows. Henry Tate, best known perhaps for giving his name and art collection to numerous art galleries in the UK, also gave freely to “non-establishment” causes and workers’ conditions. What struck me, in contrast to Lyle, was that he established a bar to let his workers have a good time (and probably to keep them out of trouble, trouble being bad for productivity, of course). Though Lyle and Tate the men never met each other, it’s hard to think Lyle would have approved of this kind of recreation. I love the contrast and kind of wish the men had met, and we could have a semi-fictional miniseries on the competing sugar refiners, along the same lines of The English Game to tell what could probably be a fascinating story. Much more fascinating than the tale of how my experimental aquafaba divinity candy turned out.
Aquafaba vegan divinity candy
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup golden syrup (or corn syrup, which isn’t sold here, and is not as nice or flavorful as golden syrup anyway)
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons aquafaba/chickpea water
1 teaspoon vanilla
(Add chopped nuts, if desired)
Heat sugar, water, syrup and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Add a candy thermometer, and continue cooking until the mixture reaches hard ball stage on the thermometer.
Separately, beat the aquafaba with a mixer using the whisk attachment until it holds a stiff, meringue-like shape.
Very slowly add the sugar mixture and vanilla into the beaten aquafaba, and beat until stiff peaks form. You must beat to get the stiffest possible peaks; divinity will not hold its shape if you don’t beat it to the right consistency. That means you are going to beat, beat and beat some more… and you will be very happy that you have a stand mixer that can work autonomously.
To give you an idea of how much time the beating will take, know that I read a whole book. Between waiting for the syrup mixture to reach hard ball stage and the interminable beating stage, I read Virginia Woolf‘s A Room of One’s Own in its entirety. I’m a fast reader, and it’s not an excessively long book. But you get the idea. This is a very easy recipe – but it’s extremely time consuming. You will, however, be able to do multitask while the mixer works its magic. I think the “hard ball” waiting period was about 30 minutes, and then the beating process to reach the final product was another 30 minutes. Obviously this can differ, but this is just what worked for me.
At the very end of the process, add nuts if so inclined. Oh, I also added a wee pinch of red food coloring just to get a subtle tint for the final product.
Make small, rough blobs of divinity on pans lined with parchment or wax paper, or put into a pan and cut into squares. Let the little overly sweet balls set. I don’t eat stuff like this but did take a wee taste to make sure these at least taste edible. Apart from being sickeningly sweet (which some people like), they have a more complex flavor than if I’d made them with corn syrup, and also have a deeply vanilla flavor (thanks to the vanilla extract and vanilla bean powder I added).
I have made many different variations of ginger cookies/ginger snaps in recent years. I used to have a standard recipe – the one with which I grew up – but I tried others that used fresh grated ginger, some that didn’t call for molasses (not always easy or possible to find in Europe) and some just to change things up.
This time, having no molasses and wanting to use some pumpkin spice chips someone had given me (I really wasn’t sure about these – they seemed a bit too ‘toxic’ and unnatural in flavor…), I adapted a bit. I had a lot of golden syrup on hand and decided to use that in place of molasses…
Preheat oven to 180C
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/3 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pumpkin spice chips
Mix all ingredients except the final two listed. Add the chips, if desired, at the end when dough is well-mixed. You can wrap and chill for a while if you prefer.
Roll dough into small, walnut-sized balls, roll in sugar and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 9-10 minutes.
It’s been a long time since I bothered to make miniature pies, but suddenly the urge was there. Mini pecan pies were born.
Here’s how you can go for it as well:
1 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled butter
3 tablespoons ice water
Sift flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour until crumbly. Stir in enough cold water with a fork until it is just moistened. Form a ball and roll out on a floured surface. (For a regular pie, you would roll into a 12-inch circle for a 9-inch pie. For mini pies, just cut circles about the size of the outer edge of your tins). Fit the rounds into your mini tins and set aside.
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup corn syrup (I used golden syrup)
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350F. First pour pecans into the bottom of the pie crusts. Pour the syrup over the top. (Pecans will rise to the top.)
Cover the tops and crusts lightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. The filling should not be overly runny/jiggly, so continue baking until it is relatively solid.
It’s not ANZAC Day, it’s not Australia Day. I am not someone from Australia or New Zealand. But back when I lived in Iceland, my best friends were Australians, and we sometimes celebrated Australian events, and I adopted the habit of baking ANZAC biscuits pretty much all the time. They are quite simple and keep/mail well. Given that I was extending the experiment of mailing cookies to other offices on other continents, it seemed wise to include hardier, sturdier cookies in the mix. I have no idea whether the cookies I make in any way resemble actual ANZAC biscuits, but people eat and love them regardless. I am not terribly concerned with authenticity.
Of course, the concept of “baking authenticity” is sort of interesting. I remember promising to bake cookies for an old friend in Iceland. When I finally did, he took one look at the cookies, made a rather unpleasant face and said, “Those aren’t cookies, those are American.” What did he expect? That I would make the hard little dog biscuits Icelanders call cookies? I AM American after all.
For me, authenticity probably comes mostly from the intent of the baker. Even if they are baking from (heaven forbid) a mix, it is more about whether they enjoy what they are doing. While I eschew the evil baking mix, I encourage baking of all kinds.
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats (oatmeal), uncooked
1 cup coconut
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 Tablespoons golden syrup (or honey)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
2 Tablespoons boiling water
Preheat oven to 350F/180C
Combine flour, oats, coconut and sugar in a bowl.
Melt the butter and golden syrup or honey in a saucepan over low heat.
Mix the bicarb of soda with the boiling water and add to the butter and golden syrup mixture.
Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and mix well.
Spoon tablespoons of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving space between to allow for spreading.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. (Mine usually take less than this, so keep an eye on them.)
Cool on a wire rack and seal in airtight containers.