Saturday, March 29, 2008

Too many recipes

At what point does collecting recipes cross from a passion or hobby to an obsession? I have drawers overflowing with recipe clippings, hand-written recipes stashed everywhere, and copies of old food magazines taking over my cupboards and yet I still collect. Not a week goes by without at least one recipe being saved from Epicure, Good Weekend or the Sunday Life magazine (or all three!) Then there's a new edition each month of Gourmet Traveller, Delicious and Donna Hay magazine to drool over. The Internet means I can collect recipes from The Times and Guardian websites in the UK and I recently discovered the excellent Cuisine magazine from New Zealand, which has a wonderful online archive.

I've tried all sorts of systems over the years to try and keep my recipes in order and easily accessible: pasting into a scrapbook, filing into plastic pockets in a folder, and sorting into filing folders according to food type. I commandeered two drawers in our large filing cabinet and embarked on filing in earnest but quickly grew tired of the project and dumped the lot, mostly unfiled, into one drawer. Currently I'm stashing away recipes in a large filing box from Ikea with no filing system whatsoever.

I'm not alone in this passion to collect recipes. Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice blogged about how she was always collecting recipes to make in the future. The crunch point came when she discovered a large stack of food magazines and recipes that she'd stored in her cupboard a year earlier and forgotten about.

"Why do I keep all these magazines? And why do I have all these loose bits of paper with recipes printed on them flying around my house? What is this all about?" Ivonne asked. "As I sifted through the endless pile, I kept thinking to myself that I couldn’t possibly throw this recipe out or recycle that magazine. This is the 2002 issue of so-and-so that has that perfect recipe for watchamacallit that when I finally get around to making it will be the best thing ever."

Ivonne is a far braver woman than me because, confronted with this massive pile of clippings, she did something I can't bring myself to do: she dumped the lot. She farewelled years of recipes without a backward glance and did not regret it.

While I agree with Ivonne's sentiments, I can't bring myself to throw out recipes. I always hope that I'll get around to making them, even though I know that I could spend the rest of my life doing nothing but cooking and still not make them all. I have managed to stop myself collecting some types of recipes - after all, how many lemon delicious, lemon tart and chocolate mousse recipes can you have? Looking at the several versions I have, I see that all use the same ingredients but only the proportions differ. (The same can also be said of chocolate cake but that is one recipe I can never stop myself from collecting, no matter how many I have!)

Ivonne concluded: "It finally occurred to me that the best chocolate cake I will ever make is the one that I actually make. The imagination is delicious, but reality is even more so. It occurred to me that it was time to squelch the insecure little baker in me that keeps telling me I can bake a better this or a better that and just get down to the act of baking."

It's not an insecure baker that keeps me collecting recipes - it's an addict who wants to keep trying new and different dishes and flavours. I'm not on a quest for better recipes; I just like to experiment. I have a treasured collection of family favourites that I make frequently and these are supplemented with new recipes that I collect. How else would my repertoire expand?

But Ivonne is right - we just need to bake. She has come up with the concept of "Magazine Mondays", where each week she makes a conscious effort to get in the kitchen and actually cook all the recipes she's bookmarked. It's a great idea and I might try and do something similar myself. In the meantime, here is a family favourite recipe that is regularly made: my sister's easy melt and mix chocolate cake that she makes every year for family birthdays. It is a never-fail cake and always disappears quickly.


1 1/2 cups SR flour
1 cup caster sugar
60g butter
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 cup boiling water
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

Mix cocoa and boiling water together.

Sift flour into a bowl and add sugar. Melt butter and mix in, along with egg, vanilla extract and milk. Lastly mix in cocoa mixture.

Bake at 180 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Ice with chocolate icing or vienna cream.

To make vienna cream, beat 125g butter in an electric mixer until as white as possible. Sift together 1 1/2 cups icing sugar with 2 tablespoons cocoa. Gradually add half this mixture. Beating constantly, add 2 tablespoons milk gradually, then beat in remaining icing sugar mixture. Vienna cream should be smooth and easy to spread.

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