So, I’ve got my cheeky Friday vino in hand. Let’s talk about my recent cooking traumas as I promised when I wrote up the Sandwich Bread. This post is long and full of cookery woes, so skip to the bottom if you just want the recipe that saved the day (well week actually). I will not hold it against you!
First off I discovered a little too late that the delicious beef shin I had bought was going out of date that very day. You know I try to eat things on time rather than playing the ‘use-by-date lottery’ with some funky looking bit of meat. I think we’ve all probably had a case where something we’ve bought has expired well before the packet says it should, so who knows how accurate they really are. No one wants food waste but no one foods poisoning either. Hence I prefer to play use-by-dates by the book by paying attention. But I digress. So, I was unexpectedly making a beef stew, a bit too late in the day for my liking for the slow-cooking it deserved, and it turned out decidedly meh. And it was still meh when I tried to jazz it up into a soup for lunch later in week. Not a good start.
Next up, being lactose intolerant but a lover of cheese, I’m a big fan of the naturally low lactose cheeses out there. West Country Cheddar is one such cheese, made and matured using a specific process that removes nigh on all the lactose. However, the strength 5 cheese (strong) I bought, and tried to use in a child-friendly cheesy broccoli pasta bake tasted more like a 1 (super mild). I even foisted pieces of it on passing friends in case it was my taste buds up the spout, but no. My 5 was definitely a 1. Guess how the cheesy broccoli pasta bake tasted? Congratulations, you are a winner! It was meh. Then just a few days later I missed the use-by-date of some salmon by a day, but managed to find a less fastidious taker, and they are still with us. Unsurprisingly really. But I’m cross with myself that I got it wrong, especially when I made a point of looking at it after the earlier shenanigans with the shin of beef. I was feeling less than special by this point with three things going wrong.
So next we come to my baking efforts. I had an especially busy week in the diary and I decided I’d need to make one thing to get me through the whole week instead of baking twice as I usually do. Gingerbread seemed to fit the bill. Traditionally something that gets better with keeping, I thought a large batch would do for everyone. I won’t be sharing the origin of the recipe because I doubt very much the problems I had were the fault of the authors. It came from the US so I substituted several things that were more common over here, e.g. black treacle for the molasses, and all seemed well. The dough came together really nicely. It rolled and cut well. It was soft and smelt oh so good. I was enthused, and cut out lots of gingerbread men, then some animal shapes for the kids, and finally some little hearts just because I could. Three trays of cooked creations later, cooling on the racks, I took a bite. Flavour-wise they couldn’t be faulted. A lovely strong treacle flavour, not too sweet, and the peppery aftertaste of lots of ginger. But texture wise it was very, very wrong. As I bit in, there was a bit of resistance from the crustier edge of the biscuit, but instead of a plump, soft middle it just disintegrated into a mouthful of sawdust. They were terrible. I ate another. Yep, awful. I waited until they were properly cold. Still dreadful. I made a friend eat one. They agreed the biscuits were nasty. What to do?
I made frosting. Lots of thick. lemony frosting. And you know what? The biscuits were better, but they were still pretty shocking. The frosting improved the first couple of chews of the mouthful but then the sawdust returned. How could I get more frosting in per bite, without having to pile it 4 inches high on every biscuit? I was stumped for quite a while, and concerned any option may just be chucking more good ingredients after an unsaveable disaster, but then the solution flooded into my brain. Cake pops!! Now, I’ve never made a cake pop, but my basic understanding was that they are cake, mixed with frosting, and covered in chocolate. On a stick. Covered in sprinkles. I didn’t have sticks, and I didn’t have sprinkles, but I did have cake, frosting and chocolate. And out of the flames rose the phoenix that is chocolate-covered gingerbread bites. They are loosely based on cake pops, and do you know, I think they would be at least as good with gingerbread that starts off nice! Perhaps something that’s got a little hard over time and needs resurrecting, but I’d recommend them because they ended up being very adult. The flavour was really very intense once the gingerbread was packed together with the frosting, and I used dark chocolate which added another layer of sophistication. Some of the kids liked them, but mine wasn’t one of them. She took a bite, handed it to me with a ‘Don’t like it mummy’ and ate half a plate of grapes instead. And much better for her they were too! They were though a definite hit with the grown-ups. So, has my baking mojo returned from its sun-kissed holiday, without me, in the Seychelles? It better had be, well rested and ready to get to work.
Chocolate-covered gingerbread bites
Prep time 30 minutes Cook time 2 hours (actually chocolate setting time) Makes many…
- 1 batch of gluten-free gingerbread – you want something strongly flavoured, cakey and soft, not hard and crunchy, my recipe was also vegan
- 1 batch of thick lemon frosting – I used this one with Pure Sunflower instead of butter, and soya milk instead of milk, but any dairy-free alternative should work
- 350g dark chocolate, melted for dipping
Break up the gingerbread in a large bowl until it is all a fairly fine and even crumb. Add dollops of the thick frosting and work together, initially with a fork and later with your fingers, until you have a crumb reminiscent of a fruit crumble topping (I had a bit of frosting left over). Pack a small quantity of crumb together into a ball. Taste it, checking for sweetness and texture. Is it too dry to hold together (and therefore likely to disintegrate when being dipped in chocolate?) and is it sweet enough? Continue adding the frosting until you have achieved the desired consistency and sweetness. Check often – you can always add more frosting, but you can’t take it out! Make walnut sized balls of your mixture until it is all used up. Place these ‘bites’ into a suitable container and put in a freezer for 20 minutes. In the meantime melt your chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water (or in the microwave if you prefer) and cut a sheet of baking parchment onto which you’ll place the dipped bites. After 20 minutes remove the bites from the freezer and working fairly quickly coat them in the melted chocolate. The bites will defrost over time and tend towards breaking apart in the chocolate. The chocolate will cool down as you dip the cold bites in and thicken up making it difficult to get an evening coating. I used a small pair of tongs to lift the bites into and out of the chocolate, and a spoon to roll them around in the melted chocolate for an even covering. Leave the chocolate-covered bites on the parchment paper until the chocolate has completely set. Store in an airtight container, in the fridge if your house is a little warm. Pairs wonderfully with a cup of coffee.