Mortifying muffins and eye-candy neighbours

The beauty of uncooked meringue

The beauty of uncooked meringue.

I love baked goods. I own a lot of cookbooks. I look at baking blogs. I like to try to make something from the pages/posts of these books/blogs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

A recent baking effort fell into the latter camp. I was determined to make a zucchini loaf and a batch of spinach and ricotta muffins to give my cousin whose husband was recuperating at home from a cycling accident.
After school drop-off I tried to scurry away quickly so I could do my important job-hunting/work-sourcing baking work. I said “no” to a P&C morning tea and “yes” to my own baking extravaganza.
I am not going to bore you with the details of how and why both these recipes went wrong, as I would be guessing anyway. But the outcome was that both the loaf and the muffins just refused to cook on the inside, yet insisted on going dark brown on the outside. My oven, the tanning salon.
“Oh, you can’t give her that,” Mum said helpfully as she peered at the zucchini loaf. Just for fun, I pinged one of the muffins at the kitchen bench and it actually made a pinging sound. I could get away with eating a muffin myself, but I couldn’t actually offer them to anyone else as I’m afraid they fell into my “mild disaster” category of cooking. The zucchini loaf was categorised “major disaster” so, although in conflict over the waste of ingredients, I binned it, because no one was going to want to eat that.
I forced myself to eat a muffin though, just so I could feel the ingredients/time wasn’t totally wasted. I had it with salad for dinner that night. It wasn’t bad, as it wasn’t actually charcoal and at least I could taste the feta and parmesan in it.
I had three egg whites left over from my yolk-filled baked goods. They were sitting in the fridge just waiting to turn into meringues. My grandmother had made them often. They were always a lovely pale milk-coffee colour, crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Even though I had eaten them often as a child, I still didn’t know exactly how she did it.  To make meringues, I still had to consult my Commonsense Cookery Book (Metric edition – originally compiled in 1970 by the NSW Public School Cookery Teachers’ Association). I have the 1981 edition – it was my high-school cooking class bible.
Simple but effective.

Simple but effective. Dog-eared and reliable.

I enjoyed beating the egg-whites with mum’s 70s egg-beater. It’s quite the workout. A pinch of salt, more beating, then I poured sugar on to those stiff white peaks and beat again, until I had snow-covered mountains of meringue. After folding in more sugar, I spooned the confection into a piping bag and piped out coils, building up the outer ring to make little meringue nests. They looked like the effort of a beginner potter, Dali-esque clocks melting in the late afternoon sun streaming in my kitchen window. I popped them in the oven for a slow, low suntan.
The fragility of uncooked meringue

The fragility of uncooked meringue “coils”.

Later, when Spider-boy and I got home from school pick-up, mum announced “Ooooh, you should see the eye-candy that’s moved in next door”.
“What? Who? Tell me EVERYTHING!” I demanded.
So turns out the eye-candy that Mum was referring to was one bloke who’s paying rent and another who’s “just visiting” (or so he said). Then the next day we saw two women coming out of the flat, dressed as if they were going to a nightclub, but they each wheeled a pram and accompanying baby. And they have all been there every day for the past week, obviously living in our real neighbour’s two-bedroom flat that she is sub-letting to the two eye-candy families. Cosy.
They have nothing to do with this story, except to say that no way was I popping round next door Desperate Housewives-style with a basket of my mortifying muffins to welcome them to the neighbourhood. Nor would I be delivering them to my cousin. If my street were Wisteria Lane, then my mortifying muffins would be considered a weapon of mass obstruction (to being a good neighbour/to cousin’s husband’s recuperation).
But my meringues were a different story. I tasted one that night, and they weren’t bad. The palest shade of milk-coffee, crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Worked a treat with a bit of vanilla ice-cream and blueberries. I had wanted to redeem myself with the meringues. It was a bizarre self-imposed My Kitchen Rules-style showdown where I was the only competitor and there were no attractive celebrity-chef judges. Maybe I could’ve knocked on the eye-candy neighbours door after all and asked them to join me for a bake-off. So all right, maybe I can bake a little, but it is a bit unpredictable. All I will say is that the zuchinni Loaf and the muffin recipes did not come from my Commonsense Cookery Book.
Redemption by meringue. I don't mind the crack - the beauty's in the flaws right?

Redemption by meringue. I don’t mind the cracks – the beauty’s in the flaws, right?

 And my cousin’s husband? He got a box of Lindt chocolates. My baking may be hit and miss, but I am very good at buying chocolate.

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