Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Back-Engineering a Recipe

All over the world are people converting standard recipes to short-cut versions. Instead of doing this...buy this. Half the work is done for you. Don't bake a cake from scratch, use this box, and add this, it changes it.

Well, OK, if that's what you want, none of my business. I find these short-cuts to be mostly useless. Often they don't save any time. They certainly don't save money. But the main thing is, they generally aren't as good.

Now, before you all roll your eyes at me, I'm not totally against cheating. If it tastes fine, isn't too expensive, and saves HOURS, I say go for it. But anyone who thinks that adding things to a boxed cake mix saves you a lot of time is deluding themselves.

My main objection to some of these recipes is that the cheat ingredient is either poor quality or really not good for you. Nobody eats healthy food all the time, not even me, but given a choice between two thinngs, that do the same job, why choose the unhealthy one?

So last night I promised to back-engineer this:

Lemon Delight


1 stick butter - melted
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cup pecans - chopped (reserve 3/4 cup for topping)
1 16 oz. container Cool Whip
8 oz. cream cheese - softened
1 cup sugar
2 boxes Lemon Instant Pudding - regular size (made to directions and refrigerated)


Making 4 layers in a 9 x 13 glass dish

1st layer - butter, flour and 3/4 cup pecans mixed together and pressed into the bottom of glass dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 15 min until light brown. COOL completely.

2nd layer - cream cheese, sugar and 1 cup Cool Whip. Blend until creamy and spread over 1st layer.

3rd layer - Lemon pudding (made to box directions) spread evenly over 2nd layer.

4th layer - extra Cool Whip spread evenly over 3rd layer and topped with remaining pecans.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Let's begin with a complaint to the recipe-maker about the stick of butter. That is no freaking help to those of us in place where butter is not sold in sticks. It's the usual Americentric rubbish. But it's a 1/2 cup or 4 ounces or 113grams. 

While I'm here I'll add that 1 cup of flour is 4.4 ounces or 125 grams. 

The first item there I will change is the Cool Whip. I'll eat it, I'm not totally opposed to it. But it really serves no purpose. Use whipped cream. It's cheaper. Don't pay for AIR, that's just silly. To achieve the same final quantity (volume) as 16oz container of Cool Whip, you don't need 16 fluid ounces of whipping cream. Half that is plenty. 

Now the Lemon Instant Pudding. When I've had a similar dish to this it was not the lemon flavour, and in fact you can make ANY flavour "pudding". There are two ways. Simplest first.

Pudding is essentially a commercial version of blancmange, and nowhere near as good. All you need are sugar, milk, cornstarch, and flavouring. 

Cornstarch is funny stuff, and can mess you around when you try to mix it. Always add sugar to it, and then just a little milk, to make a thin paste, before you add anything else.

Pudding 1

You'll need:

3 tablespoons of cornstarch (cornflour)
1/3 cup sugar (2.65 ounces or 75 grams)
pinch of salt

2 1/2 cups milk (1 pint or 1/2 litre)
1 tsp real vanilla extract

So, as I said, add a splash of the milk to the cornstarch, sugar, ands salt, along with the vanilla, then heat the rest of the milk, but don't boil it. Then add the hot milk to the rest while whisking, and continue to whisk while heating gently, it will thicken. So long as you keep whisking and don't overheat this (i.e. don't burn it). You will have a perfectly good blancmange. Flavour as required. This is the basis of simple CHOCOLATE pudding, simply add 2 1/2 tablespoons of good quality cocoa powder along with the cornstarch. Any other flavour can be made.



With lemon pudding, you are better making a slightly more complicated pudding, that includes eggs.

Pudding 2

You'll need:

1/4 cup of cornstarch (4 tablespoons or 1 ounce or 22 grams)
3/4 cup sugar (6.6 ounces or 187 grams)
pinch of salt

3 egg yolks, beaten together

2/1/2 cups milk (1 pint or 1/2 litre)
1/2 cup lemon juice (8 fl oz or 227ml)
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons melted butter

Start with the cornstarch, sugar, salt, and a splash of milk, then add hot milk while whisking as before. Now add in those egg yolks, and the lemon zest, and continue to whisk while it thickens. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and melted butter. If you want this absolutely smooth you can put it in the blender, but for pity's sake let it cool first, because if you don't you're cleaning up the mess, not me.


The second version can be adapted to any fruit, and is the better choice, in my opinion.

Please note the tablespoon is a standard measurement (15 ml).

The question that remains, is how much is equivalent to 2 boxes of commercial pudding? Well, how much milk do you add to the box ingredients? Compare that to the milk in these pudding recipes, and you can figure it out. 


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