As 5 out of every 7 birthdays are, mine this year is annoyingly situated mid-week. Instead of trying to negotiate a Tuesday night cheap’n’cheerful, I invited the girls over for a Saturday morning brunch (my favourite meal to eat out).
This posed a number of challenges:
1. Finding a date everyone could make it. Given there are only 6 of us, this was harder than imagined – in fact, we were one short as it was. For two of us, baby-wrangling had to be sought or traded or bargained for. Gosh we’re busy and important.
2. If people arrive Saturday morning, the house needs to be clean on Friday night. Much as I find cleaning therapeutic, Friday night is rarely my ideal time to bust out the Dyson.
3. Brunch at home implies feeding people. If I were to go out to order brunch, I would always go for cooked over sweet. Not thinking I could manage a cooked breakfast for five, I decided to bake instead, and settled on pancakes with ice cream and berry reduction, and peanut butter and chocolate muffins (along with the obligatory ‘health’ offering of fruit).
4. I don’t bake. Some people are cooks, and some are bakers. I am a cook. I’ve noticed many bakers are quite skinny.
So braving the alchemy that is baking, I trial-runned the pancakes last weekend and they went beautifully. I didn’t get around to trying the muffins out so threw caution to the wind and decided that if they sucked, then it’s my birthday and I’ll suck at baking if I want to.
The pancakes were again a dream. It’s the simplest recipe and the hardest part is waiting for just the right amount of bubbles to flip ’em over. I served them with a choice of lemon juice and sugar, or soy ice cream and a berry sauce (put frozen mixed berries in saucepan with about 1/4 cup of water and a splash of lemon juice. Heat. Bring to boil. Reduce. Add cornstarch. That’s it). I was pretty happy with the outcome and they looked pretty to boot. The empty plates assured me that I wasn’t just tooting my own horn!
The muffins were also a simple recipe, but required much more nail-biting. They were easy to mix up but it was with not a small sigh of relief that they came out not underdone, not burnt, and quite edible. However, they did stick to the silicon tray, even though I had sprayed oil in before as well, so they had to be dug out with a spatula. They were delicious, but broken! I didn’t take any photos because I was a little broken-hearted. Any tips?
I also sent my runner, the affable Buzz, out to get ‘proper’ coffees, and had some hot chocolate on hand for those who weren’t already in a sugar coma. Orange juice and mineral water made me feel like I was having an actual Buck’s Fizz. I just realised that I *totally* forgot to make or put out the fruit platter! Hostess fail!
A brunch at home is a lovely way to see friends without having to find an evening, and without having to battle your way through a crowded cafe shouting to be heard. You just have to learn to bake.
Pancakes – demolished!
Pancakes – from ‘Vegan Brunch’ by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
1-1/4 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/3 c water
1 to 1-1/4 c plain rice or soy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
Sift or stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix the remaining ingredients in another bowl. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined, like muffins (you know, a couple of lumps are fine-overmixing results in tough pancakes and tough muffins).
Add oil to a large skillet and heat the skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add batter and cook until the pancake has some bubbles on top and is browned on the bottom. Turn pancakes and finish (until bottoms are browned). Repeat until batter is used up. Oil skillet between pancakes or as needed.
Chocolate and peanut butter muffins, from here (I used ready-made PB. Toasting peanuts is just a step too far for me).
If you want to use ready made peanut butter then use 1/2 cup butter and 2 tbsp oil.
100 gm (1/2 cup) unsalted shelled and skinned raw peanuts
4 tbsp oil (preferably peanut or any other flavourless oil) a pich of fleur de sel or your favourite salt
140 gm (1 cup) plain flour
30 gm (1/3 cup) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
90 gm (3/4 cup) jaggery powder or muscovado sugar or any dark soft sugar (I just used brown sugar)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract 200 ml (3/4 cup) water
In a skillet, on a moderate flame, roast the peanuts until golden brown. Alternatively heat an oven to 200 degrees C/ 400 degrees F and roast for about ten minutes or until they darken, shaking them a bit half way through so that they roast evenly. Allow the peanuts to cool a bit and then place them in a blender with the oil and fleur de sel and process until you get peanut butter.
In a bowl, mix in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda and sieve once to make the mixture uniform.
Put in the jaggery or sugar, vanilla extract, water and peanut butter and mix with a whisk or a wooden spoon until well blended.
Heat your oven to 180 degrees C/ 350 degrees F. Place the batter into cupcake liners* and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a skewer or toothpick comes out clean. *You might want to use 2 cupcake liners to get neat edges after baking. I didn’t use cupcake liners – maybe I should? I also put a square of Whittaker’s dark almost chocolate in the middle of each muffin – yum!