KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 — Love, they say, is like a pat of peanut butter.
Okay, so maybe that’s not quite how the saying goes. But when your better half seems to relish peanut butter more than other remotely edible substance, providing plenty of this spread is perhaps a wise way of showing your affection.
Nearly anything with peanut butter would do. From kopitiam-style thick toast thickly slathered with peanut butter to an African peanut butter soup – you name it, my partner is bound to approve.
Perhaps approve is too strong a word. One complaint I seem to hear no end of is “Hmm...could do with more peanut butter.”
Never mind that the poor baker, chef or pâtissier had coated that particular deficient dish with enough peanut butter to feed a village (for a week, maybe two.) As far as my more demanding half is concerned, the verdict never wavers: Not. Enough. Peanut butter.
So I’ve made it my personal goal to create something worthy of my very own Peanut Butter Monster. Lately we’ve been having fun-filled weekend projects combining home cooking and amateur food photography.
By “fun”, naturally, I mean the only difference these sessions have compared to 14th-century medieval interrogation methods is that I’m not allowed to protest. Imagine having to prep the mise en place, cook, style food and act as the hand model, while all the other member of the “kitchen crew” has to do is take pictures.
Not that I’m complaining, of course.
In fact, I’m grateful for the opportunity to try new dishes and recipes I’d otherwise not consider. Past weeks have seen us tackling (well, attempting may be a more accurate description) anything from crêpes with grapefruit-apple compote and fresh blueberries to cold soba with vegetable tempura.
With every trial, I mean, session, we learned new and invaluable lessons. For example, did you know that getting rid of the white pith from grapefruit flesh before cooking doesn’t necessarily deter bitterness? Not if you forget to remove the seeds too.
Also there’s no use getting the tempura batter right with ice-cold water if the temperature of the oil in the wok isn’t kept consistently high. (Trust me, I started reading recipe instructions carefully and following them religiously after having to finish an entire platter of soggy tempura.)
Therefore an additional challenge for me is to get it absolutely right this time. No slip-ups. No mistakes.
Famous last words.
Back to the peanut butter: How could I outwit the Peanut Butter Monster, effectively out-peanut-buttering such high expectations? Fortuitously I happened to be at my neighbourhood news stand (“browsing” for free, like any other sensible cheapskate) when I spotted the cover of the April/May 2013 issue of Donna Hay Magazine.
Behold a molten peanut butter and chocolate fondant cake doing a Pompeii. Zoom in on the copious amount of peanut butter luxuriously leaking out like lava. This, I decided, had potential.
Also promising was the fact I had most of, if not all, the ingredients on hand at home. Sugar, eggs, flour, dark chocolate. Easy. (Again: famous last words.)
Of course when the morning of our Weekend Kitchen session arrived, a closer look at my pantry and the recipe revealed a minor discrepancy. Caster (superfine) sugar was required; what I had was the coarse granulated stuff.
Necessity being the mother of invention, I blitzed my not-so-fine sugar in the food blender till it was very fine indeed. So far, so good.
Unfortunately even without further incident, there was no way I could avoid the step-by-step photography requirements of my partner in crime. And by step-by-step, I do mean every single step.
From sifting the flour (“Hold it, hold it! I want to catch the flour falling down. Can you make it fall like powder? Like snow?) to cracking the eggs (“Could you crack them, I don’t know, a little bit more sexily, like Nigella?), there’s no rest for the amateur home chef.
Torturous does not even begin to describe the experience. What ought to have taken 20 minutes (max) from start till finish ended up taking nearly two hours. (It felt like four. Honest.)
Yet when the timer (we used my iPhone) went off and I carefully removed the ramekins from the toaster oven (left as a farewell gift for me by my best friend when she moved to Cape Town – perhaps I could get the African peanut butter soup recipe from her), the cakes looked… right. Heck, they even looked authentic, like a real chef made them.
Still, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the molten peanut butter and chocolate fondant cakes. (What a mouthful, and we hadn’t even had a bite yet!)
The moment of truth. I was barely breathing. It was up to me to wield the instrument of honour (read: table knife) since the photographer was busy getting the right lighting or something suitably photographer-ish.
Stab. Pierce. Ooze.
Oh, my. Plenty of ooze. Glorious, velvety lava. Nothing but all-natural peanut butter, plenty of it.
Taste test next. I held my breath. A nod from the most critical of critics, and then, slowly, a smile.
“This is quite good. The peanut butter…”
Devil’s Molten Peanut Butter Chocolate Cakes
I have adapted this recipe from the Donna Hay Magazine. Usually I find Australian recipes to be a bit heavy on the sugar but the amount used here is essential. For the dark chocolate, go for at least 60 per cent cacao chocolate and more if you like it really rich and decadent. I used a mix of Madagascar 70 per cent cacao and Ecuador 75 per cent cacao for a full-bodied cocoa flavour with a hint of vanilla. You may dust the finished cakes with cocoa if you like, for a more glamorous look, but I find these treats are more beautiful as they are – rustic and homemade with plenty of love.
150g dark chocolate, chopped
100g unsalted butter, chopped
2 extra egg yolks
110g caster sugar
35g plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
10 tablespoons smooth
peanut butter (preferably all-natural)
Preheat oven to 200°C. Place the dark chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the mixture has melted and combined. Add the sugar, eggs and extra yolks into a bowl; whisk until smooth. Next, add the chocolate mixture and flour to the bowl and whisk further until well combined. Spoon half of the mixture into ramekins (approx. four). Spoon 2 tablespoons of peanut butter into the centre of each ramekin and spoon the remaining chocolate mixture over it. Bake for 16 minutes until the cakes have risen. Gently turn out the cakes and serve immediately.
Yield: Makes 4 and serves 4, unless you decide to be quite reckless (like I am) and try to demolish more than one on your own (like I did).
For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit http://devilstales.com/weekend-kitchen/