The proof isn’t always in the pudding

I have long heard about the famous Joy of Cooking cookbook – it is the only book Glen the sailor takes with him on all his travels – but it wasn’t until recently that I could say I have one in my very own kitchen. It was inherited, as the best books are, and therefore complete with all the markings of having been in use for many years (not to mention little folded scraps between the pages: a recipe cut out from somewhere else; a de-tox diet plan).

Anyway, I was preparing dinner for a bunch of people a couple of days ago, and I hadn’t quite settled on dessert, since the novelty of deep-fried ice-cream is wearing a little thin. I wasn’t stressed; there was ice-cream, and adding a shot of espresso can always produce a quick affogato for those who want something sweet at all. But while waiting for something else to do its thing in the oven (aubergine, I believe), I finally found a moment to sit down with a cup of coffee and browse through the book, and pretty soon I began to understand why people love it as much as they do. Presumably the main reason is that the recipes work, but the first thing that struck me was the sheer mass of recipes (including great ideas for variations on a theme), and a language which is unaffected and helpful at the same time. In other words, it’s the kind of book that makes you want to cook (and not a colour photograph in sight!).

A recipe for Maple Curls (maple flavoured brandy snaps) soon caught my attention as something that didn’t require too much commitment in terms of time or ingredients (always important for trying something new in case it doesn’t work out). This was a good call, because they didn’t quite work out – the flavour was good, but they didn’t spread as much as they should while baking, which pretty much cancelled out the curling option (which is what I was looking forward to). So I powered on with classic brandy snaps, which looked much closer to the real thing when they came out the oven (and they smelled perfect). These I could curl, or twirl, but that turned out to be less easy than the diagram promised: for one, mine were incredibly buttery, so greasy fingers made the whole operation quite messy, and they didn’t fully cooperate in terms of retaining the shapes that I curled them into. Nevertheless:

So they got a bit wonky, but there was a hole that you could actually see through:

And how well did they fare? Well, when the affogato finally hit the table, half the guests had left, and the remaining few weren’t that interested, so I was more or less solo on the tasting panel. OK, they were not quite brandy snaps because there was no snapping action (they didn’t crisp enough as they cooled: perhaps too buttery?), but the flavour was very good I thought, ditto the maple numbers.

In the end, the first part of the meal was probably the best: camembert and anchovies, both crumbed and deep-fried. (Do yourself a favour and seek out some crispy anchovies: they rock like nothing else, except maybe tempura ginger). But my first Joy of Cooking adventure was by far a failure, because it was only the first of many to come. I may even entrust Irma Rombauer with the deadly task of teaching me how to bake a muffin.

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