Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cracking Nuts

I love my mother; she is a wonderful generous woman with an amazing array of talents and achievements including a way with a telling a story that’s irresistible. I love that her generosity extends to garden the produce her flat bound daughter couldn’t get anywhere else, and am only mildly suspicious that it’s always things which take an eternity to deal with, (kilos of plums, cherries, and hazelnuts) and make a sticky or crunchy mess. Today I’ve cracked the shells of about 2 kilos of hazelnuts, thankfully my friend C came round for coffee and did the last of them – between us we put in some 4 hours work. There are worse things than hitting nuts with a hammer – I’m now a crack aim, they are now all beautifully preserved in honey and I daresay that in a week or two I’ll have located (probably by standing on them) all the shards of shell that dispersed in the traditional manner of shrapnel around the kitchen.

It has been a proper kitchen day although one with mixed success. The nuts and honey look good but as that was a task of attrition rather than skill any pride in it is restricted to the stamina C and I displayed in getting through the job. More impressive –I feel – has been my first attempt at Lebkuchen. I’ve never made biscuits quite like these before, not that they’re especially challenging – but they felt quite exotic, I think it was the boiling honey and the profligate use of clove and cinnamon, maybe it was the dissolving bicarbonate of soda or the vaguely unexpected inclusion fruit and two types of nut, or wondering why it’s called gingerbread when there’s no ginger – but no, on reflection it was definitely the smell.

The honey, clove, and sugar element was as black and sticky as tar, it also got everywhere and on everything (I’m still sticky despite some serious scrubbing) but I deeply enjoyed making these, I wish I’d realised that the dough is meant to rest for 24 hours before luring C with promises of biscuits – I made some anyway after a mere 4 hours (nut crushing time) and they seem fine, but will see tomorrow if even more chilling makes a difference. I expect it won’t but you never know.

The recipe called for dried orange and lemon peel which I didn’t have and couldn’t find in town so I used apricots that desperately needed seeing to instead which I think sounds nicer anyway and you can’t argue that the Austrians don’t like apricot (I realise as I type this that I’m basing this entirely on an ancient episode of Two fat Ladies which has inexplicably stuck in my head – I’m sure they were right though...) There were still apricots left and because C doesn’t like sultanas, and because the Lebkuchen looked like it might be a non starter I thought I’d make fruit buns with them. Disaster followed wherein insult was added to injury.

My poor electric hand whisk gave up the ghost - which it’s been threatening to do for a while and brings the number of hand whisk casualties up to 4 (I have form with these and hoovers). It means a serious, and expensive, dilemma. I can’t do without some sort of mixer and as another whisk gives up the ghost I have to admit that perhaps I really do need (as opposed to just want) a kitchen aid (such a middle class sort of a problem). I might conceivably have the money for one by March. I can hear the siren call of the credit card - almost every fibre of my being is telling me to be extravagant but there is a very quiet voice urging common sense and debt avoidance and I can’t help but blame the dastardly buns for all of this nonsense.

 Twas the bun mix that did the damage causing one of the hooks to cease turning for good and all, which I could have been philosophical about had the little devils risen. They would not; the mix sat leaden in the bowl, and sat leaden on the tray. You get to a point of no return with bread where you feel you have to see it through just in case of a miracle. There was no miracle and they went straight in the bin. I’m blaming this on a dodgy sachet of yeast, and they would have been so nice if they’d worked. Thank god for the Lebkuchen.  

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