Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Ancient recipes, modern ingredients
When I was a kid there was a culinary revolution in our house that was triggered by the release of The Australian Women's Weekly recipe cards. Every week for something like 26 weeks a new set of cards was released and my mum snapped them up and began using them. I relied heavily on those cards when I was learning to cook, and I was delighted a few years ago when my mum found an entire set for me in a garage sale.
Last month I decided to have a go at making the now famous Caramel Chocolate Slice, which can be found in most cafes in Australia. The recipe cards are now around 35 years old, so I shouldn't have been surprised to find that the recipe needed some adjusting.
Firstly, the old slice tin has been replaced by a brownie tin. It's roughly the same dimensions, but it's deeper. So while the biscuit base fitted perfectly, there was scant caramel to cover it. When I checked the tin of condensed milk, I found it is now 390g, whereas it used to be 440g. You wouldn't think 50g would make much of a difference, but consider how much of the condensed milk gets left on the inside of the can. There's a chance you could be over 75g short, which would mess with the outcome.
I also found the chocolate just didn't cover the slice. So with both the caramel and the chocolate, I just doubled the original recipe, which resulted in a very generous slice.
Last weekend I fished out the recipe for sherbet. My mum used to combine the sherbet with the marshmallow recipe in a square icecream cones to make sherbet cones for our birthdays. As a teenager I frequently used the sherbet recipe to concoct an naughty after school snack. I picked up some tartaric acid in the supermarket and on Sunday night I put together a batch of sherbet. I was surprised to find the tartaric acid did not perform the same way it did 25 years ago. It could be a difference in the way it's produced now. It certainly looked different to the stuff mum used to use. I added 50% more to get the flavour right. But I still think it needs something else to correct it.
Old recipes are excellent. They can be a window to the past, as Heston Blumenthal has showed us time and again. But be careful when using modern ingredients in ancient recipes - they will need adjusting to get the flavour right. All you can do is test and taste. Which is the way to get any recipe right, no matter when it was written!