Crackers and Cookies and Ranting, Oh My!

So. The crackers. The flavor really is the best so far, in very subtle ways, but the dough was MUCH harder to handle: it didn’t roll out nicely (it kind of fell apart), and it was way too sticky. I think the problem was likely the sugar content, which might have affected the way the moisture in the dough worked, and an additional problem might have been the barley flakes; they don’t have much gluten in them, which means any dough is going to be lacking in tensile strength if the barley content is too high. This, however, demonstrates what happens when you change too many factors at once: I don’t really know whether it was the pumpkin seed praline or the barley that caused the handling difficulties. On the flip side, given that I want both ingredients in the mix, I will more likely just try to adjust from here rather than removing one ingredient and seeing what happens.

It is by no means a scientific approach; hell, it’s not even a methodical approach. The results are very tasty, though, so I don’t much care. It’s one thing to end up with something that sucks–you don’t know which of your changes caused the suckage–but if something is imperfect in one dimension (ease of production) but still tastes good, it’s no big tragedy to work your way through the suckage.

The cookies are awesome, just to complete the report on the weekend’s efforts. I doubt I’ll be able to reproduce them (although I did try to take a few notes after the fact), but even getting in the neighborhood will work just fine.

That brings me to another point: while reproducibility can be desireable–very desireable, actually–it’s not the only virtue, outside of a production environment. As I noted below, if you’re serving food in a restaurant, or if you’re making products in a bakery–if you’re selling your product–you want your customers to be confident about the quality and the flavor and every other damn thing. They’re purchasing an experience in some ways–a flavor experience, if you will–and they want that experience every time.

Truth be told, there are times when I want to reproduce something, too–lots of times. There are any number of recipes I use frequently, sometimes even making the exact same changes, because I know I’ll get the results I have in mind when I do that. There are also techniques–e.g., for canning or storing food–that need to be followed for food-safety reasons, and getting lax in those dimensions could kill you. In a less dire frame of mind, I do not by any means want to discourage anyone from using recipes or techniques that produce the results you want every time.

However, I wonder if the availability of predictable results in the food we purchase to consume also makes us think that we really do have to always use a recipe, or always do something the same way. That approach also means we end up with little scraps of unused bits–a handful of leftovers, a scrap of some ingredient–and no clear way to use the stuff. The leftovers get thrown out; the ingredient is left to disintegrate, or we go buy more, just to use up the old stuff.

The cookies are a perfect example. They had some malted milk sugar in them. I had bought malted milk powder from KAF, and I like the flavor, but the product basically hardened into a lump in my cabinet. I tried grating it, which worked, but only very very slowly, and I tried chopping it, which didn’t really work at all. I tried hammering it, which sort of worked, but ended up sending bits of solidified malted milk powder flying around the kitchen, sticking to the floor, which wasn’t what I had in mind. They suggested I microwave it to soften it, which I did, but I still ended up with chunks, and it would re-solidify. I have picked away at it, with the above methods, and still had a lump of it.

So Sunday I microwaved it (a bit too long) and then quickly chopped it while it was soft. I chopped it on top of the chopped chocolate for the recipe, so it melted the chocolate and combined with it, mostly, while still keeping mini lumps of malted milk stuff intact. It was perfect for the cookies, and I think I have another lump in the cabinet, though I doubt I’ll buy it again. Well, maybe.

The point is, the product was tasty–i.e., good in one dimension–but a pain to store, i.e., problematic in a different dimension. I found a way to use it that took advantage of its good dimension and meant that I didn’t have to throw it away, which is awesome, but what I ended up doing may not be reproducible, as it was largely a method aimed at using up a product that was problematic in the aforementioned storage dimension. Leftovers are similar: sometimes I’ll have a little something left over from some other meal or use, and I’ll just throw it into whatever I’m making, just so it doesn’t go to waste.

At heart, these efforts are really contrary to both the idea of recipes and the idea of mass-produced food, both of which conspire, in both good and bad ways, to get us to desire consistency and sameness in what we eat. The good end of that spectrum is having some spectacular dish, in a restaurant, say, and taking a friend back a month later and the dish is still spectacular and still tastes more or less the same. The bad end of the spectrum encompasses fast “food” (which is really just industrial fuel, but that’s a different rant)–but I would argue that the bad end of the spectrum is also our own belief that we have to follow recipes exactly and what we produce at home should taste the way the recipe intends or taste the same way every time, no matter what the availability of ingredients happens to be.

Speaking of the availability of ingredients, this week’s farm share will include onions, garlic, carrots, spinach, tomato juice, AND a jar of tomatoes. I now have way too many tomatoes in jars, so one of this weekend’s projects needs to include using tomatoes. I don’t have any ideas yet, but I’ll work on that.

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