Monday, December 15, 2008

Something Pithy About Baking

(Sorry about the lame-o title; for once I'm at a loss for words. Maybe i'll think of something better later).

I've never contributed user comments to a recipe on Epicurious, but I do love to read them. Call me lazy for benefitting from others' work without contributing, but really, most recipes have enough user comments already - what else is there for me to say?

Some recipes are downright controversial - half the users love it and think it's the easiest thing ever, the other half say it's a complete disaster. What's really interesting is when one user attempts to diagnose the problems encountered by other users. Case in point: I just made a chocolate biscotti recipe. Some people said that the cookies came out perfectly, whereas others complained that the dough was much too wet and spread all over the place. Enter the sleuths: one user surmised that those plagued by runny dough were adding all 4 eggs (as listed in the ingredients) to the batter, instead of using the 4th egg as a wash for the prepared loaves (as instructed in the directions). Fascinating - now there's a cook that knows a thing or two about cooking. And about how other people cook.

The failure to follow directions can't explain all of the negative reviews for a recipe, but the diagnosis of that problem is a good reminder to read the recipe carefully :-) For the record, my biscotti came out just fine - no issues with sticky dough.

My main objective was to use up some hazelnuts and a chocolate biscotti seemed like a good match (all those people eating Nutella can't be wrong). I swapped out the candied ginger for candied orange peel (because I was trying to use that up, too) and the taste is OK but in retrospect, I would have preferred the ginger. I also skipped the drizzling-with-white-chocolate part, because I wanted to differentiate them more fully from the Cranberry-White Chocolate biscotti on the cookie plates (see the Puttin' on the Spritz post for more on my obsession with attractive arrangements of cookies).

Which brings me to another thing I love about user reviews: cooks who make so many changes that they end up preparing something altogether different from the published recipe. Don't get me wrong, I'm a major tinkerer myself; the thing that I am fascinated with is why someone would take the time to write, "I loved this recipe! I used a grapefruit instead of the almonds, substituted chicken for the wild boar sausage and cooked it over a slow grill rather than stir-fry, and it came out PERFECT." I'm being more than a little facetious but you get the idea...the well-meaning user has actually reviewed a different recipe. Fascinating stuff, indeed.

Anyway, here's the biscotti recipe: (and no, I haven't yet figured out how to embed html links into text). These cookies have a nice chocolately taste, and they can be baked well ahead of time because there isn't any butter. (The cranberry-white chocolate biscotti, which have lots of butter, will remain at their prime for about 3 weeks). The batter is easy to work with and would probably do well with a variety of ingredients: almonds, pecans, cranberries...hmm maybe that's what all those creative user review-writers are getting at.

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