Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mince Pies

Today, two American girls got together to make an English holiday staple - mince pies. Rachel's husband, Jonathan, is British and really loves them, so we wanted to have these on hand for our Christmas dinner in a few weeks.

Our pies turned out pretty good despite the fact that we had to make everything from scratch, from the fruity mincemeat filling to the pastry. We even had to borrow a proper food scale from my neighbor to be able to measure out the ingredients for the recipe since we Americans don't tend to measure food weight in grams. (And...c'mon people, you just don't find many recipes for mince pies with American measurements!)

We rolled and pressed and filled and topped.

We egg-washed (it's a technical term).

Then we baked. It was a little tricky getting them out of the muffin tins when they were done, but most of them came out successfully.

Rachel took one home for Jonathan to sample, and they have been approved for consumption.

Not too bad for two American girls.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Recipe Fail

You'll never know unless you try.

That is my cooking motto here. Even though I can find many of the ingredients that I need for the food I want to cook, I make a lot of things from scratch and I end up making substitutions often. The internet is a great help for substitutions. And I've found a lot of good ones.

But even though substitutions are out there, they don't always work for your specific recipe. And then your dish fails. (Oh, this perfectionist hates failing...especially in the kitchen!)

It happened to me this week.

Yesterday was Paul's birthday. One of his favorite desserts is New York style cheesecake, and in America, I successfully baked it for him many times. So, I decided to give it a go here in Tanzania.

The only problem is that you really can't buy cream cheese in Dodoma, and if you buy it in Dar es Salaam it is very expensive and doesn't taste good enough for the price. A friend of mine has had some success making cheesecake from plain yogurt that has been strained overnight, so I decided to try her method and substitute that for the cream cheese.

I had high hopes for my bowl full of strained yogurt as I whipped up the cheesecake batter and poured it into my springform pan. The taste was a bit off, but it looked a lot like what I had mixed up before in the States.

As it baked, I was further encouraged. I puffed up like it was supposed to. It started browning like it was supposed to. The top jiggled a bit like it was supposed to. So, when I thought it was done, I pulled the cheesecake out of the oven and let it cool. My hopes continued to be high. It looked pretty good.

But that evening, as I went to cover the cooled cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight, I realized that liquid was weeping from the bottom of the pan. That's certainly never happened to my cheesecakes before. I started to get a little concerned, but put it in the refrigerator and hoped for the best.

Josiah hoped for the best too. This was his message to Daddy yesterday morning: (Translation: Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you very much. I hope you have a great day. I hope your cheesecake tastes great.)
Unfortunately, my hope started to decline, when I took the cheesecake out of the pan to serve it. There was quite a bit of liquid sitting on top of the cake, and it wiggled WAY more that it should have.

But we stuck candles on it and sang to the birthday boy anyway.

The moment I cut into it, I thought something wasn't right. The moment I tasted it, I knew something wasn't right. It was wobbly. It was wet. It was NOT cheesecake. In fact, it was more like sweet cheese than cake. My cheesecake attempt in Tanzania had failed.

I have some ideas about why it failed. It's probably not a good idea to substitute your main ingredient (all 5-1/2 cups of it). The strained yogurt just has too much liquid remaining in it to make a firm, thick New York style cheesecake.

But hey, I tried. The birthday boy appreciated the effort even though neither he nor I will likely eat another piece of the...creation.

And like I said before. You'll never know unless you try.