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Living Like A Disaster

April 2, 2013
Total Balls Up

Total Balls Up

When it comes to cooking, as with almost everything else (except maybe bullet catching tricks), you never really make progress if you’re afraid of failure.

It’s a good job I have that philosophy really, because I mess up in the kitchen all the time. I’ve learned a certain amount from recipe books and from watching other people, but being vegetarian, occasionally fussy, and often skint, I usually want to alter recipes into something cheaper and less meaty. And I never could deal with the fact that even if a recipe works for you, choosing a recipe, and going out to buy the exact listed ingredients just leaves you with a lot of mostly unused bottles and jars in the cupboard and bits of vegetables going off in the fridge. Also there are several common ingredients that despite my best efforts, I just don’t really like much. I know swede is a nutritious, versatile and locally sourced product, but whenever I see it in a recipe I still replace it with something that reminds me a little less of the chunks in vomit.

 So I adapt and experiment and then share the successes. Sometimes I want to share the failures too, because personally I think it’s more encouraging to know that other people get things wrong but don’t let it put them off trying again, than it is to follow somebody who gets everything right and perfect every time (this doesn’t just go for cooking either).

Obviously I always kind of knew not to put chocolate spread with beansprouts or serve casserole with ice-cream, but the finer points of what veg goes together and how to make sure cake is cake and not a pile of slop only really get learned through trial and error and then figuring out what went wrong. No-one ever told me an infallible magic formula for making things edible (is there such a thing?) so I sometimes make things that are very much not edible.  This does happen less often as time goes on.

One thing I have learned with cooking, as in life, when things don’t turn out quite the way you expected you can still make the best of them, and sometimes end up with something a whole lot more interesting. With a bit of positive mental attitude and some ingenuity, a kitchen “failure” need not be consigned to the bin. Before you give in and order takeout, always consider whether whatever it is can be rescued and turned into something else. Burgers that fail to stick together properly can be mixed with a tin of tomatoes or some gravy and served as “mince. Too crumbly biscuits can be mixed with Vitalite and maple syrup and make a cheesecake base, a too hot curry can be cooled with coconut milk, too much garlic calmed down with fresh parsley.

The other day I had a serious cake disaster but managed to rescue it in a quite spectacular fashion that I now need to boast about. I was trying to make a gluten free chocolate sponge. The recipe I was using contained eggs – mistake no 1 was to use vegan egg replacer. Usually this works absolutely fine – but I hadn’t factored in the gluten-free factor, or the fact that the recipe called for adding the whites and yolks separately. When the mixture seemed too liquid, I just added more egg replacer, which didn’t help at all. The mix had no air to it whatsoever – so as a sponge cake it was already doomed. Mistake no 2 was not using a teaspoon to add the xanthan gum. Poured it straight from the pot, did a clumsy and ended up adding way too much. This did something really weird to the mixture, giving it a texture a lot like one of those squishy stress balls. It was one gloopy mass with a life of its own, rolling around the bowl like some kind of alien. I admit I was tempted to give up at this point but A) I hate waste, especially chocolatey waste and B) I was really curious to see what would happen if I baked the weird thing. So I fought it into a baking tin (I mean, really fought it) and stuck it in the oven.

By this point I was pretty convinced that the thing wasn’t going to rise like a sponge, if it worked at all, so I thought I’d make a chocolate ganache type thing. If the “cake” came out edible I’d top it with the ganache and make a kind of chocolate tart, and if not I’d at least get to eat chocolate ganache.

So it happens the end result was a super rich double chocolate tart that I liked so much I’m going to make it again on purpose. The “recipe” is below. This is exactly what I did, but maybe you could get a similar result with fewer ingredients (e.g. ignore egg replacer completely and just add water,  doubt the egg replacer added anything, but I left it in for authenticity). If you’re on any kind of diet the ingredients list will give you a heart attack because it’s pretty calorific, but it is one of those rich things where you only need a tiny slice to feel satisfied, so don’t freak out too much. Let me know if you make this and how it goes. And if you want to share any other amazing kitchen rescues with me, do go ahead….


Chocolate Catastrophe Cake



4 teaspoons egg replacer

8 tablespoons warm water or  milk

Half a cup of melted solid coconut oil (or Vitalite)

¾ cup brown sugar

Shot of rum (or other booze)

Cup of gluten free flour

Pinch of salt

Teaspoon baking powder

Two large teaspoons xanthan gum

¼ cup of cocoa powder


Put the water,rum, egg replacer and sugar in a bowl and mix it all together well. Then sift and mix in all the dry ingredients. Mix in the coconut oil. If it gets too dry add more rum. At some point the mixture will start to form a gelatanious ball that slops around the bowl like it’s alive. Put this into a greased baking tin and try and stretch it into a flat circular shape as best you can. Stick it in the oven on 180°C for about 20 minutes until it starts to look and feel like a cross between a cookie and a brownie. When you take it out it should still be quite malleable so you can push the centre down with the base of a ladle (or whatever else is handy) so it becomes kind of shallow dish shape and leave it to cool.


Ganache Style Topping


About 300g of very dark chocolate

 Dollop of coconut oil

Half a can of coconut milk (use the rest in a curry that you made too hot)

Tablespoon brown sugar

Shedloads of rum (OK, about 2-3 shots, you may want to drink some as well at this point.)


Put the coconut oil and sugar in a pan over a low heat and stir until the oil melts. Add the coconut milk and heat through, break the chocolate into small pieces and stir in until it all melts. Pour into a container and then put in the fridge until it sets a bit.

Once the base is cool, spoon the topping onto the base and use a knife or spoon to swirl it into a neat circle. Cover and put it back in the fridge for half an hour or so or until you want to eat it.

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