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Failures of progress

I have a confession to make: I suck at baking. The fact that I spend a fair amount of time talking, writing and photographing food, people get the impression I’m the right person to ask about baking tricks for walnut roll. I’ve never done one, to be honest don’t dare to make it. It would be a disaster of epic proportions, I can already see the oozing bubbly filling dripping from bumpy shaped alien form. And the sight of yet another baking failure gets me furious, despite being fairly calm. Over my abundant “disaster” experience I’ve learned the best thing to do is to shuck everything in trash, clean the kitchen (basically, pretend it didn’t happen) and start all over on something safe. Eating a disaster, which is still edible, results in dull pain in the stomach, like swallowing your own anger and shame. I make effort to use quality ingredients and don’t want to discard food, which pisses me off even more. Still, I advise to discard and go on, where as Julia Child would cheerfully smile and try to save what is left of unfortunate dish: “Never apologize, be fearless”, she would sing with her high pitch phlegmatic voice.

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Lemon polenta cake fail and double macarons fail.

 

It’s true, kitchen requires guts and determination. Trial and error under a vast array of changing variables. And you need to test and experience all of them. Some can be learned from books others by mentors, but there are lessons you must have by yourself. To make progress, you have to have failures. It’s essential element of progress, and the sooner you accept that, the better. To become successful in any discipline, the thing that matters the most is your attitude. Not so much talent and abilities, those are extenuating circumstances. Unfortunately there are many people with no talent who get to the spotlight because of their sheer determination.

So please fail, do not let it discourage you, although it can be quite deflating. Researching this topic I found a very therapeutic exercise – google image search “baking fail”. After you had your share of laugh, proceed to video search, and somewhere in there should be a video of Gordon Ramsay bleeding all over Ellen show. Apparently he hasn’t cut himself for 10 years, but I bet he did it quite a few times as a sous chef. I happen to have one of Ramsay’s cookbooks, there is a fantastic portrait of him covering his face with his hands followed by a quote: “We learn only by making mistakes, so don’t be afraid of them, I still fail and still learn new things – that doesn’t stop me and it shouldn’t stop you. Keep going until you lose that fear.”

But failure is only useful if you know where and why you failed, this is where progress happens. Well, not necessarily, I always and constantly fail for the same reason – I cannot resist the urge to change something in the recipe. Like I’m completely unaware of the complex chemical and physical magic behind each recipe. Like that the different oven, flour, baking pan, longitude and altitude are not enough. No, I change flours, sweeteners,… who cares if I’m substituting powder with liquid, I’ll add another egg. Ever since I’m baking gluten free, the failures tripled.

But I still bake, I love it actually. It’s the experiment component behind it that gets me. Similar to developing a photo, baking is where you insert your effort in the equation and leave the magic to do the rest. I always sit in front of the oven in the first and last minutes of baking, like observing image appearing in the developer fluid. When I get it right the happiness and matching pride is immense – I came up with this and it works. So there is purpose in the many cakes that ended in the trash, here I quote Edison: “I didn’t fail, I found 10.000 ways that don’t work.” This is the third quote used in this article, don’t recall doing that since my academic years. It’s no coincidence, I quoted so many exceptional people on the subject of failure. And Edison was a shmuck, a clever shmuck, and yet his greatest mistake was that he fired Tesla, but that’s another story full of failures on the way to reach grand new discoveries. So again, please fail, as much as you can.

 

This article was first published in Mrvica magazine.

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Recipes

Tahini Miso Cookies

Don’t like to use the word fusion, because it sounds like something futuristic and modern, but the idea behind tese cookies is that they use Japanese ingredients in a form that is not tipical for their cuisine, but very much adored here in Europe. These are sort of version of english tea biscuits and are ment to be minimal and simple but complicate with individual complexity of ingredients. For example – adding salt with miso. Because it’s creamy like tahini, and brings a kind of gentler, deeper saltness. Orange peel and ginger for the zing, to uplift the heavy, slobby grease of tahini. And sesame seeds as garnish on top are crucial, but have to be mildly roasted (not too browned, as they get bitter) in advance to bring the full nutty aroma.

I like to keep the list of ingredients to the minimum and not over complicate, but these have to have all this inside to be perfect. You should know these are not very sweet, only a hint of sweetness, so they fall in the adult cookie category. Pair them with genmaicha tea, it’s nutty aroma complements them really nice.

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Tahini Miso Cookies

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp white miso paste (if you use stronger and darker miso paste use only generous 1 tbsp)
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • Orange zest from one orange
  • 1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds, gently roast till you can smell the aroma

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400 F). Mix flour and baking powder separately from the wet ingredients. Combine both mixes, if to dry add a splash of water. Form into a ball of dough. You can substitute olive oil for butter, to get more shortbread like texture. If you used butter chill the dough for at least an hour. If using olive oil begin with forming the dough in small balls. Dip each ball in roasted sesame seeds and flatten the ball to form a nice even round cookie. Bake for 20 minutes.

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Recipes

The road not found, please try later

There is so much said about the information saturation in today societies. Internet, media, all of the world’s knowledge at the simple reach of our finger. Despite the fact there is pouring information flooding us on our every move, I started noticing it is not broadening our horizons, but still rather streaming it to known and established highways. There is no such thing as coincidence on internet, stumbling on something, is better put as, randomly selected one of the top visited websites. The same goes for choice: so much to choose from and yet behind the branded images there are mainly 30 forms, ingredients or contents repeating in one way or another.

We search for perfect spots or favorite corners, get used and adapted to them and frame our pathways around them into our own perfect niche – a subculture of all our interests and likes. Think about it: your day revolves around you favorite information points, with plenty of newness every day, but it is all in the same flow.

Getting lost these days is practically impossible (yet, still very common) with satellite support. It is there to help us stay on the right path to the best restaurant, nearest attraction and at the end of the road famous cemetery, you simply can not miss. I like getting lost in unknown lands, somehow I always find myself on the right places, which were unable to predict. Whether it is the no signal or some other limitation, it’s the obstacles that seem to push us to explore off the beaten paths. Like weird food allergies forcing you to search for replacements for your beloved cravings. So here is newly discovered carob, for all of us not following the chocolate brick road.

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Carob macadamia cookies

2 1/2 cups spelt flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla sugar
6 tbsp carob powder
1/4 cups milk
1 cup coarsely chopped roasted and salted macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour, soda, and salt. In a separate bowl cream the butter, sugar, baking powder and vanilla sugar. Mix the milk and carob into the butter mixture. Add flour mixture slowly at low speed to the butter and carob mixture, later fold in macadamia nuts. Drop a big spoon full of batter onto a baking sheet, repeat until you use up the entire batter.  Bake 20 minutes or until the tops look crunchy dry.

 

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