December 05, 2006

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

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Last week I cooked dinner for Parent-Teacher Interview night. Among the desserts that I prepared were Baklava Muffins and Roxanne’s Millionaire’s Shortbread, both from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. Obviously both were edible, they’re sugary baked goods, how could they not be? But both of them were flawed.

In the case of the Baklava Muffins, they had a filling which consisted of butter, sugar, cinnamon and walnuts which was also supposed to be sprinkled on the top of the muffin. That was all well and good, except that it ended up on the bottom of the muffin cup, even the ‘topping’ sunk to the bottom. The muffins were tasty enough, but a pain to eat. The top half of the muffin was light and cakey but underneath was a non-cohesive mass of sugary-nutty filling that had to be picked out of the muffin cup. It just wasn’t a solidly constructed muffin. And as for the taste; it was good, but the name was misleading. I would have more likely called them Walnut-Honey Muffins as opposed to Baklava Muffins. You can’t recreate baklava in muffin form, or at least Nigella can’t.

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As for Roxanne’s Millionaire’s Shortbread, the shortbread base was good, but I had problems with the subsequent layers. I thought this caramel layer would be easy for me, it was just condensed milk, syrup and butter mixed together in the microwave. I didn’t have to use a thermometer to determine just the right amount of heat so it seemed easy, mix and done. Not so much. I used as big a bowl as I could reasonably fit in my microwave and this stuff repeatedly boiled over, making a lovely mess. I lowered the heat and kept whisking, trying to achieve that light golden brown colour Nigella told me about. I got to the point of what seemed like the right colour, but the texture was weird. I hoped that maybe when it cooled it would be alright. That problem never resolved itself and the caramel layer was somewhat grainy. The top layer was just chocolate, it should have been fine. This recipe calls for a ridiculous 12 ounces of chocolate. I (surprisingly) reduced the amount of chocolate and that was probably for the better as these bars are very difficult to cut. The chocolate solidified into a thick layer that resisted being cut through. Often it would crack and straight lines were few and far between. And while I was trying to hack my way through the chocolate layer, the caramel decided to ooze out the sides. Once again, I’m not saying they weren’t good, they got eaten, but they definitely didn’t reach the level I thought they should have.

And now that I’ve had some time to think about the outcome of my baking, I’ve got a bone to pick with Nigella “The Domestic Goddess” Lawson. I feel like she’s purposefully leading me astray. She smiles pretty and tells everyone they can be a Domestic Goddess but she doesn’t mean it. She’s not unlike a certain sister of mine, wanting everything for herself. But in this case instead of sticking me with the wonky Santa while she keeps the good one, she sticks me with the wonky baking while she showcases her masterpieces. I don’t know how I got on the Nigella bandwagon, I’ve never really even watched her show. I guess I just got sucked in with the pretty pictures and promises of becoming a Domestic Goddess. And that’s the way she wants it- for everyone to think they can be just like her but for no one to actually be able to achieve it. Because then she wouldn’t be special. If everyone had the title ‘Domestic Goddess’ it wouldn’t be nearly as impressive. For example, if I introduced myself as ‘Domestic Goddess Brilynn,’ I’d most likely get a response like: “Pffft, you’re a Goddess? Who cares? So am I.” It’s as a result of this that I’ve come to the conclusion that Nigella bakes with one recipe, but publishes another. When Nigella bakes, her Baklava Muffins are probably an exact replica of baklava, but in muffin form. Mine are doppelgangers. They might resemble the original, but you know there’s something not quite right with them. Bringing you back to the Santa’s, mine was obviously the doppelganger. You knew he was a Santa, but what was up with him? With all the similarities between Nigella and the Sister, it leads me to ask the question….

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The likeness between the two is creepy. Very creepy… (Cue Twilight Zone music.)

Here are the recipes if you’d like to give them a shot. If you’re good at tweaking and modifying recipes these could be a challenge for you.

Nigella's Baklava Muffins

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup flour + 7 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk + 2 tablespoons buttermilk

1/2 cup honey

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Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Mix all the filling ingredients together in a small bowl, set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. Mix the egg, melted butter and buttermilk.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and add gently mix in the wet ingredients.
Fill 12 muffin cups 1/3 full, add a scant tablespoon of filling, cover with more muffin mixture until 2/3 full. Sprinkle any remaining filling on top of the muffins. Bake for 15 minutes.
Put the muffins onto a rack to cool and drizzle with honey (it may be easier to drizzle the honey if it has been warmed first).

Roxanne’s Millionaire’s Shortbread

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 2/3 cups unsalted butter
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 9inch square pan or similar, greased and the bottom lined with parchment or wax paper

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Preheat oven to 325F.
Put the flour and sugar into a bowl and rub in 12 tablespoons of the butter, clumping the dough together to form a ball. Press this sandy shortbread mixture into the pan and smooth it with either your hands or a spatula. Prick it with a fork and cook for 5 min, then lower the oven to 300F, and cook for a further 30-40min until it is a pale golden and no longer doughy. Let it cool in the pan.
Melt the remaining butter in the microwave (in a large microwavable bowl) for 2-3 min, then add the condensed milk and syrup. Whisk the mixture well until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. It’s ready when it’s thickened and turned a light golden brown. Pour this molten toffee evenly over the cooled shortbread and leave it to set.
Break the chocolate into pieces and melt it in the microwave. Pour and spread it over the fudge mixture (the less you touch it the shinier it will be) and leave to cool. Once set, cut the caramel shortbread into pieces. The squares can be stored in the fridge to keep them firm, though if it’s winter that shouldn’t be necessary.
Makes about 24.

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Anonymous said...

I've heard other bloggers with your problem with Nigella (Sweetnapa for instance), and I suspect it is from the bad conversion in the American translations of her recipies. I use her 'original' (published metric) measurements and have never had problem with her recipies (I even tried my hand at a divine chocolate cake that had been doomed by other writers). Before you give up on Nigella try to find a copy of an 'untranslated' recipie.
p.s. loved your crepe post the other day.d.s.

Asha said...

OMG!! Both are sinfully delicious Brilynn. Those parents and teachers are lucky to dig into all these:))

Sara said...

Brilynn, that is the funniest thing. Thanks for making me laugh out loud today, I needed it!

Becky said...

You are hilarious. I've had the same problem with Nigella's recipes before. What a wench.

Anonymous said...

ahah funny Brilynn but sorry to hear too. I do not have this problem because I have none of her books ;-) To tell the truth, I was never inspired to buy them, too many others I preferred over hers ;-)

Jenny said...

OMG Brilynn! You are hilarious and I am so glad I added you to my daily reading blogs!
And I agree, I could never get into Nigella Lawson either, I don't get the appeal of her.
Btw, I have a recipe similar to hers with the caramel and chocolate, one that uses the condensed milk as well, but I skipped the microwave last time I did it and used a pot on the stove instead. It gave me more control and allowed me to make it darker and thicker than the microwave could, so it actually tasted like caramel! Want me to dig it up and send it to you?

K and S said...

Sorry to hear that these recipes didn't turn out, that must be so frustrating. I think converting metric to US usually gets everything all jumbled. I would try an all metric recipe of hers too.

Helene said...

Girl, you just crack me up! I think there had to be a mistake for the muffuns: 1 cup of buttermilk for 1 1/2 cup of flour seems too much liquid, thus not offering a sturdy base preventing the filling to sink. Just my thought. The woman never got me interested...who lives like her?

Anonymous said...

lol @ your Nigella comments :D

i have issues with her recipes, haven't tried them though, but her savories just don't seem flavorful enough to me :) I also keep wondering why she seems to want to undress the viewer with her eyeballs ... am i the only one who picks up on that...? it's quite the topic of conversation in my home!

re: the sinking to the bottom of the muffins... my mom has had that happen with some coffee cakes as well... i've read that tossing them with flour is supposed to help?

having said all that... those pictures still look beyond tempting :D

Anonymous said...

I quite like Nigella's recipes, but the problem with the filling sounds like the one I had with my first batch of jam doughnut muffins! Sorry neither recipe worked quite well for you, but thanks for the notes - I'll have to bear them in mind if I ever give these a try!

Lis said...

As per usual, my eyes are misty and my cheeks have that lil strained hurt from laughing so much.

I've only made one cake from her Feast book - it was delish, but it didn't turn out like the beautiful photo of hers.

Becky - I about spit my coffee out when I read your comment "What a wench." hahahahaa!

The Cookbook Junkie said...

I think Nigella might not be the only one pulling these shenanigans - I have to wonder about Martha's recipes sometimes too.

There's a recipe for Millionaire's shortbread on my blog too. It's similar but uses a stove top method. I've made them several times and they've turned out well even when there were user errors.

wheresmymind said...

I have to admit...I love clumps of sugary goodness in my muffins so I would've been a happy guy

Edith said...

Hi, I have been a silent reader of your wonderful blog. Can I have your permission to link your blog to mine? Regards.

foodiemama said...

omg those baklava muffins look heavenly...i am scared i'd eat all of them!

Edith said...

thanks so much.

na said...

I love nigella, but have my own little problems/gripes with her. The biggest being how expensive her cookware is! How can any domestic goddess afford to buy what she asks for basics such as napkin rings and aprons, let alone her cooking range! hahaha! Keep up the awesome work though Bri, these still look lovely. <3

Anonymous said...

This is such a funny post! I can't stop laughing (again!). I can see the likeness...

My friend, who's a Chef, warned me of Nigella's book. There's even a known instance that one of her recipe in the book was missing butter or something. I can't remember well now which one. I do have one of her book 'feasts' (which i got free out of a bundle of books i ordered) but never actually attempted to make anything out of it yet.

Brilynn, but you are a domestic goddess... :)


Patricia Scarpin said...


I've made the the Baklava muffins twice so far. They are delicious.
It's an impossible task to stop eating them hot from the oven !

Greetings from Brazil,

Libbycookie said...

That shortbread looks heavenly, no matter what went wrong! I'm tempted to try it, but I'm not a very precise cook...I smell disaster already...