Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dear Alexandre Dumas (1802 - 1870),

As an urbanite, living in turbulent economic times, I should perhaps be thinking about security.

The news tells me stories of economic decline, and the papers tell me stories of impending ecological catastrophe, and popular culture tells me that we are mere moments away from a zombie apocalypse.

I should bar my windows! Barricade my doors! Install acid-spitting gargoyles outside my building! I should train myself in fencing! Practise fighting duels!

But being the sort who would rather read a book than do any actual work, my training must be literary in nature. I want to read myself into preparedness.

That is where you come in, Mr. Dumas. Surely, if I read The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo in quick succession, I'll magically be able to hold my own against the impending hordes of zombies/recessions/climate change deniers? When I close the back cover, I'll find my hand free of book and full of sword, quick and nimble, and ready to carve a giant 'A' for Anaise into the chests of those who cross me.*

Or perhaps I'll find myself, head full of swashbuckling self-belief, still displaying the patented Irvine Sword Hold, modelled loosely on how Liz Lemon holds a sandwich.

Beware the wrath of my blood-stained... oh wait, I dropped it.
 The most realistic outcome is that I'll get to the end of The Three Musketeers and not particularly want to stop reading, so I'll continue with the other D'Artagnan romances. By the time I get to the last one, entitled Ten Years Later, I'll stumble across a passage which actually does talk about security precautions:

Was it a wall that M. Fouquet was constructing? Was it a fortification that he was erecting? ... Le Croisic has a port of fifty feet, it has a look-out which resembles an enormous brioche (a kind of cake) elevated on a dish. The flat strand is the dish. Hundreds of barrowsful of earth amalgamated with pebbles, and rounded into cones, with sinuous passages between, are look-outs and brioches at the same time.

Uh-oh.  Food was mentioned! Stay focused, think about safety, look-outs, fortification, the brioche is just a metaphor for... briochey... brioches of... brioche...

Nope, too late, I'm looking up recipes. At least the bread will fortify my satiety. That counts, right?

*Except that marking someone with an 'A' is from another book, and this isn't meant to become a crossover blog post.

Fortifying Pear Brioches

Makes 12 big 'uns


3 1/2C bread flour
150g butter, softened
3 room temperature eggs
2 tbsp dry active yeast
4 tbsp caster sugar
2/3C warm milk
Pinch of salt

Rustic frangipane (almond cream):
3/4C sliced almonds
1/4C sugar
1 egg
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp flour

3 cans tinned pear halves
50g pistachios, chopped
50g dark chocolate, shaved


To make the brioches:
Sift the flour into an enormous bowl. Add the yeast and make a well in the centre. With clean hands, slowly pour in the warm milk and use your fingers to work it all in. Add the sugar, butter, salt, and eggs, and do some more finger-smooshing after each addition. It probably looks far too sloppy for a bread dough, but bear with me. Turn the slop onto a floured board and knead for 10 minutes. Yes, your hands will resemble monster movie props at first, but eventually the dough will coalesce into a smooth ball of goodness. Turn the dough into a buttered bowl and leave to rise in a warm place overnight. In the morning, punch the dough down and give it one more knead. Divide it into 12 pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. If you are a sensible person, roll out the balls into small rounds with a rolling pin. If you're like me, smash them down with your fist. Preheat the oven to 180C, and leave the brioche rounds to rise a little more while you make the toppings.

To make the rustic frangipane: 
Throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth with a few knobbly bits of almond skin. Spread a teaspoonful of frangipane onto each brioche round.

To top, bake, and finish the brioches:
Top each brioche round with half a pear, and press it firmly into the frangipane-topped dough. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Pull them out of the oven and sprinkle over the shaved chocolate and chopped pistachios. (Tip: because I am a chocoholic, I like to use thinly sliced dark chocolate buttons as a thicker version of chocolate shavings.)

Serve warm with coffee. If intruders approach your estate, offer them spare brioche to ward off attack.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Dear Roald Dahl (1916 - 1990),

Please do me one favour.

If it's not too much trouble, could you please rise from the dead, brush yourself off, and write a Halloween version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

It doesn't have to be a big deal, I don't need a whole new novel or anything. I just want to know what the man who invented lickable wallpaper and coconut ice skating rinks would do with All Hallows' Eve. Write me a list.

Gummy ghosts that burst out of your tummy to scare trick-or-treaters?
Witches' masks with lickable lollipop interiors?
Licorice leprechauns that sing real Irish deedle-dee-dees on your tongue?
Boysenberry blood to drip down the walls?
Marzipan zombies complete with bubblegum brains?

I could use the seasonal pick-me-up. You see, one of the few drawbacks to living in an apartment building is that trick-or-treating is not part of the culture. My building is very antisocial, and that's (usually) the way I like it. But come the early days of November, there's something sad about not having leftover sweets to nibble.

This is a false lack, though. New Zealand has not traditionally been a Halloweeny nation. We've only recently caught on to the idea, and so I never had a childhood of late October sugar-puking. Nevertheless, I feel cheated! Where is my bag of tooth-rot? Where is my tummy ache? Where are my piles of discarded wrappers?

If I can't feed on the spoils of actual Halloween hunter/gathering, then I shall manufacture the same effect. Sorry Mr. Dahl, I know it's not in the spirit of Charlie to simply go to the supermarket. "Charlie on Aisle Four" would have been an uninspiring novel. But I want to create a post-Halloween recipe, and I'm willing to buy things to sit in as 'leftovers' if I must.

So let's pretend I was given pretzels, M&Ms, marshmallows, and all manner of other glucose goodies the other night. Oh dear, how shall I ever use them up? How about dumping them all in a crazy kiddie cookie? Rereading your books makes me feel nostalgic anyway, so kiddie food can only amplify the effect. Time for regression cookies!

Bonus: things you find out when you research Roald Dahl:
  • He was married to the lady who played the wealthy client of George Peppard's gigolo in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
  • The chocolate espionage storyline in Charlie was based on the real rivalry between Cadbury and Rowntree's. Intrigue!

Regression Cookies

Adapted from Nigella's Chocol-oat Cookies
Makes 24


1/2C flour
3/4C oats (the fat juicy kind, not the instant porridge kind)
3tbsp cocoa powder
1/2tsp baking soda
100g butter, softened
1/4C caster sugar
1/2C brown sugar
1 egg

Mix-ins - fill two cups total with your choice of:
Mini marshmallows
White choc chips
Dark choc chips
Crushed pretzels
Cocoa pops
Salted peanuts
or anything else you have on hand


Preheat the oven to 180C.

Cream the butter with the sugars. Beat in the egg. Sift over the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Mix in the oats.

Here comes the fun bit!

Fill two cups with whatever crazy kiddy candy makes you feel nostalgic. Use Halloween leftovers. Or, if you're a grown-up and you didn't go trick-or-treating, steal some candy from a baby. Whatever works. Mix your gathered/stolen candy into the biscuit batter until it's a sickening swirl of artifical colours.

Scoop out tablespoons of mixture and roll them into flattish discs. Arrange twelve to a baking tray and bake in two batches, for 15 minutes each batch. They'll come out looking slightly composty, and decidedly unphotogenic, but they'll taste like childhood.

Serve with milk and pledge to have salad for dinner.