Through learning, we grow (sometimes only around the hips, though)

Despite one of my favourite gentlemen pointing out  (probably astutely) a seeming correlation between my sweet-making endeavours and the addition of a few more…how shall I put it?… places to grab on my physique, I find I cannot stay away from the kitchen and confectionery creation.

I have not tried any brand new sweet recipes in the past few weeks, but have experimented with the recipes I’ve already tried and enjoyed before. And the results of these variations and experiments have been pretty interesting, and I’ve learned some useful things along the way.

First was honeycomb, but with the addition of vinegar. I’ve been extremely happy with the recipe I use but have also been curious about the recipes that add vinegar to the mix. Partly from a culinary point of view, but to be honest, mostly because they always make reference to the fact that the combination of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda is the same one you use to make volcanoes for Science Fairs. Who wouldn’t want to play around with something like that??

Based on that, my expectation was that the mixture would froth more, and be more aerated, and that is pretty much what happened. The end product was very good and gobbled up in no time. However, I still prefer the simpler recipe without the vinegar, because some of the small changes made it just slightly less “perfect”. Nothing too major, but the following is what I found:

The honeycomb was quite a bit darker in colour inside. It also had a very slight “pimples on the tongue” kind of effect (mostly if you eat more at a time than you probably should). The really noticeable difference, though, was that although the pieces were as crisp and crackly when you put them in your mouth, they quickly became chewy and toffee-like and stuck to your teeth. It took a while to finish eating what you started, which is not how I like my honeycomb – it should crumble. GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Learning: Vinegar in honeycomb is  a possible variation, but not one I’d try again, especially as the version without it is simpler, with a better result.

My next return to the kitchen was to make Honey and Macadamia Nut Nougat. It’s my absolute favourite, the inspiration for this blog, and most importantly, I had promised my best friend I would make some and that I would share. I used the perfected nougat recipe I’d previously made with almonds, but ended up having to make a new batch, when I couldn’t use the nuts I roasted for the first batch, as they were over-roasted – almost burnt.

This was an interesting discovery – I usually roast the nuts for about 2 minutes less than the recommended time, turn the oven off, and remove them to chop. I then return the nuts to the warm (cooling) oven to keep them warm till needed (cold nuts trouble the nougat). With the macadamia nuts, though, this did not work, as the nuts continued roasting in the oven’s warmth and were practically burnt when I took them out. At this point the syrup was just about at the required temperature, so popping out to buy more nuts was not an option. (And, funny thing, there are not many neighbours who can oblige if you knock and politely ask to borrow 2 cups of macadamia nuts.) Luckily, nutless nougat quickly became one of mum’s favourite things, so nothing was wasted (the best kind of flop). With the second batch, I avoided the same mistake and was thrilled to hear my friend say “You could make nougat professionally” after finally tasting it for the first time.GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Learning: With macadamia nuts, leaving them in the warm oven is not an option. Take them out of the oven after 8 – 10 minutes and cover with a thickly folded clean dishcloth to keep warm.

Along the way, I decided to treat mum to a double batch of caramel popcorn, finally giving in to her constant hints that “these 5 cups really aren’t enough”. I simply doubled everything to make twice as much syrup, for the twice as much popcorn, but the end result was an overly caramelled (can’t think of a better word right now), extremely sweet, very sticky clump of popcorn. To give you an idea of how sweet: Mum – who will happily have chocolate cake for breakfast – said it was too sweet. And only ate a little bit and stopped. Actually stopped, while there was still plenty left. Only after I put it in the fridge overnight and essentially transformed it into crisp cold popcorn balls, could we really enjoy it.GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Learning: For double the caramel, you can make more than double the 5 cups of popcorn, for a similar effect – probably 12 cups.

The final learning was a really useful and simple one. It relates to the nut brittle we enjoy, and also to any other recipes that require roasted nuts. I made a spur-of-the-moment batch of brittle last Sunday – so spur-of-the-moment that I had to make do with whatever nuts I could find in the drawer. We had some almonds, some macadamia nuts and, topped  off with a couple of brazil nuts, I managed to make up a cup of nuts – enough for a one-cup batch of brittle. It wasn’t efficient (or cost-effective) to heat the oven to roast 1 cup of nuts, so I popped them on a plate and in the microwave for 2 minutes, and voila! – gently roasted nuts for my mixed-nut brittle, which turned out just right.GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Learning: When nuts need to be roasted/ warmed to be added in to a recipe (in other words, not as a topping or to eat on their own), the microwave is a useful option.

Something else that I have learned (which will hopefully please the gentleman friend who commented on my sweet-making being a “personal growth” industry) is that one of the best things about making sweets is sharing them. The recent batch of Turkish Delight I made produced 50 pieces, of which there were just  6 pieces left two days later. Happily, I only had 4 small pieces over the period, and the family enjoyed the rest, so it was a win-win all round!…or not so round after all, in my case.


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