I was recently watching Star Trek TNG, like I often do, and in one of the later Season 3 episodes, a morally apathetic, keenly twisted collector of rarities shows Lieutenant-Commander Data (whom he has also “collected”) an ancient Earth relic: a baseball card that he has preserved – along with its… smell.
As the ever-empirically obsessed, intensely human-like android methodically sniffs the air as the card’s framing is opened, the evil-collector-man squeals with delight and says:
“Bubblegum. We’ve preserved the smell.”
As I seal in dripping, velvety lumps of batter into little mounds and seal them behind the oven door, the sumptuous satisfaction of it is serenaded by the rich aroma of rising cocoa.
Now that’s a smell I wish could be preserved.
Not so much to use it again in any practical way, but just to document the very experience of that age-old ritual of domesticity:
I firmly believe this age-old process is so satisfying because it touches some deep, fathomless primeval current inside us.
For me at least, the mystique of specialized baking utensils, with their rounded, plasticky comfort always brings back some of those multi-sensory flashes of childhood. There’s something so definitive and compartmentalized about the baking process as compared to other food. It’s a more fundamental approach: a few basic elements that do very predictable and unalterable things to each other. Not like the subtle cross-overs between different flavours you can play with in regular cooking.
Perhaps that’s the science behind its ritualistic balm for the psyche.
Egg, milk, yeast, heat correspond to our basic instinct for hearth, domesticity, control, nurturing.
In any case, for many of us, it’s always an experience that takes away the sharp angles of every day life and becomes more than a practical function. My recent muffin batches have been eaten by everyone except me. Happily so. It’s a visual feast, experimental play and an activity no one will ever criticize you for doing.
FLOUR: 1 3/4 cups or 250 g
PLAIN/CASTER SUGAR: 3/4 cup or 175 g
BAKING SODA: 1/2 tsp
BAKING POWDER: 2 tsp
COCOA: 2 tablespoons
CHOCOLATE CHIPS / CHUNKS: little less than 1 cup
MILK: 250 ml
VEG. OIL: 90 ml
PRE- PREP: Oven preheat to 200 degrees C • Line muffin tray with muffin paper or grease each cup •Make sure ingredients are room temp before baking • Egg from fridge should be put in medium temp water to take chill off • If flour in fridge (like in hot sticky climates like mine), it’ll need some time to warm.
ACTION: Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl • Put all wet ingredients in measuring jug • Mix! • If you like, sprinkle more chocolate chips on batter and then spoon out into muffin tray. Bake for 20 min (do knife dip test a little before incase)
The Chocolate Chip Muffin recipe from Nigella is amazingly simple. I got sucked into muffins a few months ago, but was refraining from making such a predictable combination of flavours as chocolate chip, since I just love finding myself knee-deep in the complex before I even get past basics. But, since I was in a hurry and had limited ingredients, this seemed to fit the bill.
I simply love using cocoa in baking, just for the visual you get when you sprinkle it on flour. It’s like you’re playing with real powder pigments. Although i love having the iPhone handy, these aren’t the best images, but still.
As many recipes from the revered Domestic Goddess, [whose status as muse for Tim Burton in shaping his “White Queen” just reaffirmed my absolute and undying love for her
] this one also includes a double whammy of chocolate. No need to say anything here.
Dark, jagged chunks of almost ebony crisply stud the pristine whiteness.
Ok, something had to be said.
I don’t know about you, but this is the part in a runny, choclately batter like this that really hits home.
It’s that scrape of the spatula against the plastic bowl, as everything turns shapely, smooth, chocolatey, swirly. Those thick chunks of ooziness that form in the wake of the spatula movement really seem to evoke some kind of distinct childhood memory.
So finally, we had one of the easiest, thickest, most promisingly chocolate batters ready to become little brown puffs.
Dolloped by the spoonful into the muffin tin, they sat in sublime liquid serenity, till heat conjured forth from their depths a deep, rich, earthy aroma that would bring sheer love to any house.